Be Yourself?

Choicethere is a line that exists between these two statements:

“be the best YOU that you can be”
“rise above what you are and be what is needed”

both of these statements are true. one of the worst things we can ever do with our lives is to try to be something we’re not. our world is full of fakers and posers and wannabes who try to con people into believing that what they see is the real deal.

there are few things sadder than watching somebody trying to paint a false impression in an interview process or out on a first date. “just be yourself” is some of the best advice we can ever give to another person.

on the other hand, if i would have hidden behind the “this-is-just-the-way-that-i-am” defense, i never would have become the person i am today.

  • i am naturally an introvert…but i learned how to interact with people and have grown to love crowds and tons of social interaction.
  • i am naturally shy and hate being the center of attention…but i’ve grown more and more comfortable with being “up front”. without that change, i could never do what i do.
  • i am naturally self-conscious…but over the years i have learned to face my failures publicly.
  • i used to be petrified of public speaking…but speaking with confidence is a requirement for what i do and i had to learn how to grow comfortable with it.
  • i used to be over-the-top impulsive…but over the years, i have learned a measure of self-discipline.
  • i used to be gripped by fear…but have steadily developed into a risk-taker as my faith has grown and my vision for what god requires has deepened.
  • early in my life, i was a worrier…but as i’ve grown older, the more contentment has ruled in my heart.

the list could go on…

the point is this. i think when we are young, we develop a certain personality…a certain skill set…a certain way of living that is unique to us. some of that is thrust on us because the parents we have and the genetics poured into us. some comes through the home-life dynamics that shape the way we see the world. some also comes by way of significant life experiences we live through, but have little or no control over. and some certainly comes because that is just the way god made us.

but we are never “stuck” there. change is not only possible, its required. for the follower of christ, when we read we are to “seek the kingdom of god and his righteousness AS OF FIRST PRIORITY”, it means we to actively pursue those personality characteristics…those skills…that fruit of spirit…that best emulates the life and example of jesus.

it also means we are to actively pursue choices, behaviors, attitudes, thought processes, that reflect our commitment to placing god’s kingdom first in all things.

so….

if my it is my nature to be opinionated and abrasive, then i need to aggressively pursue a softer spirit and gentler approach with people. learning to “speak the mind of christ” instead of “speaking my own mind”, needs to happen for the good of the kingdom.

if mercy and forgiveness do not come naturally, then work on it…for the good of people and the good of the kingdom.

if you find it difficult to give to others selflessly, that can change. and it needs to. if being shy or undisciplined is limiting your role in god’s redemptive plan, then it’s high time you start digging in and believing you are not destined to simply be the person you are.

you do not have to live in fear, embarrassment, self-consciousness, anger, or resentment. you don’t have to let your emotional responses be controlled by the actions of others.

you can become a “better” you. but this is not the pseudo, self-help junk that is passed off as a spiritual journey. what i’m talking about is a new life that happens as we surrender “our will” to the “will of the father”. it happens as we grow more and more familiar with the ways of god.

it happens when the ways of the kingdom and the needs of people become more important than hiding behind “that’s just the way i am”.

I pledge allegiance

hand-over-hearti’ve told you before that i generally stay away from making political commentary.

don’t miss the point.  THIS IS NOT POLITICAL COMMENTARY.

this is not new.  it’s gone on for years, but it’s definitely coming through loud and clear these days.  i’ve been reading some pretty scathing commentary by people (mostly people claiming to be good, church-going, american christians), saying:

  • if you don’t abide by our laws…
  • if you don’t learn to speak our language…
  • if you don’t honor our customs and traditions above the ones where you came from…
  • if you don’t uphold the things our forefathers fought and died for…
  • if you don’t pledge your allegiance to our flag and everything our great nation was built on…
  • if you are not fully committed to the ideologies we hold dear…

…then you should lose your half-ass citizenship (which is probably questionable at best), get the hell out of here and go back where you came from.  (their words, not mine.)

here’s the point.

i wonder why christians are not saying the same things about our own…those who claim citizenship in the kingdom of god, but don’t act like it…

  • those who rewrite god’s laws to suit the way they want to live…
  • those whose speech is full of anger, judgment and impatience, rather than the message of the kingdom…
  • those whose lifestyle reflects more of their past than the new life jesus died to give them…
  • those who live a life of compromised dual-citizenship…
  • those who want the benefits of the kingdom without sharing fully in the responsibilities…

i am grateful i don’t live under the oppressive weight of laws and rules and empty traditions.  i am equally grateful that people have never tried to kick me out of the kingdom (or even my church) during those days when my commitment to the kingdom was questionable and my speech and actions were far from the example of jesus.

i understand my behavior constantly gravitates back to my old nature (the place where i used to hold citizenship).  i also know that i have been adopted into a new land…a new family…a new place to call my home that is unnatural and sometimes completely foreign to me.

i am grateful we live under grace and not judgment.

but as american christians, i kinda wish were known more for our kingdom zeal than our passionate nationalism.

Troubling, Inspiring, Humbling

here’s a quote by rob bell i read recently.  rob’s a pretty controversial guy.   that reputation is certainly strengthened by the following words:

Most of the bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It is a book written from the underside of power. It’s an oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires, from the Egyptian empire to the Babylonian empire to the Persian empire to the Assyrian empire to the Roman empire.

This can make the bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the scriptures.

as troubling as his words are,  i think i believe them.

it makes me wonder how many of the central themes of the bible i see through the lens of the privileged position i enjoy:

  • i have lived in a free society my entire life.
  • i have stayed consistently employed since i became an adult.
  • i eat whatever i want, whenever i want.  i always have.  many times, much more than i need.
  • i waste gallons of water waiting for my shower to get warm.
  • i have had medical insurance most of my adult life.
  • i have a great education and multiple college degrees.
  • i have more friends than i know what to do with.
  • i have never experienced religious persecution.
  • i have never really feared for my life from an enemy.
  • i have consistently had a credit card for emergencies.
  • i have never been discriminated against because of my race or sex.
  • i have always had enough money to provide for my family.
  • i have never felt oppression.
  • i have always been self-sufficient.
  • even in my personal worst of times, i have always been in the top 6% of the richest people in the world (for the record, any family living on more than $40k is in the top 3%!)

i don’t beat myself up.  i don’t go to bed feeling guilty for all the wealth and comfort i have.  i truly don’t deserve it.  i am fortunate to have been born when i was born…where i was born…to whom i was born…with the gifts and opportunities that were afforded me.

i have tried to make the most of what i was given.

but i am deeply aware that the hard words of discipleship that come from the mouth of jesus and hands of the apostles were forged in a culture that i am unfamiliar with.

…and filtered through a personal lifestyle and experience that will always be at odds with the call of complete surrender to a kingdom not of this world.

what’s an entitled boy to do?

Generosity

i’m pretty much convinced that the measuring stick of spiritual maturity can be summed up in a single word:  generosity.

generosity of time…of money…of energy…of emotional resources…of belongings…of love…of gratitude…of worship.

no matter how much talent you possess or how much money you have in your pocket or how much time you have at your disposal or how much stuff you own,  you can still be generous with it.   you can still give it away.

every one of us is faced with  daily…no…moment by moment decisions of whether we will hold tight to what we have or whether we will loosen our grip on what we claim we own,  and be generous for the good of others.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus,  how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’   Acts 20:35

One gives freely,  yet grows all the richer;  another withholds what he should give,  and only suffers want.   Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,  and one who waters will himself be watered.   Proverbs 11:24-25

we don’t give because we want something in return.   we give because we have faith that god will take care of us.   generosity is a statement of belief.   generosity is a declaration of commitment.  generosity is an act of trust.

more than anything else,  generosity is an expression of kingdom priorities.   everything i have belongs to god.   my time and my money and my energy and my resources.   everything.   how can i not help but be generous with it for the good of others…and the honor and reputation of god?

yesterday was a good day for the north point family.   a generous day.

many people extended themselves above and beyond,  to provide an amazing christmas experience for a bunch of kids.   and i mean a bunch!

we had nearly $9000 given yesterday towards advent conspiracy.   that puts our total over $17,000.   it is humbling to realize there are so many who are willing to spend less on themselves for christmas,  so that others can receive what they need.

on a day of extravagant giving to advent conspiracy,  we also had a really generous general offering to keep things running around north point…over $6000.   wow.

nearly 60 women shared life together last night at their yearly christmas party…enjoying old friendships and welcoming new ones in.   generosity of life and heart for the good of others.

yeah.  it was a good day.   it was a generous day.

First Priority.

yesterday’s text,  matthew 6:30-34,  is one of the most preached about passages in the bible.   i imagine i have heard over a hundred sermons preached from  it in my lifetime.   so teaching through these words was not unfamiliar territory for me.

but the older i get,  the more difficult it is to wrestle with this part of the sermon on the mount:

seek first the kingdom of god…

forty years ago,  the king james version of matthew 6:33-34 was set to music in one of the very first choruses that defined the jesus movement…that defined changes in the church culture that would define my life forever.

“seek ye first the kingdom of god and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you,  hallelujah.”    i can still sing it as if it were yesterday.    and it is a command that i am still trying to learn to live with everyday.

it’s amazing how we can put a syrupy-sweet melody to volatile words and end up with a benign response.   truth is,  these are some of the harshest and most unrealistically difficult words that jesus ever said.    “as a matter of first priority,  put the good of my kingdom before everything else in your life.   put the advancement of my kingdom before the comfort and development of your family,  before your personal well-being,  before your financial security,  before your pursuit of personal contentment,  and before what you want and need.”

wow.  sign me up.   yuck.

it’s no wonder we leave that little tidbit of information out of our invitations for people to follow jesus.   better just stick with the good stuff like “god will answer your prayers”  and “you get to go to heaven when you die.”

the real trouble is that i’m not so sure we ever even get to the bait and switch part!

when’s the last time you had somebody crawl up in your space and make you come face-to-face with the hard words of jesus,  right along side all the bennies?

right.   yesterday.   so don’t run away.   preaching these words doesn’t mean i like to hear them any more than you do.   nor does it mean that i struggle any less with putting them into practice.   we’re in this together.

and we will not run away from them.

Me and politics

i never talk politics.   all of you do,  but i don’t.   you may think i’m a chicken or i’m just uneducated,  but neither is true.   i care deeply about the american political scene…stay current…and have some really strong political opinions.   but you will never hear them.

well…almost.

in light of the mid-term election process we have just completed,  here are five thoughts,  explanations,  or personal opinions i’ll pass on:

1.   the priority reason i never talk politics is because i am unwilling to alienate a large percentage of the people i serve as a leader in my church family.   shock…north point has republicans, democrats and libertarians.  maybe even a few tea partiers.   i wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a greenie.   i’ve found that of all the topics up for discussion around the communion table,  there is nothing more polarizing than one’s political opinions.   if i’m going to polarize and alienate people,  i’m sure as heck going to do it over my sports teams or favorite fast food restaurants…and not political rhetoric.

2.  i’m weary of people…christians in particular…who show disrespect and cast judgment on legitimate politicians and the people who align themselves political party platforms.   i’m tired of smug superior attitudes…from all sides.   i’m tired of claims that one’s sources of information are vastly superior and infinitely more reliable than others…and the requisite smug judgment that normally follows.   christ died to break down the dividing walls of hostility that separated not just the jews from the greeks,  but the walls that separated classes and sexes and religious traditions and cultural heritage.   christians must never be found guilty of erecting dividing walls…but always be seen as those who peacefully and respectfully tear them down.

i am as disgusted with people who call obama an evil,  closet-muslim,  destroyer of the american way…as i was of those who mocked george W with their slanderous insults about his lack of education,  poor leadership skills and embarrassment to our country.

3.   i love that we live in a country that cherishes the right of individual citizens to freely speak their minds…even if it means openly criticizing and undermining the president and the government he leads.   men and women died for this freedom.   i’m grateful for it.   but as christians,  we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of god…a nation that runs by completely different standards than the country of our earthly citizenship.   the word of god says that we are to submit to our earthly leaders and pray for them.   it’s just my opinion,  but if you are not praying faithfully and sincerely for our leaders,  you have no right to criticize.   in fact,  there are some stern warnings in the rule book of the kingdom about developing a critical spirit.   beware.

4.   i know this is not a new thought,  but god is neither a republican nor a democrat.   both platforms have good and bad from a biblical point of view.    honest faith must be free to challenge both the right and the left from a consistent moral…and biblical ground.   civil,  loving,  open and respectful dialogue is the only kind of dialogue that should characterize believers and fellow-citizens of the kingdom.

5.    politics corrupt.   every time.   for every man and woman.   it just seems like it’s the nature of the beast.   a wise man once observed that even when a new leader takes over for an old foolish one, the new leader eventually becomes as bad as the old one.

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.   The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom.   I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor.   There was no end to all the people who were before them.   But those who came later were not pleased with the successor.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.   Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

we are kingdom people first.   always.   so let our thoughts,  behaviors,  interactions,   relationships,  and…politics… always reflect the grace and mercy of our king.   always.

 

Axioms…from my perspective

normally, i dedicate thursdays to giving some of my personal life axioms…truth that, from my perspective, is self-evident. sometimes practical. sometimes philosophical. sometimes whimsical. but truth, no less.

“possess nothing that cannot be given away, loaned, or used and abused freely.”

what a difficult value to live out! “what’s mine is mine.  what’s yours is yours…and keep your hands off mine!”  this kind of mentality is what most in our culture grow up with. on top of that, we live in a culture that defines success and reputation more by what we own that by any other value.  combine those two things together and we have created an environment where we are owned by our stuff, rather than us owning it!

years ago (as a young couple), we made a decision to do our very best  never to let our stuff control us, but to see ourselves as simply stewards of what belonged to someone else.

we believed (and still do) that everything we have is gods and is, therefore, subject to kingdom use.  we work hard to buy things that have obvious kingdom uses.  the kind of house we own, cars we drive, recreational and entertainment stuff we buy, tools and equipment we possess…even valuable (or in our case, lack of valuable) keepsakes and decorations are all, yes, all on loan to us from god and we are just stewards.

for the record,  although we try to use our resources to fund things mostly on a “need” basis, we have never been particularly amish in our approach to life and “things”.  we actually have some pretty cool stuff.  but even our cool (and more expensive stuff) is still god’s.  and because of that, it is here to be used.

nothing that we own…nothing…is “off limits” for others.  sometimes it’s hard.  sometimes we don’t want to share.  sometimes we wisdom dictates situations where we have to say “no”.  but not because our stuff owns us, but because to loan it or use it or give it away would not be prudent at that time…or with those people.  but it’s always up for discussion.

we need to be wise and take care of what we “own” the very best we can, but never, ever controlled by it.

honestly, this may be one of the most important and practical axioms that the farra’s have tried to live by…and one that has constantly reminded us to surrender ourselves to the lordship of christ and live dedicated to the kingdom.