Sharing God’s Mission to Love Others

womenI posted last week about a sensitive topic that’s been on my heart for a long time but eluded my words: that it’s a little awkward for us to be teaching people to “stop comparing themselves to others” when we ourselves hold a considerable amount of power over whether they feel the need to compare.

We all have a part to play. Whenever we choose someone else’s companionship or potential over another, we make a comparison. Everyone’s got their A-lists and D-lists, and I’m no exception. I’ve been rejected, and I’ve done some rejecting. And when people learn, in their youth, that they are being compared to others by others, it is only natural that they’ll join in. Lonely people can tell you this better than anyone.

To be sure, our lives are jam-packed and we don’t have time for everyone or everything. But even that feels like an excuse at some point. I know I’ve missed opportunities to show the love of Christ. It makes me wonder what the kingdom would look like if we really celebrated everyone as an image-bearer of God.

What is the Biblical solution?

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Are We Driving Others to the Sin of Comparison?

the_most_terrible_poverty_is_loneliness2c_and_the_feeling_of_being_unlovedThe woman who gazes at a hated reflection and wishes she were thinner and prettier.

The poor man who wears himself out pursuing the worry-free life of a millionaire.

The failed applicant who lost to someone with a longer resume (or better connections).

The scrawny sophomore who sits at home envying the senior jock who seems to go nowhere without an entourage.

All these people are comparing ourselves to others. It’s a rampant problem in today’s society. I needn’t rehash the costly and damaging things people do to attain the standards society promotes.

Much Christian teaching these days, directed at millennials in particular, has recognized the insecurity bred by this phenomenon and offers an answer: to “stop comparing yourself to others and find your satisfaction in God“.

There is truth to this. Even the world manages to stumble haphazardly upon this truth as it blindly gropes its way across the landscape. “A broken clock is right twice a day” and all that. And I would hasten to add that there are good reasons for some of the comparisons we perform. Job hunts are comparisons. We want the best person for the job. We would not hand a pulpit to an uneducated layman (or Satanist), or an engineer’s desk to a botanist who doesn’t know a wrench from his rear end.

However, at the end of the day, there are still lonely and undervalued people out there. There’s a missing piece to the puzzle: us. We have a role to play. And I suspect that we have allowed the competition aspect of life to spill its banks, become more prevalent than it should be.

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6 Pieces of Advice for the Christian Joining the Military

CENTCOM CoC

So, you’re signing on the dotted line.

First thing I’d say is, good decision. You’ve either got a lot of guts, a lot of devotion, or a lot of trust in God to be joining the U.S. armed forces. Or some combination of all three. Hopefully the latter.

Perhaps you’re one of those who didn’t have much direction or structure in life and went looking for some. I knew guys like that. Again I’d say, you could be doing far worse. Some of our best soldiers came from that background. The uniform can do amazing things to a person…as long as they’re willing to work.

I did a four-year tour in the Air Force. It was all stateside, the only really impressive thing about it being that it took place in the immediate post-9/11 world. It’s been over a decade since my separation, but I vividly remember the lessons I learned – how they equipped me for the future and simultaneously cast a pall over my track record. I have regrets from those days that the grace of God is still chipping off.

So I humbly ask for your ear now, as I offer some advice for military service as a believer.

 

1. Admit fault.

One of the best life skills I ever learned is the ability to admit fault.

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#WalkUpNotOut Is Not Victim-Blaming or Mere Niceness. It’s the Gospel.

darkhandHaving spent five years teaching in the public school system, I have many thoughts on bullying.

I’ve learned that what I consider a light tease towards a person I don’t know too well, but actually kinda like, may instead be salt in an unseen wound.

I’ve learned that what some call bullying may be only a blink-of-an-eye pattern that happens twice and strains the classic definitions, but should be resoundingly educated against regardless of what label it falls under.

I’ve learned that despite those definitions, some bullying does have the stronger individual on the receiving end. Nobody is impregnable.

I’ve learned that bullying doesn’t just come from one-parent kids on the wrong side of the tracks, but from children of popular and powerful families as well.

But most of all, I’ve learned that kindness is not just niceness. In this world where we get ten negative comments to every positive one, a kind word is water in the desert. Some people out there would give their next meal for one.

So when Rachel Held Evans last week took aim at the viral anti-bullying campaign #WalkUpNotOut, intended to replace school walkouts with acts of kindness towards unknown peers, you can imagine I rolled my eyes.

rachel

This tweet misses the point in so many ways that it could be a kicker for the Seahawks.

Evans’ voice is joined by the usual left-wing cacophony about how treating people well won’t end school shootings. That’s a classic example of a “straw man” – an argument nobody was making, erected in the hasty fear that it might crowd out their preferred solutions. It also forgets that plenty of people blame the shooter for his actions, not the victims. Now Rachel has this tweet out there, copied by itself into meme form, without the benefit of her later clarifications, looking like she dismisses outreach as “being nicer”. I doubt she actually does, but…hard lesson of social media there, Mrs. Evans.

I do agree that violence will never completely cease this side of the mirror dimly. We fight it, we pray against it, we make laws against it (and argue which ones to pass), we avoid it ourselves, and that’s all proper and urgent. Yet only heaven will bring order and peace.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing whatever is within our reach. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have as many hoses on this fire as possible. #WalkUpNotOut has the nice distinction of being something we can control, right here, right now.

Most of all, however, we should walk up to people because…it’s the Gospel.

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How I Stumbled at Work and Grace

There was a period last year in which I could seemingly get almost nothing right at my primary job.

The nature of my job is such that errors lent themselves to a nice paranoia. They’d take long stretches of time to come back and show themselves, so I’d spend weeks worrying over any large batch of work I sent out. They also had a habit of clumping together for some strange reason. So when it would rain, it would pour – come in Monday and a huge batch of mistakes from two month ago, sitting on my desk.

My boss was decent about it. He’s a good guy to work for. But this went on for months, and he eventually let me know in no uncertain terms that improvement was needed.

God had a lesson in it.

But it wasn’t what you think. It wasn’t just the lesson of “work harder, be diligent, be the best at your job in order to glorify me,” although that Scriptural lesson is always before us.

It was about how hard I am on myself.

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“Jesus, Give Me Your Heart For People”

pexels-photo-207896I’m not exactly a people person by default. I’m one of those souls who wants friendship and likes some humanity close by, but prefers “his people”. Small inner circle, then acquaintances and colleagues, then everyone else (allowing for some shades of gray). Strangers? Yikes.

BUT…I’ve also asked myself more than once, “How is a personality like this supposed to spread the Gospel with any serious effectiveness?”

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Christianity Doesn’t Bring Shame. It Removes It.

“Although I left Christianity over 20 years ago, it took a long while for me to erase the doctrines that had been embedded within my consciousness for 15+ years. Learning how and why certain doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., final judgment, burning fires of hell, Satan and his demons, the end-times) were introduced into the faith was extremely liberating … and removed a ton of guilt and fear.”

This individual* could be speaking for much of society.

14517262115_0b7dc7b411_oOur entertainment culture is embroiled in a race to paint Christianity as evil. And it’s got ammunition.

From Carrie to The Shape of Water, from Handmaid’s Tale to Family Guy, Christian faith is portrayed in modern media as a heartless and oppressive force in people’s lives, gone wild to the point of ostracizing, dehumanizing, handcuffing, and even killing in the name of God. Such excesses are so normative in TV and film, in fact, that I can’t remember the last time Hollywood filmed a church as a positive force, or even as a neutral one.

Yet there’s no doubt that such tragic systems have existed, and still do.

Some people have gone through it and escaped. Their testimonies poison our reputation. Christianity is seen as an agent of guilt, an imposer of shame that can only be removed by – I don’t know, what do they claim that churches are selling as a solution? Submitting to the system? Staying in church? Ceasing to dance or have fun? Accepting doctrine? It’s never really made clear.

Doctrine.

That horrifying, cringe-inducing, hateful, joy-sucking, monolithic wrecking ball of a word that so many have come to fear, that evokes structure and hate and frowny-faced elders in suspenders beating you upside the head with a Bible.

Doctrine actually tells a different story entirely.

Christianity is not a faith of guilt and fear, but of forgiveness, freedom and joy…and it is doctrine that tells us that.

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