Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Choices

choices 2“I never met a situation where I didn’t have a choice.” – heard on a TV commercial tonight.

This statement may not be absolutely true for every person in every possible situation, but for most everybody in most every situation they find themselves in, this statement is true to the core.

“He made me do it.”

“It’s her fault.”

“You make me sooo mad.”

“I just couldn’t say no.”

“You don’t know what it was like growing up in my family.”

“I’m just so tired of this situation.”

“What do you expect?”

“The pressure just got to me.”

“Come on.  You would have done the same thing.”

I can remember times of thinking in my heart, when I was younger, “I couldn’t help myself”, while trying to justify a poor decision I had just made.  Really?  I couldn’t help myself?  Lie.

There are always other options.  Sometimes they are not great ones, but other possibilities exist.  Better choices.  Better decisions.   How you find them and how you make them is probably another story, but they are out there.

Today, in our continuing study through Romans, we arrived at the beginning of chapter 6:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  6:1-2 NIV

or how about this version:

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there?  6:1-2 MSG

Man, talk about getting down to basics.  There has been a big stink out in the greater church world in recent weeks about the difference between a sin and a mistake.   I’m not joining the fracas.  It’s really pretty simple.

You always have a choice.

Bad choices lead to mistakes.

Mistakes will lead to sin.

Paul’s answer to sin?  Stop it.  Quit taking advantage of God’s grace because you know He’ll forgive you.

Better yet?  Stop being a slave to poor choices and start exercising your freedom to move beyond self-centeredness.

That’s the way people go.

advicedo you like to tell people what to do?

you know…you look at their situation and see changes they need to make.  or they come to you for advice or help and you are willing to give it.  or you see the mess they are making and you have this urge to explain to them why they have the mess…and then you are more than happy to give them the plan to clean it up.

i’m pretty much that guy.  yeah.  i’m a people-helper by my trade, but it also seems to be something i come by naturally.  people tend to call me when they want to talk…or when they’re facing difficulty…or when they need help working through a problem.

here are some things the bible gives me license to do:

  • teach
  • counsel
  • exhort
  • rebuke
  • encourage
  • reprove
  • admonish
  • preach
  • warn
  • urge

mmm.  quite an arsenal.  and after all these years, i’m locked and loaded most all the time.  you want advice?  i’m more than ready to give it.  you want counsel?  i’m your dude.  you need a plan for your life?  most of the time, you don’t even need to ask for it.  i’ve already got it in my hip pocket…ready to unload my wisdom at a moment’s notice.

but over the past 10-15 years, i’ve learned some things that have changed how i go about handing out my pearls.

firstyou never know the whole story.  people’s lives are complicated.  you may think you know enough to give exactly the right kind of advice or rebuke, but you most likely don’t.  there are details missing from your insight.  geez.  there are probably details missing from the angle of the person you’re trying to help.  and those missing details may just change everything.       

second…and this sounds very hopeless…but people are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  i’ve tried laying in front of train wrecks that are about to happen.  you want to know the outcome?  most of the time, i just become a casualty in the inevitable wreck.  look, nobody (that i’ve ever met) wants to choose sadness and heartache.  nobody (that i know) decides to get up in the morning and make a mess of their life.   but hear this:  most everybody i know truly believes they know what’s best for their own lives.

they may be confused in the moment.  they may feel conviction of sin.  they may know the pain their decisions are probably going to produce.  they may even have other options available.  but they often feel powerless to grasp a better way.  they may simply default to a path they know.  they may be too afraid to walk a higher road or one with a completely unknown ending.  your advice or counsel may make perfect sense to you…but to them, it just doesn’t compute.  so they just trust their own judgment.

(there are some people who are so wracked by depression or anxiety or fear that they feel powerless to make wise decisions, in spite of being presented with healthy options.  people in this condition need more…sometimes way more…than advice from a friend or padre.)

third, people are going to make bad decisions…imo…but god is in the business of redemption.  when i read the bible…as well as when i look at history…there is no question that god sees the very worst of human decision-making and doesn’t turn his back.  he doesn’t run away.  he keeps his promise to never leave.  jesus’ command to “go and sin no more”  begins fresh every day.

and i’m a hypocrite in this area.  i love god’s patience with me.  i love that he redeems my bad decisions.  i love that he never turns his back on me, in spite of my crummy attitudes and selfish motivations and impure thoughts and sinful decisions.  but i’m not always happy when he is that gracious to others.  i want to see some consequences.  i want to see payback.  i want retribution.  man, my hypocrisy stinks…

fourth, when people don’t follow my advice (especially when they have asked for it),  they are not rejecting me.  maybe my presence was what they needed…more than my words.  maybe they just needed to know they weren’t alone.  maybe it wasn’t rejection, at all.   maybe my insight was just part of the plan.

a few weeks ago, i studied the concept of encouragement.  encouragement is not kind words or thoughtfulness or praise or recognition.  encouragement means to carry another person’s burden.  to share the load.  to shoulder the weight.  and sometimes that means to shoulder the weight of a bad decision.  sometimes it means to quietly watch as someone chooses to struggle.  sometimes it means to live close enough to pick up the pieces.

i will never stop reproving and rebuking and exhorting and teaching.  i will not stop warning of impending train wrecks and implosions that lay in wait just around the corner.  but i cannot…and will not…be responsible for other’s choices.  people have to do that for themselves.

that’s the way people go.

thanks, ron.

Making choices

i got up this morning thinking about choices.

there are some who believe that our choices don’t carry eternal significance, because we are walking a path that was pre-ordained for us to follow before time began…that god knows our steps and that he planned, in advance, where we would go and what we would do.

some believe that even though we have all been predestined to salvation or damnation, god doesn’t necessarily pull the strings in the daily and trivial decisions we make each day…such as which restaurant we eat at or the kind of car we drive.

me?  i believe our choices matter.  every one of them.  i believe our choices carry eternal significance.  i believe our choices carry immediate consequences.  i believe our choices can carry temporary or long-term results.   in short,  i believe our choices matter and we will be held accountable for what we do.

if we choose wrongly, we don’t get to say, “that must be what god had planned for me”…or even, “the devil made me do it.”

we stand before god, and others, fully responsible for our decisions.

i just finished watching a dangerous motorcycle pursuit on live television here in southern california.  it was a pretty dramatic apprehension.  it will be all over national tv tonight.  and i’m sitting here thinking,  “this dude’s got a serious screw loose.  why is he doing this?  didn’t he realize this thing was going to end badly?”

or maybe he was just searching for his fifteen minutes.   either way,  he made the decision.  and he bears the consequence.

can i quit my job?  yes.  can i move back to california?  yes.   can i walk away from my marriage?  yes.  can i buy a new car?  yes.  can you stop going to church?  you bet.  can you turn your back on the good things of god?  of course.  people do it all the time.

will there be consequences for each one of those decisions?  every time.

can you predict what the consequences will be?  for some choices, definitely.  for other choices, the results will just have to play out over time.  but rest assured, what you choose matters.

we live in a world where we suffer the effects or experience the joy of decisions.  mine…and yours…as well as the collective choices of others we share life with.   just ask some families in colorado.

make good choices today.

Marriage Tuesday

i was reading through some old  “marriage tuesday” posts this evening.   the following is one of the first that i ever published.   it’s still one of my favorites…one that i need to hear every day…for every area of my life,  not just marriage:

i think one of the first places where marriages can get off track is with a faulty understanding of love.

for the last  thirty years, or so, i have asked the same question to dozens and dozens of young couples who have come to me to help them prepare for marriage.  it’s a simple question, but i’ve got to ask it, and the dialogue usually goes something like this:

“why do you want to get married?”

“because we love each other.”

“how do you know you love each other?”

“we just know.”

“but how do you know?”

“well, we can’t explain it, but we just know it.”

great.

stop the presses.  here’s an insight that deserves to be passed on.  love is not a feeling.

passion.  anger.  dread.  romance.  infatuation.  worry.  stress.  sympathy.  lust.  exhilaration.  emptiness.  you can make a pretty good case for all of those being feelings.

but not love.

i learned a long time ago that love is not a feeling.  love is a choice.  love is a decision.  love is an action.  love is not words.  love is not an impulse.  love does not tingle and send chills up your back.  romance does.  emotion does.  sensuality does.

love?   it simply does the right thing.

love is a decision to act in the best interest of your partner.  love is choosing to do what your partner needs.  love is looking at the situation and saying, “this is not about what i want…it’s about what you need.”

i’m not saying there shouldn’t be feelings in a marriage.  far from it.  i think our marriages should be full of emotion and passion and warmth and over the top happiness. but that’s not the foundation we build our partnerships on.

we build on love.  the kind of love that moved god to send his son to redeem the world.  the kind of love that motivated jesus to go to the cross.  the kind of love that digs deep, stays long, presses on, runs on empty, doesn’t give up, endures through darkness, sees possibilities, and draws lines that are never crossed.

now that’s what marriages need.

husbands, do you love your wives?  wives, do you love your husbands?

You are who you want to be

*i wrote this six years ago.   i read it tonight by accident.   still amazingly true…

fred smith was a businessman,  a church leader and a mentor to countless other christian leaders.   he was an author and a speaker who has passed on his wisdom and sage advice to multiple generations.   he died several years ago,  at the age of 91.  even in his advanced age, he was still writing and operating a web site call “breakfast with fred”inspiring a new generation of church leaders to excellence.

i would like to grow old as he has.   here is a quote that he once wrote:

I have learned that people are the way they are because they want to be that way.  Now, I haven’t always believed this.  In fact, when I started out in life I wanted to be a social worker and I became extremely disillusioned with people.  Now I am totally convinced that each of us is the way we are because we want to be that way.  We rationalize and give all kinds of reasons that this isn’t true, but bottom line —you are choosing to be who you are.  When you have an opportunity to change and you don’t take it, you are deciding to be who you are.  And, of course, when you grow through challenging yourself, you are becoming who you want to be.  People want to be the way they are.

do you agree?  after all my years of pastoring,  counseling,  people helping,  team building and watching people become the people they are,  i am convinced that fred is right.   i realize that our sinful nature and the battle of the inner man that paul writes about in romans 7 is a profound and powerful mystery,   but this simple quote is legitimate and real.    raw…but real.

this is one of the greatest quotes…and greatest truths…of all time.

I don’t care what people think

i was watching a television show this afternoon and this pretty popular reality show personality came on to hype her new show.   she closes the end of her spot with these words:   “…and i don’t care what people think.”

wow.   it sounds so….  mature.   independent.   confident.   the way that strong,  robust,  hip people are encouraged to act and think.

when my boys were little,  i would pray with them at night and one of my regular prayers was that god would help them say “no” to people who would want to lead them down the wrong path…and confidence to be good examples to others.

i wanted them to stand strong.   i wanted them to follow god and not the crowd.   i wanted them to be able to discern the difference between good and evil and right from wrong.   i wanted them to have the character to be the only one,  if the situation called for it.

there is something very empowering when a person has the ability to withstand the influence of others.   to stand strong.   to stand alone.   to stand as an individual.   to fly in the face of popular opinion and live being able to disregard what other people think.

hey…there’s something kind of cool…something kind of rogue…something kind of  counter-culture…about marching to your drum.

but the i-don’t-care-what-people-think  attitude can also be incredibly self-centered.   it stands in absolute opposition to the life that we are called to live as followers of christ…lives that are totally aware of the needs and feelings and perspectives of those we rub elbows with.

what we do affects others.   what we do has consequences.   our choices are not made in vacuums.

just because we have the freedom to do what we want to do without caring what others think,  doesn’t mean we should.