Good For You

thumbs up

I have been talking for a long time. Some will say too long. Over 40 years’ worth of dialogue and details about what has gone through my mind, out of my mouth and into the ears of the world.  You are welcome.

As I reflect on all those words, I realize that some words have come easily – regularly – while some have been much more difficult to utter. I often say “but,” “no,” “what do you want?” and “who dat?” Not so frequently spoken are words like “please,” “thank you,” “help” or “please forgive me.” I bet you have similar lists of words you frequently say, as well as words you rarely say. Those lists are worth reflecting on because they may point us to a deeper understanding of who we are and how we see the world. The words that actually come out of our mouths may be the purest form of expressing our feelings, thoughts, and “2 cents” about the world around us.

I have a terrible time saying these words: “good for you.” I don’t know if it is because of my nature or nurture, or if it is based on my education or my experiences in life, but I have the hardest time saying them. Even when I think someone deserves something good to happen, I have to work to get those words up from my heart and out into the open. And when I judge someone’s success to be because of politics, family positioning, luck, or plain old cheating, I will almost never offer those words. Saying “good for you” or even “congratulations” is like trying to speak another language. It sounds so odd and feels so awkward.

This isn’t a new development. I think (know) that I have been like this since childhood. High school and college didn’t provide better results. It has gotten worse as I have matured (gotten older). Even people I like will rarely get an “awesome” or “atta-boy” from me without sarcasm or bitterness. I always want to know why I didn’t win or why I wasn’t considered. Encouragement is not my gift.  Judging “what is fair” or what “should be” seems to be.

So what does that say about me? Am I mad, jealous, greedy, cynical, or something else?

I fear that it is a character flaw. And it is one that I cannot afford to continue to embrace or protect. Not being able or willing to celebrate and bless the accomplishments, success, and/or victories of others will isolate me even further than I often feel. Maybe learning to celebrate and rejoice is the most important lesson we can learn as children. Only, it is likely a lesson we will need to keep on learning and relearning because, as we grow up, we grow more and more interested in celebrating ourselves.

Today is a new opportunity to learn new words. My new words are “good for you.” I hope to say them over and over again to my children, my wonderful wife, my work team members, my friends, and the stranger I meet along the way. There is no limit on how many times or ways I can affirm, celebrate, and encourage the success and progress of people I encounter. Only I can limit how much enjoyment I get in watching or witnessing others enjoy life. In the end, I am the one most damaged by taking things so personal and by being bothered by the good news of other people.

There is a lot of good happening in the world. Let me take notice and tell others when something good just happened in their lives. They might be depending on me to lead their parade of successful celebration. Someone might need me to share in the excitement of their gain because no one else wants to or even cares enough to notice. Maybe I will learn that seeing the good in others’ lives will help me notice all of the good things going on in my own.

And that would be really “good for you/me/us.”

“For the rest of his life, Oliver Twist remembers a single word of blessing spoken to him by another child because this word stood out so strikingly from the consistent discouragement around him.”            – Charles Dickens

Esse Quam Videri

tnu

Esse quam videri. To be rather than to seem. That is the motto of the Christian university that I attended in the 1990’s. When I first heard those words I was, essentially, unimpressed. It sounded good, but it also sounded a bit unrealistic to me. I knew many “seeming” kind of Christians in my life and could not be easily fooled. Most of my life I had sought to “seem” like I had things together, was on a good path, and was honoring God with my life. “Being” something real was not on my radar. “Seeming” seemed to be good enough to me. How could I really and truly change something from bad to good- something shamefully sinful into something surprisingly hopeful? I would discover over the next four (24) years that while it was an impossible thing for me to ever achieve, I was not on the hook to do the transforming work from seeming to being – Christ was and is. If my life was to be something good, He would have to do it because it was obvious that I couldn’t. Thankfully, He has done it over and over again.

Even after all these years, I am challenged to be something for God and not seem like something for anybody else to admire. The Christian life is not about ceremony, certification, or circumstance, but about union with Christ to make our lives beautiful and blessed. Christ alone is my Savior and my Lord. Christ alone is my Advocate and the Activator of Salvation for me and in me. I am thankful for God’s grace that continues to help me see and pursue “being” a Christian in a culture that is content to live selfishly as it is confused by the witness of “seeming” Christians.

Christian “being” is about belonging to both Christ and the church as a witness of faith and identity in the world. Christian “being” is about becoming a new creature in Christ who transforms into a mature creature through Christian formation and action. Christian “being” is about blessing the world as a kingdom builder who points to the Christ who has come to redeem and renew creation. Christian “being” is about breaking the cycle of injustice and power in the world as a witness to the reign of God who calls us to live in faith, hope, and love.

Philippians 4:8-9 is a key verse for me as I grow up in the grace of God and “become” who He had in mind. It reminds me to pursue those things that are so different from my nature that only God could be credited for their appearance in me. It also reminds me that many others have invested the true and real things of Christ in me so that I might be gripped by their truth and live a life free and whole. It points me do everything rejoicing in the Lord because he is the Source of all happiness, all security, all help, all peace.

I believe in Christian higher education. Not because the diploma means more in society, but because the culture of a Christian university can nurture the mind and spirit of a student into the whole being God created us to become. God has called everyone to become something different than we pretend or seem to be. My life was forever changed by the climate of a Christian community that was authentic in its confession and deliberate in the way it articulated faith to an emerging generation. By the grace of God I will pursue this calling the rest of my living days and shepherd others to follow me as I am following Christ.

In the fall of 2018, Jamie and I will be shepherding our firstborn off to college. We have cast a vision for higher education, saved aggressively for tuition and books, and nurtured him to prepare for a career serving others. He will no doubt go to college, but where? He has the grades and the financial backing to go just about anywhere he wants to go. He will have the blessing and the support of his family to make a daring choice that will position him to have the best educational experience possible. If he asks me, I will tell him that not all colleges are created equal. Many will “seem” like a good option for him, with their programs, buildings, and high profile reputations. However, “seeming” like the place is not what we are looking for in a college. We are seeking -praying – that he (and the other two) not only take our money and support and go off to college, but that they follow the path that we took to a college that will help him “be” the man that God created him to be. Few colleges have the capacity to help him get there. Jamie and I will tell him about one in particular that we know and love.

From Houston With Love

houston city

Once upon a time a group of pastors got into a punching contest with the mayor of a global city. They took a few good shots, and so did the mayor. One day, the mayor used the court as a weapon and required the pastors to turn over sermon material they had preached. All of a sudden, the roof blew off! The pastors fumed, pounded pulpits, and cried aloud, “First amendment!” Social media blew up, and the whole world tuned in to see what would happen. Ironically, the more that people talked about what happened, the further away from the story of God the whole thing got. The more that the story circulated, the people became increasingly angry. The more angry the people became, the further away from redemption and renewed creation the story became. In the end, a church that could have seen this whole event as a moment to bear witness to the public about God’s grace and mercy, instead made the whole thing about losing rights. It was a shame. No one ever stopped to think for a moment that maybe, just maybe, God had given a window for the religious leaders of a city to dialogue about God. Instead, they made it about court, constitution, and the emotional control of people. Politics wins again and plays the church for the fool.

That just happened in my fair city.

And it will continue to happen today, tomorrow and probably right up through the November elections, because this is about politics and pulpit, sermons and (grand) standing. I am not saying that pastors should be intimidated from preaching any particular passage or topic that God has led them to for their congregations. I am just saying that no one should be surprised (or even offended) if someone dislikes what they have said and then reacts with aggression or even violence. Pastors are prophets. They are not political pundits that take up current events to shape the faith of their people. At least… that is the way it is supposed to be.

Let me lay a little verse on you.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,  but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts,  no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.  And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,  and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,  and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.

And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  (Matthew 10:5-21,36-42)

So if you are a pastor in Houston – rejoice! The mayor and her attorneys want to listen to your sermons. Don’t take it so personally. I hope and pray that the content of those sermons are full of the story of a redeeming Christ who has saved and is saving the world, rather than a diatribe on what the forefathers intended when they founded our beloved land, because only one of those positions is of eternal value.  It is a gift of God and an answer to prayers that the sacred can now invade the secular in ways that just a week ago were clearly divided. Don’t act in fear or worry or a sense of invasion, and don’t alarm your people either. Don’t make this a first amendment attack. Make it an Acts 2 celebration where the word of God breaks into the ears of men/women in new and powerful ways. Or even better, a First John congregation who truly believes that God is light and in Him is no darkness.

Please, please, please leave the politics to the politicians and be the prophet that God called you to be. Don’t make this an issue about separation of church and state. Make it a celebration of the kingdom of God that has come, is coming, and will come again. That is, if you believe in that kind of thing. The whole world is watching. Will you scare the hell out of us that America is crumbling, or will you act full of faith, hope and love that God is doing something that no subpoena can ever suppress?

If you are worried about Houston and our congregations, don’t be. God is in control. He is sovereign even when pastors and mayors get sideways. Something amazing is likely just around the corner. Just open your ears and rediscover what it is like to listen deeply to the Holy Spirit’s affirmation and assurance. He is saying to the church that “The sky is not falling. The king is coming!”

We will gladly accept your prayers and be thankful for your support instead of your gossip and glaring. Pray that the church doesn’t lose credibility while trying to gain notoriety. Pray that our pastors don’t become consumed with power while trying to be catalysts of Christian witness. Pray that our government doesn’t act in paranoia while trying to protect and provide for all free people. Pray that Jesus isn’t given a back seat to Thomas Jefferson when it comes to speaking about freedom. Pray that fear of a changing world does not shape the faith of the Houston Christian community so that we become antagonists to the culture instead of the salt and light that we were created to be. Pray that the church does not value our American rights more than we do our righteousness in Christ.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life….This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all…If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. ( 1 John 1:1,5,7)

I Know You Are, But Who Am I?

masks

Do you have it? Have you bought it yet?

“Bought what,” you ask?

Well of course I am talking about your Halloween mask! This is October and you must have already rushed out to get that special disguise for the big day at the end of the month. Who are you going to be –  Batman? Duck Dynasty? Sarah Palin? Roger Goodell? You better hurry up. Just 30 more shopping days to get your “get up” together or you will be stuck with the Halloween leftovers.

It may seem odd that we still get a kick out of dressing up and hiding who we are, even if it is for just a moment. But boy, do we love to do Halloween up right. Some of us plan all year long for one night of secret silliness.

Could it be that we are stimulated by the idea that we can get away with a certain kind of behavior for one day if we are in disguise? Maybe so. Maybe the possibility of being somebody we are not, even if it is for a short time, is too good to pass up. Then November 1st comes, and we realize that we are still the same person we were prior to taking on our temporary identity. It is back to reality and back to being the reputation that we have earned (good, bad, ugly, indifferent, unreliable, unworthy, etc.).

There is freedom in being honest and open. By being transparent we intentionally drop the game of putting on a mask and covering up the reality that is our mess of a life. Being transparent is about being honest with yourself and honest with God so that you can be honest with other people. Transparency is the fabric of solid relationships that have the potential to grow and become treasures in our life. Without transparency, relationships – all relationships – are surface, fake, and fall short of what we hoped they would be.

We are who we are. God knows it, others know it, and we know it, too. Make every effort for others to know the “real you” – warts and all – so that you aren’t living in the fear of them finding out about the “fake you.” Be transparent and see how others will follow your lead and be honest with you. It is a quality that our culture needs much more of. It is certainly a quality that is central to the Christian life: to be holy, live honorably, speak honestly, and share hospitality with all.

I have to warn you that being transparent is an extremely mature and adult way to live, so be prepared to catch people off guard. There will be people who think you are faking it or covering something up. Most of the world is just fine playing pretend and covering up, but that is not who God has called us to be. He has called us to more.

Choose today to be transparent in your relationships with others. Reject the temptation to live full time underneath an identity of false pretenses. Be the original masterpiece that God has created you to be.  Find out who you really are and own it. Don’t wear a mask and cover you all up. You are beautiful!

God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.  (Ephesians 2:10 – The Message)