Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New Blog Site

If anyone reads this blog, please check out my new blog home at www.jonathantony.com where I'll be blogging from here on out. I'll be leaving this site up because I plan on being lazy and pulling from stuff I've already written in the future. Don't judge me.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Second Day

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I love Easter. It’s not just the candy, but yeah that’s a big part of it. I just love the message. I love the joy and hope it gives me. I love celebrating that Jesus is alive. I don’t know what it is but it seems most Easter Sundays I find myself with watery eyes on my drive to church.

The resurrection of Christ is wonderful to think about, but today I’ve been thinking about what it must have been like for the disciples and the other followers on the night before Jesus rose from the grave. When we tell the story we tend to fast forward to the third day. You know—the grand finale. God wins. The devil loses. Everything changes for the good.

I’ve just been wondering about the second day. What must have been going through their heads? The man they put all their hope in as the King of Kings turned out to be just a normal man, susceptible to death. The true Son of God can’t die, right?

They gave up everything to follow him.
They bet everything they had on him.

To say they were probably feeling hopeless barely hits it. Overwhelmingly devastated I would imagine. Depressed. Angry. Confused. I’d say you could throw any amount of words like that into the skillet.

Jesus had told them before that he would die and would rise but it didn’t make sense at the time. Looking back they probably felt kind of stupid, but when you watch your presumed Messiah whipped, beaten, and crucified you probably start to doubt most of the things you had once believed.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like what they saw. I’ve never even seen my pastor punched in the face. I can’t connect to the disciples to that extent, but I do know what it is like to be in day two out of three. I know what it’s like to question everything and to be angry and depressed all at the same time.

The second is not the fun day to be a Christian, especially when you don’t even know about the third day yet. When you’re in the midst of it, day two isn’t the middle, it’s the end. Everything you put your hope in seems to not be working out for you. The faith you did have seems pointless in a lot of ways, and you kind of feel like you got duped.

Jesus could have died and come back to life on the second day. I mean, he could have died and come back to life right on the spot. But he didn’t. He waited. I can’t get into biblical numbers and the significance of the number “three” because I’m not smart enough. I just believe that there is a great purpose to the second day. And to all of our second days.

If I can be completely honest, there are aspects about God that I don’t like sometimes. I don’t like the fact he created us and that we still have to struggle with sin. I don’t like that he lets me embarrass myself (a lot). I don’t like that patience and trust are abilities you have to learn. And I don’t like that God tests us. (Proverbs 3:11-12)

I don’t like sitting through the second day. Even when I know there is a third day coming because I can feel it or the Lord has told me so; it doesn’t always make the second day any easier. It seems like too much of our lives are in the second day.

I can’t give you all the reasons why, and I can’t even give myself them, but I think when we are in the second day it is because we are being tested.

I know, I hate it, too, but that’s just the way it is.

I don’t think God does it to us because he delights in watching us squirm or cry. Sometimes I think that’s why he does it, but then that’s when what I feel has to be overcome by what I believe.

When the disciples were going through the second day, they didn’t have Jesus giving them the answers anymore. They didn’t have miracles in front of them. They didn’t have the God of the universe in the flesh putting people in their place. They only had their faith.

We may have times where everything we put our faith in seems to be dead in the ground. We may have times where there are absolutely no answers. And we may have times where what we believed now sounds completely ridiculous. We will all have second days.

Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If you asked me to give you my version of that verse, it might sound something like this: “Faith is like jumping off of a cliff because you thought it was a good idea at the time, and now you’re just falling and really scared.”

Faith doesn’t deal a lot in the realm of proof. It’s one of the reasons a lot of really smart people have a hard time believing in God. There’s not a lot of proof that comes with it. Sure I can believe it, but the reason I can believe it is because I believe it. (What? Yeah. Exactly.) Faith is the substance of something you’re hoping is true, and it is revealed by something else you can’t see.

Jesus never said all of this faith stuff was easy, but he did say it was possible. When we find ourselves in a second day, it could be because God is trying to strip away all the proof and test what we really claim to believe. To see if maybe we’re just crazy enough of people stick it out and hold on to what we believe.

2 Corinthians 5:7
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

We all know that verse. The second day is what tests us to see if we don’t just know it but that we that also can live it out.

Like I said, I don’t enjoy this. Nobody really enjoys practice. (Definitely not Allen Iverson.) But I think after all the tears and the screaming and the rage, we have to say to ourselves, “Either I believe all of this or I don’t.”

I don’t think you can part-believe in this Gospel and make it through. We can’t quote verses that say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and then live like God is only for us sometimes. He is either for us completely, or he is against us completely. It simply cannot be a little of both.

Maybe you’re in your second day right now. Maybe you’re being tested in ways you never have before. Let me just remind you that you are not alone.

My mother told me these words one time when I was going through one of the hardest situations of my life, “You’re not the first person to go through this, and you won’t be the last. Others have made it through and so will you.”

You’re not alone. God doesn’t hate you. And God knows more about the third day than you do. He’s been planning it all along. He’s already at the third day waiting for you.

When you’re in your second day, remember the third day. Remember that joy comes in the morning. Remember the hope you knew when things were easier. Remember the songs and the verses that came alive in your soul. Remember the times before when you were in the dark and how they became the times that led you to the light. Remember that the end of the story will always be that Jesus wins.

Either he does or he doesn’t. There’s no possibility for both.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dating and the Rule Book of Love

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

When I was a boy my friend Brandon and I got this Motown album from his dad that we loved. It had a bunch of the doo-wop songs from different artists. I still love those kinds of oldies to this day, and I think the kids need to hear more good music like that.

One of the songs we liked on there, and actually recently sang together to see if we remembered it (and we did), was called “The Book of Love.” It said, “Oh I wonder, wonder who… who wrote the book of love?” Maybe you’ve heard it. It was just a fun song full of random rhymes and cute little analogies. But the song begs the question, “Who wrote the book of love?” and it never provides an answer.

Years later, here I am asking the same question of those confused doo-woppers. “Who wrote the book of love?” There have been many books written about love. “Do this, not that” books. “The problem isn’t you, it’s them” books. We’ve all seen them. Every week somebody is producing a brand new 300 pages of guesses and fabricated nonsense and making tons of money off of it. Love columns in newspapers and magazines don’t even try to hide how stupid they are; they put it out there clear as day and people still buy into it.

Obviously, America is intrigued by these thoughts on love. We are all searching for a quick fix or magic trick to show us the one thing we’ve been doing wrong that will make it all better. The 50 percent divorce rate in our country should tell us it’s about time to start looking to some other sources because we clearly don’t know what we are doing. America gets glued to shows like “The Bachelor” and "Ready for Love" and whatever crap is on VH1. Love and reality do not seem to coincide in this country.

Who wrote the book of love? Who wrote out these rules that we’re supposed to play by and even know about? I’ve had so many conversations with guys that try to give me their wonderful insight into how to pick up women. I’ve heard it all.

“Bro, you gotta neg a girl for a while.”


“Yeah, it’s where you tell her something negative about herself so she gets unsettled about herself and frustrated. They eat it up. Then they are intrigued by you.”

This was actual advice from a real, live, breathing human being. And maybe some of you dudes are nodding your heads agreeing with that advice. If I were there I’d punch you as hard as I can in the face. Now, women, if “negging” works on you, then you might as well wear a shirt that says, “Hi, I am super insecure,” because that’ll save all the bro’s some time.

This is the advice that is thrown around like facts, when really it was just made up by some person who saw it work one time. We like to call things facts that aren’t actually facts in America. Have you noticed that? It’s a cool game we invented called “Stupidity.”

Tainted Love

Now, if it seems like I am cynical and annoyed, that’s only because I am cynical and annoyed.

Go ahead and say it, though, “Hey man, what do you even know? You’re single!” Look, I don’t claim to be someone who is a love doctor; clearly I have my own issues and vices. I merely come to you as someone who is, as we acknowledged, cynical and annoyed. And single. I’m annoyed with the system. I’m annoyed with the games I’m supposed to know how to play. I’m annoyed with the rules that someone made up. I’m annoyed with people that think they have it figured out and spread lies to my friends. I’m angered at the TV shows that praise shallow relationships and screwed up marriages. I’m saddened by the marriages I have seen end so many times when they shouldn’t have.

I’m not simply a lonely guy making a desperate plea for a date here. I am making a desperate plea to change the system. To change our way of thinking. And more importantly, our way of acting.

Love is not a drug.
Love is not always a pretty sight.
Love is more than we’ve been singing along to in pop songs.

So who wrote these rules? Where did they come from? Who was the first person to say, “Don’t call them until three days later”? Who came up with stuff like that and who called it a fact? I have a theory: The rules were written by idiots and followed out by bigger idiots.

Harsh? Well, maybe that’s because the truth hurts, baby.

Why does it need to be so complicated? I talk to guys and they say, “Girls are so confusing!” Then, I talk to girls and they say, “Guys are so confusing!” Did you know both sides are saying the same things? We are like a big game of bumper cars. Everyone is trying to drive but can’t make up their mind which way to go. We’re knocking into things and other people and inevitably getting nowhere. We’re trying so hard to follow these dumb rules and analyze frivolous words to death that we miss the open road.

Look, I’m not saying this love stuff should be easy. I know there are some complicated pieces to it all, but can we all at least admit that we tend to extremely overcomplicate things?

Stop in the Name of Love

Here’s a something I’ve had said to my face a few times, “When you stop looking, that’s when you’ll find someone.” We’ve all heard that one. Maybe we’ve struggled with it. Maybe we’ve tried really hard to follow it out.

Allow me to give my two cents on it. I think it’s a hokey line that married people say. I think they look back on their relationships and somehow remember it as being something that came as a result of them not caring anymore. Now maybe that worked for one or two people, but when most people say they didn’t care, they are lying or remembering it wrong.

I think many times that phrase comes from a well-meaning heart and really they are just trying to get you to relax, but if you’re someone who analyzes things (like me) it can start to mess with your perception and actions. That phrase really is an oxymoron. It’s like saying, “Hey, never show up to work and you’ll make more money.” And if you stopped caring in order to get a relationship, wouldn’t that mean that you cared in the first place and that’s why you stopped caring… yikes, this is making my head hurt. Moving on.

Single folks, it’s all right to care. You are not wrong for being lonely sometimes or wanting to be in a relationship. That’s not an evil desire. Now, like anything, if you let it go too much it can run you, but the desire in itself is not evil.

I look at the Old Testament and women like Rachel and Hannah. Two women who wanted to have children and couldn’t. They were barren and all the women around them were having children. They were saying things like, “Give me children or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1) I’m not saying you should start praying, “Lord, give me a husband or shoot me,” but I’m just saying we are dealing with God-given desires here. Natural things. It’s natural for a woman to want to have children. And it’s natural for human beings to want to be in love. We were designed this way.

Do you think if Rachel and Hannah stopped trying to have kids that they would have had a bunch of kids? I don’t think that’s logical at all. In the words of my friend Kenn Kington, “I made a D in Biology… but I was there for the lesson that day.” To me, as stupid as it sounds to try to have children without even trying is as stupid as it would be to try to have a relationship without actually trying.

Some may debate me on this, and that’s fine. But let me tell you a little story from my life that you can believe or not.

I try to take a break from work once a day and go for a quick walk to catch some fresh air and so my eyes don’t fall out of my head from staring at the computer screen all day. I was thinking about this whole “stop caring” method and praying about it.

I said, “God, I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to not care and to stop looking.”
I felt like I immediately heard back, “Who told you not to stop looking? Did I tell you to?”

I realized quickly that I had been trying to pull off methods, rules, and advice that I wasn’t meant to. I was listening to people more than I was listening to God, hence the frustration. And that kind of methodology will give you frustration in all areas of life.

Could You Be Loved?

It’s frustrating trying to follow these rules and guidelines that people make up. Sometimes they can seem really convincing. It’s easy to get insecure when it hasn’t worked for you and it seems to be working for everyone else. And to make it worse, you have to process all the dumb advice you hear. Some of the worst advice can come from the best of intentions.

I talk to a lot of people who are beating themselves up over being single. Just frustrated with the system of it all. Frustrated that other people are getting it to click. I guess you could say jealous if we’re being totally honest. It happens. And as we’ve discussed, it doesn’t make it easier to deal with when you and your friends and family sit around and analyze your dating life to death. Humans have a good way of making up problems where there really are no problems because we always need an answer and some sort of proof. This has been going on for centuries.

When I think about this stuff there is a story in the Bible that comes to my mind from the book of John, chapter 9.

As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The disciples wanted an answer to the problem. They wanted to know what someone did wrong to end up in a situation they did not enjoy. That’s the way our minds seem to work: If we’re not happy, then somebody is doing something wrong.

That’s a really old school way to look at it. It’s a cause-and-effect view on things. But cause-and-effect has nothing to do with the grace of God.

Sometimes there may be things we can improve on. Everyone needs to have a good introspection check up regularly; that’s a good thing. But sometimes the matter we are dealing with is out of our hands. It could just be a timing thing, and it could be that God is wanting to teach us or stretch us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that’s what I think it is 100 percent of the time.

All you single people out there, I write this simply to just let you know that you are not alone in this. Just because you might not be married yet doesn’t mean you have serious problems. It doesn’t mean that anyone else that is married did anything better than you did. I’d even bet that some of the people you envy today will be the people you come to pity tomorrow.

I’m realizing that as I get older, there really seem to be a lot less guarantees in life, and that kind of sucks. I’m past the age where my hard work in school is a guarantee that I will move onto the next grade. I’m not guaranteed a job or wife or much else. Things just take longer as you get older. And that’s all right.

Keep moving forward and don’t let other people’s happiness be what brings you down. That’s called being a punk and you’re not going to be a lot of fun to be around. Life is too short to spend it wishing you had someone else’s.

And truth be told… no one really knows what they are doing.

Still today, I’ve never really gotten a clear answer to who wrote the Book of Love. So why don’t you write your own story? I bet it will definitely be worth the read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Best Form of Protest

Church Kid

Hi, I’m Jonathan and I’m a part of the church.

I’m not going to mince words at the beginning here. I straight grew up in church. In the Bible belt, the Bible pants, and the Bible shirt. I sometimes think that if my mom could have given birth to me inside of a sanctuary she would have.

My dad was a pastor when I was growing up so some of my earliest memories are crawling under pews and being in church nurseries. Some kid bit me in a nursery one time and I’ve never forgiven him for it. I remember eating the extra communion crackers with my sister Melissa when my parents weren’t looking. I remember Melissa and I would make games up in the church parking lot to kill the time while my dad talked to missionaries and members for hours upon hours… upon hours. I think he still might be out there talking.

On many rides home from church, I remember praying to God that my dad would forget that he told me I was going to get spanking for screwing around during service. Sometimes it actually worked. (That’s how I learned about the power of prayer.)

It always baffles me when I have friends, even in my twenties, that have never been to a funeral. I’ve been to so many I can’t even begin to count. I’ve been to a whole lot of weddings, too. Just part of growing up in church with a family that is super involved. The church is a place of weddings and new lives starting, and it’s also a place of funerals and where death is put on display. It seems that life and death both can be found in the church on given days.

I remember the VBS’s, the revivals, the choirs, the fall festivals, the Christmas musicals, and the cake. The people of God love cake if you didn’t know that.

I remember other heavier things as well.

I remember visiting people in trailer parks and how scared I was of the random dogs running around. I remember the crazy people arguing with my dad outside of our small church because he wouldn’t give them everything they wanted financially. I remember visiting sick and dying people in hospitals and nursing homes. I remember handing out food to hungry people. And I particularly remember standing outside all throughout my hometown with hundreds of other people from churches holding signs on one Sunday every year. Signs that said, “Abortion kills children” and “Adoption: The Loving Option.” Everyone loves a good rhyme, right?

Interestingly enough, I don’t remember ever having a choice to go to any of these heavier things. My parents never asked me, “Do you want to go do this?” I just went. And other than the fact that it was hot and boring, I didn’t think we were doing anything wrong or ridiculous. It’s just what we did as a church. As the church. As the people of God. I figured this was how we made God happy.

The point of my essay is not to talk about any of these things specifically. I simply want to just give you some insight into my upbringing. When I say I was born in the church, I mean it.

Once I hit my twenties, I started to rethink some things. We could talk for a long time about opinions of mine that have changed over the recent years and some opinions that are in the midst of transitioning right now. But for the sake of having an actual point to all of this, I will just say that I’ve realized that I don’t think the church is what I grew up believing it was. The church’s four walls are not the holiest place in the city, the people within them are not always nice, and the sermons aren’t always 100 percent accurate.

I don’t think that Jesus was a Republican, and I don’t think that God is happy when we just go down a ballot and check off the box for all the Republicans with no thought whatsoever as to what the candidates' actual stances are. Maybe it’s just moving to DC, but daily I become more annoyed with what I hear people saying the church should be and what people say a Christian should look like. Just because someone has a national show doesn’t mean that his or her voice is anything worth respecting. In fact, they constantly show me exactly what I don’t want to look like as a Christian, or even as an American.

Welcome to the Age of Extremes

I recently read that President Obama is leading a war on coal. Really? Is he sending soldiers into the mines? I also heard that there is a war on Christmas. And I think I heard that there is a war on marriage, too?

Everything is a war these days. If I was “War” I’d be pretty offended that you were throwing my name around like that. “Hey, I’m War. Don’t you lump my WWII in with this stuff, that’s disrespectful to my past! I leave people dead and homeless, not just opinionated and annoyed!”

Thanks to 24-hour news networks, everything has to be a big deal. Never forget that CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are competing with American Idol and Monday Night Football. They want ratings just as bad as NBC, but they just happen to have to be reporting news all the time. Everything has to be a “war” or no one will watch it. And when everyone is at war, no one is at peace.

Disaster and fear boost ratings. It’s proven. I grew up in Florida, and the only time we watched the weather channel was if there was a hurricane coming. We were glued to the coverage. The same concept is what these news networks use. Disaster and fear. You had better hear what they have to say or you may lose your job or your civil liberties. Nothing usually plays out to the extreme they say it will; yet we keep watching and listening to the rhetoric they have to tell us. And they know it.

Can we admit that we are in an age of extremes? Why does everything have to be so far one way or the other? Go read through your Facebook news feed or a YouTube comment section, I guarantee you you’ll find 99 extremists to every one peacemaker. I believe this is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” because he knew they are as rare as an actual good deal at Banana Republic.

We might like singing, “Give peace a chance” but few really want to do what it takes to bring peace. Peace means compromising. We like the thought of “peace on our terms.” Agree with my views and we can get along. That’s not real peace, but it’s really what we want, isn’t it?

What Did You Expect?

As a Christian, I am often annoyed with what I hear coming out of my brothers and sisters’ mouths. Every time there is an election it’s like we finally open up the book of Revelation and start pulling random verses out and make them apply to various different aspects of candidates.

Of course it goes beyond just election season. I can think back in my life at the various things I’ve seen church people boycott. Then we get really mad when other people want to boycott the things that we like and act like they are ridiculous for thinking a boycott could possibly work. If that sounds like a double standard… it’s because it is.

When I hear people say things like, “We need to get America back to where it was,” it makes me wonder what point in time they are talking about. Back to what? Back to segregation? Back to slavery? Back to Civil War? Back to the raping and murdering of the natives? What time could we possibly want to get back to?

Or do they mean, “Back to when it was easier to be a Christian, white man. Back when we weren’t challenged by anything. Back when Presidents and Generals praised our religious beliefs. Back when we could say one thing and do another and there was no one to hold us accountable for our hypocrisy.”

Just what do you want to go back to?

Now, obviously I don’t believe we are living in the sweetest time of the earth’s existence. There are tragedies and heartbreak every single day. There are things worth getting upset about. There are things worth taking a stand over. There is still endless room for improvement. And in defense of the church, I will say I am sad to see God being pushed out of agendas. I am sad to hear that people don’t want to be a nation under God. I am sad to hear that people don’t want to pray. But most of my sadness comes not from God being moved out of the government and society, but out of our hearts.

I’d love it if Jesus was sitting on earth as the President of the United States, but he’s not. And since he is not, we are left with human beings running the show. The world would be at peace if we didn’t have any humans, so if you really want world peace then maybe you should start praying for a plague. Until everyone on earth dies out, though, you can bet Christians will continue to see things play out in ways they do not want them to.

I don’t say that to be a downer, I say it because I am referencing Jesus.

John 15:18-19
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

So should we be surprised by disagreements with our faith? Should we be surprised that not everyone wants to celebrate Christmas with us? I mean Jesus kind of spelled it out for us didn’t he?

So, what if there actually is a “war on Christmas”? What should our response be? Does God want us to flip out and spread more fear and outrage? Is that what brings change? Do we want to be the annoying “woe-is-me” people who try to get everyone to feel sorry for us? Or do we want to be stand-up people aren’t afraid to be disagreed with? People who can say “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day”? (2 Timothy 1:2)

We cannot claim to be given a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28) and then say that if one man is elected then everything we know will be destroyed. If one man can destroy what we say we believe with all of our hearts, then we have no hope at all. We are selling empty promises. If we think a government can keep the Kingdom of God from coming then we must not really believe what we say we do about the power of God.

The Best Form of Protest

Sometimes I get so annoyed with the church. Then, I have to remember two things: I am the church, and she is the bride of Christ. So I better not abandon her, and I better defend her.

I am proud to call myself a Christian. I am proud to be a part of a religion that accepts me for who I am. I am glad that I serve a God who loves me just as I am, but who is still working on me. I like being in the church. And I love that we have a God who is bigger than our mistakes.

The point of all of this hasn’t been that Christians need to shut up and just grin and bear it all. It hasn’t been that we are in a losing battle. If anything, I want to echo Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”

I’ve just been wondering for some time now what the best form of protest is. Is it holding signs on the side of a street? Is it writing our congressman or marching on Washington? Maybe there’s some good in those things, and maybe God has called some of us to do them, but maybe the steps towards the change we want to see in this world don’t come with national headlines.

I’ve been thinking about when Jesus was talking to Pilate before he was crucified (John 18:37-38). He told Pilate, “Everyone who is for me is on the side of truth.” Pilate responds, “What is truth?”

I feel like Pilate in a lot of ways. I know I am on the side of Jesus so I must be on the side of truth, but if I can be honest, sometimes the lines seem to blur due to all the noise, charts, and graphics on TV and computer screens. I’m left asking, “What is truth?” But I think that is a question that God doesn’t mind us asking him.

The truth about truth is that whether it makes us happy or not, whether we can agree with it or not, or whether we want to accept it or not does not change the fact that it is truth. Maybe in our pursuit of the truth God will reveal some things to us that we really don’t like, or answers that might mean we have to eat some of our words.

What if the best form of protest is different than the ways we’ve advocated for change in the past? What if we were not just hearers and repeaters of the word, but doers of the word? What if we were people who kept our cool in the thick of the changes we didn’t like?

The Apostle Peter gave some governmental advice in 1 Peter 2:17, “Fear God, honor the king.” He didn’t say to fear the king; he said to fear God. Perhaps we are wasting our time getting up in arms about things that wouldn’t be such a big deal if we learned what it truly meant to fear God.

To me, the best form of protest is to live a holy life. To learn how to disagree in love and respect. To learn how to stand for truth first and foremost in our own lives. To hold ourselves accountable before we hold anyone else accountable.

I’ve always been impressed by the way Jesus handled his crucifixion. It was the most incorrect and unjust governmental and societal action in the history of time. A perfect man forced to carry his cross and die. But he took it with dignity and in holiness.

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

Surely there are times for us to speak up and let our voices be heard, and we’ve heard that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but I ask that we at least consider the way Jesus actually handled his opposition. He shut his mouth. He stood for something greater than what any man could take away. The person the church strives to be like knew when to speak and knew when to stand silent.

I believe in the church, and I believe in the church in this country. I really could talk for hours about all the good I’ve seen come out of the people in the church. But the reason I love the church is because I’m allowed to be a screw up. I’m allowed to be someone who constantly makes mistakes and gets it wrong. I’m allowed to still be a part of the Body of Christ and I am encouraged to even boast in my weaknesses. It’s an amazing thing. Simply put—the people of God are the people of God because we know we are so messed up that we need God.

If we serve a God who is willing to find the best in us and to continue to work in us despite our shortcomings, we had better be people who are willing to change. People who can ask hard questions. People who can undergo surgery on our hearts, our motives, and our character. People who can admit when we are wrong.

Our God is humble. Are we?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Grey

Do you remember that show “The Facts of Life”? I had an older sister so I had to watch it growing up. I can’t remember too much of the plot or characters (thankfully) but I do remember the theme song.

Sing it with me folks!
“You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have the facts of life. The facts of life!”

Nothing like an 80s sitcom to speak truth into your life. There you go; it’s plain and simple. There’s good and there’s bad and that’s about it. Well, maybe not quite.

Any of you that really know me probably know that I grew up in church. Under the pews, finding frogs in the bushes, hitting people’s cars with footballs; just all of that good, old church living. From the time I was born I did most of my thinking about life from the view inside of the walls of a church. Wasn’t really told to do much thinking anywhere else.

Now just to be clear, I could talk for hours and hours about all the good I have seen in the church and in the people involved with it. This is in no way a letter bashing what I was born into; I love the church and I will defend it as long as I have to. But that being said, I think I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t at least bring to light some of the things I am learning and that might not coincide with what I grew up being told was true. I'm finding in my own life that one of the best methods of teaching is not necessarily saying, "This is what I've learned," but rather, "This is how I am learning." Not that I in any way claim to be a teacher, but I do think we can learn from each other.

One of the things that I feel I grew up hearing a lot was basically that there were always only two sides to everything. Just like a coin. The good and the bad. The right and the wrong. The truth and the lie. Life is made up of clear sides and dividing lines. There is no room between the black and the white areas.

For a very long time I was fine with that. I did what I was supposed to do and things pretty much worked out. I had a great faith in a great God and what I knew him to be. My best friends were people who believed basically what I believed, and we all encouraged each other in our own views. We were pretty happy. People are usually happy when things go according to plan.

Then, I went away to college.

College was a bit different. As you probably know, you get people from every walk of life at a university, especially one as diverse as the University of Florida. Even in the Christian circles I was in I realized that not everyone believed the same things about the Bible that I did. Now, I’ve never been one for confrontations or disagreements because I never really had to be in them; I was surrounded by people who agreed with me. But as I interacted with people I grew to love, I found that we could disagree on issues and beliefs but still work together in accomplishing the same common goals. Diversity at its finest.

How can that be possible, though, if there are only two sides? How could there be more than two ways to look at something? May I submit to you an area beyond just black and white? An area I have taken to calling “The Grey.”

All right, get all your 50 Shades of Grey jokes and Liam Neeson references out of your system right now.

You may have heard of “the grey” before, and perhaps you have heard it called by some other name. I heard about it once or twice growing up, but I concluded that if I had any doubts about anything then it belonged on the “wrong” side of the line, because the Bible had clear answers for everything.

Fundamentalists, go ahead and pick up your stones because here goes… the Bible does not answer all of the questions most of us have. It just doesn’t. And I don’t believe it was intended to.

The Bible in itself is made up of ancient texts. Things that people wrote thousands of years ago. Can we really expect those same words to give us answers about practices and decisions that would have never come into play back then? If you read the Bible’s words as only black and white, you can’t. But as you look into the grey, you may come to see that the words are indeed “living and active” and they can remain relevant in an ever-changing world. God could have outlined every single command and every single answer to life in the clearest way possible, but he didn’t. He gave us brains. And more importantly, he gave us his Spirit.

I get frustrated sometimes because I want things to be laid out a little more clearly. I want answers explained better. I want to know if I’m doing things right or wrong. Most of my troubles can be attributed to the fact that I am terrible at waiting and I also have a brain that doesn’t shut off. The combination of these two disorders can make it very difficult to live life when you’re only seeing things in black and white.

I think thoughts like, “Well, a little bit of faith can move mountains, and I have a little bit of faith. So… why is this mountain not moving? I must not have faith. Or maybe I’m screwing something else up and God is upset with me and unwilling to back me up?” When you think black and white you may tend to think thoughts like that.

So, faith can move mountains, but what about when it doesn’t? What about when the sick are not healed and the poor stay poor? Does it mean that there was not enough faith in the prayer? I mean, the Bible clearly says that faith moves mountains. If the mountains aren’t moving then something must be off with us, right?

I think many of us struggle with the idea of prayer being something like water being put into a water balloon. The more we pray, the more water is deposited into our balloon. We keep filling it up and eventually, after we’ve prayed and fasted enough, the balloon will pop and what God really wanted to happen will finally be done. But I am learning that what I want to happen and what God wants to happen can seem to differ quite a bit. Can prayer force God to do something he doesn’t want to do?
Well, yes it can, right? Prayer changes things. That verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people pray…” Look, I believe prayer can change things, but what if the greatest power of prayer is not the power to change our circumstances but the power to change our hearts, our minds, and our motives.

Black and white can only see a mathematical system: Prayer + Faith = God’s will. But the grey throws out the formulas.

So maybe some of you are thinking, “Listen, hippie. I get what you’re trying to sell us. ‘Question everything. The truth is out there, maaaan.’ But what am I supposed to do with that?” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying we cannot ever be certain about anything. I am just trying to say that maybe it’s all right to have a few questions every once in a while. I question things all the time, and it doesn’t mean that God is upset with me. God is bigger than our questions.

I understand about two percent of all of this, but I believe it. Maybe that's all that faith is. Maybe honest faith that God approves of can only at times say, “I don’t understand this, but I trust you.” What if we only have two percent faith, but it’s enough to get us to act as if we had 100 percent faith? Does God accept our decisions even though we don’t have everything figured out and have some doubts? And do we trust God enough to be wrong?

If we believe in Jesus then we believe that God loved us enough to come to us as Emmanuel, “God with us.” We serve a God that wants to be known way more than we even want to know him. If you seek him, he will find you because he's looking for you, too.

If we are called to come to him as children then that is about as ignorant as you can get. A child doesn’t have it all figured out and a child doesn’t know how things work; they just do stuff. They don’t question the laws of gravity; they just go down the slide. They don’t know how mom and dad are going to get them dinner, but they know they are going to get it. Is that really how God wants us to come to him? Isn’t that blind faith?

Yes. It is.

We are so afraid to have blind faith because our society demands proof on all accounts, which is what makes the grey so hard. But blind faith in God is exactly what he calls us to have. To be able to say things like, “I really don’t know the answer to that, but I trust that God is good.” And say things like, “I don’t like going through this, but God knows what he is doing.” I know those are hard words to say in the thick of it, but in essence that is what we must live out. To say, “I don’t really understand this, but I believe it and I trust you.”

The Word of God pulls no punches. It clearly says, “The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God,” (1 Corinthians 3:19) which can only mean the other side of that is true as well—“The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.”  No wonder we feel so dumb sometimes. We have human brains trying to figure out the far superior mind of the Creator.
Read the Bible and you will find many stories of men and women who experienced the grey.

They wandered in it.

They wrestled with it.

They walked on it.

They endured it.

It seems to me that the grey is an essential part of our faith, and possibly a requirement or right of passage for all true believers. To know God is to know his mystery. To understand that you will never fully understand him and be okay with that. He is a God who is bigger than our doubts and fears. He can handle a humble heart that is searching for truth, because he is the Truth.

I don’t think God is as afraid of the grey as many might think he is. The grey is where we search for him because we don't know the answers to life’s questions. The grey is why we seek him. The grey is why we need him. And the grey is where we discover beauty we never could have seen in the black and white.

Don’t run from the grey, run towards it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Different Minds, Different Kinds

One of my favorite lyrics from Billy Joel’s music comes from “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.”

Should I try to be a straight A student? If you are then you think too much.

I picked up this mantra when I hit college and realized I was all right with making B’s, and depending on the course, a couple of C’s. I liked to refer to them as “A Gentleman’s C.”

I grew up as a straight-A student. The work just came easy to me from elementary through middle school. Math made sense. Science made sense. English didn’t make sense but I could at least figure out what the teacher wanted. When I got to high school things got a little more challenging and I had to try a little harder in some classes, but I still graduated with a GPA over 4.0. (Alright ladies, who’s impressed yet?)

Then, I went to the University of Florida. I was in classes with some of the brightest minds in Florida and even the nation. It didn’t take long until I felt like the dumbest person there. I was in a marketing class barely getting by with a C and people were telling me, “Oh this class is so easy.” I would laugh along with them and agree, completely lying through my teeth. I would think things like, “I do not belong at this university. I am just not smart enough to hang with these students.” For a long time I felt that way, but I loved being a student there so I kept working hard at it.

I majored in advertising because I was told it had less math than marketing, so I thought I was done with math forever once I hit the classes for my major. I was wrong. There was a course we had to take called Media Planning that was all numbers and statistics and budgeting. I was in advertising hell. We took an exam and the next day our professor wrote the highest and lowest test scores on the board. I think the highest was about a 92 percent and the lowest was a 43 percent. My friends and I laughed and said, “Oh wow, I wonder who got the 43! That’s awful.” Again, I laughed along with them. Then I went home and checked my grade online and guess who had gotten the 43 percent. (Any ladies still impressed?)

I’ll never forget that.

For a while I had been telling some people, “I feel like I might be the dumbest person here.” That day I got to confirm that I was in fact the dumbest person there. My confidence was not soaring, so I went and ate my comfort food… Sonny’s. (Worries and fears seem to melt away at the smell of corn nuggets.) This sort of struggle went on for a while. I’d try to find the other students who were struggling like I was in whatever major they were in and have mini-group therapy sessions where we could feel like we were not alone. But those were rare. There are a lot of smarty-pants Gators.

I soldiered through the course because I had discovered long ago the art of “sitting next to the smart kid and making them your friend.” That’s a skill I hope to pass onto my children. By using that technique, as well as writing a good amount of “please pass me” letters to my professors (true story), I was making it through college one plea for mercy at a time. But I still did not feel like I belonged in that academic region.

Then something happened. I got to take some creative classes. Classes that graded you on how creative your ideas were, not just how well you could regurgitate and reinterpret a book. Classes that required us to come up with slogans, ad campaigns, and use a variety of media vehicles. I started to feel better about things because I started to feel like this was where I belonged.

I would talk with students who I know had gotten way higher grades than me in our other courses and who were now struggling to come up with creative ideas, while I was coming up with plenty of ideas with very little effort. I was now the one getting the highest grades. Professors told me they used my projects as examples in their other classes. Me. Literally the dumbest kid in the Media Planning class.

My confidence found me and for the first time at UF I felt like I belonged, and it was there that I started learning about my strengths and weaknesses. Like I said at the beginning, I stopped worrying about making As in classes I knew were really hard for me, and I focused on being the best in the courses where a mind like mine felt more at home. I figured out how to use my creative strengths in group projects where we all could benefit from each other’s different skills. I had one friend who was very book smart and thorough, two things I really wasn’t, but she liked working with me because I would come up with the creative ideas and ads. We took about every advertising class together and we aced quite a bit of assignments and projects.

I grew up my whole life thinking that being smart meant you had straight A’s, and no doubt you’re obviously not an idiot if you can pull off grades like that. What I have come to realize, though, is that there are many different forms of smart, but in America, we tend to do a good job of defining intelligence with only one explanation. “Kids, [this] is what a smart person looks like. Be like them.” So when students, and adults, struggle in areas that others don’t, they feel like they aren’t smart people. They lose confidence. They settle.

I’m willing to bet if you’re not a straight-A type of person, you have strengths that you don’t even realize are strengths. It’s just a matter of finding them or seeing them as strengths. Start to look at what you’re good at doing and see if everyone around you can do it like you can. There are so many things I see my friends and colleagues doing that I just cannot do or even begin to understand the process of doing, but I had a friend ask me how I write songs and I walked him through my process and he said, “I don’t know how you are able to do that. I never could.” But for me, it’s sometimes as simple as just sitting down with my guitar and a song will pour out in about 30 minutes. Not every time, of course, but it’s just something that comes easier for me. It clicks with me. And it’s something I constantly am trying to improve in, but the initial connection and reaction are there to begin with. That connection is not there with pleeeeeenty of other areas. For example, I can’t learn a foreign language to save my life.

Maybe I’m old school but I don’t really like the idea of every player getting a trophy after baseball. I think a 3rd place trophy is about as low as it should go. When everyone is a winner then no one really is. (Again, maybe that’s the old man in me. As you have may have seen, I do love my cardigans, plaid shirts, and my pipe.) We tell our kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, but it simply isn’t true. I’m not saying to squash your children’s dreams, but I do think you are lying to them in a sense. The truth is we have the freedom to be anything we want to be, but we don’t have the abilities.

One of the best things I think my mother did for me as I was growing up was let me try out anything I wanted to try out. If I wanted to play baseball, she was going to get me to the baseball games. When I got really into basketball, we had Michael Jordan games on all the time. When I was 13 and wanted to play guitar because I thought it was cool how Steven Curtis Chapman could play and write his own songs, she sat in my room with me every night and taught me whatever she knew. She was at all my band gigs and comedy nights. If she saw me excelling in something, she got behind whatever it was. She didn’t try to make me do Model U.N. when I had no interest in it. (Which was a good call because I pretty much hate politics now even though I live in DC.) There were countless other endeavors I had from time to time, and she was always supportive of them, but she never tried to make me be someone I wasn’t. I really appreciate that, and to this day she still is the exact same way.

In no way do I think I am someone who needs to be telling you how to raise your kids; obviously I have none of my own, but this is more than just a letter about child rearing. I see the same school day struggles in my adult life. So many people are unsatisfied with who they are or what they are doing because they don’t look like someone else. America has one definition of success, and if we don’t meet that definition then it’s because we haven’t worked hard enough. But that is a lie.

If we spend our lives trying to conform to what works for other people but isn’t supposed to work for us, we will always be conflicted and discouraged. God made you the way you are for a reason. Just because you don’t look like someone else, it doesn’t mean you are not successful or gifted. It just means you are not identical to someone else, but who wants to be in a world full of robots? I know Will Smith doesn’t.

This straight-A mindset might work for some people, but really it could just be that they are gifted in the academic realm. Walt Disney didn’t make straight As. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates didn’t either. I know Tim Tebow sure as heck didn’t.  But all of those people found out ways to strengthen their strengths and move past their weaknesses. There is power in being able to say, “I can’t do that,” “I am not good at this,” and especially “I was wrong.” I know it goes against every self-help book out there, but I think humility, rationality, and acceptance need to find their rightful places in our minds and character.

You might not be able to ever be the CEO of a company; you might not have it in you, but what if you were never meant to be a CEO? What if the world doesn’t need you to be a CEO, but rather, to be the coach of a little league team that a CEO would never have time to coach? (Make sure you don’t give all of them trophies if they lose, though.) Does that mean you are unsuccessful in life? Does it?

What if you were actually able to be content with your job and what you do?

What if you don’t need to “be more like your older brother” like you’ve always heard?

What if you are exactly where you need to be?

My advice is to find out what your strengths are and invest your energy in them. If you have weaknesses that you want to work on then, by all means, practice and pursue those changes. All I am submitting to you is that maybe we have wasted a lot of time feeling bad about ourselves for reasons beyond our control. Your family needs you to be you. Your friends need you to be you. And most of all, you need you to be you.