If at first you don’t succeed…

keep-calmI’ve been thinking long and hard over the past month or so, about why it has been so hard for me to write (as some of you have noticed).  Some days I feel like I have real clarity.  Other days I’m just swimming in my personal abyss of uncontrolled thinking.  

Tonight is a little clearer, so I’ll give it a shot.  Here are some reasons why I think my writing here has been so weak and sporadic:

  • Writing a new sermon every week has become more difficult.  Maybe some post-surgery concentration issues.  Maybe due to trying to figure out a new routine to stay fresh after 44 years of weekly preaching and teaching.  Who knows?  But it’s a grind.
  • Some days I feel like, “Why bother?  Everything’s already been said.”
  • I don’t read Facebook much anymore.  Mostly when I get notified if people write something directly to me…or about me, sometimes.  It just feels wrong that I would want or expect someone to read what I write, but I’m not taking the time to read what they write.
  • I feel as if I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.  How did that happen?
  • I’m reading more than I am writing.  This has been good for me, though.  I’ve got six new books that are sitting on my end table and night stand waiting to be started.
  • Some days, I take late-night, rabbit-trail, web surfing to unknown levels of greatness.
  • My old buddy, depression, has shown up frequently in the past year.  It most often takes the form of staring, accompanied by undisciplined thinking.  Talk about a picture of productivity!
  • For the first time ever, I’ve let myself get sucked into following the circus of our presidential election process.  I have never, ever, done that.  It’s not who I am.  I have so many more important things going on in my life.  The majority of the time I think about writing, I have been drawn to react to things related to the issues of this political season. That generally stops my writing cold.  Dead in the water.

Most often, though, I find myself getting two or three paragraphs into a potential blog post, and then I get the feeling I don’t really have anything important to say.  I suppose it’s that simple.

So it’s time for a change.  After eight years of blogging for, essentially, the same audience and the same reasons, I’m going to try and breathe some fresh life into my writing.  For me. If you get something out of it, even better.  This is I want to do for my heart.  For my spirit. For my well-being.  Totally selfish.

Well, sort of.

I’ve decided to do the majority of my writing to my grandkids.  In the past, I’ve written occasional blog posts to them.  That has not been enough.  I really want to leave my story for them…to them.  I don’t expect them to read it anytime soon.  They’re too busy growing up.  But maybe someday they’ll want to know my story.  Maybe it will matter to them what I believed, what I felt strongly about, what my life was all about.  They deserve to hear it in my own words.

I wish I knew my dad’s story.  He wasn’t much of a talker.  Not a writer, either.  He was a hard-working man who showed his love and dedication to me and my mom by getting up early every day, putting on his work boots and his work ethic, getting in his Dodge pickup truck (three speed on the column), and earning a life-giving, life-sustaining paycheck for us every week.

There was never much time for storytelling.  I wish there was.  Oh, how I wish there was. There is a part of me that I will never know.  There is a part of me and a huge part of him my boys will never.  We all lose.

Just in case it matters someday, I want my kids and their kids to have the opportunity to know.  There is no guarantee I will get to tell them personally.

So I’m going to start writing to them, my little family tree.  I think I’ve got lots to say and right now I feel like I’ve got an audience, even though they don’t know it yet.

You can read it if you want.  It may feel a little like eavesdropping, but that’s ok.  Maybe you’ll read something that will be of value to you.  I know I will throw in some random posts along the way that might be of more interest to you, so it really might be worth your while to stick around.

I hope you do.

Btw…do you like the new background theme?  I think I do.

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Marriage Tuesday

 

Marriage TuesdayOne of the things I say in pre-marriage counseling is you are marrying more than you can see at the moment.  You are marrying everything the other person brings to the table.

You are marrying their strengths, their skills, their successes, their promises of love and faithfulness, their partnership, their support, their dreams.  This is a wonderful thing.

But you are also marrying their expectations, their fears, their beliefs, their way of doing things, their definition of truth and love, their values, their theology.

You are marrying their world view.

You are marrying their baggage. You are marrying their strengths and their weaknesses.

You are marrying their family dynamic and their family rules.  Sheesh.  You are marrying their family.  You marry their family’s way of doing things.  You marry the skeletons in their family closet.  Maybe you marry into a lot cash.  Hey.  Just sayin’…

It’s sad, but I see so many couples these days who function in an unhealthy way.  One partner has more influence, so the other partner makes the necessary concessions, in order for conflict to be minimized.  They do this in the name of love and keeping peace, but often, all it does is undermine the stability of the relationship and strip away the dignity of one, or even both.  What looks like commitment-based compromise, is really nothing more than disrespect and taking the easy way out.

Real love is doing what’s in the best interest of another.  In marriage, that doesn’t always mean we give in to the partner with the strongest personality or the one who inflicts the most grief when they don’t get their own way.

Too often, unhealthy and immature win.  Too often, the voice of reason is drowned out by a dysfunctional past.  Too often, compromises are made long before both sides have mustered the courage to be completely honest.  Too often, couples leave the negotiating table and retreat to their silent corners.  Too often, best is sacrificed at the altar of expediency.  Too often, doing the right thing is ignored, in order to placate the partner who is the most emotionally manipulative.

Harsh?  Maybe.  The truth is that way sometimes.

In marriage, the table of negotiation is also the table of love.  So learn to stay at the table longer.  You will both be better off because of it.

 

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.

 

 

Oh my…the day has finally arrived.

sunriseIt’s been nearly six months since I last posted anything here.  And honestly, it’s been almost a year since I have written regularly.  Today, I will offer some explanation and then I’ll move forward.

My blog has never been like a Facebook soundbite.  Or a 140 character Twitter reaction.  I always try to measure my rants. This has always been that place where my heart meets the keyboard for good.  For the good of my church family.  For the good of my extended circle of friends.  For the good of those who sit in the opposite corner.  And certainly for the good of my little slice of family posterity.

I have anticipated this day for quite a while.  I’ve actually written a number of times but never hit “publish”.  I’ve missed the personal cleansing I find in writing.  I’ve missed knowing that we were connecting..with or without your comments.  I’ve missed the discipline of weighing out my words and carefully expressing them.

Eleven months ago, my oldest son got sick.  Really sick.  There were certainly people who knew we were going through this as a family, although only those in our closest circle knew the story…and even those didn’t know the intimate details.  It has been a journey of pain and fear and hope.  After two major surgeries (and one more minor one to go), his road to recovery gets better every day.

There were days I wanted…no, I needed to write, but the only thing I could bring myself to write about were the events of my son’s journey.  So I didn’t.  It was his story, not mine, to tell.  Many days it overwhelmed me…and I wasn’t even the one going through it!  There is no doubt it took an emotional toll on me.

This “dad” thing doesn’t end when they move out of the house.  It doesn’t end when they get married and grow a family of their own.  Just like any dad who loves and cares, I wished I could exchange places with him.  I wanted to protect.  I wanted to fix.  I wanted to make it all go away.  But I couldn’t.  So I prayed and helped where I could and did what dads do.

And so I wrote privately.  Sorry.

There were other issues that affected my writing hiatus.  Our world has been full of a lot of big ticket items over the past year.  World changing…culture shocking…anger inducing…polarizing kinds of things.  And it seems like everybody’s talking.  Everybody’s got an opinion, a sermon, a post, an op-ed, or some kind of prophectic declaration.

Mine was not needed.

Loyalties have been declared.  Battle lines have been drawn.  Brothers have turned against brothers.  My “side” on issues need not be declared, unless it’s one-on-one, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, over a basket of chips and salsa.  Because there, the reality of true brotherhood will win the day.

For now, if you want my take on same-sex marriage, Caitlyn Jenner, Planned Parenthood, racial tension, the police, gun control, the Confederate flag, immigration reform, the war on terror, homosexuality, the race for President, the economy, and the like…you can have it.  Personally.  Prayerfully.  Mixed with kindness, understanding, and openness.

But it’s not for public consumption right now.  Maybe later.  Until then, it will only be shared in a place where we can know each other’s hearts, ask questions of depth and clarity, and have time to pause for the affirmation and joy of our relationship, when our differences become apparent.

And we can take time to refill the basket of chips.

So call me up, invite me out, respect my journey, encourage me to be open to new ideas.  Healthy conversation is the oxygen of healthy friendship.  (I’ll even do it by email…though the sharing of chips will have to be virtual.)

These are two of the reasons I haven’t written.  There were others.  Maybe I’ll write about them at another time.  For tonight, though, it feels really good to be back.

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.

 

Sunday

sunday 2Sunday.

I was told I was around five when my parents decided to go back to church.  I’m guessing it was because they wanted me to get some “God” in my life.   A lot of young parents do that.  I’ve never completely understood their logic, but I suppose it’s better than a kid never getting the church experience at all.

Throughout my childhood and early teenage years, “church” was something I did on Sundays.  It was part of my family routine.  My mom helped in the nursery and joined with other ladies to plan potlucks.  She and my dad both sang in the little church choir.

I attended Sunday school and Vacation Bible school and church camp and youth rallies and Bible studies and church work days and youth group parties at Christmas and Halloween.  But the big day…the church day…was always Sunday.

Sunday as “church day” got assimilated into my life.  There was nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it was a huge part of my spiritual formation.  Although it was often nothing more than the weekly ritual, it was still something important and the practice sunk deep into my psyche.

When I turned 18…in my second year of college…it all changed.  “Attending” church on Sundays took on a whole new meaning.  Wanda and I (now in our third year of dating) began guiding the youth group…teaching Sunday school, leading a Wednesday night Bible study and organizing youth group activities.

Sundays began to be a day that others needed me…instead of being a day I struggled to see value in devoting my time and energy to.  And that serving began to build the structure of my next 40 years.

Through the years, kids in the youth group (and even some of their parents) liked to call me a professional christian.  And on some level, they were right.  For the whole of my adult life, Sundays have always been work days for me.  As kids loved to remind me, “Dude, you’re paid to be here on Sundays!”

There is no doubt my relationship with Sundays is different from most.  A big portion of my work week is spent with Sunday in mind.  It is certainly the day in my week where I have the greatest volume of connection with the greatest number of people.  Of course its important to me!

But here are two truths that help me keep perspective on Sundays:

First, I learned years ago that most people don’t have the same attitude about Sundays that I do.  Because of long work weeks and hectic schedules and the incredible demands of raising children in our culture and the pull of extended family…not to mention the unrelenting grip of home ownership and the weekly management of all the “stuff” we own and how much of our time and money it requires...a weekly commitment to Sunday mornings is a very difficult thing to make.  The benefits of “church” are often completely obscured by the potential benefits of anything and everything else.  And I get it.

Second, and most important, my commitment to Sunday mornings at North Point really has nothing to do with my job and my perceived “requirement” to attend.  I am present on Sundays because I am always better for having been with my church family.  When I miss, it is my loss.

I didn’t preach today.  I sat in the crowd.  I sang songs.  I followed the sermon that Adam preached (very well, mind you).  I hung out.  I talked to people.  I was reminded that, more than anything else, I’m just a part of a really cool church family that meets altogether every Sunday morning.

I wish you felt about your church family the way I do mine.

Today was a good day

this is a mother’s day i won’t soon forget.

growing up in a family where i was an only child had it’s benefits.   a bunch of  them,  as a matter of fact.   but one of the things i missed out on was a sense of extended family.    my mom and dad’s brothers and sisters all lived on the other side of the country.   that meant no cousins to interact with.

i only knew one of my grandparents.   and that was from a distance.   i had no brothers or sisters.   it was really just me and my parents.   mother’s day was always just the three of us.

(though wanda’s life growing up was very different from mine,  we shared a commonness in our limited extended family).

after i grew older and got married and moved away,  mother’s day became more about wanda and helping our boys celebrate the special day with their mom.   but i always remembered my mother.   a phone call.   a gift in the mail.   maybe even a quick trip down to see her.

for me,  mother’s day was always still about her.   sorry wanda.

she passed away when our boys were really young.   they didn’t get much of grandma.   they missed out on a lot.   i guess that’s why church has always meant “family” to us.    without the benefit of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents,  we got to see what deep friendships were meant to be.   friends became family for us.

it’s a balancing act now for me and wanda.   our two boys have their families…and both of them married into much larger extended families that they are learning to be part of.   it’s fun…and sometimes amusing…to watch them figure out stuff they never learned while growing up in our tidy little family unit.

for the elder farra’s,  though,  it’s still all about loving and giving and including others into our lives…new and old…and letting them grow to become family.

it was cool today to bring alan and jen and young beau up in front of our church family and pray for them…and to watch the eyes of so many people connect with them.   i think that moment is one of the reasons why people are drawn to a smaller church.   that moment never gets old.   and jen will have another reason to never forget her first mother’s day.

speaking of north point,  where else could someone get away with teaching from the passage,  “lead us not into temptation,  but deliver us from evil”… on mother’s day?

it’s pretty encouraging to realize there are still people who believe in the greatness of god and the value of the church…in spite of what popular culture says.   i realize church people have presented our world with such a distorted view of god’s love in the past few decades.   i wish it were different.   it makes me all that much more grateful to be part of this  group of people at north point…people who don’t run from their weaknesses and willingly admit their need for grace.   and friendship.

very humbling.

my day was finished off with a phone call that marcia strong had passed away this evening.   marcia has been barely holding on to life for the past few months.   watching harrison sit by her bedside day after day has been sad…but affirming.

(for non-north pointers,  marcia and harrison were one of the few “true” elder couples we have had at north point over the years!)

after spending a lifetime together,  i watched him say goodbye tonight.   his love for her was evident.   she was his partner for going on sixty years.   tonight will be difficult.   so will tomorrow.    but his confidence that she has received her final reward will sustain him.   faith is like that.   and so is love.

it was fitting that she passed on mother’s day.   i suspect the day will never be quite the same for him.

i’m not sure it will be for me,  either.