Monday, October 29, 2007

They Call Me A Communist

I was a red-blooded American, I loved Pat Tillman, and hated Michael Moore. It was 12:15am and I was on the phone with my brother arguing about communism and democracy. Which governmental system was best? By this time, I was in my 2nd year of teaching, and my brother was working on his bachelors in sociology from the University of Oregon. We both used circular logic and explained our cases thoroughly. But neither of us were right. My argument went along the same lines as Winston Churchill's:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Plus, Stalin and Mao and their communist policies both killed more than 50 million people each, and that isn't even mentioning Pol Pot or Fidel Castro.

My brother went on to graduate first in his class from UofO, and I continued to dislike the liberal Ducks for turning my brother into a communist. I've begun to think differently.
My brother and I went backpacking in the North Cascades this past summer, great trip except for the mosquitoes. I was looking forward to the trip, but in some ways I wasn't. God was asking me, in very clear ways, to ask Casey for forgiveness. For not being the brother I should have been, for treating him like crap growing up, but most of all, for acting like I had it all figured out. If there is one thing God has shown me over the past year, it is that I don't know what I have always thought I knew.

Dom Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop once said: "When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint; but when I ask why people are poor, they call me a communist." I'm beginning to wonder why people are poor. A lot of people want to smile and pat me on the back because I go downtown and feed some homeless people. But those same people, get offended and become defensive when I ask why. Why do we as Christians spend less than 1% of our incoming on serving the needs of others? Why are we as a nation, based on democracy and capitalism, ignoring the needs of millions of starving people world wide while we build bigger steeples on our churches?

Governments will crumble, kingdoms will fall, but God's Kingdom is built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. So, if I put my faith in George W. Bush, or if I put my faith in Josef Stalin, my faith will wash away, people, governments, systems, made by man will fade away. Ultimately it doesn't matter what system I believe in when it gets washed out to sea. God is bigger than governments. The love that He sent down in the form of His Son, Jesus, is more powerful, more effective than economic systems. If we could all get past the argument my brother and I had and look vertically I think we would begin to see the depth, width and height of God.

As Shane Claiborne wrote in Irresistible Revolution:When we focus on Jesus, "capitalism is not possible, and communism is not necessary."

Social Studies 101

I teach social studies. Websters defines social studies as: "an academic subject devoted to the study of society including geography, economics, history, government, and civics." One reason I became a teacher is because I love history. My least favorite subject to teach is economics. Government or civics is somewhere in the middle. I have voted on every issue that was presented to me since I was 18 for the simple fact that people told me it was my duty. Then, becoming a social studies teacher, I had even more of a responsibility to vote, I had to set a good example for my students. I remember lecturing Serenity and telling her about how important it was to vote. Not any more. The past year I have had no love or interest whatsoever in politics. I really could care less about who wins any election. I can feel it right now, social studies teachers reading this with udder disdain - "and you call yourself a social studies teacher." But I don't care. Students have asked me, who are you voting for, and it gives me an opportunity to say something along these lines:

My vote goes to Jesus. He is our creator, it would look silly for me to endorse any other candidate. My allegiance should be to Him, not to some affluent Ivy Leaguer, even if he prays in office.

This usually leads us into a conversation that is worthwhile and meaningful, and the thoughts and disappointments of why a social studies teacher doesn't vote usually disappear. I threw away our last ballot, and it felt good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Love of THE Father

I'm not sure if you can fully understand the concept of sacrifice and love (the 2 central themes in the Gospel) until you have your own kids. Here is Avery. He is my pride and joy, my first born, my only son. He makes me laugh, he makes me well up with overwhelming pride. He makes me cry. I love him so much it makes me hurt - literally hurt. I am so excited to see what kind of man he turns into, and I believe he will be a crazy man of God - one that could change nations for Him. He is compassionate, loving, brave, funny, intelligent, but probably best of all, he loves his Daddy, and wants to do everything with him. That makes me feel good. I am loved, and Avery has such a heart, that he wants me to know it. He tells me he loves me every time I see him. He gives his Daddy hugs and kisses all the time, they are specially to me. He is my little Avery-man.

I was watching him the other day work in a sticker book. This one had a "tractor" theme. I could watch him play for hours. His little mind was racing, pulling out one sticker and putting it in a rock yard scene, then back to another sticker, this time an even bigger tractor, his eyes light up and his smile nearly grows from ear to ear. His eyebrows raise, and I know he is thinking "look at this one, it is huge, the biggest tractor I have ever seen!" Avery kept this up, total delight in his sticker book, for what seemed like ages. I kept watching him from across a room, tears began to gather in the corner of my eyes. I pictured Jesus, when he was 4 1/2, playing intently with some sort of toy. God must have looked down on him with a smile on his face, so proud of his little guy.

When you have a child, and you watch him like I watched Avery that night it amplifies Gods love for us. If He could love us so much that he would send His son to this earth to bare the sins of man and be sacrificed in a violent and brutal manner, how much does He love me? How much does He love you? I can't even fathom it. My mind can't even begin to imagine it. Thinking how much I love Avery, so much it hurts, I think if I did grasp the concept of how much God loves me, my head would explode. When you have a son of your own, you begin to understand though. I try to remind myself each day while thinking about Avery - now imagine how much God loves you. This puts my day back into focus, right now, God is looking down on us thinking, "I love you, I am so proud of you, you make me smile, I delight in you."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

System Failure

I am horrible with computers. Give me 10 minutes in the "control panel" and I will screw it up, trust me. I kind of like them, they serve a purpose, and I can get around fairly well, but I end up doing some sort of irreversible damage to it, and most of the time I have no idea that I even did it. I got the itch to try to "clean up" our computer, make it run a little faster. Did the defrag, streamlined a few other areas of the hard drive, then I came across a "system restoration" icon. Interesting. Read the tutorial and it said that by doing the restoration, and returning the system back to the settings you had at a previous date that you wouldn't lose any newly saved information, and hey, I might fix all the things I have screwed up since then. So, I tried it out. It was simple enough. Not sure if I'm any better off though.

I have had some of my non-Christian (and to tell you the truth, Christian) friends tell me that what we are doing is "admirable." I'm never sure what to do with that other than to say, "that isn't the reason why we are doing it. If it were up to me, I would sit around eating Dorritos and watching football. It's got to be about God." Al Gore bringing our attention to global warming, now that is admirable. Some teacher toiling in a classroom for 30 years, now that is admirable. The focus of what we are doing should never be admiration because this isn't about us! This story isn't about us, and as my pastor said today in his message, "We aren't even the lead character in our story." It is about doing what God has called us to for His glory not for others to admire what we are doing. On an even greater level, it is about being obedient. If this was just about doing something admirable, we would run in circles trying to do things on our own that we can only do through Christ. I came across an insight today about this very thing: Obedience results from a relationship with God, but obedience will never create or earn that relationship. Doing something that is admirable seems so small to what our God can (and wants) to do through us.

The apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:9-10 says: Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

God, before time began, already laid out his plans for us. He already gave us a job. How silly would it be for me to take credit for it? How narrow would it look if I sought admiration from others when God already "planned for us long ago." How do I know that sitting on the couch eating Dorritos can not be for me?: because He has redeemed me. He has brought me out of the muck and mire, He has erased my sins through the blood of His Son Christ Jesus! Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7 "In Him we have redemption through his blood." Or in other words, in Him we have a "system restoration" we have been reset, we have been made whole again. Obedience is what should overflow out of that restoration. It is just the small role I play in His story. In the shadow of the Cross, how silly would it look if my goal was to get the admiration of the people around me, especially if, without Christ, I would still have system failure and "fatal errors."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In a van down by the river. . . .

On the first day of school this year we had a motivational speaker talk to the students at the high school I work at. He was good, better than I had expected. He came from a pretty rough background - no dad, mom was a drug addict and he basically had to run the show for his siblings. He had a coach in high school that challenged his attitude and he was motivated to do greater things. His main message was that to be everything you want to be, you have to be real, you have to be transparent, and you have to have people around you that support you and are positive. Right on. Sounds good.

That night the Lord used this guy's message to motivate me in a different way: He was telling me to share my testimony with my students. Most of the kids knew I was a Christian, I would try to insert my beliefs in here or there in the course of a lesson plan, but never laid it all out. This year though, was going to be different.

So, the next day, I scrapped the lesson plan, and took the entire class period to lay out my testimony and then told them that this was my last year of teaching and coaching, I was off to truly follow Christ, to pick up my own cross. Scary as heck, wasn't sure how they would react, or if by next week I would be fired. No worries (as of now at least:))

Since then, I have had literally hundreds of opportunities to share my faith with my students. God has blessed me by giving me these opportunities. My words are definitely challenging them to think in a way many of them probably never have, but probably more significantly, they have challenged me to live out my faith in an authentic way in every area of my life. School has always been an area that I have kept under wraps, and I have had every excuse not to be transparent, not the least being that I could get canned. I have no excuse now, because seriously, who cares if I get fired.

The typical response is laughter, or raised eyebrows, a long pause, and then laughter. Usually though, they end up wondering about some things. How? Why? Where? When? Then I have my opportunity to tell them how, why, where and when. They usually respond by shaking their head in disbelief and then smile and ask more questions. It has been awesome, that motivational speaker really knows how to motivate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Simple Gospel

I'm starting to like Donald Miller. Cheppe (high five), a buddy of mine introduced me to Blue Like Jazz a while back and raved about him, he is great, he really understands, blah, blah blah. I read a chapter or two, and hated it. He seemed to skate around just saying it. I would get frustrated and threaten Serenity that if he kept going I was going to quit reading. He is an excellent story teller, he seems to suck you into his ramblings, then, in my opinion, he would fall short, not really wanting to say the truth because it might scare off a few people. I thought maybe the last chapter would tie it all in and the light bulb would turn on, but it didn't. I didn't think I would read another Donald Miller book again. Then for some reason, I bought Searching For God Knows What. Still rambling, but more focused, more truth, much more simple. Trust me, you have to read him to understand what I'm saying, but in my opinion, skip Blue Like Jazz.

In Searching, Miller tells a story about how while teaching a Bible college class, he told the students that he was going to present the gospel but leave out a key element and to see if they could figure out the missing piece. He talked about how man was sinful, the beauty of morality, how great heaven will be, how people who are God-centered have a sense of fulfillment on earth, while using real life stories to tie it all together. In the end, when Miller asked the class what he left out, after sitting in silence for several minutes, not one of them noticed that he left out Jesus. He left out Jesus, and none of them noticed!

The gospel is simple, and when we try to apply some new theology to it, it gets cloudy, confusing. These students were trying to out think the gospel. Sometimes I do the same thing. I try to understand and intellectualize some theological concept that in many cases is just created by man not God. Jesus uses some pretty confusing parables and lessons to teach us some pretty basic concepts: Love God, Love each other. We want to understand everything before we believe, when what God actually asks us to do is believe and then He will reveal things to us. Ephesians 4:14-15 says:

"[If we understand the knowledge of God's Son] We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."

We simply need to believe in Him, then do what He commands us to: Love Him and love each other. When we are desperately seeking "the answers," to life's questions, we will be continually disappointed. When we treat Jesus like a genie in a bottle, giving us answers to the problems plaguing us, our community, our country, or our world, we will "be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching," but when we simplify our task to 2 steps 1) believe and 2) go and love, we begin to understand in a completely different way. Children don't go to seminary, they don't have everything figured out, but that is exactly how God asks us to come to him - like children. Don't out think the gospel.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Simple Gospel II

Many of you may or may not know, but here goes: I struggle with sexual addiction. I know it is every man's battle, so I'm no longer ashamed. Satan used to heap loads and loads of shame and guilt upon me (I'm pretty sure he is still trying), but I am battling. I go to a group every Saturday of men who are battling it along side me. Accountability, along with transparency, and obviously God, is the only thing that will allow you to break the chains of sin in your life, no matter what that sin is. I have spoken to friends about this, have publicly proclaimed it, have spoken at men's gatherings, and have called some of my wife's best friends and laid it all down, so that she has someone to talk to about it. God has given me freedom in this area, and has broken the chains of sin that have shackled me since I was 11 or 12 years old. Just so you know, I am writing this with a smile on my face, because Jesus saves! This isn't some dreary, sad story of addiction, this is a joyful and triumphant celebration of freedom in Christ. This due to one simple idea: I am lily white.

Follow me here: Before I knew Jesus, I was my sin. I owned it, it defined me, like I said, I was shackled, any sin came from within, it was who I was, a fallen man in a fallen world. But when I believed that Jesus was who he said he was, I became blameless, I was no longer my sin, my identity, my definition now came from Christ, the sin no longer came from within.

I continued to sin after my conversion, but I was still blameless. Christ did all of that on the cross 2,000 years ago, He bore my sins. The revolution is the fact that now it comes from outside of me, it comes from Satan, from demons, from "spiritual forces of evil." As I mentioned in another post earlier this month, "becoming a believer doesn't stop us from sinning, we still have free will, the revolution is that we are no longer the originator of those sins, we no longer own it. The temptation, the sin comes from something outside of you, it comes from Satan. Ephesians 4:12 says

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

We are no longer an enemy. Our nature is no longer the enemy, our enemy is in a realm we can't even see." So, seeing sin in this context fires me up. I turn into a soldier, knowing that the self-loathing, the shame and the guilt are just weapons that the Enemy uses to bring me down, and to put me in a body bag so I can no longer be the man who Christ has already died on the cross for.