“Gotcha” politics. Rise above.

I am bothered by politics today. It is occurring to me more and more that the current state of politics has very little to do with finding the best path for our nation. Instead, it has become a game of “gotcha” where one side is perpetually seeking to catch the other in some error or misdeed. It has gotten to the point and each side genuinely hopes for the failure of the other side, apparently without realizing that this translates to failure overall. For all of us. It is frustrating.

So I am taking a vow to rise above it. What if I lived my life with such integrity that all of the crazy regulations we fight about were meaningless? As a man who believes God created our planet, my obligation to care for it rises above and exceeds the obligation to comply with whatever environmental regulations are out there. That’s just one example. What if I spend my time helping others so that any person who might need a government program that we fight about incessantly instead depended upon help from me? Another example. How about you? What ideas do you have?

I realize that it’s not as simple as all of this. But think about rising above. What if our lives lived by faith and obedience to God put us on a path where the actions or inactions of the government were something like background noise. Present in our lives, but certainly not controlling.

Rising above the lowest common demoninator that the government strives for might just be the fix to a government that perpetually frustrates me. Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s. But beyond that, don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Ceasar.

Sounds like a plan. Thanks for reading. Hey, can you help a brother out and share this on Facebook? That would be cool!

J

Practical Evil: Part Five – Practical Victory

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

This is a series that definitely has a good ending.  But getting access to that ending is not as easy as you might think.  This is the part of the series where I triumphantly announce that Christ defeated sin and evil when he died on the cross and rose three days later.  And that’s true.  Yay!

So then why do I still have this temptation all around me?  This quiet voice telling me I’m a failure?  This sin that I cannot extract from my life?  Why can’t it be as simple as the 40 days Christ spent in the desert when he just said over and over, “Nah.  I’m good.  But thanks for your super evil temptation.”  Well God wired us up, and it’s quite the complex wiring scheme.  So, yes, you can walk away from sin and evil, but let’s get this out of the clouds and theory and into some concrete stuff.

Telling someone to just “walk away from their sin” is a little like telling someone with pneumonia to just not cough so much.  Great idea!  How do I pull that off exactly?

  1. Read the Bible.  When I first did this I expected it to be some type of magic, I think.  “I am reading the Bible every day and hence I will have a hedge of protection around me such that I will not be tempted to sin.”  Didn’t matter which section.  Just read it.  It’s magic.  Well the Bible is a book.  Paper with words on it.  It’s not magic.  But when the whole “mystical removal of sin” thing didn’t work in my life I actually started paying attention to what was written in the darn thing.  OH!!  YOU MEAN THERE’S PRACTICAL INFORMATION IN THERE??  WHO KNEW?!?  Yeah, like don’t borrow money.  Watch how you dress.  Stay away from fakers who call themselves pious Christians.  Stuff like that.  It turns out there is a ton of practical advice in this book on how to start walking away from win.
  2. Read the Bible.  Yeah, it’s the same thing twice.  But it’s my blog.  So there.  In addition to making the shocking discovery that there is actual useful every day information in the Bible, there is also a ton of encouragement.  You can read about Paul struggling with sin, and Christ talking about sin and how we’re supposed to treat each other.  It is encouraging to me to read that even in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) that God was able to use people as messed up as me.  And I’m going out on a limb here: there are some dudes in the Bible way more out of whack than I am that God used just fine.  There’s hope for me!  (No really… there’s hope for us.  That was supposed to be funny but it’s also supertrue.  I just made up the word “supertrue” so now there’s no stopping me…)
  3. Seek out encouragement.  I have this really messed up thing in my head that I’m supposed to be positive all the time and operate at a high level and be amazing but I’m never supposed to require encouragement in order to get there.  It’s just supposed to be in me because I’m like super special and stuff.  What a bunch of crap.  Yes, dummy, you need some encouragement and you need it every day!  The little encouraging memes on Facebook?  Read them!  Allow people to compliment you without deflecting it.  Take a little time every day to read something that pumps you up.  Listen to encouraging music.  Are you supposed to be able to be amazing without all these things?  Maybe.  But I haven’t figured that out.  So I need them.  And the good news is that they are everywhere.
  4. Stop hanging out with dopes who don’t believe in you.  We all see people from time to time that we like, but that don’t exactly knock it out of the park in the positive thinking category.  Go see them from time to time.  Grab a beer and chill out every once in a while.  That won’t kill you.  But if you are spending large chunks of time with people who cut you down and fail to encourage you then go find new people to spend a lot of time with.  If the dope is your boyfriend, then dump his sorry butt.  I see stuff on Facebook all the time, “Can’t believe how my BF treats me.”  Okay.  Ummm… time for a new one.  He’s a jerk.  The only thing you can change about him is whether he hangs out with you.  If it’s your spouse, then you need to go on an all-out year-long assault of positive encouragement expecting nothing in return so you can lead them to appreciate a life as something other than a Debbie Downer 24-7.
  5. Get a mentor.  I don’t have one.  But I hear it’s awesome.  Thoughts?  I do hear a lot of podcasts talking about getting a mentor and the initial “can you be my mentor” exchange strikes me as super creepy.  I guess you could say I do have a few mentors but we don’t really call it a mentoring relationship.  My friend Jim is my “don’t be a wuss and just do it” mentor.  My brother is my “don’t be such a spaz and chill from time to time” mentor.  My boss is my “don’t suck at being a lawyer” mentor.  And they are good people.  Inspiring.  The whole bit.  But we don’t have mentor meetings and such.  Technically at work I am an official mentor to one of our associates.  You need to pray for him.
  6. Pray.  Yeah yeah yeah.  Pray.  I know!  But man.  I’m busy, and I usually fall asleep while praying.  Remember that prayer is one of the things that evil will interfere with most.  You start talking to God on a regular basis and evil will not like it.  So don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.  You make appointments all the time.  So set an appointment with God every day.  You wouldn’t blow off an appointment with your doctor.  So don’t blow off an appointment with your Creator either, you weirdo.  I get up about an hour earlier than I need to so that I can spend a little time in prayer and write to all of you fine people every day.  And that hour ended three minutes ago.  Time to wrap this up.

Listen, I am not at all trying to short change the extent to which Christ dying on the cross for us can rock your world and turn it upside down.  That’s true.  But the sad news is that in our society today we’ve placed a complex and intimidating maze between ourselves and that truth.  And there are practical things we can do to get through that maze.  Some people have a radical life shift where they get dropped into this truth in a split second.  Cool!  Not me.  I’m working through the maze and I do all of this stuff to help me.  Most days it propels me forward through the maze.  Yesterday, not so much.  But I drop right back into it and start again the next day surrounding myself with the right people, listening to the right music, reading the right things.  Not one of these gives me salvation.  Only Christ does that.  But if they can be a part of bringing me closer to Christ, then I need to be doing them.

Now… go put on K-Love, read something encouraging, and spend the rest of the day being awesome!

 

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

 

 

Practical Evil: Part Four – Sneak attack.

Leaking Boat

Through Parts One, Two and Three we can see that evil works its way into us and does everything possible to put distance between us and God.  But how?  Why don’t we see it?  I am not a perfect Christian, but it seems like I would see evil coming and run for the hills.  Why is evil so successful and getting into my head?

Looking at war, there are two basic options.  Surround your enemy and charge the gate.  Or a sneak attack.  Evil is a pretty smart adversary, so it does both.  Instead of death by a single blow, it’s death by a thousand cuts as one of the commenters noted on Part One.  The strategy of evil would be more akin to sending in a thousand infiltrators and hiding them in plain sight.  We are bombarded with messages every day and we barely give it a second thought.

  • How many times a day are women told they are not thin enough?  Not attractive enough?  Not “sexy” enough?
  • Men, how many times a day are you confronted with an image of a woman not fully dressed?  It’s everywhere.
  • How many times are you offered debt in a single day?  Count it up some time.
  • How easy is it to access images of pornography at no cost and completely anonymously?
  • How many apps and tools exist to erase your internet history on your phone or PC?

The list could go on forever.  Listen, if evil stormed the gate we’d see it.  We would call for help and fight back.  We would cry out to God.  But evil doesn’t storm the gate.  It sits outside the gate, surrounding you, waiting patiently.  Just tap, tap, tapping on the door knowing it will open one day just a little.  And just a little is more than enough.  Like water, it will find the tiniest of breaches and work its way in.  If a huge hole blew into the side of your boat you would address it immediately.  But a slow leak can sink a boat just as well and you don’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late.

How on earth do we defend ourselves against something that we can barely tell is there, but we know is everywhere?  How do we win?  Well… that’s a topic for Part Five.

 

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

 

Photo Credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_KtaIvngiD_s/SgMP0WhlP7I/AAAAAAAAAYc/NwfB_25BvMw/s400/Leaking+Boat.jpg

Practical Evil: Part Three – Small quiet voice.

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In Part Two of this series we talked about the camouflage that evil uses being an exaggerated version of itself so that those who talk about the more subtle version of evil that is active in our lives look like oddballs.  And tomorrow we will talk about why evil would bother with such a sneak attack in the first place as opposed to simply storming the gate and claiming victory.  But today, and we’re dealing with these in an order that only makes sense in my own head, I want to get into more of a definition.  What is this evil that I’m talking about?  If it’s so sneaky, then what does it look like?  Again, let’s steer clear of the theological concepts and instead focus on how evil appears in our everyday lives.

In Part One of this series, a commenter really defined the concept I am trying to explain here perfectly.  He described evil as a distance from God.  He wrote about a propensity to gently push God to the side because work is calling, and the lawn doesn’t mow itself, and all the daily tasks that get in our way of communing with God on a daily basis.  And he’s so right.  Distance from God.  Just saying it makes me feel a little sad, and perhaps that is because I see that distance so much in my own life.

But what does evil do once it sneaks inside?  What does it do with this distance from God?  I am not at all discounting the dramatic forms of evil we have seen in our history.  The rise of Adolph Hitler.  The atrocities that take place in the Sudan.  The mother who drowns her own children.  Or the student to opens fire in his own school.  These forms of evil are real and they really did, and do, happen.  But again I, thankfully, have never personally experienced them.  So to a lesser degree I can still distance myself from them much like the Hollywood devil from Part Two of this series.

I am talking about the evil that lives inside me as a still quiet voice that never allows me to enjoy a victory without first reminding me of all I still have not accomplished.  We hear God described as a still quiet voice as well, don’t we?  And that’s no mistake on the part of evil.  How often are we unsure whether what we are hearing in our own minds is guidance or correction from God, or temptation from evil?  It’s amazing how similar they sound.

I’d like to list off some examples of what I hear in my mind that I am convinced is evil, and I am hoping that all of you will add your own.

  • “You have failed at this.  So don’t bother trying again.”  This is perhaps the most common and most destructive phrase of that still quiet voice in my life.  I have a lot of goals.  I want to succeed and meet my requirements at work.  But I miss that mark again and again.  I want to lose weight, but I just keep gaining it.  I want to break free from sin in my life, but I just keep falling back into it.  So why bother to keep trying?  I hear that in my head constantly.  And when that voice wins out I end up losing an entire day sitting on the couch watching television.  Because…. why bother?  This is perhaps the most debilitating form of evil within me right now.  But I will keep fighting it.
  • “You pull this off, you’ll just be expected to do it again.”  This is an offshoot of the first, and I theorize that evil pulls this one out when you are dangerously close to achieving a goal.  See, that cannot be allowed to happen.  If you feel the joy of pulling off a difficult task then you are only going to want to do so again and then evil starts to lose it’s grip.  As a desperation move, evil has a way of working in the thought that we should actually be afraid of success because it will only make others expect more of us.  And don’t we have enough on our plates already?
  • “You will not fit in.”  This one used to be huge for me.  I didn’t talk much about my faith because I had an intense fear of looking weird.  I have had a lot of success in getting over this one, but I know that it is a heavy weight for many.  And this isn’t limited only to faith.  If you do a great job on this presentation, you’ll no longer be part of the ‘just getting by’ crowd at work.  If you push this agenda that you believe in on your kids (faith, food, exercise, hard work) they won’t like you.  The need to fit in is powerful.  And evil knows that.
  • “This isn’t really harming anyone.”  How many sins can you commit that truly don’t have any short term affect on anyone?  You really aren’t hurting anyone RIGHT NOW.  And it’s true.  In the long run, we know that sin causes damage.  But that still quiet voice knows that I tend to think more about the right now than the someday.  And right now, this sin I’d like to commit is not really hurting anyone.  So what’s the harm?

That is a short list, but I’m anxious to hear yours.  I would encourage you to give it some thought and list in the comments practical everyday ways that evil has worked in you that are so subtle you may not even notice them every time.  And thanks for your contributions.

We were built to be heroes.  And it’s about time we started acting like heroes.

 

Photo credit: http://www.findingthesweetspot.com/images/whisper-secret-spots.jpg

Practical Evil: Part Two – The Hollywood devil.

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The most amazing thing that evil does is convince us that there really is no such thing as evil in the first place. We certainly don’t need to be on guard for something that isn’t even real. And there are a few ways that evil accomplishes this. One is to portray evil as doing things that simply don’t happen in everyday life. Dramatic things. Terrifying things. But in the end, things that we mostly don’t experience so it’s easy to pass it all off as Hollywood storytelling. And for the most part, it is.

Yes, exorcisms happen. But not in my daily life. So I discard it, to a certain extent. It’s real enough to cause me to sleep with the light on for a night, but eventually it fades out of my memory because I don’t see this drama every day. But that’s not where the genius us. The genius is that we don’t just discard the Hollywood portrayal of evil. We tend to toss out the whole concept of evil along with it.

Perhaps one of the all time most intense movies about evil is The Exorcist. Heads spinning. Words carved into stomach. Levitating. Evil voices. This is a scary movie. But unless you’ve actually seen anything like this happen in your life, all it really registers as in your brain is that it’s a movie without any sort of daily context to back it up with. By showing you a massive example of evil, knowing that it has no place in your day to day life, the entire concept of evil gets misfiled into the folder in your head labeled “fantasy” or “entertainment” as opposed to “exaggerated version of something that really does exist.”

Again… genius. Don’t hide the concept of evil at all. Instead, exaggerate it. Make movies out of it. And make them so extreme that true evil, which works in far more subtle and boring ways, is pushed aside.

There is another genius effect here. If you talk about evil, and tell people that you think it is real, it is easy to discredit you. People, having see “The Devil’s Advocate” and “End of Days” and “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist” will assume that this dramatized version of evil is what you believe in. And it’s no wonder they write you off as a nut. All the while not realizing that we’re talking about a much quieter, much smarter, much more clever, much more boring, but much more powerful version of evil.

Hiding right there in plain sight, and using an exaggerated version of itself as camouflage. It really is quite genius.

Do you agree with what I’ve written here, or am I off a little? I’m looking forward to your comments!

We were built to be heroes. It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Practical Evil: Part One – Overview

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Nate changed my life. I was part of a fairly intense men’s group at church for two years. My mentors for the first year were Nate and Chris and they changed my life. Nate said something about four months into our first year that has stuck in my head ever since.

If you guys don’t realize by now that evil is real, you’re missing something.

I suppose I sort of knew that evil was real. But there was something about the way Nate said it that struck me like never before.  Evil is real.  It affects me every day.  It’s in the room I’m sitting in right now.  It’s everywhere.  And in certain ways, it’s winning.

I decided this morning to do a series on the practical ways that evil exists in our lives to shine a light on it.  The number one way that evil succeeds is by tricking us into thinking it’s not real at all.  So we will talk about how that happens and why it is so effective.  We will talk about where evil shows up outside of us, and you might be surprised to see where I think that happens.  We will talk about how evil works its way into each of us and what it does when it gets there.  And in the end we are going to talk about the  warrior who looked evil in the face in the depths of hell itself and kicked its ass so that we can do the same.

We’re not going to get into a whole lot of theory here.  I’m not a theologian or  pastor.  I’ve read the Bible a lot but I’m not a Biblical expert.  I’m going to talk about my experiences with evil because we need to keep this conversation out of the clouds.  If the point of this series is that there is a very practical side to evil that affects us every day, then going intellectual isn’t going to help us.  It would be like explaining the theory of tire design to a guy trying to fix a flat in the rain.  Great thoughts.  But not much help at the moment.

I’m going to need your help in this series.  I’m hoping to draw out your thoughts and ideas through the comments because my experiences here will be very different from others.  And there will be people reading this comments who need to connect with your experiences.  I’m not asking for major level confessions of crazy terrible things you have done in your life.  I am looking for ways that evil has affected you on a day-in day-out basis.  I need your help in shining a light on the way in practical evil works in your life.  I honestly believe that people just don’t see it.  And I honestly believe that talking about it will create “a-ha” moments for others and will change lives.

Let’s take evil out of the realm of the theologians and movie producers and bring it right down here in the trenches where all of us deal with it every day.  We don’t have the luxury of thinking lofty thoughts about evil.  We’ve got to face it head on, see it for what it is, and allow Christ to move through us to walk away from it.  We don’t even need to defeat it.  That’s been done already.

But you can’t walk away from it if you can’t see it.  So let’s shine a light on it.  I’m hoping to see a lot of first time commenters, because we need to hear your thoughts.  If you’ve never commented before, I hope you will consider sharing.  In a hundred people, evil works a hundred different ways.  Let’s pull the curtain back on all of them and get about the business of exposing it, because that’s the first step to carving its roots out of our lives.

 

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

 

Photo credit: http://www.alternet.org/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/good_evil.jpg

God wired me to want stuff. How did God screw this up?

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It’s that time of year.  This kids make Christmas lists, and the spouses start with their not-so-subtle hinting.  It’s time to get some STUFF!  But good Christians aren’t supposed to like “stuff” so we feel bad about it.  I’m writing to today to tell that that it’s okay to want stuff.  The only problem is that you’ve been settling for junk.  You need to start chasing after the really good stuff.

Did God mess up when He created us?  If God created us, then our natural desire to accumulate STUFF comes from God?  Right? But this goes against everything we hear in sermons every week.  Every week our pastors tell us to stop wanting stuff and start helping the world.  Well I’m here to make a radical proposal: Our desire for stuff is exactly the fuel we need to change the world.

We get bombarded constantly with images of stuff to buy.  It will make you happy.  It will save your marriage.  It will impress the neighbors.  It will make you comfortable.  And we are conditioned from a very early age to associate happiness with accumulating this stuff.

Then we read the Bible and realize that being a good Christian seems to mean throwing this all away and agreeing to suffer.  Like… all the time.  Paul wrote many of his letters from prison, after all.  So now I’m sort of irritated that God built into me this desire for stuff.  Thanks a lot God.  Wire me up to be “A” and tell me I’m supposed to be “B” instead.  Not cool.

Or perhaps it IS okay to like stuff.  Take a look at those letters Paul wrote from prison.  He’s happy!  He is getting “stuff” and he’s thrilled about it.  These letters are celebrations of some seriously amazing stuff that Paul has found through Christ.  God wired us to want a nice, new, shiny silver dollar.  But the world has convinced us to settle for a beat up penny.  So we collect pennies over and over and over again.  Piling them up.  But the math never works.  A thousand old beat up pennies never seem to add up to that silver dollar God wired us to want.  That silver dollar is a life dedicated to serving Him.  All of a sudden, the big screen TV, the concert tickets, the new car, the corner office, all seem like a waste of time.  Looking into the eyes of a person you just brought to Christ, or the child you just fed, or the abused spouse you just protected… ahhhhhh…  that’s the shiny silver dollar.  The prize we are wired to want, but that we’ve forgotten even exists.  That’s the good stuff, for sure.  And I want it.

So let’s stop beating ourselves up over wanting “stuff.”  You’re supposed to want stuff!  Let’s quit chasing the junk life puts in front of us as a means to satisfy our inner desire for stuff.  Let’s quit chasing the pennies.  Yes, I want stuff.  The good stuff.  I want that shiny silver dollar God wired me to chase after.  I want to dedicate my life to serving Him and collecting as much of the good stuff as I can get my hands on.

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Photo credit: hynkle / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA