Don’t Miss the Dolphins

Paddleboarding-in-Sarasota-County_MilesArticleOptRecently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.

I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.

Their responses:

Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”

Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”

They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?

  • Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
  • Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
  • Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
  • Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
  • Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
  • Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.

When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.

Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.

Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.

Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.

Dolphins JumpingHonestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.

When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.

Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.

Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?

Advertisements

Common Ground and the National Anthem

US FlagThis article will not address all of the nuances of the “kneeling” debate. The matter is far too complex for a single, simple article. I do want, however, to drill down on why the protest over standing at the National Anthem actually undermines the potential conversation because it eliminates a vital piece of common ground.

Let’s cover the bullet points that I won’t elaborate on so you can determine bias. Consequently,  everyone has some bias and is dangerous if you cannot recognize it.

  • I stand at the playing of the National Anthem. I will continue to do so. That has nothing to do with a camera or the current debate. It is an ethical issue.
  • I want others to stand and render courtesy toward the symbols of our nation (the flag and the National Anthem). I also recognize that what I want is not the standard. In fact, as a soldier, I took an oath to protect the very freedom secured in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution for you not to do so if you so choose. If you choose to kneel, it frustrates me and is offensive, but you knew that which is why you chose that manner of protest. It is intended to agitate me.
  • I don’t care how political NFL games get. I stopped watching them when this started. The entire NFL system codifies rules of what is considered sportsmanlike and by NOT calling this protest “unsportsmanlike,” they made a statement. So, I did too…in my home…by myself. If you watch pro ball, I am not offended.
  • The President spoke un-presidentially at a campaign-like rally in Alabama. Shame on you sir. When you stepped up and declared you are a Christian, you accepted a higher calling. Live up to it! Please. Jesus’ name is attached to your diction and rancorous tone. And, while it is not as significant as your status as a Christian, your role as President demands that you choose words more carefully. You’re supposed to be a role model. If my kids said what you said, I’d wear their hind parts out.

Now, to why I think it is counter-productive to kneel during the national anthem.

When I share the gospel with someone, the process begins with determining common ground. If a person does not acknowledge God, the biblical explanation of sin, redemption, invitation, and sanctified living lacks foundation. If there is no God, who is then offended by our sin? In fact, who gets to determine what IS sin and what is simply sinful in someone else’s eyes? The fact is until we can agree that there is a higher authority, there is no basis for further discussion.

A similar principle applies to the symbols of the nation. The very plea for justice implies that there is a standard that we are appealing to. If our claim is that God (and our creation in the imago dei) is the standard, we have created a distraction by wrongly pointing to the symbols of an ungodly nation. (Yes, I know that sounds offensive, but the nation we live in today does not reflect the principles or purposes of God). Our arguments are akin to the time Jesus took a knee when told to pay taxes to a nation whose leader was viewed as a god. Actually, the Roman Empire was polytheistic and enslaved Jesus’ people group. That’s why He formed the protests as a community activist. Wait…the story went differently in the Bible. He did not protest but kept pointing to a higher standard in an eternal Kingdom, not of this world.

If the standard we are pointing to for justice is found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the nation including the Bill of Rights, the laws of the nation, etc., then by protesting the symbols of the nation, we surrender the ability to agree on them in our appeal. In other words, we disavow the symbols of our nation and thus the very laws we are appealing to. That leads us back to the unsustainable standard of “what is right in our own eyes.”

There are white leaders like myself that want to move the conversation forward. We do not agree with the incidents of injustice that occur in our nation, whether those are circumstantial or systemic. We want to address them and see them changed, now and not later. No one that I know supports or advocates police brutality. Professional police officers don’t want to be saddled with that imagery any more than a faithful pastor wants to be saddled with the likes of some of the health and wealth preachers on the airwaves. However, we cannot support a protest movement that immediately disavows in its actions the standard that we would otherwise appeal to. In other words, the movement is dead on arrival because we cannot agree to a starting point.

It seems to me that until we can agree on the standard we are appealing to and lock arms there, we cannot move forward together. That means there will be a lot more Freedom of Speech with far too little discipline to listen. If I were making a suggestion that anyone listened to. I’d walk out, thankfully render courtesy to the authority I was appealing to, then ask my brothers to the left and right to join me in rooting out injustice in our midst. I think that appealing to the standard we all can agree to (Liberty and Justice for ALL) is a great starting point for our conversation, even if we are not all Christians at the table. At least we can agree that we are all Americans and have benefitted in our lives from that status…

As always, Comments are welcome, but be respectful if you want to see them published.

Where Does Bad Theology Come From?

Bible, study (2)Yesterday, I listened to a video broadcast from a former pastor apologizing to gay and transgendered people on behalf of evangelicals because of the “Nashville Statement.” He went on to chastise the authors of the statement for building walls instead of bridges to lost people and even went as far as to register disagreement with the “statement” itself. He went as far as to say that these leaders had no right to cast judgment on the sexual sins they spoke to. How does a pastor get to that place?

Where does bad theology come from?

I wish this was the only occasion I had heard such foolishness. Unfortunately, it is pretty prevalent in a world where a person has the ability to publish every weird thought they have ever had on a wall or blog site. In fact, if they have a graphics design or marketing background, they’ll even look credible in their presentation. It does lead one to ask, “How can people believe that?” and further, “Where does this crazy thinking come from?”

Lack of training:

For some, the error is in a lack of training. They are self-educated and have never sat under formal teaching or worse, they have limited training…enough exposure to be “dangerous.” While formal teaching is not always required, it is helpful. If you don’t know the difference between genres, you might attribute the authority of the ten commandments to a parable taught by Jesus or the poetry of the Old Testament. Doing so can lead one down a scary path. If you can’t understand biblical languages, you are at the mercy of the translators of your version of the Bible. If you’ve never been guided to think on things like biblical theology, systematic theology, and their role in theological understanding, you are as equipped to interpret Scripture as a man navigating the woods without a compass. If you get where you needed to be, its only by luck.

Lack of humility:

This may be related to the training but it doesn’t have to be. You can be WELL TRAINED and choose to ignore every rational thought your teachers ever offered. Further, self-directed studies are not bad. I encourage them. I also caution people to read a good diet of scholars. If you are the first person to think the thoughts you have, be careful. It may be that someone thought them before and they were wrong then too, so they were abandoned. If getting to your position means ignoring or abandoning sound exegetical principles, you’re likely headed the way of charlatans and heretics. This doesn’t mean that if the majority of scholars disagree with your views, that you’re wrong, but a humble man will pause and ask why others disagree and seek to understand their position.

Lack of peace:

Unfortunately, this is a major source. A man’s son declares he is gay, so the man’s theology shifts toward inclusivity because his heart is wrenched over the son’s eternal prospects, and cannot bear the thoughts of the judgment of his son. A Christian’s child professes Christ as a small child but has no fruit of a repentant life, and dies. The Christian cannot bear the thought that their child may be lost, so they create a theology to give their child another chance in hopes that it gives them peace in the dark hours of life. False peace never begets genuine godly peace.

Lack of holiness:

Sometimes our own sins reign in our hearts and we develop a theological viewpoint where we are “ok” and traditional understandings of theology must be wrong. The examples of this are too plentiful to mention.

Spiritual opposition:

Let’s not forget that the enemy is alive, active, prowling about, and looking for people to destroy. Genesis 3 records the first temptation of man where the enemy introduced a false understanding of God and man “bought it.” Yes…the first book and the first section following the Creation Account. Yep! The enemy’s planting of false theological understandings leads us off as the source of all sin!

Are there protections?

Of course! God gives us Scripture which is our most reliable source of revelation. God gives us the Holy Spirit to bring truth to mind. He gives us accountability through the local church community that serves to keep us in check while we also help others keep from straying into error. God gives us wisdom…to think about the motives of our own wicked hearts and grace to run to Him for help and hope.

Will these protections always guard us? No. We are industrious and resourceful people that can blow it even with a thousand protections in place. But, a life of humility before God and constant pursuit of Him as He reveals Himself to be in His Word and within the community of faith, we will find a pathway to truth and a gracious Guide for the journey.

Overcoming “Impulsiveness”

Bible, study (2)The Internet is KILLING US! (Not really…but it makes a good scapegoat and illustration).

I know very few people who set out with elaborate plans to sin. Rarely do I find a person who thinks through the entire process and plans every detail along the way. Listen to the planning involved with the woman of Proverbs 7. “I went to the temple and prayed, cleaned the house, took a bath, made the bed, sent my husband off on a business trip…and now I am out here on the street looking for a young, good-looking man like you as the answer to my prayers! Let’s sin together!” Most often, we are like the man in the story who is naïve and foolish…we wander too far into the wrong environment and linger too long once we get there. We listen too agreeably to the enticement and, then suddenly, we SUBMIT to the temptation (Prov 7:22). At other times, we are like the fish at the bottom of the lake on a warm day. We are just there waiting to feed in a few hours when the sun goes down and suddenly…along comes a lure and we jump on it. No thought…and no impulse control. Just attack…and we are hooked.

The truth, if we can stand to hear it, is that we lack the “Self-control” Peter commanded us to ADD to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). We are too impulsive! We see it, want it, get it…and worry about tomorrow when and if it gets here! YOLO (you only live once) …we might say! The truth is though…YOLO is a lie! We don’t only live once. We live (in this line of thinking) TWICE. We live life on this earth and then we live forever with the consequences of choices we make HERE…either in presence of God and His grace or in absence from God under His righteous condemnation.

Self-control is about choosing the best path for our lives. I can have chocolate cake today and cholesterol medication from now on…or I can skip the cake and be healthy. I can buy the new shiny thing through Amazon Prime now…or I can sleep on it and maybe realize why I have made it all these years without it so far and save my money for something better later. I can pursue sexual temptation in front of me and deal with the consequences from now on…or I can honor the vow to God and my mate and live under His blessing.

Self-control is about choice. It is about deciding to discipline ourselves to choose that which is best, that which offers real promise, that which serves the greater good. Anyone can choose ONE-CLICK PURCHASE on their Prime account…but wise people take a breath and make certain that the long-term results are worth the momentary action.

Are you impulsive? Choose to control it. Seek God’s help in doing so. Beg Him to make you mindful of the choice and the corresponding consequence. Listen to His voice and choose to obey…even against your impulsive instinct.

“Best’s” best enemy…

open-bible 2John was on his way to his son’s ballgame and received a call. “Come to the church. The mower needs some maintenance.” John was no mechanic. In fact, he is a pastor. He does have “a particular set of skills” that allows him to eventually fix things because he can visually work through mechanical processes, but it is not his sweet spot. The mower is important. So is the ball game. Both are good but only one is best. “Best’s” best enemy is not some evil thing, but a good thing. There is a good thing to do and a best thing to do. Always choose the best.

In Acts 6, the ministry and influence of the early church was increasing exponentially. One of the main roles of the church was to care for the most vulnerable in society, widows and orphans. This is a good thing, and sometimes the best thing. In fact, it is always a “best” thing for someone but not always for everyone. The pressure was on by those who were concerned about the widows. The pressure was really on by those who were offended that THEIR widows were being neglected while others were being cared for and the only reason seemed to be racial bias. The call rose up to the Apostles… (Y’all) come fix this!

Now look at the response:

“The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables’.” (Acts 6:2, CSB)

Now I cannot speak for you, but as for me, even typing that verse made me a little uncomfortable. How can the Apostles reject a ministry opportunity in front of them for Bible Study and Preaching? Don’t they know that “pure and unfiled religion in the sight of God is this, to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27).

Truthfully, OF COURSE they knew this! For the Church (community as a whole) this is a non-negotiable but as for the Apostles, their calling was more narrow and specific. They obviously did ministry and cared for people. They also were charged with a specific task and calling that only they could do while others (who were not charged with the responsibility of the Word ministry) could easily care for the ministry to the widows.

The point is- God has gifted and called you to do certain things. Do that/those. Andy Stanley says (to pastors in the context I heard it), “Only do what only you can do.” The Apostles indicate here that releasing ministry to those who could focus their attention on widow ministry while they ministered the Word was the appropriate response. I have said it many times like this, “The NEED is never the Call…the Call is the Call.”

So, do what you are called to do. Don’t use this verse as “cover” for laziness. Work and work hard. If you can do something…do it…unless it interferes with Best. Then do Best and leave Good for the person to whom Good is Best. If you do, God will be glorified, the church will be encouraged, the needs will be met and you’ll not wear yourself out in the process.

Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.

The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

GettyImages-565998611

Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.