Listening to Rebukes…

Due to upcoming costs for seminary, living in Portland, poker, and maybe a new car, I got a second job working the grounds crew with the Eugene Emeralds (a minor league baseball affiliate of the San Diego Padres). How I got that job, though, wasn’t the easiest of processes and involved biting the bullet on a mistake I made.

I first applied to work in the merchandise department for the Ems, but wasn’t hired for the job. Despite a small kick to the pride, I was okay with it – even more so, now. But there was still the issue with gathering some extra funds for all the costs awaiting me this fall.

[Enter Tony Overstake]

Tony was one of the pastors at Calvary Fellowship before the head pastor resigned and the building was sold. He’s the current UO chaplain working through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ministry. Ever since my freshman year of college, we’ve been meeting up as regularly as possible for a Bible study. On one particular meeting, he asked me if I wanted to come to his place the next day and pull some weeds. Seeing the opportunity to gather some funds, I said I would. So the next day I drove down to Creswell in my yard-work clothes.

I used to pull weeds as a kid living with my grandpa in Lincoln City. I hated it. I still hate it. But, as evidenced by the offer from Tony, what my grandpa put me through as a kid paid off, literally. Yet something happened toward the end of the day that I’m not exactly ashamed of, but I know I’m not proud of.

It was hot out that particular day. I can’t remember the exact temperature, but it was more than this coastal kid is used to. I was drinking a lot of water and doing my best to keep hydrated throughout the day – trying to work in the shade as much as possible. However, the last hour and a half had to be done directly in sunlight. And since the weeds were growing amongst the flowers (Tony’s flowers; not his wife’s), I was crouched low to the ground so I could get a better grip on the weeds. I have no idea how long I was crouched low, but when I went to stand up, I felt incredibly dizzy and actually fell over.

In that moment, I decided to call it. I had been working for about six hours and felt totally drained of energy, so I thought my dizziness was a sign I should call it a day. What I didn’t take into account was how there was only about ten minutes left of work. If I had taken a five minute break, gotten some water, and gone back at it for those ten minutes, I would have done a more respectable thing. Instead, I quit before the job was finished.

None of this had come to mind until Tony talked to me moments later. He was writing me a check for having worked, but he said something that stuck with me, “I’m just going to go ahead and say this, but I think you should have finished the job. I understand you were dizzy and it’s hot out, but it was only ten minutes worth of work. So this is just for future reference, but if you’re working for someone and trying to impress an employer, you might want to work through the difficulties.”

Believe me, I didn’t want to hear that. In fact, I drove home with a bitter taste in my mouth because I felt as though it wasn’t my fault that I stopped. And yet, I don’t think my bitter feeling was toward Tony or what he said; it was because he was right. Given a choice between comfort and finishing a job, I chose comfort. Sure, I was dizzy, but like I said above; I could have taken a five minute break (or less) and gone right back to work to finish out the project. Instead, I took that opportunity and chose to be comfortable rather than respectable.

No, I don’t think Tony respects me any less than what he did before I showed up to work that day. But he certainly doesn’t have any good reason to respect me more after that day. And that’s where I dropped the ball. I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to work hard and work well for someone I respect. Yet it’s because I respect Tony that I was able to hear his honest and gentle rebuke (Two things I noticed about Tony’s words to me: 1. He could have said them in front of his wife and thereby embarrass me or 2. He could have said them right when I chose to call it a day with all the emotion he must have felt; he didn’t. He kept his cool and told me quietly).

A while ago I had written a post about Dutch Uncles and about how we need them and how we need to be them. Tony was the epitome of a Dutch Uncle that day; he was honest, yet constructive, telling me what I needed to hear so that I may do better the next time around. Little did I know that the next time around was that following Thursday when I went to my first day with the Ems grounds crew.

It was not an easy day. I was told the day before all the duties of the job, but was still nervous about putting them all into practice on my first day. When I showed up, I had expected to find another guy whom I was told was my coworker. He wasn’t there. And since the guy who hired me had another job working with the U of O athletic department, I knew he wasn’t going to be there for a little while.

All of the things the other guy was supposed to have done, since he shows up two hours before me, were now my responsibility and I had to learn on the fly. What Tony had told me the Saturday before was the driving force to my work ethic on that Thursday and every day thereafter.

My Saturday with Tony was chockfull of lessons from Proverbs; stuff about a wise man listening to a rebuke (3:11-12, 12:15, 19:20), how rebukes are meant to improve you (1:23, 29:1), how iron sharpens iron (27:17), keeping your cool when feeling emotional (29:11), walking with the wise (13:20), and not slacking off when on the job (18:9). If Tony had not said what he did, I might still have gotten the second job, but I know for sure I wouldn’t have had the same drive to work well and take advantage of an opportunity to impress an employer.

Listening to a rebuke is never easy. It hurts our pride and oftentimes makes us feel as though we’re incapable of doing things the right way. Yet it is precisely what Proverbs 3:11-12 says that urges us to listen when we’re corrected, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” God loves us enough to correct us when we mess up or not do as well as we should have. He does so because He’s re-creating us.

Ignoring your critics is often seen as a good thing. And maybe sometimes it is – like when the criticism is destructive and not ground in any good reason. But without someone telling us we’re doing it wrong, how will we know if we’re ever doing it right? Such a practice demands discernment to, like pulling weeds from flowers, sift the bad criticism from the good.

“[Be] quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” – James 1:19

Who knows? Listening to correction just might actually land you a job.

God bless.

To Trust or Not To Trust?

Over the past three or four months, I’ve been studying through the book of Isaiah with Tony Overstake, U of O’s FCA pastor. In our discussion today we talked about what it means to say that we trust God. This might seem like a no-brainer and not worthy of a 30-minute discussion, but Tony raised a good point: What do we trust in God for?

Keep in mind that this is a pastor who’s been leading people in the faith for a good number of years – at least 8, but if he’s reading this, then it changes to whatever number makes him feel ancient, which he is. Anyhow, my point with this is to say his questioning isn’t for the purpose of debunking the existence of God or some confession that he’s falling away from faith. In fact, it’s in the effort to deepen his faith that he raises the discussion.

What do we really trust God for? Jobs? Spouses? Acceptance into seminaries? Asthma medication? In essence, we typically say that we trust in God for His provision, which is true, but isn’t it possible, hypothetically speaking, to provide for ourselves?

An example is if I were to get fired from my job today, what would I do? I’d probably write a mean blog post, call my old bosses a bunch of mean names, and then delete the post later on (like a minute later, probably). But after that, I’d probably do the sensible thing and figure something out for a new job. And chances are I’d eventually figure something out. So where is God’s hand in all the mix?

Again, it’s a Devil’s-advocate sort of question, but I think it’s helpful to recognize the meaning of the phrases we so often take for granted. Oftentimes we use the Christian buzzwords of forgiveness, repentance, belief, faith, or trust (and there are many, many more) without really knowing or understanding their meaning. So what does it mean when we say that we trust God? What are we trusting Him for if we’re capable of providing for ourselves?

I know, I know, the scenario breaks down if I were to get hit by a car and be paralyzed from the neck down – all of a sudden I wouldn’t be able to provide for myself. But even in that case, I know I have loving friends who’d step in to help. So even then I’d still be cared for. Where’s God’s hand in that?

What Tony and I kept arriving to, though, wasn’t God’s involvement in our every day lives, which we both believe He is, but rather the posture of the heart. When we say we are thankful for God’s provision, we are saying that there is something outside of ourselves at work within ourselves. “For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matt. 5:45). God causes it for everyone, but only a few recognize it. Even fewer say so.

Of course this turns the issue toward the fact of God causing pain and suffering, but I’ll save the bulk of that issue for another time. What I felt needed to be said here is that our posture is everything. If we believe that we don’t need God and can be fully satisfied and provided for within ourselves, then our lives are going to reflect that. We’ll be self-sufficient and independent and all that jazz. But when our strength fails or when our hearts give out, which they will, what happens then? What happens when we no longer have a choice over our spiritual posture? All I can really say at this point is that I’d rather not find out.

I suppose it comes down to a choice; either we choose to trust ourselves or to trust God, ready to give thanks to Him for what He has done – even if it is merely allowing us to live.

What do you think it means when we say we trust in God? Has become an empty buzzword or does it have the deepest of meanings?

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” (1 Thess. 5:18)

God bless.

It’s Not About You…

I almost didn’t go to Cross Training last night. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed it this year – heck, not even this month. But my reasoning last night as to why I didn’t want to go was different than every other week. It was much more personal.

Every year around Valentine’s Day, Tony takes a week or two to discuss sex and relationships. Last week he brought in a guest speaker, Clint, to speak about sex and I imagine it was a good message (like I said, attendance has been minimal). But this week it was his turn and he decided to talk about relationships. And that’s why I didn’t want to go: I don’t like to talk about relationships.

Why then talk about them now? Because I had a good heart-to-heart with God a few hours before Cross Training last night and it ultimately influenced me to go. You see it all starts with this deep, oftentimes uncontrollable, desire to marry. I want a wife. I want kids. I want to be someone I didn’t often see growing up: A loving husband and father. Part of the struggle with this desire is that I’m very impatient. Like the Bad Lip Reading of Jim Harbaugh, I’m oftentimes this frustrated, whiny little kid complaining about how he hasn’t had a girlfriend ever and that he’s waited so long and blah, blah, blah.

Usually every time someone asks about if I’m seeing anyone or why I might not be interested in a particular girl, this issue of mine comes to the surface. In those conversations, I quickly clam up and either give short answers or don’t answer at all. And no matter what might happen throughout the rest of the day, all I’m thinking about is how I wish I had someone to get all cuddly with for movies or get excited and giggly when someone asks me about her. And every time I feel that desire, I’m brought to the reality that I don’t have it. It upsets me.

So when the time came to go to Cross Training and hear about how relationships are supposed to work and relive all the frustrations of being single, I sat down with God to explain to Him why I didn’t want to go. I started with the shame and guilt that I feel for having hurt girls in the past. And then I talked about all the times I had been hurt when opening my heart to someone and hearing them tell me how they don’t feel the same. And before I could get to my persuasive conclusion as to why I was justified in not attending last night’s Cross Training, I could hear God whisper to me: “It’s not about you.”

Yes, this sounds insensitive, but you have no idea how much freer I feel having heard that. Why? Because what God pointed me to last night wasn’t something that makes me feel worthless; He pointed me to something that gives me every bit of confidence in the world. He pointed me to the Gospel.

In the past couple of weeks, a group of us from Emmaus Life have been going through this book called the Tangible Kingdom Primer. Its focus is obviously God’s kingdom and what has – not surprisingly – come up time and time again is the definition of the Gospel. What is it? Is it a ticket to heaven because of some prayer we pray or statement of faith we sign off on? Is it a checklist of various things God wants us to believe and do in order for us to earn His favor? Or is it a self-help phrase that we should use in order to get over our depression and insecurities? Well, yes, it’s partially those things, but definitely not limited to them. It is believing in the redemptive actions of Jesus on the cross as a model to follow in our every day lives.

What were those redemptive actions? Yes, He was flogged and then crucified, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What happened before that? He healed, He taught, He fed people, and He washed His disciples’ feet. In His time, that was a job reserved for the slaves of slaves – the lowest of the low – not for kings. And yet here Jesus was in John 13 stooping down to clean the feet that followed Him.

His sacrifice on the cross must never be minimized from what it was and is: Our atonement. But a king’s intentional death is meant to wake people up and consider the life the king lived – after all, how else could you truly understand what the king died for the in first place?

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” – Matthew 20:26-28

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” – Matthew 16:24

Jesus’ Gospel is about nothing else but service and sacrifice. And no, He does not mean serving yourself or sacrificing for yourself; He means to imply that it is not about you, but rather the people who need you.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,’” – Matthew 9:36-38

And this is a message that applies to everyone – even the single hopeful-romantics like me. Being a good coworker, friend, or spouse doesn’t begin when you realize what you want; it begins when you realize what you must give.

God bless.

Tolkien and Origins of Golf…

In case you never knew or had forgotten, I used to love golf. Still do, but I’m finding it quite an expensive hobby. Anyhow, my pastor, Tony, often gives me a hard time for liking a “sissy” game. He used to wrestle for Oregon back in the day (way back in the day), so something like the game of golf – with its clubs, tees, and odd apparel – doesn’t quite associate as “sport” in his mind. No one to throw around, no one to steal a base from (he also loves baseball) – heck, it doesn’t even require two players. Being such a unique (or “irregular”) game, it’s often regarded as “not as cool.”

Well, Tony, here’s a nice little story for you.

It comes from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I’ve barely begun to read it (just made it through the first chapter), but I’ve enjoyed the fantasy folklore thus far. One story in particular is about an overgrown hobbit named Bullroarer:

“He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.”

Not so sissy now, is it, Tony? I find no enchanting stories about grappling goblins in onesies and pinning them to the ground to win a battle…

Just sayin’…

God’s Renovations…

My home church, Calvary Fellowship, announced today that we must sell our building. Our finances haven’t been growing much at all over the past couple of years and it has dried up our savings. To the outside community, this makes Calvary Fellowship look like a dying church – that we’re falling apart beyond what anyone can repair. But the way we see things is rarely the way God sees things.

A story that first came to mind when Danny announced to the board members the sad news was Gideon’s conquering of the Midianites in Judges 7. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, Gideon was called to lead the Israelites into battle, but God did something ridiculous: He cut down the fighting numbers from 22,000 to 300 and armed them with horns and torches.

We would never do something like this in our day. It’s like taking your 3 golfing buddies to play a baseball game against the New York Yankees; you’d get slaughtered (metaphorically – literally in Gideon’s case). But, as always, God knew what he was doing with Gideon and His people.

Through Gideon, God was not writing a story of Israel’s conquest over all its enemies; He was writing a story of what He can do with just a few faithful followers.

Our modern-day evangelical community considers a “thriving church” to be something close to a mega-church; a fancy big building, thousands of members, 3 or 4 services each Sunday, and drinking fountains flowing with fruit punch. By that picture, we are far from being a “thriving church.” And in a like manner, Gideon’s army was far from being a formidable opponent.

And yet, as I’m sure we’re all aware of, Israel’s enemies fled the battlefield when Gideon led the march. 300 horns were blown and 300 torches lit – sending the thousands of Midianites against themselves and away from the Israelites. This story is proof that when God renovates His building – the congregation of people – big things happen.

No, I’m not predicting that God is going to conquer all our enemies with the 150 or so people we have at Calvary (I’m not even sure what that would look like anyway). But I am saying that by selling our building and possibly changing locations, Calvary Fellowship is actually growing. No, our numbers aren’t reaching the thousands and our finances aren’t generating millions. Instead, our fellowship, with God’s renovations, is becoming a closer-knit body – knowing, trusting, and loving each other to greater and greater degrees. God is developing through Calvary a family with a much stronger and more Christ-like faith.

If the thought of losing this building scares you, then I must say Gideon was scared, too. If you want to leave here and try another church, then I must say Gideon wanted to quit, too. And if you think that Calvary Fellowship is a church marching to its doom, then I must again say Gideon believed that, too. And yet, he stuck with God and saw Him prevail.

God told Gideon that the Israelite army was too big. Now I’m not saying we’ve reached our capacity on this building because, quite clearly, that’s not the case. What I am saying, though, is that we are still a growing fellowship and maybe God is telling us that a smaller (and more affordable) building is a better suit for us. Maybe, in a spiritual sense, we actually have outgrown this building.

May we not make the mistake of giving up before God proves, once again, that He was right and we found out the hard way.

God bless.

Pretense vs. Authenticity…

“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice,” – Proverbs 21:3 (NIV)

For the past few months, I’ve been slowly going through the Gospels with my pastor, Tony. As I’ve been reading through them, one thing continues to stand out to me: Jesus’ life. Yes, His teaching definitely stands out to me, but what I’ve been paying attention to throughout the study is how Jesus taught it, preached it, and then lived it. He hung out with the socially-awkward, the outcasts, and the lame. He lived graciously, patiently, and compassionately. His life, His story, was put to paper so that we might emulate Him. And yet, when I look at Christianity today, I see a completely different life being lived.

Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Mark Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus or because I have just as many religious defaults as anybody else, but not matter what the case may be, I’ve felt fed up with Christian religiosity. Our doctrines, dogmas, and theologies seem to have taken center stage in our Christian life. We talk more about what happens in heaven and hell then what happens in the space in between. We’ve become so geared towards getting the right beliefs down pact that we’ve lost sight of how to live as Jesus taught. No doubt, I find doctrines, dogmas, and theologies to be fascinating and intriguing discussions. But in no way are they ever supposed to replace Christ.

I don’t mean to bash Mark Driscoll because I believe he is a very effective pastor to many, many people. But his teaching does tend to lean towards the dogmatic side of religion even though I know his heart is with Jesus. What’s wrong with too much theology? If you make your experience with God all about getting the right doctrines down and figuring it all out, then you might incidentally sacrifice your ability to effectively live out Jesus’ teaching. And, in many cases, you might become socially awkward.

My roommates this past year taught me something about life as a Christian: You got to socialize a bit. I’ve gotten into the bad habit of allowing my theological studies to guide my walk with Christ rather than taking what He teaches in Scripture and running with it to the real world. What I mean is, I’ve spent more time studying the complexities of Scripture and our theological ideas than I have with other people, sharing Christ’s love. What does this look like exactly? From my experience in the past year, it means watching boring TV shows or movies with people, playing video games with roommates, or sharing a hand-made meal together. Jesus, after all, spent His final few days washing His disciples’ feet and feeding them.

God desires authenticity and transparency; He does not want our lives to solely consist around what we believe. He wants us to go out and live our beliefs. Matthew 6:1-4 encapsulates exactly what I’m getting at:

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

God wants us to be real, especially when no one is watching. But when we emphasize our beliefs and the right way of viewing Jesus, we run the risk of encouraging a more Pharisaical Christianity. We’d give to the poor only when others are watching, pray long and loud prayers in the hearing of others, and make ourselves look hungry and exhausted when we’re fasting. We’d become focused on our own image and how people see us rather than God’s image and how He sees us.

In Jesus’ day in age, piety was everything. As the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate (in a more positive way, though), there was a major emphasis on ritual purity, knowledge of the Torah, and following every last letter of the law to the upmost degree. In the Scrolls, the sentiment is that Israel had fallen away from enacting God’s righteousness and there needed to be a mass repentance with the people. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, we see the negative side of super-piety:

“For the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of
you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

God wants us to follow Him above following each other.

At Calvary Fellowship, Danny is teaching a series titled Life Happens. Each sermon is geared towards handling the tough aspects of life; death in the family, worry, fear, pain, and just the difficult emotions of life. One thing that I keep finding as the common denominator in dealing with the difficulties is being authentic with God and the people around us.

Religion asks us to sacrifice more, to be more pious, and have our piety noticed. But the deeper we dive into our own facades, the farther we drift from God. Our pain, our worries, our sadness, our depression – none of it gets healed, comforted, or counseled if we hide our real selves. We learn how to love our friends, family, coworkers, and all the people we meet when we seek authenticity.

God sees right through us anyway; might as well stop the pretenses.

Which Leaven Are You Living?

An interesting contrast came to mind during my Bible study with Tony Overstake – my pastor from Calvary Fellowship. We’ve been plugging along through Luke these past couple months and today’s section was chapters 13-15. Both he and I have been frequently busy in the last couple months, so we haven’t been meeting up as much as we’d like to, which means the text hasn’t been as fresh on my mind as I’d like it to be. Knowing this two days ago, I re-read the previous 6 or 7 chapters of Luke to get a real sense of where I was at in Luke 13. I didn’t need to back up very far, though, to pick up on a piece of figurative language Jesus uses to describe two very different groups of people.

In chapter 12, shortly after Jesus gives the religious elite a verbal slap in the face, He turns to His disciples and says, “Be on you guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” (v.1). As I touched on in my last post, this means not condemning others for doing things that I practice as well. In its proper context, Jesus is emphasizing to His disciples to avoid pretentions; He wants genuine followers, even if it means their very lives would be forfeit (12:4-5). But what does a genuine follower look like?

It’s here where today’s study with Tony comes into play. Luke 13:20-21 says this, “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” Here is the exact opposite usage of yeast than in chapter 12; it’s a positive thing here, but a negative thing in 12. So what then does this mean? It means we have a choice to make – a very big one.

Which yeast are you?

Do you seek out peoples’ attention in your prayers, service, or general charismatic personality come Sunday morning? Do you modestly brag about the nice things you’ve done for people or usually talk about how God’s used you to do something recently? Do you keep your eyes peeled for the debates about inerrancy, salvation, Rob Bell, etc.? If this is you, then at the very least you’re dangerously close to practicing Pharisaic tendencies. And oftentimes, I’m right there with you.

But here’s the yeast we’re supposed to use: God’s kingdom dwelling within us.

His culture, His teachings, His love, His mercy, His grace, His heart for righteousness and justice, and His desire to sacrifice Himself for the gain of others is all part of a kingdom that lives within our hearts and souls. If we use this yeast, Jesus says, the whole lump of dough will be filled. What Tony took that to mean, and I think is a powerful message, is that through our genuine faithfulness to God and His ways, the whole world could be filled with His spirit. No; it doesn’t depend entirely on us. It’s God’s Spirit doing the work from within us; not us doing it ourselves.

And yet this isn’t a license for us to sit around and do nothing. As NT Wright says, “If it is true… that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced. This is not an extra to the church’s mission. It is central,” (Surprised By Hope, 266). But what I’ve been wondering ever since my coffee with Tony is what it all comes down to: Which yeast am I? Which yeast do I want to be?

My first question is an assessment of my current situation. Which one am I acting more like; the Pharisaic yeast or the kingdom of God yeast? Usually it’s the former, but I should not be alarmed by this because there is the power to change. Which yeast do I find as acting more in line with God’s teachings and His ways? It ought always to be the latter.

This may go against some peoples’ deeply-ingrained beliefs, but I belief it’s never too late to make a change. John the Baptist has been regarded as a former Essene, possibly even a member of the Qumran sect. But unlike any of them, he believed people could change – he believed they could repent. We all can repent of our hypocrisy and strive for Godliness at any moment. It just takes a deep, serious answering of the question, “Which leaven are you living?”

Choose wisely.

God bless.