Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Embracing Suffering

“Pay me now, or pay me later!”

This was a common expression heard on the practice field when I played football back in my High School days.  I’d always hear it just about the time that I’d be ready to hurl whatever was left in my stomach from pure exhaustion.  My legs and arms burned like they were on fire and I could hardly think straight as I struggled to get back in line for the next drill.  The smell of newly cut grass was always so thick on those days as I deeply inhaled that sweet life giving oxygen just to stay conscious.  My forehead pounded from the pressure of my helmet while the heat from the summer sun made conditioning almost unbearable.  I was generally a mess.  The thought of actually playing a game was far from our minds as we practiced in those hot August summer afternoons.

Then I’d hear that phrase again - ringing in my ears.

“Pay me now - or pay me later!”

And my coach meant it.  If we tried to go easy, he’d know it.  He had a sort of 6th sense about those kinds of things.  If we didn’t give our all, we’d keep going - and going - and going.  We either gave 100% now, or we’d repeat the same drills until we did.  “Bear Crawls” were his favorite drill - hands in front, body up, legs moving forward - crawling across the field.  It was hell. 

In the beginning of the season, we’d always try to slack.  And - we’d always pay for it later.  The practice would stretch on and on until we pushed ourselves to the limit.  Our coach always knew when we were slacking.  It only took one of us to “take it easy” for the rest of us to feel the consequence of that player taking the drill off.  This was infuriating as a player because many of us understood that we had to give everything we had on every drill in order to move closer to completion.  So, if I gave 100%, and my buddy gave 80%, I’d have to repeat the drill because of HIS slacking.  

We all felt the consequence from one player slacking because we were a team - we were learning a teamwork principle: the whole team feels the consequence of an opponent’s score if one player takes a play off in a game.  Players that continually messed up were often harassed by their peers after practice, and this always seemed to change their attitude in the following practices.  

We payed a price at every practice.  And - to be honest - it was a price that some couldn’t pay.  Some would just flat out quit.  Others did as much as they could just to get by - but they wouldn't play on game-day because of their lack of effort throughout the week.  Things never fully worked out for those that slacked.  But some of us committed.  Some of us believed, even though we couldn't see what was waiting for us in the end.   

We payed a price - day in and day out - and for what seemed like forever.   None of us really understood why we were paying such a high price.  Our lives were filled with pain and exhaustion - day in and day out - and it became our new normal. It sucked.  There were times when I wanted to quit.  I hated practice…

until we started winning.

That year, we went 9-0-1.  We were undefeated champions - we had no losses.   

I think my coach’s statement was true.  “Pay me now - or pay me later!”  If we had slacked, or he had let us slack - our reward would not have been an undefeated season - let alone a championship.  Our temporary reprieve from hell during practice would have been our reward, and our lack of a championship would be the cost.    

We truly suffered in practice to win it all.  We went through hell in order to experience the joy of becoming undefeated champions.

We chose to suffer in the present in order to achieve a future glory that far eclipsed any pain we had gone through in those hot August summer days.  Looking back, the price we payed was well worth it.

_____________________


When I think of all the great things that I’ve accomplished in my past, there’s always an element of suffering coupled with an element of reward.  When I learned to play guitar - I spent long hours of practice getting callouses on my fingers, building finger muscles that weren’t there, and listening over and over to music so that I might figure out how to imitate songs - all so I might be able to play that instrument with relative ease.  Today, I can pick up the guitar and learn almost any song pretty easily because of those long hours of practice.  The suffering of yesterday (practice) produced the reward of today (playing).

I could have chosen my “reward” years ago and not practiced - not endured the pain and frustration.  I could have chosen my “reward” early.  But - the suffering aspect would have come later by not being able to play whatever song I wanted to play today.  

I’m wondering if I’m making any sense.

In almost any endeavor I want to pursue - I can choose my reward or my suffering first.  If I want to get in shape - I can suffer through exercise.  Eventually - through hard work, I’ll reap the reward of good health.  Or, I can choose to be lazy now (present reward) and suffer later in a multitude of ways (future suffering).

“Pay me now, or pay me later”

This principle plays out in the scriptures too:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus paid a heavy price for a future glory (a glory that He shares with us!).   Suffering coupled with reward.  As someone once said, “The crown of thorns always proceeds the crown of glory.”  

The scriptures also point towards us participating with God in His suffering:  

“I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philipians 3:10

Participation in the suffering of Christ.  What a mystery…

There are many other scriptures along those same lines too.

Christ entered into suffering and endured it for a greater good - a greater reward.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This isn’t a discussion about random suffering - like from a disease, poverty, earthquake, flood, or famine.  That’s a different topic and a whole other kind of suffering - I don’t have eyes to see all the “why”s behind that (although this principle might play out there as well…).

I think I’m more talking about discipline.  Discipline has an element of suffering that proceeds a future reward.

Lack of discipline has an element of reward that is followed by a future suffering.

The reward that follows suffering is always better than the reward a person gets from “taking a play off.”  Our championship was better than being lazy and losing games.

Having just coached a group of kids who hadn’t won a football game in 6 years, this principle was clearly displayed in front of me.  Our team went 1-9 this year.  You might think that is a bad year for a football team - but you’d be wrong.  We won our last game - and for some of these students - it their first game they had EVER won.  About halfway through the season, most of the players finally bought into the idea that hard work would pay off in the end.  They never gave up and slowly got better.

When I joined the team at the beginning of the season, on my second day coaching, we took the kids to our first scrimmage.  We got scored on 20 times!  And - we didn’t score once.  I literally thought, “what have I gotten myself into?”  

I’ve been a part of 5 different championship teams as a coach (out of 9 years coaching), and two as a player.  In all my years of playing and coaching - only three games stand out as exceptional.  One - as a player - we came back and won a game with 12 seconds left in the game against our biggest rival to remain undefeated.  Two, as an asst. coach in a championship game against an undefeated team that was ahead 32-6 at one point in the game where we won 39-38 from a field goal with 4 seconds left in a game.  And - this prior season - winning our first game with a goal line stand in the last minute of the game - our opposing team having a first down and goal on the 5 yard line.  

It’s funny, but the one win at the end of the season from a winless team was just as good as the championship wins in those prior seasons.  It’s partly because the kids continued to trust us through our practices.  They never gave up and worked as hard as any championship team before them.  Their attitudes literally changed throughout the year.  They paid a price - and it payed off.

"Pay me now, or pay me later!"

I think this principle plays out in a lot of areas in life (suffering that proceeds reward).  Here’s a few areas in life that I can think of off the top of my head:

School - getting a degree
Healthy living
Learning a language
Playing a Sport
Developing good relationships (serving and valuing others above self)
Walking with Jesus
Learning and understanding the Bible
Developing a new skill
Building a new positive habit
Stopping a bad habit
Loving people and loving God.

There’s a ton more, I’m sure.  But - I think ya get the idea.

“Pay me now, or pay me later.” 

It took me 20 years to understand what my coach was trying to say.  I think I'm only now starting to get it (even though I still have a hard time living it!)

May this principle sink in much more quickly for you!

Have a great day!

Jer

Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Kind of Mourning

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  Matthew 13:13

____________________________

Horns blare.  Cheers explode.  Laughter erupts.  Smiles are seen all around.  Tears of joy fill the eyes of the crowd. 

The leader of the processional yells at the top of his lungs: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The bride waits in stunned amazement - awakened to a brand new life to come.  She witnesses the scene - the feelings of fear, amazement, and excitement combine to create a burgeoning joy inside of her heart that she’d never experienced prior to this moment.  And this wonderful moment seems to last an eternity.  She takes a deep breath and feels the blood coursing through her veins - every part of her body holds an almost hyper-sensitivity that allows her to really feel everything around her.  It’s as if she’d never lived until this very moment.  She feels so alive.  Tears of joy fill her eyes, and she isn’t even sure if she knows exactly why.  

“I didn’t think it’d be like this.” she thinks.  “This is beyond imagination.”

She reflects back to her prior life.  It seems that what she remembers of her past is just a dream - as if she was living in a dark fog until moments ago.  And there was a lot of darkness in those memories - and lots of confusion.  Of course, those moments were interspersed with wonderful moments of clarity and light.  But the darkness she remembers is so heavy in her memories because of the contrast to her surroundings in this very moment.  She begins to fear that her past will be her ruin.  She begins to fear that she’ll be rejected because of it.  She knows she is far from perfect.  And yet, this moment - it seems so perfect.  Her fear of rejection is like a memory brought on by a familiar smell or a favorite song.  She's fears rejection.

But as she looks around, she sees only light.  As she stands and waits, wonder and awe fill her soul - in spite of her fear.   

The Love of her life approaches.  She catches her first glimpse as He moves into view.  She sees Him!  All fear disappears from her mind at His first glance.  She knows He is good - her true love has arrived.  From that strangely familiar look in his eyes - she knows she’s completely accepted.  Perfect love casts out all fear - and she understands.  All of life’s fulfillment is here in her presence.

He has come to take her home.  It’s her time.  Her day.  The wedding party is about to begin…  

_______________________


RIP Coach Fernandez.  May you enjoy the wedding banquet that is far better than anything I could ever put into words!!


Jer

Monday, August 19, 2013

I Have a Dream!

A good friend of mine had a crazy dream a few nights ago.  She swears it was more real than a dream - but what she witnessed would be impossible if it wasn’t a dream.  It was definitely of the spiritual nature:  evil trying to get her - and remembering Jesus - crying out to Him - then peace.  It made me think of dreams.

I’ve only had one or two dreams that seem to have a “message” behind them.  Most dreams are just crazy visions.  But, the one I remember vividly was one I had on a backpacking trip.  It was my first five day backpacking trip, and I forgot a pillow.  I sleep on my side, so this was a huge issue.  I literally got no sleep for two days.  I’d get 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, but nothing longer.  It was awful.  Finally, on the third night I passed out.

Here’s the dream.  I was on a long road in an African country.  I was sitting in the Pope mobile.  If you don’t know what that is - it’s a car that Pope’s rides in so he can wave to people as he drives by.  The glass is bullet proof and it’s a well armored car - and, you can stand up in it.  So, I’m sitting in the Pope mobile on a stool and there’s thousands of starving people reaching to get inside to where I’m sitting.  I’m holding a huge metal bowl (like a popcorn bowl) and it’s full of spaghetti (which happens to be my favorite food).  And I can’t stop eating in front of everyone.  As hard as I try, I keep shoving food down my face as starving people are banging the windows of the Pope mobile.  And tears are flooding down my cheeks because I can’t stop, even though I want to.  I want to give it away - this food in my hands - but I keep chowing down instead.  I look at dying people as we drive by - and I keep eating.  Then I woke up - in the middle of the forest.  haha.  Crazy.

Dreams are dreams, but this one had an element of reality - and it’s stayed with me ever since. 
   
I’ve been in this waiting period for a while now.  I don’t usually pray for specific things because I kind of think that’s a "genie in a bottle" type of view of God - which isn’t like Jesus at all.  But - I have been a bit restless.  So, I prayed one of “those” prayers.   I’m starting Young Life again, and have been back and forth on whether I want to coach football again.  Well, I know that I don’t really want to coach - haha - but, I also know coaching is a great tool as a leader for Young Life.  So, I prayed about it.  I did one of those timing prayers.  “If You want me to coach - give me a sign in the next week.  A specific sign.”  I never really believe these type of prayers work - but - God is active and listening.  I do believe that.  And - as I’ve said, I’m a bit restless.  So, I asked.  

It’s funny, I usually advise people not to pray in this manner.  I think it’s kind of a manipulation of the type of relationship God really wants - which is spending time with Him - even just noticing Him.  It’s not that I don’t think that God answers prayers like this, it’s that often these types of prayers come from a very selfish point of view.  God is always pushing us to value others above ourselves.  These types of prayers often put self above others.  But, I guess, when you’re clueless about your future, there’s nobody better to turn towards.

Last night - randomly - I got this message from an old football player that I coached.  He never went to Young Life, never went on any trips, nothing.  But - I did spend a lot of time with him at practice.  I literally hadn’t talked to him in years.  The timing of this message is crazy.  Here’s his note:

“I don't know if you remember me, I was the freshman in 2009 with a big blonde fro, often referred to as Big Bird, who became a starting right tackle his first year learning to play football. Either way, I just wanted to thank for you every day you were able to coach me my freshman year. I was going through a really tough time and without your humor, respect, and encouragement to aim high and see my potential, I might not have been able to finish the season. I didn't continue to play, but I never lost my dedication in whatever I did throughout high school, and now I'm going to UCLA (I applied for Neuroscience). After I finished the season I felt capable of anything high school had throw at me, and I couldn't have done it without you.”

Coincidence?  I sure want it to be - haha!

I find that I want to keep chowing on my spaghetti.  Sometimes I don’t want to follow God’s call because it’s uncomfortable, scary, new, and disruptive.  But.  I also admit that don’t know what’s best for me at all.  I’m clueless - but I know the One who isn’t.  So, I’m gonna step out.  Reluctantly.  haha.  And with a twinge of excitement as well.  

Do I trust that He is good - and do I trust Him with my life?  I want to.  haha.   jeez.

Ok - let’s see where He’s leading...

Have a great day!

Jer  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Writing in Protest


When I was a kid, I read a lot of books.  It wasn’t the cool thing to do, but I didn’t tell anyone about it.  I hid this aspect of my personality in order to fit in, but secretly at home (especially on stormy nights) I’d curl up on the couch or on my bed and read stories that took me away from my real life.  There were times when my imagination led me to impossible places with such amazing adventures, I'd literally not be able to put the book down until it was the next morning - on a school night.  But I did it anyway - and loved it!  Most stories made my real life pale in comparison.  And sometimes, my memory of the stories became as vivid as my actual memories of life.  It’s definitely weird how our minds work.  

I got this reading trait from my mom.  She would often read an entire book in one sitting - it was crazy.  It was almost like she had a super power: fast reading.  I never got close to as fast as her, but I did learn to read at a pretty good pace.  I would read a book, or so, a week.  I remember, by the end of my Senior year in High School, I had read nearly every single book in the Fantasy section of the bookstore.  I later moved to mystery - and then faith - but never stopped reading.  I’m so thankful for this trait!

When I was in Jr. High, my reading ability put me in the classes with the smart kids.  As sad as it is when I look back on it now - I was ashamed to be put into that group.  I don’t know where I got the idea that being smart is uncool, but at that fragile self-esteem building age, it totally was - well - at least for guys - it was.  I developed some really negative habits at that age because of how I saw the world.  One annoying trait was caring too much what others thought about me.  That, in itself, could be a whole topic, but I want to focus on something else.  There was another habit that formed that I still wrestle against today - and this fight - this continual battle - has always ended up hurting me in the long run.

I began to rebel against authority.  I mean, the rebellion has always been there - don’t get me wrong.  But, when it came to homework and being told what to do (I’m strictly talking about things that were actually beneficial to me) - I flat out rebelled.

College was easy.  Yet - it took forever for me to graduate.  I rebelled against the idea that society demanded a piece of paper (a certificate of completion - diploma) to get ahead in life.  I had a hard time seeing the point.  But "the point" didn't really matter - it just held me back when I should have excelled.  

Now I wish I could slap my younger self upside the head.  

Often, my attitude is the gun I use to shoot myself in the foot.
When I was in High School, teachers would assign books to read.  Many of the books were a quarter of the length of the books that I read everyday.  But, I wouldn’t read them.  It’s one thing to not read when you don’t like to read - but I loved reading!  Yet - when assigned a book - I wouldn’t read it.  Tell me to do something - I’ll end up doing the opposite.  Half the time, I don’t even know why.  It’s like it’s my natural reaction to authority.  This has caused confusion and frustration in many of my relationships - for sure.  

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot - but only for school.  Every day, there’s a wrestling match that goes on inside my head about completing my assignments.  I’ve gotten perfect marks (grades) on almost every assignment I’ve done at this school.  Perfect.  My only exception?  When I turn in my work late.  

I’ve taken seven classes so far.  Two A’s, four A-’s, and one B+.  The ONLY reason I got the A-’s and the B+ was late work.  I should be getting straight A's (A- are less than 4.0 at this college)  I turn my work in late because I’m in the midst of a mental wrestling match:  complete the assignment vs. I don’t want to/what’s the point?  Here’s the kicker - even on my late work, I’ve gotten perfect scores.  But - it gets docked because it’s late.  haha.  wow.  I’m my own worst enemy.

This might not seem like a big deal.  Those are good marks, for sure.  BUT - this has always been my pattern.  It was the same in High School and my undergraduate studies.  It’s the same today.  I fight authority.

I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t been writing lately - as far as this blog goes.  It’s often because I’m in this mental wrestling match about doing my homework and don’t even want to think about writing.  I only have 4 more classes - then I’m done.  Yet - this class I’m taking right now - wow.  My gun is pointed at my foot and the trigger is cocked.  haha. 

Rebelling against authority - it’s what got us into this mess in the first place.  God constantly wants what’s best for us - what’s beneficial - but we eat the fruit instead.  For me - many times it’s not the desire of X, Y, or Z that drives me away from God - it’s more that I want to be King.  I want to make my own decisions.  I want to be my own authority.  It’s how I’m wired - and it hurts me every time.  I even see the pattern, understand it - yet I still keep wrestling.

Jesus (King of kings and Lord of lords) was known as humble because He surrendered to the will of His Father - all the way to the cross.  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8)  He was obedient in the little things as well as the big things.  He submitted to authority - even the authority of the government and the faith community when they were wrong! - because - ultimately - He knew that God was in control in the midst of it all.  He trusted God and because of His faith - we reap the benefit.  

But - in spite of His goodness - His finished work - I still do my homework in protest.   Haha.  Seems trivial in comparison to God's work.  But - the truth is - the little things really are the big things...    

I do, however, find hope for people like me in this parable:

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered.  (Matthew 21:28-31)

Alright - enough delay - off to do my homework - my late homework.  grrrrr.
Have a great day!

Jer

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Great Confession


 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy...”  Ezekiel 16:49

I’ve been going over the stories of the Old Testament recently, and once again, it’s been enlightening.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was really intriguing.  I always look at the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) through the lens of Jesus.  After all, there’s no God hiding behind Jesus - so, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is, in fact, Jesus.
Outside of the mental gymnastics of reconciling an all loving - always forgiving - merciful God with burning sulfur, destruction, and death - there’s definitely some revealing about how we live and relate to God within this text.
There’s not a lot of details that are given about these cities prior to the destruction.  There’s a few references to the leaders earlier in the scriptures, but there’s not much about the people.  
The story goes (major paraphrase):
There’s a declaration of destruction by some angels to Abraham before they enter the city, an argument from Abraham to God about the injustice of destroying the righteous along with the unrighteous, the story of Lot saving the angels from some serious backside pain (hence the term: sodomy), the rescue of Lot from the cities, and the wife turned-to-salt episode.  Super short summary - the whole story is here:  Genesis 18-19
One observation:  God had already determined to destroy these cities before the angels were harassed.  That incident was just a reinforcement of what God already knew.  In fact, it was the town’s total disregard of God in the first place that put the town in danger.  To them, there was no God.  They replaced the God of love with the god of themselves.
When a person becomes their own “God” - or “King” - everything becomes subjective (think - “eye of the beholder”).  It’s funny, because our postmodern age is totally based on subjectivity.  The phrase “everything is relative” is a perfect example of our current bent towards subjectivity.  
Now - that’s a lot of big words that simply mean - in a rudimentary way:  Your truth is fine with you, my truth is fine with me.  But they’re not the same.  And that’s ok.  And even where our truth contradicts one another - that’s ok - because my “world” is different than your “world.” I choose to believe my own rules about life - irregardless of what you believe - and I won't bother you if you don't bother me.
Sound familiar?  
But that’s humanity.  That’s been going on for all ages.  It should be no surprise to hear statements like that.  
I believe we have more in common than we think we do.  I believe we’re all in the same boat - and this bent towards subjectivity - in a roundabout way - proves it.
I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that left to our own devices - WE ARE the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We may not act out in the sexually deviant way that the story with the angels portrays (raping strangers...ummm - no) - BUT - we are often arrogant (prideful), overfed, and unconcerned.  And many of us don’t help the poor and the needy at all.  
In other words - the “sin” of Sodom is my sin too.  I can often have total disregard to God.  I usurp His throne every day so that I may be the “God of my own world.”  I have more food than I know what to do with - on most days.  And I waste a lot of it.  I’m often unconcerned with people other than myself.  I cry out to God for things like “happiness” and “material possessions” that I don’t have without a thought to the person that really needs help.  And - I tell myself that I am poor because I compare myself with others - when the really poor (those on the streets, or in other countries - those without the basic necessities of life, like food - etc.) aren’t even given a passing thought.
Jesus said, “Whatever you do unto the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me.”  He mentions these things:  feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing those that need clothes, visiting the sick and in prison.  These are things the people of Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t do at all - and look at the result.  If you read the story in Matthew - the result for those that don’t do anything is similar.  Lake-of-fire kind of stuff.
What we do matters.  Our actual actions - matter.
By the way - these are not theologically “correct” ideas.  This isn't about doctrine.  These are concrete things that people can actually do.  There’s no believing the “right” things in His statement.  You do these things - or you don’t.  As one wonderful writer expressed:  Love does!
But - I confess - I often don’t.  My behaviors might not be on par with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah - but my “sin” is the same.
I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. 
What if - how we loved the least of these - was, in reality - how much we really loved God?  
Ouch.
By the way - this is not a surprise to God: who we are.  I think His desire is that we’d start noticing Him and slowly surrender the throne back to Him.  There are plenty of scriptures that point to this idea - Proverbs 3:5 and Hebrews 12:1-2 are two that come straight to my mind.  And His march towards the cross (foreshadowed in the Garden of Eden story - the beginning) is further evidence.
I’m not trying to browbeat myself - or others - with a “sin” talk.
BUT
I do want to take a sober look at the truth about myself.
Adam and Even - in the garden story - covered themselves and blamed the person next to them about their own behavior.  Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.  We’ve been blaming everyone - but ourselves - since the very beginning.
I’m more wanting to admit/hold up a sign saying “I am the problem”.  I’m the problem as much as anyone else.  
"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags"  Isaiah 64:6
I want to break the “Adam and Eve” cycle.
God provided a covering in that Adam and Eve story.  An atonement - death to an animal - that was made into clothing.  Death to life.
And He does the same for us - as the Lamb of God:  "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27)
We are accepted, loved, and valued by God due to His actions.  It is finished.
But I’m still in the midst of this rebellion.  I still fight God.
I do want to live in the good works that God created me for, but I have this annoying propensity to act as if I’m my own God.
It’s no wonder that the people of God were named Israel: he wrestles/struggles with God.
What a daily riddle and mystery that we live in!  So fascinating.  May we know the freedom of surrendering "our" throne to the One who truly knows us best...
Have a great day!
Jer

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Generational Behavior


“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
A few years back, I went to counseling with my now ex-wife.  It was our last ditch effort to save a marriage that was already over by the time we went.  I don’t think there’s any percentage breakdown of fault when it comes to divorce (or a successful marriage, for that matter).  I believe it’s a shared 100%, so when people ask, I tell them we were both at fault, 100%.  It’s truly one of the only things we did really well together: get divorced. (only teasing...kind of.)
One of the things that came up in counseling that has really intrigued me ever since was the fact that much of my disfunction in relationships comes from the way I was raised.  I’m not faulting my behavior on my parents (my parents are awesome) but I did learn a lot about conflict resolution, communication, and how I see intimacy from them.  
My parents are alcoholics.  At night, they were embarrassing.  I’d have full conversations with my mom that she didn’t remember the next day.  My dad would sit in his chair and nod off to sleep.  Sometimes he’d wake up from a slumber and mumble random things incoherently.  This was my daily life.  At around 6pm every night - it was like this.  So, consequently, I never invited people over to my house.  I was always the friend that went to other people’s homes.  And I’d NEVER talk about this - not even to my brothers.  But we all knew.  We just hid it.
Every so often, the facade would crack.  I remember the first time my mom and my ex met, and my mom gave her a glass of wine.  My mom’s idea of a glass of wine was to keep it full at all times.  My ex was drunk with one glass of wine!  haha.  But - that was life.  I remember another incident that happened with a friend of mine who worked for my dad.  My friend came over at night to drop something off for work and my dad was pretty much sloshed.  I had to speak for my dad - in embarrassment - and find a way to get my friend on his way.  Sadly, these moments happened all too often.
Thankfully, I did learn one positive thing from this experience.  I don’t drink - barely at all.  But - I definitely learned some bad habits:  I keep people at a distance.  I don’t share difficult problems, I brush things under the carpet.  I retreat when in conflict.  And a hundred other little things.
It’s not to say I didn’t learn some very good habits:  I’m pretty darn loyal, even when things are bad.  I can be a very good verbal cheerleader - coach.  I can usually make people laugh.  And a hundred other little things.
Our parents are very influential - good and bad.
Having worked in ministry for most of my life, I’ve noticed that kids pretty much resemble their parents.  There are differences, and there’s rebellion - but for the most part, a successful parent will have successful kids - and - unsuccessful parents will bread disfunction.  I’ve noticed this trend too, kids that got pregnant early in life (say - High School) end up having kids that get pregnant early too.  It’s not a science, but it is almost weird.  Yes yes - there are exceptions, but surprisingly, it’s more common that I would have ever thought when I was younger.
I had one student tell me that her parents were super strict and never had any fun when they were kids.  Little did she know that I knew her parents in High School and they were completely wild!  They were strict for a reason - they had lived through their experience and, now, had quite a few regrets.  They were only trying to protect their kid.  I almost laughed out loud when she told me that.
But, here’s the funny thing - the parents that I knew in High School had parents who were super strict too.  A cycle of behavior passed down from one generation to the next.
Having come off an all bros trip in Tahoe with some old High School friends, one of the themes that kept coming up was how much our past - our parents - really influenced us.  There were many conversations about trying to figure out how to not live the dysfunctional behaviors that we picked up along the way.  Some of those behaviors are so subtle, it’s as if they’re not even there.
I have to admit, when I went to counseling - I didn’t even know why I behaved in certain manners.  I knew things weren’t working in my relationship - and I knew I was at fault with a lot of it, but - I had no idea that it was so deeply ingrained.  
One common theme in my blogs is the reality that God loves us - values us - accepts us - in spite of our behavior.  Unconditional love.  He loves the good, bad, and ugly.  That’s pretty easy to grasp - and will probably come up again in a future blog.
But, today, I’m curious about the change.  Or - the transformation.  
One of my friends said, “If it wasn’t for God - Jesus - I’d be exactly like my dad.”  Funny thing is - he’s a lot like his dad.  I don’t doubt for a second that God hasn’t changed him in a positive way - but - it’s still there - the same dysfunction.  
And it’s there in me too.  I wonder if this is a bit of that “thorn in my side” kind of thing?  I don’t know.
This is the subject that has been rolling around in my head lately.  How do we break the cycle?  How does one change something he/she can’t actually see?  As much as Christ loves us, values us, and accepts us 100% - what role does our behavior actually play in following Jesus?
Those are my thoughts to ponder today...
Have a great one!
Jer   

Friday, July 5, 2013

Abstract God


The other day, I asked this question to a bunch of high school friends: 

“What’s God like?”

The answers ranged from “He’s compassionate” to “He’s sort of indescribable.”  Many of the answers I heard were the typical kinds of words that you can hear at any church gathering.  But with every answer, I pushed back and asked, “What does that mean?”  I got a lot of blank stares in return.  I think I even heard crickets a few times.   

Other answers had to do with how a person felt - “You just kind of know inside” or “He’s that voice inside that tells you what’s right and wrong.”  Interesting...

Basically, what I heard was a lot of abstract words and subjective ideas about what God is like.  Is that all He is?  Complicated words?  Our own personal idea of who He is?  Our conscience?

Then I asked, “If you wanted to know what God was like - where would you look?”  Believe it or not, this kinda stumped them.  After a few weak answers, one student did say “the Bible” - but it had the ring of a “quiz book” answer without much confidence behind it.  And “the Bible” is - in itself - a very complicated answer.  But that’s a whole other discussion.

Now, I understand that these HS friends are new to thinking about God.  The fact that they even have curiosity about Him is remarkable.  But, in spite of their youth, their answers and thoughts are pretty common among followers.  I’ve talked to enough people of faith over the years to know that my HS friends‘ answers are the same types of answers that people of any age would give.  

I even had a Pastor friend of mine say “Trying to describe God is like trying to describe heaven.”  No joke.  He’s a Pastor - and he has a hard time describing God without using the abstract. 

I just don’t think it’s that difficult.  I don’t see it the same way. 

God is abstract - for sure.  I don’t blame anyone for thinking that at all - I often think it myself.  He is quite abstract.

But.

“The Word became flesh...”  (John 1:14)

The abstract became concrete.

The intangible became tangible.

The invisible was made visible.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15)

A few years ago, I heard a quote that helped me with this question of “what’s God like?”.  It’s always seemed to point me in the right direction.  I have no idea where the quote came from - but I’ve shared it with people countless times.  It also helps me with the fuzzy idea of the trinity.  And the quote is really simple:  

“There’s no God hiding behind Jesus.”

The fullness of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:19)  

So.  If someone asks the question - What’s God like?  I simply point to Jesus.  

And when abstract words come up to describe God (like compassion) I’ll tell a very tangible story of when Jesus displayed compassion (woman caught in adultery, Samaritan woman, etc.)  

This works with every abstract word used to describe God.  

God is humble (Jesus washes the disciple's feet, born of Mary/Joseph, baptism, etc) God is powerful (Jesus calms the storm, casted out legion, etc)  God is loving (Jesus healing multitudes, cross, etc.) God loves everyone (Jesus loving women, sinners, Samaritans, His enemies, etc.)

On - and on - and on.  The Word, did in fact, become flesh....

What’s God like?

Well...   “There’s no God hiding behind Jesus.”

So - look at Jesus - and you will discover exactly what God is like.  And that’s good news for everyone - because God is really good and He wants to be known!  - (and not in an abstract way)

Have a great day!

Jer



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summer time!


It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  That’s mostly because I restarted school.  I’m busy writing papers each week, with deadlines and grades.  It’s a new habit.  Gotta love the fun of school.  Ummm...no.  

Oddly enough, writing on here everyday for a month and a half was great training for school.  Writing essays is more formal, so that’s different - but the practice of writing everyday prepared me for success in the two classes I’ve already taken.  Six more classes and student teaching and I’ll have my credential - and another five classes for my Masters.  Chipping away.

All that to say, it’s summer.  I have a lot more time now, so I’m going to begin writing again.  Writing on here - that is.  And writing in a lot less formal way.  I will use words like ummm  and grrrr   with lots of dashes - cuz - that’s how I roll.  

Alright - off to writing...See ya soon.

Jer

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Roles Are You Playing?


“What’s up Mr. Kerr.”

I often hear this when I’m out and about in town.  I was at Target recently, getting toilet paper (of course), and a group of kids yelled it out as I was passing by.  Just - awkward.

“Hey” I mumbled back.  Toilet paper...haha

This got me thinking about all the different roles we play in life.

I have a really good friend that’s a barista at Starbucks.  She told me that when regulars see her out in public (outside of the context of Starbucks), they act surprised.  It’s as if she’s not supposed to have a life of her own.

I recently experienced this with a girl I see everyday at my usual coffee spot - Am/Pm (don’t judge!)  Almost every day I go walking at park, and a few weeks ago, I saw her walking too.  We said that awkward “hi” - but my mind had a hard time seeing her outside of her working role.  She wasn’t supposed to be walking in a park! 

When we wear those identities (barista, teacher, etc.) we often don’t act the same way as we would in our regular everyday life.  We play actual roles in life.

I talked to a friend that works at a Jack in the Box - he mentioned the same thing.  “I say hello to the costumer as soon as he walks in the door.  Always say thank you at the drive through window.  Wear the outfit.”  We are ourselves - but with that added role.  It’s as if we’re almost acting when we become “that” person.

This gets really screwy when we begin to understand that our parents played the role of “parent” in our life.  For whatever reason, we have the expectation that our parents are supposed to be perfect.  We wake up to life with the idea that they have always existed.  Of course, there’s exceptions to this - but many people have a hard time seeing their parents as actual people.  Many times, moms and dads are just like we are - people trying to figure out life like everyone else.  They just have the benefit of life experience on their side.  They have some good wisdom as well as some destructive habits they pass onto us - but - for the most part, they are normal - even regular - people.  They were kids too - with their own parents.  They skinned their knee, were yelled at, cried, - etc.  People.

Our perceptions of our parent’s (what they should be vs. who they truly are) can really mess us up.

Taking it a bit further...the scandalous gospel.  Jesus was a person.  We put Him in the role of God (which He is) and Lord - or King (which He is) - BUT - He was also a person.

There’s two stories in the scriptures where He seemed a bit impatient with His mom (when He was twelve and when He turned water into wine).  Jesus had a mom - like us.  Have you ever rolled your eyes at your mom?  Jesus can relate.  

Jesus looked at the night sky - with all the stars (as He created them) with human eyes like us - a canvas of black velvet with a million pinholes of light peeking through.  Jesus sneezed.  He probably skinned His knee.  He most likely peed in the woods.  He went through puberty.  And on and on and on.

In one instance - He tells His disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” John 15:15  Jesus (God) had friends.  Actual friends.  Real people.  (And He extends that friendship to us - which is a crazy thought).

There’s a bit of an impersonal-ness when we live in our “roles”.  When I “play” the role of teacher, there’s a barrier to real friendship.  There’s some really good boundaries for that - don’t get me wrong (especially when working with youth), but the same goes for a barista, or a waiter, or whomever.  Roles keep others from our authentic selves. ***

To many, God is an impersonal force.  He just plays a role - and a scary one at that (after-all, He does hold our fate in His hands - which can be a bit nerve racking).  But keeping Him in His “role” also keeps Him at a distance.  And our authentic self never seems to find that intimacy that we’re all really looking for.  

The role of God as an impersonal force breaking into the human story...

“God - a person?  He can’t do that!”  

And yet - that’s exactly what He did.  God came to challenge our assumptions in the person of Jesus Christ.  

What are some negative perceptions that you hold about God?  Do they match up with the Great Story - found in the scriptures?  What role does God play in your life?  What are ways you keep Him at arms length?  What if this “relationship” is supposed to be different than we perceive?  What does a relationship with God actually look like?

Good questions to consider...

Have a great day!

Jer




*** “roles keeps others from our authentic selves.”  I’ve met many men and women (pastors, youth workers, missionaries, etc.) that play the role of a “spiritual leader.”  This can create an inner tension that can eventually explode, if a person isn’t careful.  I’ve known many “leaders” within the church that only learn how to be authentic to the “wrong” person - and that leads them to all sorts of craziness (affairs, leaving their faith, etc.).  When the fit hits the shan / all hell breaks loose (when the facade finally crumbles) - everyone around asks, “How did this happen?”  Well - this might be a bit simplistic, but  - the person was in the “role” of spiritual leader and people keep reinforcing that “role” when they screwed up.  The “role” they played became a prison - a bit of hell on earth.  When a person steps outside of the bounds of their “role”, people’s expectations are bashed - and a real hurting person often gets condemned by those that are supposed to love them.  Sadly - this happens more often than I’d like to admit.  

And this doesn’t just go for spiritual leaders.  Parents too.  Parents are supposed to be good.  But - many are not.  It’s difficult to love someone when our expectation of them is constantly disappointed.  BUT - that’s not THEIR fault - it’s ours.  Our expectation of a perfect - or even good - parent is often unrealistic.  They’re only human afterall.  (This could be a topic for an entire different blog).

It's hard to love God when He's just "playing a role" in our life.  He'll never be authentic if we keep putting Him in that box.  

So - how does one change this kind of thinking?  


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's Kinda How I'm Wired

It takes a while for things to sink in for me.  I'll hear something, and a month or so later it'll actually come to light.  My mind seems to be always consciously and unconsciously working things out.  It always takes a bit of time for me to "get it."  It can be really annoying.  It's kind of like a time bomb - I'll hear something insightful...tick, tick, tick, tick: Boom!  Enlightenment.

It's kinda how I'm wired.

The story goes that Brennan Manning asked Shel Silverstein what God's love was like.  His response was the short poem The Giving Tree.

I heard that story soon after Brennan Manning's passing, but didn't really think much of it.  I'd read the poem forever ago, but hadn't looked at it since childhood.

Finally last week, I got around to reading it again.  BOOM!

God's Costly Love - Grace - all in a children's poem that people all over the world have read.

Soooooo Good!  This is as beautiful a picture of God's love as I've read.  What's God's love like?  Maybe this will help paint a better picture you.

May it be a BOOM in your life!

Jer


The Giving Tree

Once there was a tree....
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree....
very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy."
"I am too big to climb and play" said
the boy.
"I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?"
"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy."
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time....
and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook with joy
and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy."
"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy.
"I want a house to keep me warm," he said.
"I want a wife and I want children,
and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?"
" I have no house," said the tree.
"The forest is my house,
but you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
"Come, Boy," she whispered,
"come and play."
"I am too old and sad to play,"
said the boy.
"I want a boat that will
take me far away from here.
Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk
and make a boat," said the tree.
"Then you can sail away...
and be happy."
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy
... but not really.

And after a long time
the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy,"
said the tree," but I have nothing
left to give you -
My apples are gone."
"My teeth are too weak
for apples," said the boy.
"My branches are gone,"
said the tree. " You
cannot swing on them - "
"I am too old to swing
on branches," said the boy.
"My trunk is gone, " said the tree.
"You cannot climb - "
"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree.
"I wish that I could give you something....
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry...."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy.
"just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.

By:  Shel Silverstein