Tag: family

Trump Supporting Christian, Where The Hell Is Your Rage?

(Cover Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

I really want to know.

You say you love Jesus, trust the Bible, and faith is the most important thing in your life.

You want me to believe that you are in divine harmony with the heart of God and aspire nothing less than to reflect Him throughout every area of your living.

You tenaciously use the Bible and its verses to give justification and foundation for your every move, belief, and desire.

The bumper stickers, coffee table books, memes on Facebook, and the pictures covering your walls, all seem to point to one who is most certainly, “sold out” for Jesus.

Surely, you are familiar with the clear communication of the Bible as to God’s special love and value of children.

Surely, you are equally in tune with the many verses that demand our unconditional hospitality and sacrificial service to foreigners, immigrants, and the like.

Surely, you are not ignorant of the resounding biblical denouncement of leadership characterized by greed, lust, dishonesty, bullying, and self-centeredness.

Surely, you are more than familiar with the nonviolent example of Jesus and His willingness to confront religious oppression and stand in solidarity with the least of these, especially those who are deemed, “sinners.”

So, with all due respect, as surely as all of this is at the forefront of your faith, I surely want to know…

Where the hell is your rage?

You’re not blind, you’re not ignorant, and you’re not incapable of discernment. No, in fact, you are fully accountable and fully responsible. Every week, you see President Trump display clear and blatant traits that are not only grossly unbecoming of basic moral leadership, but nothing even close to that of a Christian—much the opposite.

Where is your rage?

You certainly aren’t afraid to name the names of those you believe to be errant and sinning against your Creator. Sermon after sermon, article after article, interview after interview, all point specifically to those you believe to be living counter to the ways of God with stern warnings against admiring or supporting them. Yet, when has President Trump ever been a subject on that list?

I ask you, where is your rage?

You have eyes to see innocent children being tear-gassed at our borders through the calculated permission of President Trump and his administration. You hear the broad labeling of human beings seeking asylum as “gangsters,” “rapists,” “criminals,” and “animals.”

With your clothes still freshly smelling with the scent of the church pew from which you raised your hands in praise of the immigrant Jesus, how could this ever become justifiable for you? How many “last straws” does it take to finally draw out any humaneness that might somehow still remain in your faith?

For Christ’s sake, where is your rage?

Why aren’t you frantically loading up your church vans, setting up youth bake sales, and leveraging every “mission” dollar you can commandeer to get your “sold out” self to that border and defend the most vulnerable? I mean, you don’t seem to have any problem sending them shoeboxes at Christmas when they’re miles away and no real threat to your privilege or the cleanliness of your sanctuary carpeting. But all of a sudden, when they show up at your Inn, spraying them with toxic chemicals becomes your best idea?

Why aren’t you demanding that Trump and his administration stop condemning and marginalizing those whom Christ demands we give special aid, service, and sanctuary?

No, don’t even take one step towards trying to convince me that you don’t like it nor support it, all while you refuse to engage your voice with shouts in fierce defiance. I’m not buying it one bit.

In fact, I’m going to ask you again, where the hell is your rage?

Show me.

You say you want America to be filled with Jesus, but seem to have no problem with policies that keep the poor at arms length. You say you want America to be filled with Jesus, but seem to have no problem with a president who desperately wants to keep minorities and immigrants from threatening white power and privilege. You say you want America to be filled with Jesus, but support a president who wants to erase those you deem to be deplorable, just because, in your mind, they sin differently than you.

Do you not see the duplicity into which you have been deceived?

For heaven’s sake, where is your rage?

You see the very people Jesus died for, being crucified. You see the very children Jesus drew up into his arms and sat upon his lap, being denied, denounced, deported, and demonized. You see the very people Jesus bent over backwards to feed, being starved and left to hunger. You see the very people Jesus baptized in Grace, being soaked with chemicals. You see the very people Jesus wrote with divine penmanship into the fabric of all creation, being condemned, marginalized, abused, and erased. You see the ways of Jesus being nothing less than stomped upon, twisted, and raped by the people who claim to know Him best.

And yet, at most, your lips can only muster a whisper, but largely, remain oh so eerily silent.

And so, I ask you.

Holy crap, where the hell is your rage?   

Sadly, I think I know.  

It’s buried deep underneath your white, male, heterosexual, conservative Christian privilege—the true god of your worship.

That’s why he’s president. That’s why you support. That’s why you fashion the hat. That’s why you rationalize. That’s why you entertain darkness as Light. That’s why you’re numb and refuse to engage. That’s why there is no rage.

And, that’s why Jesus weeps and vomits out your tepid faith.  

For hear me and countless others, and hear us well.

Until we see your rage, we only see your evil idolatry of self.

As we all wonder, along with Jesus, perhaps, that’s all there is.

 

Grace is brave. Be brave

 

Check out Chris Kratzer’s new book getting rave reviews, Leatherbound Terrorism…

There is no greater evil being wielded upon the planet than Conservative Evangelicalism, and Chris Kratzer’s life and ministry journey are undeniable proof. In Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris tells of his 21 years as a conservative Evangelical pastor and the radical change of heart and mind that led him to walk away from it all. With a new sense of faith centered on Jesus and His pure Gospel of Grace, in Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris chases the evils of conservative Evangelicalism out of the shadows and gives powerful voice to the cries of the religiously oppressed. Confronting issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, religious greed, hypocrisy, nationalism, white supremacy, privilege, and the weaponizing of the Bible, Leatherbound Terrorism pulls no punches. Endorsed by best selling authors Steve McVey and Baxter Kruger, Leatherbound Terrorism will challenge you, inspire you, and most certainly cause you to rethink your faith and life.

Be Brave : God’s Ardent Message to Every Gay Person, and The People In Their Life

It wasn’t your choice, it may not have been your desire, but the stage is set. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

For some of you, the curtain awaits, but coming out… the apprehensions are too overwhelming. You’ve rehearsed your lines a thousand times, looked into the crystal ball of every person’s response, plotted the strands of dominoes that are sure to fall the moment you sing your first note…  “I’m gay.” “My son is gay.” “Yah, my sister… she’s gay.”

For others, you’ve taken the stage. You began your song, the crowd looked down at the Playbill. They were quick to the disconnect. This wasn’t in the script, it’s not how the story was supposed to go. The plot twist sounded… gasps, chatter… then silence. Some picking up their things, searching for exit signs.

One thing is clear, the audience of your life is uncomfortable with this scene, if not in complete rebellion. Relatives can’t seem to understand. Your spouse, hugging an old baby picture off the mantle, still convinced “denial” is just a river in Egypt. Once intimate friendships have now evaporated. The people who should be drawing you close are pushing you away. With spotlights burning your gaze, you struggle to see who’s in and who’s out.

This if your life. This is your scene. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

A rush of anxiety wells up from your toes to your head. You scan the auditorium. It’s funhouse mirrors without the fun. Everything that once was so familiar looks so unfamiliar. You ad-lib a closing verse knelt down with fists shaking…. “This can’t be real, this can’t be happening. Oh my God, my hands and feet are bleeding. Somebody, pull the damn curtain, and get me the hell out of here.”

In tears, you scamper off stage. If only it ended there.

You search for quietness, but the quietness won’t be quiet. You have questions for God. Why me? Why us? Isn’t there some other way?

It’s gut wrenching, it’s hard, aloneness never felt so lonely.

This if your life. This is your scene. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

In the very midst. Right here, right now, God speaks a message, to you. He’s sitting on your lap, grasping your shoulders, speaking straight into your eyes…

Be brave.

It’s time to be brave.

You’re gay. You are fearfully and wonderfully made… gay. There was no mistake. You’re not a question, you’re a statement. From the voice of the Father, of the beauty of Jesus.

For such a time as this, you are born. You are the revival God is bringing to this world. Stop wishing for everybody else’s life, this is your life. Holy, pure, without blemish, overwhelmed with purpose. Stand up, take your place.

If God created you to be you, and you aren’t willing to be you, then why in the frigging universe, did God create you in the first place?

Sing your song, damn it, sing your song!

The moment is now. Don’t you dare give up, and don’t you dare shrink back.

It’s time to be brave.

God is not ashamed of your child, why are you? Look at me eyeball to eyeball. You are their family, for crying out loud. You are God’s best idea as to how to manifest His Grace and love to this divine-imaged human being.

What? You think those people’s backseat opinions really matter? You’re actually giving them a voice? I’m not trying to minimize the challenge. But, you don’t owe them anything. Not an explanation, a plan, a Bible verse, and surely not a space in your head. This is your scene, not theirs, this is your family, not theirs. This is your child, not theirs.

For Christ’s sake, it’s time to be brave!

Fine, you’re having an honest debate in your mind regarding the Scriptures. But, it’s our children that deserve our strongest stance and defense, not the Bible. Jesus would have it no other way. It’s unconditional love, or it’s not love at all.

Your homosexual child isn’t a cross to bear, don’t ever think or speak that poison again. They are no less than the Christ you carry into this world.  Stop fiddling, stop fumbling, start embracing, with the same pride and delight your Father has in you.

It’s time to be brave.

Friends don’t let gay friends be gay, alone. They don’t let families with gay children, be families, alone. This is friendship, to lay down one’s life. You could be the only ray of heaven in that person’s hell. If you walk away, what will be left?

It’s time to be brave.

If you are going to be a church, and claim that “ALL are welcome,” with all your branding, slick staging, and spiritual posturing. You better make for damn sure that ALL aren’t just welcomed.. but wanted, loved, empowered, protected and dare I say… affirmed, and celebrated.  You represent Jesus. Who for the joy set before Him… endured. For the God-smiling affirmation and heaven-bursting celebration of ALL set before Him… He endured. Not just endured, but died.

If you aren’t enduring for the ALL, and the joy Jesus takes in ALL, you are not enduring for Heaven’s sake, you are enabling… for Hell’s.

You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

It’s time to be brave.

Be brave.

For Christ’s sake. Be brave.

Be Brave : God’s Ardent Message to Every Gay Person, and The People In Their Life

It wasn’t your choice, it may not have been your desire, but the stage is set. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

For some of you, the curtain awaits, but coming out… the apprehensions are too overwhelming.  You’ve rehearsed your lines a thousand times, looked into the crystal ball of every person’s response, plotted the strands of dominoes that are sure to fall the moment you sing your first note…  “I’m gay.” “My son is gay.” “Yah, my sister… she’s gay.”

For others, you’ve taken the stage. You began your song, the crowd looked down at the Playbill. They were quick to the disconnect. This wasn’t in the script, it’s not how the story was supposed to go. The plot twist sounded… gasps, chatter… then silence. Some picking up their things, searching for exit signs.

One thing is clear, the audience of your life is uncomfortable with this scene, if not in complete rebellion. Relatives can’t seem to understand. Your spouse, hugging an old baby picture off the mantle, still convinced “denial” is just a river in Egypt. Once intimate friendships have now evaporated. The people who should be drawing you close are pushing you away. With spotlights burning your gaze, you struggle to see who’s in and who’s out.

This if your life. This is your scene. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

A rush of anxiety wells up from your toes to your head. You scan the auditorium. It’s funhouse mirrors without the fun. Everything that once was so familiar looks so unfamiliar. You ad-lib a closing verse knelt down with fists shaking…. “This can’t be real, this can’t be happening. Oh my God, my hands and feet are bleeding. Somebody, pull the damn curtain, and get me the hell out of here.”

In tears, you scamper off stage. If only it ended there.

You search for quietness, but the quietness won’t be quiet. You have questions for God. Why me? Why us? Isn’t there some other way?

It’s gut wrenching, it’s hard, aloneness never felt so lonely.

This if your life. This is your scene. You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

In the very midst. Right here, right now, God speaks a message, to you. He’s sitting on your lap, grasping your shoulders, speaking straight into your eyes…

Be brave.

It’s time to be brave.

You’re gay. You are fearfully and wonderfully made… gay. There was no mistake. You’re not a question, you’re a statement. From the voice of the Father, of the beauty of Jesus.

For such a time as this, you are born. You are the revival God is bringing to this world. Stop wishing for everybody else’s life, this is your life. Holy, pure, without blemish, overwhelmed with purpose. Stand up, take your place.

If God created you to be you, and you aren’t willing to be you, then why in the frigging universe, did God create you in the first place?

Sing your song, damn it, sing your song!

The moment is now. Don’t you dare give up, and don’t you dare shrink back.

It’s time to be brave.

God is not ashamed of your child, why are you? Look at me eyeball to eyeball. You are their family, for crying out loud. You are God’s best idea as to how to manifest His Grace and love to this divine-imaged human being.

What? You think those people’s backseat opinions really matter? You’re actually giving them a voice? I’m not trying to minimize the challenge. But, you don’t owe them anything. Not an explanation, a plan, a Bible verse, and surely not a space in your head. This is your scene, not theirs, this is your family, not theirs. This is your child, not theirs.

For Christ’s sake, it’s time to be brave!

Fine, you’re having an honest debate in your mind regarding the Scriptures. But, it’s our children that deserve our strongest stance and defense, not the Bible. Jesus would have it no other way. It’s unconditional love, or it’s not love at all.

Your homosexual child isn’t a cross to bear, don’t ever think or speak that poison again. They are no less than the Christ you carry into this world.  Stop fiddling, stop fumbling, start embracing, with the same pride and delight your Father has in you.

It’s time to be brave.

Friends don’t let gay friends be gay, alone. They don’t let families with gay children, be families, alone. This is friendship, to lay down one’s life. You could be the only ray of heaven in that person’s hell. If you walk away, what will be left?

It’s time to be brave.

If you are going to be a church, and claim that “ALL are welcome,” with all your branding, slick staging, and spiritual posturing. You better make for damn sure that ALL aren’t just welcomed.. but wanted, loved, empowered, protected and dare I say… affirmed, and celebrated.  You represent Jesus. Who for the joy set before Him… endured. For the God-smiling affirmation and heaven-bursting celebration of ALL set before Him… He endured. Not just endured, but died.

If you aren’t enduring for the ALL, and the joy Jesus takes in ALL, you are not enduring for Heaven’s sake, you are enabling… for Hell’s.

You are gay, you have a gay child, your brother, sister, or friend is gay.

It’s time to be brave.

Be brave.

For Christ’s sake. Be brave.

The One Thing Every Parent of a Gay Child Must Know

There is something so uniquely beautiful, spiritual, sacred, and honorable about parenting a gay child.

This, you must know.

Yet, there is also something very heart stirring. This, you surely, already know.

Every range of emotion called to the nerve receptors of the soul. Like the sailing of a small boat atop the depths of the oceans, every wave, gust, blazing heat, chilling rain, all intimately, symbiotically felt in raw detail together, move by move. Wandering through a fog, alone in the silence of night, holding tight through a storm. You never stop hearing or feeling the heartbeat of your children. Irreversibly connected.

A connection birthed from the intimacy infused into all humanity; from the Father to the Son, through the Spirit, into you… entirely. That Jesus lived, died, and is resurrected, His declaration to the world that an At-one-ment has forever occurred. In the doing of His death and resurrected life, He did so not just for humanity but as humanity. God has immersed Himself indistinguishably within you, that you are the presence and the essence of Christ in this world. As He is, so are we.

Yet, this manifestation of Jesus in and as humanity, through your gay child, is a uniquely clear, profound, and powerful force. In them, as them, and through them, their Christ-essence is a special kind of exposure of Jesus to the world. An enlightening of the Light. An unveiling different than any other. This, you must know.

To say that you have been chosen by God to parent Jesus, that you are a modern day Mary and/or Joseph is true, but falls far short of your gay child’s unique significance on this planet and their cosmic revelation of Jesus. For they carry within them and as them, a specialized projection of the pure Gospel. A revelation of Jesus so uniquely radiant that it penetrates, perhaps like no other, through the fortified layers of self-righteousness walled around our religious culture, exposing its adulterous bedding of ignorance, pride, and a religious spirit. A divine x-ray of the Christian world displayed on the light-board of the outcast of the outcasts, revealing its true cancer for all to see… that many worship Him with their lips but their hearts are far, far, far. A Gospel-manifesting so loud, that its trumpet demands a re-hearing and a re-understanding of sacred stances thought to be sure and forever fitting, overturning tables of Evangelical advantage, sending scores of church-world participants into the shadows, murmuring, plotting, and justifying, all while knelt down under the lame protection of their pews.

The Gospel is here, afresh… in your gay child.

So pure, so offensive this Gospel. That to accept Jesus must be to accept all humanity, because He became us… not some… but all of us. And transversely, all have been included in Him, we are His image bearer and life carrier… as is. For whatever you do for the least of these you do it to Him, because He is us, and we are Him.

Your gay child is the Gospel, the Gospel that none are better, only different. All signed, sealed, and delivered. Image-created. The world’s wrestling with your homosexual child is the world wrestling with Jesus. There is nothing wrong with your gay child anymore than there is something wrong with the true, pure Gospel. For they thought in Jesus was a crazed, evil spirit, only to discover He is Love made flesh; the Good News, humanely presented in humanity’s form. For what some think is a stronghold, a physiological abnormality, a psychological deviance, sin, or some bondage in your gay child, is just Jesus made flesh once again. This time, anew. For such a time as this.

And this, you must know.

There are Herods that are licking their chops with an appetite for killing; religious powers, authorities, and alike. You will be persecuted, betrayed, flogged, crucified. But not as one who carries a cross, but one who parents the Gospel.

For as the Light came into the world, and His own received Him not. So too, it is and will be with many a believer and your gay child. Your journey may feel at times like a special kind of hell, but your child is a special kind of heaven.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for you will come in the echoing of your child’s current or future voice, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s one thing for Jesus to declare, it will be a whole other thing for you, mom or dad, to say the same. His Grace is sufficient.

Do you know who your gay child is?

They are, the One… uniquely, purposefully.

This, One-thing, you must know.

For Those Who Suck at Family, and The Rest who Think They Don’t

Growing up, my mom always told my sisters and I you should never say, “shut up.” Instead, the polite term is, “be quiet.” I agree, I really do, but this has gotten out of hand, and sometimes you have to say what you have to say…

So, whoever you are, “shut up” already with all this “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” garbage!

Pastor after pastor, ministry after ministry, book after book, article after article, all driving the hoop with the same game, “what you are doing in your family life isn’t good enough, so you need to do more of this and less of that.” Learn this strategy, follow these principles, take these steps. Get your spiritual pom-poms on for the family cheer and whistle your act together; pray harder, get to church, buy the devotion books, serve more, set goals, smile wider, find a mission trip.

What? You haven’t had a family mission trip together? What the hell is wrong with you people? Some kind of Jesus-family you are.

Quick, you better take that beach photo with everyone dressed in white, photoshop in a Bible verse at the bottom, post it on Facebook, and get with the program already, because “we need to build stronger families for Jesus.”

Well, if I hear one more person spew that cut-and-pasted, spiritual vomit from their pie hole, I am going to a have small farm animal. No, I really am. Perfect, candle-lit dinner tables with linen placemats where all the kids are smiling, and dad has the leather bound Bible in his hands for the evening devotion just before mom serenades in with the steaming casserole she labored at all day.

Are you kidding me? Somebody, gag me with a multi-colored pitch fork. Do it now.

People who know me, know that I am all about family, but this image and pursuit we have created of a so-called “Christian” family looks not only ridiculously cheesy, but actually is the very thing that is eroding families, ironically. And we haven’t even talked about extended family relationships… oh yah, those can be fun.

See, it all looks and sounds so spiritual. Everyone appears to be behaving, praying, getting along, serving, lifting up a whole bunch of glory to the Lord. “We’re just giving all we have to Jesus as a family.” (That last sentence reads better if you do so with a southern accent)

The truth is, nobody is pulling this off. And the sad part is, everybody knows it but the people trying. At some level, we all suck at family. And to be honest, I actually think Jesus is pretty much o.k. with it. He knows what it’s like to have a real family. A family tattooed with rough edges, blind spots and a strong dosage of drama.  One that is not all put together and edited for Christian primetime. One that hasn’t been so Christianized with a two story house, white picket fence, a dog named Spot, a bible on every coffee table, Friday night family devotions, SUV’s stickered with every “Upward” sports possibility, and all the family challenges and adversities getting wrapped up in a nice little, Evangelical-approved, faith-packaged conclusion.

We live in the age of the performance-driven, appearance-ladened Christian. And sadly, many a tribe have drunk the Koolaid. There are a whole lot of families and family members dying on the inside cause deep down they know they don’t have it, and they can’t do it… this photoshop, Pinterest-perfect, magazine-cover Christian family thing.  Nobody does, and nobody can.

That’s why it’s time to get real, for realsies.

We all suck at family.

There are moments where we love the idea of spending time with our kids much more than the actually event of doing so. Jacked up on anxiety, we sit down at the Thanksgiving dinner with cousins, uncles, sisters, and brothers, secretly desiring to sabotage the person sitting across from us, if not to completely strangle them. We don’t like them one bit, and that’s pretty much all there is to it, no matter how much we say we “pray for them.” We’re smiling on the outside, but shaking hands with jealousy on the inside. We want to look forward to tucking our kids in with a story, baking birthday cakes, and driving to after school programs, but we don’t always. In fact, sometimes we resent it and even detest it. We look at other people’s family lives and wish we had theirs. Deep down, we wonder if we will ever measure up, and dread the idea of people hearing our secret thoughts and seeing our concealed imperfections. What if they peered through the curtains into our real doubts, heard our unedited arguments, viewed the x-ray of our thoughts? Some of which, are disturbing at best and certainly disqualifying of us from the Christian family vibe we so want everybody to believe we’re sporting.

The truth is, we spend a lot of time putting lipstick on the pig of our family lives. Sadly, because our Christian culture has groomed us that way.

In fact, if we are honest, a good bit of what we do as parents and family members is all for one thing… show. To prove to God, ourselves, and others that we are faithful, worthy, and successful in our family lives. Look at me, look at us, we’re doing it, we’ve got it!

On writer in the Scriptures discovered a life-changing awareness… “the Law entices us to sin.”  The more we try to meet standards, the more we fail to meet them. It’s even evil to think we can. In our family life and relationships, trying and striving to “be better” and “do better” never works. Our performance always breaks down at some point, leaving us with only one option, pretending to be something we aren’t. And that my friends, is hell.

I’m here to tell you, pretending is the breakfast of the religious. You don’t need to stage your family song and dance. God’s Grace is sufficient. Stop pulling the strings and choosing the choices motivated to somehow create an acceptable, admirable impression in the eyes of everybody else. Who gives a rip what they think?  They aren’t you, and they aren’t in your family.

Besides, it’s not about them. It’s not even about you. The quality of you as a family member, and your family as a whole is based on nothing less than the quality of Jesus. He defines you. His success is your success, in ever area, even family.

You lack no spiritual blessing from Jesus. You are already a great parent, you are already a great child, you are already a great family member, you are already a great family, and nothing within your performance thereof can add or subtract from that.

So stop playing the game. Take down the pieces, fold up the board, and put it back in the box.

Your family job is to enjoy Jesus and awaken to the you, you already are…. complete, righteous, sanctified, forgiven, pure, Holy, and the delight of your Father… as is… a whole mother, a whole father… brother, sister, daughter, son… that’s who you are.

There is no condemnation over any aspect of your family, your role, or participation thereof. None.

No person, no family is better… only different.

So shut up with this, “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” crap. There’s nothing to build.  It’s already been built, finished on the cross. It’s you. It’s your family.

You are already strong, you are already successful, you are already complete.

So go, be free… be the family, be the family member you already are… no better, no worse than another, just different…

…without pressure, fear, guilt, or shame.

This is Grace.

This is the change that changes things.

This is family.

This, is the Jesus way.

The Pharisees (Law-figures) in Your Life

“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:2-9 RSV)

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13 RSV).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

The Pharisee in Your Proximity, History, or Family Tree

There are likely numerous modern day Pharisees (Law-figures) in your life, right now. They could be your parent, your coworker, your boss, your spouse, your child, your friend, your pastor etc.  They have the same main goal in your life as the Pharisees of the Bible. That is, to have influence and control over you, and to gain your conformity to their expectations. The Pharisees of the Bible have several characteristics that will help you identify the modern day Pharisees in your life right now. Here are some of the characteristics of the Pharisees in your life…

1) They are the ones consumed with expectations, rules (standards), regulations, and their way of doing things, and even more so with making sure you follow them, while not always following them, themselves. They are the law/expectation enforcers of your life; that is, their laws/expectations and ways of doing things. Their love, attention, acceptance, mood, and countenance are conditioned on your meeting of their expectations.

2) They are the ones who love attention and to be the center of it (usually having one of the loudest voices), often looking for people to follow/submit to their legalistic system of being and thinking. As long as you buy into them, are like them, and act and think like them, you are in. You will see them often having a flock of people whose common attribute is their willingness or desire to conform and be accepted by them, or who are simply cut from same clothe sharing the same system of thinking and being.

3) They are gossipers about other people, particularly about negative aspects of people’s lives. They enjoy pointing out people’s faults and shortcomings with a judgmental, grace-less spirit.

4) They are the ones who are always somehow right, love to have the last word, and typically have an answer to everything; often that make you feel ignorant, inferior, or needing their acceptance.

5) They are often hard (stubborn or unaffected) people, often carrying a stern, arrogant, untouchable, or disinterested posture where it seems you are never good enough, right, or worthy or their true respect. If you appear to come into their relational system of conditions, they will give enough softness to keep you interested, but where you do not comply, they will turn up their nose.

6) They are the ones who have a way of triggering your sense of guilt, shame, and condemnation, while being the ones you somehow feel like you need to please and earn their acceptance the most.

7) They are sometimes religious, pious appearing people, who use their beliefs to control and conform people into their system of thinking and being.

Oh Crap, it’s My Mom

O.k., now take a deep breath. You are going to be alright. You have probably already identified some people who fit into a lot of these characteristics. And what is most concerning is who these people are to you.  Chances are there is a family member in there, or a coworker, or a boss, a close friend etc.

Take a moment to continue to make a mental list of who the Pharisees are in your life right now. Why? Because how you are or are not dealing with them is having a dramatic impact on your life and probably the people you love.

Jesus repeatedly warned people of handling the Pharisees in their life with great care and caution, and so should you! He understood their potential, destructive hold on and influence in people’s lives if they weren’t vigilant.

Here are some critical things you should be doing with the Pharisees in your life.

The Big 5

1) Identify them for who they are.  No, don’t label them, but certainly see their behavior and way of relating to you for what it is. Somehow, we often feel obligated to love and even defend the Pharisees in our lives to a fault. This bizarre and twisted irony often leaves us unwilling to see their behavior for what it truly is, evil and destructive.  Furthermore, if it’s YOU that’s the Pharisee. See your behavior for what it is and turn to Grace to heal and give you a new foundation for life, living, and relating to people.

2) Identify the insecurity in you that is attracted to or codependent towards the opinion or expectations of them.

We all have insecurities and areas where we don’t measure up. We all need acceptance, love, and approval. Pharisees or more than willing to present you a way to strive to earn just that and to seemingly remedy the insecurities in your life. That is, to gain THEIR approval, acceptance, and respect.

See, the hard truth is, Pharisees exploit our insecurities and thrive on getting us to need their approval, have our submission, and seek their acceptance. It’s actually their way of justifying and gaining their own acceptance and approval.

Chances are in your family, workplace, or sphere of relationships, there is a Pharisee around which a group of people (maybe even you) seem to gravitate. Why? Because they (and/or you) are trying to gain the approval of a Law figure in their life so that they can feel valuable and worthwhile. Pharisees attract insecure people not because of their Graciousness, but because they present a system of earning ones way into acceptance as the way of healing their deep seeded insecurities. This is attractive to some because it replaces the love they do not have for themselves with a system of performance that makes it seem like they can finally  become secure and whole as a person. It is indeed a kind of family of acceptance they seek with the Pharisee, though founded solely on conditions, performance, and conformity. This relational system is evil, will not heal anything in your life, and will imprison you in the cell of your own insecurities and the never ending and always failing pursuit to heal yourself through a Law figure (Pharisee) in your life.

3) Don’t become like them.  Though the way they relate to you may have bewitched and seduced you into their sphere of control or influence, their system of relating and being ultimately does not work and falls on its face. All Pharisees are hypocrites as they can never meet the expectation themselves that they have and hold over others. Furthermore, their philosophy of influence with people and solving the deep problems in people ‘s lives only serve to put a bandaid on an ever cracking and leaking damn. They imprison the people they think they are somehow freeing by shackling them to the same religious, legalistic, guilt-motivated system that has imprisoned them. Indeed, miserly loves company. Trust Grace to be your supply and your solution. Trust it to work with people in all circumstances and situation. There is never a moment where Grace is not the right answer or response. Likewise, there is never a moment where the tenants and tactics of the Pharisees ever work, bring life, or the wholeness and security you seek.

4) Extend Grace without excusing their behaviors. If anyone needs Grace, it’s Pharisees. Unfortunately and often, the more you extend it, the more they reject it. Give it anyways, even if just to frustrate them. But don’t excuse their behaviors. Rather, confront them when necessary with confidence and calmness.  If you need to keep your distance, do so. Yet, always be willing to come to the table of reconciliation. Grace can change anyone, even the most sold-out Pharisee.

5) Turn to the Grace figures in your life beginning with Grace Himself… Jesus  What you are seeking or think you are getting in the Law figure(s) (Pharisee) in your life is what you can truly only get through the Grace-figure, Jesus. In fact, He is not just a figure of Grace, He is Grace.

Allow him to be your security, your justification, your acceptance, your approval, your worth, your value, your identity. Surround yourself with Grace-figures in your life. People who love you unconditionally, promote your freedom not control, stand with you, and have your best interests at heart. People who speak well of others, who give the benefit of the doubt, who forgive easily, and who lift up who you are, not who you aren’t.

 

Parenting from Grace- A true Story

The Gospel of God’s Grace is practical to all of life. Its impact changes everything, placing a new foundation under our feet from which to live.

God teaches in His word that we are renewed in our minds.  The Gospel changes our thinking and believing, and therefore our actions.

Yet, where the practical nature of the Gospel may seem easy to render into certain aspects of our lives, “parenting” seems to be an area where we wonder how to apply the Gospel of God’s Grace.  How do we handle issues in our children’s lives like sin, discipline, correction, consequences etc.  Can we trust Grace to truly work when for so long we have trusted so many other parenting approaches?

Before we get into these parenting issues through a true life story of parenting from Grace, it’s valuable to make sure we set forth some foundational things about the Gospel of Grace that will apply to our parenting.

1- Grace is not a license to sin.  Properly used, Grace will not teach nor encourage our children to misbehave, rebel, or choose to sin.

2- Grace does not necessarily remove consequences.  Not all consequences are punishment.  Furthermore, “reaping and sowing” is a principal that has application within the life we live under Grace and the New Covenant.

With that in mind…

A True Story

Our son Harrison is 14 years old and truly an awesome you man who loves Jesus and values so many good things in life. He is wise, caring, fun loving, mature, and passionate.  Not to mention, extremely smart and a beast on the soccer field. He is my pride ad joy, and we have been joined at the heart since birth.

As with any child, despite how awesome they are, each has their own quirks and areas of challenge.

For Harrison, his greatest parenting challenge has been to learn to communicate his feelings of disagreement, frustration, or anger without down spiraling into a huge temper tantrum, argument, or meltdown.  Over the years, this has been a repeated theme that at times can get very dramatic, to say the least.

I must admit, as a father, I have not always done a good job at setting the right example as my own temper gets caught in the mix as my frustration level over flows in a boil during these episodes.

Yet, since Harrison was much younger, we have struggled to find a way to turn this behavior around and set a new course.  Unfortunately, with little, lasting success. I don’t blame Harrison so much for his struggle through this issue, but much more myself for a lack of knowledge of the Gospel of God’s Grace and trusting it enough to apply it in my parenting.

However, I am so glad to be able to share with you that now there is much good news as things have taken a one-eighty turn around with Harrison and this temper kind of issue.

So, what has changed? What has made the difference?

Let me explain.

Up until recently, our main parenting strategy with Harrison and his temper issue has been one of rule-keeping, fear, and punishment as we address the behavior in our attempt to correct the behavior.  Each time, there would be a temporary compliance from Harrison, only to result in a reoccurring of the same behavior later.  After a period of negotiation and trying to defuse this situations, even the more harsh punishments that registered as being a very unwelcomed consequence to Harrison did little to curb the behavior in the long-run.  From taking away privileges to adding on huge inconveniences and stresses, nothing worked to result in true lasting change. In fact, not long ago, I established a written covenant of behavior expectations along with agreed-upon consequences should the covenant be violated. There were even agreed-upon expectations that applied to both Harrison and Amy and I as parents.  We all signed it and felt good about it. Yet again, it did not work for very long.

I think for most parents, to some degree or another, the main strategy of behavior modification in our children is ultimately through rules, fear, and punishment, all under the umbrella and foundation of love and loving discipline.  Like you, our heart is to teach our children right from wrong and to instill in them the values and character that will serve to bless and prosper their lives. To be sure, that seems like the standard mode of operation that Christian parents should be doing.

Yet, the way God parents us through the Gospel of Grace has some real wisdom for how best to parent our children. We live under a new covenant of Grace and so should our parenting.

This was the revelation that set my strategy with Harrison in a totally different direction. If God trusts Grace to work in parenting me, I should be able to trust Grace to work in the parenting of my son.

First, I realized if I parented Harrison (particularly his behavior problem) from a spirit of the Law, I should not be surprised when his disobedience increased instead of decreased.  This is the dramatic limit of the Law we find in scripture. It does a great job of pointing out what we can’t do, where the more we try, the more we are actually enticed to break it and fall short. It does nothing to making our behaviors truly better, but actually does everything to make them worse. God used the Law to introduce the power  and need of Grace. The old covenant based on man’s performance and rule-keeping that never worked,  led to a new covenant based on the performance of Jesus to destroy sin and death that worked perfectly.  The Law shows us we need Grace. Grace shows us the Law doesn’t work. God never intended nor designed the Law to be the solution, but rather Grace.

Second, I realized that all my emphasis on rule-keeping, fear, and punishment, though well-intentioned from a heart of love, was actually doing more to imprison Harrison to his rebellion instead of freeing him. In fact, the covenant we established with Harrison (mentioned earlier) was in fact a covenant of the Law, not Grace. No wonder why he couldn’t follow it, nor would it work to change behavior.

Third, I realized that I needed to trust Grace to change disobedience and to be the guiding influence to steer our children away from sin towards living rightly. Contrary to much of what we are taught about how to live the Christian life and help others to do the same, people governed by Grace are the most free and faithful of all. They sin less, not more.

Fourth, I realized I needed to speak from Grace to Harrison’s new-creation identity, not his rebellious behaviors. An obedience problem is always first and identity problem. Harrison needed to know who he is so he could see how his behaviors were foreign to himself, and not a reflection of his true nature and identity.

If all Harrison believed about himself is that he was a temperamental teenager unable to control his emotions and always prone to losing control as evidenced by his failures to live up to the rules, then  guess what Harrison would continue to do? Yup, keep misbehaving over and over, and over again.

So, here’s what I did.

After another long, meltdown episode of shouting, after I threatened to end his soccer season, I stopped myself, stepped up to the cliff side of Grace and took a step of faith. I went to the refrigerator door upon which our covenant of behavior was placed, took it down and in front of Harrison, I ripped it up. I told him that I would not remove him from the soccer team, I believed in who He was in Christ, gave him the details of how he has everything already within him to handle these situations much better, and that I trusted that from then on, he would carry himself differently when moments of potential temper flares presented themself. “You realize Harrison, all of these battles we have from time to time are not who you are, and that loss of temper and control of your emotions is completely foreign to the young man you are, newly created by Christ?” “You are not a young man of dishonor and disrespect for your parents”  “I love you and believe in you, and know that you will be able to navigate these moments better in the future.” “No son, there is no punishment tonight.” I hugged him and walked away.

He was speechless, and then proceeded to his room.  After several minutes, I walked up to check on him. He seemed very sad.

“You did hear what I said, right? You have your soccer season back.”

“Dad, that’s not what I want anymore, our relationship is more important. I was wrong, and have been disrespecting and dishonoring you and mom.” “You are right, that’s not who I am, I see it, and I believe it.”

“Well Harrison, lets close this chapter, I know things will never be like they have been again. You know who you are, and what you have in Him.”

As I walked back downstairs, Amy asked (not being around for the whole covenant-ripping and talk thing with Harrison), “What happened?” “What did you do about all this?”

I replied, “It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”

Grace can, where everything else can’t.

Since then, we have had not one single episode. Even, when there was every opportunity to do so.

The Big Take Aways

So what are the potential take aways for you as a parent to apply to your parenting?

1- I spoke to his identity first, not his behavior. Grace teaches us who we truly are because of what Jesus has done to us. As we believe in our righteousness in Christ (and a whole lot more), we will live it. Right believing leads to right living. Behind everything we do wrong is a wrong belief about ourselves and/or God. The same is true with our children.

2- I influenced heart-change through kindness, not harshness and punishment. Punishment never made anyone Holy, nor will it do so for your children. Jesus took our children’s punishment for sin and brokeness. Consequences are not always punishment. When our daughter Cailyn has to spend her time cleaning her room when she left it a mess instead of getting to go outside or play on the ipad, that’s not punishment, it’s consequences. If I yell and scream at her, telling her what a slob she is and take away her dinner from her too, that’s condemnation, shame, and punishment. I can correct my child with our condemning them, and give meaningful, firm consequences without punishing them. Punishment yields temporary obedience out of fear. Consequences yield obedience out of learning that irresponsible and bad actions have consequences that remove pleasure and self-inflict pain.

3- I trusted Grace to manage his behavior, not rule-keeping and fear. The Bible teaches that it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. If God trusts that to work with me and manage my life, I trust it to work for my children. I know that a spirit of rule-keeping and fear doesn’t work in my life, people’s lives, and my children. However, Grace does. It is the only thing that has changed me and my behaviors, it governs me into freedom and faithfulness where everything else just led me deeper into the prison of my own flesh.

4- I communicated confidence in who he is in Christ to help him have confidence, not condemnation. If Harrison bases his identity and sense of self from his performance as a person, he will be all over the map internally and therefore, externally. Condemnation is the root of so many bad things coming out of people’s lives and living.  Show our children who they are in Christ, and they will be able to determine the foreign nature of sin to their lives on their own without us having to ride them with shouting, fear, and punishment hanging over their heads.

5- There are still consequences given in our parenting, but they are from a foundation of Grace, not Law. They are based on teaching the reality of reaping and sowing in life, not punishment, condemnation, guilt, shame, and fear.

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts…

Pressure: Surviving Christmas

For many people, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year.  Instead it’s filled with a lot of pressures; the pressures of family visits, being happy, presents under the tree, and the list goes on and on. Truth be told, for some, it may just well be the worst time of the year. For them, it’s the loneliest time of the year, the most depressing time of the year, the most expensive time of the year, the most stressful time of the year, and the most anxious time of the year.  The fact that the suicide rate is the highest during Christmas, the fact that between Thanksgiving and Christmas we go into credit card debt as Americans to the tune of 131.1 billion dollars, the fact that 35% of people say they are most depressed and stressed during this time of the year than any other is indicative that it really is true, Christmas for many people is the most wonderful time of the year for pressure.

So, in this post, I am unplugging the Christmas machine and getting back to what Christmas is really all about, because the truth is, the pressures our culture has put on Christmas as bent and twisted what Christmas is truly all about to the point that it’s true meaning is virtually unrecognizable in how we celebrate Christmas in our culture today.  More than that, I want to spend some time giving some wisdom on how to survive the pressures of Christmas.

The Pressure of Memories

Behind all the decorations and office parties, there are people who are not so excited and euphoric about Christmas. All this season  does is unearth and magnify a lot of sadness for them. Maybe you lost somebody you loved and so the chair they sat in last year at the Christmas table will be empty, or maybe it’s because you got divorced of separated this year, and the “I love you” you heard last Christmas you’re not going to hear this Christmas, or maybe you have lost a child, and though you still put up their stocking, Christmas is just another reminder they aren’t there to open it up.

One of the ideas you hear a lot about during Christmas is the idea of getting into the “Christmas Spirit.” And chances are, the moment we hear the idea of getting into the Christmas Spirit we immediately think of having feelings of joy, excitement, fun, hopefulness, love, and having a “Holly Jolly, Christmas” If you are having those kind of emotions, that’s great, be really thankful for that and hold onto it. Sure, Christmas is a season of joy. But what might be surprising to you is that it isn’t just about having joy.

See, for some people, there’s a ton pressure to be “on,” to be happy, to be joyful, to walk around in their Santa hat singing cheerful Christmas songs all the time. But that’s just not how they feel. For some people this season is something more to be endured than to be enjoyed. For many, Christmas is not so happy and jolly. And because everybody else seems to be all holly and jolly, and every Christmas commercial paints the perfect family with perfect smiles, it leaves them feeling like they belong on the island of misfit toys. For some, they feel like the boy in the movie Polar Express, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me”

So let me tell you, if that sounds like you, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not a misfit. No, believe it or not, no matter what the commercials show you, there is more to Christmas (the true meaning of Christmas) than just having some euphoric, warm fuzzy feelings all the time. Believe it or not, this constant state of joy and bliss that you see everybody having on t.v. isn’t a complete picture of what having the Christmas spirit is all about.

In fact, if you truly tell the Christmas story, un-commercialized, the un-americanized, unedited for our ears, the emotional response that matches up with the real story of Christmas just can’t be one sided, it just can’t be about feeling joy, hope, excitement, or love, because that’s not the whole story.

Take a look at this…

Matthew 2:13-18 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Though this passage doesn’t get made into any Christmas specials on t.v., this is part of the Christmas story. Just think of this scene in Bethlehem that day, it must have been gut wrenching. Mothers must have clung desperately to their little boys when they heard the soldiers marching down the street going from door-to-door. Fathers must have tried to hide their sons in secret hiding places. But all to no avail. When the soldiers were done with their bloody massacre, sobbing mothers were holding their dead babies and powerless fathers were screaming in rage.

Some of you are saying to yourself, “I didn’t know that happened, I didn’t see that scene displayed in the Hallmark window.”

So let me ask you, what kind of feelings do you think came over all those mothers and fathers every year at Christmas who’s children were slaughtered on that first Christmas?

Yet, believe it or not, the pain of that scene even goes deeper than that, because what happens here with Herod and the babies evokes deeper painful memories of the past, that’s what the whole reference to the woman named Rachel is about.

Check this out…

Genesis 35:16-20 6 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

So not only do you have a Christmas scene of boys being slaughtered by Herod, but then this event also resurfaces memories of a mother’s mourning from the past. But the painful memories go even deeper than that, because this whole scene of the Christmas story is even connected to something deeper…

Exodus 1:15-22 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Are you seeing it? With Herod killing these little boys, it opens up a flood gate of other painful memories!

Unfortunately, we have been made to think that Christmas is supposed to be all happy and jolly.  No, for some people, Christmas is at least (in part) a painful experience, and the truth is, it was that way from the beginning.

See, if you and I are going to have the true Christmas Spirit, there has got to be room for feelings like sadness, struggle, and anxiety. There has to be room for things like tears, quietness, and pain… that’s part of the story.  Right now, let me give you some permission this Christmas season, don’t buy into the pressure to “cheer up and snap out of it.”  If you have sadness this season, there is a place for that, and it’s not under the carpet. Don’t be afraid to tell the story  -don’t buy into the lie, “well, people already heard it, I don’t want to be downer.”  Christmas time is a great time for stories, and the Christmas story at points is a story of tremendous tragedy and sorrow, so your story of sorrow fits perfectly.

Some people go into Christmas feeling under pressure to sweep the past aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, but if you take the scriptures seriously, if you let Christmas be what Christmas was, that stuff is part of the story too, and you can’t take it out of the Christmas story, and you can’t take it out of your story.

The Pressure of Family

For many people, the combination of family and Christmas stresses them out a bit.  Christmas is a time where more than ever, for some, it heightens their wish they had the family they don’t have or they wish they didn’t have the family they do have.  When it comes to family and Christmas the pressure is on, because many of us our going to have the “family visit” for Christmas this year. And already, you are wondering, you are preparing yourself for how it’s all going to go down.

What do you do when there’s tension in the room that you can cut with a knife because cousin Ed who’s 48 years old has decided that the Christmas dinner table is the best time to announce that He’s marrying his 19 year old girlfriend?  Or what do you do when the guilt trips come, “Oh, so we’re not going to see you at all this Christmas, the very parents who raised you and changed your diapers?” What do you do when cousin Lou decides to have a little too much egg nog and in a voice that everyone can hear she begins to tell you just what she thinks of your husband?  What do you do when that family member says those words, or does that thing that has a way of just getting under your skin and causing your neck veins to pop out? Or what do you do at that family visit when you feel more like an outlaw than an in-law.  There is a lot pressure that comes when you put family and Christmas together.

Mark 6:1-3 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Apparently Jesus has a family, he has His mom Mary and some brothers, so he has family. And I’m sure  that because he’s the Son of God, he is going to have a perfect family, right?

Mark 3:20-21 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Wait a second. So Jesus has been out healing and casting out demons. Crowd after crowd gathered to be healed and to figure out who this Jesus guy is, and then he runs into his family. But, instead of coming inside and hearing what Jesus has to say and encouraging him, his own family stands outside and joins in with the cynics as they try to make excuses for their son’s behavior?

John 7:1-5 1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Wait another second. So his own brothers, the people that should have his best interests at heart and know him better than anybody else, first of all they are trying to turn him into a political figure and then underneath it all, they don’t believe in him? Apparently, Jesus who is the perfect son of God doesn’t have anything like a perfect family, no instead, from the very beginning Jesus is misunderstood by the people who should understand him the most, his own family.

Now let’s go back to Mark 6, because in those verses Jesus decides to go home and make a little family visit. Kind of like perhaps you are going to do this Christmas.

Mark 6:1-6 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Now there are some important things I want you to notice about those verses….

o.o1 Jesus utilizes the support of his spiritual family

In verse 1, we notice that to this family visit, Jesus brings his disciples with Him. What are the disciples? Well, in one aspect they are a kind of spiritual family. I almost imagine Jesus getting the guys together and saying, “hey guys could you come with me, because I am going home to my family, and this isn’t going to be easy.”

One of the things I think Jesus is showing us right off the bat is that if we put all our expectation onto our biological families alone to fulfill all those longings we have for unconditional love, for a sense of belonging, approval, and support, we will probably be let down, disappointed, and frustrated. Some of the pressure of family and Christmas comes from simply having unrealistic expectations. We see those commercials around Christmas where people are all honky dory, everybody is getting along, no problems, everybody is happy, and we’re thinking “o.k. that’s the way my family is going to be,” and if it’s not we’re going to fix it all in one family visit. But chances are, if it’s not  going to happen for Jesus, then it’s probably not going to happen for us.

No, apparently for Jesus, when He got around family, he didn’t go it alone.  He’s not leaning on his biological family to be the everything in his life, for it to all be so perfect. He brought his disciples with Him. They were His spiritual family, they shared a common belief and cause together. They connected at the spiritual, core level, and His disciples apparently knew him better than His family did.

Mark 3:31-35 1 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

If you are reading this post and you have a great biological family, and all your needs for acceptance, belonging, self esteem and approval can be met there, then great! Praise God for that! But for many people that just isn’t how it happens.  And so God creates this thing called a spiritual family that you can have, with God being your heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ, where there’s a bond that goes deeper than flesh and blood. And some of you know exactly what I am talking about, you have discovered within a church a spiritual family where the bonds, the love, the support, and the sense of belonging go far deeper than DNA. That’s the way God designed it.

When you have developed a spiritual family, closeness with your Heavenly father, and some bothers and sisters in Christ, you can go to that family visit with the mindset, “Hey you know what, my biological father may not be all the things I have needed or hoped for, they may never change, they may disappoint me during this visit, but I have a heavenly Father who meets all of my needs.”

You can go into that family visit thinking, “I may not get along or have the kind of brothers or sisters that I would hope for, but I’ve got some brothers and sister in Christ that I can turn to that can help fill in the gaps.”

You can sit at the Christmas dinner table and think to yourself, “My child or my children and what there are doing with their lives may not be to my wishes, right now, I may not be seeing the fruits of my labor, but I have got some people who are young in faith, who are children spiritually to me, that I am being a spiritual father or a spiritual mother to, and I can see God moving in their lives.”

o.o2 Jesus didn’t bend under the pressure to conform

Let me ask you, when you go home for a family visit during Christmas, by the time you leave there do you feel like a child all over again?

Yah, it’s weird isn’t it, you can even start finding yourself regressing back into some of those old family roles, and by the time you leave, you don’t know what’s happened to you. It’s so easy when we make family visits to get all unraveled and lose ourselves and what we have become, or feel like we need to in order to fit in. Yet, for Jesus when He goes home, He didn’t change who He was and what He was about.  No, instead, he kept on doing His thing and being Himself, teaching in the synagogue.

You know one of the hardest thing to do when you make a family visit, is to truly be yourself, the person God is creating you to be. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, listen to how they reacted to Jesus and his teaching. (verse 2)  “Where does this man get these things?”  In other word, “who does this guy think he is?”

Truth be told, being around family can be like superman being around kryptonite, you feel like you loose yourself and all your power.  The moment you walked in the door, all that courage you had, all that self-control, all that confidence you had, all those convictions you had, it just all somehow gets sucked right out of you.

However, notice Jesus doesn’t back off his game plan, He doesn’t compromise His convictions. He’s being straight forward, and straight up with them while telling them like it is, not holding anything back. Do we need to be tactful? Yes. Should we become a bull in a china shop? No.  But so often, especially around family, we error on the side of caving in at times. Under the pressure to conform and water down our convictions, we sell out.

o.o3 Jesus doesn’t buy into their belittling

For example, in verse 3 , it’s a little subtle, they kinda start belittling him, there are like, “Isn’t he just the cute little Joseph’s boy, the kid, isn’t Jesus just that little child we knew many years ago, our little carpenter boy.”

Apparently, no matter what Jesus had done or become, no matter even how others grew to respect him and understand him, his family still sees him as just a child. Doesn’t it make family visits really fun when even though you’re like forty years old, your parents still criticize the way you hold your fork at the dinner table.  “Come on hold you’re fork like a gentleman.” It’s hard because it’s really easy to get unraveled by that. I don’t know about you’re mom, but my mom makes it pretty clear that she’s always going to be my mom, and I’m always going to be her little boy.  I’m not sensing I’m going to change that anytime soon.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t let it get under his skin, and he doesn’t even try to argue, because parents are going to be parents and families are going to be families, and there probably isn’t much you are going to be able to do to change it.  But what we can do, is what Jesus did, He didn’t internalize it, He didn’t go crawl up into the fetal position somewhere.  No, he went into that family visit, encouraged by his spiritual family, confident in who He was and what God was doing with His life.

o.o4 Jesus was prepared for challenges

Jesus knew the scripture verse, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so he went into his family visit in the mindset that it was a ministry visit.  He wasn’t going into it in terms of what he was going to get out of it, he had his spiritual family for that, but he went into thinking “I am going to try to make the best out of this, to be a blessing if I can, and to be a source of wisdom and encouragement if I can.”  “I going to do my best and trust God with the rest.”

You can just tell, Jesus was prepared, and he was prepared for the fact there may be some awkward, weird, tense moments.

Maybe for you, when it comes to that Christmas visit with family this year, preparedness is your best chance of survival too. As a matter of fact, here are some tips for preparing for that family visit this year…

1-Pray for you family and your visit, and pray with your family before you go on that visit.  Bring a taser just in case. (Just kidding)

2-As best you can, try to be fair with family visits.  If you are married and you have relatives on both sides, try to be fair about that. The Bible says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

3-If you have kids, before you go on that family visit, clearly share with them your expectations of them and the consequences that will incur if those expectation aren’t met.

4-Try to foresee issues that may surface during that family gathering, and in advance prepare your response or a plan of how you are going to handle it. That’s proactive, if you wait to the moment it happens that’s reactive. As a matter of fact, if you are married couple and are going to visit family for Christmas, it’s a good idea to talk about things that may come up with your family ahead of time to discuss and decided how you are going to respond or answer those issues, so that you are both on the same page. And if you are a parent that is having your kids over for a Christmas visit, you may want to talk about how you are going to handle certain issues that may come up with your kids.

When it comes to conflict, awkward moments, and tensions in family around Christmas, preparedness is your best chance of survival.But here’s the deal, even when you prepare, when you try to be fair, when you try to please everybody don’t be surprised when you don’t.  As a matter of fact, let’s take this even further…

o.o5 Jesus couldn’t fix his family

If you are like most people, the moment we see something wrong, especially in our families, we want to fix it.  We feel like “can’t we all just get along and behave.” “Can’t we just for one visit, one weekend, one hour around the dinner table, can’t we just put some stuff aside. “If you’ll just do this, you change that, you become this, you do that, we could all be fine.”

Yet, look at what happens for Jesus in verse 5, you can just hear Jesus’ heart… ” I can’t do any miracles here, I can’t fix this, I can’t make this go away”  Don’t be surprised that when you go to try to fix things, that you may feel exactly like Jesus,  “I can’t save Dad, I can’t fix mom, and can’t rescue sister, or brother, or this situation.”

Now, make no mistake, there are times God calls us and says, you need (can) to do something about this (forgive, listen, compromise, be patient, bite your tongue), but there are other times, when God says, “The battle is mine, that issue is mine”  “Only I can fix this.” We all want to have the perfect family, the perfect family visit, and for people to be just as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are. We all want people in our families to love Jesus as much as we do, for people to get along, to forgive, to set aside their differences, to play fair, to give some respect, to soften their attitudes, to wear some deodorant for crying out loud, or to put whisky down, if for just a few hours on Christmas day.

But you know what, it may not happen. It didn’t happen for Jesus. That visit this year, it may be disappointing, it may break your heart, but you know what, whether you like it or not, whether you want to claim them or not… they are still your family,

In fact, for Jesus, when all is said and done, take a look at this..

John 19:25-27  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Picture this, there is Jesus hanging on the cross and His concern is for His mother’s care.

Regardless of all the drama, Jesus loved His family.  It may have to be from a distance, it may have to be from behind some serious boundaries that are absolutely necessary.  But even when you can’t fix it, you can still do your best to love your family.

The Pressure of Presents

Did you know in 2010, the average American family spent $870 on Christmas gifts, $33 in cards and postage, $51 on decorations, for a total of nearly $1,000?

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans rack up more than $131.1 billion dollars in credit card debt?

Did you know that 45% of people say that buying presents is more a chore than something they enjoy?

Think about this for a second, we have so identified Christmas with presents bought in a store and put under a tree, that you will hear people say, “we just aren’t going to be able to have Christmas this year,” or “we are going to give this person Christmas this year,” and what are they talking about? Presents.  For many people Christmas hinges on the presents.

As a matter of fact let me ask you something, would Christmas be as special to you if there with no malls involved, no shopping involved, no ribbons and bows, no presents under the tree, no getting up in the morning to unwrap them? Or think of it this way, could the Grinch come into your life this year and steal Christmas? Is the meaning of Christmas to you something that could be taken away from you? Would you feel like less of a mom or a dad if there were no presents under the tree this year? Would that get at you? How hard would it be for your kids?

It’s hard to be honest about that, because I would say for most of us, to some degree or another, we feel the pressure of presents, the unwritten, unspoken expectation of presents.  Back in the corners of our minds there is a minimum standard of presents that would be acceptable for you to have for your kids or your family, there’s the list of all those people you  feel obligated to buy presents for. And soon into this Christmas thing, the pressure starts to mount, the count down to Christmas starts.

And so the question becomes, what do we do with that pressure?  Because deep down we know there is something pure about this giving thing, it’s at the very heart of who Jesus and is and what God has done for us, the reason why we have a Christmas at all is because God gave us the gift of Jesus, born in a manger.  We all get that. But when fathers and husbands are committing suicide because they can’t give their family the material kind of Christmas they think they have to, when kids start screaming at the idea of not getting the present they want under the tree, when families are going into debt to get presents, when we associate the whole idea of Christmas as to whether it’s a good Christmas or a bad Christmas with how many presents are wrapped in a box under a tree, when 45% of people find it to be a chore to buy the presents that are giving, when our culture loves the cash making opportunity behind Christmas much more than the Christ of Christmas something is seriously out of whack. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some thoughts about how to handle the pressure of presents…

o.o1 When it comes to your children, give them what they really want… you.

When the presents we give to our kids are merely the icing on the cake of how we love of our kids, great. When presents become the cake of how we love our kids, not good.

For some parents in our culture, they make presents such a big deal, they buy this and that, anything the kids want, they find a way to get it, all to some how in their mind make up for the lack of a parent they have been the other 364 days of the year.  For some parents it’s a way of removing the guilt, buying, in a sense their kids love, or buying a way out of the guilt for not being the parent you know you should be.

For some, buying the presents isn’t really for the kids, it’s for the parents to feel better about their parenting.

It’s interesting around the Holidays, that many parents spend extra time away from home, long hours into the night, all to make that extra money for Christmas, under the pressure to buy presents for Christmas, when ironically what that child really wants is more time and attention from their parents.

It’s interesting that fathers work extra hard at having the money to buy the action figures of the heroes their children aspire on t.v. when really what their children want is for their dad to be their hero, for their dad to be that active figure in their life.

It’s interesting that moms go out and earn all that extra money to buy their daughters dolls that are beautiful, make up to make their faces prettier, clothes and jewelry to boost their self-esteem, when deep down what their daughters really want from their moms for Christmas and what would really boost their self-esteem is to know their moms think they are beautiful just the way they are.

Here’s a good question for those of us who are parents or grandparents, do you want your children and grandchildren to associate your love exclusively with something that can be bought at store, or with something that a few weeks later they don’t want to play with anymore? Do you really want them to associate your love solely with something that can get taken away from, do you want them to associate your love with something that later YOU are going to take away from them as a punishment?

See, what our kids really want from us this year is us. For some kids, they want their parents to finally start showing up as parents. For some kids, they want their parents to love them enough to discipline them, not let them get and do whatever they want to and get away with it. That’s why they are acting out, because they are wondering if you love them enough to discipline them. For some, they want their parents to finally pay attention to them. For others, they want their parents to stop fighting with each other and get their marriage on track. For some they want their parents to stop over eating and smoking. For some they want their parents to finally get serious about Jesus. That’s what they really want, and they would trade all the presents in the world if they could just get that.

So much of what our kids want this Christmas doesn’t involve something that can be bought in a store, it involves you. Any parent can buy a gift at a store, but it takes a special parent to give their kids what they really want… you.

o.o2 Give the way God gives.   Take a look at a couple passages with me…

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 10:30  I and the Father are one.

Here’s the simple idea… when God gave his son Jesus Christ to us, he was giving Himself.

And you say, “but the wise men gave gifts.” Yes, but they didn’t buy them at the Super Target or at the local Mall, they were giving from what had been given to them.

See the super cool thing about God is when God gives, he doesn’t look for the blue light special, he doesn’t get up on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, load himself up with a liter of Starbuck’s coffee and go on all day shopping frenzy.  He doesn’t say to himself, “Well, I haven’t been such a good God to all those people down there this year, so I better make it up with a blow out Christmas filled with presents.”

No, Gods gives of himself, He sacrifices something of Himself. And, I know what some of you are thinking, well I give of my money, that’s me, that’s part of me.  Really?  Listen, don’t reduce the miracle of you to a dollar bill, you are not your money.  Money doesn’t make you the man or the women. That is not a pressure God has designed you to bare.

Truth is, for some people, the pressure of presents is an issue of their entire identity, their whole identity as a mother or father person, or friend is all wrapped up (literally) in the material side of Christmas. And God says, “No, don’t get caught up in the lie, you are so much more than that!”

Matthew 6:19-2119 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Part of what Jesus is saying is if you wrap up your identity, the way you feel about yourself in stuff, in material things, you are going to be all over the map in yourself esteem. You’ll be like a candle in the wind, when money is good, you’ll feel good, when money is bad, you’re out of luck, where ever the wind of money is blowing that’s where you and your self-esteem will be, but if you see that you are of heavenly worth, priceless, in and of yourself, no matter your material possessions, there’s no pressure.

Let me tell you something, I promise you that what the people in your life want the most from you for Christmas is not your money or anything your money can buy.  They may say they want material things, but deep down, it’s not what the really want. What they really want is you.

It’s easier to give someone a nifty tie, it’s easier to whip out the plastic and buy them a key change with their name engraved on it, it’s easier to push a few keystrokes on line and order them a gift basket of every kind of lotion known to man because it’s easier to do that than to give that person something of yourself.

Yet, what God gives, you can’t buy in a store, check this out…

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.

Try to pick up eternity-with-God at the dollar store, you can’t do it.

Or imagine you’re this guy Peter in the Bible, you love Jesus, you and him are tight, but when push comes to shove in a moment of weakness you choke, when it mattered most, you denied that you ever even knew Jesus, and everybody’s heard about, you screwed up big time, you betrayed your best friend to save your skin, and it’s all over the papers, “Peter the Coward.” Now imagine you are Peter, and you see Jesus at a little breakfast gathering, and your expecting to get the third degree, and everybody is watching, but instead he simply asks you three times, “do you love me?”  And you are thinking, “of course I do,” and Jesus looks at you and says, “o.k., let’s let the past be the past and move on”.    You can’t wrap that kind of Grace and love in a box.

Or imagine you are Abraham, you and your wife have been trying to have kids for a very long time, the whole thing has gotten so complicated, it all seems so hopeless, and you are frustrated.  But then God shows up at your door, and even in the midst of his busy schedule, he comes just to spend time with you and to personally let you in on what He’s up to in your life. God is just coming to be a friend to you, and then to top it off, he tells you that you and your wife are going to have the child you have been hoping for. You just can’t buy that kind of friendship, those words of encouragement, that kind of hope, or that kind of guidance.

As a matter of fact, let me kick this up a notch.

If this is the kind of stuff God gives, and the true meaning of Christmas is what God gives us, namely His son Jesus Christ, Himself, and all kinds of things that you can’t wrap in a box, than maybe the question of the day is, “what are you giving for Christmas?”

If you can’t wrap up any of these things in a box that are so priceless, then why are you putting so much emphasis on giving things that can be?  If what you need most can’t be wrapped up in a box, then why are you giving the people you love the most gifts that can be wrapped in a box?

James 1:17   Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

What Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn needs for me is not just for me to be the father God has called me to be, but for me to introduce them to their heavenly father, for my kids to see Christ in me. As a matter of fact, if the very best gift I have to offer Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn at Christmas (or any other time of the year) is just MY love, they got real problems.

Galatians 2:20a  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

See, if you are a Christian, you  are much more than just you, which means you have something more in you than just you to give. The real deal behind Christmas is to realize there is so much more to give than just presents. You can give you, and even deeper than that, you can give the Jesus in you.

o.o3 Christmas is a great time to show children that true love can’t be bought, and that money shouldn’t be able to buy or influence their hearts.

Part of whether or not your children get the true meaning of Christmas is by how much emphasis you put on the gifts or you put on the giving. So if you really want to know how to make sure that Christmas means the right thing to your children, you have to ask, “does Christmas mean the right thing to me?”  Children don’t where the shoes you give them, they wear the shoes you wore….

What is really the meaning of Christmas to you… can we see that by how you celebrate it?  Is it the gifts or the giving that the pure impulse of it all, or is the whole deal about all the stuff you can buy, or is it something in you that you can give.

Is there a place for bikes wrapped with bows and matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, and train sets? Sure, but only when those things never get in the way of you and your family experiencing the true pure impulse of Christmas.

So, maybe in addition or even in substitution for exchanging presents at Christmas…

-You could give your child a picture of you and your child doing together your favorite thing with them, and when they open it, tell them why that is the favorite you like to do with them.

-Give them a gift that they will give to somebody else at a time other than Christmas.

-Give them a letter from you telling them all the things you love about them the most.

-Have a present-free Christmas one year, and rather give gifts to another family or to a service organization instead.

-Give a gift to a charitable organization in their name.

-As a family, take the $1,000 that you might have spent on Christmas presents and buy a well for the people in India or Africa who don’t have clean water. One well can give a village of 1,000 people the clean water they need.

-Spend your Christmas money on groceries for the local food bank or soup kitchen and then go down and help distribute food to people in need.

-Visit the elderly in nursing homes or spending time with others who don’t have family and friends around for the Holidays.

The key is to realize, the greatest things that you can receive in life and you have to offer other people can’t be wrapped in a box. The very thing people need from you and deep down want from you, can’t be wrapped in a box. And when you realize that, the pressure of presents can be reduced to a non- issue.

Cleaning out the Relationship Closet

Are you a Relationship Hoarder or a careless Relationship Disposer?

So, have you heard of hoarding? It’s a term used to refer to people who have a hard time letting go of stuff while collecting more and more things or specific items. Instead of purposefully keeping some things and removing others, they keep everything. There are a variety of possible reasons including… they are afraid to be without it, they have a compulsive streak, or they have attached their identity or some emotionally pleasure to the possession of it. For whatever reason, they have serious difficulty discarding things that are actually working against the health and wholeness of their life. Some of the things they have are of great value, but they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it because of their obsession with everything else.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who soon after they acquire something, they are quick to despose of it and reengage on their quest to get something else. To them everything, even things of significant worth, are disposable. Once they have a new toy (so to speak) they quickly get bored with it and search for another.  Traveling from store to store, hobby to hobby, venture to venture, they pursue the next purchase fix while never prizing, maximizing, and nurturing what they already have.

Interestingly enough, we can have the same kind of extremes when it comes to our relationships.

For some, we hoard our relationships as we hold onto ones that work against the wholeness God desires to bring into our lives. We are actually afraid to be without some relationships in our lives either because of insecurity, we have a perfectionist streak in us (that concludes everyone should like us), or we have tied our identities to a certain person(s) or relationship(s), probably out of codependency and therefore depend on them for our sense of self to unhealthy levels. For whatever reason, relationships that we should have discarded or redefined long ago we keep as is.

For others of us, our relationships have become carelessly disposable. When the person no longer serves our purposes, meets our needs, or benefits us in some way, we are quick to move onto the next. Perhaps it’s out selfishness, inconvenience, or a fear of intimacy, but for whatever reason, true closeness with people eludes us and we never truly know what it is to love and be loved. Why? Because we move from one to the next, never nurturing and investing in the relationships we already have or the people who already desire to know us.  Relationships that we should have kept, drawn closer to, invested in, nurtured, and hung around for we prematurely distance ourselves from or totally throw away.

God wants us to have healthy relationships, we were created for such. From time to time, this means cleaning out the relationship closet. Cleaning out the relationship closet is much like our clothes closet. Though we don’t purchase or possess people like we would a pair of jeans, relationships are among the many things that God wants us to steward well, especially since our relationships have a certain amount of effect on our own wellbeing.  Not having room for healthy relationships or having too many unhealthy relationships isn’t God honoring, nor is disposing and distancing ourselves from relationships that God desire us to nurture and value.

With all of that in mind, there are likely several kinds of relationships in our Relationship Closet…

What’s in your Relationship Closet?

1) Nostalgia Suit – These relationships are mainly defined by what they meant to us in the past. At one time, these relationships fit perfectly in our life. They fit with time, place, and person we were. They gave us great memories and had a special impact on our lives. However, as time progressed, these relationships either grew distant or completely detached. Frequently the separation or distance that ensues isn’t clouded with negativity, but rather benign circumstances.  The power of these relationships can extend well beyond what they meant to us in the past.  Our affectionate memories and the positive impact of these relationships can be significant. When we think of these people, we often smile inwardly.

2) The Fashion Statement – These relationships are mainly defined by how they make us look or feel about ourselves. These are the people at the cool lunch table that we want to know for that sake of our egos and self-esteem.  Often times, we want these people in our lives because they seem to make us feel more important just by knowing them. When you hear people “dropping names” these relationships are probably “Fashion Statements” more than anything else.

3) Special Occasion Dress- These relationships are mainly defined by the purpose or role these persons serve in your life. Like a bridesmaid dress that is typically worn at most one or two times, these relationships are often short term. They may be a reoccurring relationship as there may be periodic times where interaction is needed, once again, to fulfill a special role or purpose.

4) The Adjustable Pants- These relationships are mainly defined by their ability to fit as you change as a person. These are the people who are “with you” no matter where or even who you become. They are typically long term relationships that ebb and flow over the years, developing overtime into deep levels of intimacy.  Relationships like this grow with us and find a way to fit well in every season of our life. These relationships last and compliment what God is doing in our lives

5) The Gifted Tie- These relationships are mainly defined by the guilt we feel for not desiring to be around, with, or in connection with them.  Perhaps they did something for you and now you feel obligated to give your attention or friendship.  In fact, they may be playing upon your guilt and not a healthy person to be around. Or, perhaps you are in a new season of your life and the relationship now feels awkward and superficial. Regardless, the conflicting emotions inside of you towards this relationship tend to weigh heavy with a sense of guilt that you aren’t as emotionally connected as you feel you should be.

6) The Uncomfortable Shoe- These relationships are defined by the uncomfortableness or pain they cause you. Deep down we don’t want these relationships, but we either conclude that this person is the best we are going to get, or we feel somehow obligated to grin and bare the relationship. Sometimes, we will have done everything we can to get the relationship repaired or make adjustments that relieve the stress, but to little or no success. Whether these persons are family members, coworkers, or friends, these relationships cause us chronic uncomfortableness or pain.

7) The Favorite Sweater- These relationships are defined by the comfort, security, and warmth they bring into our lives. Similar to the Adjustable Pants, these relationships are often long term and serve to give us a special kind of security, encouragement, and comfort that other relationships cannot.

8)  The Shrunken Jeans-  These relationships are mainly defined by the reality that they don’t fit anymore. There are potentially two primary reasons why 1) You shrunk the relationship  2) You grew out of the relationship.  Sometimes relationships don’t fit because we screw them up and injure the person and/or the relationship. We may try to force the relationship to fit into our lives by seeking to repair the damage, but in some instances it works, and in others it doesn’t. Other times, we grow out of the relationship and thus it not longer fits the things God is doing in our lives. We may try to bring the person along or fit back in with the crowd we once were in, but often neither result in much success.

9) The Suspenders- These relationships are mainly defined by the support they give us. Sometimes, these are mostly one-sided relationships as we turn to them for support, but the mutual need and care is not reciprocated by them.  Other times, there is a mutual need that is met within the relationship. Either way, the relationship is defined by the specific support the relationship brings.

10) The Wrinkled Shirt- These relationships are mainly defined by the high amount of maintenance they take. With some people you are always having to iron out some issue, either within the relationship or in their lives. Above and beyond the normal flaws and ups and downs of people and relationships, these relationships are filled with drama and often suck the life out of you. Every time you connect with these relationships, you realize there is a lot of ironing to do to make the relationship work. In fact, often times, if you take the drama, negativity, and conflict out of the relationship, there is actually no relationship left.

11) The Catalogue Display- These relationships are mainly defined by our desire to have them. These are the people we want in our relationship closet, but for whatever reason, they aren’t there and likely will never be. These are the people who you are trying to get into your life but aren’t able to without paying a cost. Sometimes that cost is begging them, appeasing them, flattering them, or always being the one to take the initiative.

No Hoarding, No Careless Disposing! Some thoughts about cleaning out the Relationship Closet…

Note: In my personal opinion, based on God’s Word, I do not believe marriage is a relationship that should be categorized as being in your Relationship Closet. Though it often needs cleaning, I do not believe it is a relationship that should be seen as one that should be “cleaned out” of your relationships closet. God allows for divorce under certain defined circumstances, but does not condone it nor require it. Therefore, do not misunderstand the content of this post as applying to marriage.

o.o1 – Be decisive and direct about the Uncomfortable Shoe – The good news about the Uncomfortable Shoe type of relationship is that sometimes things can be softened over and smoothed out. These are relationships that though they make us uncomfortable or even painful, instead of prematurely throwing them out, they may be repairable with some work. I am reminded of the passage in the Bible, “As far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With uncomfortable relationships, we need to be willing to do our best at fixing them. Don’t just wait around hoping things will get better on their own, take initiative to remedy the relationship.

However, as the above passage in the Bible suggests, we can’t always fix relationships. If you have made every effort to revitalize or reconcile the relationship, but with no little or no success, it may just be time to redefine the relationship as you set healthy boundaries.  This can be difficult to do, but it’s critical. We can’t change people, but we can change how we relate to people.

o.o2 – Have realistic expectations about the Nostalgia Suit- It’s easy to want certain relationships and certain aspects of our relationships to last forever. It’s also natural to desire to reconnect with an old friend hoping that things will go back to or feel the ways things did in the past. There are some relationships in our past that can carry on forever, and some that we can reconnect with that pick up like time never passed. However, placing a high expectation that this will be the case is probably not going to serve you or the relationship very well. Let the Nostalgia Suit type of relationship be enjoyed for what it is, and if a new or continued relationship can be developed from it, great. Certainly don’t just discard it.  But don’t place a lot of pressure on the relationship to fit and feel like it used to.

o.o3 – Avoid over thinking the Gifted Tie – Letting the emotions of guilt rule our relationships is not going to result in good things. For sure, we are to be compassionate and caring to people as we give unconditional love. However, you can give unconditional love without granting unlimited access to your life, time, attention, and energy. Guilt does not produce love. When we extend ourselves to people out of guilt, we are not loving them, but in fact are selfishly trying to remove the pain of guilt from our lives so we feel better about ourselves. Genuine compassion leads to love, but guilt does not. If after honest evaluation, you find yourself giving your time and attention to a person out of guilt, ask God to help you deal with the source of your guilt while helping you know what to say “yes” and “no” to in the relationship.  In some instances, this will mean learning to love that person from a distance, other times it will mean admitting you aren’t the best person to care for them. Other times it may mean completely redefining the relationship or even removing yourself from it. Regardless, don’t over think the Gifted Tie type of relationship and become consumed by it, that is often what guilt seeks to do… control you.

o.o4 – Don’t spend your life on a Fashion Statement – Though it may seem otherwise, people can’t make you any more important and or valuable than what you already are.  For some of us, we subscribe our value to the kinds of people we have in our lives. Believe it or not, the cool-kids lunch table you wanted to sit at in middle school carries on into adulthood. There are cool coworker tables, cool parents tables, cool professionals tables, and on and on.  Yes, the Bible counsels us that the people we draw close to us can be defining in our lives. We need to be selective about the people we bring to the closest levels of our relationships. However, that is more of an issue of integrity and wholeness, not popularity, fame, or standing. Spending our lives trying to attach ourselves to the fame, success, and popularity of other people is a waste of time. Putting on someone else’s clothes often doesn’t look good at all. Furthermore, trying to be someone we aren’t isn’t a very attractive look either.  God’s counsel is to be the first you, not a copy of someone else. Make the most of who you are and the platform God has given you. Be a fashion setter, not fashion seeker.

o.o5 – Force fitting the Shrunken Jeans never works – Not every relationships fits us. The very same person who makes for a great acquaintance, may not make a very healthy close friend. Furthermore, the very person who made for a great friend in one season of your life, may not make for a very good friend during another season of your life.  God is in the business of life change. Sometimes, as God changes us, our relationships need to to change too.  With some relationships, as God grows us, the relationship grows too. This is an ideal situation that should be cherished. With other relationships, as God grows us, the relationship tries to reel us back into who we were before and what we did, keeping us from moving forward.  In some relationships, the glue of the relationship is the not so good behavior or activity you did with them.  Once you grow out of that behavior, the relationship is threatened.  This is where, at times, we need to clean out the relationships closet and throw those old pair of jeans away, they just don’t fit and will keep us from moving forward with God.

Other times, we are the ones who shrink the relationship. We screw up and damage things. When this occurs, we need to fes up, repent, and ask for forgiveness with a commitment to rebuild the person’s trust over time. If this is granted, you should be thankful. If it is not granted, trying to force your way back into the relationship will not likely work well. In fact, it may end up hurting you and the situation more.  If the person is willing to stretch out with forgiveness and reconciliation, then one day the relationship may just fit again, even better and stronger than before. But if they aren’t, force fitting yourself into the relationship is a hopeless pursuit, and it may be time to simply move on.

o.o6 – Never take for granted your Favorite Sweater- It’s amazing how often we work on relationships that aren’t working and forget to work on relationships that are working. To keep that Favorite Sweater being your Favorite Sweater, it’s going to take some effort and work. The problem we can have with the Favorite Sweater is we leave it in the closet and forget about taking care of it while we busily try to develop and maintain some of the other types of relationships. Then, when we go to put on that Favorite Sweater, it is stretched out, dusty, or even a bit moldy. In short, the relationship isn’t as warm and fuzzy because we have not taken care of it as much as we should. The reason why that person(s) is your Favorite Sweater is because of the comfort, warmth, and encouragement the relationship brings to both of you. But without care, we can’t expect that to always be the case.

o.o7 – Choose to limit your emotional energy on Wrinkled Shirts- There really is no such thing as a wrinkle free shirt. Every relationship takes time, energy, and effort. However, some relationships are defined by having to maintain them through a lot of drama and issues. These are the exhausting relationships. With every turn, there seems to be some crisis, conflict, or wrinkle that needs to ironed out.  The truth is, the Wrinkled Shirt type of relationships often have deeper issues going on than we could every possibly remedy.  Though these persons cry out for attention and display issues that need dire fixing, the reality is, you or I aren’t likely going to be able to fix them. Sometimes, the best thing to do is refer them to the cleaners (so to speak), that is, professionals who are trained to deal with their level of issues and problems. Trying to play the neighborhood psychiatrist may in fact do more harm than good. As Christians, we have Jesus who is the solution to all the problems of the world, but how that solution gets integrated into a person’s life often has a lot more to with the person themselves aided by the help of a professional Christian counselor. There is a lot we can do as Christians to bring healing to wrinkled lives and relationships, but there is also a lot we can’t. Having the wisdom to distinguish the difference is key.

o.o8 – Avoid chasing after Catalogue displays-   At times, I have found value  in the statement, “If people can walk away, let them walk away.” This phrase refers to those relationships where we try to keep people in our lives that really make little to no effort to be in our lives. Sometimes, they flat out turn the corner and walk away. Like a catalogue, we can picture them in our Relationship Closet, but the reality is, they aren’t there and paying the cost to get them there isn’t going to be worth it in the end. If you have to beg, appease, plead, flatter, or otherwise try to convince people to be or stay in your life, they probably aren’t worthy being in your Relationship Closet to begin with. When relationships sour, we need to be willing to admit mistakes, repent, and go through the process of reconciliation, but forever begging and pleading, appeasing and convincing those who clearly aren’t interested in being a part of your life is not what God does with us, nor intends for us. If they can walk away, let them walk away. God’s future for you isn’t tied to their presence in your life.

Closing Thoughts

God gives us the beautiful gift of relationships. As we steward our Relationship Closet, on one side of the coin we will likely find relationships in our closet that with a bit of nurturing and care can be transformed instead of discarded. Yet at the same time, we will likely find relationships that truly no longer fit, for whatever reason can’t be patched, or clearly work against what God is doing, and should be redefined or even completely removed.

Parenting to Win

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.

Our children and our parenting were born into a war, not a vacation.  There is a real battle going on for the hearts and lives of our children and our families.  Unfortunately, many parents have either surrendered their children and their homes by outsourcing their parenting to teachers, coaches, friends, and youth groups, or they are battling with their children more than for their children. As Charles Swindoll says, “Schools, youth groups, teachers, coaches, and after school programs can’t resurrect in a child what is being put to death in the home” Furthermore, Satan loves to keep parents preoccupied with fighting with their children so as to distract and prevent them from fighting for their children.

Fathers honoring their leading role in the home with maturity, integrity, wisdom and strength is no longer lifted up in our culture, but rather mocked by figures like Homer Simpson and Ozzy Osbourne, sending mothers into a confused tailspin of trying to pick up the pieces and somehow make the whole parenting thing work. If mothers aren’t fulfilling a healthy role in the home its because we men first screwed up ours.

For many parents, we want to win the parenting war going on within our culture and our homes.  In moments of inspiration and courage, we set the standards, communicate the boundaries, create the time and energy for our children, only to have it all undone by the next pouting match, soccer season, job promotion, moment of needed discipline, guilt trip, or conversation with another parent about all the things they let their kids do.

It’s harder now to parent our children God’s way than ever before, and my sense is that many  parents are dying a silent death as they resign themselves to a passive, tolerant, culturally correct style of parenting that might as well send the message to the rest of the world, “We give up, you raise them.”  It seems these days, we aren’t parenting to win, we are parenting to survive.

Like a seen from  the movie Braveheart, I feel like shouting out a charge to parents to pick up their parenting bow-and-arrow and fight!  Our children’s lives, our homes, our culture, and our future is at stake.  It may not be easy, but we CAN win!

I love the image God gives us of parenting in Psalm 127.

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.

Among the many layers of meaning within this passage, I believe this passage brings us tremendous wisdom on how to win as parents and parent to win!   To that end, here are some powerful principals from this singular passage…

1) We need to see our parenting as nothing less than a WAR for our children and their future.   As parents, we need to see ourselves as warriors at a DEFCON 5  level of alert with our parental radars fine tuned onto the battle field of our children’s lives. There can be no more passive, sideline parenting! Passive parenting is an act of surrender in the war going on for our children and their future.  Parent, do you know what’s underneath your child’s bed, in their closet? Do you know what their activity is on facebook? Do you monitor what music they listen too?  Do you know who their closest friends are? Do you have a relationship with their teachers and coaches?  Satan wants to have influence and leverage in your children’s lives, the question is, do you want it more than him? And, how much are you willing to flat out fight for it!  It will be and is a battle.

2) Draw your children as close as possible as soon as possible-  The #1 thing every parents needs in the war for our children and their future is… influence. The bonds of love and togetherness are the most important influence establishers you can have with your children.   The moment you lose influence as a parent is the moment you begin to lose the battle.

The first move an archer makes is to pull the arrow close to themselves. That action gains them the power, leverage, and control they need to point and shoot the arrow accurately.  The best archers bring the arrow as close to their body as possible.  Powerful influencers in your child’s life that draw them close to you are… love, affection , praise, example, correction, discipline, clear boundaries, interest, fun, togetherness, encouragement, and listening.  If you aren’t intimately and directly involved in your child’s life you will lack in influence, period.  Never let any person or thing win the battle for time, attention, and involvement in your child’s life.  It’s very hard to point our children in the right direction if we first don’t draw close to them and gain influence. If your children are 16 and younger, ask yourself… who or what are the top influencers in their life?  If your name wasn’t first or very high up on the list, you may have a real opportunity and need to strengthen this area of your parenting. No, a lack of influence isn’t always about what a parent has or hasn’t done, that’s for sure.  There are awesome, faithful parents who lack influence because their children have rebelled or made pour choices completely separate from a healthy home and great parents. Yet, for some parents, we lack needed influence because we simply aren’t doing our jobs.

3) Point your children in the direction God has for them.  After pulling the arrow close, aim is the next priority to the archer. Every great archer has a target in sight and in mind.  As parents we need to have a set target or goal for the parenting of our children. We need to have a sense of clear vision and direction. As my pastor friend Walk Kallestad says, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  As parents, we are a kind of launch pad to our children’s lives and part of our critical responsibility is to point their lives in the right direction. Being a few inches off-target on the launch pad can translate into being miles away from where God wants our children to be in the future..

The most important pursuit in this area of parenting is to discern what God’s vision is for your child’s future. The Bible says, “Train a child in the way he should go...”-Proverbs 22:6.  Notice is doesn’t say, train them in the way YOU went or the way YOU think they should go.

God has a unique vision for your child’s life and future, and chances are it won’t be in the same exact path you chose. Our job is to draw so close to God and our children that we can clearly see the destiny God has for our children. Our children have specialized God given passions, gifts, and personalities that need to be discerned, developed and directed.  Not having a close sense of where God is leading our children is like aimlessly pointing an arrow up in the air and hoping it hits some kind of target that turns out to be the one God wanted.

Furthermore, apart from the unique, specific future God has for our children, there are some general targets God has for all children. God wants us all to become followers of Jesus who grow into maturity and build His Kingdom. God wants all people to become men and women of Godly character, wisdom, and obedience. These are some of the essentials God sees as targets for all of our children.

God has a general and specific target and mind for your children. The question is, do you know what that target is, and are you pointing your parenting in that direction?

4) Release your children overtime to move from your influence to God’s influence

There is of little value for an archer to draw an arrow close to themsleves and carefully point it in the right direction if they aren’t going to ultimately release it.

The ultimate goal of our parenting is to release our children over time from being under our care, direction, and influence to establishing their own, personal walk with the Lord as they seek to follow God’s plan for their life.  No, we never stop being parents, but God desires us to release our children so that they are able to enter a free-will, loving, genuine relationship and life with Jesus. It is during this journey of increasing release that a child grows into expanding opportunity and freedom to own for themselves the direction and values you have been parenting them under.

Archers know that releasing an arrow too soon or waiting too long are both problematic.  Timing is everything.  When we release a child too soon we sabotage their ability to develop as they are not prepared to handle the levels of freedom and responsibility they are prematurely given. Yet, when we hold onto our children too long, we rob them of learning to take responsibility for their lives, facing the consequences of their own actions, and growing in character and confidence. In the one instance they fall to the ground unnecessarily, in the other they are never given the chance to fly.

I am amazed at how we as parents barely draw our kids close, spend very little time pointing our parenting, and haphazardly release are children into the world, and then wonder why we see them tumble, turn, and never reach their potential.

There is a war going on for our children’s lives, but it’s a war we can win!  Let’s take up our parenting bows and learn to fight for our children and their future.

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.

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