The morning after

I woke up this morning to news of an Obama reelection. A quick check of Facebook shows the majority of my friends, most conservative like myself, losing their fool minds. Talk of secession, the end of America and the stupidity of half the country abound.

I used to love politics and I think there are two reasons I soured on them. One, I discovered that inevitably whomever we elect will be a massive disappointment, continue to spend too much money and work within a deeply flawed system. Two, I became sick of watching perfectly normal people who I tend to like put their hope in sinful men. Any man who runs for election is not our ultimate hope. God decides who rules and reigns temporarily on this earth because He rules and reigns eternally.

There are three things in my life that truly matter to me.

Leading and loving my family well
The man in charge at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has absolutely no bearing on this. How I love my family and how I lead them is up to me.

To love those around me
God has put a great many people in my life that I am called to love and serve. I live my life to show them grace, help where I can, and walk with them, all in the hope that Christ will impact their lives in a way that undeniably glorifies Him and points them toward our great God and King. Again, no law, decision or idea coming out of Washington will ever impact me helping those around me.

To work hard and grow my business
This is the one where the president can have a slight impact. The amount of taxes I pay and other restrictions will effect the growth rate of my business, but not the eventual destination, which is success. I’m not going to lie, the last two years have been the best my business has ever experienced and gives me great hope for the future. I don’t give President Obama credit for my success any more than I would fault him had I failed. My business will live or die on the back of my hard work and determination. I am more determined than ever to make it work, despite anything the government might ever do, not because of it.

Did I vote for Obama? No. Would I have rather seen Romney in the White House? That’s a yes, but not by much. I’m not one who believes the other side of the aisle is inherently evil. I think they do what they believe is right based on their current set of motivations. Can those motivations be sinful and wrong? Sure, but so are all of ours sometimes. I think it does us all a huge disservice to just assume that everyone who disagrees with us is ignorant or evil. They are humans in need to love and grace, just like you and I.

I respect President Obama for the great calling and burden God has put on his life as President. To lead a few is a massive weight. To lead the free world…I can only imagine.

So, to all my conservative friends, keep calm and move along. What are the most important things in your life, and are they really any different today than the were yesterday? And who do you really look to for your hope?

I leave you with Daniel 2:21: “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.

Freedom in a sovereign God

Great post on Desiring God about God’s will and its authority over all other authority.

Which means that our comfort comes not from the powerlessness of our enemies, but from our Father’s sovereign rule over their power. This is the point of Romans 8:25–37. Tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword cannot separate us from Christ because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37).

This is where a faith in God’s complete sovereignty has really relieved a lot of my previous worry. Things will occasionally go bad, but none of those things is ever outside of God’s control, which makes them ultimately for my good. It’s faith in the power of God to finish His redemption plan that gives me hope that even a sinner like me will make it.

Focus and dimming vision

It’s always amazing to me how we focus on God and the periphery things, those things that don’t really matter, become dim. I go through times when I know God is calling me to cut things out and focus. I’m in one of those times and what that looks like is deleting all the distracting things off my phone and taking a break from Twitter and Facebook. Basically all the things I have trained my mind to constantly move to in order to stay distracted. After removing them it takes a few days for the muscle memory to stop.

Complete a to-do item, check Twitter.

Finish a call, check Facebook.

Wrap up a project, play Angry Birds.

Now in place of all those things it’s take a few minutes to pray, read the Bible or any of the other five theology and ministry books I’m in the middle of. It took a few days to calm my brain down and have it realize it doesn’t have to be stimulated by something new every 30 seconds. I think it also serves to lower my stress level in general.

It’s amazing how those things that ate up so much of my time now appear lifeless and dim to my vision.

The American dream

I can do it. That is the driver of the American dream. Given enough hard work and effort I can achieve the dream. And at times, that dream looks so sweet. A couple of kids. A couple of cars. A house with a couple of floors. Vacations at Disneyland or exotic beaches.

And for all that, all we have to do is work hard. Used to it was working 40 hours a week. Now it’s 60. We’re always chasing.

More.

Newer.

Better.

Faster.

All of it based on “I can do it.” My struggle this July 4th is my understanding of the gospel which says I can’t do it. I can’t run fast enough to outpace my sin. I can’t work hard enough to be justified. I can’t buy enough stuff to fill that hole in my soul.

I can’t.

And yet I try. I run and work and buy. And sometimes, through God’s grace, I achieve. The joy of success floods over me but like every wave that has ever crashed on the shore, it fades. It doesn’t last. That’s the dirty secret of the American dream. Not only does it not last, it doesn’t satisfy.

So then why? Men and women have sacrificed their lives so that I might be free. Free to run and work and buy, but I want more. God put me here in this time and place. It has to be for more than just that. Look across the globe at the suffering and sorrow in some countries. There are places where people are ripped from their homes and killed for what they believe. There are places where food is so scarce people go days or weeks without a real meal. But God placed me in a place of physical safety and comfort.

And in some ways I think God placed me in a place more dangerous than all of those. How easy is it here for my soul to wander? How easy is it for me to fool myself into thinking I can do it and I don’t need God? We don’t live in a place of great physical danger, but we do live in a place where we can be sucked in by shiny things that won’t satisfy. We live in a place where we are constantly chasing but told to chase the wrong things. We live in a place where we’re increasingly okay with that. We know these things won’t satisfy, but we continue to chase.

Anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man knows the great line that changed his life: “With great power comes great responsibility.” God did put me here in this time and place. He put me in a place of abundant resources and technology. And it isn’t just to terminate on my temporary joy. My joy is the end goal, but not temporary or perishable.

This 4th of July, I’ll cook something outside, enjoy a cold Coca-Cola (from a glass bottle), watch Jaws, see fireworks and hug my children. I’ll be thankful for all those who have sacrificed so that those things can happen. And I pray I don’t waste those sacrifices on the shiny lure of the American dream.

I can’t do it.

He can.

Various and sundry

It’s been so long since I’ve written a real blog post, I barely remember how to start them. That’s why you get this awkward intro. Looking back at the history of my writing, it’s odd for me to go long stretches without saying something. Over the last few months I feel like I’ve had things to say, I just haven’t had the time to pull the thoughts from my brain and place them here. And so this post serves as a stretching of muscles. I’m trying to remember how it was that I used to write on a regular basis.

We survived the long stretch of the spring baseball season, only to enter summer, which has somehow been just as busy. Cody and Colton’s teams both finished somewhere at the back of the pack, but they both had fun and learned a lot. Conner’s made a run at the championship and ended up in third place. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on the baseball field.

Since joining Life Church in February, we’ve once again become sucked into ministry which seems to eat a substantial amount of time. More so than actual church work though, we’re spending a lot of time really getting to know people we’re doing life with. It’s honestly something I’ve never been good at, but I’m learning.

My business continues to grow and branch out. Not as quickly as last year, but still growing, slowly but surely. Always with me at the helm, questioning everything we do all the time. Does that ever stop? That uncertainty that comes, not only with developing a business, but with knowing the decisions I make help or hurt the future of my family. It’s the odd position of always having to be sure of what you are doing, but never actually being sure.

In a few weeks I get to preach on the Gospel. All the study that goes into that has me examining my life to see all the places where the Gospel of Jesus really doesn’t have a hold. It’s a process of God prying my fingers off the things I want to control. It’s a battle He is winning, and I’m thankful for that. The transformative work of Christ is by no means easy or even fun, but I can see changes for the better.

Maybe that’s the source of my introspection this hot July evening. Maybe it’s my impending 32nd birthday. I tell myself I’ve accomplished a lot in my 32 years but the other side of my brain knows I probably could have done more, made better decisions here and there. But my deep-seeded theology about the sovereignty of God tells me I had to make every decisions the way I made it. He has been very gracious in my life and I should be more thankful for that.

As a rule, getting older doesn’t bother me. A big part of me relishes the idea of being in my sixties or seventies and really enjoying the wisdom of age along with finally having an excuse for my cantankerous nature. But, every so often, I have the occasional day when I acknowledge that I am getting older. My kids are growing rapidly and before I know it will be out of the house. I tell myself I’m looking forward to that day so Becca and I can start a different chapter in our lives, but I know the day one of the kids leaves my house I’ll be devastated.

God has blessed us with some of the most amazing friends in the world. Tomorrow night they will descend on our house for hamburgers (hopefully), margaritas (definitely) and swimming. We’ll swim and splash with our kids. We’ll relish the fact that their oldest just had his cast removed and is on the way to recovery. We’ll stay up entirely too late and talk. We’ll probably spend a lot of time dreaming about the future of the people God has entrusted us to care for in the church. And in that time I’ll take a moment and thank God for all he has done and I’ll forget that I’m about to turn 32 and anything else that’s bothering me.

But for now I get to be quiet and introspective and listen.

And that’s okay every once in a while.

Stealing $10

Along with 100-plus degree temperatures, August brings birthdays for both Conner and Cody. Being eight and six respectively, that means lots and lots of Legos. Legos as gifts, and when the gift is money, the opportunity to go buy additional Legos.

This means as soon as the final presents are open they are consumed with the Lego catalog, planning out their next purchases. This goes on for days because with our schedule it will probably be a while before we haul them to the Lego store.

Through the course of these days I hear snippets of conversations from the two boys about the sets they want and the amount of money they have to spend. It’s like a constant background noise in my life. During one of these snippets, I hear Cody say he found $10 and needs to put it in his wallet. My brain, consumed with a thousand other things, just assumed it was $10 he already had but lost at some point. My brain dutifully filed that fact away somewhere so I didn’t have to really focus on it.

It wasn’t until later that evening that it came up again. I walked into my office and saw my wallet laying there. A five dollar bill was sticking out at an odd angle. I don’t normally carry much, if any, cash on me but I remembered I had a ten and a five. Sadly, only the five was still in my wallet. My brain (I’m still amazed at how it works) immediately dredged up the memory of Cody saying he “found $10″.

I went to him and asked if he had stolen it out of my wallet. After a few weak denials, he admitted it. He wanted as much money as he could get before we went to the Lego store. Here’s the really sad thing, though. Every time we go to the Lego store, they find a set that’s just a little more expensive than what they have. Every time, I buy it for them and cover the extra cost myself. Every time. But he didn’t trust me. He didn’t realize that I love seeing their eyes light up when I do things for them. He didn’t realize that it brings me joy to do that. He didn’t trust that I would make sure it was an amazing trip to the Lego store. So he took matters into his own hands. That path led to sin and punishment and away from the joy I had prepared for him.

It’s times like this that I picture God with a look of satisfaction on his face. My kids are here as much to teach me lessons as anything else. You see, the “thousand other things” my mind was focused on that weekend was actually just one big thing. I was worried about my business. Why? I’m really not sure to be honest. We’ve had an amazing year and I have enough work lined up to last me a while and new clients signing on. But, none of those projects is of the “hey, that’s an entire month’s salary in one project” type. We’ve been very blessed to have a lot of those this year. Suddenly, for the first month I didn’t have anything like that on the books. Just your run-of-the-mill “string these all together and we make a great living” type projects.

Was that really cause to freak out and worry? No. The fact is I didn’t trust God to take care of me. We’ve had some rough years and the shadow of those years always seems to be at the periphery of my vision. I fear that business will dry up and we’ll be back to worrying about paying bills. The fact is, God has provided, even in the lean years. He stayed close with us and gave us exactly what we needed at the time. I’ve produced the same high-quality work for years but people are finally starting to really notice. That will continue for as long as God wants it to and I have to trust that he knows best.

Like Cody stealing $10 to take care of his wants, I steal time. Any time spent worrying is a demonstration that I don’t trust God as I should. Worrying steals quality time from my family and, ironically, from my business itself. When I’m worried I don’t function in any area like I should.

I need to acknowledge that God wants nothing but my joy in him. He has me on a path to experience that, either through good times or bad. I just need to trust in that. And Cody needs to know that I love him (and Legos) and will always do what I can to bring him joy.

Excited

I wish I was always as excited about the things of God as I am about what the Rangers are up to.

I wish I was always as excited about the things of God as I am about anything new Apple announces.

I wish I was always as excited about the things of God as I am about upcoming vacations.

I wish I was always as excited about the things of God as I am about closing new clients.

There’s so much noise out there. None of it is bad, it’s just there. It takes brain power, energy and focus. And what’s left is hardly enough to do credit to God. I guess that’s why he says to give him the first fruits. I hope I get better at that some day.

Freely given

Am I the only one that starts to pray for something and then stops to mentally weigh my good actions versus sins over the last week or so? Why do we do that? I know in my heart that God’s love is freely given. Whether he answers my particular requests or not is based on what is best for me. And yet I still, to this day, keep a mental tally in the back of my head as though it will somehow influence the outcome of my prayers.

When will I finally understand that even my “good deeds” are nothing to a completely Holy God? Even those deeds would not have happened if he hadn’t willed them to and helped my sinful soul do something right. So even those good actions are credited to him and do not speak of my own worth.

This is a problem for me even after so many years of knowing God. I hope one day this knowledge will make its way from by brain into my soul so I will really live in the fact that God’s grace and mercy are freely given. Freely given means it can’t be bought. But I still try.

The end of the world and baseball in Heaven

By now, most people have heard that the world is going to end on Saturday. The Bible guarantees it! Or so this guy* would have us believe.

My thoughts? Meh. If it ends, I’m quite comfortable with the state of my soul. The things that are bothering me today would no longer bother me, which would be a nice change of pace. My aging body would be replaced by a perfect eternal one. Having a body that doesn’t huff and puff after chasing one fly ball, I would finally be fit enough to play as a starter in Heaven’s pro baseball league. Not getting to see the Captain America movie I’ve dreamed of since childhood is a bit of a bummer, but I figure Heaven would make up for that as well. The prospect of seeing Heaven on Saturday without that bothersome death part would be very cool, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

If it doesn’t end, well, I’m happy with the current state of life and I’ll enjoy living it out for the foreseeable future. I suspect the fruits of this particular ministry will dwindle a bit without the threat of imminent destruction hovering over new converts. I’m honestly curious where you go from there. You’re terrified of the end of the world, so you do whatever is being taught to accept Christ. Then the world doesn’t end as expected. Is that connection that was created strong enough to sustain a relationship? I’d hope so, but our society has lulled us into forgetting everything about fifteen minutes after it happens, so I guess we’ll see. I really don’t know what they are teaching beyond the end of the world bit.

I just hope they paid for those billboards up front.

*It seems he also predicted the end of the world in 1994. An 0-1 average isn’t good but you have to give him credit for getting back up on that particular horse so quickly. You’d think this would be a one-strike-and-you’re-out situation. I guess not.

Why me?

As we sat in the hospital, awaiting Conner’s test results, I thought back to a blog post I had just written the day before. I reflected on the fact that when bad things happen to us, my first thought is usually asking “why me?”

This time we started the day with Conner having severe stomach pain. We took him to the doctor and they feared it might be his appendix about to burst. We rushed him to Dell Children’s hospital. After hours at the hospital (and, I fear, a lot of money) we found out it wasn’t his appendix. Just the flu. They sent us home with nary a prescription drug. So basically we started the day with the knowledge he had the flu and needed lots of Powerade. We finished nine hours at the hospital with the knowledge that he had the flu and needed lots of Powerade.

Seemingly pointless.

God knows we really don’t need the stress of trying to pay for an E.R. visit (Even with insurance, it’s insane. Don’t get me started.) So what gives? For once, I didn’t ask “why me?” I felt like God had me there to pray for people. I wasn’t sure what that looked like, so I would silently pray for people as I saw them. Each time I’d ask God if we could go home now. It felt like I was just talking to myself after a while.

Eventually I had to leave to get the other two boys. Becca called me shortly after I left and told me life could be much worse. She had heard a dad outside our room crying on the phone because they’d just discovered a tumor on his infant daughter’s kidneys.

That was the one we were supposed to pray for.

There was no doubt in my mind that Conner was suffering from the flu at that exact moment so we could be at Dell Children’s Hospital and pray for that little girl and her family. It was one of those moments of clarity that faith rarely affords us. I prayed for them. I asked God to heal her, to comfort their family and thanked him for having us right where we were. Whether he healed her or not, he was using us in his plan and that meant something. I then posted on Twitter and Facebook for people to pray for this little girl.

Days passed and I received a Facebook message from a friend who asked when we were at Dell. I told her and she informed me that she knew the girl I was praying for. She gave me an update and said the one-year-old made it through surgery to remove the life-threatening tumor. I’ll be honest I might have teared up a little. I’m 90% sure it was the allergies. But there’s that 10% that might have been real human emotion.

Why was my son sick? Why did he have to suffer? Why did we have to worry? Why do we have hospital bills?

Why me?

Because God is good and does good.

Sick children and frustration

Sickness is one of the many challenges in life we face. I know, as a Christian, that they are designed to bring us closer to our creator as we rely on him. They reveal our own weaknesses and shortcomings, thereby revealing our need for a savior. It can be a beautiful thing when challenges like illnesses drive us into the arms of our great King.

But what does it usually look like in my house?

I’m human. Sickness is something I have zero power over. If it can’t be cured with NyQuil (or at least have the symptoms masked by it), I can’t help you. So when my kids are sick, I get very frustrated. I want nothing more than to see them happy and healthy. I want them well. When they aren’t, it reveals my powerlessness. Being a man, you can imagine how much I love feeling powerless.

Instead of first turning to God and laying all this at his feet, I get mad. My frustration turns into general crankiness. This usually ends when, for the hundredth time in a day, my sick kid comes and tells me they are sick.

“I know you are sick. You have a doctor’s appointment. I can’t do anything else.” Delivered with my usual “Dad’s-in-a-crappy-mood” voice, I end up sounding more than a little mean to a sick child who just wants to be told it’s going to be okay.

That’s the point when I finally take the time to stop, acknowledge I can’t do anything (and that the anger isn’t really helping anyone) and ask God to help. I know these truths, and yet every time it plays out the same. Put one of my kids in the hospital and it’s even worse. It’s no less beautiful when I finally turn to God than if I’d done it from the beginning. In fact it’s probably more so because it reveals even deeper levels of his grace and mercy. But even with that said, it would be nice to get it right the first time for once.

Community looking out

I spend most of my time looking in.

I focus on my problems, issues and fears.

One of the primary benefits of gospel community is the opportunity to be surrounded by people who look beyond themselves. People who look out.

Being with people who look out convicts me of how much of my life is dominated by looking in.

Stepping Back: Forging Friendships

The first in a series of posts on what I’m learning by temporarily stepping away from ministry.

A little over three months ago we decided to step back from ministry for a while. I had felt for quite a while like God was telling me to take some time off, work on my own faith and work on leading my family better. After the last half of 2010 kicked us around quite handily, I decided it was time. It wasn’t easy but we really needed some time.

So how has it been? So far, just like the rest of life — crazy. Out of the last three-ish months we’ve been in Austin and well enough to attend church maybe four times. It has been nice, however, to be able to attend church and just be there to worship. It’s not something I was really wired for, but I’m trying to get used to it for however long God has us on this path.

One of the big things I’ve discovered is that I need to be much more intentional about forging friendships. I did a terrible job in my three years at Legacy making friends. There was a small group of maybe six people that I was in regular contact with outside of Sunday mornings. I’m still in semi-regular contact with those same people. The rest of the church? I talk to them the same amount I used to, which is to say, almost never.

In working on the church, I forgot to actually be a part of it. For whatever reason, I have never been able to really open up to people. This is Rebecca’s number one complaint about our relationship (well, she’s also not too fond of my inability to put dirty clothes somewhere other than my side of the bed), I just don’t open up well. Working in the churches for the last ten years has allowed me to be part of them without actually having to be a part of them. It’s a crutch and I think one of the primary reasons God wanted to pull it out from under me. Now my lack of deep friendships shows. The fact that I’m no longer serving as a pastor has left a glaring hole that should be filled by genuine relationships. The fact that I haven’t fostered those well in the past has caught up with me.

This is really true of anyone in life. My situation is unique to me, but really if we don’t take the time to grow these relationships, there will come a time when we need them and they aren’t there. No matter what the future holds for us, this is one of the things I have got to work on.

Dedication

I’m fairly good at video games. Given about 30 minutes I can usually become proficient at any game. Being a child of the Nintendo generation, that’s not really surprising.

A few months ago I downloaded a demo to a game. Despite my best efforts, even after an hour, I couldn’t master the complicated controls. I simply decided the game wasn’t for me.

One day Colton tried out the demo and loved it. It’s only a 30-minute demo, but he played it over and over when he had time on the Xbox. I walked in two days ago to see him playing it again. His character effortlessly tossed a bundle of C4 onto a satellite dish that was obviously his target. In the middle of clicking the detonator, he managed to dispatch three guards who were trying to stop him. As the flames from the explosion shot out, he ran to the edge of the tall building and leapt out into the void, letting gravity take hold. I watched as his character rolled in mid air and reached his arm out toward a passing helicopter. A grappling hook covered the distance between the chopper and his character’s hand in seconds and the man was sped away to safety.

I was amazed at what Colton had done as his fingers flew across the controller. He was having the character perform stunts that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger shy away. I had trouble making the character shoot straight or even walk to the left for that matter.

It’s entirely about dedication. I tried for an hour and gave up. My character will never do more than run in circles and become a magnet for enemy bullets. I didn’t put time into it.

Colton’s character deftly moved about the world, dodging enemies and destroying targets. He made it look simple. The truth was he’d put a lot of time into making it look that way.

Most people will tell you they don’t know much of the Bible because they don’t read well. Then, those same people will spend hours upon hours every week reading about things they are dedicated to. We struggle and struggle to spend regular time reading the word of God. And yet it’s effortless for us to find time for entertainment.

It’s all about dedication. I’m dedicated to a lot of things and because of that, I’m very good at them. I don’t know as much of the Bible as I should. When something bad happens, my first reaction is anger instead of prayer. All because the priority of what I’m dedicated to is out of balance. I’m not doing New Year’s Resolutions this year. Instead, I’m simply praying that God will help me be more dedicated to things that matter.