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

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Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2this is not pretty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rinse and repeat.  everyday.

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

you just need to throw up the white flag.

somebody will see it.

i promise.

Dealing with people

peopledriving home from the hospital tonight, wanda and i were doing some of our normal conversational two-step.  when we got home, i couldn’t really stop thinking about this bit of wisdom that became all-to-apparent.  the common denominator in virtually every conflict…every heartache…every frustration…every joy…every complication…and every satisfaction i have is people.

in case you need some further insight into the nature of people…and some additional help for dealing with people…let me enlighten you with the following truth about people from my vantage point in the social cheap seats:

people act the way they do for a reason.  people don’t wake up some morning and consciously decide to sabotage the relationships they have with friends and family.   unhealthy behavior has a source.

* if you want to learn to get along with people, look below the surface.  people need to stop “reacting” to bad behavior and work harder at recognizing the reasons why certain behaviors occur in others.  it’s the beginning of compassion.

* people are going to fail.  miserably, sometimes.  we need to give others more and more and more space to fall short.  i recognize this can turn into enabling bad behavior, but it’s a risk we need to take frequently.  grace in the moment of great failure is an amazing gift to be given.

* we need to give people room to be different…and love them deeply in spite of it.  everybody functions differently than you do.  some are radically different.  embrace the diversity!  sometimes people of christian faith are the worst offenders.

we have this tendency to wig out when we are around people of different beliefs and different lifestyles and different politics and different paychecks and different values…as if conversation and interaction were to be based solely on similarity!

why do we have to assume just because someone has a different ideology or a different theology…they are an idiot?

why does different have to mean stupid…or wrong…or worse…or evil?  why can’t people just be different…and have those differences be affirmed and respected?  even if they stand in direct opposition to what we happen to stand for.

* stop being surprised when people act poorly.  anticipate it.  prepare yourself for it.  have a plan in place for reacting with grace.  this is not lowering the bar!  this is simply removing the possibility of being caught off guard, so that our reactions can always be in the person’s best interest.

* most conflicts between people happen because we (i, you) have this insatiable need to be “right”.  when are we going to grow comfortable with the idea that we are not as smart as we think we are?  or that maybe, just maybe, others may have something to teach us…especially the “others” we so strongly disagree with.

on a personal level, i probably disagree with you on a lot of things.  take your pick:  alcohol…baptism… gun control… speeding… calvinsim…parenting…benevolence…civil rights…the death penalty…the “unforgivable sin”… women’s rights…immigration…the rapture… young/old earth…meds…freedom of speech…abortion…the defense fund… nationalism…church buildings… going to the moon…tithing… homosexuality… divorce…speaking in tongues… forgiveness…hunting…evangelism…the sabbath…lying…premarital sex…life insurance…demon possession…spanking kids…heaven and hell.  whew!  i’m just getting started on topics.

you think you know what i believe on all those topics?  trust me.  you don’t. certainly not the whole story.  and you know what’s really cool about that?  we’re still friends.  at least i think we are.   i know i am with you.

we can break bread any time.  can you, with me?  can you, with others?

i hope so.

Marriage Tuesday

i got to spend the last week with a bunch of men out in the colorado wilderness.  it’s a good deal.

i love the wilderness.  i dig hanging out with other men.  and i’m all over talking with guys about the really important things in life.

i’ve done this thing for the past ten years and every year, some of my favorite conversations are about their marriages.  some of the conversations are difficult.  some are encouraging.  some are full of brutal honesty.  some are expressions of denial.

some are seeking help and willing to listen to advice and others have absolutely no clue their marriages are about to be shipwrecked.  either way, talking with these guys about their marriages is a challenge.  and an honor.

this week, we had a guy stand up in front of the whole group and air his dirty laundry.  he told of his twenty-year struggle of sabotaging his marriage.  he didn’t try to do it on purpose.  he was simply unaware of the damage he was inflicting on his wife, by his unwillingness to listen to her…the absence of compassion…and the inability to put his wife’s needs above his interest in the lives of others.

he’s a pastor.  his calling is to preach the word and shepherd those who needed his attention and care.  somewhere along the line, he got duped into believing that being attentive to his wife was not as important as being attentive to others.

and he lost her.  to another man.

but the story didn’t end there.

both of them decided that honoring their marriage was the equivalent of honoring god.  so they didn’t quit.  on each other.  on marriage.  on god.

they each repented of their sins.  they each assumed responsibility for where they failed.  they forgave each other for the mistakes that were made and they determined to make changes.   she broke off the adulterous relationship.  he started owning up to the kind of man he had become.

and even bigger, they stopped trying to hide their marriage failures.   they stopped turning against each other.   they started turning to their friends for help.  they drafted others into their pain and submitted themselves to the wisdom of god, revealed in the word.  they started living by faith again…and began believing that even though they were each unfaithful,  god would always be faithful.

they hit the bottom in 2006.   they have been on the journey back since then.  they have taken six years of baby steps…both individually and as a couple.  its far from perfect.  he admitted that some days, he’s the same old insensitive,  self-centered slug he was throughout their marriage.   but he’s making progress.

not because he’s such a great guy,  but because he finally decided to personally trust in god to change his heart…instead of just telling others that god would do it for them.

his story inspired me.   how about you?

Letters to Holden and Nolan…

little men, 

i’m thinking about you guys this morning…probably because i get to watch you this afternoon while your mommy tutors some kids.  it’s always a fun afternoon when i get to see you.

this won’t make much sense to you now, but it sure will somewhere down the line…

right now, there is simply “right” and “wrong” for you.  you don’t know anything about this thing we call the gray area.  it’s a place adults like to visit all the time.

your mommy and daddy have worked really hard to protect you.  they make rules for you to live by.  they put up fences and barriers and they tell you exactly where you can go and the things you need to stay away from.  it’s for your own good…and the good of others.

but as you get older, you’ll want to push those boundaries.  trust me.  you will.  you will think you know better.  you’ll try to convince yourself that the rules you can make for yourself are better than the ones you are learning to live by right now.  adults do this all the time!

way back in the beginning, when god created the earth and made adam and eve, he put up boundaries for them.  he made their world safe for them to enjoy.  he told them where they could go and the things they needed to stay away from for their own good.  but they didn’t listen.  they chose to wander into the gray area.

they became convinced that “wrong” was really “okay”…and “no” was actually “mmmm…maybe”.   they came to believe they were smarter than god.  they thought their own decisions and their own ideas were going to work out better than the simple lessons they were taught in the beginning.

and adults do this all the time.

so, my little friends, beware of the gray area.  stay close to the lessons you learn right now.  right and wrong don’t change just because you get older.  wrong doesn’t become right,  just because it feels better or gives you something you want.

every day for the rest of your lives,  you will be tempted to wander into unsafe places…unsafe for your reputations or your important relationships or even your physical well-being.  it may look really fun.  it may even appear to be “right”.  but it will be deadly.

when it comes to gray areas,  don’t be like adults.

stay like the trusting children you are.

grow wise,  grasshoppers.

papi

Those pesky assumptions

i think one of the saddest things i ever see…or even personally experience…is when friendships fall apart or family relationships grow distant or people who love each other drift away because assumptions are made.

if you are the one making assumptions,  you have three choices:

one,  you can choose not  to believe your assumptions and trust the strength and loyalty of your relationship instead.   you can refuse to give in to your feelings or your interpretation of events,  stay the course,  and have faith that the foundation you have built is true.

this is more than giving a person the benefit of the doubt.   it’s holding on with assurance…offering forgiveness or grace where it is needed…and going forward with absolute confidence.   and then you work harder than ever to make sure those assumptions never return.

two,  you can talk.   you realize that the relationship is worth your best effort.   you acknowledge you are hurt or frustrated or simply confused by the apparent actions of your friend or family member.   you trust that there is still something worth salvaging and hold tightly to it.

you recognize that if your feelings go unchecked or your assumptions go unchallenged,  you could lose what you have had in the past.   so you give the benefit of the doubt,  and talk.

or three,  you give in to your assumptions,  believe what your thinking,   and let the relationship begin to unravel.   it will be slow at first.   in the beginning,  the person (or people) won’t have any idea you are letting the foundation crumble.

you’ll mask what’s really going on.   you may even be deceiving yourself…painting on a smile and acting like everything’s ok.   slowly,  but surely,  things will never be the same.

so if you are making some assumptions about people you love  (or have a significant relationship with),  what are you gonna do?

trust…talk…or keep letting the relationship suffer?

it’s all up to you.

It’s Monday again…

people think they have all the time in the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

does your life reflect humble sacrifice and giving to others?

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

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

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

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

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

i hope so.