Such is life

brainWell, it’s been almost a month.  In terms of time, energy, focus, priorities, accomplishing tasks, and keeping perspective…let’s just say the holidays won.

Honestly, I tried to write a few times, but it just wasn’t there.  Tonight, it is.

When I get to the end of the day, I want the people I love to believe what I believe. I want people I love to have what I have.  Not everything.  Just the important stuff.

This isn’t an arrogance or some kind of superiority complex.  It’s not me thinking I know better than everyone else.  It’s not me thinking I’m right and others are wrong.  It’s something much deeper…and much simpler than that.

Most every parent knows when the kids are young, you have huge influence over the way your kids think and believe and act.  They trust you.  You can speak truth into their lives.  You pass on your values.  You give them a vision for faith.  You can shape their reality.  You play the single most significant role in helping them build the foundation the rest of their lives will be built on.  Your beliefs are breathed into their little hearts and they lovingly welcome all of it.

And then they grow up.  Everybody grows up.

Those little, trusting, moldable, sponges become their own people.  They begin to make their own decisions and carve out their own belief system.  They decide for themselves what is important, what is true, what is worth investing in.  And they become what you had always hoped they would be:  independent thinkers.

It’s true for all of us.  But I don’t have to like it.

I see people all around me (some who are close…others who I simply try to walk with) who are struggling.  Certainly not all, but many:

  • They are angry.
  • They are afraid.
  • They are sad.
  • They feel trapped.
  • They are worried.
  • They never have enough.
  • Their marriages are on shaky ground.
  • They ignore the spiritual.
  • They run from intimacy.
  • They struggle for control.
  • They have massive blind spots.
  • They are self-centered.
  • Their love is conditional.
  • They are depressed, addicted, abused, or forgotten.
  • They don’t respect those who have walked the path before them.
  • They don’t pursue wisdom.
  • They don’t give sacrificially.
  • They always think they know best.
  • There is no true humility.
  • There is no real joy.
  • They don’t experience prolonged peace.
  • They live for the moment.
  • Their self esteem is built on performance.
  • Their security is in the tangible.
  • They follow their hearts.
  • They seek validation from friends.
  • They exist for happiness.
  • Their faith is personally defined.
  • Their authority is their own conscience.
  • Their motivation is their own feelings.

I know a better way.  I really do.  I wish I could make them follow it.  I wish I could make them believe it.  I wish I could make them want it.

But I can’t.

 

 

Letters to Little Theologians

The Farra ThreeI’m back young Farratroopers…

From the time I was born, my mom and dad taught me to believe that God existed.  We prayed to God.  We read stories about God from the Bible.  We went to church and sang songs to God.  I was taught that God made the world and everything in it…including me!  Mimi and I taught the same things to your daddies when they were your age.

It wasn’t until I started going to school and spending time away from my home and church, that I learned there were people who didn’t believe in God.  I can remember how surprised I was.  I couldn’t imagine a world without God.  And I still can’t.

I have spent my whole life trying to help people understand who God is.  I hope we get to talk about God together someday, when you are a little older.  There’s so much I would like to say to you.  Until then, here are a few things about believing in God:

I can’t see God.  I never have.  But when I look around at all the things in the world…the mountains and oceans and stars and crazy-cute babies that are born (just like you), I have more than enough reasons to believe God exists.

God is not a person like you and me.  God doesn’t have hands and feet.  God isn’t a man.  Or a woman.  Even though the Bible (we’ll talk about the Bible later) refers to God as “He”, God didn’t grow up as a boy.  In fact, God never grew up at all, because He has always been here.  Before anything existed, there was only God.  God has no limits.  He is everywhere.  All the time.

God sees everything that is happening.  God knows everything we are thinking.  God hears everything we say.  That’s why we can talk to him.  That’s what prayer is.  (We’ll talk about prayer some time soon, also.)

In spite of all the things I know about God, believing is still a mystery to me.  There are still so many things I don’t know. Because God is mysterious, people make up a lot of their own beliefs.  So believing in God is something I have always taken seriously, making sure that what I believe is as true and right as it can possibly be.

You three are already little swimmers.  I love watching you in the pool.  When you are in the shallow end, standing on the stairs, right next to me, you feel really safe and confident.  It’s only when you get out in the deep end that it gets a little scary and you have to trust that you have practiced, that you know your swimming skills, and if you breathe right and move your arms and legs right, and don’t panic…everything will be okay, even though you can’t really see or touch the bottom.

Believing in God is a lot like getting out into the deep end.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

A memorial of sorts…

tombstoneEven if you’re not a sports fan, hear me out on this one.   I’m a little windier than normal.  Sorry.

Yesterday, a relic of my past was posthumously inducted into pro football Hall of Fame.   Junior Seau was one of two iconic sports figures that represented the very best of my home town, San Diego.  The other was Tony Gwynn, the beloved San Diego Padre and representative of everything that is good about baseball.

They made being from San Diego important.  With their play and personalities, they galvanized a city, unlike anything most sports fans have ever seen, or will see again.  They gave San Diego homers genuine reasons to be loyal to our teams that consistently came up short.  Their work ethics were unmatched.  Their integrity and example as leaders fueled hope in teammates and fans, alike.

I never taught my boys that their sports heroes were to be their personal role models for life, but these two men always showed the best of what sports could be and I never worried they would teach lessons I would need to undo, as a parent.

Well..almost.

They both died young.  Way too young.  Junior Seau committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the chest in 2012 at the age of 43. Later, medical studies concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of chronic brain damage that has also been found in other deceased former NFL players.

Tony Gwynn died in 2014, due to salivary gland cancer, at the age of 54.  Even though there are still questions that remain, TG , along with most others, was convinced his 16-year battle with cancer in his mouth was due to his dipping tobacco habit he started early in his baseball career.

No matter how great these men were as players, teammates, fathers, husbands, friends and civic leaders, they were not perfect.  Even though they represented some of the best of humanity…loyalty, commitment, discipline, focus, determination, humility, generosity, kindness and genuine love (as everyone who has ever remembered them could attest), they fell short.

And no matter what your theology, they both played a significant role in their own deaths.  Junior Seau sold out to football.  He played with a recklessness that most players only dream about.  His motor never stopped, even when his body was telling him something was wrong.  His brain was ravaged by the game he loved.  He died in chronic pain, with brain that no longer functioned properly.

Tony Gwynn had an addiction to both tobacco and food.  At the end, he weighed well over 300 pounds.  Multiple surgeries had robbed him of his ability to talk, or even smile.  The man who became one of the best pure hitters the game had ever seen, died, at least in part, because he couldn’t master his demons with the same discipline and commitment he mastered hitting a baseball.

I wish they were still alive.  I wish they were still the faces of San Diego, instead of distant memories.  Here’s the lesson:

I have no clue where my two sports heroes are right now.  I know nothing of their relationship to eternity.  Seau was raised in a family of deep faith from his Samoan heritage.  Gwynn spoke often of God and family and the spiritual principles he was raised by.  But past that, I have no clue whether either one of these good men were right with God.

And, honestly, the same is true with the majority of people I know.

If people are holding on to a prayer they made at some point in their life, or a formulaic confession they repeated when the preacher phrased it for them, or the moment they were dunked in water…as the insurance plan for making it to the “good” destination, rather than the fiery lake…at best, I would say they have some serious misunderstandings of what it means to be a son or daughter of God.

And if a person is holding on to the idea that “goodness” matters to our eternal destiny…like, the personal kind of goodness we saw in the lives of Tony Gwynn and Junior Seau…kindness, humility, commitment, generosity, love, and the like…then that person has another thing coming.  Nobody is good enough.  That’s not the story I see unfolded in the pages of the Bible.

Nope.  The only thing that matters is if you have touched grace, or been touched by it (depending on your Bible interpretation!).  This is the grace we see flowing out of the heart and life of Jesus.  Everything else is a distant second.

None of us are perfect.  Not even close.  We all have demons.  We are all broken in some way.  It’s probably not concussions or dipping.  It may be pride.  Or ego.  Or self-centeredness.  Or letting the “stuff of life” rule our hearts.  No matter what, we are all in the same boat.

I’m grateful my sports heroes lived in such a way that my memories of them are good and they made a lasting imprint on those who knew them and saw them play.  That’s a great legacy.

But it’s not enough.  Not nearly enough.

Theology for Grasshoppers

GrasshoppersHello again, young Farratroopers…

First off, let me explain a word to you.  Soldiers who are trained to jump out of airplanes using parachutes are called “paratroopers”.  A life of faith is a whole lot like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute.  It takes training.  You can’t do it alone.  It involves risk.  There’s a bunch of unknown.  People who’ve jumped out of airplanes with parachutes say it’s the most exciting thing they’ve ever done.  

But they have to trust their parachute.  And that’s a whole lot like faith.

And since these letters I’m writing to you are about faith and God and believing there’s something bigger and greater going on in the world than just the things we can see with our eyes, it makes me see you guys like little paratroopers, jumping into a world of adventure, but needing to trust your parachute.

Farratroopers!

Let’s start with this.  Even before you came out of your momma’s bellies, things were happening to you.  Things were developing inside of you.  Things you use everyday.  Things that are called “senses”.

You have a sense of touch.  That allows you to feel things on your skin.  When your bare feet sting when you walk across a hot sidewalk on a summer day or when your hands are freezing when you throw too many snow balls at each otherthat happens because you can feel it with your sense of touch.

You have a sense of hearing.  Inside your ears, little vibrations create sounds.

You have a sense of taste.  Right on the tips of your tongues, you have tiny tasters that help you decide if things are hot or cold, sweet or sour, and good or bad.  Hooray!

You have a sense of smell.  Inside your noses, you have the ability to recognize different kinds of odorslike your mommy and daddy’s skin, your sweaty cousin’s armpits, or a dangerous fire burning outside your window.

You have a sense of sight.  Your eyes are these most amazing parts of your body that allow you to see all the beauty around you.

Throughout your lives, many people will try to tell you the only things that are “real” are things you can sensethings you can touch and see and taste and smell and hear.  But I have always believed there is more.  Much more.  There are things we will never be able to touch or see, but we can experience them, just the same.

Things like love.  

When I look at the three of you, there is way more than meets the eye.  Or my nose!  There is something special deep inside each of you that makes you unique.  That makes you different than your doggies and different than trees and flowers and mountains.  

That “something special” can’t be seen or tasted or touched or smelled or heard.  At least not in the same way that most everything else can be.  

That’s why we need a good parachute.

There’s a lot more to say.  Until next time…

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Theology for Grasshoppers

GrasshoppersHello again, young Farratroopers…

First off, let me explain a word to you.  Soldiers who are trained to jump out of airplanes using parachutes are called “paratroopers”.  A life of faith is a whole lot like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute.  It takes training.  You can’t do it alone.  It involves risk.  There’s a bunch of unknown.  People who’ve jumped out of airplanes with parachutes say it’s the most exciting thing they’ve ever done.  

But they have to trust their parachute.  And that’s a whole lot like faith.

And since these letters I’m writing to you are about faith and God and believing there’s something bigger and greater going on in the world than just the things we can see with our eyes, it makes me see you guys like little paratroopers, jumping into a world of adventure, but needing to trust your parachute.

Farratroopers!

Let’s start with this.  Even before you came out of your momma’s bellies, things were happening to you.  Things were developing inside of you.  Things you use everyday.  Things that are called “senses”.

You have a sense of touch.  That allows you to feel things on your skin.  When your bare feet sting when you walk across a hot sidewalk on a summer day or when your hands are freezing when you throw too many snow balls at each otherthat happens because you can feel it with your sense of touch.

You have a sense of hearing.  Inside your ears, little vibrations create sounds.

You have a sense of taste.  Right on the tips of your tongues, you have tiny tasters that help you decide if things are hot or cold, sweet or sour, and good or bad.  Hooray!

You have a sense of smell.  Inside your noses, you have the ability to recognize different kinds of odorslike your mommy and daddy’s skin, your sweaty cousin’s armpits, or a dangerous fire burning outside your window.

You have a sense of sight.  Your eyes are these most amazing parts of your body that allow you to see all the beauty around you.

Throughout your lives, many people will try to tell you the only things that are “real” are things you can sensethings you can touch and see and taste and smell and hear.  But I have always believed there is more.  Much more.  There are things we will never be able to touch or see, but we can experience them, just the same.

Things like love.  

When I look at the three of you, there is way more than meets the eye.  Or my nose!  There is something special deep inside each of you that makes you unique.  That makes you different than your doggies and different than trees and flowers and mountains.  

That “something special” can’t be seen or tasted or touched or smelled or heard.  At least not in the same way that most everything else can be.  

That’s why we need a good parachute.

There’s a lot more to say.  Until next time…

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Be very careful…

overpowerTonight, I watched a news piece on 60 Minutes about a Muslim extremist in Great Britain who appears to be recruiting young Muslim men to the work of ISISin a veiled sort of way, in order to avoid being charged as a threat.  He’s incredibly shifty.  And brilliant.

The news reporter interviewed one of his disciples, and he was frightening.  He spoke with cold, calculating conviction of how everyone must come under the rule of Allah, and that radical Muslims are on a mission to enforce that rule, by any means necessary.

The greatness of social media (that gives you the privilege of reading these wonderful words of wisdom I write) is being used with creativity and laser-focus to inspire, motivate, and openly recruit to the cause.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this not simply a conspiracy.  It is people determined to impose their beliefs on othersto use their ideology to manipulate and overpowerand to strip people of their freedom to choose their own path.

They do this in the name of God (Allah).  They do it out of absolute determination to be obedient to their scripture and tradition.  They do it because they wholeheartedly believe their way is better, even if it must be forced on others by power.

Don’t misunderstand.  I believe everything about what they are doing is wrong.  It stands as the antithesis of what I believe about my God, his word, and the life of Jesus.  I guess that’s why I’m troubled about something…

There’s a new book that’s out, that’s written by an author I have always respected, teamed with another author who is, at best, questionable in his analysis of American history and the role of Christianity in our national past.  (The accuracy and reliability of his books and presentations have consistently been called into question by some of the most respected historians, both Christian and non.)

This is what a recent promotional campaign has to say about the book:

Based on shocking new research and compelling interviews, the newly released book combines unique insights and cultural analysis to demonstrate the moral and spiritual underpinnings that made the United States great, its decline over the past forty years and a detailed road map for the future.

“Unless we invite God to be at the center of our process and operate in strict accordance with His principles, we are doomed to continue our downward slide,” [the authors] write. “Because He has proven Himself to be a merciful ruler, though, if we will humble ourselves before Him, there is hope.  The book will describe the radical action Americans must take in partnership with God to restore the nation.”

This does not rank up there with the radical evil of the Jihad of extremist Islam, but it shares some of the same philosophical attitudes.  The attitudes that followers of Jesus should flee from.

There is nothing about the life and teachings of Jesus that resembles force, coersion, manipulation, or domination.  The only “overpowering” Jesus ever used involved love, compassion, forgiveness and grace.

The “radical action” American Christians must take in partnership with God to restore our nation is the action of humility, not power.  Grace, not force.  Love, not fear.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6

Father Abraham and the faith “framily”

Father Abraham

Father Abraham had many sons.

Many sons had Father Abraham.

I am one of them.

And so are you.

The promise that Abraham and his heirs would possess the earth was given because of God’s decision to create a relationship based on trust, not works.  That’s the message of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The family of God is open to allnot just the Jews. Everyone is welcome.

Abraham is not our racial fatherhe is our faith father.  The message is that Gentiles can come into the family on equal footing. God’s intent has always been a multi-cultural family, full diversity and all different kinds of people bound together by a common trust in his promises, not religious ritual or duty.

Even though God chose a special people (the Jews) to use to teach us and usher in the answer (the Messiah) for how people could become right with God, he always made room for differences.  Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s day couldn’t have been more different… culturally (customs and traditions)economically, politically, educationally, spiritually.

Just like us.

Yesterday in my sermon, I told of my love of the new Sprint commercials advertising their new “Framily Plan”how both friends and family can share the same account.  THE COMMERCIALS ARE AWESOME.  I can’t get enough of them.  They are theologically rich and a perfect picture of the North Point familyfull of diversityfull of crazyopen to all, especially those without a family.

Here are the six commercials playing regularly… for your viewing pleasure.  Watch them.  It will be the best three minutes of your day.  Maybe your whole week.  (If you subscribe by email, you may need to go directly to my blog to view them.)

If you are part of the North Point Framily, which character are you?  If you are looking for a “framily” to be part of, look no further.  There is a place for you with us.

 

Letters to Holden and Nolan

HN Sam's babysittingLittle Goofballs…

I haven’t written you for a while.  Sometimes I get really busy with important things that need to be handled.  That’s kind of the way it’s been for the past few months.  I’m really sorry.  I’ll try to do better.

For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about you guys.  Maybe because we had such a great time together the other night at Chili’s.  I can’t believe how much fun you guys have going to the bathroom!  Maybe next time we can just ask them to set up a table for us in there, instead…

I want to give you a little lesson in theology this morning.  It’s a lesson I have learned over the course of my lifeand one I am still learning about even right now.  Theology is all about what we know about God.

I love listening to you pray to God at meal times and I’m still pretty blown away that both of you can say the Lord’s prayer.  Your daddy and Uncle Corey couldn’t come close to saying it at your ages!  I know you say your prayers at night with your mommy and daddy and you ask God to take care of the ones you love and you thank Him for the great things in your life.

I love watching your faith grow like a little seed in the ground grows.  But it won’t always be this simple and childlike.  It won’t always be easy to simply believe in God.  There will come a time when you get older and smarter and you begin to think deeper thoughts about the way people act and the things that happen in the world.

And the trusting faith you have right now will probably get pretty complicated, and even confusing.

Life is full of bad things that happen.  Things that will make your little hearts hurt and you’ll cry because you don’t understand why those things had to happen the way they did.  Here’s where your theology lesson comes in…

People tend to fall into one of two groups when they have to deal with really bad things that happen.  The first groupand by far the biggest groupbelieves that since really bad things happen, there must not be a God at all.  They think that if there was really a God, he would have stopped the bad thing from happening.

The other group that people fall into is the group that says, “No matter what, God is in control.”   They say that no matter what bad thing people have to go through, it is because that is what God wants to happeneven if we can’t understand why, God has his reasons and we need to trust Him that He knows what is best.  

I’ve always had a problem with that second group and the way they think.  It’s almost as if they are saying that God is the one making the bad things happenthat since He’s in control of everything and He’s our great and powerful Father in heaven (which I totally believe), He must have a reason for wanting, and even making those bad things happen.  

I guess I’ve just come to think that there will always be some mystery to why things happen.  Things we will never understand.  Bad things that just look and feel painful and even senseless.  So rather than asking God why those things had to happen (and even letting myself believe that He was the one behind the bad stuff, making it happen), I choose to focus on what I know for sure.

No matter what, the Bible is totally clear that God is good.  God is good every moment of every day.  He can be trusted.  He will never, ever leave you or turn His back on you guys.  He is consistent.  He never changes.  He promises to give you the strength to handle any bad thing you will ever have to face.  And He will always welcome you backeven if your doubts and fears get the best of you and you get mad at Him or grow distant.   And they will sometimes.

And best of all, He promises to bring good out of every bad situation for those who love Him and trust Him.  I don’t know everything about how all of that works, but I know it’s true.  It has been for every day of my lifeand it can be the same for you guys, too.

That was some pretty deep stuff for today.  Next time we’ll have some bathroom conversation.

Be wise, grasshoppers.  Love, Papi.

Bad Religion isn’t just a music group

Bad ReligionI’ve got a new book I’m going to get and read.  It’s called “The Answer to Bad Religion is not No Religion”, by Martin Theilen.  It was reviewed by a blogger I read daily, so I’m taking his word for how good it is.

In his review, he outlined ten marks of good religion.  That’s not a word I use much.  Religion.

These are turbulent times for Christian faith in the public square.   I will never be ashamed of the cross or to call myself a follower of Jesus, but I’ll admit there are many times these days I wish I could crawl in a hole when I see what people do or hear what they say on behalf of the God of the Bible.

If feel as if bad religion has moved front and centerlike it’s my identity I’m forced to live with in our post postmodern culture.  And I have to watch more and more people choose no religion as their response to god.  Or God.  Yuck.

It’s time for someone to tell us what good religion is supposed to look like.  This is pretty good stuff:

1.  Good religion impacts the way we liveevery day of the week and not just on Sundays.

2.  Good religion prioritizes love.  Like, really loving.

3.  Good religion engages in serving others.

4.  Good religion provides a prophetic voice.

5.  Good religion builds community.

6.  Good religion is filled with hope.

7.  Good religion keeps an open mind.

8.  Good religion practices forgiveness: it’s hard work, takes time, does not condone bad behavior, does not always lead to reconciliation, and is for our benefit.

9.  Good religion promotes gratitude.

10.  Good religion practices evangelism: lifestyle, relational, invitational.

So how’s your religion?  Good or bad?

 

A take on childhood

childhood

There are not a whole lot of things cuter than watching and listening to a child pray.  Their honest and unfiltered rambling is filled with young faith and free of self-consciousness that plagues those that are older.

There’s nothing like children singing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” or “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world”.  It’s almost medicinal.  It can melt a hard heart.

The Christmas season will find children of all ages telling and retelling the story of the baby Jesus in the manger and singing beautiful angelic choruses of Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful.

And people who have little or even no faith in God at all will enjoy those moments and see nothing wrong with letting them happen again and again as their children grow up.

You see, apparently this Jesus thing is okay for children.

But then children grow up and things like belief and church and the Bible and heaven and a continued life of faith become increasingly irrelevant.  Little hearts full of wonder and trusting confidence in a God that is bigger than any problem they will ever face…begin to be replaced with culturally acceptable self-reliance and the pursuit of academic, relationship and financial success.

In short, the Jesus-God-Bible-Church experience is fine for children (as well as the emotionally and intellectually weak)…but it is definitely not okay for reasonable, intelligent, and culturally relevant adults.

One of the greatest joys and most profound disappointments in all of my years of youth ministry was living my life with teenagers whose faith was deeper, more mature and clearly more profound than their own parents’ faith.

I have interacted with parents whose lack of faith and knowledge of the Bible stood in the way of their own kids’ spiritual growth.  I have dealt with parents who “punished” their kids by not letting them come to a weekly Bible study.  I’ve confronted parents who would willingly pay hundreds of dollars for their kids to receive private music or athletic instruction, but whined like babies when they were asked to spend $75 for their kids to go on a youth retreat.

I’ve wrestled with parents who were totally offended at my suggestion that they consider rearranging a family vacation by a few days, so their child could attend a summer youth group trip.

And I’ve actually had parents get mad and shun me when they became aware that I had encouraged their gifted and talented teenager consider a life of mission work with the poor…instead of pursuing a life in the corporate world.  No joke.

So what happens on the road to adulthood?  When, exactly, does the wonder of childlike faith get replaced with a life that places God and the pursuit of his kingdom into the closet of irrelevance?

Parents, there are many things to teach our children…like responsibility and a work ethic and personal hygiene and money management and academic determination and manners and dealing with strangers and how to cross the street safely and a host of other important life skills.

Parents, you need to teach your kids about sex and marriage and healthy relationship behavior.  And about winning and losing and dealing with pain and death and unexplained tragedy.  Parents, you’ve got a tough job.

But your greatest and most important job is to point your children to a life of faith in Jesus.  You can’t make them believe.  That will be their responsibility when they grow older.

But don’t hinder them.  Please.