Being Ministry Minded…

When my grandpa called tonight to catch up on how my life has been going, I didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell him anything; it was because I didn’t really have anything to say. I’ve gone to work, hung out with friends from time to time, and then gone to bed. Given my day-to-day routine, my life really is boring.

And yet, after hanging up, I realized there are a couple things going on in my life. For one, I’m finally doing the necessary stuff to land a professional-type job (and striking out miserably). For another, I’ve once again felt the tug toward pastoral ministry. In case you’re wondering, pastoral ministry is a profession of sorts, but it doesn’t pay very well… if at all.

Thinking back to what I was doing at Calvary, I actually do miss the Sunday mornings in kid’s ministry – either with the 3rd graders who have a ton of energy or the high school kids who couldn’t stay awake. I loved cracking open my Bible every week and preparing some sort of lesson or message – even if it wasn’t very well put together. It forced me to be more intentional in my every day life. And heck, it was a far better alternative to working 50-hour weeks… Oh wait, I did that, too 😦

A question that is wrapped up with the spiritual tug toward ministry, though, is where do I start? Right now I don’t have a church home – haven’t even been to church in over a month. And even if I had found a new church to plug into, who’s to say they’d need someone to step into a leadership role? And given my views on Scripture, who’s to say they’d want me to lead a ministry even if they needed someone?

Two years ago on Cross Training’s summer retreat, Darrin Ratcliff shared a message out of Luke 9:10-17; an account of when Jesus fed five thousand men. It was a busy day of Him preaching to a ton of people and probably posing for a few pictures and giving a few autographs – you know the usual antiquity stuff. But then His disciples started getting hungry so they asked Jesus to send everyone on lunch so they could eat. Jesus’ words to them, I think, are His words to us all: “You give them something to eat.”

Darrin’s whole message was wrapped around this one verse solely to say that Jesus gives us the power to do great things like feeding thousands of people if we only do two things: Believe and act. Feeding the crowds and even themselves didn’t need to be delegated to another ministry within the church; they were more than capable of doing it themselves. I think it’s the same for ministry.

Actually, I think it’s the same for any particular profession or career or dream or whatever it is you feel your heart tugging you towards. God wants us to know that if He wills it and we believe and then act upon it, then great things are going to happen. Ministry – not just for me, but for everyone serving the Lord – begins with us. It goes with us as we head off to work or school. It’s right there with us when we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. It’s staring at us as we complain about whatever, saying, “Really?” Ministry isn’t just some profession that those Bible-thumpers do to keep themselves occupied; it’s an essential part to the individual’s Christian identity.

Essentially, in my case, the kind of man I wish to preach to others is the kind of man I need to be – that is, the Christ-like man. If I’m going to talk about the poison of lust or coveting or greed or arrogance or anything else that hinders a walk with Christ, I had better be backing it up with a corresponding lifestyle. I can’t be caught up in watching porn when I’m lonely, stealing money from the tithe box because I think I’ve earned it, or thinking myself a better man than most because of a pastoral platform. Ministry, as I see it, is proactively living the repentant lifestyle on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. No exceptions.

What this does not mean is that as Christians we’re supposed to be perfect in every way, wherever, whenever. We might frequently try to live such a life, but the truth of Christianity is really stating the obvious: Man is flawed. What Jesus promises, though, is something that is rarely found anywhere else: Grace.

Sure, your boss may forgive you for a few small mistakes here and there, but there’s always a limit to that kind of grace. And society may forgive the married celebrity or the married athlete for the occasional drunken night, but when you have a sex scandal involving many women over a long period of time society does not let you go – no matter how hard you work to redeem your reputation. And yet Jesus’ outstretched arms remain… no matter how many times you mess up.

“If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” – John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves”

If grace is an ocean, as the song says, then we really are sinking. We’re not treading water at the surface trying to go it alone, be independent, and prove that we don’t need God. We’re sinking. We’re drowning. Spiritually speaking, we’re dying to ourselves – the selves that feed off of lust, pride, greed, or any sin you might think of. It involves humility, allowing ourselves to be corrected, and enduring – no matter how many things trip us up.

No, I’m not suggesting we take a plunge into the ocean, a river, or even our bathtubs and drown ourselves. I’m saying that in order to enact the Christian life and thereby bring into being God’s kingdom “as it is in heaven,” then we must start with ourselves. We must call ourselves out before anyone else does – regardless of whether or not we’re pastors or congregants. We must be well practiced with admitting our own faults and failures – not with the tone of guilt and shame, but with sincere honesty. And every time we make these admissions of ourselves, we must immediately allow Him – God, Hope Eternal – to speak into our own hearts and revive our souls.

I’ve said all of this to simply say that while I am again feeling the tug toward pastoral ministry, I can start living out that lifestyle right now. I can start training myself spiritually as an athlete training for a race. I can start disciplining myself to remain humble and self-controlled, lest whatever I might preach or write become void (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

As I said earlier, this is not limited to pastoral ministry. Whatever you’ve felt within your heart that you’re called to do, whatever your tug may be, that will be your ministry. And as Jesus implies to us in Luke 9, He’s given us all that we need to do great things: Himself.

God bless.


Be Open…

Surprisingly to some, I’m not very good at Scrabble. Many know that I’m an English major or at least that I like to read and write, so it’s usually assumed that I must be good at a spelling game like Scrabble. But I’m terrible. I’ve lost every time I’ve played. It’s not the spelling; it’s the strategic placing of letters that is a problem for me. I’m just not good at it.

I only bring this up because while I was going through Proverbs 27 a couple days ago, I came across verse 5; “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” I immediately thought of one night about three years ago where several of my friends and I were all playing Scrabble on my new travel edition. It came to be my turn and I happened to notice a convenient little spot that would triple the points on my 8-point “x.” What was my word? “Rex.”

Many think of Tyrannosaurus Rex whenever “rex” is mentioned, which makes it a proper noun and therefore illegal in Scrabble. But it simply means “king” and was placed onto Tyrannosaurus Rex because it was believed to be the largest and most vicious carnivorous dinosaur out there. Whoever did the naming thought this dinosaur could be considered a “king” of sorts. Back during my game of Scrabble, I knew this. But after I placed my letters down, many immediately called it into question. And if you know me, I don’t like being told I’m wrong.

I argued my case and told the others to look it up in the dictionary. Well, the problem was that in all the dictionaries we had at hand, “rex” wasn’t listed. And since what I was saying about “rex” couldn’t be verified, it was decided that I couldn’t use this word. “Alright fine, I’ll just put another stupid word down,” was my response. It was a slightly-bitter, frustrated, and irrational thing to say and a good friend, Tony Williams, told me so.

“There’s no need to get bent out of shape over it, Cush.”

His tone of voice was much different than mine; gentle and yet encouraging whereas mine was harsh and somewhat demeaning. But what really gave me a gut-check wasn’t the fact that I was being rebuked, but rather the fact that it was in front of others. Initially I was still a little frustrated by it all, but by the end of the night, I apologized and moved on. I don’t forget that night because it was one night where I distinctly remember experientially learning what happens when you let your pride get in the way.

This is just one moment in my college life where I was caught tooting my horn a little too loudly and had someone (oddly enough, usually Tony) gently and openly rebuke me. It never feels good while it’s happening, but when you actually start to gain some control over your emotions and words, you begin to feel thankful that it did. If there is one recurring theme throughout Proverbs, it’s self-control and self-discipline. But what I think is hardly ever focused on in our American culture is how essential other people around us are in developing our “self”-control.

To get a little deeper into this verse (Prov. 27:5), I’d have to say it’s also about communicating a message. The first part is directly and openly addressing a problem that someone has; the second part reveals the flaw in hiding love. I don’t think it’s talking about secret admirers here, but it could apply. Having deep, intimate feelings for someone is one thing; sharing those feelings is entirely another. All of a sudden you’re no longer journeying through life alone; you’ve caused another to reflect on their own path and consider starting something with you. It’s scary, nerve-wracking, and if you’re like me, it probably makes you sweat, but no matter how things might turn out (i.e. if she says “yes” or “no” to a date), you feel glad that those feelings were addressed.

It’s one thing to be told you’re acting wrong, but another thing for you to realize it. Likewise, it’s one thing to have feelings for a girl, but another thing for her to share those feelings. It’s an alteration in your life’s path and it’s usually a good one. Like I said, it doesn’t always feel good; but whichever road you may end up on is probably the better one. If you tell a girl you like her and she doesn’t like you back, then it’s possible God wants you to look elsewhere (I go through this a lot). And if you say something angrily feeling justified in some way or another, but yet are proven wrong later, it by no means feels good, but it had to be done so you could begin to walk like God. None of this could ever happen, though, if we 1. Didn’t have community and 2. Weren’t actively engaging that community.

Like I’ve written about before, we need human interaction. We need the vocalization of our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs – we need to communicate. But while we desire to be heard, it’s even more essential for us to listen to others. James says “Be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (1:19). If we want to be heard, then it’s best to start with listening.

What I don’t mean for everyone to now do is go out and rebuke all those who are acting out of line or to tell their secret crush their deeper feelings. All I am merely saying here is that we ought to be ready – ready to be corrected as well as ready to correct and/or also be ready to hear what’s on someone else’s heart as well as be ready to share what’s on yours. God wants us to communicate with each other – especially about stuff that could alter our life’s paths. God wants us to be open.

God bless.

Engaging People…

The lid on my soda cup cut my finger during lunch today. I was sitting down with my pastor, Tony Overstake, and having a very different conversation than our normal ones. Normally we talk about Scripture, inerrancy, struggles of the internet, or about life in general. But today we talked about, well, talking.

It’s my tendency to isolate myself from everyone else. It’s the “alone in a crowd” feeling, but more of an action. Whenever I’m in a big crowd I not only feel alone, but I try to be alone. I close myself off to any potential conversations and simply stick to my own little world. When Tony and I were talking about this during lunch, I didn’t really see what the big deal of it all really was. Honestly, I felt slightly attacked; that I had to defend my tendency to be alone and be left out of the conversation. But what I didn’t really consider until after I had left Big Town Hero, where we had lunch, was how I might offend someone by not talking.

I struggle with engaging people. I write about it a lot, but that’s because when I’m writing, I’m not talking, nor am I depending on someone to respond to me in order for meaning to be delivered or received. I write what’s on my mind and heart and that’s the end of it. But when I’m talking to someone, I struggle with articulating my thoughts. This is why I never wanted to give presentations in high school or in college for that matter. I know I’m not good at talking in front of people and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by stuttering in front of everyone. So it’s really a mixture of lacking the skill to articulate my thoughts and the fear of being judged for my inability to express my thoughts. And yet, I think there is something deeper.

As my last post talked about, this past weekend was an awesome, refreshing weekend. But today Tony pointed out how I seemed distant to everyone, how I seemed cut off from whatever they were talking about. Someone would ask me a question and thereby invite me into the conversation, but I’d pretty much end my involvement by giving a one or two word response and letting things continue on from there. Thinking back through the weekend, there was a lot that I was thinking about, but I didn’t really feel the need to share it. I didn’t think anyone would really care about the things I was going through – as I’ve felt quite often in the past. This, I think, is the issue; that I don’t really expect people to care. I don’t believe anyone genuinely cares about what’s going on in my life.

Even if I was comfortable in telling you why, I couldn’t because I don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with my dad not being there, my mom rarely being there, or something else, I don’t know. But what I do know is that more often than not, I like to be left alone and kept to myself. And the challenge I’m now faced with is engaging others when they’re around me. A passage that we read through today in Matthew narrated how Jesus, moments after hearing of John the Baptist’s death, went away to pray alone, but was interrupted by the crowds that followed Him. Instead of feeling annoyed and sending them away, Matthew says, “He had compassion on them. …And he healed them.” Instead of remaining isolated, He engaged the people before Him and helped them out.

It’s harder for us to do merely because we aren’t Jesus. And yet that cannot be any excuse to remain isolated and cut off from the rest of the world or the people around us. Why can’t that be an excuse? Because we’re called to “Be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” – Matthew 5:48. And looking throughout the Bible, it’s clear that God engages His people.

Tony pointed out to me that my constant distance from the group made people wonder if everything was alright, if there wasn’t something wrong with me or my life. I wanted to reply, “Well, it’s not really any of your business to care what’s going on in my life,” but that is only a vain attempt to justify my arrogance. If I were to take that stance, I would be implying to everyone around me that I don’t need anyone, that I’ll be fine on my own. And I can honestly tell you that’s how I feel about 80-90% of the time. But thinking back over the weekend and the things I was thinking about, there were some things going on.

I knew what this trip to Gold Hill was going to do; it was going to remind me of painful things, things that I still tear up over when I think about them. Seeing Darrin Ratcliff was going to remind me of my own father issues, because I know that he has never met his dad either. And from there I would be reminded of Shawn Phelps and his passing and how close I once was to doing the same exact thing that he did. This last weekend was wonderful in that it got my mind off of some recent worries, but at the same time I still tried to bury some painful issues, issues that I don’t think anyone wanted to hear about.

The last twelve months have been emotionally painful and challenging. My confidence in writing was rocked pretty hard core last fall, many father issues reemerged last winter, Shawn’s death was difficult to bear last spring, and this summer has been pretty stressful with finding a job and paying for stuff. My life feels like a constant sob story and while I tend to feel better off alone, afraid of talking in front of people, or not feeling confident in talking to people, I hate burdening someone else with my issues. Yes, there are plenty of times when empathy and sympathy are needed from others, but I don’t think it’s a constant thing. I don’t think people want to hear about how my life is a constant struggle and how there seems to be little that’s hopeful going on. And as I’ve already stated, I often feel like people don’t really care about my problems.

I don’t write all this to gain people’s sympathy. Like I said, sometimes it’s necessary, but this isn’t one of those times. I write this only to emphasize that a part of community, a part of fellowship, a part of relationships is engaging people through conversation. And I have failed at that. I’ve been so wrapped up with my own pain, my own issues, that I’ve disregarded or ignored the struggles of the others around me. The absolute worst thing that any of us can do is think that we’re alone in this world. And the sin that Genesis describes as the fall of man is our feeling that we don’t need anyone else, that we can handle our own issues alone.

My finger was cut because it was a difficult conversation to work through and a difficult challenge to accept. Talking about my inclination to be alone makes me nervous because it pulls me out of my shell. And when I’m nervous, I fidget. That’s why my index finger is a little sore at the tip. But just because I get nervous when talking about difficult issues doesn’t mean I should reserve them, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t open myself up. Something that I thought about on my way to Starbucks after lunch was if I continue to isolate and distance myself from the conversation, things are only going to get harder. I really want a wife, but a marriage where one spouse is emotionally and conversationally distant is going to be a difficult marriage. Communication is essential for any strong relationship and what’s essential to communication is the ability to engage people. It’s an ability that I don’t lack, but I’m not very good at exercising. There are many friends who can’t shut me up on certain topics because I just love to talk about them. But I’m not very good at putting that ability of engaging people to work.

I can’t tell you why, but I want to believe that it’s an issue that only I struggle with. It might be because I have some major trust issues that I have yet to work through or it could be something else I’m not aware of yet, but whatever is, I feel alone in this struggle. And that is exactly the problem; I believe the lie that my emotions deliver. The truth is that I am not alone in this; there are many others who struggle with the same issue of engaging people. I think it’s a matter of allowing people to help. There is a song we sing occasionally at Calvary that starts out with, “I’m too proud to ask.” When it comes to dealing with my emotional problems, this is exactly my problem: I don’t want people to be burdened by me and my issues.

Humility is not a natural practice for the most of us. But in order to grow with Christ, it is absolutely essential. The fact that it’s not natural indicates that it is not easy. But if we consider the alternative, if we look at the side effects of our pride, we see very lonely lives. We might be surrounded by hundreds, thousands, millions of people, we might be celebrities who appear to be very social and talkative, but if we don’t admit all of our problems and seek help to work through them, we end up very alone. Engaging people, truly engaging people, counters loneliness. In fact, it goes a step further; engaging people enables us to receive Christ, receive His Spirit, and act as the kingdom of God to where “loneliness” almost seems like a foreign concept. But we must take that step; we must make the effort to change – even when we don’t want to.

Shut Up and Serve…

Last Thursday I was asked to help a family move into their new apartment. My pastor told me I’d make a few bucks doing it, so I figured why not? I’m only taking one class and I don’t have a job, so there’s a ton of free time on my minds. Might as well do something useful especially if I can get paid for it. So, putting down the book I’ve been reading, I threw on some workout clothes and drove over to where the family was moving to. I had called one of the family members, the dad, and he asked me to bring extra hands if I could find anybody, so on the way I picked up another friend I knew had just as much free time as I did and we drove to their apartment.

My friend and I were both under the impression that there’d be others with us helping to move like an army of ants, except bigger. But when we pulled up near their yellow Penske truck, we realized we were going to be the only helpers. I chugged the last of my Gatorade and got out of my car.

The family we helped is a nice family. Very out-going and friendly, they made it easy to just jump in and start working. Mattresses, bookcases, end tables, coffee tables, and even a dining-room table were the first things my friend and I moved in. About midway through the truck, we had to move a very heavy desk, which took about fifteen minutes to get the thing upstairs to the first floor of the apartment and then upstairs again to their office. When we got back to the truck, my friend whispered something to me.

“Why are we the only ones working?”

Even though he asked the question, I was thinking it also. The two volunteers at this apartment were the only ones moving anything above twenty pounds, which left us in a sort of complaining mood. We continued working until we were about 7/8 of the way through the truck. At that point we took a short break on their porch and chatted with them awhile. In that 5-minute conversation, we found out something that made us a little guilty for complaining. This family had been through several very bad car accidents that made it not impossible, but extremely difficult and painful for them to move heavy objects. We had merely assumed that they had no health issues, but as we found out, their injuries made it difficult to even walk around their apartment. It was in that moment on their porch that I realized something; that when you’re helping someone out, it’s best to just shut up and serve.

If it had been me in their shoes, I think I would have felt pretty humiliated by the fact that I needed someone else to move my stuff. Like many people in America, I don’t really like being catered to. When someone cooks up some food and asks if I want some, I feel kind of bad because I didn’t do anything to help cook. The same feeling happens when I’m offered even a beverage. It just doesn’t feel that great to me. And if I were in this family’s shoes and heard the question that my friend had asked, I would feel even worse.

I think this is a very important element in servitude: Not complaining about the work. And it’s not to say that we should just keep our mouths shut while helping someone out, but rather to go a step further and desire to help someone out. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is seen as having compassion on the people and it’s that compassion that compels Him to help them. If we are to truly live for Christ, then perhaps our hearts should change towards serving. I know mine needs to.

We never got paid for helping this family move and to be honest, I don’t really care. Hearing tidbits of this family’s story and seeing how the mother fought back tears when talking about what God has done for her, I had all the payment I needed. Paul wrote to the Philippians that even if he was only a drink offering, it’d be worth the work effort he put forth. It’s an attitude towards serving God and serving the church that I haven’t been very good at having. Too often I’m compelled to ask the question my friend asked, “Why am I the only one working?” Instead I think my question should be, “Why isn’t there more for me to do?”

Living for Christ demands more than just a good work ethic; it demands a desire to generously serve someone else, to build someone else up with words of encouragement and kind deeds – not for the pride of having done good deeds, but for the purpose of spreading the joy of Christ. Our work isn’t to build great résumés for ourselves, but to reveal the great résumé of God. Even if it means being one of the two only workers in helping someone move. Even if it means living your entire life in building others up while never receiving any credit for it. Even if it means merely being a drink offering poured out for the betterment of someone else. It’s not our calling to complain; it’s our calling to shut up and serve, to be a kingdom unlike any of the world’s kingdoms.

Intellectually Stubborn…

For my Journalism 201 class, we have to read through various chapters from a textbook called Mass Media and Society, which is composed by a professor here at the U of O. While I was reading through the chapter about books, something caught my attention. He was specifically discussing the book-screening that schools go through to filter out the poor-quality books and to keep the good ones, the ones that do a wonderful job of teaching generation after generation. What struck me as odd, though, was the various ways we – as regular human beings – choose to screen our own books. It’s called a-literacy: having the ability to read, but choosing not to.

I think in many ways, it’s quite similar to apathy; we sometimes just aren’t interested in reading certain books. But it’s more than merely lacking the interest to read like apathy would suggest; it’s choosing not to read for fear of being influenced in a particular way that one does not want to. Some people don’t read the Koran because they fear it will make them a Muslim. This caught my attention not because I know someone who ignores other cultures and beliefs because they fear succumbing to the them, but because I ignore other cultures, beliefs, or perspectives myself.

It isn’t so much because I’m afraid of jumping ship from Christian to Muslim or Christian to atheist, but because I have my own opinions about things and I don’t want them to change. I feel that being a-literate is, to some degree, being intellectually stubborn. We develop our thoughts, ideas and beliefs in a certain fashion and we don’t want them to change. Why? It could be because of our fear of things being different. It could be because we’re lazy and we just don’t want to handle change. Or, as is the frequent case with me, it could be because of pride.

Once our ideas are developed, we automatically think we’re right and that we’ve got the Truth. And we take this attitude and apply to practically anything else. Politics, science, religion, spirituality, and even music are all areas where we listen to the person, group, or band that agrees with us the best and affirms all our opinions not because we believe they’re right and we must align our thoughts to theirs, but because we’ve already made up our minds to believe we’re right, no matter what.

Even if tomorrow the government passed an act or law stating that all books should be burned, I think being intellectually stubborn would be worse. Why? When all the books are removed, I wouldn’t have the option of reading someone else’s opinions. But when I’m merely being intellectually stubborn, I have the ability to read someone else’s opinions or beliefs, but choose not to. I have the opportunity to possibly relate to someone of a different faith, culture, ethnicity, political group or whatever, but choose not to because I already think I’m right.

It seems so counter-intuitive to believe in Jesus and yet not share Him with others in a humble manner. The very essence of Jesus demands our humility; we are unable to accept the grace He has given us without first admitting our own sin. Why then should we profess Jesus with our lips and say that everyone should believe in Him when we don’t move a muscle to learn about a different religion, culture, or spirituality? Learning about other groups isn’t conforming to them; it’s just learning about them. I hate seeing this happen with other people that I know, but I hate it even more when I do it. Just talking to someone doesn’t demand that I surrender my relationship with Christ; if anything, it demands a stronger relationship with Jesus on the off chance the person I’m talking to might want to learn about Him. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” – Colossians 4:5-6.

The challenge before me this summer is to practice being personable with others. Merely chatting with others about what they think, believe, feel, etc. will be carrying a gracious speech towards others, exactly what Paul exhorts the Colossians to do. It means that I’ll have to dig a little deeper into other cultures and beliefs and not the stereotypes of the generalizations I hear from other Christians or people who agree with me; I’ll have to go to the source myself and ask them. At the end of the day, I won’t have converted to Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism; I’ll have practiced true Christianity.

Rise of Christ…

Forgiving myself is probably one of the hardest things for me to do. I read in Scripture all the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Proverbs, and all the stories of what happens when someone follows these teachings and when someone doesn’t. Throughout it all, I picture a kind of Godly man that I want to be and yet I can’t be. The man I picture when I read through Scripture is a perfect man who has all the answers and constantly exercises God’s love. I can never be that perfect man on my own. And sometimes I forget this, so when I mess up in living up to the standard I set for myself, I dwell on it and let the guilt and shame control me.

It’s a common problem, I imagine. I mean, anyone who has a sort of perfectionist attitude towards life has probably chastised themselves at some point when they fell. Sometimes it can produce something better. For instance, if I hadn’t critiqued my golf game like crazy, I would never have made varsity in my junior year and maybe not even my senior year. Picking yourself up when you fall and continuing to aim high isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But I think it becomes a bad thing when the grace of God becomes subverted by our own self-righteous pride. When we hold our own standards above God’s we miss out on the guilt-free life He wants us to live.

What’s different between our standards and His? Well, usually, I think it’s the element of humility. Instead of saying, “You know, I’m messed up,” we say, “I should be a better person,” and we take matters into our own hands and try to make ourselves better. But something came to me the other day when I was wrestling with guilt. I’ve struggled with many things; porn, gossip, pride, etc. But I think the biggest thing I’ve struggled with is properly handling guilt. The Spirit’s convicting power does have an element of guilt, but it is not intended to last very long; it’s meant to lead us to repentance. When we hold onto that guilt, that’s where we go wrong. Where we go right, though, is when we admit that we cannot do it on our own, that we need someone to walk us through it. I think we are truly Christians when we recognize that our lives do not depend on the rise and fall of ourselves, but rather on the rise of Christ.

“Remember the Resurrection,” Darrin, the pastor who spoke at our retreat for Cross Training, said to me in an email. Honestly, I haven’t thought about much else. The cross put to death our punishment while the empty tomb put death itself to death and granted the risen King the ability to give life wherever He wills. That’s the life that we receive when we embrace Him and that’s the life that leads through a life-long journey – a novel – that exceeds the man-made standards we create for ourselves.

A major theme throughout each of Darrin’s messages this last week was the denial of self, the embracement of the cross, and the following of Jesus. Notice how denial of self comes first before following Jesus. Implied within this, I think, is the message that we can’t truly follow Him unless we first surrender all of ourselves (our pride, our successes, our failures, our agendas, and even our standards) to Him. That’s what it means to cast our crowns before the throne of Jesus; we surrender up ourselves to Him, though we are truly guilty, to receive the grace that He freely and abundantly gives us. But as Paul has said repeatedly, this is not a license to keep on sinning, but rather a platform enabling us to live the lives God has always wanted us to live yet knew we couldn’t on our own. That’s why He stepped down from His throne, dressed Himself like the poorest of peasants, and devastated the kingdom of darkness.

Guilt and shame, like all the other emotions, are temporal. They come for a while, leave, and return yet again later on in life. I don’t mean to say that living the Christian life is pointless because no matter what we’ll always run into guilt, but rather to say that we must be careful. Though we’re able to surrender our guilt and shame once or twice doesn’t mean the third or fourth time will be just as easy. But I believe that if you practice something long enough, it develops as a habit, which makes it easier to do down the road. The reason why I made the varsity golf team my junior year was because I had a very disciplined short game. But if I were to go out there now, my short game would not help me at all because I haven’t practiced in a long time. Likewise we must practice the ways of Christ and discipline ourselves in the ways of truth, which means disciplining ourselves in the act of humility. Our guilt and our shame is wiped away by Christ’s promise; that if we return to Him, believe in His blood, remember His resurrection and repent with the life He’s given us, we will live honorable lives in the eyes of God.

“Remember the Resurrection.”

My Pet Peeves: My issues, Not Yours…

This year’s summer retreat was down in Trinity Lakes on a couple house boats exploring the Californian wild, sort of. For the most part, like the eleven disciples, I stayed on the boat. Even when others were doing flips off the side and testing their skills at wake-boarding, I was enjoying the inside of the boat. I’m just not much of a fan of water. The guest speaker was a pastor named Darrin Ratcliff, a very charismatic guy who loves golf. Obviously he and I got along pretty well. And though his messages were filled with challenges for our everyday lives, being Christians in an un-Christian society, one of the most interesting things I learned from this man happened before we even set foot on the boat.

We were waiting for Tony Overstake, the Cross Training pastor, to get the two house boats inspected and driven over to where we could load our stuff up when Darrin started chatting with us. He talked about how he hated Disney Land and how Tony is believed by many from Sam’s Valley to be half human and half beast. We were kind of hanging around our cars, which were parked in between spaces outlined by powdered chalk. One of our guys was patting his bear feet in the powder and, mixing with the wind, the dust took flight and was landing on Darrin’s black Nikes. I was watching the whole ordeal and I remember Darrin just about to ask the guy to stop, but then he checked himself and said, “Not your issue; it’s mine.”

It may not seem that amazing to anybody else, but Darrin’s ability to recognize the difference between his own pet peeves and problems that actually matter was a little convicting. I’m not very good at differentiating things that bug me because of my own personal dislikes and things that are actual problems. For instance, there is a lot of music that I just don’t listen to these days because I find the lyrics to be absolutely appalling. But there are many of my Christian friends who aren’t really bugged by them. Instead of leaving it as a simple difference of opinion, I tend to cast judgment on them because of the music they listen to. Darrin merely saying “Not your issue; it’s mine,” and then standing somewhere where the powder wouldn’t get on his shoes instead of asking the guy to stop tapping his feet revealed to me my own error.

It makes me wonder how on earth we try to justify our pet peeves. There are many things that bug me, like poor grammar and the aforementioned vulgar language in song lyrics, but does that give me the right to cast judgment on others who aren’t bugged by those things? Just calling pet peeves, “pet peeves,” doesn’t make them right or fair for other people. Instead, it only enables a sort of ignorance; we ignore that many of our issues are our issues alone and no one else’s. I mean, if you think about it, how many other people are bugged by your pet peeves, too? Chances are, there aren’t too many.

My whole point with this is merely to say that maybe instead of demanding that others respect our pet peeves, we should humble ourselves, recognize that our pet peeves are our problems, not others’ and go from there. Yeah it means that we may not always get our way or be comfortable, but it does mean that our friendships wouldn’t be filled with turmoil. It does mean that instead of having a divided and chaotic household where everyone walks around as though they were walking on thin ice, there’d be peace and unity and love.

Yes, we all probably have pet peeves that might matter to more than one person. But the point of living as a Christian isn’t to point out everyone’s every flaw so they can be corrected, but rather to be makers of peace. If someone was going around murdering my neighbors, I would probably do something about it because it’s an act of injustice. But if someone wants to listen to music with bad lyrics, who am I to say they can’t? If they aren’t bothered as much as I am, then what’s the problem? It’s my issue, not theirs. I should deal with it instead of making others around me deal with it.