Monday, March 28, 2016

The Doll Maker’s Son

I don't do this often, and don't plan to make this a habit. I wrote this short tale a few weeks back, and my wife, Kelly, thought that I should share it, so enjoy.
A young man, following in his father's’ footsteps, crafted a toy doll. He had studied hard under his father for many years, trying to perfect the craft. The son worked harder crafting this doll than any other, paying special attention to every last detail, as this doll was to be a special gift for his father. He wanted to show his father that he had indeed mastered the craft he had thought him and is now worthy of joining him as a partner in his little toyshop. After many long nights and much painstaking work, the doll was finally complete.
The young man carefully boxed up the doll and went on his way to present the doll to his father. He went outside and began walking the down the busy, old-world, city blocks. It had rained the night before, and muddy water had pooled in sections of the cobblestoned roads. He was careful not to let the buggies splash him as they passed by, even shielding the boxed doll from one rather large wave.
After a seemingly treturous journey down several blocks and around many turns, he could finally see his father’s home at the end of the road he was now on. He began to relax a bit when two boys ran into him, causing him to drop the boxed doll right into a rather substantial puddle. The young man was in shock, not knowing whether to go after the boys or rescue the doll. He decided to pick up the box which was little more than sturdy paper, and dissolved quickly in the water.
As he pulled his hands out of the mud puddle, the doll, which he had worked so hard on, was soaked through, with mud smeared all over one half of it and the porcelain head was cracked. The son stood there, in the puddle, mourning over the brokenness of his creation. Several minutes later, the young man heard his name being called out. The son looked up; it was his father beckoning him to come to his house.
As the young man approached his father’s door, the father asked what that dirty, broken thing was which he was holding. The young man told him that it was supposed to be a gift for him. The father, looking at the doll, told him, that it was indeed good craftsmanship, and it was a shame that he couldn’t keep it in his toyshop, being broken and sullied as it was. The man’s father placed the doll outside with the rest of the refuse.
The young man went out to retrieve the broken, dirty doll, and brought it back home with him. He carefully undid each stitch on the fabric, so as to open the doll up. He took out the sopping wet stuffing, and gently washed the outer fabric and hair. Once dry, he placed new stuffing in, then skillfully stitched the doll back up. He gently cleaned the porcelain head and then glued it back together, using a bonding agent his father had taught him to make, which when applied correctly, fills all the gaps seamlessly. Finally, the young man expertly repainted the smile, eyes, rosy cheeks, and other areas of the doll’s face where the cracks had been.
The doll now looked better than it did when it was first completed. The young man brought the doll back out, confident that he would make it there without incident, as this time it hadn’t rained in days, and the puddles had all dried. He did make it to his father’s house, where he presented his father with the doll a second time. The father, having not recognized the doll, asked his son where he found such an amazing work of art, worried that it’s creator might put him out of business. The son told him that not only did he craft this doll, but that this was the doll that the son had made for him; the very same doll which the father had discarded from his toyshop because it was broken and dirty.
The father was so impressed with his son’s abilities that he decided to place his son in charge of his toy shop. Any time a child came in with a broken toy, the father would joyfully proclaim, “behold my son, who makes all things new!”
Sunday, January 3, 2016

Money: The Root of ALL Evil?

Just in case you don't see it, the graphic is a folded piece of money made to spell out "the root of all evil," making reference to the popular Christian phrase "Money is the root of all evil." I find it interesting how effectively the enemy works, even within the church. The Bible never said that money is the root of all evil. It isn't even theologically sound!
Satan's down fall wasn't money... neither was it the root cause of Adam and Eve's downfall, or Moses' outburst, or David's lust for Bathsheba, or his murder of her husband... and so on and so forth. I happen to believe that if there is a singular root of all evil, it would spring from selfish ambitions, or desires; particularly in making these desires more important than a healthy relationship with God or helping those in need. I base this on the common denominator in every person's sin, from those in the Bible, all the way to my own,
No, what the Bible actually says in reference to the statement this graphic is making is, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." ~1 Timothy 6:10 NIV. We are never told that money in and of itself is evil, nor is having money. What is evil is putting the desire for money ahead of the desire to know God and helping others.
Sunday, November 29, 2015

What Is Faith Without Action?

Is not the fulfilment of faith, action? In the above scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy had to make a "leap of faith." So Indy had to have faith that he could walk across that endless chasm without falling to his death. But what good would his faith have been if he had not acted on it?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
~ James 2:14
This is some pretty powerful stuff that the Bible tells us about those who place their faith in Jesus. The author of Hebrews gives us an overview of several people who's faith was put into action.  If we act on our faith in Jesus, as the first century church did, would we not become a mighty force for good in this world again? How about you? Are you willing to put your faith into action?
Friday, October 30, 2015

Life Mission: Drama Elimination

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
~ Paul, Romans 12:18
Ten years ago, shortly after I married my wife, Kelly, I made the observation to her that there are those who are seriously addicted to drama. At first she didn’t believe that this was actually possible, but over time, we have encountered several people that have proven this theory to be true. I told her back then that perpetual drama is a toxin that prevents joy. We concluded that in order to live our lives to the fullest, one of our priorities should be to continuously eliminate sources of perpetual drama from our lives as they are revealed.
Obviously we aren’t going to ditch a friend just because they have had something dramatic and unexpected happen. It’s obvious that you may be dealing with a drama addiction though, when every little molehill is turned into a mountain of an ordeal. Kelly and I have both had a lot of crazy, unexpected events happen in our lives which were out of our control that have caused us drama. We don't remain in it, thriving off of it though. Instead we try our best to roll with the punches, learn and grow from what happened, and then move on, hopefully the better for it. What had happened recently though was way more intense than anything we had experienced before.
This time, the source of our perpetual drama was the pastor of our home church of five and a half years. Of course it didn’t start out that way. Past church experiences had prepared us to be cautious; we expected it to be bad. However, when it wasn’t, we opened our hearts to the people there. We were all in. With everything we did there, we did it with all our hearts. We got involved, we formed friendships we thought would last a lifetime. We even reached out to others in the church who needed help. This pastor was someone we thought of as a friend and potential mentor.
One woman there, someone we’d helped regularly for over a year, had become a source of perpetual drama in our lives for some time. She would come into our apartment at any time of day or night and stay for hours, gossiping about people we knew, complaining about work and bills, and asking for food. We felt it our Christian obligation to oblige her, out of kindness. We continued to do so until our pastor preached a series on drama addicts, or “Crazymakers” as he called them, and how to deal with them. We decided to follow his outline. All was going well, until we started establishing boundaries in our relationship. She didn’t like that, so she went to the same pastor, who has known her for many years. After hearing her story, and without coming to us to hear our version of events, he rebuked us for our treatment of her as being harsh and unwarranted. We were stunned as we were following his outline in the Crazymakers Series.
There was a lot more to the situation though, including an ongoing attempt on her part to drive a wedge between my wife and I, while she made several unwanted advances on me. We told another pastor we were seeing for marriage counselling about this shortly after we were rebuked by the pastor. We asked our counselor whether we should bring this information to the pastor now, or not. Our counselor advised that we not, as it would only make us look juvenile and petty. After much thought and prayer we decided that we shouldn’t make a big deal or even talk about any part of the situation involving this woman to anyone, and continue on as though everything was normal. We would roll with this rather large whammy on our own like we have done every time in the past. We thought that after two and a half years, people would know us well enough, that our character and integrity would speak for itself, even if this woman continued in her habit of gossiping.
She did gossip about us to many, many people at the church. While we don’t know what exactly she said, we know it was ugly. We immediately began to notice our pastor starting to doubt our intentions, our motivations... the why behind everything we do. Everything we did, from there on out, was suspect for ulterior motives.
The attitudes and actions of others at our church began to sour toward us pretty quickly too. I was being asked to step down from ministries I had been involved with. We were losing heart. Later, I was accused of worrying too much about what others thought about me; a ridiculous claim as I couldn’t be involved in any ministries when ministry leaders who now thought poorly of me wouldn’t let me serve in any meaningful capacity.
I tried talking with my pastor a couple of times, however it seemed as though he would almost go out of his way to misinterpret what I was meaning to say; even when I would try to make small talk with him, he thought I was trying to say something that I wasn’t. I felt unable to communicate effectively with him... or an inability to be understood by him. Eventually I stopped even trying.
The morning of the fire, my wife called him to let him know what had happened because she couldn’t get ahold of our marriage counselor. Our pastor came to the ER, where I was being treated for smoke inhalation. While he was there, my wife began to lose control of her composure; the gravity of our loss was sinking in. Our pastor was just hanging out, smiling while chatting with the nurses and mostly ignoring us. I got up from my hospital bed and reminded and reassured Kelly that our God has promised to provide for all our needs and asked her if she believes that God will come through on His promises. She nodded, sucking the snot back into her nose as tears continued to roll down her face. I hugged my mucussy mess of a wife to reassure her that things will be alright.
Sure enough God did come through! Some newer people at the church heard about what had happened, and began organizing donations. Someone even called the news about it. Nine days after our fire, our pastor told me that we were taking advantage of people by accepting donations. Evidently he did not realize that Kelly and I weren’t even involved with the donations. He told me to give things back and to stop taking things from people.
His attitude towards us has even been projected onto our children. With Michael’s dedication, the baby born the day of the fire, we had invited family and friends. Our pastor normally makes a big production out of baby dedications. For Michael, however, he had us introduce ourselves and then he said a short little prayer, and then sent us off. We kept quiet about it though. Two weeks later, friends of his had their baby dedicated which took 20 minutes, cutting into the sermon time.
His shoot from the hip snap judgments were on display again recently, where a leader of a ministry, which Kelly brought to our church, decided to lie and gossip about Kelly to several people, including our pastor. He again, didn’t bother to talk to us to gain a better understanding of the situation, but rather allowed her to apply an unjust discipline against Kelly, causing her to be kicked out of the ministry. Once again, our pastor consciously made a decision to make a judgment against us based solely on information provided by one side; choosing to believe the worst about us because of his skewed perception of our motives, affecting our lives in a negative fashion, thus perpetuating drama.
I’ve seen the perpetual drama machine of this pastor for over a year, and Kelly has just recognised the pattern too. It was hard to admit that such a wonderful and charismatic individual could be so corrupt, but isn’t it the charismatic ones who have the greatest temptations to become corrupt? It is one of the hardest decisions to make, seeing not what I wanted to see, but seeing what was actually there. Harder still was the next logical question: knowing what kind of man leads this church, do I stay, trying to ignore what I know, or do I leave, trying to find another church as good as this one was... or rather better than this one was?
As hard as it was, we have decided that after two and a half years of this perpetual drama, we are leaving this church. The decision has been liberating, but it still hurts deeply, like leaving an abusive lover. There were so many wonderful memories, but too many painful ones that keep coming to the surface. It particularly hurts when we hear the pastor speak these wonderful things that we know, from our experience of his actions, to be hollow and then watch others take in everything he says as wise or inspirational; especially as when we genuinely tried to live by his wonderful sounding standards, he began to question our motives.
I think the worst part is hearing the few friends we have left there talking about how wonderful he is or his sermon was, and sharing the links on facebook posts. I feel bad for them that they don’t see the truth of who he is for themselves, but at the same time wishing that I could go back to being a valued part of that church again. I don’t want to lie to my friends and reaffirm their belief in him, but I don’t want to come off sounding like a disgruntled former member of the church either. So I ignore their posts, and comments, and can’t help wonder if we will grow slowly farther apart, until they are just another name on my friends list that I choose to remove because we have nothing in common any more.
I know, it sounds terribly depressing, but there isn’t much joy to be had in removing one’s family from a church body in which so many hopes and dreams were tied. The relationships that we did have, such as Kelly’s “belly buddies,” the children’s godparents, the people who we got to know on a deeper level through special life events shared, are now mostly lost to us. One of our dreams stemmed out of how my wife has been teaching the same group of kids in Sunday School for four years now. Before I was removed from that ministry, I was helping her every Sunday. We had thought that we would be watching these kids grow up, graduate, get engaged and married, have children and maybe even have grandchildren. We loved these kids and cheered them on each week with every new accomplishment they achieved. Kelly and I just realized that we won’t get to now, because of the toxin of perpetual drama that has pushed us away from this church family.
Now, if I placed my faith in this man, this pastor, over Jesus, I may have turned my back on God as most who are hurt by hypocrisy in the church do. My faith in Jesus still remains strong throughout this though. I'm not trying to smear our former pastor, but use my experience as a point of reference for those who have been hurt by people in the church. We will all be hurt by people in and outside of the church. If this man was anything other than the founder and leader of this church, then we probably would have stayed, however we simply could not continue to attend this church body when the pastor won’t allow anything good to come out from us. We tried to allow for things to get better. The pastor’s choice to make communication seem hostile, made working it out impossible. Giving it time while not feeding into the gossip mill didn’t work either. Hearts were not changed when we asked God, which is His sovereign choice to make based on His reason, which I will not question. Leaving was the only other option that I could think of that wouldn’t cause division in the church. Eliminating perpetual drama can cause a lot of pain, as in this example, but once it has been exercised, the results are so much more freeing than you ever thought possible.
Edited 12.31.2015
Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Should I Thank God?

Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
~Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
~ John, John 1:3
I have heard many people ask why they should give thanks to God for anything, especially if they have paid for what they have. Ok, I could go into the old, “We wouldn’t have anything if God didn’t create it first,” speech, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I want to ask you a question: what is your favorite fruit? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite thing to wear? What is your favorite song?
Ok... so I asked a few questions. Out of each of these, how many more are there from which to choose? Yes, God created everything, but, He created a LOT of everything! God spoils us with an extravagance which can only be likened to the wealthiest of wealthy people toward their children. We aren’t just given a fruit, or a hand full of fruits; we are given so many fruits that we are still discovering them six thousand years later! And fruit is just the beginning... we also have vegetables, nuts, and a plethora of tasty little meat creatures to choose from when we get hungry!
We aren’t only given one color. Bill Gates could only give us 10 colors back in the early days of personal computers, but God gave us billions of colors from the beginning! Using these colors, and the vast creativity He gave us, we have created almost endless pieces of art in every style imaginable! We have also been given so many materials with which to craft fabric and even more ways by which to craft it! So many textures, so many patterns, and again, so many colors!
And yes, music! God created the ability for sound to travel through the air. God created the human ear to find pleasure in the rhythmic compilation of various tones and beats. God also allowed for us to know how to manipulate the air in so many different way and the creativity to turn the various noises into something meaningful and beautiful.
How can we talk about the extravagant love of God without talking about how wonderful walking barefoot in green grass is, or how beautiful a sunset is, or even how relaxing hot water can be after a hard day. So when you think of how you earned the money that paid for the food and shelter and clothing that you have, think about how God’s extravagance allows you to work to earn that money (another extravagance of God), so you can pay for your food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment.
Everything around you that brings you relief, hope and joy, everything that allows you to be uplifted, is God showing you how much He loves you. And isn’t it nice to hear “thank you” from those you show your love to? Don’t you love it even more when they elaborate on what it was that they loved? So does God.
Friday, July 31, 2015

What Is It To Be "Saved?"

To know that, we need to understand what we are being saved from. John 3:18 explains that we are all, by default, condemned to eternal separation from God, AKA, death. That separation from God means that we all fall short of God's glory. This is because those we all descended from, doubted God's good intentions for them, and chose to find Life apart from God. In doing so, they separated themselves from God (That is what is known as sin).
Paul explains, in Romans 6:23, that the wages (or result) of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. That last part goes along with what John 3:16-17 expands on. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Did you see it? God sent Jesus to save us. From what? From our own self-centered choices which cause an eternal separation from God, which is eternal death, or as John put it, to perish. But by what method did He come to save us? Paul tells us, in 2nd Corinthians 5:21, that God made Him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus isn't here to condemn us; we are all already condemned. Jesus just happens to be the one who is pointing out our present situation, but He is also offering us all a solution to that unfortunate situation.
The true beauty of it is that being “saved” is not the only thing that Jesus is offering to you and me! Did you catch that last part? God wants us to become His righteousness! Have you heard that before, or just let that sink in? Jesus Himself says in John 10:10 that He has come so that you and I might have Life, and have it to the full!
He also said of Himself that He quotes from an ancient passage, Isaiah 61:1, to describe His mission: Jesus has been anointed by God to proclaim the gospel to the poor. He has been sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. That’s some pretty heavy stuff! Stuff that seems to get lost with the simple word “saved.”
If you feel blinded, as though you can’t see your way through life clearly, or feel brokenhearted or even captive to some form of darkness, and you know somewhere inside of you that you need something that is bigger than you to help you, heal you, God wants that healing for you. If you don't know God through Jesus, you don't know God. But as long as you have breath, you can know God eternally through Jesus, by confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus is Lord, and Lord of your life; and then you too can be saved, and begin on the road to true healing.
Friday, July 17, 2015

Illusions of Perfection

Take a look at the picture above... I'll bet you can pick mine out of that line up in under a second flat. It's the one that looks like it's seen it's fair share of battle damage. Yeah... "nice car, nice car, nice car, Nate's car", van. It's been in two collisions in the last six months. the first, as far as we can figure, was a pickup truck with a plow that hit our van in the middle of a cold winters night. That was a pleasant surprise to find while scraping snow and ice off the windows and lights as the kids are piling into the van for church (note sarcasm). The second happened while my dad was driving the kids back home from their place... on our ten year anniversary. As the car seats are a pain to take out and to put in, we  both just decided he could take our van, with the kids, and we would take his car out for our date. He was stopped at a red light and some lady was texting while driving [seriously, don't text and drive!] and didn't see our van there until the very last second... Oh well...
Why all this about my van? Well, it hit me just the other day that I have never been one to hide my problems, much like my van's dings and dents aren't hidden. I don't necessarily advertise the fullness and depth of my problems, but I won't avoid talking about them with those who really want to know more. This, I have found, makes many American Christians uneasy. I have found that many "Evangelicals" like things nice, neat and tidy. It's like the unspoken rule of the American Church: "You should always have a smile on, even if you are dying inside." Is that what Jesus wanted? Is that what the Bible actually teaches? Heck no! In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (NIV).
When we take a brutally honest look at the American Church, there are a whole lot of superficial "happy" relationships, but when things get real, and they always get real, who is willing to be there, to listen, to cry with, to mourn with, and to uplift? Many are even chastised for not being perpetually happy: some say you have brought this on yourself; some say that you are just trying to get attention for yourself; others might say that you are mired in sin... so shamed and humiliated, not-happy people end up plastering a fake smile on, while telling everyone who asks them "How's it going," that "everything's great!" ...all while they are actually withdrawing and pulling away from people and relationships.
After our fire, a year ago, tomorrow, many, many people gave of their possessions and money and time to help us back up. We received more than we could have hoped for to replace all the physical things we had lost. The response was overwhelming, however, when Kelly and I needed somebody to talk to, someone to mourn with us, there were very few who were willing. A couple good people helped Kelly, but while a couple guys offered to talk with me, the offers rang hollow when I needed them. It hurt... deep. And even though so many had helped us replace our stuff, I felt like nobody cared about the emotional aspect of what happened. And then I felt bad that I felt bad. I tried putting out feelers with certain friends, but everyone kept saying "well at least all you lost was stuff." Then it happened; I was rebuked for "seeking attention," which the pastor warns to lookout for from his pulpit several times throughout each year. And then people at church just began to avoid me altogether. This has been ongoing for a year now, and still hasn't been resolved. I have spent a lot of time talking with God, and I know He's experienced what I'm going through and that He understands, and that has helped; it would just be nice to talk with someone with a corporeal form as well.
However, like in the new Pixar Disney movie, Inside Out, my experience and the experiences of so many others at churches across America, any emotion other than "Joy" is frowned upon, but especially "Sad." "Sad" must not touch anything, or even go outside of this tiny little circle, and if "Sad" does, then it's to be rebuked. I'm not advocating for everything at church to be one big emotional free-for-all... what I am advocating is that we as Christians stop trying to hide our imperfections as to look holier than we actually are, and admit to our problems, for the sake of healing, recovery, and growing, so we can actually become more holy. As the old and cliched AA line goes, "The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem."
Sure, I will lead by example... and since no one in the church wants to hear me say this in person, then here I am on my blog saying that, yeah... I have a problem. My heart is broken, and bleeding, and I need to talk with someone... I need someone to listen and understand... There's no need to give advice or provide feedback, just being there can bring help and healing.
There, that wasn't so hard. I'm sure you can pull away your facade and admit to your problems too.


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