Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Locker Room Talk

First things first: this is not a political post.  After the most recent debate, I think I’ve had enough of politics to for a while.  This is a post, however, about “locker room talk,” something we’ve heard much about over the past several days. 

To objectify a woman … to reduce her to an object for sexual gratification … to use power, position, or authority in any way to take advantage a woman … to demean a woman with words, thoughts, or actions … to be caught saying something horrific behind someone’s back … to lie … it’s all wrong.  It’s selfish. It’s repulsive.  It’s sin.  And it’s, at times, what I have done.

You see, if I’m being honest, there have been times in my life when I have looked at women with lust.   Any time I have done so, I have reduced a woman to an object.  Lust dehumanizes.  It objectifies.  It takes someone made in the image of God and reduces that person to an image for sexual gratification.  My heart breaks over the fact that there have been times when I have done this in my life. 

If I’m being honest, there have been times when I have talked very badly about people behind their back.  I’ve made fun of people.  I’ve gossiped.  I’ve allowed my anger to get the best of me.  I’ve used my words to beat up another person and they didn’t even know it. I grieve over the fact that the reason those types of things have come out of my mouth is because those types of things were finding a home in my heart. 

The words of Donald Trump horrified me and yet they also reminded me that there have been many things that I have thought or many things that I have said that would cause me great shame if they were ever brought in to the open.  I think we all have a tendency to “hide.”  That goes all the way back to the beginning. Genesis 2 tells us that Adam and Eve were in perfect relationship with each other and with God … they were both naked and they felt no shame. But, then in Genesis 3 we see sin and brokenness enter our world.  Their private world had now become public and, both Adam and Even immediately hid. As God searched for them in the Garden, He called out “Where are you?”  Adam answered “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Exposure created a sense of fear.  And, where fear is found, shame is not far behind.

So, we keep our sinful thoughts hidden.  We keep our sinful words private.  We keep our deepest fears secret.   It’s easy to think that as long as those things are not public, we’re OK.  But, the truth is that our sinful thoughts, our sinful words, our deepest fears … they’ve all been made public on the cross.  You see, the cross just points out what nobody likes to admit it … the fact that you and I don’t have it all together.  There are times I find myself thinking things I know are absolutely wrong … there are times I find myself saying things that are absolutely sin … there are times I find myself doing things that I wish I didn’t do.  Now, I can deny it, but reality will eventually catch up with me.  I can try to hide it by comparing myself to someone else who is worse and say, “Well, I’m certainly not perfect, but at least I’m not THAT bad.”  But, that doesn’t deny the fact that there is probably someone else out there who is “better” than I am and maybe they are comparing themselves to me and feeling pretty darn good about themselves!  Or, I can admit my need for grace.  What leads us to freedom and transformation is the ongoing reminder of our need for grace.  I can hide my struggles, but when I do I hide from grace.

I know I’m not alone in this.  In Romans 7:15 – 19 and 24, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The freedom Jesus offers is the freedom to stop pretending we are anything but a sinner in need of a Savior. In other words, when I trust in Jesus’ accomplishment and not my own, Jesus’ strength and not my own, Jesus’ track record, not my own … my lustful thoughts, my sinful words, my selfish actions aren’t just outed, they’re forgiven. This is grace.

So, as horrified and offended as I was by the words of Donald Trump, I was reminded once again of the grace I have been shown and my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude.  I am not guiltless, but I’m no longer guilty. Thank You, Jesus!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Help She Didn't Need

A few years ago I shared some amazing advice with my wife … and it was exactly what she DIDN’T need from me at the time.  Without going in to all of the specifics, the advice I shared with her was more for me than it was for her.  You see, she was sharing something painful and I do not like to see my wife in pain.  When my wife hurts emotionally, I hurt.  I feel uncomfortable.  I feel helpless.  I feel angry.  So, as she was sharing her difficulty, I turned it in to a situation that became more about me than about her.  Because I didn’t want to feel what she was feeling, I immediately went in to “fix it” mode.  In essence I was saying, “If you just do what I’m telling you to do, then everything will be fine and you won’t be hurting and by you, I mean me I won’t be hurting.  So, just start feeling better about yourself so I can start feeling better about myself.” 

Yes, I was trying to love my wife, but it was in a way that was best for me and not best for her.  What she needed from me at that point in time was someone to listen  … someone to sit in the hurt with her … someone to simply say, “I’m not even sure what to do right now, but I’m willing to sit here with you even if we never figure out what to do.”  Instead I was unwilling to enter her world right then because doing so would have meant I would have had to experience some hurt as well.  I didn’t want that and it hindered me from loving her well in that moment.  Although loving her well is exactly what I long to do as a husband, I don’t always get that right. 

In Philippians 1:9, the Apostle Paul prays a specific prayer for the people of the Philippian church.  He says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.”  Now, I’m all for that.  It sounds so nice and helpful.  I want to be a loving person and I’m all for love abounding more and more.  But, Paul goes on to say, “with knowledge and all discernment.”  Wait a minute.  You mean I can’t just love?  I have to know and discern HOW to love?  I can’t just love in the way I want to love or in the way that is most convenient for me?  That changes things a bit.

Love is rarely convenient and to truly love will mean I don’t always receive what I want and certainly do not always do what I want.  Basically what Paul is praying is that God would help them to be able to look at the people around them and to be able to know and discern what their real needs are and to love them in the ways they most need to be loved in that moment. This is much easier said than done … which is why we pray. 

I find myself very willing to enter the life of another on my terms.  I’ll give what I want to give or love how I want to love.  But, doing that is like giving a thirsty person a piece of chocolate.  Chocolate is good.  It’s actually my favorite type of candy.  And, I can feel good about myself for giving them something, especially if that something is really sweet.  But, chocolate … even really good chocolate … is not what a thirsty person needs in their moment of thirst. 

So, one way we can partner with each other is by asking God to not just help us love but to help us know how to best love those He has placed and will place in our lives.  What do they need most in the moment?  What do they need most moving forward?  What will help them to best recognize the grace of God working in their lives?  Sometimes what a person needs most is a listening ear and other times it’s a gentle (or maybe not so gentle) rebuke.  Sometimes what they need is a helping hand and other times it’s a willingness to step back and watch them learn how to work through a struggle on their own.  Life is complex … people even more so.  This means there is no “one size fits all” way to help people and enter their lives.  We need help from God to know and discern how He best wants to use us in the lives of others. 

Jesus, you say that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Your disciples. (John 13:35)  Knowing that, I pray that Your love would overwhelm me more and more each day so that my love for others would overflow more and more.  Help me to know and see and discern the best way to love those you have placed and will place in my life. Holy Spirit, empower me to love beyond my own capabilities and give power that enables me live a life that is pure and blameless.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

God Is for Me

"This I know, that God is for me." (Psalm 56:9b)

"God is for me."  Why is every word important?  Let's start with the first.  GOD is for me.  Not your big brother.  Not your boss.  Not the government.  God is for you.  This God who never slumbers or sleeps; this God who is able to make you stand faultless in His presence with great joy.  This God who the Apostle Paul would write about, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has in store, what He's promised to those who love Him." GOD is for us.

God IS for me. The word "is" is decisive.  It means that God doesn't run hot and cold.  It doesn't mean that some days He's for me and some days He's not for me."  This means God IS for me.  There was a time in history where God comes to this planet as one of us and willingly gives His life for our sin and then calls us into relationship with Himself.  It's all about grace and love.  If you ever wondered if God is for you, that's the definitive sign.  God IS for you.  

God is FOR me. Have you ever been FOR something?  A political candidate?  A sports team?  It means you're on their side. You want what's best.  You're their advocate.  You do anything on their behalf.  You usually like them.  See, most of us are convinced that God is displeased with us.  He's upset with us somehow.  Not according to what David wrote in Psalm 56:9.  God is on my side.  He's looking out for me.  He wants what is best.  God is FOR me.

God is for ME.  Now, I know this sounds narcissistic.  Please don't read it that way.  It just means that while there's no good reason for Him to be for you, He is.  Broken, fallen, insecure, selfish ... that's us and God's chosen to be for us, for His pleasure.  Not to remove every obstacle of your life, not to make the path smooth and all the rest of that, but to demonstrate His grace through someone like you and me. 


Think about something you're anxious about, something that's fearful for you, something you're not sure of the outcome, something you probably don't have any control over.  God doesn't say to you, "Stop it!"  Instead, He had David write, "God, the God who knows sparrows and hairs and tears ... that God is for me."  In Psalm 56:3, David says, "When I am afraid ..." How about that?  David knows in my human experience there are going to be times when it's out of my control, looks ominous or whatever.  And here's what David says He's going to do.  He says, "I will put my trust in You."  Instead of trusting in my own ability to figure it out, to power through it, I will put my trust, God, in You.  I'll release the control reins of my life in your hands and say, "God, it's OK.  You're in charge, and I will put my trust in You."  God is for me.

taken from a sermon by Mark Norman

Saturday, September 3, 2016

"Yet" Is a Powerful Word

"Yet" is a powerful word
It's the difference between life as a noun
And life as a verb
It's the difference between
Fearing a mistake and learning from one
The difference between going farther
Or quitting before it's done
I can't do it
I can't do it ... yet
Only one will make you stronger
The other will make you quit
With one you move forward
With the other you stand still
One looks for "I can't"
The other looks for "I will"
Three simple letters
Make one powerful word
The distance traveled on the journey
Makes life a verb
Already ... but not yet
Is even more powerful to me
It's who I am in God's eyes now
Yet who I strive to be
It's the hope of heaven
While living on earth
It's knowing whose I am
That turns life in to a verb

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Our church just finished a sermon series entitled "Ordinary" and it was one of the BEST series I have ever heard!  Each week was loaded with encouragement and I walked away more and more amazed at God.  He just seems to enjoy making straight lines with crooked sticks. So, if you're reading this right now and you feel inadequate, unqualified, and like you don't have it all together, you're in good company.  The great news is that God does not need a better version of you in order to work in you and through you.  

If you take the time to watch any of these messages, I think you will see that God is more than willing and able to use our weakness and our neediness to demonstrate His power.  Be encouraged.

Week 1:  No Little People

Week 2:  An Ordinary Con Man

Week 3:  An Ordinary Joe

Week 4:  Beyond Hallmark Mothers

Week 5:  Esther

Week 6:  An Ordinary Outcast

Week 7:  When Our Weakness and God's Strength Collide

Week 8:  We Need More Johns

Week 9:  An Ordinary Dinner Guest

Week 10:  An Ordinary Father

Week 11:  An Ordinary Guy in the Stands

Week 12:  An Ordinary Quitter

Week 13:  An Unloved Sister

Week 14:  These Things Matter

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God Was On the Penske Too

In June of 2014, everything my wife and I had accumulated over 12 years of marriage was squeezed into a 21-foot-long Penske truck.  The two of us were sitting on the floor of an empty home no longer our own ... and we were both in tears.  We were moving, but more than that, we were leaving everything we had ever known.  Our family was forged in that small Indiana town.  Our best memories were made in that now empty house.  I began the process of learning how to be a husband, a dad, and a pastor in that place.  Our closest friendships were staying but we were moving.  We were leaving our comfortable, mid-Western life and moving to an unfamiliar one that could not feel any more different.

If I can be honest, at that moment I was feeling very broken and weak.  In the silence of that empty home, every doubt that had whispered to me in the months prior was now screaming at my soul.  I was afraid, but I was trusting that this was where God was leading.  

With that in mind, we prayed, and then started up the Penske.  That difficult "good-bye" allowed us to experience the beautiful "hello" of God's goodness, God's faithfulness, God's mercy, and God's grace. I could not be more grateful. What we ultimately discovered was that God was on that Penske too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Pace Didn't Shatter Any Records but It Did Shatter Something Else

Lessons are learned every day.  I learned one very early this morning and I hope to always remember it. 

I was on a bit of a tight schedule this morning and I wanted to try to squeeze a three-mile run in before the kids woke up.  I felt good about wanting to do that.  I was up early (showing some personal discipline) … I wanted to exercise (showing a desire to be healthy) … I wanted to run hard (showing some grit and determination).  I felt very good about myself and my agenda for the morning. 

But, then my 3-year-old woke up.  He saw that I was getting ready to go for a run and he really wanted to go with me.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever run with a 3-year-old.  Mine loves to go for runs and we’ve done so before. But he also loves to stop and look at anything that grabs his attention along the way.  It’s as “stop and go” as traffic on the beltway.  And, who doesn’t enjoy that?

My wife looked at me with tender eyes that said, “Awwww.  He wants to run with daddy.  How cute.”  My thoughts were not quite the same.  Honestly, I was not happy.  MY time was limited (showing my inflexibility) … I did not want to “waste” time stopping every 200 yards (showing my impatience) … and after a late night of talking with people and an early morning of having people over to the house, I honestly just wanted time by myself (showing my selfishness). 

I initially said, “No, buddy.  Daddy is just going to go by himself today.”  But, then my wife’s eyes that once said, “Awwww” were now saying, “I know you’re frustrated, but you’re not going to have many opportunities to run with your 3-year-old.  Don’t miss this one.” Who does she think she is anyway? :)

So, I begrudgingly laced up my running shoes and my wife put the most adorable running outfit on our son … and off we went.  My son had a smile on his face the entire way, and I soon did as well.  He sprinted.  He zig-zagged.  He laughed.  He stopped.  He examined whatever caught his attention.  We even passed some walkers who cheered for him along the way.  And, it didn’t take long for God to show me that spending this time with my son was the absolute best thing I could have been doing this morning.  I paused, told God I was sorry for being so selfish and was grateful that my agenda was interrupted by this beautiful moment.  Running on my terms may have strengthened my heart physically, but running on God’s terms softened my heart spiritually … and that will always make me a better man.

The whole thing just reminded me that I can get so caught up in my plans and my agenda and what I think I should be doing (or even what others say I should be doing) that I can easily miss an opportunity to do good to the person God places in front of me.  I can get so busy trying to “do” for God (and feel good and even prideful about what I’m doing) that I can easily miss what God simply calls me to do: love Him … love my neighbor … do good to all people … allow my faith to be expressed through love … to see the character of Jesus fully developed in my life … to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every area of my life.

Our running pace sure didn’t shatter any records, but it did shatter some of the hardness in my heart.  For that I am grateful.  I’m sure it will be a lesson I need to learn and re-learn throughout my life but for now I rest in the fact that God had a plan this morning … and it was a whole lot better than mine.

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