A Teasing Sense of Humor and How to Crucify It

crucifyGrowing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.

Always.

Whenever anyone said something, my malformed brain would immediately look for a way to turn it and tease the person a little.

Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master. For many years into my adult life, it would often remain my reflex in a conversation.

And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.

Clueless, I tell you.

Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”

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Having Abundance Takes…Contentment?

abundanceAt some point, we have all probably quoted this verse to encourage ourselves:

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

We might have mis-quoted it, too. The context of this passage is not declaring the ability to do anything you want to do, but the ability to handle what God wants you to do:

…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. (4:11b-12)

The context reveals that contentment, not abundance, is the goal for the Christian (and is honestly the more impressive trait anyway).

So if you ever launched out on some project without consulting God, then wondered why it faceplanted even though you read this verse, that might be your explanation: the verse doesn’t suggest you can do just anything. It’s about glorifying God, both his power in you and his purposes for you (desirable or otherwise).

But you know what gets me about this verse?

The idea that you would have to be content in abundance.

Because the verse implies that Paul needed contentment in both abundance and need.

Like, why on earth would Paul need contentment in abundance? I ask myself. You’d think that’s where you wouldn’t need contentment. Just sit back and enjoy the good life, for as long as it lasts.

But Paul experiences otherwise, and it seems to suggests two things.

One has to do with that pesky “as long as it lasts” tag: the good life is not entrenched. Fortunes come and go, sometimes triggered by the most trivial and frustrating events. Jesus had some bad news for the guy in Luke 12 who upgraded his barns and decided to eat, drink, and be merry. All things in this life are transitory.

And that leads to the second truth: abundance does not bring contentment. Anyone who thinks it does, has probably never had abundance. Or has taken it for granted.

When I worked on the reservation years ago, many of my students had their eyes fixed unwaveringly on attaining abundance. Get more money, they reasoned, and life would be better. They weren’t entirely wrong. Poverty was a real problem and causing genuine pain in their lives. I could sympathize; there had been a time when I, too, was living paycheck to paycheck.

But having come from off the reservation where the median income was higher, I could tell my students that being better off wasn’t making anyone particularly happy. It just made you want more. Get a nice middle-class home and your middle-class conversations shift to how awesome those big homes up on the hill must be. Attain that level and the conversations turn to the architecturally fancy mansions up on the mountain. Each step you take up the socioeconomic ladder, you build a lifestyle that sucks up everything you have. And on and on it goes. Someone’s always got a bigger boat.

Paul could have been talking about either one of these things when he referenced having to be content, of all things, in all things. You either want more, or you end up tightening your grip on what you have, out of worry.

I want neither existence. Chasings after the wind, both of them. I want peace today, and God. More of him. Paul got that, and he spends his epistles swearing up and down that it’s the best thing ever.

If wealth increases, pay no attention to it. (Psalm 62:10b)

Today, if you’re having trouble being grateful for what you have, I heard a question once that rocked my world: “What would you lose if God were to remove everything from your life tomorrow that you hadn’t given thanks for today?”

The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 2: Unaffirmed

person(Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.)

Years ago, my college group attended a weekend retreat (at a hot springs!) without knowing the topic. The speaker hadn’t announced it beforehand. Later, we discovered that that was because the speaker himself didn’t know his subject until he got underway; God only revealed it to him then. That subject was marriage. And it didn’t take long to see why God in his wisdom had waited for the reveal: at the end of the retreat, numerous attendees, as they shook the speaker’s hand in gratitude for solid teachings, admitted that if they’d known the topic beforehand, they wouldn’t have come.

At a different young adults’ group I briefly attended, the pastor offered a choice of topics for the next series: one of Paul’s epistles, or relationships. Paul’s epistle won. By a landslide.

And a friend recently asked, “Can we quit making the first question we ask someone after we haven’t seen them for a long time, ‘Soooo, do you have a guy’?”

Why do so many millennials land anywhere from disinterested to fiercely opposed to marriage?

The answers, I suspect, reach double digits. I myself never numbered among the matrimonially disinterested, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate fellow millennials’ increasing desire for singleness. It stems from not a few understandable stalks. And as I said last week, blunt criticism of singleness, from even respectable evangelical figures, will never be as effective as understanding and encouragement.

One stalk, I think, could be described as a lack of affirmation.

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You’re Not a Loser for Starting the New Year Single

Every once in a while I’ll get triggered by an Internet meme, and ’tis the season for this one…

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Or this one, along similar lines…

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You get the idea.

I don’t know how serious people are being here, but let’s break down the labels contained herein (I won’t use the three-letter F word, you heard it enough in junior high):

things

I could see how the first three are negatives in your eyes. 1) is a problem. I pray for people’s freedom there. 2) and 3) are worthy of change – perhaps not necessarily evil (James 1:9), but we do want to meet our bills and take care of our bodies. May 2017 be the Waterloo of these obstacles in our lives. (Though even if not, our worth in Christ remains untarnished. Far, far from Loserville.)

But…single? How does that fit into a set of negatives?

There is nothing wrong with singleness. There is nothing unhealthy, inferior, or inadequate about being single (though how you got there can still hurt). It’s a station in life. You’re probably at that station because you take relationships seriously and are holding out for someone you can go the distance with. Who wants to be jerking in and out of relationships like a 15-year-old learning a stick shift? Perish the thought.

I know, I know – “it was just a meme, Brandon. I posted it for a joke.”

But are you sure?

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Praying St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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Religious holidays tend to get so buried by superficialities that we forget their meaning. We have to fight for the meaning of Christmas. But there is a rich history and tradition behind almost every holiday, one which can breathe new life into our reach towards God.

Take March 17, or St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not about luck, beer, the color green, or mischievous small legendary para-humans.

You know the handful of pioneering saints who carried the name of Jesus on such vast scale that we sit envious in church hearing about them? St. Patrick was one of them. Enslaved for six years by Irish pirates, Patrick returned years later to Ireland as a missionary. Through him, God transmitted his gospel throughout that island nation, making Patrick one of the pivotal figures in the Christianity’s spread to Europe.

There is a prayer that’s attributed to this fifth-century saint. Though this prayer is often recited by those who follow the Catholic faith, there is little in it to which Christian need not adhere.

The second to last verse, in particular, is an expression of such profound union with God, proclaiming the speaker so utterly surrounded by Christ, that I am left speechless at its holiness:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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