Obedience Flows From Love

My son is turning four in two weeks, which is absolutely mind-boggling to me.  Like most almost-four-year-old boys, he’s not a huge fan of obeying.  That’s not to say that he’s a “bad boy” who’s a terror, but let’s just say he’s not the meek-and-mild type.  He’s great, I love him to death, and look at him at least half a dozen times a day and simply think, “I love that boy so much!”

Lately he’s been teaching me a lot about obedience: his obedience… and mine.  My wife and I feel like we’re constantly having this conversation with him:

Me: “Hey, stop stealing your sister’s toys.  You need to share.”
Son: nothing
Me: “Did you hear me?”
Son: “Sorry”
Me: “Come here, we need to talk.”
Son: nothing
Me: “I said come here
Son: “I love you daddy”
Me: “I love you too buddy, and because you love me you should obey me and mommy.”
Son: “Okay”

We proceed to have this conversation a few times a day.  Now, I’m not throwing my son under the bus… afterall, he’s an almost-four-year-old boy… I’m really throwing myself under the bus, because how often does the Holy Spirit have this same exact conversation with me?!

My wife and I are really careful to make sure that we don’t use God as our disciplinarian who is constantly looking out to see if our kids are naughty or nice.  Too often, Christian parents fall into the trap of using the Bible as a book of morality (Be nice, Help other, Obey mom and dad) and less as a book where God has revealed Himself to us (God made you, You sin – yes, we teach our son that he sins and use the word “sin” – but God loves you SOOOO much that he became a man named Jesus so he could forgive your sins and live inside you).  If you’re looking for a good Bible to read with your kids at night, I recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible, the words are sometimes more geared towards older kids and the stories can be a bit lengthy at time, but I very highly recommend for anyone, not just children!  What I love so much about the JSB is how it captures the Bible story as so much more than a story to tell you to be nice, it makes that connection while demonstrating how the entire Bible is all about Jesus.

God definitely does care about what we do and whether or not we’re “good people.”  But to always use God as a divine disciplinarian and as the one who demands us to be nice and to share our toys is to simply make God into a rule-giver.  Sure, God gives rules… but He’s so much more than a rule giver, isn’t He?

The last few days have been filled with reminders that obedience flows from love.  As I discipline my son for not obeying, it’s a reminder that loving dads discipline out of love while loving sons obey out of love.  There’s a very simple, yet profound, lesson to be learned here.

Obedience flows from love.  When I grow impatient with my son, how can I not feel convicted of my own hypocrisy: demanding of him what I don’t give to God, my Heavenly Father, who deserves so much more honor and respect and obedience than I deserve from my kids?

“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.'” (John 14:23-24)

Got Post-Christmas Depression?

Do you have PCD… Post-Christmas Depression?  What causes PCD, you ask?

  • Bad presents
  • Family tension and conflict
  • Sleep depravation

Obviously I’m making up PCD, but I do think many of us face something like it.  Maybe you got bad presents and thought, “Seriously, do you know me at all?  You thought I’d like this!?”  Maybe you’re upset because of what you didn’t get (“If you loved me then you’d know ______ is all I wanted, but you don’t care!”).  Sometimes the mentality that “It’s the thought that counts” makes us even more depressed… because we got things we like, but it’s obvious that very little thought went into the gift.  Post-Christmas Despression…

Maybe you’re upset because you saw too little (or too much!) of your family.  Maybe your parents are divorced or your family simply doesn’t get along, or maybe someone in your family is in the hospital or has recently passed away – for whatever reason, there was someone you love who wasn’t around this Christmas.  Post-Christmas Depression…

Here are a few questions to work you out of your PCD:

  1. Why are you so disappointed in presents?  You know that stuff can’t give you happiness, but still get that zing of excitement when you hold something shiny and new… and that “zing” can become addictive.  Presents are nice, I’ve got nothing against presents, but we need to be careful about finding love through receiving presents.  Find love through relationship with the gift-giver, not the gift (that works both in our relationship with God and with other people).
  2. How did you add to family conflict?  Are you a peacemaker who is quick to address conflict humble and work through it, or do you pass over conflict by either ignoring it completely or saying “I forgive you” or “I’m sorry”… even when it’s not true?  Conflict in your family simply means that you’re a family… of course there’s going to be conflict!  But I’m convinced you’ll grow stronger by working through conflict than by skirting around it.  Take your share of the blame, demonstrate your maturity, and be a peacemaker.
  3. Who were you missing, and why?  This is a tough one, because for a lot of people this is completely out of their hands.  Take the time to honor the person who was missed so deeply, and thank God for giving him/her to you and for teaching you so much through him/her.
  4. What do I really desire the most?  Do you desire intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ or do you really want fun/pleasure/success/recognition?  If you’re rolling your eyes saying, “Whatever Mike, that’s such a churchy thing to say!” then that probably means you should really think hard and long about this question.  If I desire an iPad more than I desire to conquer my sin, then that’s a problem.  If I desire a new Kindle more than I desire intimacy with God in my prayer-life, then I have some seriously messed up priorities.  Sure, ask for an iPad or Kindle, that’s not my point.  Maybe reason you’re suffering from Post-Christmas Depression is because you’re desiring the wrong things most.  
He created all things, yet became a part of his creation in order to save it…. Merry Christmas indeed!  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”  (Colossians 1:15, 16 )
 

I’m Finally Looking Forward to Christmas!

My wife calls me a Scrooge during the Christmas season.  She can barely wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start decorating the house (and started listening to Christmas music the day they started playing it on the radio… way before Thanksgiving).  I just can’t do it.  I usually start getting into “the Christmas spirit” about a week before Christmas – until then, well, I just get weighed down by the stress and chaos of the season.

Honestly, I think today (yes, two days before Christmas day!) might be the first day this year that I’ve legitimately gotten excited about Christmas coming.  Is that terrible of me?

I know it’s terribly cliche for a pastor to say (or write!) religious platitudes about the beauty, glory, miracle, and joy of Christmas.  (But aren’t cliches often truths that have been heard so often they’re taken for granted?  Maybe we should be nicer to cliches?)  Christmas really is a wonderful time for Christians to reflect on their faith.  Give presents, have fun, drink eggnog, but please take time here and there to reflect on the reality that God became a man. If you think about it, that’s really quite the ridiculous claim (unless it’s true).

O Come, O Come Emmanuel has always been my favorite Christmas hymn.  I came across the version below on YouTube a few years ago and I really like it.  There’s just something about it that conveys the longing and the desire for Christ that I should have all year round.  Even as I write, I’m reminded of what the very name Jesus means, “God saves” or “God is salvation.”  We all long for salvation, even if we don’t realize it.  I think that’s why buying something new (or receiving a new gift) makes us feel so good, because it’s like a clean slate, a new start.  But salvation is in God, through Jesus Christ, and can’t be bought.

The gift of Christmas is Jesus.  Not the cute baby Jesus, but the lived and suffered and died and rose from the grave and ascended into heaven for you Jesus.  Yes, the baby Jesus and the “God-Man Jesus” are the same person, but when we focus only on Jesus as a cute baby  at Christmas and forget the rest of his life then we’re missing the point.  Heaven was breaking through in order to rescue and redeem God’s humanity and all creation!

Emmanuel (“God With Us”) has come… and he’s coming again to finish the job!

Responding to Tebowing

This post is a follow up to last week’s post on Tim Tebow and was requested by my wife… so how could I say no?!  She’s a teacher in a local middle school and has been dealing with students “Tebowing” in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the middle of class, etc.  Just last week a few teenagers at another local school got suspended for Tebowing in the hallway.  So here’s the question: Is Tebowing Good or Bad for Christianity?

First, for those who are unfamiliar with “Tebowing,” UrbanDictionary defines it as, “To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”  Tim Tebow, the QB for the Denver Broncos, is a very devout Christian and is outspoken about his faith, and his “prayer posture” has become something of a cultural fad that’s sweeping the nation.  There’s even a website devoted to pictures of people Tebowing in public, Tebowing.com.

As usual, I see some good to the Tebowing craze, and bad.  Here we go…

The Good:

  • Maybe people actually pray while Tebowing.  If it gets people who don’t pray to start praying (even trite prayers) then you never know how God might use that.
  • Tebowing has people talking about prayer and Jesus in (mostly) positive ways. Sure, most people are saying “God doesn’t care about stupid things like football, doesn’t he have more important things to do.”  We won’t agree with what everyone has to say about prayer and faith, but these conversations don’t usually happen in such public and open ways.  I’ve heard people everywhere talking about their faith openly, and in New England that simply never happens.  So if Tebowing get people to start talking about faith and religion and Christianity in particular, then I’m thankful for it.

The Bad:

  • Mockery.  This one’s pretty obvious.  It’s clearly a mockery of Tebow’s faith in particular, and Christians in general.  I personally don’t think Christians should get offended over it and should take it the same way Tebow does: It’s good-natured mockery.  If we can’t laugh at caricatures of ourselves, then we have a pride problem to deal with.
  • Tebowing can communicate that prayer is for show.  I don’t think Tebow prays so that the cameras catch him praying, and therefore gets a certain public reputation or celebrity image.  I get the impression from Tebow that he legitimately wants to pray in order to thank his Heavenly Father for the opportunity and gifts to play football.  But we need to keep in mind that Perception Isn’t Everything, But It’s Close.  Jesus taught the value of private/secret prayer as opposed to the Pharisees who loved to pray in public so they would be seen.  Again, I give Tebow the benefit of the doubt, but people could easily accuse him of this (and I’ve heard people accuse him of this).
  • Tebowing trivializes prayer.  I often say “There’s no such thing as a small prayer.  We measure prayer by the One we’re praying to, not by the words we use or our ability to pray well.”  If that’s true, then Tebowing represents prayer in a laughable, cheap, and completely ridiculous light.  I don’t think they intend to trivialize prayer (some do, but I think most are blissfully ignorant), but that’s just the reality.  Again, let me repeat my encouragement again, don’t go to battle against Tebowing and I’m not personally offended by it, but I do think we should take the opportunity it opens up to us in order to discuss what people believe about prayer and faith and God, etc.

All in all, I think the Tebow phenomenon is a really positive thing: people who never discuss religion/spirituality are doing so openly and are interested in hearing from Christians about their beliefs.  I’m still amazed that I can’t remember hearing anyone say to me, “I think Tebow’s a fake and a hypocrite.”  People are fascinated by him because he seems to be so genuine and real, and that’s a wonderfully refreshing thing for me to see after all the Christian leaders who are usually in the news for one scandal or another.

I’m confident that Tebowing is just a passing fad, so if you’re someone who’s thinking, “But you just said it trivializes prayer!  Rally the troops, we need to fight this!” then I’d encourage you to settle down… by the time you get the troops rallied the Tebowing trend will be on its way out of our cultural consciousness.

Instead of protesting because you feel offended or mocked, take the opportunity to ask some questions like these:

  • If you could ask Tebow a question, what would it be?
  • Do you think people are rooting against Tebow because of his religious beliefs?  Do you think that’s right, or should that be a non-issue?
  • What do you think of Tebow being so outspoken about his faith?  Are you offended, or are you ok with him talking about his faith in Jesus so frequently?
  • Why do you think Tebow is so open and public about his faith?
  • What do you think about prayer?  What sort of things do you think God cares about?
  • Do you think God listens to Tebow more than he’d listen to you when you pray? Why?

Time for Tebow: What I Love & What I’m Concerned About

This is my first post on Tim Tebow.  Honestly, I simply haven’t known what to say!  Personally, I’m torn about him as a quarterback (although he’s starting to make me look foolish when I say things like, “Don’t you need to be consistently accurate to be a good quarterback in the NFL?”), I don’t know many who could even attempt to question his character.

Especially after his latest come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Bears, bringing the Bronco’s to a 7-1 record as their starting QB, it seems that Tebow-mania is in full swing.  I’ve been holding off on writing about Tebow until now, but since he seems all the rage I figured it was time to put some thoughts to writing.

So far, Tebow is a living example of Titus 2:7-8

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

Here’s what I love about Tebow:

  • He seems so genuine.  I don’t know him personally, but I haven’t yet heard of anyone who does know him from college coming out from the woodwork saying that he’s a phony.  If he’s a phony or a hypocrite, surely someone would’ve surfaced by now to let us know.
  • He’s not ashamed to give Jesus the glory.  Sure, you can debate whether or not he should “tone things down” about his faith, but everyone knows what he believes.  I frequently cringe when musicians give Jesus the glory for their Grammy (often, for a song that glorifies violence, sex, or drug-use), but when Tebow does it he seems totally genuine and humble.
  • He’s a great role model to look up to.  When we look around at people who are frequently named in magazines and the news, Tebow stands out among the rest.  In the midst of our fascination of all things “Rich and Famous,” Tebow stands out for being so drastically different and mysterious.  He keeps on winning, even though he shouldn’t.  He doesn’t fit the mold for anything.  He doesn’t really fit into any box that anyone tries to squeeze him into.
  • He wins, and he inspires those around him to win.  It’s not always pretty, but he wins even when the odds are stacked against him and people are hoping that he fails.  I’m not so certain that he’s “God’s Quarterback,” but he doesn’t give up when others would.  People point to the Bronco’s defense as the reason why they’ve started winning, but they have the same defense they had when they were losing all those games before Tebow started as QB.  Not only does Tebow win, he makes those around him winners too!

Here are a few things I’m concerned about:

  • Idolatry.  I’m not concerned that Tebow would become an idolater as much as I’m concerned that he’d become an idol.  Criticizing Tebow’s form or game-performance is fair, but there are some Christians out there who refuse to hear it.  Tebow points to Jesus, not himself – let’s follow his lead.
  • Persecution & Tebow.  I’ve heard people say that Tebow is being persecuted for being so vocal about his faith.  Persecution is intentional harm done to someone because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  Gossip and slander isn’t persecution unless they bring about actual harm to the person.  So far, I simply don’t see any cause for making Tebow a martyr.
  • Failure.  If Tebow fails, will my faith in Christ be shaken?  No… but I fear that many people could be placing faith in Tebow that doesn’t belong there.  If he fails as a NFL Quarterback or if he fails morally, we will be disappointed, but we should be  careful to not place our faith in Tebow but in Christ.

I’m not convinced that God is making Tebow win.  If you watch the games and know a bit about football you can see a lot of things seem to happen for Tebow late in the fourth quarter that he’s capitalized on.  He’s a good, smart football player.  Do I think it’s possible that God has chosen to give Tebow success so that Christ would receive the glory?  It’s possible.  The Gospel Coalition posted a fantastic article written by Owen Strachan today on this very issue, please take a few minutes to read it (yes, it’s very theological, so it’s not really “casual reading,” but it’s a great article to chew on):  “Tebow, Calvin, and the Hand of God in Sports”

If you haven’t watched the video embedded above, do yourself a favor and take two minutes to watch it.  Bob Costas did an excellent job highlighting Tebow in a very honoring and fair way.  The script to what he wrote can be found here.

The most clever article I’ve read on Tebow comes from Jason Gay in the Wall Street Journal, “What Tim Tebow Can’t Do.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Despite all of these issues, people still like Tim Tebow, which is mystifying. It’s as if they can’t recognize his flaws. They’re blinded by hype. They’re willfully ignorant. They want to believe in a myth.

One day they will see all of Tim Tebow’s shortcomings. How he’s never once sang O Canada at a Vancouver Canucks game. How he’s never captured a live dinosaur. How he’s too chicken to run for President.

Tim Tebow never, ever makes everybody happy. He can’t really do anything besides win football games. Since when did anyone care about that?

Here are two more good Tebow posts I’ve come across:

Reflections on Blogging: Does My Blog Reflect Who I Am?

I’ve been wrestling with my blog lately.  But really, the wrestle has been against myself:

  • Why do I seem so negative?
  • Why can’t I be more positive and encouraging?
  • Do I really think that I know more than everyone else who like this song or movie or Christmas light display? Who are you to judge?
  • You think about yourself as an approachable and gracious guy, but your blog doesn’t really reflect that –  so is your blog wrong about how it portrays you… or are you wrong in how you think about yourself?

And this just makes me wrestle.  Writing is hard work, but it can also be mindless and easy to simply let your fingers start typing without really thinking about what you’re putting out there on the internet for everyone to read.  I want to write thoughtfully.  Blogging has been one of the most fruitful disciplines I’ve cultivated over the last two years because it has forced me to think through a number of issues more intentionally thank I would have if I wasn’t going to write about it.

Part of the reason I blog is because I learn best by writing: I Write to Understand.  So much of what my readers find up here is a blog full of “half-baked” thoughts, not fully thought-through and well researched posts that are ready to be sent to a publisher.  I stand behind what I’ve written on this blog, but there are a number of posts I wish I had spent more time on crafting a better and more gracious way to communicate my message (and I just don’t have time to go through all my blog posts and edit them, sorry).

I’m not really a fan of “New Years Resolutions,” so I’m not making one of those.  But I want to commit to my readers that I want to be more intentional in making my blog posts sound more like “Mike” and less like “Partially thought-through reflections from Mike’s brain.”

I hope that this blog will continue to serve as a forum where I can write blog posts that are helpful to teenagers, parents, and youth workers where they are encouraged to think through various issues, primarily: Living for Christ in today’s culture, Issues adolescents face, Parenting teenagers, and Ministering to today’s teenagers.

Until I get a better grip on becoming a better blogger I’m left with the honest (and humbling) admission that I need to personally take ownership for what I’ve written and combat pride and judgmentalism and simply hold onto God’s Word as the Holy Spirit continues to make me more and more like Jesus.

I’m aware that a number of my friends on Facebook who are not connected to my ministry at EBC read what I write up here, and for the times when these posts have unintentionally made you second guess what kind of person/Christian I am, I hope you’ll give me some grace and keep on reading.  

PS: In case you’re wondering, this post isn’t the result of anything in particular and I haven’t received complaints from people.  This is simply the result my desire to better reflect the grace and humility I hope to give in person, and I’m not so sure it’s been doing that very well.

Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

 

Here’s a short post today spurred on by wishes for a “Happy Holiday.”  I know a lot of Christians who get really upset (even offended!) when they are wished a “Happy Holiday” rather than a “Merry Christmas.”

But here’s why I’m generally ok with “Happy Holiday:” Because most people celebrate Christmas as a social and family holiday, not as a religious one.  If they’re not “the religious type” and aren’t recognizing Virgin Birth, then it’s like Thanksgiving or Independence Day.

Why should we expect someone to be excited about Christmas if they don’t believe Jesus really is who the Bible says he is and that he was born by a virgin who conceived him miraculously through the Holy Spirit?  Let’s admit it, the meaning of Christmas is “pretty far out there” if you aren’t a Christian.

If you’re one of my friends and you wish me Happy Holidays I’m not going to be offended or upset (but I might grin and say “Merry Christmas” or “Just which holiday are you talking about?”).  Christmas is already celebrated as two holidays: The Christian holiday, and the cultural holiday.  Being wished “Happy Holidays” bothers me way less than Christians who only celebrate it as a nice cultural holiday, following the traditions of our families but missing the point of Jesus’ birth.

BONUS ARTICLE: “Does Writing ‘Xmas’ Take Christ out of Christmas?”