Archives For faith

One of my favorite scenes in comedy is a scene that takes place toward the end of the movie, Tropic Thunder (2008). This is a crucial element in the storyline when Robert Downey Jr.’s character(s) attempts to get his friend played by Ben Stiller out of a prison. Both of the characters think they are part of a movie and disguised as their characters. What they are coming to realize is that what they are facing is actually real and are trying to come to terms with it and what to do. Forgive the initial vulgarity of this short clip but I promise you will laugh.

tropicthunder

Humorous as this scene is, there is a lot of truth behind it.

This week I read an article about someone who called herself an “Orthodox Christian” because she didn’t like the other term “Evangelical Christian.” After listening to her, I found that I agreed with just about everything she said about her faith but wondered why she needed to label herself with the preface ‘Orthodox’.  I also attended a conference with a group of people who called themselves “Reformed Christians.” I was asked by some people there of what kind of Christian I am and I said something along the lines that although I am part of the Anglican denomination I am a “Young Life Christian” because it was in the group Young Life where I accepted Christ. I was unsettled about this answer for a few days.

When we turn to scripture we find that the first time a name or label was put on the followers of Christ, it was in the city of Antioch.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

I am not a bible or church scholar but from what I know, when the church grew and expanded throughout the world, divisions occurred and thus new identities. Here we are 2,000 years later and if someone asks you who you are, you could respond in one of these ways.

  • I am an Evangelical Christian
  • I am a Southern Baptist Christian
  • I am an Orthodox Christian
  • I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian
  • I am a Catholic Christian
  • I am a Reformed Christian
  • I am a Coptic Christian
  • I am an Anglican Christian
  • I am a Young Life Christian

The labels go on and on.

Almost 20 years ago when I first accepted Christ, it seemed so simple and beautiful. I felt a humility and honor to call myself a Christian and by his grace, follow Jesus as best I could. The older I got the more complicated life became. Like Kirk Lazarus, I became a dude, playing a dude disguised as another dude. I am to blame for this because I fell for the trap and forced myself into a corner within the subculture of Christianity to put a very specific label on my faith.

Do you think someone looking in on us as Christians even cares? I am not saying that the specific beliefs or denominations are not important but put yourselves in the shoes of someone who does not know or understand who Jesus is: Our faith looks so divisive and confusing.

Have our descriptors become our titles of pride and nobility? Our idol? 

Thankfully, where our heart is, our true identity lay. Our heart that holds the promise of Christ shapes how we truly live our lives no matter what title we give it.

I am trying to not over-simplify life and this topic but what if it is meant to be that simple? Jesus asked the Apostle Peter one of life’s greatest questions,

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16

I pray that everyday I answer  like Peter in today’s language, “I am a dude who follows Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What do you call yourself? What have you learned about “identity”?

I can’t get a job.

My candidate failed.

No one likes what I say.

Nothing is going my way.

She won’t do what I want.

I will never win.

I can’t do it.

These are all things I have heard in the past few weeks from friends, colleagues, my daughters, yes even from my mouth. My daughters get so frustrated especially when they can’t make something work. They scream “I can’t do it, Daddy” and literally are screaming. I have to remind them about how much I don’t like the word “can’t” and then try to help. Truth is, when I’m at work and catch myself being down about something at work or with friends. I’ve got a new name for negative talk and I have to remind myself of it each time I catch myself doing it.

In the movie, The Muppets (2011), the billionaire Tex Richman introduced the iconic anti-group,

“Meet the Moopets: A hard, cynical act for a hard, cynical world.”

The Moopets were everything anti from what the positive and loving Muppets are. They are negative personality of each character. They are cynical, they are bullies, they are dangerous, and only care about themselves. They are “cynical” as Tex Richman called them.

Cynicism is something that is so easy to conform to. The 2012 election sure proved that for us all. I had a discussion with a friend this week about when we feel like we can’t handle life’s circumstances, we suddenly become down about it. We complain. We blame. We hate. Then we are driving and see an “IGBOK” bumper sticker. “It’s Gonna Be OK.” My mom used to remind me of this when I was a kid and as I encounter more things in life, I remember her simple, yet profound wisdom that wraps so many car bumpers.

When Conan O’Brien’s fans were in revolt because he was losing The Tonight Show back to Jay Leno and the forces that be at NBC, here was his response.

All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical,” O’Brien said. “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.

Yes indeed, the cynics were shunned. Amazing things happen because you are suddenly free to go after what God really wants you to do. And what happens next?

Colossians 2:6-7 reminds us,

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Knowing what Christ did for us on the cross is enough to be thankful for.

Let’s give up the Moopets. Be a real Muppet and be thankful.

Wocka wocka

The scene was this. I took a morning bus ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I was to either stay in the confines of beautiful Edinburgh, complete with medieval history and beautiful scenery, or I could make my way to Glasgow, a city full of the unknown. Glasgow was a city that most tourist maps encouraged you to skip or simply wrote that it was a scene of a 50 people being trampled in a football (soccer) match or was a place you had to go through to make it to the west highlands. That was exactly why I needed to be there. Edinburgh was safe. Glasgow was wild.  Besides, I had already been to Edinburgh many times and it was time to move forward. It was time to go away. Away from my fellow Americans. Away from the Away from the expected.

Once I arrived in Glasgow after a short bus trip, I had picked out a hostel to stay in that night and got in a taxi to take me a couple of miles to a beautiful Victorian area overlooking Kelvingrove Park called Park Terrace. Within a minute, I learned that the hostel was full. Glasgow the type of city that only had a one or two hostels because it didn’t attract many cheap post-college students like me. Those who bypassed Glasgow were in essence smarter than me. I was disappointed that the only hostel I knew in town was full but when I stepped outside, the taxi had left and I was left with all my bags on my shoulders to look over the misty and shadowy Kelvingrove Park and see gothic-looking Glasgow University on the other side. Glasgow University is a place that only Tim Burton or J K Rowling could have dreamed of. I looked into the depths of the park and fear crept up on me.

So I began walking through the park, through the valley, over the Kelvin river, and up the next hill to meet the university steps. I quickly found another taxi that helped me find another hostel next to campus and that became my home for the next couple months.

Within a week I got a job at a coffee shop and took up a research position at Glasgow University. God had provided. My journey in Glasgow left me inspired and each time I feel afraid to take a step, I think back to the prayer I said to God at the site overlooking Kelvingrove Park. Take a look above. It is mysterious and daunting but there is something in it that says “go there” and see.

Much like how C.S. Lewis was portrayed in the play and movie Shadowlands (1993), I felt like I was recovering from years of safety and comfort and doing what was expected of me.

Considering the extreme challenges I know so many friends of mine have suffered, it would be insensitive of me to make you think it was a grand sacrifice of mine to go to Glasgow. In fact, I knew that even something happened, I could simply get on a plane and go home. No one told me but something about what happened in Glasgow is that it was necessary to experience discomfort and in some instances, suffer. The same goes for love and any other adventure in life as C.S. Lewis experienced. In the movie, Jack (Lewis) shares,

Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.

Pain is part of life. I can’t explain it completely except that it seems natural and necessary in our development as people. After all, Christ suffered for us so who are we to think that we shouldn’t suffer even a fraction of what he experience? Years before the loss of his wife, Lewis described in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe that we must move our way through the dark wardrobe to enter the land of adventure, Narnia. It requires opening the dark door and forcing ourselves through until we see the light.

Tell me about an experience you had when you felt you truly stepped into the unknown. Was there fear, pain, victory, etc.? 

What did God teach you through that experience?

Dad, That’s a Bad Habit

August 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

“Dad, that’s a bad habit” my daughter said to me as she caught me biting my nails when I was driving her to school. My daughter has become a version of Statler and Waldorf, the Muppet hecklers. She loves to walk around and tell people that they shouldn’t be smoking, biting their nails, or running inside. It is funny right up until she shouts it out in a crowd and the staring and laughter begins at my expense. I am always tempted to remind her of her own indiscretions but what more could a dad say when he’s reminded of his issues by a 4-year-old?

So I listen.

My kids are are a reminder that we need grace. Grace is the foundation of how we live a life of faith in Jesus. We don’t deserve it but we need it. Kids need it. Good Lord, parents need it. My friend Phil Davis reminded me that as parents we are constantly in a teaching and disciplining mode. Yes, sometimes we screw up in the way we parent and we pray that our kids even forgive us. That starts by asking our own Father for forgiveness as we learn to control our own tempers. Embracing patience is one of my toughest challenges as a parent and my kids love testing it. I now smile each time my kids remind me that I’m biting my nails. I even caught myself biting my nails as I write this. Sheesh.

I’d like to say that I truly understood grace when I became a Christian. I remember being on a spiritual high the week after I got back from Young Life camp in the summer of 1994. I had accepted Christ into my heart at camp and came home thinking I could fly. That flight was short-lived the first week back as I remember having a fight with my parents and writing in my journal about how bad I felt hurting them. It was as if the week before had encountered a train wreck of emotion through hurt, pain, and ultimately guilt. I don’t even remember what the fight was about but I do remember what happened next. God showed his grace through my own parents that week and I think helped make more sense of what happened at camp the week before. Grace was at work.

I’m reading Max Lucado’s upcoming book Grace (Thomas Nelson, 2012), which is helping to more fully understand this wild grace.

God’s grace has a drenching about it. A wildeness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to God secure. From regret riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid to die to ready to fly.

Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.


Paul reminds us where this grace comes from in Ephesians 2:8 NIV,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

This post isn’t meant to be a confession but an acknowledgement that grace is real and available for those who don’t deserve it. We aren’t meant to fully understand this grace especially when it is given to murderers and molesters. I am usually so stubborn and I don’t ask for grace but God knows what I truly need. He doesn’t even wait and a long time ago he gave us his son Jesus as that grace. He freely gives it to you and me. Take this gift and run with it and tell the story.

PS One of my favorite movies/musicals that showcases grace better than any other is Les Miserables (1998). There is even a new version coming out later this year starring Hugh Jackman. I cannot wait

Let’s face it. It was a bad week.

If you are an American, you must be sleeping under a rock to miss the fact that this past week a gunman marched into an Aurora, Colorado movie theater to shoot and kill 12 people while wounding 58. I left my phone on by my side that night and the news alerts started beeping at 2:30 am. The emotions I felt after hearing the news was probably most like you. Sadness. Confusion. Anger. Fear. Disgust. Hopelessness. Add to it the news of key leaders within Penn State University covering up child sexual abuse for almost 13 years, I had enough. My emotion became rage.

I pay pretty close attention to the news and you might have missed a few other tragedies this past week. I can understand why the media focuses so much on the most dramatic stories like Aurora but when we identify with the tragedy in a closer way and perhaps even know the lost, it hits harder. Here is some of what happened.

  • 103 people were killed in one single day in Iraq
  • A typhoon hit Hong Kong
  • 15 people in southeastern Texas were killed in a tragic truck accident
  • 3 dead in Chicago in gang fights with 17 injured
  • 2 little girls were abducted in Iowa
  • Famed first female American astronaut Sally Ride passed away
  • I met a friend this week whose young son passed away in December
  • My friend’s friend committed suicide

The classic line in the outlandish comedy, Airplane (1980) sums it up,

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Joking aside, these are the reminders that it is not supposed to be this way. We live in a fallen world. It’s not the way God intended it to be but we have to live with it. Death is a reality and it’s just a matter of how, when, and why. You can’t escape it. Years ago when I made a decision to follow Christ, it didn’t take long to recognize that my decision would not necessarily solve all my problems. I probably feel more attacked as a Christian than I did not really understanding Jesus. It’s a journey and a process and everyday I learn something new. I also have plenty of questions, especially in weeks like these. God points me to scripture.

Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

God knows our pain and weeps with us. I don’t want to give up on this world and God sure doesn’t either. He never has and never will until it is his time. The pain on earth always points me back to the first Bible verse I learned after accepting Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

That is exactly why he sent Jesus to die for us. So that we may be in him knowing that in the end there is place where these tears will never appear again.

This tragedy also guides me to the honest, courageous and confident words from Cassie Bernall, a student who was killed at Columbine High School in 1998.

P.S. Honestly, I want to live completely for God. It’s hard and scary. but totally worth it.

See you in heaven, Cassie. I hope to see all of you.

Recently I was deep in a conversation about church with two friends. I don’t even remember what we were talking about and it was probably something trivial. My friend was Catholic and I go to an Episcopal/Anglican church. In response to one of the items discussed the other person said,

You guys don’t go to a real church.

My friend and I were awestruck that he had the audacity make that judgment even though he was semi-joking. For proper context, this person went to a very impressive and cool multi-site/online church. (Yep, I just caught myself judging him right back) I know his church well and I hope you understand this clearly from me – I really love the work that they do. I think God is doing some amazing work through multi-site churches but unfortunately in what I observe among these cutting edge churches is a sense of arrogance that they are the only ones doing God’s work. Too often I see churches acting alone when they could together in unity do so much more. I have obviously contributed to this problem and if I as a follower of Christ do not embrace Ephesians 4:3, then I am a fraud.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Courtesy of Reverendfun.com

What is the call of the church, though?

We need to fish better, together.

After I became a Christian in 1994 through people who cared deeply about me in Young Life, I attended several very conservative churches and really enjoyed them. As I grew as a Christian, I became more aware of the complicated intricacies of “the church.” These nuances have not been something very attractive to me. Maybe Young Life prepared me to keep things simple? Jesus loved me so much that he died for me and by that love I am supposed to love others. That is a strong enough challenge in a cynical world. I love churches full of people doing something. Sign me up now.

Bob Goff said in his latest book Loves Does (Thomas Nelson, 2012),
Secretly incredible people keep what they do one of God’s best-kept secrets because the only one who needs to know, the God of the universe, already knows.
 Bob goes on,
Secretly incredible people just do things.

My church is not perfect and it sure isn’t full of perfect people either. It is part of a denomination that is full of controversy and struggling to grow and find its identify in this changing world. Coming from my background, It has been difficult to find my way in how I can serve well within it. As I attempt to uncover layers of the larger church, I’ve learned about people at my parish church, St. Bartholomew’s Church, who behind the scenes are part of a great caper to serve and love others. These people come from various backgrounds seeking the church as a haven, love Jesus, and are doing incredible things in his name. The genius thing about it is that I don’t hear them bragging about it. These people have embraced their role humbly and are loving others in Jesus’ name the way he calls us. I know of plenty of people at the multi-site church mentioned above who are doing great things as well and that is what inspires me to act.

I don’t really have time for wrapped up theology and endless debates about what so-and-so preacher said in response to what another said. I want genuine people who act. I have no one to blame but myself for taking part in this church madness overtaken by pride. I want what Bob Goff describes. Who’s in?

Can you imagine each church today joining together as clans united in love?

I’m ready to act. I am ready to love the way Christ called me to.

What does church unity look like for you? 

Tell me about some of the unsung heroes of your church who are behind the scenes making a difference and changing the world? 

My Brothers in Arms

July 9, 2012 — 6 Comments

This past week my men’s group had an emotion-filled time spending our last night together at our friend’s house. We have been meeting at his house, primarily his porch, for the past two and a half years. My friend is getting married, moving and off on a new adventure so we can only be happy for him. There is a little sadness in leaving his porch for it has been a place full of great memories, some of joy, some sad but ultimately it was a place of encouragement. It is a place where you are reminded that you never have to walk alone. Our group is moving to a new house with a new story to be told and I’m excited to see what God will do through it. These past years have been special and I’ll never forget them.

My wife knows I need other men like those in my group and I’m thankful she can see how beneficial it is to have these friendships. In my life experience, every man needs a fighting friend or more to navigate life.

The famed Sergeant Bill Guarnere in the book and HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers said it best,

Once we get into combat, they only people you can trust is yourself and the fella next to you.

I don’t have a natural brother so God has instilled something special in me that helps me grab tightly to those like in my men’s group. Throughout the pages in my life story, I have been blessed to have many great friends whom I call brothers. The life chapters have been wonderful with my friends growing up in Kansas City, my Young Life brothers in Christ in St. Louis, my brothers in college in Evansville and this group now. We are brothers in arms, united always fighting through life, celebrating our successes and failures, joy and pain, adversity and adventures.

My brothers, I thank you for fighting with me. As it says in Hebrews 13:1 (ESV), “Let brotherly love continue.” My feelings for you can only be expressed through the Dire Straits song, Brothers in Arms,

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battles raged higher

And though we were hurt so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms