The Thrill is Gone

thrill seekers

Son I need to talk to you about something.

About what?

Did I see a video of you on Instagram?

Um. Maybe.

Did you take the ALS challenge?

Oh. Yeah. That one.

Why did you do that?

Because I was challenged by my friends and wanted to do it.

Really? Do you know anything about ALS?

Not much other than it is bad news.

So you made a video of you getting drenched in ice water for something you don’t know much about and you don’t know anyone who has it. Did you give any money to the cause?

No. I didn’t know where to give it and I really didn’t have money to give. None of my friends who took the challenge gave money either.

So basically you made a video because your friends and half of our country is into the challenge, but you didn’t really do anything for the cause. Now that the thrill is gone you aren’t thinking of the devastation of ALS on people at all. Doesn’t that seem to be more about you than it does about ALS or someone who has ALS?

Kinda.

I am not mad or disappointed you did it. It did look like fun, but what I want you to understand is that you were chasing an experience without any intention of engaging in the cause that the challenge represented. You can’t have an experience that has meaning for your life if you don’t dive deeper into the subject and consider how you could make a difference. People with ALS and the people behind the challenge are thrilled at the awareness growing about ALS and of course the money raised for research and treatment, but I fear that as soon as this challenge gets past cultural obsession that their cause will return to obscurity and struggle. Attention, education, and funding will always be limited if personal connection is not made. What if you and your friends volunteered to help a family struggling with supporting their loved one with ALS by mowing their grass or helping with grocery shopping instead of making a big splash with a video for a cause you likely will never think of again?

Hum. I didn’t think of that.

Son, let me give you some father-son words to live by: initiation without integration is indifference.

Whoa. It’s the weekend. No algebra for me please dad.

What I mean is that when you seek to experience something you should do so as a way into a life change or personal growth opportunity because initiation is the doorway into a better way of “doing life.” To be initiated without change and/or commitment is to remain unchanged, unaffected and indifferent to the cause you have joined. I am not just talking about the ALS challenge though.

I am not sure I am following you.

Son, when you were baptized in the church it was more than an experience. You were acknowledging a change of life and a change of what/who you were walking towards. Baptism is the initiation into a deeper life of discipleship and mission with/for God. If you are baptized without any change of the way you live, any change in how you plan your life, any change in your values/beliefs/habits, you are basically seeking an experience without integrating the Spirit of God into your past/present/future for help and healing. Essentially you are indifferent to the very thing that baptism represents. To be initiated in baptism is to be integrated in the life of Christ and the life of his body (the church). You can’t have one without the other. You just can’t.

Wow. I never thought of it like that.

The same point could be made about marriage. A wedding doesn’t make a marriage no matter how grand the ceremony and reception. Getting married is more than a challenge or an event. It is integrating your life into the life of another. Pretty pictures and videos are only the reminders of the moment two lives joined together to make one. If that does not happen then your wedding pictures are useless and perhaps painful to look at. Getting married means you have jumped all into live with someone else without reservations and without conditions.

I see what you mean.

I could make similar points about friendship, vocation, even the way you take care of your body and mind. Faith, love, work, friendship, health are the most important things in life and we often don’t move past simple experiences with any of them. Way to often we choose the fun over the fundamental investment necessary to make us whole through our faith, our relationships, our work, our health. It makes for empty people, empty families, empty churches.

I get your point.

Do you?

Yeah. I do and it is a good one. I don’t want to only have fun videos of events and experiences. I want my life to have meaning and make a mark. I want to invest myself into great causes and use what I have for making the world better. I want more than just a drive by moment that has little meaning and less effect on me. I want more. Making a splash is less important to me than making a difference.

That sounds great and I know that many of your friends think the same way. Now it is a matter of putting those intentions into actions. Son, look way beyond the thrill of an experience in everything in life and you fill the emptiness inside you with real encounters that your soul is looking for. Don’t be distracted by the casual reaction of our culture when it comes to serving others. Be more, love better, and remember longer when taking on challenges that are really important. Christian faith and action can change the world, but they can’t be left as experiences. Faith and action needs to be integrated into the whole structure of your body, mind, and spirit. If that happens, this world will never be the same because you will have faced the challenge with all that God created you to offer and that is exactly what others need – for you to be who God intended for you to be. Don’t seek to be thrilled by the moment. Desire to thrive in the fullness of what God is offering you. Now go for it!

Cool.

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A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. (Proverbs 17:24)

First Day Feelings

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Today is the first day of school. You probably already know that. The flurry of pics on FB announces that to all. How could anyone not know that it is “Little ___________’s first day of first grade.” Yippee! Yahoo! Hallelujah! (That is translated ‘Whoot’ for you Aggies.)

Today is a travel day for me. My flight leaves mid day and I will still be in the air when it is past time for you to put on PJ’s and get your sleep on. So I decided to take the morning slow. Helped get the kids in the van and off to Tomball’s best schools. Had an extra cup of Joe. A walkie to the park with the Greatest of Danes. A short run and some stretching. Ahhhhh- what a great start to the first week of school.

As I ran that first mile I became aware that I wasn’t the only parent that seemed to have time off. There were mommies and daddies everywhere. Like ants with backpacks and lunch boxes hustling little ones down the sidewalk to school at Canyon Pointe Elementary. They snapped pictures, sipped on Starbucks, and sniffled as the little one went in the building. I even heard one mom shout to her 1st grader “Don’t forget to text me every 15 minutes to let me know what you are doing in class. Put up pics of your art on Facebook at lunch. Don’t take food from your friends because it probably isn’t organic. Love you. Have an awesome day. Bye!”

Then they all seem to gather in the park. Like today is a national holiday for parents or something – except nobody told me. I heard the mom’s talking about what Body Pump class they would all plan to attend at the Y “now that they had their life back.” The dads were comparing stories about lawnmowers and bragging about their fantasy football draft. Even their dog’s gathered to celebrate their new found privacy with the little ones off to school. As I ran past the park I saw/heard this exuberant group climbing on the play ground equipment and singing  “Back to school. Back to school. To prove to dad that I’m…”

Wow. What a first day. I can only imagine what the afternoon/evening will be like. Is this reality all around the world?

No – it’s not, but it may not be far off for some parents. Maybe there is a take away or two. Yep. They just came to me. Here are some first day feelings for fabulous families dealing with todays new found freedom.

Parenting is not a burden. It is a blessing. Parenting is not an American right. It is a privilege. Don’t ever forget that and don’t get confused. This is the one test you can not afford to fail in life. They are your/our/God’s treasure.

Not all parents can take time off to walk their little one to school. Be grateful that you can and let’s not make it about you getting your freedom back. You only have 12 “first days” with each child so make the most of them. Some parents leave their home before the kids get up for school and are not home to greet them with cookies. They work two jobs at minimum wage and even that is not enough. To be available for your children is an extra gift, but also more opportunity to impact your little one. Don’t miss your moment.

You can’t live your life through them. Let them be who God created them to be. The world needs them to share their unique qualities and gifts with others. Parent’s should not bend and break their child to be like they want them to be or do what they want them to do. When they succeed let them be the story. When they fail let them find safety in your acceptance and affirmation.  Remember it is not 19___ anymore. It is 2014. The world is different. Schools are different. Music,clothes, and tattoos are different, but kids are much the same. Love them. Let them believe in who they are. Learn to listen to what the say. Lead them towards maturity. (That means parents have to be and act mature at all times.)

Talk to your kids. Not through texting or social media. Have a discussion with them about their day (every day). For heaven’s sake don’t let your kid live their life through a phone. Face to face, words to ear, emotions translated without emoticons is the way communication works best. Try it tonight. You might be suprised.

Get ready for them to be grown and gone. I’m already dreading it, but I have been thinking about it for 15 years. My little boy is now a big boy and only has 3 “first days” left. Then off to college and home only for the holidays. That is the way life is supposed to work and if we have done our job he will be ready. He may be ready already, but I’m not.  He is no longer a kid, but he is not quite an adult either. He is emerging. So I am preparing by learning to treat him like an adult, talk to him like an adult, and give him adult like jobs even though he is yet to drive or kiss a girl (I hope). Him leaving will only be the end of the world if I have not gotten BOTH he and I ready for it.

Do something for yourself by helping others. Sitting at home watching the clock and trolling Facebook is a waste of time and opportunity. Volunteer to do something useful at your kid’s school. Try tutoring a kid that is struggling instead of organizing the Valentine Day’s party. Try running copies for your kids teacher instead of getting in the pick up line at 12:45. Be a bus buddy. Volunteer in special education department to just help a kid tie their shoe. Pray for your principal and encourage your lunch lady.

Make room in your life for other kids. Maybe God is getting your family ready to foster and/or adopt a child/children (400,000 kids in USA foster care.) Maybe you have a neighbor who is a single parent and desperately needs help. Maybe you could volunteer as a baseball coach, girl scout leader, youth group roadie, or just be a good role model for other dad’s wondering how to raise their kids. Maybe you go to church with a family of 10 whose parents are outnumbered and over extended. Lend your free time, free prayers, free love to an available child. There is more of you to go around than you think there is.

In six years I will have my last first day. I will cry for sure when JGB starts her senior year. BUT if I don’t make the most of these last few first days I will have cause to really cry. Not just from sadness that she is grown, but tears of sadness that I missed a million ways to show her (and those boys) how much I love them and how prized they are to their mother and I.

Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it.  (Proverbs 21:20)

 

If I was/were a (white) pastor in St. Louis I would…

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  • Pray for God’s peace to come in the midst of chaos and brokenness.
  • Not rush to judgment that the black community is looking for a reason to riot and loot.
  • Pray that God would remove from me any feelings of prejudice and racism that exist and replace those feelings / attitudes / actions with love and acceptance.
  • Not assume that I know what is really going on in that community or how they feel about the injustice that has occurred.
  • Pray that God would help me know how to feel and what to pray for the Brown family and for the Ferguson community.
  • Urge my congregation to use their energy and influence to work towards a peaceful resolution and not a display of power or revenge.
  • Pray that God would not let the church ignore this as a community problem that belongs to the government to fix.
  • Offer church resources to the local police department and volunteer as a crisis chaplain with St. Louis County.
  • Pray that police officers would be cautious, deliberate, fair, and protected during the conflict. Pray that the Darren Wilson and his family would not be victims or be used as political pawns in the days ahead.
  • Reach out in partnership to a church in the Ferguson area for support and sharing asking God to help us heal and look forward together in unity.
  • Pray that I would never lead my church to be so focused and selfish on our needs that we would be paralyzed by fear instead of mobilized by faith.
  • Decide deep within my heart not to let this story be over when the rioting stops, the TV cameras are put away, and the next story of injustice grabs the nation’s attention.
  • Pray for God’s people to be ambassadors of hope and reconciliation today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  (Romans 12:15-18)

 

* August 24, 2014 – It has been a week since I posted this. Hundreds of people of been arrested, dozens injured, millions of dollars in property damaged, a huge hit to the St Louis economy, and a black eye on the city overall. While there have been over 400 views of this post, only one comment was made. That means that I am either A – a lousy writer, B- out in left as a social/theological critic, or C- saying things that white suburban Christian doesn’t want to discuss. God help us because all three points may be true.

Loose Change

loose change

 

I walked through the security gate and heard the sound of a buzzer go off and watched security officers scramble to contain me. In an instant a wand went over my body and detected something in my pocket that had not made it into the small plastic bowl provided for passing small metal objects through the x-ray machine. I had inadvertently left .32 cents in my right pants pocket. Forgive me, but it is easy for me to forget about a few nickels and pennies when I am trying to keep my pants up, my socks clean, and an eye on my stuff going through the conveyer belt. My bad, but loose change just doesn’t demand my attention.

Loose change. Why bother? I long for the day when all transactions will be rounded up or down and solid/whole dollar bills or electronic transactions will be the way we do business. For all I care, we can eliminate loose change from my pocket, my floorboard, my dresser, and my desk. Loose change doesn’t matter to me.

Loose change.

Loose change doesn’t matter to anyone really. Right?

Loose change is overlooked and forgotten. It is rarely saved or kept safely. Loose change is destined to rarely (if ever) enter into the exchange for goods and services again. Once change gets loose, its use is over. Finished. Caput.

Loose Change.

I think that is the problem with change. There is too much about it that is loose. I am talking about change in behavior, attitudes, feelings, plans, routines, even change in our faith. We want to change something. We decide to change something. We feel good about changing something, but we don’t really change anything. All that has happened has been a temporary alteration or adjustment before falling back into the routine or pattern that preceded our so called change. Change like that will not last and will only make it more difficult the next time we feel led to make a change in that area. Our change is far too loose, way too often.

Maybe we need a philosophy (or a theology or at least a plan) of change to help us get our minds around what change is really about and what it might mean to us. That way we know what we are getting into, understand the cost involved, and enter into changes with a conviction that what we are doing is not to be considered cheap or loose, but necessary and crucial to being a better person and living a better life.

Ahem…here it is.

One sentence. Consider it a mantra for change, or perhaps a mission statement for you business types.

“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.”  (Leo Tolstoy)

Does that mean that all changes in our lives should be small ones? Maybe. It is true that even the big things that need to be changed about us are built on a foundation of many small things that must be changed, too. Change enough small things in your life, and you get big change back. See how that works?

The greater truth here is that life is all about change. We only enter into true life when we recognize that changing is a regular part of life, so we should not only accept change as a reality, but we should learn to change well and not loosely. Moving to an understanding of change as a natural occurrence from having seen change as “the enemy” frees us to see the world differently than we did before – even better. 

So…

…as I age I must change what I eat, how I sleep, what I do for exercise because, quite frankly, I am not 17 anymore and can’t survive on Big Macs, three hours of sleep, and constant games of pickup basketball. Change will offer me a healthier life.

…as my marriage matures I must change to coincide with the changes going on in my home, my job, and my wife’s life. Change will offer me a truer love that honors God and fulfills our hopes and dreams for life together.

…as my children age I must change because they aren’t wearing diapers and going to bed at 8:00 PM anymore. They don’t need someone to keep them clean and/or organize their toys. They need a daddy who will love them, protect them, provide for them, put their needs ahead of my happiness, and position them for success in life that might take them far away from me and way beyond my greatest achievements. Change will offer me a chance to not only bring children into the world, but to walk with them long into their lives and enjoy the creation God has gifted to me.

…as my faith grows it must change, because God is drilling deeper into me. What I said and thought as a child about faith has to be more solid and serious as an adult because I have adult-sized spiritual issues. My faith can be simple like a child but must be sustainable in the face of crises, questions, and quandaries. Change will help me not to be surprised by how God is working in my life – in new ways beyond what I expected or required of Him.

Change. Like it or not, it is necessary. Change will either break you in half or it will form you more into the creature God had in mind: a creature ready to take on the image of Christ and continue the work of kingdom building in everything that we do and with everyone with whom we are connected.

Don’t take that too loosely.

Learning to Rest

Last week I returned from my family vacation. We went to NYC for a week and had a ball. We went to Broadway shows, yelled at a Yankees game, toured the Statue of Liberty, went on a bike ride through Central Park, rode the NYC Metro Subway 37 times, and ate more pizza than I want to confess too. We did a lot. More than we probably should have on a vacation. In fact, I returned tired and in need of a nap. So did my wife and kids. Only my dog enjoyed the eight days of rest away from the noise and busyness of our family. 🙂

Sadly that has become the routine. I plan for time away, save money, buy tickets, reserve rooms, depart, and run a race every day that I am gone until I am too tired to go on. Then I crash only to gather enough energy to do those last few things still on my vacation bucket list. Then I begin planning for next year’s trip and counting the days until I can tax my body again on a planned get away. And then I do it all over again. I can only hope there is a way out of this routine, but I wonder…

Where will the rest and relaxation ever come from?

When will I refuel from a year of work and stress?

Who will show me how to get this right before I give up and never vacation again?

Will I ever find rest, relaxation, renewal from a work and everyday life? That is what I want to know and I bet it is what you want to know too. What I am most interested in finding is that real rest that makes my breathing feel cleaner and my mind feel slower. Real rest that lasts longer than the paid time off I have been granted or even the weekend that comes around every 5 days or so. Real rest that helps me view the world in a different light. I need real rest that gives me the freedom to appreciate the little things and place them rightfully as the big things in my life. Where can I find real rest that allows me to breathe deeply, look longingly, and trust deeply in the faith, friends, and family that surround me with love and support? Real rest that lets me see the world in the way that God hoped I would see it and embrace for His glory.

Rest is a nonnegotiable. Without rest we are not ready or able to face the challenges in front of us or find the peace our heart is looking for. We need to be rested to be faithful (as in loving, kind, patient, generous, compassionate, etc…) in our relationships. We need to be rested to experience wholeness through Christ and be all that God longs for us to be.  We need rest in our life so that we do not live wilted and withered at the intensity of life. We need the renewing power of relaxing and reviving our bodies, minds and spirit for fuller life.  Life without rest is like a plant without water, like an ocean without a moon, like a child without love.

sleeping pic

To be honest I don’t believe that real rest comes from being away. It is not guaranteed through a change of routine or scenery. I will never find that real rest in a rest room, a restaurant, a rest area, or a rest home for that matter. Who, when and where are the questions I am asking myself when perhaps I should be asking the “how” question. 

How can I/we find the real rest that I/we need for happy, whole living and loving of others?

Make resting a regular practice –   Find ways to do nothing and feel good about it. That will mean that we focus when we are “at work” so we can we focus on being “not at work” and resting. Take deep breathes. Listen to good music. Put down the phone for an hour or two. Sit in a favorite chair. Go for a long, slow walk before dark. Rest.

Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.  (Charles Spurgeon)

Start our resting with an inward look – Address those things in our hearts and minds that are troubling. Don’t suppress them. Face up to them and confess them. Ask for help and pray that God will deliver us from that weight. Ask for forgiveness from someone and offer it to others too. Journal about the things that trouble us and the things that bring us great delight. Rest.

Give our rest as an act of worship – Make one day a holy day, a day of spiritual rest and worship. Go to church. Eat a meal with family. Don’t do the work that will wait till the next day or that we forgot to do the day before. Be intentionally available for God to speak into our spirit and soul. Be refreshed. Rest.

Live our life in the rest that God gives – God wants us to rest. He built it into His creation for us. He has spoken it into us (Exodus 33:14, Psalm 29:11, Matthew 6:31-32, 11:29, etc.) We just have to believe that resting is ok, good for us, necessary, and acceptable by God. We also have to recognize that we will never create the perfect rest for ourselves. God will have to give it to us. And He will. Rest in that offering from Him. Rest in Him.

God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. (Augustine)

 

 

 

Casual Causes and Christian Convictions

Proper 13 / August 3, 2014

 

rebels with a cause

 

Faith in Christ changes things. It changes everything – our views and values, our goals, our attitudes, our relationships, our investments, our history, our entire world – past, present and future. And we are thankful for it!

Here and there as we walk with Christ we will find ourselves caught up in pursuit of a cause that requests an investment of time, money, and/or talent to change something in society. Causes aren’t bad. They are good. I can think of a handful of causes that I am at least on the margin of and a few that I am smack dab in the middle of. You probably have the same experience. Causes help us focus our energy, generate unity and resources, and create a sense of direction for where we are going and what we are doing along the way. Sometimes we enter a cause because we feel pain or can’t ignore the injustice going on. Sometimes we join a cause because it is cool, trendy, or “everyone else is into it.”  

Regardless of reasons for joining a cause we are usually better for doing so and often have helped make the world better on some level. The real problem with most ‘causes’ is that we are not bound or tied to the cause beyond our level of interest or comfort. We can join at a cause anytime we feel like it. We can abandon the cause just as quickly if we feel unnoticed, underappreciated or unnecessary. It can happen just that fast. Thanks to social media we don’t even have to join or participate in causes any more. We can just “like” or “follow” them and we feel like we are making a difference without doing very much at all. We have come to believe that we can wear a t-shirt and change the world. Nothing else required. But when we join a cause without making a personal investment or sacrifice we are making very little difference and may be making it more difficult for the cause to actually move forward because we only given a faint interest that will soon be distracted by the next new, cool cause that gets in our way. We are CAUSE GAWKERS (Yep – I just coined that phrase) and we should be better than that.

Christianity is not a cause.

It is more than a cause and we can’t think of it as such. But that is what is going on in so many ways. Many people are interested in Christianity for the purpose of networking, positive messaging, personal gains, political platforms, and/or family traditions. Other people with a sincere faith simplify their entire Christian witness into Christian action and activity. However, as soon as someone senses that their cause or need is not being supported or met they flee the scene/cause.  Too often a cause has become the entire story of someone’s (or some congregations) faith journey and experience.

Christianity is not a cause.

We have causes that are important to Christians and there are causes that connected to Christian traditions or initiatives, but causes are not what make us or define us as Christians. At the core of our action is a conviction that Christ has redeemed us so that we might fulfill our creation purpose and glorify God daily in word, thought, and deed. Another way to say that is that once we were sinners, but God in His grace has saved us so that we may worship God and enjoy Him forever. From our core Christian convictions come compelling Christian causes that not only do good in our world, but connects the Christian story to the causes we have casually come upon. That story – God’s story, the gospel – is our compelling purpose for living, loving, and inviting others into our kingdom experience. Everything we are involved in should be rooted in that. Every dollar we give to a missionary, every back pack we collect for needy children, every meal we serve at the soup kitchen, every minute we give to mentor an emerging teenager, every single person we try to help in any way is not a new worthy cause to join, but a continuation of a story that changes the world. Christians have only one cause to care for. The cause of making Christ known in and through the way we live and the way we engage others. Our activities, initiatives, missions, etc., will flow out of that story and into a world in need of good news. Let that be the cause we care most about.

Christianity is not a cause.

5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. 6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  (Colossians 2)

—gdb2

 

Don’s PSA of the day  –  My favorite cause right now is a student led educational mentoring program in Houston reaching around the world to inspire kids in orphanages, foster care and centers of youth development (www.enrichingyoungminds.net.) Look them up, like them, and give to their cause. You  will be glad you did.