Sunday, February 11, 2018

Beating the Hidden Giant of Pornography

Godly men, have you experienced this odd disconnect in our Christian circles like I have? We are willing to admit we struggle with keeping Jesus's perfect standard in Mathew 5:27-28 that to even look upon a woman with lust is to commit adultery in our hearts. It's socially acceptable (but no less wrong) to admit that we struggle when an immodestly dressed woman walks past us at the fair, in the mall, etc. However, when we move this same sin of lust to an online avenue, it becomes an issue that no one wants to admit to or address. It becomes the giant elephant in the room among men's Bible studies. We know pornography is a huge problem, but it is an awkward, taboo subject that is so often left untouched.

This is true for me personally. I don't like to talk about this any more than you probably do. It's awkward. It's putrid and repulsive. It's something I wish we didn't even have to struggle with. I know this is why the disconnect exists between how big an issue pornography is and how quiet our response is. I can understand this, but at the same time, not talking about porn because it is an awkward subject, I now realize, is a lame excuse. It's against my calling as a Christian, even, to not speak out.  As it says in Ephesians 5:4,8-14:

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints . . . For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

  I don't think there can be a clearer call to speak out boldly against pornography than this. Lord forgive me for being too hesitant to speak out sooner! Men, It's undeniable that pornography shouldn't even be named among us. It truly is shameful even to speak of this thing done in secret . . . we should have no fellowship with it.

Since I have said that clearly, I want to say, humbly, that this is not an area I have been perfect in. I have had struggles as early as age 13 with purity online, and I have stumbled more than a few times. My failures have made me realize that I can't keep pure on my own. It is honestly an issue I believe no man can conquer on his own. The man after God's own heart, David, stumbled terribly. Who am I to think that I am better or more capable than him?

This realization has gradually led me to some firmly held ideas about how to beat this hidden giant of porn that I want to share with you. First off, we need to link arms with fellow brothers and fight this giant together. Secondly, we need to put every hindrance possible between us and pornography. Lastly and most importantly, our desire and passion for Christ needs to outweigh our sinful passions toward lust. I know these ideas sound simple, but I believe it's faithfully living them out that can bring victory—and by victory, I mean total and complete freedom from temptation online! I am absolutely convinced this hope is ours, men; I have experienced a taste of it myself!

My whole desire in this post is to urge men to take pornography seriously, and to explore together these ideas for beating it. My hope is that by breaking the ice about this awkward topic through this post, conversations among men will be started that will lead to both increased awareness and renewed resolve to beat this giant back out of the gates of our churches, families, and hearts.

It all starts, I believe, by throwing off this whole idea of a lone ranger approach to our sexual purity. If you look at every account of a man stumbling into sexual sin in the Bible, he did so because he was alone. The young man walked by the harlot's house alone in Proverbs 7. David was alone on that rooftop when he saw Bathsheba bathing. The most despicable, extreme example of sexual sin is found in 2 Samuel 13 when Amnon sent out everyone from his presence so he could be alone with Tamar. Men, it is so clear: terrible things happen when we are alone.

A huge strategy for sexual purity, then, is to extremely limit what is called our "private lives". Be around people who know you. Don't find yourself alone, especially with time to kill, as much as possible. There will be times, of course, where it is impossible not to be alone, but this doesn't mean you can't still be accountable with how you are using that time. For instance, I spend hours studying in a quite room by myself, but I spend a lot of that time screen sharing with other online students so we stay accountable and on task.

Speaking of accountability, I've also realized the great benefit of having a real live accountability partner. This is not as daunting as it sounds, I assure you! Find a dear friend and brother in Christ you can trust with your secrets and be honest about your struggles with him. You'll be shocked to find that he struggles with the same issues too and wants to be free of them like you do! Seriously, this isn't that hard if we are willing to humble ourselves and be honest. It shouldn't be weird to admit that you are a real, live functioning adult male with God-given sexual desires living in a fallen world. The trade off of having someone to help build you up and sharpen you in your battle for purity far outweighs the awkward conversations you will have to have! And not to mention, avoiding having to have those awkward conversations is a great bonus motivator to remain sexually pure.

This leads into my second thought about putting as many barriers between ourselves and porn as possible. We should take this seriously, to the point of actively inconveniencing or even handicapping ourselves if that is what is necessary to avoid lust! Sound extreme? Don't blame me! It's our Lord Jesus who says in Mathew 5:27-30:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

If our Lord takes lust this seriously, we should follow suit. It may mean something as extreme as not having internet at our homes or data on our phones if that is what it takes! In our day and age, that would definitely be like losing our right arm. Needless to say, we need to put as many barriers in place as possible till we stop stumbling online. An easy place to start is accountability software on all your devices and someone willing to partner with you in getting the software reports of your online activity. It may also mean no devices make it to your bed room. It may mean destroying every movie you have with a scene in it that makes you stumble. Do whatever it takes, men! I urge you. It was as if Jesus was figuratively comparing lust to gangrene. The decay and suffering it causes needs to be cut off to restore us to health! Even if that cutting off is painful and seriously debilitating, it is the only way to truly live.

Lastly but most importantly, our struggle for purity will only succeed if done for the soul purpose of glorifying God! Of this I am certain. When I try to stay pure only to prove my righteousness to man, I fail every time. How much better to be so committed to the Lord that to stumble in pornography would be heartbreaking solely because it would grieve the God who died for us! We can't fight fire with fire on this one. Battling pornography in our own flesh will lead only to failure. We need to live out our new nature as children of God, deeply committed to abiding and growing in our relationship to Him. I won't post it here, but I strongly recommend Galatians 5:16-25 as a key passage to understanding how we can deny sin as Christians. It begins and ends with walking by the Spirit!

I want to sum up this post with a simple but powerful verse. It demonstrates perfectly all the thoughts I have just shared and bundles them into one simple game plan.  May we all be faithful to find other men who call upon the Lord from a pure heart to hold each other accountable to. May we all actively flee lust no matter how much it inconveniences us. And above all else, may we be faithful to walk by the spirit and produce good fruit such as righteousness, faith, love, and peace! This hidden giant of pornography will starve itself out if it can't gorge itself on our lustful thoughts or desires. I am experiencing victory from this giant as I find more and more ways to distance myself from his reach. Will you come run with me? There is a way of escape for us where this giant can't reach. It's found in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ! Come with me, man of God. Let's flee and starve this giant together!

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 
2 Timothy 2:22

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Live Life Now

All I remember was a loud bang as the semi truck hit me.

I was on the last stretch of my journey home from Idaho last Sunday, crossing the mountain pass near our home. Night had fallen by then, and the mist rising from the partially melted snow reached for me like silver fingers in my headlights. I was following a semi truck and a utility van, the former of which was kicking up abundant amounts of sand which had been laid down to protect us from ice that had long since melted. Both the van and my truck were slowly coated with a greasy sheen of dirt. I was thankful it was still warm enough to use my windshield cleaner.

The semi truck was having problems going over 40 miles an hour up the steep mountain slope, and graciously he pulled over into a slow vehicle turnout to let us pass. The van hurried past him, and my truck reluctantly kicked into overdrive and sped up to 60 to match pace with the van. Headlights turned the corner in front of me, probably from some snow junkie making his way back down from the pass. 

Then I looked over to see the semi truck already coming back into my lane. 

I honestly don't remember much of what happened the next two or three seconds. I remember frantically looking ahead and realizing the semi truck driver was coming back over because he hadn't stopped on the slow vehicle turnout like I had assumed but was still rolling and maintaining a fair amount of speed. He had eaten up all the short space of the turnout lane and had nowhere to go but back onto the highway. I was only about two-thirds of the way past him as he was veering back onto my lane. The silver side of the semi grew closer and closer fast. My rear-view mirror folded in first. I remember oddly enough that it flashed in my face as the mirror rapped against my window. Then there was the loud bang as the semi hit me. 

I remember the oncoming car swerving to try and give me room and avoid the head on collision. I also remember there was no shoulder for him to get over onto, leaving most of the car still in the lane I was getting pushed into. I remember stomping on my brake . . .

And the next second, I was back behind the semi.

It took me a few minutes of shock and disbelief before I could process what had happened. I was shaking, both hands gripped on the steering wheel. And all I could manage to say, over and over, was "oh my goodness, oh my goodness." 

Which quickly turned into "Thank you, Lord, thank you, Lord" as I realized just how close of a brush with serious injury or even death I had been preserved from. 

Moments like this, when the veils of how fragile life really is are pulled back, sure gives me a moment to pause and reevaluate what is truly important. Would I have been content to enter the afterlife just then? With no formal goodbye to my family and friends? What would I have had to show for my life when I stood before Jesus? So many of my aspirations are future goals. I will serve you when X, Y, and Z happens, God. When I finish my degree, God. When I am married, God. 

It was revealing just how little of my 21 years would have counted for eternity. 

In that moment, all worldly passions fade. I wanted to get home to my family and hug them all tightly and promise I'd be a better son and brother. I wanted to call all my friends and give them some encouragement. I wanted to share the Gospel with someone who needed it before I never had the chance to again. 

When eternity suddenly is a few feet away shining in the headlights of an oncoming car, you realize how every second here on earth is a blessing that should be used to the fullest. No more pointless pursuits. No more discontent and dreams for only the future. Material things like a brand new, gaping dent in your truck become a non issue. You realize it's time to live life now. Make it count. Leave your family and friends with no doubt that they were loved deeply by you. Be ready to stand before God and be content at the good works He was able to work through you while you still had breath on earth.  Your prayer becomes "Use me now, Lord!" 

Micheal W. Smith's song "This is Your Time" resonates personally and is a great way to sum up this post. May we all make every moment count and truly live in light of eternity!

What if tomorrow 
And what if today
Faced with the question
Oh what would you say
This is your time
This is your dance
Make every moment
Leave nothing to chance
Swim in the sea
Drink of the deep
Embrace the mystery of all you can be
This is your time

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Forgotten Cross

It sits there in the little balcony overlooking our hill. It should have been lighted all Christmas season long. All it asked of me was to plug it in. Its warm, yellow glow should have been cast across our home like a comfortable, familiar blanket you'd wrap around yourself to keep out the cold. Instead, the gloom of these short winter days crowd in relentlessly.

It waits for me still, but now I will come only to take it down. I'll fold down it's short arms. Lower it to the ground. Store it away in the crawl space below our house to keep it safe for next year. It's my cross I made--A couple different lengths of black PVC roped with bright lights to shine the symbol of the Good News of Christ. 

It's the cross I forgot about all Christmas season long.

It's true. It helped that for the first time in a while, my dad was the main Christmas light setter-upper this year. But still, I had time to haul the cross up there to our balcony . . . I just never remembered to plug it in.

I can't help but feel a similar parallel to my faith the past month. It's there--steady, never in doubt of falling. And yet, it isn't shining. It feels almost forgotten even, or at least neglected. My devotions have been almost non-existent. Men's Bible Study and Church have been like little islands of light and hope I robotically swim to, walk across, and plunge into a sea of apathy on the other side. I've let all the distractions this season offers deaden my faith.

The analogy holds: like the cross, I haven't been plugged into my power source. I haven't been consistently abiding with Christ, and the witness my life should be as a Christ follower has been very dim. In this dark, desperate world, I've slipped into a pattern of selfish distractions that has kept my light from shining. My faith is there, yes, but it hasn't been alive for others to see and benefit from.

Thank goodness, I am committed to a God who will never wander from me and loves me more than I can even fathom. Who but Jesus would stay in a relationship so one-sided? Would you, if you were barely acknowledged day in and day out? Would you love someone who hurts you day after day in so many ways through his sin?

I am so humbled by that thought alone, and it awakens my love and desire for the Lord. It's more than that, though. My Sovereign God aligned several things to strike me all at once on Sunday. The first was a timely message from one of our visiting missionaries, reminding me that every Christian life consists of peaks and valleys. The valleys aren't abnormal, but they can be escaped through praise, prayer, and consistent time in God's word.

The second was a devotion I read by Ray Comfort. I was challenged to consider how my life was showing how thankful I was for Jesus's sacrifice for me at the cross. Not much currently, I had to admit. At the bottom of the page there was a prayer to pray, thanking Jesus and committing to live in gratitude. I prayed that prayer full-heartedly, which led to a longer prayer pouring out my heart.

It was as if this sip of everlasting water showed me just how thirsty I really was. I couldn't drink fast enough.

The third hit me as I rolled into bed after midnight. A new year--an oft-realized chance for a fresh start. I committed then and there that priority 1# for the New Year was reviving my spiritual walk. No more apathy. No more spiritual dehydration. It feels so nasty when you start coming out of it, really. Like the Steven Curtis Chapman song says so fittingly: "I'm playing GameBoy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon/ I'm eating candy sitting at a gourmet feast/ I'm wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean/ Tell me what's the deal with me/ wake up and see the glory."

So, here's my prayer for all of us in the New Year: May we take this time to recommit our lives to Jesus, that we will wake up and see His glory and live every moment for it. Let's not forget the cross. The distractions we can get wrapped up in are a pathetic, life-sucking trade-off in comparison. May we all make resolutions that will trim out these distractions and maximize our potential for Christ. He's given us each different gifts and desires to use in service of Him; let's not waste them! 

It's truly the only way to really live

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Just to Be

Happy Just to Be

To Timmy for inspiring this story. Thank you for letting me learn about life with you! (And yes, you can be annoying like Jack sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade you for the world.)


I swung my 1972 Chevy Malibu into the gravel beside the road. I skidded to a stop at an awkward angle, but I didn’t really care. This would be a quick stop, and a quick turnaround. I’d be homeward bound in a few. I jammed the shifter into park and hopped out. I soaked in the warm late-evening rays and stretched, and my weary body cracked and popped several times as I straightened my long frame. It had been another long day installing drywall—It had been another long week installing drywall.

 But now it was the weekend!

 I had been heading to spend the evening at the bowling alley with my friends. Rock-n-bowl, Friday nights, where everything is bathed in blacklight and the balls and pins are luminous, speckled colors, where the crash of the pins is only matched by the almost deafening party music. The atmosphere there makes it easy to forget the worries and trials of young adulthood, at least for a couple of mind-numbing hours. I had been heading for that when I got the phone call. Mom and dad had decided to go on an impromptu date, and I was put on little brother duty.

I had tried for a moment to plead my way out of it. I hemmed and hawed, and when I finally resigned my plans for the evening, it was with a long-suffering sigh and a goodbye bordering on hostile. I know I sound selfish—and I guess I am. But I had worked hard all week; didn’t I deserve to spend my Friday evening how I wanted?

 I consider my little brother Jack to be a certified pain. He is the literal definition of the baby of the family— the poster child of over-spoiled and annoying. What’s worse, I get the brunt of him. My older siblings, Glenn and Alexa, had long since acquired their wings and soared out of the nest, leaving me alone with my hatchling of a brother and his obnoxious, hungry chirpings. He is 12, 9 years younger than me. I suppose he’s not fresh out of the egg in that sense, but he’s still a content pubescent caught in the everyday pleasures of childhood. On my good days, I am decently amiable toward him, as long as he doesn’t intrude too much into my grown-up life. On my bad days, I would rather just ignore him, to put a force-field around my life’s sphere.

I think this might be one of my bad days.

That said, I had been put in charge of him for the evening, so I strode down the cracked sidewalk toward the Davis’s house in moody silence. Their small herd of kids are Jack’s best friends. Mom had let me know that this was where Jack had been spending his lazy summer afternoon, and shouts of joy and cheerful laughter directed me to the backyard, where I found him. He and four of the Davis’s were jumping on their trampoline. The youngest Davis boy—I never have learned any of their names—was hunched in the fetal position on the mat, knees clasped tightly to his chest, while the three other Davis kids and Jack jumped in a ring around him. From the looks of it, they were trying to bounce the young boy high enough to break him of his tight hold. It was a fun old game that I remembered playing such a seemingly long time ago. 

The children were laughing and calling out jokes to one another, completely oblivious to my intrusion. I watched them from the other side of the fence that ringed the Davis’s back yard. Their cheeks were flushed and dimpled in excited smiles. Their hair was standing up every which way from all the bouncing and the static electricity from the trampoline, and the evening sun’s slanting rays shone brightly through it all, giving the impression that they each had a hazy, golden halo. It was almost comical, but at the same time it looked . . . serene. They didn’t feel a pressure to be orderly and properly austere. They were expressing their friendship with enthusiastic abandon, not caring to put up an adult facade.

I watched as the little boy in the center came down from a particularly high bounce and splatted like an egg on the stretchy canvas—limbs flailing, his hold finally broken. The little boy rolled onto his back and giggled ridiculously. The other kids whooped with victory. I almost laughed with them; I even thought of joining them. I imagined myself jumping high and launching all five of the little ones sky high. That would get them giggling, that’s for sure!

Then a volleyball-sized bouncy ball slammed into my forehead. My head jerked, and I went reeling backwards a step. The kids burst out laughing again, and Jack called out in a sing song voice, “Hey, Mike the man!”

I frowned, my moment of reverie instantly gone, as if the ball had bounced it right from my brain. “Time to go, squirt,” I grumbled.

The kids were immediately crest fallen, and Jack opened his mouth to protest. A severe look by me cut him down before he could give voice to it, though. I watched the kids climb down from the trampoline and plod over toward the gate. I was glad that my authority was going unchallenged, but at the same time . . . it felt kind of lame to be the bad guy. At least for the Davis kids. I didn’t care a ton that I was ruining Jack’s fun, because he had already ruined mine.

Jack was first to file out of the backyard gate and pressed past me. He picked up the bouncy ball he had playfully flung at me and lobbed it back over the fence. The oldest Davis girl, who was about Jack’s age, smiled at me as she tried to press back her frazzled auburn hair with the palms of her hands. She was small, even for a twelve-year old, which made her even more cute. I made a mental note to tease Jack about her later.

“Was it a long day at work?” she asked. The tone of her voice was more questioning then it needed to be for a simple conversation-making question, as if she really wanted to ask, “Why is Jack’s brother so grumpy?”

I shrugged. “Kind of normal.”

“Did you get to enjoy the sun?”

I laughed a little at this. “No, not really. I do drywall.” I left it at that, as if she should know that duh, all drywall is indoors.

I walked around to the front of the house with the band of halflings thronged around me. Jack broke from the group and away from the straight shot to my car.

“Where you going, Jack?”

“Gotta get my bike.”

“Your bike?”

Jack looked at me like I had the brain of a clownfish. “Yeah, how else do you think I got here?”

“How do you think we’re going to fit it in my car, genius?” I shot back.

“It’s a hatchback. It’ll fit.”

Of course it would. That was the one thing about my mid-range muscle car, my beautiful Chevy Malibu. I had dumped all my savings into the station wagon model my late uncle had owned. I had loved the extra space in the back end at first. It was practical and convenient, was my thought, and I was a practical and convenient guy who also liked fast cars. However, it’s ridiculously wide rear end had become the butt end of many jokes from my coworkers—and that pun was definitely not intended.

Jack fetched his beat up, Wal-Mart brand bike from where it had been dumped in the front yard. He wheeled it toward me as I flipped open the hatch. My tool bag was dumped back there, along with several empty Monster cans, a Frisbee, and an old college textbook. It wasn’t exactly clean, but I was still reluctant to cram a dirty bike back there. I grumbled under my breath as I took the bike from Jack and lifted it in. When it was all said and done, the front tire left a smear of dirt on the seatback, and I nearly wrenched the handle bars off as I twisted them at an awkward angle to make the bike fit. I slammed the hatch shut with an exasperated sigh.

“Let’s go.”

Jack hugged his friends and said goodbye. I waved once to the kids out of a sense of obligation and hopped into the driver’s seat to check my notifications. Jack finally got in next to me, and I put my phone down and reached for the ignition. My engine roared to life, and I floored the gas for fun. I peeled out, and with a spray of gravel and a cloud’s worth of exhaust, we were off. The Davis kids laughed and clapped behind me. I smiled despite myself.

Neither of us spoke for a while.

“Fun day?” I asked when the silence became unbearable.

“Yeah, definitely!” Jack said with true enthusiasm. He didn’t reciprocate with a question of his own, so silence returned for a couple more awkward minutes. I decided to make use of that mental note to tease him.

“That Davis girl is cute.”

“Nicole?” Jack blushed a little even as he said it.

“Is that her name?” I asked. “Of the girl with the auburn hair, about your age but shorter?”

“Yeah, that’s Nicole.” Jack hesitated. “I like her. A lot.”

I glanced at him sharply. “You like her… like actually like like?”

Jack shrugged and stayed quiet.

I snorted and looked back out the windshield, straight ahead. “Aren’t you a little young. I mean, you’re twelve.”

“You mean you never had a crush on anyone when you were my age?” Jack retorted. He was being genuine, and there was this intense look on his face as if he was wondering if there was something wrong with him.

“No yeah—I mean yes, I guess I did,” I softened somewhat. “But of course, they never worked out or anything. You shouldn’t think about it too much.”

“Then why’d you bring it up?”

“I don’t know . . . I guess it was lame of me.” I paid a lot of attention to the stop sign I was rolling up to.

“I wish I was old like you,” Jack said wistfully. “Then it would work out.”

I laughed ruefully. “Being older doesn’t fix anything, kid. It doesn’t even work out when you are old enough for a relationship sometimes.”

“Like with Megan?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly. Megan had been my girlfriend for almost nine months before a painful breakup late in the spring. I had thought she would be the one. We had been a great couple, even. But now there was only that lingering, hollow ache that only the freshly single know so well. I tried to gulp down the lump in my throat and blinked rapidly at the late evening sunlight, as if it were the slanted rays that caused the tears in the corner of my eyes.

Jack watched me carefully. “I still wish I was older,” he said.

“What do you know? You should just be happy to be you!” I retorted, and I was surprised by the force of anger in my voice. “Being ‘grown-up’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I almost added more. I almost unloaded on him all my secret thoughts about how I wished I could be his age again, how I wished I could be free of the many pressures and hurts of my newfound adult life. But I managed to bite my tongue and turn my angry thoughts inward. It wouldn’t do to crush all of Jack’s wistful idealism about being “old”, a darkly sarcastic part of me reasoned.

It was almost tragically ironic. Here we were, two brothers, both with idealisms and dreams. The only difference was one of us wished for the future while the other longed for the past.

We rolled through our small town. Well, comparatively small. It had more than just the standard post office, hardware store, grocery store, and gas station. We had a small strip mall that fostered a revolving door of failed startup businesses, a couple of banks, a movie theater, several restaurants of both the mom and pop and chain variety, the bowling alley, Wal-Mart, and several other stores. It took about 5 minutes to get from the Davis’s side of town to the north to ours on the south.

Even though I rolled through it almost without thought, our town was nice. The filtered rays of the golden sunset bathed it in a comfortable glow, and friendly town folk waved occasionally from the sidewalk or from the front porches of the houses interspaced between the businesses. I had often had big dreams of leaving this town as soon as possible when I was younger, but those big dreams had slowly but surely been corroded by this—this small-town charm I rolled through every evening.

Jack grew especially quiet when we approached our one ice cream shop in town, a Baskin Robbins. An intensely thoughtful look worked itself onto his face. I could see the gears turning in his mind. He was wondering if there was any conceivable chance his big brother would have a drastic swing in mood and buy him an ice cream.  

I snorted.

“What?” Jack asked
“Oh nothing,” I said, and there was a pause.

“Sure was a hot day,” Jack offered a moment later.

“Yeah, almost hot enough to make me want an ice cream cone.”

“Yeah?" Jack perked up hopefully.

“Almost,” I repeated.

Jack hung his shoulders. He looked kind of like a birthday balloon that had lost its helium. He couldn’t see that his little scheme hadn’t completely failed, because he couldn’t see my thoughts. It had been a hot day, and it was the weekend. Plus, the money I had planned to spend for bowling would more than cover a triple-scoop waffle cone. On a sudden whim I jammed the brakes and turned into Baskin Robbin’s parking lot. Spontaneity—Maybe that’s something adulthood had taken from me. And maybe that was a good thing. But maybe, just maybe, it was okay to enjoy life a little sometimes.

Jack looked at me, his eyes as big as baseballs, and all but squealed with surprise and ecstasy. “Oh yeah, ice cream! Thanks, Mike!”

Where I might have had a warm feeling of good will, a twinge of indignation gripped me instead. I had this urge to teach Jack a lesson on responsibility and its correlation to privileges. What right did he have to just assume I’d buy him ice cream? I brooded on that thought for a bit.

“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch?’” I asked as I held the door to Baskin Robbins open for him.

Jack slowly pulled himself out of ice cream euphoria and blinked up at me. “No . . .” he said dubiously.

“It means that we have to buy what we want, or else if something is free, it’s only because the person who gave it to us expects something from us. Like taxes. Or our dependence and eventual slave labor.”

The politics of it clearly flew over Jack’s head. “What does that have to do with ice cream?” he asked.

“It means I’m buying mine, and you’re old enough to start paying for your own.”

Jack protested. I pointed out that he had money from mowing Mrs. Carrol’s lawn across the street.

“Yeah for like $5 a mow,” Jack countered. “You make way more money!”

“Since when did you become a communist?” I retorted. “And anyway, last I checked, five bucks can buy you plenty of ice cream.”

“And when did you become a stingy old miser,” I heard Jack say under his breath as he turned away to exam the closest fridge of ice cream flavors.

“Welcome to Baskin Robbins!” a ditsy teenager said from behind the counter. “What can I get started for you?”

 I acknowledged her with a nod. I tried a few samples like I always did before going with my tried and true favorites: strawberry, sea salt caramel, and chocolate. All the while I stewed over Jack’s last comment. He didn’t understand the adult world of money! He didn’t understand how hard we worked for it and how important it was to save and not just spend frivolously!

“Believe me, man,” I added as almost an afterthought as I watched Jack struggle to pick what flavors he wanted. “I wish I could be like you again and spend my money as quickly as I earned it. But adults have responsibilities.”

Jack shrugged by way of giving me the cold shoulder and didn’t even respond. He was taking forever to order his ice cream. Finally, he settled on two flavors.

“Gross, dude, seriously? Of all the 31 flavors, you chose sherbet and cotton candy?” I said.

“Are you guys paying together or separately?” Ditsy Girl said from behind the cash register. She looked at me expectantly.

I looked her squarely in the eye and said, “Separately.”

“Oh.” Her tone was somewhere between shocked and condescending. I looked down at the register. The display read $9.43. She began to mess with the keyboard, trying to cancel the order and re-enter each ice cream separately.

I guess she was probably a communist too.

Meanwhile, Jack dug into the pockets of his cargo shorts. He produced two crumpled dollar bills and started counting out nickels and dimes. And a few pennies. I sighed and decided to drop the morality lesson.

“Forget about it,” I said. “I got both of them.” I handed the girl my debit card. Jack returned his dollars and coins to his pocket with a relieved look on his face.

Back in my Malibu, the only sound was the smacking of our lips as we enjoyed the ice cream. I slowly eased back onto the road, driving one handed. As far as I knew, driving and eating ice cream wasn’t illegal yet. I kept glancing over at Jack . . . at the pleasure in his dirty, sweat-stained face that was soon to be joined by sticky sherbet smears. The way his lips were puckered from the cold of his ice cream. The way his chubby cheeks were drawn back and dimpled as he ate the top off his ice cream cone. The slurping and smacking noises he made as he sucked the sweet cream down his throat.

I was waiting for some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of thank you. Deep down I knew I didn’t really deserve a thank you. I had been a pill all evening, and I started to think this chip on my shoulder was more like an anchor dragging me down. A part of me started to wish I could just reboot the evening.

But it still would have been nice for him to say it.

As if he knew I was expecting something, Jack turned to me and said, “I’ll start earning more money soon.”

I shrugged, caught off guard. His words slipped under the armor of manufactured grudges I had been holding against him, but they didn’t really hit a soft spot. “Yeah, it’s nice to have,” was all I managed.

“It’s not everything, though,” Jack confided.

“It’s what we need to live.”

Jack nodded. “But I’d rather live for other things.”

I was about to correct Jack that I had not meant that I lived for money, but the air I sucked into my lungs to protest never turned to words. I licked my ice cream thoughtfully instead. Maybe, in this season where money meant the difference between a boy and a man—where all I needed was money to pursue my dreams—maybe it had become what I lived for. What else had more control of me? God? I rarely found time to open His Word between Sundays. My parents? Their authoritative role had diminished ever since I had gotten a car and a boss, though they still let me live in their house for rent. Maybe Megan a few months ago, but not anymore. Was I a slave to earning and saving? I looked at Jack again, not with a grudge, but with . . . something close to envy.

“Maybe money isn’t so freeing after all,” I mumbled.

Jack shrugged. “Yeah, I guess . . .” He was thinking too, but his crinkled forehead and the thoughtful look in his eyes passed quickly like a cloud on a summer day.  “It bought ice cream, though.”

I smiled a little bit. “Close enough to happiness, right?”

The joke slowly dawned on Jack, and he burst out laughing.

“What?” I said. “It’s not that funny.”

And I was right. The joke wasn’t really that funny, but Jack was still laughing. I felt like I was on the other side of a fence again, watching a world I had grown too old for but somehow still wanted. Maybe I could join it, just for a moment.

“You’re going to snort ice cream up your nose,” I said, and I grinned impulsively.

Jack laughed even harder and snorted in-between breaths. “Ow, ow, you’re right!” he gasped between breaths.

Now I laughed. He looked so comical, his face contorted in a laugh and grimace at the same time. And the thing was, with each laugh I felt the chip on my shoulder growing lighter, as if it was being shaken off. And it actually felt good—like I could just be free.

A sudden thought struck me as I laughed: maybe the way to enter that old world on the other side of the fence was to let Jack into mine. I had bought hook, line and sinker the culture’s idea that little siblings were nuisances to be avoided at all costs . . . but perhaps that was all wrong. I thought of a verse from the Bible just then, something Jesus had said: “Let the little children come to me.” Maybe the example of the wisest man on earth was worth following.

Our ice cream was consumed, but we were still snickering when I turned into our gravel drive. It was a long driveway, about a mile long, but I actually felt a twinge of regret that we only had a mile of our drive left. So much for bowling. This was starting to feel like it could be more fun somehow. More real. I stopped the car abruptly and turned to Jack.

“Hey, you wanna drive?”

Jack’s eyes turned to baseballs again. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, sure. Don’t you want to?”

Jack nodded excitedly. “Like, on your lap, or trade places?”

I slid my chair back all it could go, which was about two notches further then I already had it set for my long legs. “Lap,” I said. “For your first time, anyway.”

Jack clambered over onto my lap awkwardly. His face pressed into my shoulder for a solid 15 seconds as he tried to get his feet under the dash and near the pedals. I laughed again, not caring that he was getting sweat-caked dirt and leftover sherbet on my t-shirt. It was a work shirt anyway. Finally Jack got himself situated. His tummy was an inch or less from the wheel, and the back of his head stuck in my face. I craned my neck to get a view out the windshield and said, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Jack took a deep breath as he put the car in drive. A sort of gravity fell over him. Risk and reward, I realized. Responsibility. He eased onto the gas and started puttering down the road at about 7 miles an hour.

“Come on, bro, let’s hit it!” I knocked his foot off the gas with my own and stomped on the pedal.

We spun out and swerved precariously, and Jack squealed with ecstasy and terror. I added a holler of my own as Jack got us straightened out, and we flew down the road. The sun was down, and the first few stars appearing in the dusky sky winked at us as we sped below. The neighbors to our left had horses fenced next to the road, and the startled beasts took to flight and ran along the fence line ahead of us. I rolled down the window and whooped at them as we caught up and passed them. Jack added a whoop of his own.

“This is amazing!” he shouted, giving each word emphasis.

“Yeah buddy!” I yelled back.

And in that one moment, that one glorious moment, our worlds collided and shattered in a kaleidoscope of shared emotions. I forgot about whatever season of life it was I was supposed to be living in—or rather, I lost all feelings of disappointment and longing to be someone I could not be. In that second with Jack, I breathed deeply and added one last joyful yell.

And I was happy just to be.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Third Down: What a busted transmission, an accident with a chainsaw, and a two week virus are teaching me about God's grace

October just wasn't my month.

It all started in the middle of a precarious curve in the road. Steam filtered up either side of my truck, and I could go neither forward nor backward. Luckily, my good friend Abe was helping me at work that day, and between the two of us we were able to clear truck, trailer, and everything inside my trailer off the road one step at a time, without getting run over.

The diagnosis was a toasted transmission. That's how October started.

Still, I wasn't particularly depressed. I knew my truck was going to have some big thing like that eventually, and early October wasn't the worst time in the world for it to happen. So I borrowed another truck and got back to work.

My second down came in a moment of shock and disbelief. One second I'm standing over a log I was finishing cutting up for a customer, and the next moment I am staring at my left foot, at a gash my chainsaw left when it suddenly kicked back off the log. My thoughts in the following three seconds went as follows: That didn't just happen. That DID just happen. Shouldn't it hurt more? Maybe it didn't hit flesh. Nope, I see red. OH. NO.

 A handful of stitches later, I was seated back at the house, effectively grounded on the sunniest week of the fall. Things were starting to not be so upbeat.

Then the third down hit me. There's this virus that has been going around in our household. It's been characterized by body aches, chills, fevers and sweats, lots and lots of coughing, and loss of appetite. Oh, and it lasts an average of two weeks. And it found me, like a lineman hitting a rookie quarterback who couldn't find his way out of a collapsing pocket.

I am currently closing out day 10 of the sickness. It has been, in a word, exhausting. Finally, I am at rock bottom here. My truck is still not back, the stitches are still in my foot, and this cough is still racking my body. The start of this month should be a time of anticipation and joy as we quadruplets celebrate our 21 birthdays and look forward to Victoria's wedding on the 11th. Instead, I have barely enough drive to eat a bit of dinner.

The amazing thing is, though, that God is here in this mess. He's more apparent in this tangle of trials then when I was flying high with no problems to mention. He's giving me grace, enough grace to keep on being productive (schoolwork) without loosing hope and wallowing in self pity. No, it's not some ethereal feeling of complete happiness . . . The battle between my darker moods and my confidence in God's plan feels like fierce guerrilla warfare at times. But I am catching glimpses of God's grand design, and oh how good it is!

I was recently challenged to give back my time to God, and here God has knocked me off my feet long enough to reevaluate if I am taking that challenge to heart. To stick with the football analogy, I know God is like the coach who takes a player out of a game in which he keeps getting clobbered. I'm currently a bench-warmer with a chance to recover spiritually and get my head back in the game. And it's been good, so good, here on the bench this week. My personal devotions have been vibrant and real again. I can feel God cleaning out another nasty corner of my heart where I was holding on to my independence from Him.

I can see clearly again the joy of living for Jesus alone, and I can't wait to get back in the game when He sees fit! Until then, my goal will be on spiritual refreshment and strengthening. It's a muddy, messy, maddening field of life out there, but I want to be ready to enter and deliver some hits for God's kingdom when my time on the bench is over with!

Maybe you're like me and are on the bench right now. Maybe you've had a rough set of downs, or maybe you've just not had your head in the game. But the good news is God is right there with you. He's got an arm around you, and he's got a playbook for you to read. Study up and let him coach you back into the game! These trials we're hit with are designed to make us stronger, after all!

God is good, and His grace is amazing. He knows just what I needed, and He gave it to me. And I will have a little scar the rest of my life on earth to remind me of that. I give Him the glory, and I recommit to living EVERY second of the game clock for Him!

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
2 Timothy 2:1-7

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Eye of the Storm

The devastation of Harvey is almost unprecedented. The rainfall--43 inches in Houston, TX over only five days--completely shattered previously held records. The death toll is now at 70. It is close to, if not is, the most costly storm in our nation's history.

And yet, Harvey may have a challenger to some of those records already.

Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida. A category 5 storm, It's already decimated the Caribbeans, leaving at least 22 dead. It is expected to hit landfall late tonight in the USA, possibly still as a category 5 storm. Or, "at best", it will be a category 4 storm. By comparison, Hurricane Sandy was a category 2 storm as it approached New Jersey. By the time it hit the cold Northern air just before landfall, it wasn't even classified as a hurricane.

Hurricane Irma is poised to be very, very fierce. It will be deadly and destructive. It will make history.

As a reporter from ABC news puts it: "Whenever man and mother nature meet, it's a mismatch."

But that's the point, do we want to face this storm alone? We are hopelessly outmatched. We can't stop the storm. All we can do is predict Irma's destruction, flee from it, and come back to clean up the devastation when it's run its course. Without a hope of some higher force than the forces of nature--without hope of the supernatural--we are left to pick up the pieces, despondent and despairing.

But there is hope! Hope in a God who is mightier than any storm, hope in the God who created the universe with nothing but the breath of his mouth. As Psalm 93:4 reassures us:

More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, The Lord on high is mighty.

With God, we can face any trial or storm with confidence, trusting that He has a grander plan than ours, even in the storm. Yes, He could protect us from all storms, but in the end, do you think that would be best for us? We are fickle, wandering people. So often we turn from God in seasons of comfort and pleasure to our own desires and our own gods. Maybe God is orchestrating natural disasters in our nation to catch our attention again. Maybe He loves us enough to give us some hard discipline so that we might fall on our knees, repent of our self-serving, self-sufficient ways, and humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. Can these trials strengthen our faith? Will our faith not only endure, but grow stronger through these storms?

I'm reminded of our ultimate example, Jesus, and how He stood up to the intense personal storm He faced right before His death. Jesus's last hours were a non-stop hurricane of intense drama and tragedy.An angry mob encircled Him; His disciples betrayed, denied, and abandoned Him; mock courts condemned Him; blindfolded, they beat Him; A spineless leader didn't have the guts to release Him; Romans whipped and degraded Him; crowds taunted Him even as He hung on the cross! And yet, through it all, Jesus remained utterly calm. You see, He trusted the Father's will and had completely submitted Himself to it. Jesus was the calm eye of the storm while the powerful forces of bitter rage and injustice swirled around him--and ultimately destroyed him, for three days at least.

Let me be clear, Jesus could have at any time stopped the storm. In fact, we catch a glimpse of this in John 18 where Jesus merely utters "I AM" and the mob sent to arrest Him are blown back to the ground. Tens of thousands of angels waited for the Lord to but utter the command, and they would have completely obliterated the opposition! But yet Jesus walked through the storm, knowing that the Father had a better plan, and look at what amazing good is in the world because of it!

We may be called to walk through these storms, but there is a way to walk through them with calm confidence. Hurricane Irma is still coming. We can't override God's will and stop it, but what we can do is put our trust in God. Let's humble ourselves, confessing all our anxious thoughts to Him. Let's repent and make Him the Lord of our lives! And please, join me in prayer for everyone in the path of the storm. Let us pray that these storms will turn our nation back to the only God who can save us, so that we can again be a nation who says fullheartedly, "In God We Trust."

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You, and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge. Until destruction passes by. I will cry to God most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.
Psalm 57:1-2

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Putrid Pride

What is the most disgusting thing you have ever had to deal with? Something that made you gag involuntarily, perhaps. Something you swerved into the other lane on a double yellow to avoid getting on your tires, maybe. Something you walked in on in a bathroom stall, possibly.

For me, it would definitely be when I had to clean the staff bathrooms at my first job at Mayfield Lake Youth Camp. They hadn't been cleaned, or even flushed, all year. And I had only a sponge to work with.

Makes me want to go wash my hands just thinking about it.

While we're on the topic of disgusting things, have any of you stumbled upon Acts 12:21-23 recently?

On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Ewww, yuck. Reminds me of a very similar story in Daniel 4:30-33:

The king reflected and said, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws.

Man, talk about dreadlocks. These two disgusting stories have a very central theme running through them: a man exhibiting an extraordinary amount of pride and receiving an immediate,  immensely-humbling judgement from God as a result. It makes me think, what is the most disgusting thing God has to deal with? Given the severity and nature of His judgement on pride in these two passages, could it be pride?

Indeed, we find pride at the top of the list of things that are an abomination to God in Proverbs 6:16-17A:

There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes . . ."

Even as flawed image-bearers of God, we have a knee-jerk negative reaction to pride. That know-it-all who bends our ear with his apparent wisdom; that self-obsessed jock on the sports field with the bat flip or the chest thumping; the glamourous girl with the upturned nose and squinted eyes. We wish someone would cut them down a notch or two, often because our own pride is offended. Imagine, then, the righteous disgust the perfect God of the Universe, who deserves all the praise and glory, feels when we little blobs of dirt start thinking highly of ourselves.

It is despicable--putrid. Pride is putrid.

It's no wonder then that both James (James 4:6) and Peter (1 Peter 5:5) quote Proverbs 3:34:

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

If you're like me, at this point it's getting personal. My heart sinks. My stomach twists. I know what a young man of pride I am. It creeps into many of my thoughts. It daily taints my Christian walk. I so wish I could be rid of it!!

I can only trust my amazing Father to keep giving me the strength to change. I know from that same passage in 1 Peter 5:5 that He understands the struggle we go through with our pride, especially us young men, as right before verse five we are called out to "be subject to your elders, and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." We're given the practical solution in how to carry out this transformation in verses 6-7:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares for you.

We will only conquer our pride by submitting ourselves to God. We have to stop thinking we can do anything on our own--including, ironically, fighting our own pride. Jesus shouldn't be our crutch; he should be our stretcher, our ambulance, our medical team, and our AED. We are nothing but a dead corpse without God! Realizing this, let us bring all our anxieties to Him. It will humble us, realizing we can't handle anything on our own, and God will give us the grace we need to keep growing in true humility! It's a central theme of the Bible: the way to victory is surrender.

I'm done with the putridness of pride. I want to stop stinking, and smell more and more like the sweet aroma of Christ! Who's with me? May we all be like Nebuchadnezzar, who had his reason restored when he turned his eyes to heaven and blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever. May we not become like Herod, a man who built his own crumbling little sand castle of a kingdom while God's eternal Word and rock-solid Kingdom was spreading like wildfire. May we refuse to be a dead corpse eaten up by pride, but instead take the first step to true humility by humbling ourselves and drawing near to God. Will you insert your name for Nebuchadnezzar's in this verse? Will you confidently say:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
Daniel 4:37