Theology for Grasshoppers

(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.)

Yo, Grasshoppers!

Boy, it has really been awhile since I last wrote to you guys.  So long, we’ve even added a new Farrasprout to the team. Welcome Tobias Allan Farra!

From what I hear, you’re going to be the last of the Farra tribe for a while, Toby.  I hope I’m still around when the next wave comes rolling through, but that decision is way above my pay grade.  You don’t know anything about pay grades yet, but you will soon enough…

I saw something on TV today, so I wanted to write this to you guys while it was still pretty fresh on my mind.

I wish this wasn’t true, but for the rest of your lives, you’re going to have to learn to deal with people who are mean, rude, thoughtless, arrogant, or just plain hurtful.  Most of the time, you won’t be able to do anything to stop them. That’s just the way they’re going to be.

The only thing you will ever have real control over is how you’re going to respond back to them.

Trust me, you’re gonna want to get mad, hold a grudge, put up a wall, talk about them behind their backs, avoid them, or even be “fake nice” to their faces (when you’re really mad enough at them to punch them right in the nose!)

There’s a verse in the Bible that I have held close to my heart for over 50 years and one that has taught me how to be a friend to nearly every person who has ever crossed my path.  The words are few, but boy are they powerful:

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Ephesians 4:26

I’ve always believed I have about 24 hours to deal with my bad feelings for another person.  No matter what they’ve said or done. Yup. 24 hours. And once those 24 hours are up, I only have two options:

One…forgive them and consider them a friend.  And treat them like one.

Two…go and talk with them about what they said or did and how it made me feel.  If they continue to say and do mean things, I have to keep going and talking to them.  I might even need to take a trusted friend to join me, if the problem continues.

That’s it.  Forgive them or talk with them.  Or forgive them AND talk with them.  The problem is it’s much easier to talk ABOUT the people we are angry with, than it is to talk WITH them.

It’s not going to be easy. These days, people don’t grow up learning to talk and forgive. It’s crazy, but there are actually people who hold on to anger or bad feelings for others for months, or even years. Sometimes, forever. Don’t settle for being “those” kind of people. Ever.

I know.  That’s pretty heady stuff for little sprouts like you, but I promise if you decide to live by what the Bible says in this world (instead of by your own feelings), where careless words and thoughtless actions are everywhere, people will notice there is something really different about you. And your lives will make a difference.

Use your 24 hours wisely, Grasshoppers.


A word about forgiveness

ForgivenessI’m a Clipper fan.

I’m not a recent convert.  I didn’t jump on the bandwagon a few years ago when they got Chris Paul.  When the Clippers moved from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978, I was hooked.

(I actually still have a fondness for the Houston Rockets because they were originally established in SD until they relocated to Texas in 1971.  I saw Elvin Hayes and Calvin Murphy in San Diego uniforms when I was in high school.  Take that bada@@…)

I was never a Donald Sterling fan.  To me, he was just a rich lawyer who bought the Clippersthen flaunted his power by moving them to his hometown of Los Angeles.  I was crushed.  Anywhere but LA…

After 35 years of owning the team, all he’s ever won is the title of “Worst Owner in the History Professional Sports”.  Take that, Jerruh.  His latest bout with media-exposed bigotry is merely icing on the cakeand not worth my commentary.  I’ll simply let him continue to speak for himself.  Sad.  So Sad.

However, he did say something worth pointing out.

In his televised interview with Anderson Cooper, he said something that most everybody is guilty of saying:  “Please forgive me.”   It’s definitely the favorite go-to line for anybody caught screwing up.

  • Stupid boyfriends:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Insensitive husbands:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Wives who fail their husbands:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Shamed public officials:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Disgraced Pastors:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Humiliated celebrities:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Discredited bosses:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Embarrassed employees:  “Please forgive me.”
  • Guilt-ridden parents (to their children):  “Please forgive me.”

Let me just say thisNo.  No.  No.  No.

We can ask God to forgive our sins.  He can handle it.  It is impossible to emotionally manipulate him.  He is not subject to our drama.  His memory of our past sin is short, if not entirely non-existent.  We cannot make Him feel guilty.  And He has the power to give us the forgiveness we need most of all.

However, people are different.  When you have committed an offense or wrongdoing in the eyes of another, you have no right to ask them to forgive you.  You have no right to place that responsibility on them.  You have no right to make dealing with your sin, their problem.

Let’s be clear.  God requires that we forgive lavishly, abundantly, quickly and completelyfor our own good, for their good, and for the good of all those we rub elbows with.  If we fail to forgive, we will be held accountable.  By God.

On the other hand, if you are the one that sins against anotherif you screw up…if you hurt somebodyif you break a promiseif you are guilty of a trangressionhere is your plan when you meet the one you have wronged:

Confess (acknowledge) what you did wrong and you know it affected them.  Say you’re sorry for what you have done.  Mean it. Commit to them that it won’t happen again (to the best of your ability).

Then give them space and time to forgive you when they are ready.

Anything more than that is manipulative and unfair.

Whew.  I feel better now.  Time for bed.

Wrestling with gray

graymy last post (and my last sermon) really bothers me.  the skeptic/doubter/rebellious/seeker/cynic side of  me sees the gray.

the disciple/logical/intellectual/legalistic/pharisaical/bible thumper side of me sees black and white.  what’s a boy to do?

from yesterday’s endless list of beliefs and behaviors that define our church family, here are some that i have been taught to call “sin” through the years:

  • doubting is a sin.
  • getting drunk is a sin.
  • anger is a sin.
  • being a political liberal is a sin.
  • killing animals for fun is a sin.
  • being gay is a sin.
  • getting an abortion is a sin.
  • looking at pornography is a sin.
  • smoking is a sin.
  • listening to music with ungodly lyrics is a sin.
  • getting a divorce is a sin.
  • being in debt is a sin.
  • thoughts of suicide is sin.
  • gossip is sin.
  • flirting is sin.
  • addiction to drugs is sin.
  • giving less than 10% of my income to the church is sin.
  • overeating is sin.
  • sex outside of marriage is sin.
  • believing in evolution is sin.
  • having a woman pastor is a sin.
  • any and all lies are sin.
  • to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance is sin.
  • to oppose u.s. military decisions is sin.
  • to be angry at god is sin.
  • to neglect bible reading is sin.
  • failure to confess our sins is sin.
  • judging others is sin.
  • fear of death is sin.
  • racism is sin.
  • cussing is a sin.
  • getting a tattoo is a sin.
  • dancing is a sin.
  • women speaking in a church service is a sin.
  • interracial dating or marriage is sin.
  • men wearing hats in a church service is sin.
  • being on welfare is sin.
  • breaking the speed limit is sin.
  • missing church on sundays is a sin.

the list could go on.

some of them i still call “sin”.  others i see very differently than i did when i was younger.  but the thing that is most different for me is my heart for people whose behavior does not line up with my understanding of god’s laws.

condemnation is gone.  patience and understanding has replaced quick judgment.  i’ve come to realize that there is usually a story (sometimes a very complicated one) that determines how other people view their own sin and the sin of others.

although there are some times that a firm “stop it. now!”  is in order,  i guess i’ve just grown more comfortable with the idea that most all of us need people who will help carry the burden, while they wrestle through their theological life journey.

since god is the one who will ultimately forgive, i figure my patience with their sin should be at least as long as god’s.  if he can wait for change, then so can i.

Theology 101

We just finished a thing called 42 Days.

It was a six-week journey of reading a book, making a once-a-week meeting, daily Bible reading, and a practice of general personal discipline that a group of 45-50 North Point men made together. It was a good thing. We’ll do it again, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t easy. Especially the book.

We chose to read “Crazy Love”, by Francis Chan. It wasn’t the most difficult read I have ever done. As a matter of fact, his style is easy to process and the content was pretty straightforward. But what he said didn’t sit too well.

Nobody likes to be called out for being a slug. Especially a spiritual slug. And especially not a bunch of men who have to actually look each other in the eyes and “fess up” to falling short. Lets just say our weekly meetings were not some kind of brag session on how great each of us are doing with following the commands of Christ…

For most of the guys, it was the first time in a long while…or even the first time ever… that there was any public owning of personal spiritual shortcomings or weaknesses. I can’t speak for women, but I know this is a difficult thing for most men (though I sense men and women are probably far more similar in this area than Bible scholars and cultural anthropologists think).

So here’s what I’m thinking today: How do you face your failures? How do you navigate through the flood waters of mistakes and shortcomings and willful disobedience to the statutes of a holy God? How do you stare down the man or woman in the mirror when you know the real story behind the public personna?

According to God’s word, no one is righteous…no one does good…everyone falls short of God’s standards…. We learn from the Master’s own mouth that the beginning point of a right response to God is to admit our spiritual bankruptcy…and from the writings of the Apostle Paul, we are taught that the path to spiritual strength is through the embracing of our weakness.

Hey…nobody ever said the “logic” of the Kingdom wouldn’t be counter-intuitive!

One of the boldest statements made in the Bible is by Paul in Romans 6:1-2…

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? (Romans 6:1, 2 NIV)

Should we keep sinning, keep disobeying, keep living selfishly, keep willfully living contrary to God’s revealed will for our lives, keep ignoring the needs of others and the good of the Kingdom….and then say, “No problem, I know God will forgive me!”???

To put a modern spin on Paul’s answer to his own hypothetical question… “Are you an idiot, or what?” No way are we to take advantage of God’s compassionate love for us. No way are we to deliberately and selfishly impose on his gracious benevolence towards us.

But here’s what we can do: Let your sin and brokenness and pride and laziness and obstinance and hard-heartedness and struggles with integrity be a constant reminder that your sufficiency and worth and wholeness will never be earned or deserved…nor will it ever be perfect…and that without your failures, you would never be driven to your knees for help.

Or with gratitude.

Letters to Holden and Nolan

Holden and Nolan side by side C editedlittle dudes…

last week, i wrote you about these two guys that lied.  one of them lied and cheated to get ahead.  along the way he hurt and bullied lots of people, in order to keep his lie a secret.  nobody likes him right now and it will be years and years before people ever forget what he has done.  if they ever do.

the other guy lied because he made a foolish mistake and he was embarrassed and he didn’t want to hurt the people he loved.  at least that’s what he’s saying right now.  now, everybody makes fun of him and he’s turned into a public joke.  his reputation has been really damaged and it will be a long time before he fully recovers it.

here’s something i want you to know:

people make mistakes and dumb decisions and do crazy things all the time.  and nobody will ever know the whole story behind why they do what they do.   when it comes to understanding people, there’s always more than what we see.

and that’s why the bible tells us to treat people the way we want to be treated.  none of us are perfect.  there will be times in your life that you guys make mistakes and do or say things you wish you could take back.  you may even hurt people along the way.

that’s the time you will need patience and understanding and forgiveness the most.  words of kindness will mean everything to you.  people standing by you and supporting you in the face of attacks and rejections will give you strength to move on and learn from your mistakes.

you will need people who challenge you and help you make wise decisions in the future.  sometimes you won’t want to hear what they say, because it will be difficult.  but you will need those kinds of friends.  

the world is a very cruel place sometimes.  it is filled with people who can be mean and won’t think twice about humiliating you in front of others.  and you guys are growing up in a world where your mistakes (and people’s thoughts about them) can be magnified for everybody to see in click of a button.

you’ll learn about that soon enough…

the struggle to be good and kind and compassionate is going to be a tough one for you.   standing by hurt people or difficult people or damaged people or broken people has never been popular.  but loving the harassed and helpless is what the world’s greatest example came to show us.

so treat people well and with kindness…even the ones who make huge mistakes.  not because they deserve it…but because they need it.

grow wise, grasshoppers.


Marriage Tuesday

so i’m feeling like i ought to apologize for my overreaction yesterday.  today, when i went back and read what i
wrote, i had to admit that some of it was a response to some things i had read well as a conversation i had had after our services on sunday.

i’m not backing off my conclusions, but there was definitely a critical edge that was unnecessary.  sometimes the truth doesn’t need to be spoken.  sometimes it serves no purpose other than to flaunt spiritual superiority.  this is not a pleasant admission.

but it does make me think about a common problem in marriages.

one of my absolute favorite things about football season in texas is listening to sports talk radio…especially after a regrettable performance by the home team.   one of the local stations loves referring to the “day after” as overreaction monday.

are you an “overreactor” in your marriage?

do you have the tendency to blow things out of proportion?

are you ever guilty of exaggerating the demands or outcomes of a situation?

are you a drama queen…or the male equivalent?

do you make big deals out of small problems?

are you prone to making mountains out of mole hills?

or are you the kind of person that loves to give your partner the benefit of the doubt?  are you able to keep a sense of perspective when things go wrong…and do your reactions consistently fit the crimes?

healthy relationships have this in common:  there is room for error.  responses are seasoned with grace.  forgiveness is never earned.  hope is always present.  justice is tempered with love.

and there is absolutely no overreaction monday.

Marriage Tuesday…and for everybody else, too.

if you’re not married, it doesn’t matter.  this post is for you, also.

if asked, the majority of people would say the most important words we can ever use in our marriages are “i love you.”  i disagree.

of far greater importance are the words, “i’m sorry.”

“i’m sorry” is a much louder and affirming version of “i love you.”  it speaks volumes.  it says we care.  it shows we see the bigger picture.  it affirms value.  it seldom needs further explanation.  when it is delivered with sincerity,  i cancels out wrong and can re-establish trust.

“i’m sorry” accepts blame.

an honest “i’m sorry” requires absolute humility…one of the greatest needs in any healthy relationship.  “i’m sorry” means that i’m the problem and you’re not.  “i’m sorry” says that i will take the responsibility for making things right and take you off the hook.

“i’m sorry” sets the table for forgiveness to take place.  it gives the other person the open door that is needed to wander back into a place where it was no longer safe.  “i’m sorry” creates breathing room.  “i’m sorry” says there are no surprises lurking behind that door.

i’m not talking about forced apology.  you know…the kind where parents say to their ratty kids, “tell her you’re sorry.  tell her.  right now.”  that’s a con.  that sets everybody up for failure.

(by the way, if you’re a parents that insists on making your kids apologize for their interpersonal transgressions, you need to, at least, be willing to spend an equal amount of time teaching your kid why sorrow for sin is important…and not why “getting caught” is a bummer…)

what i’m talking about here is genuine, heartfelt, life-changing, life-giving sorrow and repentance for having hurt, undermined, betrayed, alienated, or disrespected the one you claim to love.  “i’m sorry” are the words that should roll off your lips regularly and effortlessly.  they should be music to your spouse’s ears …unless you have to do it too often.  then you’ve got a whole other problem on your hands.


one last note.  stop asking people to forgive you when you wronged them.  it may be their responsibility, but it’s not yours to put them on the spot to do it.

asking people to forgive our mistakes or hurtful behavior is about the most self-centered thing we can do.   it’s as ludicrous as walking up to someone and saying,  “pleeeease tell me you’re sorry.  pleeeese tell me you feel bad for what you’ve done.  pleeeese tell me you’ll never do it again.”  ridiculous.

you don’t want to coerce anybody into a meaningless, fake apology.  why would we want a forgiveness offered by the same motivation?  come on.   offer your apology and trust that god will use it for the good of the other person and the rebuilding of your relationship.  the forgiveness you feel you need will come when they are ready and able to give it.