Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Marriage, a Means or an End?

What are some key ingredients in the recipe for "losing your passion"?
  • Make sure you see all your relationships as ways to get what you want.
  • Never ask the "Why?" question when deciding how to spend your free-time.
  • Look at your job as mainly a means to get money.
  • View money as the end, rather than a means to more important things.
Ultimately, we lose passion for living and we lose perspective in our day-to-day lives when we neglect, forget, or never look into how it all begins.  Why do I have all these relationships?  What is the best use of my free time?  Why does the company exist that I work for and what is my role?  Why does money drive so many people and does it really fulfill its promises?

Marriage is no different, for if marriage is the goal, then we can define it how we want and we can determine our (and others') worth based on it.  We get into the marriage and, sometimes sooner and sometimes later, we ask ourselves, "Is this all there is?"  It's not a commentary on our spouse, but rather on our false expectations of marriage.  Even the most important person in our earthly life was never intended to fill our void (no matter how great the movie line is, Jerry Maguire).

Why does the nagging inner voice keep asking, "Is this all there is?"  Because the most important relationship we could ever hope of having has been tainted forever.  You and I have something in common - it's our need for complete communion with our Creator.  We fill this void with money, people, success, power, pleasure, etc.  We experience short term satisfaction and enjoyment but we know, at the heart of it all, that it just didn't cut it for us.

Back to marriage.  Because marriage, then, was never meant to fill the void or "complete" anyone, what is it for?  It is a means (and a very important one according to Genesis 3:24 and Ephesians 5:22-33) to showing someone what love looks like and that Jesus is the ultimate lover, dying for our sins, in our place.  If God is our most important relationship, and Jesus is the means to reconciling with our God, then selfless, heterosexual, only-one-spouse marriage is the only definition of marriage that can help us get back to God.

Yes, many heterosexual marriages are selfish.  In fact, one could argue that, on any scale that a person could invent, many homosexual marriages have more redeemable qualities than many heterosexual marriages.  But this is no reason to redefine marriage.  After all, who am I to doubt the true love of a teacher for her 16-year old boyfriend/student?  Without some sort of guidelines and standards of what's appropriate and what isn't, we are all reduced to our own definitions (and we all know what wins when our feelings have war with our self-imposed standards).

Who should define marriage then?  Allow the Inventor of marriage to define it, run with that definition, and enjoy marriage for the means to see God that it was meant to be.  Or, define marriage the way you see fit, see it as an end in itself, and constantly come up against a dead end on the road of a life that is truly full of life.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Winning at all costs?

As we approach another National Football League season, we are coming off a Super Bowl that showcased a clash of coaching cultures.  We had John Fox vs. Pete Carroll.  Old School NFL vs. New Thang College.  Keep your shirts tucked in vs. Let all your emotion show.  Even the teams themselves reflect the coaches, especially regarding old guard and new guard.

I see another difference;  maybe it's my age or maybe it's actually a different philosophy of football.  It seems that football, on all levels, is turning into, more and more a "look at me" sport.  Ex-college coaches have been successful for many reasons, including their ability to relate to and harness young passion and our youth culture.  Without delving into a sociological study, I think it's safe to say that, in general, this generation of players in the NFL talks more, celebrates more after a simple tackle or a first down catch, and thrives more on swagger than steadiness.

Even the Conference Championship games had a different feel between them last January.  The two AFC coaches rarely showed emotion, while the two NFC coaches rarely don't (see Jim Harbaugh going nuts after a failed reply challenge).  Coaches set the tone.  As we found out, Old School Calm and Cool lost the Super Bowl to New Thang Emotions On The Sleeve.  At the same time, we were reminded that a great defense usually beats a great offense.

This year, the same six teams are expected to be right back in the mix again at the end of the season.  No matter what style you are in favor of, my guess is that it's the TEAM you'll be rooting for, not the style.  Who cares how you do it, right?  Just get the job done, right?  What's the most important question at the end of the year?  "Whose holding the Lombardi Trophy"?  I don't think so!  I know this, because all anyone will care about tomorrow when Seattle opens up it's season against Green Bay, is who will win that game, not who won 7 months ago.

Rather, the most important question at the end of the season will be, "How did you go about your business?"  Obviously, this is the question for anybody, no matter their job, their like (or dislike) for sports, or where they live.  What matters most to everybody that played in that Super Bowl has nothing to do with the result of that Super Bowl, but with how they celebrated, recovered from, or mourned the outcome.

I am a pastor.  If I had a knee-jerk response every time something bad happened or when it didn't go my way, I would be out of a job.  Not, necessarily, because the congregation would boot me out, but because I would clearly not be qualified to lead them anymore.  So why does it seem to not matter whether a football coach loses it?  Because results matter more than personal growth in the NFL.  The irony is, though, that without a commitment to personal growth, the results will mean less and less anyway.

Life is a marathon, sports is a sprint, let's not confuse the two.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I need lots of help

Why do we continue to maintain a belief that success is directly related to control?  When I have a schedule, stick with it, and don't mess up, I've had a successful day and I'm exactly where God wants me to be. On the other hand, when I fail, need to confess my failure to others, and accomplish very little (if any) of my plan, I am further from God's plan for my life than when I started.  We use things like the following to justify our position:

  • Hurricane Katrina is most known for how the local and national government failed to respond properly.
  • My Denver Broncos were the victims of four of the worst blowouts in Super Bowl history.
  • Lance Armstrong is the poster boy of failure, not to mention cheating and lieing.
  • Obamacare is not exactly making a reputation of saving lives.

We know, in our minds, that some of the greatest achievements in history came because of numerous, if not countless, failures.  Yet, in our hearts, we cringe at the immediate potential of not measuring up.  Why?  How come our minds have such a hard time influencing our hearts, or the other way around?

The short answer?  We are more than just robots, equipped with a central intelligence that acts on its own.

Not-so-short answer?  Our Creator, God Almighty, made each of us as individuals, unique amongst humans.  There are no two alike, our minds and hearts, beliefs and emotions interacting with each other in a never-ending conversation that makes us who we are.  God does not want our minds to control us for, as the Apostle Paul says to the church in Corinth, "your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:3)  We do things we don't want to do and don't do the things we want to do; welcome to something we call LIFE (see Romans, chapter 7, verses 14-25).

I am not advocating failure but, rather, I am embracing it as a means through which we can be our true selves.  Failure does NOT define me, but, instead, it guides me to be the person I really am.

I'll end on a super-practicle note.  Each of us has been, and still are, haunted by sin.  Sin, those acts and thoughts that go against the One who created us, can either be ignored and not taken seriously OR it can be addressed and dealt with.  The former will lead to a life in which sin defines you (liar, thief, adulterer, player, gossip, etc.).  The latter will lead to a life which is more free to be the man or woman that we were made to be, because sin is being dealt with.  How is it being dealt with?  Check out the past, present, and future of dealing with sin:

  • Receive Jesus' gift of His death in our place on the cross some 2000 years ago, so that our sins are forgiven.
  • Confess our specific sins as often as possible day-by-day, so that God can transform us and make us, in essence and practice, better people.
  • Look forward to eternity with Him in heaven, with no doubts, because Jesus already paid our debt in full.  Therefore, our life is not lived trying to earn anything, but simply living for Jesus, our Savior, Lord, Friend, and King.

If I don't need lots of help, I'm on my own.  It may boost my ego for a time, but it surely won't give me answers, or peace, or security for eternity.

I need lots of help. "Thank you, Lord, for being there for me and giving me the people that I need, especially my wife of 24 years!"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

When are you most alive?

"In the zone", "on a roll", "can't be stopped" are all phrases given to athletes or artists or writers that are in the midst of doing what they do best, doing it at a high level, and enjoying it thoroughly.

The only thing that really matters in those moments seems to be. . . the moment.  Each person takes in those moments in different ways; it's a part of the Olympics that is so enjoyable for me to watch.

In order for these moments to keep their place, a person must learn to cherish them, not try to read more into them than what is there, and definitely not try to repeat them, right?

As I've been in Chile almost two weeks now, I am learning to enjoy these moments thoroughly without asking too much of them. If we seek to make life statements in or through these moments, we tend to mourn not having more of them rather than thank God for them and simply celebrate them.

So how do we make sure we experience more of these moments?  I suggest that we don't!  As the Bible indicates, when we seek His things first, the other things will come (Matthew 6:33) and God will bless us in his timing and in His way (John 12:25,26).

A basketball player cannot predict when he'll have 50 points, a writer can't predict which of her stories will be a hit, and no one can predict when God will move in a new way.

As I anticipate leading a time in the Word tonight with some Chilean youth, it is pointless for me to predict or presuppose on The Lord. Rather, I prepare, come with His backing and energy, and leave the results to Him. All of this while enjoying the moment thoroughly.

No matter what we do, what we're really good at, or how often we're "in the zone," we can thank the Lord for each moment and truly live life fully alive.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Think I Can't

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Hey, If the little red engine could, why can't I, right?

A key part of living life to the full is living life BEYOND full. A lesson God wants to teach His creation is that if you ONLY live life to your fullest, the results will be, at best, large amounts of human recognition.

The way I'm learning this lesson while in Chile is that the more I look for recognition for what I do here, the less effective I am. On the other hand, the more I ask for prayer to make me effective for God's Kingdom plan, the more freed up I am to give myself away and be much less concerned about myself.

God is answering those prayers, though the seemingly constant struggle is self-consciousness and concern for the opinions of man. My times of "giving myself away" have been, literally, the most fruitful and fulfilling times of my trip so far.

May Jesus be magnified, my own insecurities be minimized, and God's Kingdom be expanded because of it all.

I can now truly say, "I think I can't" with full confidence that because of this healthy dependence on God, what I accomplish will be much bigger than me and will be more beneficial for all involved.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Accumulating stuff

As I prepare to leave for Chile in about an hour, I am blown away this morning by a very clear truth:  What I spend time and energy accumulating reveals where my heart is.  Here's where this truth came from:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Revelation 3:18

Though it is not wrong to be motivated by things like earning earthly money, earthly trophies, or earthly accolades, none of those things should be our sole desire.  Once the next raise, or a Super Bowl trophy, or the ultimate promotion becomes our very life, we allow the world to determine our worth.  Rather, let's accumulate stuff that can only be purchased from God Himself.

I want to invest in things that will last into eternity.  I want to be content with my radiantly white garment purchased with the blood of Jesus.  I want Him to heal my eyes so that I see what He sees.  This is how I want to go about my life and, right now, how I want to approach and walk with God while in Chile.

May my heart change as I accumulate God's things.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

If prayer won games?

As a Denver Bronco fan of more than 40 years, I wonder whether it would have been appropriate to actually pray for a win.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  Next to Jesus and my family (both blood and Christian), the Broncos rank up there as one of my passions, even to the point that a Bronco win or lose plays with my emotions.  Yet, it would be absolutely stupid for me to pray for a Bronco win.  Why?  It's about not just what you love, but what you worship.
Peyton Manning was asked, again, about his legacy and he wanted to be known for giving it his all and that did he did all he could so that his teammates could as well.  Some no-it-all sports talk show guys said something like, "I think he wants his legacy to include being better than John Elway and Tom Brady and, right now, he isn't."  That epitomizes the difference between someone who loves sports and someone who worships sports.  I don't know what Manning believes about Jesus, but I do know he has a pretty good perspective on sport's place in life.
If prayer won games, then, I still wouldn't do it, for my God is much bigger than that and cares for His creation way too much to allow them to elevate sports to that level.  So, let's utilize our requests of the Most High God for things having to do with things that the Most High God would honor.
A humiliating loss in the Super Bowl does not compare to the possibility of leaving for Chile this Wednesday and spending 16 days away from my family, for nothing.  We must pray for God to move!  As a result, please pray for the following from now through our trip (see previous blog for itinerary) and beyond as the Lord leads:
  • Revival amongst the pastors and leaders for make disciples and multiplying.
  • Establishing a network of mutual encouragement across cultural, geographic, and language barriers.
  • Freedom to proclaim God’s Word.
  • Solid commitments to Christ and His Kingdom.
  • Sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, doing EXACTLY as the Lord leads.
  • Our growth in the Lord and that God would grab ahold of our hearts.
  • Healthy interaction and relationship-building between us three as well as the two others going (Alex & Julie Mandes, he is the Hispanic Director for EFCA).
  • Gateway Training (Feb. 8-9) would lead to not only solid theology but practical application as well.
  • Church Planting Boot Camp (Feb. 15-16) would be ultra practical with God’s truth.  Carlyn, Manuel, and I will have opportunity to teach during this time.
  • Mutual encouragement and refreshment amongst fellow workers for the Kingdom.
  • My ability to understand and speak Spanish.
  • That we wouldn’t fall off the side of the mountain.
Of infinite more value than winning games, join me in the real battle.  The real battle is doing all we can to convince people that the only way to live life here is to not live it for the "here and now" but to give it to the One in charge of the "here and now" as well as the "there and then" and beyond.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Chilean Super Bowl!

Part of my goal of "leaving it on the field" by the time the Lord calls me home is to take every opportunity possible to do something difficult but beneficial.

All kinds of things can fall in this category.  Recently, when my good friend Manuel mentioned his plans to go to his homeland of Chile, I knew I had to pray about and pursue the possibility of going with him.  Why is this difficult?  Allow me to name just four things that come to mind:

  1. Being away from my family for 16 days.
  2. Missing our church's annual Winter Get-A-Way Retreat.
  3. Being somewhere where I stick out (from my lack of Spanish to the color of my skin to my height to . . . you name it).
  4. Preaching and teaching to a different culture through an interpreter.

Yet, why is it so beneficial?  Allow me to name just six things that come to mind:

  1. God has some work to do on me, and this will be a great place for Him to turn up the heat.
  2. I get to witness faith in Christ in a whole different context.
  3. I get to fellowship through language barriers with brothers and sisters in the Lord.
  4. God has opened up opportunities to teach and preach about things I am passionate about.
  5. My family and my church will get to be stretched as well through my experience.
  6. Our network of disciple-making churches gets to expand.

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 
                     Galatians 2:20.

Super Bowl XLVIII is this weekend and my favorite team is playing (Go Broncos!).  It is a big deal and it comes to my mind often.  Yet, as I consider what will be happening once I leave for Chile Wednesday, February 5 (see itinerary below), I not only think about it often but there is also an undefined emotion that comes over me.  It is part nervousness, part curiosity, part anticipation, and part pure JOY, with a little trepidation mixed in.

As an athlete has a sense of being blessed for having the chance to play in a Super Bowl, each of us needs to aim for and pursue as many Super Bowls as we can get to.  We need to pray for opportunities to be stretched, to be counted on for something bigger and more significant than ourselves, and to grow as a person and as a follower of Jesus Christ.  For it is no longer I who live so I may as well leave it all on the field for Christ's sake.

Chile Itinerary:

Wednesday 5-Thursday 6 . . . . . . .Fly from Minneapolis to Santiago, Chile
Friday 7………………………… Travel from Santiago to Talcahuano
Saturday 8 …………………….GATEWAY (The whole day)
Sunday 9………………………..GATEWAY (morning only), service in Talcahuano (evening) CARLYN PREACHES
Monday 10……………………. Travel to Curarrehue
Tuesday 11……………………..Service in Curarrehue PAUL PREACHES
Wednesday 12………………..Return to Quillón
Thursday 13…………………….Barbecue with Pastors’ Network in Quillón
Friday 14…………………………Free day in Quillón/BOOTCAMP  (It will start at 6:00 pm)
Saturday 15…………………….Church Planting Bootcamp
Sunday 16……………….………Service in Quillón (morning) (Carlyn Preaches, service in Talcahuano (Alex Preaches)
Monday 17………………………nothing schedule
Wednesday 19…………………Nothing scheduled currently
Thursday 20- Friday 21……… Return flight to Minneapolis