Tuesday, June 23, 2009

That's Just Jesus Being Jesus

Today Manny Ramirez will begin a 'rehab' assignment with the Albuquerque Isotopes (I miss the Dukes, but love the Simpsons, so I'm conflicted) after serving a 50 game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Steroid policy. For some reason, ESPN is going to give us each of his at-bats. As far as I know, this is the first time ESPN has had such media coverage of a rehab stint. But you know, it's just Manny being Manny.

That's a quote, from him speaking in third person, in response to criticism of his play with the Boston Red Sox. If you don't follow baseball as religiously as I do, I'll give you the quick summary. Manny Ramirez reported late for Spring Training and loafed for half a season in an effort to force a trade from the Red Sox last year. The Dodgers were the only takers. Even after he lead the Dodgers in a surge to the playoffs and a first round sweep of the Cubs (weep), the Dodgers were reluctant to re-sign him for this season. Contract negotiations dragged through Spring Training before being resolved and Manny played almost a month before being suspended for using Performance Enhancing Drugs. The other day I was in a local Wal-Mart and saw on many clothes racks t-shirts with the saying 'Manny's Back!'. Everybody loves him, even though everybody hates him.

But that's just Manny being Manny. It goes to show that you are what you do. At work, someone could say of me, "that's just Frank being Frank." At home my wife could say the same thing. The question is though, is the "Frank being Frank" at work the same Frank as home? Is Manny being Manny the same Manny all the time? In both cases, it should be.

One of my favorite Proverbs is Proverbs 12:17 which reads, "A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies." It's so simple it took a commentary to help me figure out what it means. It simply means our character is reflected by what we do. So Manny Ramirez is a cheater not just by baseball policy, but also in character (as evidenced by his departure from the Red Sox). So when I lose my temper at home, or slack off at work, that's my character. And those parts of my character are in need of repentance. We should forgive Manny for being Manny, but we should not accept Manny for being Manny. Baseball fans are willing to forgive (see Jason Giambi) but ESPN wants to force us to accept. I'm sorry, but acceptance won't change until the character changes.

"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16) In other words, don't say you're something you're not. Don't call yourself a Christian and not act like it. If you're truthful, you will be honest. And if you're Manny, you'll be Manny. I hope by the end of my life someone will say of me "that's just Frank being Jesus."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who's Your Daddy?

"So God created man in his own image..." (Gen 1:27) There are a lot of ways to take this meaning. I grew up understanding that this meant I had an eternal, divine soul. I also believed because of this that all people are inherently good. Then I grew older, actually read the book of Romans, and learned this is not the case. Another way of looking at this verse is that our character reflect the character of God.

It was a novel, in fact controversial, idea when Jesus introduced the Lord's Prayer with the words "Our Father..." (Mt 6:9) and when he said "I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me." (Jn 8:18, emphasis added) he was speaking blasphemy. But it is clear from the Gospels that we can look at the God in Heaven as 'Father'. If we are created in his image, and that means we share his character, then as fathers shouldn't we look to his example for fatherhood?

There's a lot in the Bible that we can turn to, and I encourage you to study this out on your own. But I want to call attention to two of Jesus' parables to grasp a description of the father that I believe is central to fatherhood.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Mt 7:9-11)

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." (From the parable of the Prodigal Son, Lk 15:20b-24)

If you don't know the story, the Prodigal Son asks for his inheritance early, runs off and blows it all, feels ashamed about it and comes home. This is where I pick up the story.

What these parables have in common is unconditional love. That's hard as a father. My son is in the "fearful Fours" (though I've heard different versions of that first f-word, if you know what I mean). When he's being especially disobedient and is disciplined, he's quick to lash out in anger, "I don't like you!" The first few times he did that it hurt me greatly. But then I understood that he didn't mean it. I forgave him. He continues to say that from time to time. And each time I tell him that it hurts, but I understand and forgive him.

Isn't this that attitude that God has towards us? We sin, and sin, and sin. We reject him daily, only turning to him when we're in trouble. Yet we want everything he has to offer us. So what does God do? He tells us, "I understand. I forgive you. I love you."

It doesn't take my son long to get over his anger with me. Just the other night we were butting heads and clashing wills. After some time to cool off he comes up to me and told me, "I always like you." I was surprised! It wasn't ten minutes earlier that he told me the opposite! He surprised me again last night when he told me out of the blue, "You're always my friend." There's no better Father's Day present I could ever get. I pray this is always true.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Recommended Reading

So I've already given you books to encourage you as dads, but what about books to give you real practical advice on the subject? There are plenty to choose from, but I'm only going to give you the ones I'm familiar with.

My most recent pickup is Raising Boys To Be Like Jesus by Sharon Norris Elliott (another panelist from the AV Writer's Conference). What's cool about this book is that it breaks Jesus' life down into different stages and relates these to the stages of development of our children.

When my firstborn son turned one, I made it a priority to read Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson. Say what you will about his politics, but the guy knows his stuff when it comes to raising a family. This was a great read and very helpful. (Come to think of it, I'm due for a refresher.)

Finally, the series that turned me on to Living On The Edge was House or Home. Listen to this series or read the related book, Effective Parenting in a Defective World by Chip Ingram. (Hmm, didn't realize there was a message series to go along with that, I'm going to have to pick that up.)

As you can see, this is pretty son-centric. I'm now blessed with a beautiful young girl, so I'm looking for books specifically for fathering girls. If you have any suggestions, please drop me a line!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the (father) Hood

So dads, what causes the frustrations I described before? "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it..." (James 4:1-2b) I often have to remind myself that the things that stress me out are blessings and that my stress is the result of me being ungrateful. Stressed about your house? Be grateful you have a roof over your head. Stressed out about your job? Be grateful you're employed.

This shouldn't come as a surprise however. God told Adam that the consequence of him eating the apple would be "toil" on this earth. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Gen 3:19)

The same applies to our families, arguably the most consistent if not largest source of stress. I wouldn't describe fatherhood as 'toil', but there's plenty of sweat on my brow. I'm amazed at the timeless truth of this passage. So many brothers talk about how their biggest insecurity is worry over being able to take care of their family. Want to make a man feel inadequate? Make him feel he's failed taking care of his home. That's one of my biggest struggles. I see something I planted in the yard wither and die and I feel like a failure to my family. That incomplete home improvement project? Failure. And relating back to toiling for our food, when we fall short on our bills I worry whether I'm making enough money. And again I feel like a failure.

But it doesn't need to be this way. Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18:3ff) Do our children worry about the how the bills will be paid? Are they disappointed when there's a dead patch in the yard? Do they feel like failures when things aren't perfect? Of course not. So neither should we. Our children's biggest concern is knowing that we love them and that isn't something to stress over, but rather be very very grateful for.

After all, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Mt 6:27)

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Your Anger, Do Not Sin

The title is from Ephesians 4:26 and continues, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Eph 4:26-27)

I decided to make Father's Day a theme and I wanted to talk a little about a common sin as a father, anger. If you're a dad, I'm sure you can relate. You come home from work, you just want to relax, and you come home to your child's messy room. Depending on their age, either they want to jump all over you or they ignore you altogether. Your child who is a "reward from [God]" (Ps 127:3ff) is not the source of joy he or she should be but is instead a source of frustration. You want to be a good father so you hide your frustration- you either stuff it or let loose on something else (video games, sports, the weights at the gym). But you never really deal with it and that frustration grows and grows until it spills over. I don't know what form that will take for you, but I fear of the form it will take for me. By not dealing with it, I'm "giving the devil a foothold" and he's just waiting to take advantage of it.

So what do we do? We need to talk about it; share it with a brother in Christ, and calmly confront the source of frustration. Either it's something that can be addressed, or it's something not worth the emotional cost. Remember, you're the leader of your family. Leader, not manager. What's the difference? Leaders are proactive; they set the course. Managers are reactive and deal with things as they come.

Chip Ingram spent the last couple of weeks on this subject and his lessons are worth a listen. Admittedly, the series promotes his most recent book, Overcoming Emotions that Destroy. But if nothing else, listen to the last two broadcasts of this series, and evaluate how you deal with anger.

Speaking of books, I also need to give a shout out to Susan Titus Osborn (one of the panelists at the AV Writer's Conference I attended last month) who wrote Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse. The sad truth is, often our anger and frustration shows itself in our words. James compares our tongues to the rudder of a ship or the bit in a horse's mouth in describing the influence our words have. He goes on to write, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." (Js 3:9-10) We need to recognize the damage our anger and our words are capable of.

I'm reminded of this parable: A young man struggles with temper tantrums and his parents are at their wits end trying to curb his anger. So the dad comes up with an idea. He gives his son a hammer and a bag of nails. He tells him, "every time you get angry, pound a nail into that old wood fence out back." After some time, and several nails, the son stops having angry outbursts. He's simply tired of pounding nails. "Good," his father tells him, "now go and remove all those nails from my fence." The son does as he's told and returns to ask his dad what the point was. "See all the holes that are now in my fence?" the father asks. "You can take out all the nails, but the damage is already done. So it is with your anger. You can take back all the words, but you can't take back the hurt you caused."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Buy These Instead! (A Father's Day Buying Guide)

Last time, I brought up the tabloid-esque books that we shamelessly flock to buy because the author or subject calls themselves a Christian. Instead I encourage you to read books that edify your soul and build up the Body of Christ.

With Father's Day now just a week away, I figure I'd provide a gift list for the dads amongst us.

For the secular sports or music fan, I recommend these that I have yet to read but are high on my list:

Songs for My Fathers. I read an excerpt in an in-flight magazine and have wanted to pick this up ever since.

I gave A Son of the Game to someone as a gift when it first came out, hooked by the description on the jacket.

Not necessarily secular like the others, but doesn't fit in with the rest of my list. Raising Dad hooked me just from the cover.

As for spiritual books that I have read that I cannot recommend enough, I start with The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz. This was one of the first books I read after I became a disciple of Christ and I still turn to it frequently today.

Another book from my "formative years" is Mighty Man of God that keys in on David and his Mighty Men.

Finally I book I cannot recommend more highly is Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Like Measure of a Man, this is a book that I turn to frequently.
This is a short list, but one I hope you find helpful. Do your dad, husband, or brother in Christ a favor and spare him the necktie and get him something that will draw him closer to Christ.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Don't Buy This Book!

I bet you'd never expect reading that on a blog by an aspiring author. But there are many of us who have no celebrity, no following outside of local (congregation) and virtual (facebook/twitter/blogs) support, who feel a calling from God to use our talents for His glory. Some of us want to write fiction, some inspirational Christian living, and others want to share personal experience to build up and encourage the Body of Christ.

But then there are those who have celebrity, who are the headline of the week, who cash that in to market themselves under the veil of christianity (intentional little 'c'). For example just a month ago Multiple Blessings by Jon and Kate Gosselin was one of the books of the month at Family Christian. Now, they're embroiled in scandal with rumors of infidelity, questions about the sincerity of their parenthood, and the authenticity of their television show. They cashed in on their celebrity and sadly, their children. (More of what I think about that last subject here) And predictably, the christian consumer buys it hook, line, and sinker.

Now former Miss California Carrie Prejean is looking to cash in as well. The current poster-child of christian persecution wants to write a book about her experiences as Miss California. She wants people to "know the truth about what's going on and what has gone on through all of this." What truth would that be? The breast implants? The lingerie modeling? The throwing your sister under the bus? The sudden embracing of Jesus once the cameras stopped rolling and the controversy began?

Please, please, please I beg you do not buy this book! Instead of reading a book that's no better than tabloid gossip, pick up something that will edify your soul and draw you closer to Christ. I'll be back later with recommendations...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Flight of the Navigator

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incapacity, or neglect. " -Anonymous

I first read the above quote in one of the many articles I've read on the Air France disaster. Sadly, this event reminds us just how unforgiving flying can be. Yesterday, airlines replaced the speed sensors suspected to have been the cause of the accident even though the "black box" hasn't been found and there's limited information from data sent from the plane prior to its crash. These are experts in aviation however, who have reached this conclusion. So I trust they know what they're talking about.

And I can understand, even relate. Imagine you're the pilot of this plane: you're flying over the ocean, you can't see any landmarks and you're surrounded by blue, above and below. Your sensors then give you conflicting readings of your speed. You're cruising, not climbing, so you don't have a physical sense of how fast you really are going. There's nothing on the ground or on the horizon to relate your speed with. You have no choice but to trust your instruments.

This had to have been extremely difficult for the pilot. I was once handed the controls of a plane and had the pleasure of experiencing aviation beyond the textbook. We were approaching a mountain peak when the guy I was with told me to climb to a certain altitude. I thought the peak was a long ways off, but sure enough, by the time I reached that altitude I could tell the peak was right there. It's very difficult to judge distance, and therefore speed, from the air.

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." -Martin Luther King

Spiritually, it's also very difficult to judge not only how fast we're going but also where we're going. How do we know we're doing alright with our relationship with God? How do we know we're making the right decision when given choices? How do we know we're honoring God when we seize opportunities and not honoring ourselves? We can't trust our own instruments. If we do, we're likely to crash. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9)

Thank God we don't have to rely on our own navigation. He gives us a guide, a navigator. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Is 30:21) We can trust the Holy Spirit when our instruments fail. I pray that as many as possible on that flight had a navigator they could trust.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

My Family, My Ministry

One common piece of advice from the Writer's Conference I attended a couple weeks ago was to start small- if you don't know if you have a full book in you, start with articles and work your way up. If anything, those articles can be compiled into the book you're planning. It sounded like good advice, especially since the magnitude of a book intimidates the heck out of me. So I dropped by my local Family Christian a week or so ago and picked up some magazines that fit my interest to browse the by-lines of authors and see what I'm up against. Of course, nearly all the freelanced articles were by established authors, and the ones that weren't were by professors of theology or divinity at some well-known seminary or foundation or led some well-known megachurch. Ok, so now the book is less intimidating that writing an article.

But I'm keeping that option open. At the very least, these magazines fit the theme of what I want to write about and what I write about here, so they're an additional resource to myself and my ministry.

Oh yeah, my ministry. I've posted multiple times about this, and the resulting conviction each time has been the same: I have a ministry. Let's see, I lead a small group, teach Sunday School to 3rd graders on a rotation, mentor a teen, and I'm president of our board, not to mention maintain this blog which I whole-heartedly consider to be part of my ministry. What more could I possibly add? What each of these have in common, and what ties in with the beginning of this post, is how I approach my ministry. I'm a sponge of information and I take that information through a spiritual filter and pass it on to each of the ministries listed above. That's what I do and that's what I'm good at. So at the very least, that's what I'll continue to do.

But there's a ministry I left off from the above list, that Pastor Peter kindly reminded me of, and that's my family. Regrettably I don't often consider my family a ministry. Maybe it's been drilled in my head one too many times not to use my family as an excuse to not participate in another ministry. I'm sure you've heard it before, "I can't serve in ___ because my family has ___." I do however consider my family to be my primary responsibility, and I'll gladly sacrifice my participation in any other activity for the sake of my family. In fact, that's the only reason I have time right now to sit down and type this.

But "responsibility" isn't the right word. Responsibility comes with obligation, and obligation comes with pressure, and pressure comes with stress. Ministry however, while challenging, should always bring joy. (Of course, if we're not relying on God, that joy quickly turns to stress.) I've been reminded several times lately not to neglect my family as a ministry. First by the great preaching by Chip Ingram at Living on the Edge, who shared lessons on fatherhood last week. I've heard these lessons before, but I was reminded of the role of Abraham to his family- that he was both prophet and priest. There weren't yet any synagogues, the temple was still generations off, even the Levite priests were a couple generations away. So he had to both bring the word of God to his family and intercede to God on their behalf. How much have I shared the word of God with them as eagerly as I've written about it online? How often do I get on my knees before God for my family? Most recently I was reminded this morning (thanks Rodney!) when he read this from the 8th Psalm, "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise" (Ps 8:2ff). How often have I given in to my own stress and frustration as my children are screaming and hollering in the background? How easy I forget that my children are "a reward from Him." (Ps 127:3b)

But I was also reminded by the magazines I pulled off the shelf and have been reading lately. (See, I was going somewhere with all of this) In both the issues of Discipleship Journal and Relevant, the opening editorials described how each editor was burned out by their personal ministry. Not only did this affect their own relationship with God, but in the case of Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant Magazine, it also affected his family.

So what have I learned from all of this? First, is that my ministry already exists. Second, I need to include my family in my ministry. Not only that, but my family needs to be my primary ministry. And finally, to stay rooted in God so that my ministry does not become a source of stress, but rather remains to be a source of joy.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Irreconcilable Differences

Divorce should never be an option for Christians based on Jesus' teachings in Matthew 5, yet the divorce rate in the church (little-c) is a little higher than the national average (60 to 50 percent, last I looked). The number one reason for divorce in the United States, with laws defining "no-fault divorce", is irreconcilable differences. In other words, arguments that can't be resolved. Again, this should be a non-option for Christians based on Romans 12: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought... Honor one another above yourselves... If possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:3b,10b,18)

Reading Matthew 5 this morning, Jesus' instruction on divorce is buried in the middle of a larger train of thought. If your Bible has headings, it might look something like this beginning in verse 21: Murder, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, An Eye for an Eye, Love for Enemies. Since Jesus' theme in these passages is less the action and more the heart consider this sequence: Anger, Lust, Unfaithfulness, Integrity, Turn the Other Cheek, Love Your Enemies.

What is your irreconcilable difference(s) with your spouse? What is the one (or more) thing that you two can never seem to resolve? How does that make you feel? (Come in, lay down on my couch) Angry? Do you use that as an excuse to be lustful? Remember that even lust is adultery and adultery is unfaithfulness to your marriage. Remember that you took an oath before God and your 'I do' means 'I do' just as your "yes be yes and your no be no". Are you still angry at your spouse? Is there anything you haven't let go of and forgiven? Turn the other cheek. Last, but certainly not least, if this is still too hard, love your enemy.