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.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2this is not pretty.

i know of a handful of marriages that are really struggling right now.  a couple of them could make it through the battle.  a couple of them probably won’t.  it’s just the way it is.

the fact that i’m sad about those marriages…or that i seem to have more hope than they do…doesn’t matter at all.  it’s their deal.  it’s their lives.  i wish i could lay in front of the bus, but i can’t.

as i think about marriage tonight, the issues become pretty black and white to me.  i hope this doesn’t come across too calloused.

marriages don’t fail because people are ignorant.  marriages don’t fail overnight.  marriages fail because bad decisions begin to outnumber good decisions.

it starts slowly.  most of the time, it goes unnoticed.  thoughtless responses.  careless acts of self-centeredness.  inconsiderate scheduling.  insensitive reactions.  a lack of sympathy here.  a rash word there.  alone, they mean nothing, really.  but when they start to add up, they begin to chip away.

trust erodes.  kindness is forgotten.  thoughtlessness becomes the norm.

for a time, both are equally to blame.  after a while, one wants the marriage more than the other…and the other has stopped caring.

the damage is done.  the relationship has been redefined by months and years of bad decisions that seemed so innocent and harmless at the time.  and once the foundation has been eroded,  simple thoughtlessness is replaced a hardening of the heart… and barring a transplant, death is imminent.

i’ve seen it many times before.  sadly, i will see it again.

so here’s my advice to you who are young and married:  make right decisions.  you’re not stupid.  you know when you are doing things that hurt or frustrate your partner.  so stop it.  if you’ve already made a bad decision, talk about it and apologize.

rinse and repeat.  everyday.

if you are deep into years of bad decisions and calloused behavior, there’s still hope.   as long as you’re still together, change in your marriage can happen.  if you have already developed a pattern of “going through the motions”, it won’t be easy.  it definitely won’t be pretty.  but there is help around the corner.

you just need to throw up the white flag.

somebody will see it.

i promise.

Life-changers…#5

number 5(this is a recurring weekly series on the fifty events that shaped the course of my life and the person i’ve become along the way.  welcome to my therapy.)

back in 1985, i was quite the youth minister.  at least in my own eyes.

i was thirty years old…i had been happily married for ten years and was the father of two little socal beach boys.  i already had 12 years of youth ministry experience under my belt…the previous five years at a large church with a large youth group in the heart of downtown surf city, usa (huntington beach).

i had a master’s degree in preaching and was well on my way to a second one in marriage and family counseling.  i had taught youth ministry in our local bible college for eight years.  i taught regularly at youth ministry conferences and camps and training workshops.  i had travelled internationally leading kids on short-term mission trips.

i played the guitar and had a decent jump shot from the baseline.  i even had a pretty sweet mullet before it was cool (and then totally un-cool).  i was livin’ the dream.  at least in my own head.

looking back on it, i don’t think i was full of myself, tho i’m sure others may have thought that about me.  i had good friends who were quick to knock me of my self-made pedestal.  my awareness of the presence of god  in my life and world was real and my commitment to kingdom living was pretty authentic.

but i was far from perfect and even farther from the person god had designed me to be.

in early 1986, everything started to change at the church i served.  in the midst of enormous and almost unheard of financial debt, our beloved senior minister and the great patriarch of our church family (and my boss) died unexpectedly.  we were a church family in turmoil.

and i apparently became very marketable, available, and a hot commodity in the youth ministry world.  go figure.

i started getting regular phone calls from churches who thought i could be the next great thing in youth ministry for their church.  i had never received job offers like this before.  to be honest, it was flattering.  the words of praise the people (usually senior pastors) used filled my head.  and started to puff my ego.  (like i said, i was far from what i needed to be).

a common theme among my new suitors was this:  “you need to expand your influence.  come to our bigger church and you’ll have a bigger budget and more kids and more resources.  you’ll be able to speak on a larger platform to a much larger audience.  you’ll have the time to speak and write.  you’ll be able to multiply your life and ministry and leave a legacy that will never be able to happen if you stay where you are at.”

pretty convincing, huh?  especially to an aspiring young world-changer with a tendency to have visions of grandeur and a regular battle with an over-blown sense of importance.  talk about tempting.

have i ever mentioned that i was married to a young, good-looking version of mother teresa?

after one particularly gratifying and ego-boosting phone interview, wanda and i began to talk.  she listened to me embellish the opportunities and possibilities associated with this new potential to move up the ministry corporate ladder.  and then she spoke some simple words that have never left me and shaped our whole approach to life and ministry to this day:

“why do you feel a need to expand your influence?  why don’t we just stay here and be faithful to what god led us to do?  why don’t we just keep doing what we’re doing and leave the expanding and multiplying and influencing to god?”

*silence*

after that moment, saying “no” was easy.  the appeal for big and influential no longer held any interest to me.   even though we ultimately left that church after five more years, it was not because we were drawn to something with eye or ego appeal.  we had simply come to the end of our usefulness.

and it was ok.

man…am i grateful for my wife.

Letters to Holden and Nolan

Holden and Nolan side by side C editedlittle men…

there’s a word you’re going to hear a lot as you grow up.  LOVE.

thousands of songs have been written about it.  love is the theme of thousands of books.  maybe lots more.  pretty much every movie and every television show says the word “love” in it.

you both have heard it hundreds…maybe thousands…of times already.  

but here’s the thing about love.  it’s kind of a confusing word…and we need to be careful how we use it and even more careful how we define it.  otherwise, we’ll really miss the meaning of it altogether.  here’s what i mean.

here’s a list of some of the things you already “love”:

  • sam’s club
  • thomas the train
  • dinosaurs
  • going to pop’s and granny’s house
  • going to papi’s and mimi’s house
  • playing in your backyard
  • 4-berry sundaes
  • making chocolate chip cookies
  • aunt rachel and uncle pj
  • uncle corey and aunt lindsey
  • daisy and lillie (though i’m not sure about your parents anymore…)
  • sunny days
  • dressing up
  • taking baths (that will end soon)
  • being messy (nolan)
  • being neat (holden)
  • going with your daddy to 7-11
  • going to the library with your mommy
  • and you both really love your mommy and daddy

but here’s the thing.  you don’t love your 4-berry sundaes the same “way” you love your mommy.  and you don’t love your daddy the same “way” you love getting messy.  and you don’t love dogs the same way you love people.  

you have to remember there are different kinds of love.

there’s the kind of love that mommies and daddies have for each other.  and a different kind of love that parents have for their kids.  and another kind of love that friends have for each other.  and still another kind of love we have for “things”…that’s totally different than the kinds of love we have for people.  confused?

also, there’s a feeling that people call love, that’s really not love at all.  people call it love because the feeling is pretty powerful, but you have to remember that our feelings can come and go.  they can be affected by the weather and by situations and even by the food we eat.  

that’s why love is more than a happy feeling or a strong emotion.  way more.

there are things your mommy and daddy will do or say to both of you that won’t feel like much like love at all, but i promise you, it will be love that is deep and real.  because, more than anything else,  here is what love really is:  love is doing the very best thing for another person.

it is doing what another person needs.

love is what you do…it’s not the feeling that goes along with it.  love is the decision we make to do right things for people.  love is the choice we make to treat others as good, or even better than we treat ourselves.

and sometimes it will feel really, really good.  and other times it may be really hard for you to do.  but if it’s really love, you’ll do it anyway.  because that’s what love is.

love is what made god let his son, jesus, die for us a long, long time ago.  because it was what we were going to need.

i know it’s confusing, but love is hugging and kissing…and it’s also a spanking and time-out.  love is all those times your mommy and daddy say “yes” to the fun things you want to do…but it’s also the times they say “no”.   love is letting you stay up late…and it’s also getting you up early for school.

love is holding you while you cry after you fall off your bike…and love is also making you get back up on it when you are afraid and don’t want to.  love is keeping promises and not quitting and cleaning your room and helping people that have less than what you have.

and the first time your mommy or daddy says, “…this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”,  don’t say, “yeah, right.”

grow wise, grasshoppers.

papi

Marriage Tuesday

in a lot of ways, marriage is defined by decision-making.

to be more precise, your married life together will be a never-ending avalanche of decisions that you and your partner will have to make…together.  (and since i see marriage as a co-equal partnership and not the traditional hierarchical model, that means the “big” decisions don’t just fall to daddy!) 

in marriage, you will make all sorts of decisions:  to have kids or not…when to have them…cars to buy…jobs to take… houses to purchase… financial investments…insurance…friends to invest in…career paths…continued education… church involvement…and countless subplots that all demand decisions.

and it never ends.

so after nearly four decades of wedded bliss, here is the most important piece of advice i can give you…not just about decision-making…but about the whole direction of your lives together:

don’t try to ever try to make life-family-financial-spiritual decisions of any kind or of any magnitude without being in agreement on where everything is headed.

in other words, don’t ever do the “what?”, without being in agreement on the “why?”.

nobody can  do this for you.  you cannot try to be what some other married couple is like.  you can learn from others or be inspired by others, but you have to arrive at your own “why’s”.  and if you’re married, there’s no time to lose.

personally, i think this is the one area of our life together that has created the most stability and contentment for me and wanda.  from the very beginning of our relationship, we reached agreement on the things that were the most important in our lives.  

we agreed that if we honestly and practically placed the kingdom of god and our service to people for their good and the honor of god first, then that decision could frame and define every other important decision we would make in our lives…

  • where we would live…
  • what kinds of jobs we would take…
  • how we would raise our kids…
  • the kinds of friendships we would invest in…
  • the kinds of houses and cars and stuff we would buy…
  • how much money we would give away…
  • the things we could and would say “yes” to…
  • the things and people and places and opportunities we would say “no” to…
  • how we’ve defined fun and contentment…
  • what we’ve learned to be satisfied with…

people seem pretty amazed to find out that we don’t fight.  ever.  i’m not.  we agree on where we’re headed and what we are to be doing with our lives along the way.

we are both opinionated.  we definitely disagree on things.  but when it comes it comes to purpose, we ironed that out years ago.

and it’s never too late for you to start ironing…

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.

It’s Monday again…

people think they have all the time in the world.

but the urgent wins out over the important every day.   the things we say are the most significant are often the things we put on hold.   we say they are of greatest value,  but our regular grind says otherwise.

what are you putting off?   what’s on “hold” in your life?   what are the desires of your heart that are not making it to your weekly schedule?   and i’m not talking about the patio remodel.

if our personal timeline reaches the average of what most people get,  we get about 25,000 days.   if we throw out the first 6,000 or so,  that leaves about 19,000 days where we get to take total responsibility for our choices.   so what are you doing with them?

we have to work and eat and pay a mortgage and mow the lawn.   we change diapers and change the oil and change the channels.   the mundane and the required are always present.

but that’s not what i’m talking about.

is building character a greater value than making money?   how do your daily choices reflect that?

what character deficiencies do you have that you choose to live with…rather than becoming relentless in your pursuit of change?   where do you continue to hurt the people you say you love?   what mistakes do you continue to make without altering your course?

are you surrounding yourself with people who challenge you and make you better?   do you have friendships where you can bear your soul?

do you walk close enough with people of wisdom and integrity and faith that it rubs off on you?   is it important enough for you to make it happen…even at the expense of your “free” time?

does your life reflect humble sacrifice and giving to others?

you say you have faith.   how do your daily decisions reveal it?   what are you doing in your life that requires trust and prayer?   or do you simply live by your own selfish impulses,  more often than not?

are you making time for solitude and listening to the wisdom of god…or are you living each day by your own instincts and what you think is best?    who is really at the center of your world?

what are you doing everyday to make your marriage deeper and stronger?

are your children becoming like you by default or by intention?   are your hopes and dreams for your children more for their success and well-being or for their character and faith and values?   what are you doing every day to make that happen?

it’s monday morning.   it’s a new week.   by god’s grace,  you may get another seven days to live.   will these be the best seven days of your life,  regardless of the circumstances?   will something deeper be going on in your heart and relationships…than just making it to next monday?

i hope so.