Get Pissed But Don’t Be a Jerk

Ok. Paul might say, ” When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin” (Ephesians 4:26). But I needed to get your attention.

I had an anger management problem when I was younger. Some people might even say I still do, but that’s because they didn’t know me back then. Oh, I still get angry. That part has not gone away, nor will it because anger is a natural human emotion. No, what has changed, and continues to improve as time goes on, is the way I deal with my anger. What has changed is the way I express myself when I’m angry.

Paul doesn’t say don’t get any here. Heck, even Jesus got angry when he threw the money changers out of the temple in what I like to call his Temple Tantrum. Like I said, anger is normal. It’s what we do with our anger that concerns Paul most, and it should concern us as well.

So, what does sinning in anger look like? It looks like retaliation, vengeance, violence, lying, deception, revenge. Reducing other people into objects of received aggression is what sinning in anger looks like. It means getting angry and hurting others.

Just like honesty and truth telling must be couched in love, so too must be our anger. If we are humble, gentle, patient and tolerant, then our response when we get angry will not be retaliation.

We will get angry and wait before we speak (patience). While we wait, we will remember that we are angry at another human being with feelings (humility). While we wait, we might realize that the reason for our anger is misplaced or overblown and that what seems so rage-worthy is really the result of our intolerance toward something we are not used to (tolerance). By the time we get around to speaking, we are in a much better position to show gentleness. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak against the things that make us angry. It simply means that we do not allow our anger to cause us to stop loving the person who makes us angry. Not showing love is the greatest sin anger can cause us to commit.

Speaking should be the last thing we do when we are angry and waiting should be the first thing. We are going to make each other angry. That is a guarantee. We cannot possibly trust each other if we hurt each other when we do.

#LettersForMyBoys – 7

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com


He has stored up the essentials of sound wisdom for those who do right;
    He acts as a shield for those who value integrity.

Proverbs 2:7 (The VOICE)

I like the subtle assumption that if we do what is right, then we essentially will do what is wise. The “stores” of “sound wisdom” will be tapped into by those do what is right. And what is right? A life lived with integrity. Being the same behind closed doors as we are in front of others. Being whole and undivided in purpose, position, and practice.

Why would God need to act as a shield for those who value integrity? Because when you’re the same person at all times and in all places, you become easier to manipulate. You can become predictable. You become a target. It is the downside to being open and honest rather than scheming and deceitful. It is also the thing that will cause some to flock to you and some to run from you.

I do, however, wonder how true it is that God protects those with integrity. I mean, Jesus seems like the case study of someone who got jacked up particularly because he lived with integrity and purpose that went against the powers that be. At least in a physical, earthly sense it seems as though God’s protection was a bit lacking. The author of Proverbs could not have known this though. Perhaps it is a shout out to having survived the Babylonian Exile as a distinct people. They made it through relatively in one piece with their identity as Jews in tact. When seen through that lens, it is easier to see God shielding them in that way.

Boys,
Be true to God and yourself. Be open and honest about who you are and then live that life. Some will love you. Some will hate you. That’s okay. I write this letter to you having just received a hand-written letter of my own from someone I do not know. The letter told me that I am going against “God’s Holy Word” because I preach and teach Jesus’ inclusive love and compassion for all. If that takes me against the “Word” as they know it, then that’s alright with me. At least I have lived a life that is in line with the words I speak. Love your lives with integrity and you will tap into God’s wisdom.
Dad

Stop Lying

If we are going to build the Body of Christ and be gentle, humble, patient, and tolerant, then we need recognize the behaviors we easily do that keep us from doing that, namely lying, allowing our anger to cause us to treat each other poorly (sin), using words to tear down rather than build up.

Paul lays out a list of dos and don’ts because he recognized that all of these have a huge impact of the health of the body. You can read about why any of this is important here.

Be Honest. Stop Lying.

Paul puts it “put away your lies and speak the truth to one another BECAUSE WE ARE ALL PART OF ONE ANOTHER.” What he is essentially saying is that when you lie or are deceitful toward others, you are really lying to yourself.

You might be sitting there thinking you don’t lie. Stop lying! If you’ve ever kept the truth from someone, you’ve lied. Omission of the truth in a situation where it would have a consequence either way is the same as lying.

Now, don’t hear me saying that you’ve now got a license to go around being jerks to each other in the name of “telling the truth.” Remember, telling the truth to each other needs to be tempered with being humble, gentle, patient and tolerant. In other words, you don’t have to say something just because you think it. This is “speaking the truth in love” as Paul puts it earlier. I’m pretty sure I just heard a collective cackle from everyone who has ever met me. Am I seriously telling you not to saying something just because it comes into your brain? Yes, I am. I am telling me too.

We cannot possibly trust each other if we cannot be honest with one another. We cannot build trust with people when we are building cases against them. We cannot build each other up when we are busy figuring out how to undercut trust through deceit.

Pastors, Please Don’t Do These Things.

I came across this article on a Facebook page I follow. As a pastor having the job of ministering to people of all viewpoints, I can see why being lukewarm can be an inherent danger of the job. This list, while written from certain point of view, is quite workable for all of us who lead ministry. It might also help our followers understand some of the complexities of leading during this time.

Read the article and let me know what you think!

Bodybuilding: Trust Your Spotter

Previously, I talked about Bodybuilding as a team sport. I talked about the team (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, teammates). I started to talk about the way the team interacts by being humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant of each other.

Today, I’m going to start talking about one of the most important elements of a team: Trust.

I mentioned last time the different people who work together to make the individual bodybuilder successful. One of the MOST important people on the bodybuilder’ team is called the spotter, and this is usually a trainer or another bodybuilder.

The Spotter in weight training is the person who supports another person during a particular exercise with an emphasis on allowing the lifter to lift or push more than they could normally do safely. Correct spotting involves knowing when to intervene and assist with a lift, and encouraging a training partner to push beyond the point in which they would normally ‘rack’ the weight (return it to its stationary position).

The Spotter is the person who supports their partner and pushes them to do more than they think they can. Lifters need to know that the spotter is paying attention, is strong enough to actually help, cares enough about their well-being to give their all. Bodybuilders need to know that they can trust their spotters.

However, having a spotter is not enough, just like having people in your church is not enough. Those people need to trust each other.

I have seen multiple YouTube videos where people had spotters that were completely useless. One bench presser was lifting FAR more than he could handle. His spotter helped him lift the bar off of the rack…and then just let go. The weights came crashing down on the poor lifter. I saw another one where the weights fell onto the lifter and the spotter was too weak to help get it off. Again, that lifter learned the importance of a trustworthy partner.

Did you know that the majority of bench press deaths occur because someone tried to lift without a spotter? That’s how important having a person you can trust on your team is. It’s literally life and death.

The point of all of this is to say: Bad things will happen if we try to build the body alone. Bad things will also happen when we cannot trust the people who are working with us. Just like in bodybuilding, trying to do all the heavy lifting of ministry without a trusted partner can lead to some very serious consequences.

What does any of this matter? I’m hammering home the point of trusting each other because if we are going to build the Body of Christ and be gentle, humble, patient, and tolerant, then we need to recognize the behaviors we easily do that keep us from doing that, namely lying, allowing our anger to cause us to treat each other poorly (sin), using words to tear down rather than build up.

Ephesians lays out a list of dos and don’ts because the author recognized that all of these have a huge impact on the health of the body. In my next post, I will begin discussing them. I will start with lying.

Pondering Principles – Global Climate Stewardship

Uh-Oh, here we go talking about climate change again. It’s a short paragraph though. Don’t worry. Read the section of the UMC Social Principles on Global Climate Stewardship here.

I already wrote about our disregard for creation. This is reaffirmed at the outset of this paragraph. The other part of this section that got me was this:

The adverse impacts of global climate change disproportionately affect individuals and nations least responsible for the emissions.

Social Principles – Global Climate Stewardship

You catch that? The people least responsible for fucking this up are the ones who are paying the highest price for it. That truth is rampant in so many more ways than just climate change, especially in our country.

What families lose the most when a war starts? Not the families of the ones who started it that’s for sure. What people are most affected by our modern day slavery – excuse me our prison system? Certainly not the ones who created an implemented the privatized incarceration farms. And here we see the power structures shitting on people who cannot fight back. The problem is that, eventually, everyone is going to pay a high price for hurting the planet. It is the price that will be paid for caring more about convenience than for people, for progress than for relationships.

#LettersForMyBoys – 6

The Eternal is ready to share His wisdom with us,
    for His words bring true knowledge and insight; – Proverbs 2:6

Boys, I’m gonna slow down a little bit here. We’ve been talking about seeking wisdom…or not. We’ve talked about what happens if you choose not to seek her out. Today, I want to talk about readiness and digging deep.

This proverb says that God is ready to share his wisdom. I believe our (the Christian’s) main lens through which we filter that wisdom is the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. What people like to call “God’s truth” has to be clarified by Jesus if we claim to follow him.

Jesus was crafty. His ability to encapsulate wisdom in stories is quite unmatched anywhere else in the Bible. God is ready to share that wisdom if we are ready to hear the stories. Not just pithy bits but the whole story. That bring me to digging deeper.

The great thing about well told stories is that they hide their best ideas underneath the surface. You have to get past the words themselves and move toward the meanings behind them. If you’re able to find out why certain details are there, then you’ll find wisdom. Jesus was a master with this. He crafted stories that literally required the listener to hear more than was said.

The “words” that God is ready to share, the words that contain “true knowledge and insight,” are beyond what you are able to simply read. You have to infer and discern. You have to learn about the contexts of those stories to make any sense of them. If you stop only at the surface, if you think the words you read state anything clearly, then you have not gone far enough.

The only thing that is clear in the Bible is that nothing is clear.

Boys,

Don’t take anything at face value. Life is too complex to settle for easy answers. The voices of God are out there, the words of the Divine are available for your development. You only have to put in the work to get past the skin to get to the meat. Don’t be tempted by the Gospel according to Memes. There are not shortcuts here.

Dad

Bodybuilding Is a Team Sport

I did a sermon series in August 2018 on Ephesians called Bodybuilding.
It was a series about how we exist as “church.” Over the next couple of weeks, I will detail some of the more important points from that series. My hope is that they can help you navigate what it means to be a community in an increasingly fractured culture.

Ephesians was written by a follower of the apostle Paul.
Paul and those who followed him were extremely concerned with how Christians lived, worked, and grew in the faith with each other. One of Paul’s main ways of describing the church was as the Body of Christ.

If we want to be healthy, whether is it the church or our physicality, then we must build up our bodies. This true on an individual level. This is true on a group level. Here are four things to consider as we think about bodybuilding.

Bodybuilders don’t workout alone.
There are some things they can do alone, but even the best ones seek help from the bodybuilding community. No one makes it alone in bodybuilding. Trainers. Motivators, nutritionists, spotters, doctors, routine makers, coaches. All of these people play a part in making the best bodybuilders. “There is no I in team” the saying goes. Stop acting like you did this without climbing on the shoulders of other people. It’s not until you realize that nothing happens alone that you will realize your full potential. Full potential only happens when you work WITH your team instead of apart from it. The same is true when we talk about building up the Body of Christ.

Know who is on your team.
You can’t function as a team unless you know who is on the team. Seems straightforward but so many church folk have no idea who is on the team. Ephesians points out a few. The “Trainers/Motivators” are people called emissaries (apostles), prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Most churches have those people sitting right in the seats. Which one are you? What is your giftedness? Do you know? If you’re not one of those people, then you are what I will call a “Workout Partner.” Your role is vital to getting anything done for the church. You are often the hand and feet of ministry. Without you, nothing happens. Period.

Know your goal.
Why bother working out at all? Some of the reasons are to get stronger, healthier, better looking. Or, if you’re like me, to stave off the copious amounts of cookies, pie, and chicken wings you ingest.

Why bother building the Body of Christ? If we are going to exhibit God’s love outside of the church, then we need to know ways of putting that love into practice in order to maintain Christ’s unity inside the church. More simply, if we are going to love other people, we need to know how to love each other first.

The Body of Christ is more than a group of worshippers. Worshippers are called to adore. Bodies are made to move. We must exercise our love for one another by working together in acts of service.

If your weight bench is a clothes rack, then you’re not trying to become stronger. If we’re not putting in the work of the faith, then we’re not meeting the goals of the faith: maturity in Christ, unity in faith, and knowing more of the Son.

Some believe that the point of Christianity is to get to heaven. But that’s not the point. We’re not trying to populate heaven, we’re trying to populate the earth with God’s people.

Make your team as strong as it can be.
Since building the Body is a team sport, I want us to be intentional with each other when we interact.

  • Be Humble: Let someone else’s need go before your own.
  • Be Gentle: Even though we would never admit it in our aggressive culture, gentleness brings peace. Verbal and physical violence may cause another to submit to your will, but gentleness causes you and others to submit to the will of Christ. So, talk softly. Touch softly. A scream and a slap might cause a person to do what you want, but it will also drive them away. A whisper and a caress will also get you what you want and it will cause others to lean in closer.
  • Be Patient: Patience is waiting quietly. A patient person gives others plenty of time, even when it seems long.
  • Bear Each Other in Love: This is my favorite one because it implies disagreement. You don’t have to “bear with” someone that you agree with. You just agree with them. You have to bear with someone with whom you disagree. Another way to put this might be to say to “tolerate and deal with each other.” But the kicker here is that we are called to “bear with each other in love.” That means when we disagree, even extremely, we all need to just chill out a little bit. Calm down, don’t be in a fuss or in a hurry to get your own way. Be kind to each other.

You might think a person who loves like that is weak, but you’d be wrong. Jesus exhibited every single one of these to perfection and I don’t think any of us think he was weak. And if we are going to grow in maturity as his disciples and know more of him, then we need to start behaving toward others the way he did.

Being humble, gentle, patient, and kind in face of disagreement is what makes of unified in our faith in Jesus. We are called to unity not uniformity. Unity in Christ is all of us following Jesus and doing everything we do in accordance with his way. Uniformity would be all of us looking and acting the same way while we do it. We are all called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, but no one ever said it had to be a single file line.

The bottom line is this: when you love the Body of Christ, you will work to build the Body of Christ.

Pastors Can Dance??

Some can. Thanks to my experience growing up in inner city Cleveland I can say I’ve got more moves than many of my colleagues.

I attended Cleveland School of the Arts and was in the ethnic minority. Being a shy and awkward grain of salt in a pepper shaker usually meant that I chose to be a bouncer at the school dances rather than an active participant. Until my senior year that is.

At our September Senior Slam that year, I was approached by some of my friends who simply stated that it would be a tragedy for me to go my whole school career surrounded by black kids and not learn to dance. The exact sentiment was much more colorful than that but you get the picture. (NOTE: I recognize that this story relies on a racial stereotype, but the interaction is true. It happened. It was their sentiment. Not mine. I’m glad they did it!)

So, they dragged me away from my spot at the door and taught me some basic moves. At every dance for the rest of the year, a group of friends would get me out on that dance floor and teach me how to use what God gave me. We had a blast!

That brings me to a recent clergy gathering I attended with my wife.

After dinner, a very small group of us got out on the dance floor. With the exception of yours truly, we were a perfect picture of stiffness and awkward gyrations. I mean, it was a sight. But we were having fun and that’s all that mattered.

Except that we noticed the staff at the venue gathered in a corner pointing a giggling at our struggle to make our bodies move with grace. In that moment, I was faced with two options: embarrassment or empowerment. I chose the latter.

I stepped across the dance floor toward the group of snickering service workers and told them that we would love for them to join us out on the floor. They were stunned. I think they expected me to rip them a new one or ask to speak with a supervisor. Nope.

I asked the whole group to join us…and two of them did. It was great! We all got in a circle and did different moves. As each person would introduce a new move, the rest of the group followed suit. Soon the whole group was doing the same weird move. It was quite a sight.

Another interesting thing happened. Those who hung back dispersed. Apparently, it’s a lot harder to make fun of your friends than it is a group of strangers. In that moment, that group realized that they weren’t making fun of awkward dance moves. They were picking on people having fun. They realized that they were bothered by the carefree spirit of others because it attacked their own insecurities. I guess it wasn’t fun for them anymore.

There are lots of lessons to take from this situation. Two I think are particularly useful for our time are these:

When you find yourself tearing someone else down, ask yourself if you are really upset/bothered by what they are doing. If yes, then why? Is it really them or is it something inside of you that feels inadequate?

If you find yourself being made fun of or picked on, don’t stop what your doing to please the mob. Instead, invite them to be a part of the weirdness. You might be surprised at the response.

Pondering Principles – Animal Life

Care about the animals of the world? So do United Methodists! Check out the Animal Life portion of our Social Principles here.

There are a couple of things I could talk about in this section, but here is the one that stuck out the most as I read and re-read the short paragraph on Animal Life:

We encourage commitment to effective implementation of national and international governmental and business regulations and guidelines for the conservation of all animal species with particular support to safeguard those threatened with extinction.

Social Principles – Animal Life

It was the “those threatened with extinction” bit that got me. As I pondered this statement, it got me thinking about all of the countless species of animals that have gone extinct throughout the course of history. Animals go extinct. It is simply a part of the natural order of existence. So, why should I care about them?

The reason why we should care about the staggering rate of animal extinction these days is that those animals are not being wiped from the earth by natural means. They are being taken off the map by us. Our misuse of this planet and its resources have cause unfathomable devastation to the ecosystems and the animals living in them.

The apathy about this is so strong that, in the days since it was announced, I haven’t heard one friend or acquaintance of mine mention the silent extinction of giraffes taking place. Not even on Facebook, the platform for armchair activists. Folks, we all should care much, much more than we do about the extinction of animals, not because we can stop them from disappearing, but because we can stop being the reason for it.