#LettersForMyBoys – 1

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

Today, I begin a walk through the book of Proverbs. Proverbs was a book of everyday wisdom that parents, usually fathers to sons in the original context, used to prepare their children to be functioning members of their communities. In so many ways, Proverbs provides wisdom we can sink our teeth into even if we are not Christians. That is why I love it so much.

The purpose of this series of posts is to offer my personal reflections on these pearls and how they have (or have not) had an impact on my life. My greatest hope is that my sons can one day look back on this series and find something inspiring and useful while navigating the struggles that they will inevitably face.

Proverbs 1:7-9 (The VOICE Translation)

Let us begin. The worship of the Eternal One, the one True God, is the first step toward knowledge.
    Fools, 
however, do not fear God and cannot stand wisdom or guidance.

So, my son, pay attention to your father’s guidance,
    and do not ignore what your mother taught you—

Wear their wisdom as a badge of honor and maturity,
    as 
fine jewelry around your neck.

I know that this passage assumes that moms and dads are going to offer positive guidance, that they aren’t going to go off the rails and teach their children to snort lines of cocaine or something. Sadly, this isn’t the case. My own experience screams out against this thinking.

The majority of the wisdom I gained from my parents was of the “I’ll show you what not to do” variety. Even though that kind of wisdom sucks to obtain, I think it tends to stick with me in ways that positive reinforcement does not. Maybe that is just me. Maybe I’m broken that way.

I hope my sons are not similarly afflicted. Probably the most noticeable impact my upbringing had on my current parenting is how hard I try not to be my parents. With the exception of one big area (any generosity I have I learned from my step-dad), I have taken great care to try not to teach my boys what I have learned.

It is hard and I fail a lot. But I try…and maybe that is the wisdom my boys will glean from me:

Boys, 

Try to be better even if you fail a lot. Learn something from every failure so that one day you can look back and know it was worth all the pain. Love  wisdom enough to know that you know very little in the grand scheme of  things. That way you will always be open to being wrong and open to change in the places that need changing.

Love, Dad.

How do we know if we are disciples of Jesus?

black and gray cross ring
Photo by Miczu on Pexels.com

Well, the simple answer is that we know we are disciples of Jesus if we are emulating him or doing what he did. We know we are his disciples if we have the same heart of compassion and love that he did. We know that we are his disciples if we know where and when to challenge others so that they can keep growing. We know that we are his disciples if we follow in his footsteps.

But that still brings me back around to the question: How do you know if you are a disciple of Jesus? How do you know if you have the same heart? How do you know if you are walking in his wake? How do you know if you are truly emulating him?

You have to get to know him, and you don’t do that just by hearing about him. Knowledge is more that gathering information. Fully knowing requires a relationship. It requires experience. It requires exposure. It requires an insatiable drive to get as close as you can to the source of your desire.

But how can we know Jesus in a relational way? We can listen to preaching, yes, but that’s simply me opening the door and inviting you in for something deeper.

First, if you want to know about Jesus, you need to learn what others have said about him, and that means reading the Bible. Reading the Bible, even if you don’t understand it all, is our primary snapshot of what Jesus was like on this earth. You don’t have to believe that everything in there is literally true, but you cannot fully know Jesus without knowing what other people knew of him.

Second, if you want to know Jesus, you need to talk to him. That means praying. Did you know that you can talk directly to Jesus? And that he can talk back? There are lots of different understandings of how prayer works and what affect prayer has on us and the world. But, one thing is certain: prayer is the primary way we have to talk to Jesus. And, if we just shut up and listen for a while, we might just hear him talking back.

Third, we need to make the friends of Jesus our friends. That means spending time with other followers of Jesus in community, in study, and in service. We can learn a lot about Jesus by learning from others like us. We can build each other up and hold each other accountable just as his original disciples did.

Finally, we can learn a lot about Jesus by hanging out with people who are not his followers. I read a great quote recently, “Do like Jesus did and spend so much time with sinners that it ruins your reputation with religious folks.” We can learn a LOT about Jesus by not being so uppity about our Christianity, and that means being with people who are totally different than us.

So, are you a disciple of Jesus? Do you truly know him? Are you really in a relationship with him?

If we do not know ourselves, then we cannot identify the places where we can grow.

We cannot know ourselves or be known as the Church until we truly know Jesus. They will know we are Christians by our love. They will know we are followers of Christ by our relationship to him. They will know that we are Christians by our loving relationships with them. The will know because we will know who we are and whose we are.

We know and are known as disciples of Jesus by how we relate to him.

Being Known is Key in Communication

Why is being known important?

stranger things letter tiles
Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

If we are not known, who is going to bother listening to us? How often do we let strangers help us? My wife was walking down the street the other day and someone pulled up alongside of her and offered to give her a ride. She wisely declined. She didn’t know the man. And so, she kept going the way she was and a little more warily at that.

We fear what we do not know. But, knowing is more than accumulating information and facts. Facts can be skewed. Information can be lies. Knowledge can give us comfort and power, but Jesus’ power came from his submission to God.

So, then, if knowledge is power, and we want to be like Jesus, then our power comes through sacrificial and loving relationships in which we submit to the needs of others. Being known requires a relationship to something or someone. We are not known in isolation, compared to nothing.

We know things by how we relate to them. We are known by our relationships to things as well.

How are we personally known? How are we known as a church in this community? Who knows us? Why does it matter? What happens when we are known? Does it change anything?

As Christians and as Church, it is only in relation to Jesus that we can be truly known. And that is both for good and ill. If our relationship to Jesus is healthy and ongoing, then people will notice. If our relationship to Jesus is broken or opposing, they will notice more.

What we say about a relationship and how it actually plays out are not always the same thing. Think about any relationship. I can say that I am married, but if I’m running around on my wife, then my heart and my actions are not in line with what I say. And everyone can see that.

In the same way, if we claim to be in a relationship with Jesus, if we say we are Christians, and yet we are not honoring that relationship with our hearts and our actions, then we are lying and the world can see that!

That does more damage than not claiming to believe at all. That is why how we know ourselves and how the world knows us is important. Put another way, the way we self-identify and the way the world identifies us makes a huge difference on our ability to do or say anything for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.

How people know us and how we know ourselves has a huge impact on what we are able to communicate.

Don’t Do This Alone

We do not have to do this work alone. Jesus sent his disciples out as partners.

two persons hand shake
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Part of the reason Jesus sends them out as pairs, aside from it being a customary Jewish practice at that time, is that without any other provisions he is making his disciples dependent on relational awareness. They had to learn teamwork. They got to hold each other accountable.

Most importantly, they were strengthened by the presence of another person. It is scary to go it alone, especially when we are doing things that make us really uncomfortable.

Snow Cones.

You might not know this about me, but I have fairly severe social anxiety when it comes to meeting people. This is especially true if I have to be the one who has to reach out and make the introduction. Some people told me that I would need to get over that if I ever wanted to be a pastor. I disagreed.

We don’t have to be good at everything, and I’m just really bad at making introductions. So, what have I done to get around that? I don’t go alone! I have someone else introduce me or I have them bring people to me and break the ice. Or, for some weird reason, when I’m in a group, I am brave enough to reach out.

CASE IN POINT: During VBS one year, we gave out snow cones outside of our main doors. Many kids playing the adjecent park came to get them. There were also a couple of adult guys passing by the one day. They took some snow cones and one used our restroom. There must have been at least 10 of us still standing there while they were eating their cones. I just began talking to them and asking questions about who they were, if they were part of the village, ect. Turns out, Mike and Nate actually live right around the corner from me in Boardman and were visiting their friend Chris who lives in the village. I would NEVER have talked to them if I had been alone.

I strongly encourage us not to try to do this stuff alone. Following Jesus was never meant to be a solo mission.

Changing the World Without Much

We don’t need much to change the world around us.

city man person people
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We don’t need to be rich to be nice.

We don’t need to have lots of money to share what we have.

We don’t need to wait until we have a certain amount of money in our general fund to think big.

There is a video on YouTube where this young man gives a homeless person $100 as a social experiment. We can debate all day on the ethics of using people as unwilling guinea pigs in social experiments, but here is the point. Instead of taking that $100 and being selfish with it, that homeless man who had ratty clothes and had admittedly had nothing to eat in two days, he went to a grocery store and spent the whole amount on food. He then took the food back to a community of other homeless people hanging out in a park. AND HE PASSED IT ALL OUT only keeping a small amount for himself.

This man did not have a lot. He was in a position where he could have been completely selfish with the money and not one person would have blamed him. Yet, he took the little that he had and he shared it….he changed the lives of the entire homeless community…if even for a day.

We don’t need much to change the world around us…and we have more than many churches.

Loving Without Reservation

We should convince others that they have lives worth transforming by helping them cast out their demons, by healing them of their sickness, by loving them without reservations.

sunset-hands-love-woman

There is a quote by Max Lucado that reads, “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”

So, how do we convince others they have a life worth transforming into the likeness of Jesus? We start by loving them just as they are.

We don’t tell them they need to change right off. Again, we show them what a changed life looks like.

We don’t tell them they are sick and need healing right off. We show them what a whole heart feels like.

And we don’t tell them that were they are is the wrong place to be. We live with them and love them where they are until they realize that there is something better in this world.

Prime example: I’ve heard about a halfway house that has been operating in my community for over a year now, but it just blew up on the community Facebook page a few months ago. Lots of people crying out that “those people” aren’t welcome in our community. We shouldn’t have a facility like that in our backyard.

I hate to break it to you, folks. But, our community has just as many people struggling with addiction as any place else. Instead of casting these people aside and saying, “not in my house,” we should be saying, “what can I do to help?” How can we help you back on your feet? How can we love you like we know God does? How can we help you love yourself like God does?

You see, it is only going to people and loving them like God does that they will ever internalize that love for themselves.

Maybe one of the reasons that we find it so hard to love others like God does is because we are not fully convinced that God loves us all that much.

We Must Show a Changed Life

you are

If we are going to have any credibility with the people outside of our particular social circles, then we have to show them that what we believe has truly changed the way we behave. This is as true of the church as it is with any where else in life.

For example, we can’t say we believe in a God of love and then turn around and act like jerks! I mean, we can, but then people are going to just think that our God is a big jerk. If we’re being completely honest, isn’t that how a lot of US think of God? For example, why does God allow kids to starve to death? Sounds like a dick move to me.

**Don’t worry! I’ll address #FakeGods in a later post.**

For now, let us focus on how following Jesus example should work. If we are a people that believe following Jesus transforms lives, then we MUST show it.

If we are people that believe that being disciples of Jesus means becoming more like him, them we need to show it. We are the only Bible some people will ever read and our lives are the only Jesus some people will ever encounter. THAT is how critical showing a changed life is.

We are not going to show change if we are not living change. At a minimum, we should be worshipping, praying, serving, and giving with each other all the time wherever we are. Those action are not reserved for Sunday morning. Those actions should be automatic reflexes of being alive in Jesus Christ!

Heal The World

pexels-photo-433267

I can’t recall one healing miracle in the Bible where a belief that Jesus could do it was absent. Sometimes Jesus initiated the healing. More often, people went to or were brought to Jesus. In the case of the bleeding woman, she didn’t even ask for healing but got it just by touching Jesus’ robe.

The one thing all healing miracles have in common is that someone, sometimes many someones, BELIEVED that Jesus could and would make them whole again. They opened themselves up to ridicule, failure, and disappointment. They were full of fear, but Jesus tells them “go in peace and stay well” and “It’s all right. Don’t be afraid…JUST BELIEVE.”

pexels-photo-1128843

There is one danger here: It sounds a little like if a person doesn’t believe enough, they will not be healed. This is a dangerous idea because it puts our ability to be healed in our hands. God can heal us whether we believe it can or not. But Jesus never forced anyone to do anything nor did he force healing upon anyone.

It’s not the amount of our belief that will heal us. It is THAT we believe that we can be healed that tells God that we are open for him to work. This isn’t just a biblical idea. It works everywhere. The saying you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped comes from this idea. When someone doesn’t want to be helped, they are emotionally closing themselves off to the possibility, and our physical bodies will respond to what our mind tells it to be true.

So, opening yourself up to the belief that you can be healed is the first step.

pexels-photo-1451361-1

Jesus has the power to heal the wounds of the afflicted, mend the broken parts of us, bring light into our darkest places, and bring life from death!

Believe that God will touch the places that we never even talk about and heal those.

Believe that God will heal your broken marriage.

Believe that God will mend your estranged relationship with a family member or friend.

Believe that God will heal your wallet! No, God’s not going to make you rich, but God will teach you how to be a better steward of what you’ve already been given.

Believe that God will take a veteran suffering from PTSD, one who is on the brink of suicide and heal the psychological and emotional damage that most of us can never even imagine.

pexels-photo-416443

Believe that God will heal your shattered heart if you’ve lost a person most precious to you.

Believe that God could take a self-harming, self-loathing, broken, battered, and lost teenage boy and turn him into your Pastor!

Friends, BELIEVE that God CAN AND WILL heal your community, you, me, and everyone who encounters Jesus Christ through us!

A Bit of How I Got Here.

One of the main questions I had to ask myself when deciding to write a blog was, “Why would a bunch of strangers want to read what I have to say?” I still haven’t come up with a great answer. Instead of worrying about that, I have decided to let you get to know me as much as this platform allows.

What follows is the first of what I believe will be many posts about my past, about who I am and how I got here. My hope is that in getting to know me you will read the other posts on this blog with a greater understanding of why I have come to the conclusions that I have.

img_3509

So…..here we go.

When I was 8, my parents separated, and I went to live primarily with my father because my mom could not discipline me.

When I was 10, my father died, and I was thrust back into my mother’s home. That was the first time I got a D on my report card.

When I was 12, my grandfather – the only other male role model in my life at that time – died of issues related to alcohol.

My mother remarried that year an Irishman with all the stereotypes that come alongwith it. Bythe end of that year, I had to start to learn how to take care of my sisters and I because alcohol and drugs had taken us off my parent’s radar. I got my first F thatyear.

At 13, I started dressing in a long black trench coat, carving words of hate and anger into my forearms, and listening to almost no one. I was introduced to the kid who would become my best friend that year as well as a teacher that would teach me how to love reading, but neither of them had hooks in me yet. I failed some classes that year.

In 8th grade, things at home were beyond horrible. Sometimes, there was no food to eat. There was always some kind of abuse going on. I didn’t escape it when I went to school either because I made myself a target by being SO different from everyone else and getting violently angry when people let me know it.

At the age of 15, I tried to hang myself, but my excess body weight and my lack of knowledge about the laws of physics prevented that from succeeding. FYI, if you think getting to the point where suicide is a good idea is the worst a person can feel, it isn’t. Realizing that you are such a failure at life that you can’t even kill yourself correctly is way, way worse.

Shortly after that, my best friend invited me to church. Oh, he wasn’t a Christian. He didn’t want to go anymore than I did. But, his parents wereseeking marital counseling at this church (which didn’t work btw), and he wanted to have someone to talk to during the sermons.

I sat outside of the sanctuary that first Sunday…I ended up going there for the next 4 years and giving my life to Jesus (sort of…not really) when I was 18.

Suffice it to say, God used that church and the people in it to start healing a broken, “Satan-worshipping”, angry, self-harming teenage boy.

I didn’t believe it could happen. But someone did.

img_5275

The pastor of the church, who is still a great friend and mentor to me, he believed.

The adults in that church believed the Jesus who led them to offer me food when I was hungry and a place to stay when things got too bad would heal my heart while they healed my hunger and safety needs.

The other teens might have believed harder than anyone that I could be like them: fun, passionate about friendship, a little weird, and on FIRE for Jesus.

They all believed that Jesus could heal me and make me whole again even if they didn’t always know how or when it would happen.