Don’t go to another counselor until you read this.

Don’t go to another counselor until you read this.brain

Years ago I was approached by a young lady looking for advice.  She was clearly frustrated, her eyes filling with tears, as she began her story.  She grew up in a large family with a father who was fairly distant and cold.  She had years of pent up frustration at the distance and lack of understanding in their relationship.  However, this time he had crossed the line…

At this point, in most conversations about a painful situation, people tend to protect someone and downplay something serious or they tend to exaggerate an event.

Early on I did something I have since regretted and learned to STOP doing.  Hold on, you’re not going to like this…I had to STOP fully believing their stories.

You read that correctly.  I have wrongly reprimanded people that didn’t really deserve it and have neglected to engage when I later realized I should have all because I believed people without looking for the truth.  Listen to Dr. Julia Shaw, a memory expert and researcher at London South Bank University: “Much like our ability to switch the name John with Jack without realizing, we can quite easily change details of more important events in our memories without noticing. We can come to remember seeing and doing things that never happened, and the sneaky part is that in our minds these errors look and feel just like our other memories. These kinds of memory errors are called ‘false memories,’ and they are the subject of considerable study around the world.”

This gets even scarier!

Listen to what happened during one of the research projects:  “I recently conducted a study that elucidates this, published in the academic journal Psychological Science. Through a series of three interviews, my participants came to believe they experienced a highly emotional event that never happened.” 

She goes on in her research to share that this is accidentally done all the time in highly emotional questioning situations like police interviews or counseling sessions.  Yep, you heard that right.  Bad counselors can actually make your events MORE traumatic.  Every time you recreate the event, the mind can literally paint a more superfluous image.  Your ex grows ever more into a monster.  Your childhood becomes just as bad as living in a concentration camp.  You mix real events with emotions and retell the story over and over again with no objective guidance and end up with a new “real” memory based on something that isn’t actually true.  This sounds terrifying.  At this point I should interject.  DON’T go to bad counselors that may “seed” your memories. They can make a bad situation much worse in your mind and in your heart.

So, how can you tell if a counselor is bad?

Pay attention to how counselors probe your memories.  Closed questions are less than ideal.  “What was the color of his shirt?” Leading questions are dangerous.  They write memories as the brain tries to fill in the gaps. “He was angry, wasn’t he?  His fist was closed, wasn’t it?” Dr. Shaw’s research led me to two conclusions:  1) The best way to probe a memory is to just listen. Don’t over ask or “seed” their memories. 2) If possible corroboration is absolutely much better. Find out who else was there or if the event was recorded.  It’s best to compare stories like a good police officer asking each witness separately and drawing core conclusions off of the similarities.  Look for real evidence.

Back to the story.

As she shared what happened her emotional response didn’t seem to align with the reported misbehavior of her dad.  Yes, her dad is kind of a jerk.  Abusive? Her unseeded stories never revealed physical abuse, not even a spanking. She didn’t even recall a time he raised his voice.

Oh, I could have seeded that memory!  I could have added things like, “He was really angry with you, wasn’t he?”  That would have been absolutely wrong on my part, but bad counselors do it all the time.

I stopped the conversation. I didn’t want to proceed and make things worse.  I needed another perspective.  So here is what I asked.

“Do you trust your siblings?”

She responded. “Yes, absolutely!”

“Can I ask them about this?”

She said, “Yes.”

All of us gathered in a room as I asked her to recall the situations again.  At least one of them, if not more, were present as she remembered her dad’s “cruel” and “harsh” rules.  As the family conversation progressed it didn’t take long for a sister to speak up and say, “That’s not exactly how it happened.”  That sister then told the story with less creativity.  Yes, dad said you had to be back by 11:30, but there was no door slamming, no shaking of the fist, and no yelling. I noticed when the other witnesses, who she knew and loved, spoke into her life, they didn’t feed a false memory, they helped her build a memory closer to reality. Then we used the example and teachings of Christ to build a right response.  I didn’t ask her to do what SHE felt like doing.  I asked her what she thought JESUS would have her do in that situation.

In the Bible the heart is to be formed not by looking within, but by finding anchors outside of ourselves.  Jeremiah states that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9).  Our hearts (and minds) are prone to lie, especially to ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul says that a renewal of our mind, by committing to the ways of Christ, gives us the capacity to test what will really honor God (Rom. 12:2).  John says that by following the work and way of Christ we are literally set free from the deception within and without (John 8).  Like being lost at sea, one can get caught in deep cyclical bondage as their mind constantly replays and rewrites their story, led by an imperfect creative mind.  They even pay people lots of money to listen to them replay events over and over again.  The Bible says there is a guide who can successfully pull you out of yourself.  You will have to do what is objectively right over how you may feel, but he knows the way.  Restitution of relationships, the way to racial equality, dealing with past hurts or current issues of the heart can all be safely and wisely discerned. The guide knows you and knows the way you’re to take.  Choose to trust him.  John 1:14 says that the Word, literally Truth, came and made his dwelling among us to show us the way.  Since our minds are objectively and scientifically proven to be unreliable, who will you follow?  Pop psychologists come and go.  New self-help strategies that fly off the best seller list are quickly forgotten, but that man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived thousands of years ago has given unimaginable hope to billions and still guides today.  Yep, I choose to trust him.  That’s my guide.  Even over my own heart.

*The opening story was purposefully adjusted to protect the family involved.

Resources:

Want more?Abandon the American Peace machine

I take on the western view of inner peace in this quick easy read found by clicking here:  http://a.co/eeltLmR
(It’s 99 cents on Amazon.  I would make it free, but Amazon won’t let me.)

Below are a few places to explore our memories!

Introduction of false memories: (Scary stuff) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfPLTtlo2oY

The Memory Illusion.  Here is an introduction to the book and a link to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72dhjGWB0gg

Scientific America: A great resource with other resources. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-memory-illusion/

Ted Talks: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_the_fiction_of_memory?language=en

 

Why your kids think drinking, sex outside of marriage, and many of your other “traditional” boundaries are no big deal.

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Ever wondered why your kids think drinking, sex outside of marriage, and many of your other “traditional” boundaries are no big deal?

“Pastor Mike, I have heard you say that it is God’s desire for us to save sex until after marriage. I want to be honest with you. I am sleeping with my girlfriend, and I think it’s great. With birth control and protection… sex is much safer today.”

“Pastor Mike, I have heard you say it’s best to limit, or avoid, alcohol completely. The truth is, I have been drunk a few times; it was really fun. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Think seeds.
You plant a seed in the ground, cover it up, stand there and look at a pile of dirt. You shrug your shoulders and say. “Ok, where is the giant oak tree?” People have an affair and after a few days say to themselves. “Ok, that was fun and I don’t see any big problems.” They drink a little too much at a party, or sample drugs, and think, “What’s the big deal? That was fun!” They experiment with a “live-in” relationship and after a few weeks think to themselves, “I like this! My parents just don’t get it.” It seems like nothing bad has really developed… not yet. The big bad consequences, their parents warned them about, are just not visible. Much like the seed planted in the soil, nothing is visible… not yet.

However, something else is happening, beyond what they can see. Something very dangerous. Something very subtle, very sinister. It’s something we may have unintentionally implied, all while trying to protect our kids.

“Trust your heart.” I believe this is one of the enemy’s greatest tactics. It isn’t really about getting people to enjoy sex outside of Biblical boundaries. It isn’t really about losing sobriety or a sound mind to have a little fun. It’s not about the selfish spending of money over living generously.
I believe the enemy’s greatest offensive weapon is convincing you that you can trust your heart. That these fun experiences are your greatest compass for living. Instead of trusting a truly objective, unimaginably wise guide, in God, you look within, and trust your own subjective, unimaginably deceived heart. Ancient wisdom teaches us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Why do your kids think drinking, sex outside of marriage, and many of your other “traditional” boundaries are no big deal?  Because you taught them to trust their heart and that is exactly what they are doing.

Here is the truth we need to tell our kids. Sex outside of marriage may be fun at times. Partying with your friends can feel good. Moreover, honoring God and obeying his ways doesn’t always “feel” good in the moment. I think it’s dangerous to imply that if they wait until marriage their sex life will be amazing or that loss of sobriety, through the use of drugs or alcohol, will always feel bad. That’s clearly not true, and ultimately very dangerous, because we are still centering our kids’
life compass on their own temporal, personal pains and momentary pleasures. Remember a heart, even a “Christian” heart, that is centered on it’s own temporal pleasures will diligently work to bend or rewrite boundaries allowing it to have what it wants.
Here is what our kids need to know. All of us are small, finite, and blind to true joy and true pain. Our own hearts will deceive us, so we need a loving guide. God understands and loves each of us. He gave his son to suffer and die to make right the wrongs we have done. Perfect joy is coming, but no human can get there alone. This comes through one road, one compass… Christ. The center of your life isn’t avoiding painful things or chasing pleasurable things. It is trusting in the heart of a loving, wise Father who plants seeds that will grow oaks of righteousness, that display the Lord’s splendor.(Isaiah 61:3). The right “seeds” or “compass” isn’t found within one’s own heart.  They are found in trusting the rich, time transcendent, word of God and work of Christ.

Where is the love?

facebookcommentsYou know that moment you click on a scripture verse for encouragement on Facebook and find the comments below akin to a WWE wrestling match?

I have been to one professional wrestling match. It was the year I graduated high school.  Goldberg was going to “fight” Andre the Giant.  It’s oddly entertaining as thousands of people chant “Goldberg” amidst flashing lights, smoke, and rock music.  Near the end of the match Goldberg does his infamous spear move and chaos erupts.  The ring is flooded with other wrestlers and bouncers as the announcer yells, “We have world war three breaking out!”

It’s all about showmanship, people trying to look big and influential.  Trying to stand above the other person.  Condescending posturing weaves in and out of the wrestlers ring. As it does all through my social media feed.

It’s starting to get old.  Social media comment sections have gone from feeling like a high school lunch room table of chatty cheerleaders to all out WWE wrestling mayhem.  It bothers me most when the pretentious, arrogant swagger comes from those who call themselves Christians.  I get it.  It’s easy to fall into this.  Someone offers a theological idea that is off and you feel that it’s your duty to correct it.  The problem is the love is gone.

Instead of HELPING your brother out you are TAKING your brother out.  Guess who is watching?  All your friends that don’t believe in Christ.  Instead of defending your perspective of the Truth you discredit its power by the way you posture yourself.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I am not talking about blatant sin and accountability here.  I am primarily talking about internal fighting over perspectives that are still within the greater Christian camp.  I agree, we need to hone each other out as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).  Yet, we are to seek a mature understanding of the Scripture with an attitude of love (Ephesians 4:1-16).  I do believe there are times that call for strong correction (Luke 17:3), but the goal is unity and restoration.

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand for Truth.  However, please be aware of how you are doing so.  The whole world is watching so many discredit the Truth they proclaim by the false conduct of their character.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35)

Why the church has gone silent on the growing mental health problem

mentail health2

Many churches have walked away from the growing mental health problem.

I don’t need to get into the statistical weeds on this one.  Go look it up for yourself.  Mental health is a growing problem with little “good” solutions being offered. The sad part is most of the church community has walked away from this.  I believe there are three reasons.  Two are embarrassing.

1)    We were taught to walk away from people with mental health problems.

All the way through school I heard one common theme when it came to counseling.  Refer.  We were basically taught that we are unqualified as pastors to help people with mental health problems and so we should just pass them along to the professionals.  So that’s exactly what an army of “well trained” young leaders, including myself, have done.  We don’t do anything with mental health because we were taught not to.  After nearly 17 years in ministry here is the problem – very few actually go get the professional help you recommend.  Either they can’t afford the “real” help or they are too embarrassed to embrace it.  So they live with a growing addiction, depression, or anxiety until it’s too late.

2)    We want to run smooth, uninterrupted, perfect productions.

The sad truth is messy people make it really hard to run a “flawless” service.  It’s quite ironic how many churches that carry tag lines like “all are welcome” really don’t mean it.  Often what they are really saying is, “Those of you who are like me and don’t fit in another church are welcome here.”  From young hipsters sporting lumberjack clothes who feel like outcasts in churches that rock Gaither music, to the elderly person I talked to the other day who now feels like an outsider in her church because it is geared for a younger generation.  Though I honor people trying to create ministries that reach people like them, the reality is they are still functionally (how they design services and ministries) working to only reach “outcasts” that look like them.  I am going to be a bit bold – they are probably not the last, the lost, and the least in culture.  What are these ministries designing for the bipolar homeless vet living under the bridge?  We have a long way to go too, but we are trying to build ministries with eyes that aren’t locked on ourselves.  Our church has an inner city campus, and its true inner city, not a hipster church in a needy area that just displaces those who are really in need.  Pastors Eric and Cathy (the leaders at that campus) are the real deal.  They hear threats, deal with people that are high, and assist in hard domestic situations on a regular basis.  I wish people viewed this type of ministry as “cool.”   Many want to belong to churches that DO a ministry like this, but don’t want to BE at churches that are like this.

3)    We are afraid of liability issues.

Yes, churches get sued, I know ours has.  The moment we choose to do ministry in messy places with messy people, we better believe it will be risky at some level.  Here is what we have to believe – that disobeying the Great Commission and Great Commandment is MORE DANGEROUS than being sued or working with messy people.

I have a theory.  I know it may sound strange, but I think the church CAN help.

I believe we need to adopt a new approach concerning mental health in the Church and stop abdicating our responsibility to be Jesus in hard situations.  At our church we are going to do a few things right away, but remain very open to other suggestions! So please share.

We are going to:

  • Realize we are failing at honoring the mandate from Christ to love those who are in real need.
  • Assume we can make a difference instead of assuming we can’t.
  • Maximize small groups that deal with hard situations.  Instead of treating small groups like Celebrate Recovery as a weird stepchild of the church it will receive the honor it deserves.
  • Utilize local professionals for emergency situations.  However, we will work to provide a safe system for people when they return to normal life.
  • Continue to build a church that provides space for imperfect people.
  • Realize our powerful potential!  When people find true love, forgiveness, community, and purpose for life in Christ it truly does change everything.

 

*Image via http://news.rutgers.edu

All you have to do is become the victim.

children-fight

“Dad, it’s not my fault!”

My daughter without any prompting jumped straight into justifying the fact that she hit her older brother.

My son standing alongside his sister tilted his head back, rolled his eyes, and replied.

“Come on dad, can’t you see it’s not my fault?  All I did was tell her she was wrong.”

The truth is their tension goes way beyond this one event.  However, something stood out to me I hadn’t noticed before.

All my children naturally fight for the spot of victim too.  From a young age they know if they can secure this spot in any situation they gain sympathy and are off the hook for their poor decisions with little to no consequences.

I can almost hear Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  “It wasn’t my fault.”Only One

Have you ever noticed this isn’t just exclusive to children?  Watch the news.  Everyone is fighting for the spot of oppressed victim.  Even those with massive power and influence work diligently to appear hurt by other groups.  The voices of those who are truly in need are lost in the choir of those who play the “game” really well.  The orphans starve, the mentally disabled go without help, and the elderly widows still sit alone.  Why?  Because they can’t play the “game” well.  It’s not cool to help those who truly need the most help anymore. I don’t want my kids to steal the light of society’s mercy from those who truly need it!

Instead of teaching my kids to join the choir of those pity baiting, screaming “poor me,” I decided to give them another social and relational tool.

I am going to raise them to be active change agents for good!  I want to give them tools to see beyond their selfishness and the façade of those who just play the victim.  I want them to weep over the children who literally live in Guatemala’s dump or creatively raise money for orphans in Uganda.  To do this they have to turn a blind eye to the fakes banging the drum all around us and realize most of their “pain” isn’t really that painful when you look around the world.

Here is what we do.

I will not raise my kids to passionately pursue the place of oppressed victim.  I will however teach them to love the oppressed and teach them to creatively work to make society better.  I will not raise children taught to live as victims, I will raise cultural change agents.  I will put their little minds to work in a positive way.

So here is what we do and some things to try.

  • Build perspective.  When they hurt acknowledge it and help them, yet always give them perspective.  With wisdom let them see and be aware of real suffering.  Let them see your compassion and encourage compassion in them.
  • Make holidays, even birthdays, about giving more than getting.  
  • Instead of only asking your kids how their day was at school, ask them how they thought their teacher’s day was, or how their friend’s day was.  Get them thinking outside of themselves. 
  • In sibling rivalry instead of rewarding the child who makes the best case for the victim make much of the child who offers real strategies to improve the situation.  You will have to help with this if they haven’t been taught to think this way.
  • Teach ethics, morality, and responsibility to your children with the same fervor as you would mathematics or natural sciences. 

Our culture is birthing a victim movement.  Every group is doing this, from those in power to those that truly have none.  Influence through pity is a terrible way to live. Living with creative compassion and empowering others to do so is so much better.

Want more? Check out An Open Letter to my Kids

In our home we define “right” by the teachings of Jesus Christ from the Bible.

Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

James 1:27

 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

John 14:21

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Most adults accept Jesus for this one reason.

 

empty-tomb

Last year most adults in our church accepted Christ for one reason.

They wanted more.

Either they achieved their goal and still were left empty or they felt as if they were falling behind.  Either way they desired more than what life was giving them.

One of the most interesting pieces of any religion is simply it’s answer to the heart’s desire for satisfaction.

Many who explore religion actually do so quite logically.  It isn’t blind, but rather the natural step that is driven by a hunger.

What do you do when you achieve the job you wanted?  Are you now complete?  How about when you finish the degree you were working for, or marry the person of your dreams, or lose the weight you thought would make you look good?   Are you now complete?  Everyone begins by answering “yes” until they realize they are not yet whole or that the object of their affection lacks the ability to satisfy this mysterious hunger that still resides.  Maybe it’s better described as unsettled, or a searching.  Eventually all land in the same place, still unsatisfied.

Malcom Muggeridge, the famous British journalist, says it well:

“It is difficult to resist the conclusion that 20th century man has abolished himself.  Tired of the struggle to be himself he has created boredom out of his own influence, impotence out of his own erotomania, and vulnerability out of his own strength.  He himself blows the trumpet that brings the walls of his own cities crashing down until at last having educated himself into imbecility, having drugged and polluted himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary, battered, old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.”

Ancient King Solomon equally says it well:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

It’s not that another degree, marriage, or raise doesn’t bring momentary happiness, absolutely they do! Yet it isn’t just a quick pleasure that we desire, it’s to feel complete.  Most who try and succeed in their earthly endeavors begin to realize that along with their success is this ever growing awareness that it isn’t fully working.  Then, as Muggeridge states, many begin to drown this realization with sedatives.  It’s almost as if they state, “If I cannot feel complete I choose to not feel at all.”

What if there is more?

Jesus Christ stands far above other religions. It’s not a story of man trying to create purpose or build towards it.  It’s perfect purpose coming to man.

This my friends is what Easter is truly about.  A way made for people to find endless, boundless, deeply fulfilling more.  I challenge you to go to church and honestly and openly explore the wild and beyond realistic claims of Christ.  After all, His story wouldn’t be amazing if it didn’t stand apart from every other man’s story.  It’s the wonder of the story that makes it so wonderful.

Who knows?  As you gaze into the empty tomb you may find it filled with everything you have been looking for.

If you have found more in Christ share this with a friend!

Here is the full sermon:

Is God really a narcissist?

Worship

“So I visited your church and I have to say, it’s weird when people worship God.  People lifting their hands up.  Someone was even crying.  Does God really need this?  Is he really this big guy in the sky demanding that we all give him our attention and worship?  That’s kind of weird and honestly doesn’t make God look good. It makes him look needy.” *Beyonce

Is God really like a narcissistic, needy rock star obsessed with being worshipped and admired? Before we proceed let’s get a good picture of what God does want of us.  Exodus 34:14, “For you shall have no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”  This theme holds true through the Old and New Testaments.  God wants our greatest affection and attention.  So it’s true?!

I believe there are two parts to this.

First, it isn’t because he needs it.  It’s because we do.  Humans are idol factories, all of us, and what we choose to worship shapes everything about us.  By worship I mean what captures our affection, what we want, find pleasure in, and ultimately place our hope in.  We could worship totem poles and carved images like primitive man or we can worship our 401k, medicine, plastic surgery, shoes, or even a new electronic device like modern man.  Either way the actions are the same. At a minimum we give our resources to our idols, and some even exasperate or mutilate their bodies, just like primitive man. From a narcotic, to cars, plastic surgery or gym membership, we all put our hope in something.  God wants to free us from putting our deepest hope in temporal, empty, corporeal things, things that don’t really have power to satisfy for long.  God doesn’t need our worship.  He is fully complete without us.  However, we need set free from trying to quench deep eternal longings with dry lifeless things that waste away or have no lasting power.

Second, expressive worship is done because we are grateful and in love with Him, not because he has void.  If I buy my wife flowers only because I think she needs it the act is centered on a perceived void or need in her.  If I buy my wife flowers solely as a visible expression of my love and gratitude for her it has nothing to do with a void (real or perceived) but rather is an expression of my love for her!  God doesn’t need our worship; He has no void.  If there is void it is in us and when this void is satisfied, when the cup is filled to overflowing, people cannot help but express it!

Lastly, I would add that God knows what will truly satisfy and often says no to things, even good things, that may stand in the way of that.  We don’t love God because he makes us rich.  We don’t worship God hoping he will get us that raise or promotion.  God is not the means to another idol end.  Presence with God is the end goal!

So when God says “look at me” he isn’t at all a needy child.  It is the rescuer calling out to those lost at sea, it is the treasure calling out to the treasure hunter, it is the father saying “over here” to a young, scared lost child.  Moreover, when you walk into a church and see people worshiping with deep gratitude, yes even some in tears, or even cheering at times, it is not because you see a needy God.  You see someone lost who has been found, you see the treasure hunter who finally found what he was looking for, and you see the child elated because he is now home.

*I have received many comments like this over the years.  This quote has been created in an attempt to make it anonymous yet include the main ideas.

Live in the Indianapolis area and looking for a church?  We would love to have you! Check us out by clicking here: www.encountertrinity.com

Here is the full teaching on this.

 

 

To my unbelieving friends that don’t get Christians…

Wheelchair

I decided to take it upon myself to try to explain why the Christian faith runs so deep.  This was originally to some non believing friends, the ones with whom I have respectful, healthy dialogue. I decided to make it an open letter.

I can’t speak for all theists or even Christians, but I can speak from my heart.

Before I do I must defuse the standard debate, though I think it is quite valid to discuss and should happen.

I have worked to understand the strongest popular proponents of atheism/agnosticism in our day. I get it. I have thumbed through Sam Harris, Dawkins, and the rest.  Obviously, I have also spent time reading the pro-intelligent design arguments by William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Ravi Zacharias, Hugh Ross, and the like.

The debate goes round and round…

Though I personally do feel like arguments for theism, specifically Christianity, are quite robust, the reality is it is unlikely anyone will change their opinions based on one side of a debate being a little more convincing.

I have seen many of them. Sometimes Craig or Plantinga just crush it from my perspective and sometimes guys like Harris give convincing arguments against the necessity of a God. Although, I can’t help but wonder even when one gives interesting evidence against the necessity of a God if that’s any proof at all that he can’t exist, but I digress and this is not helpful here.  Honestly, I struggle to read through the comments anymore on blogs and video websites. They have become so hate filled and cruel on both sides. People don’t even work through the ideas within the debate. Does anyone really think calling someone small-minded or a Neanderthal will win them over?  That’s silly.  Obviously there are respected brilliant scholars on both sides.

Yet all this endless rhetoric, as important as it is, is not why most Christians are Christian. Though I love apologetics and feel scientifically secure in an intelligent designer, that’s not the point here.

Even if we proved without a doubt that there is a God, many still likely wouldn’t love or obey Him if they don’t already.  Equally, if there was solid evidence God doesn’t exist people by the billions would still search for a rescuer and a guide that is greater than humanity. It’s built into us.

Why?

That’s the question I want to try to answer. I am not trying to win anyone over, just explain something that seems to be often overlooked.*

 

Here it is…

 

Trying to answer the loneliness, emptiness, and fear in a man about to die from cancer with a “winning” argument that life is random, unguided by anything personal, and the only meaning we have is what we made in this life is like giving a child a new haircut when he is starving to death. Even if the haircut is perfect it doesn’t fulfill the real need.

I see this all the time. We are personal relational beings and people deeply long for this.  The nursing home ministries of my church solidify the reality that nearly everyone longs for this more and more as their last breaths hunt them down. Dying brilliant atheist doctors quietly have their nurses roll them into retirement home church services as they dabble with agnosticism or slip even further from their godless faith system.

Slowly everyone realizes they will be forgotten. Many of them already are. As life trickles to an end it’s apparent cruelty of being unknown and alone forever hits people hard. It’s easy to dismiss a personal God as a healthy young adult or someone who is known and respected, but when this goes away, when no one reads your work or cares for your ideas anymore, the ultimate end-of-life reality bites back.

I have many examples of people praying with our pastors to accept Christ before they die. The heart desperately longs to be loved and known. Many people who leave the faith in their youth return to it in their later years, often giving the same reason why – they want more. They have sought satisfaction in other avenues and are left wanting.  They want something personal and full of meaning. They want to be loved and known…forever.

Where did I come from?

What’s my purpose?

Is this all worth it?

Is it possible there is more after death?

As people feel their time expire it’s not the information alone they are after – it’s meaning and love.

Why am I a Christian who loves science?  Oh, how I love exploring the facts, but I realize the heart is equally real, a very real piece of this human puzzle.  To pretend the longing of the human heart doesn’t exist would be to test this experiment without all the variables. To offer solutions that exclude a real answer to the heart would be incomplete social science. This piece of the puzzle becomes even more evident in certain seasons of life or places in this world where human mortality is more prominent.  We can try to avoid it or bury it with temporal pleasures, but this variable keeps coming back.

This is why Jesus Christ of Nazareth is so interesting to me. His life has outlived countless “brilliant” authors in history and will most likely outlive all the aforementioned writers (theist and atheist) as well, because he is a master surgeon of the human heart.

If we take time to read famous agnostic/atheists who come to accept theism we will see over and over again it is often when they include this overlooked variable. Believing in a God or not isn’t benign. The decision to believe isn’t purely academic. Believing in God fills a massive hole in the human heart. Even if the laboratory could disprove God it wouldn’t touch the work that the belief has done in the hearts of men. Do you see it? I don’t have any scientific problems with science and faith, but that’s still not the point. I am interested in what atheism/agnosticism lacks in filling that void. What do they offer to feed the deep hunger for purpose and meaning at a level that gives people deep eternal peace and hope when faced with their own mortality?

Remember Marx calling religion the opium of the masses? Even if it could be proven that this “opium” is a placebo, what is offered in its place greatly matters. This “placebo” is needed and accepted for a reason. It would be like a naturalist fervently working to stop the use of chemotherapy but offering no better solutions to the dying cancer patient.**

See, billions and billions of people will worship God this week not because they think their science is better, but because their hearts are filled. Let me say that again – their hearts are filled. To really derail theism, you need a better, more meaningful answer to the human condition.

I love the science behind these ideas and it is fun to explore, but more than that I love God deeply because in him I have found deep hope and meaning.

*I know Harris tried to address this a little. Actually I love that he is aware of this. I respect that. In fact I can’t wait to see, as this awareness grows in him, where he lands 30 years from now. Sam Harris I am praying for you!

**I personally think Marx understood this. I also think this quote is used out of context, so I use it as culture has come to understand it, but this is for another writing.

photo credit: www.inquisitr.com

 

Stealing Stewardship

Bossypants

To all the people who feel like they are married to duds… To all the people who have children that deeply resent you… To all those who have spouses that control everything… To the children who resent their parents… To bosses who won’t let go… To employees who feel like they have no value…

“I had to step in and help.  It was the right thing to do.”

Was it?

There is a devastating result when you steal someone’s stewardship.

She walked into my office, a highly respected and successful nurse who attended our church.  Let’s call her “Jill.”  Jill sat down across from my desk, visibly frustrated, leaned forward and said, “Pastor Mike, I need your help…”  Her voice trailed off though her face became tense.  It was clear she was more than stuck, she was mad.  She took a deep breath, calmed herself and leaned back in the chair.  “I don’t know what to do with him anymore.  I just feel like he is dead weight.  He doesn’t help with the kids, he doesn’t help with the chores, and every night all he does is grab a beer and watch sports.  I am done!  I can’t do this anymore!”  I knew her husband.  He considered me a friend.  It wasn’t a deep relationship, but our ritual Sunday morning sports talks in the church foyer were common.  He was laid back, easy going, and highly social.  She was the opposite.  Even her job required her to be highly active and decisive.  On a daily basis she made decisions for people who couldn’t make decisions for themselves.  This bled into many different parts of her life.  In her volunteer roles at the church she was a decision making machine.  People both loved her and were annoyed with her at the same time.  In a weird way, she had married a patient, not a husband.  At first she liked it.  It fit her.  She could make all the decisions.  Where they lived, the cars they drove, what they would eat for dinner. Her laid back husband would push back once in a while but was quickly trounced with a laundry list of why her decision was right.  Every little attempt he made to decide something or take action was dismissed and over time his desire to participate slowly eroded.  The problem was a monster was growing in the dark hidden by good intentions.

Here is how their relationship played out.

She was brilliant, highly educated and a natural leader.  She was correct about most things.

He wasn’t a natural leader.  He was slow to take action and make decisions.  Every time she solidified her superiority he grew smaller and smaller until he functionally quit.  When she expressed her desire for help, what she really wanted was a non-decision making “yes ma’am” employee with no opinion of his own.  Absolutely he contributed to this problem, but the blame is not his alone.

She was stealing his stewardship, and every time he grew smaller and smaller.

I get it.  Sometimes you must steal stewardship!  When a toddler reaches for a hot boiling pot on the stove, a parent must steal his stewardship by stopping him.  In her role as a nurse when a patient clearly needs immediate help, to save their life she would steal their stewardship by making decisions they couldn’t make.  However, every time you take someone’s stewardship there is residue.  You take away their feeling of control.

So, to all the brilliant take charge leaders out there, choose carefully when you do this.  Your “right” action may be developing crippled people.  One of two things will happen – either it will make them feel small and they will slowly appear to turn off or quit engaging, or they will grow bitter and rebel, working to prove that they can do life in a different way.

They will eventually either shut down or hate you and push away…or both.

By stealing stewardship, you are creating a dragon or a sloth.  You must allow people to make decisions, even imperfect ones. Why?  Because the ability to participate in one’s life trajectory builds ownership and ownership includes the heart.  This is ultimately what we need to develop, a right heart.  A healthy heart is fertile ground for courage, steadfastness, high effort, and purpose.  You rob a person of these things if you always steal their stewardship.

So be very careful when you make the decision to steal someone’s stewardship.  Mark my words, even our country’s leaders are stealing stewardship at a rapid rate, from firearms to the size of a soft drink.  I get it, the goal is to make us safer, but one of two things is going to happen at an increasing rate.  People will either stop trying and their dependence on the government will increase to an unhealthy level, or they will rebel even harder and become very bitter as their stewardship of life’s decisions are stolen.  Take note that even God put a tree in the garden, giving a choice, and over and over again in scripture he empowers people to make their own decisions and then live with the consequences because life isn’t primarily about efficiency or safety.  It’s about growing a right heart.

So before you steal someone’s ability to steward a decision in life make sure it’s absolutely necessary and ask the question, “Is my ‘better’ decision more important than growing their sense of ownership in life?”  The truth is, it’s probably not.

To all leaders.  Someone who has ownership on your staff is better than a “yes” man.  This requires them to have real stewardship of projects and decisions.

To all the parents.  Your children must develop responsibility and ownership.  This comes with stewardship.  You must allow space for them to make decisions and experience the consequences.

To all the couples out there.  If you want a participant in your relationship you must make space for it.  Let your spouse have real stewardship.  Give them decision making power of some things and let it play out.

Absolutely all of the aforementioned situations will produce results that aren’t ideal from your perspective, but something else is growing – their ability to take life on and own it.

Here is the teaching on this.


*Details have been adjusted to protect the couple whose marriage didn’t survive.

**This was developed after reading the works of Dr. Viktor Frankl and Dr. Peter Gray, two psychiatrists.

***The image is of Tina Fey from her book BossyPants.  It had nothing to do with the content of the post.:)

Help a brother out? I take on pop psychology in this new collection of writings.  We (Leslie and I) would love your support!

Abandon the American Peace machine

Helping our church family find a right response to the Syrian immigrants.

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Helping our church family find a right response to the Syrian immigrants.

Talk about a house divided!  My social media feed is flooded with Christians who want to open the borders and those who demand they be closed.  Both feel this way out of strong Christian duty.  Ironically, both sides are driven to protect and help the innocent.   

So what is a right response?  I’ll propose what I think it should be and then support it.

We should personally love the immigrants and also expect the government to work to protect its people.  These two ideas are NOT mutually exclusive. How you may ask?

There is an important Scriptural understanding that needs desperately understood.  There are moral expectations mandated for individuals in Scripture that are a bit different for civil institutions.  Yes, principles overlap, but how they play out at times differs greatly between an individual and a government.

For example:

  • Murder is wrong yet capital punishment is not.
  • If someone breaks into my house and I ruthlessly fight them, even take their life to protect my family, this isn’t wrong if done within the law. However, playing the role of vigilante roaming the streets would be.
  • A soldier taking lives to protect our country under the direction of the government is not wrong, but on his own traveling overseas to go kill people he doesn’t like would be.
  • A government carefully vetting immigrants to protect its people is not at all wrong, yet we are personally called as Christians to quickly love the immigrant, even our enemies.

How can these co-exist?  Personal moral directives in Scripture do not always line up equally with civil responsibility.

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Let me explain.   

Yes, the Bible, especially the New Testament, is written mostly to individuals.  This is personal Christian morality.  For example, books like 1 Peter, 1 Timothy and many others give clear instruction on how individuals should live even in caustic environments.  Being respectful of authority, praying for civil leaders, and living quiet productive lives seems tough now, but imagine how hard it would have been within the boundaries of heavily persecuting Rome.  We are called to take care of widows and orphans (James 1:27).  We are even called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48).  That’s personal Christian morality.  Most of the New Testament is written to this.

What about Civil responsibility?

This is a bit harder to see because the intention of the Scriptural narrative is so personal, but it is there.

The apostle Peter says the government should punish those who do evil and praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:14).  Paul says civil leaders are authorized by God to “bear the sword” against wrongdoers (Romans 13:3-4).  We are even called to pay taxes to assist them in these tasks (v. 6-7).  Even the Old Testament is filled with stories of God calling his leaders to protect their people from other aggressor nations like the Philistines, Babylonians, and Assyrians.  God condemns aggression from one man to another, but knowing the evil that man brought into the world allows national warfare to protect people within societies and preserve their nation.  There are different Hebrew words for taking life. Sinful murder Biblically (ratsakh) is death outside of legal boundaries or by negligence. God detests this.

It’s important to note there is ultimate divine accountability for civil leaders. The Bible is equally FULL of examples of those with power and influence being judged by God for how they use their power, not only personally but civilly.

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I believe it is right to expect our government to work hard to protect us.  We can and should support that! 

It would be morally wrong for them not to.  We should be very proud of our soldiers and civil workers that tirelessly work for the common good of their citizens.  We should also as Christian individuals be the first in line to adopt young Syrian orphans and feed the widows.  For those who demand our leaders open the borders, are you equally willing to open your home to refugees?  We should also personally pray for change in those who have evil intent. I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed that God would open the door for missionaries to work with those from countries like Syria.  God is now bringing them to us!  We can and should do this all while supporting our troops and the government’s attempt to protect its people.  These are NOT mutually exclusive ideas.

Photos were acquired from national news site Reuters.