Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Tyranny of Better

2010 has to be better than 2009.
I hope the next decade is better than this one.
I want to be a better person in the coming year.
Since I became a Christian, I'm determined to be a better me.

See a problem here?
Too many times when we think about faith, we think about how we can fit it in to our lives. We think: me + Jesus = better me. So, I keep doing the stuff that I do, just find a way to squeeze Jesus in. I rearrange my schedule or try to find some margin in the things I do so I can fit in church stuff.
Maybe we realize there is stuff there that shouldn't be there. So, we try this one: me - stuff + Jesus = better me. We'll make a commitment or a resolution to stop something, to cut something out of our lives and add something else. We think we need addition by substitution. I'll quit staying up so late and add Bible reading. I'll quit swearing and start praying. If I can just do that, I'll be a better me.

If you've tried that, and I certainly have, you've probably quickly realized that it doesn't work. You can't squeeze Jesus in somewhere.
(He doesn't take kindly to being crowded.)
You can't substitute Jesus for something else.
(He doesn't come off the bench.)

This Christianity thing is something else entirely. It isn't like the changing of the calendar, what's ahead doesn't have to be disgustingly similar to what has already come. In fact, if you dive in for real, it won't even be close.

Jesus doesn't bring change, he brings life.
He doesn't make people better, he makes them new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

The equation actually looks more like this: Jesus + me - me = new me.
We can't fit Jesus in somewhere, we follow him everywhere.
We can't substitute Jesus for something else, he must be everything.
It isn't a pick and choose situation, God doesn't give us a spiritual buffet. It's is a matter of letting go of what we want, what we think we need, what we think we make us happy or fulfilled or successful and embracing what advances God's kingdom.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

Following Christ is the ultimate paradox. If we want something better than what we are now, we can't strive for something better. If we want more we can't try to work for it. If we want to be great, we've got to be servants. If we want to love, we must realize we might not always feel it. If we want to understand, we must admit that we never will.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There's hunting and then there's hunting

Warning: This post contains some graphic detail. If you are opposed to hunting of any form, please wait for the next post...

Hunting is a pretty manly activity. You're main goal is to kill things, after all. In years past I hunted. I wouldn't say I was an avid hunter, but I hunted regularly with my dad. We'd go out for small game and deer. (The first day of deer season was a holiday where I'm from.) Small game hunting was a lot of walking and looking. Deer hunting was sitting and waiting and watching. Hopefully something would cross your line of sight and you would aim and shoot. Simple as that.

I spoke to a gentleman this weekend who hunts in a different manner. He asked if I knew if it was legal to hunt in Ohio without a license - if you weren't going to use a gun. His method of deer hunting was much different than mine. It began the same, with patience and quiet. But, when you spotted a deer the rest was very different. He told me about leaping out of trees (or down from walls) onto the back of a deer, gripping it with your legs and then killing it with a knife. That's a whole new level of hunting. That's a whole new definition of manly.

It made me think about how we approach life. Are we sitting and waiting to take a shot or are we stalking and looking for the opportunity to throw ourselves into the fray? Are we willing to get our hands dirty and add a little risk to the equation?

I'm tired of sitting in the tree. I'm ready to leap.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Tis better to

So, I went out on a little bit of a limb. There were several things that my wife said she wanted for Christmas and I picked up one or two of those. But, I thought she might like a Wii Fit. She talked about it once, after my sister said something about using hers, but she never came out and said, "I want one of those." So, I bought one, wrapped it up and waited to see.

She loves it.

She's played it for hours. She's laughed and giggled and had a ton of fun with it. And that makes me smile more than any of the presents I received.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'm a believer

Overheard this morning:

"Well, we're believers, so..."
(Hmm, what's coming next?)
"We put out the cookies and milk tonight and hide all the presents until the kids are asleep. We went to see Santa at the mall and..."

The lengths that people will go to in order to make their kids think that Santa is real are unbelievable. I've heard stories of parents who put up the tree and all the decorations after the kids are asleep, explaining that Santa did it. All this to create a sense of wonder and amazement in some mythical jolly old soul. (I'm not knocking Santa or parents who tell their kids about him - just those that go way overboard.)

This is the same statement that many people make about people in my position. I've heard it said that my whole life is devoted to perpetuating a lie, to helping people believe in a merry old myth. The very first time I thought about going into the ministry, someone exclaimed, "No, you can't. What a waste! You could do so much." That cost me a couple years.

What's the difference? My life is different because of Jesus. No matter what Miracle on 34th Street says, no ones life is changed because of Santa. I'm changed. I'm a new person. My life has a meaning and a purpose that is bigger than me, bigger than my job or my bank account, bigger than my family, bigger than I can understand. I was a prisoner, but now I'm free. I was a slave, but now I'm a servant. I was lost, but now I'm found. I was scrap, but now I'm salvaged.

That's why I'm a believer.
That's why I do what I do.
And I never have to worry about the kids growing up and finding out the truth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Some Christmases are better than others. Plain and simple. Some years we will remember forever, other years just melt into a collective memory of Christmases gone by.

Think back to one of those memorable Christmases of your past. Chances are, it was great because of a gift (or gifts) that you received. Christmas 1985 was the year of the Transformers for me. I was right in the heart of Transformers the first time around. I must have received 10,000 Transformers that year. I got Optimus Prime and Bumblebee and Starscream and some giant thing that turned from a motorized train to a robot that walked (kind of). In my birthday pictures just a few weeks later I can be seen holding up my cake and a couple of robot planes.

If I look at more recent Christmases, the picture changes a little. I don't remember the gifts I received as much as the gifts I gave. Christmas 2005 was the first year I worked at East End Christian Church. Instead of spending money on presents for my family back home, I made a video collage of some of the folks at EECC and spent that money on gifts for them. My family got pictures of some of those folks and I asked that they would pray for them. I've seen my family cry plenty of times, but that was the first time I felt so good about it.

At some point we grow up to realize that Christmas is really more about giving than receiving. When we we realize that this same principle applies to much more than just Christmas?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Rain, rain on my face.
Hasn't stopped raining for days...

When was the last time you heard or even thought about "Flood" by Jars of Clay? (Or Jars of Clay for that matter?) Several years ago this song was everywhere - Christian radio, secular radio, clubs, bars, for several months you couldn't get away from it. Now its muzak at Bruegger's.
What was once fresh and new and seemingly everywhere faded quietly away. That's just the way things work, right? Culture gets tired of something and moves onto the next thing. It's human nature.

What are the things that stick? What are the things that make a lasting difference? How do they compare to so many things that just come and go? Music comes and goes, toys, games, cars, some people. What really makes a change? What are the things that never fade?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Plenty of room

What if there was room in the inn?

Every year, millions of people put together little nativity scenes in their houses or big ones outside their houses or churches or town halls. The tell-tale structure for almost all of these is a simple structure that represents a stable. You'll see four poles with a simple slanted roof or a peaked roof supported by a simple wall and two columns. From there, the cast of shepherds and kings and donkeys and cows and camels and sheep spill out onto the surrounding land.

What if there was room in the inn?

God took an obstacle, the crush of people returning to Bethlehem to be taxed, and turned it into an opportunity. We celebrate the simple beginnings of the savior. It shows his humility and his character. It shows his desire to relate to anyone and everyone. It shows his lack of regard for what humanity considers success and power. It shows his predilection for using the worst of circumstances to create something beautiful.

What obstacles are in my life this Christmas season?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Facebook is supposed to be a fun way to connect with people and waste some time, right? No hassles, no negativity, connecting with old friends and communicating with new.

So, I got an "Old Friends" request from one of my cousins today. Let me share with you the text that accompanied the request:
Emily sent you an image on Old Friends. Want to see the image? Click Yes if you want to see the image, otherwise click No. But you have to click! Please respond or Emily may think you said No :(
Really? Some application on Facebook is going to try to guilt me into accepting it? That's just unacceptable. As if there weren't enough things in the world that try to pressure or guilt you into action, my social networking site has to do it too?

I don't know about you, but if you're trying to guilt me into something, I'm not doing it. I've got enough struggles with actual guilt, nevertheless dealing with some manufactured guilt. When I see abused animals on TV or starving children or dirty rivers and then I hear a voiceover telling me that I have a responsibility to help I completely shut down. That isn't because I don't care. I care deeply, but I can't stand being guilted.

Far too often this is how the church operates. It makes people feel bad and offers them a way to feel better. What could be further from the message Jesus offered?

It's God's job to judge, not ours.
It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, not ours.
It's our job to love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beginning

In the grand scheme of things, what is Christmas?

It is the time where Jesus enters into history in a new, concrete way. But, he doesn't really do anything for a while.

It is the beginning of a transition for the Holy Spirit, moving from being an occasional helper to a constant companion. But, that transition is still years away.

It is the first step in God's sacrifice for us. He alone knew the grand plan of redemption at this point. He alone knew what this baby would become, what he would go through, what he would sacrifice. It was the beginning of 30+ years of agony because of that knowledge.

What is is beginning in your life this Christmas?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Poor in Spirit --> Mourn --> Meek --> Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness --> Merciful --> Pure in Heart --> Peacemakers --> Persecuted Because of Righteousness

Jesus' opening to the Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful piece of scripture, but is it something more? At first glance it looks like a simple list of some good traits to have, things that we should strive for. If you check a number of different resources, especially study Bibles, this is exactly how they explain what this is. "It is the standard that Christians should strive to meet."
Is there any other place where Jesus tells us to be Poor in Spirit? Anywhere else he tells his followers to mourn? Nope. He brought a message of faith, hope and love. He was criticized for attending too many parties, not for bringing everyone down. This isn't just a collective list - it is a guide. It details a heart path, the way to get where God wants us to be.

It begins with sorrow. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance, so did Jesus. Part of repentance is recognizing that we aren't where we should be. This leads to being Poor in Spirit.

When our Spirits are low, it makes sense to mourn. We weep over the wrongs we have done and the mistakes we have made. Our relationship with God is in shambles and we feel it intensely.

Pride comes before a fall, and meekness comes after we've finally accepted how low we've fallen.

Once we've accepted our place, we can finally focus on what is really important. We want to leave behind the problems that got us in this situation, so we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Part of this process is compassion. We've seen how bad we could be and we can see others on the path. We show them mercy.

As the hunger for righteousness increases and defines our steps, we become more pure, right down to the core of our heart.

Peace becomes a priority for us, so much so that we are willing to work to make it so.

This is not an easy task, so there will be opposition. This is the fight that Jesus has called us to, this is the reason for our creation. We will be persecuted, we will go against the grain, we will need help to get by.

Here Jesus changes subjects. Now he addresses the Disciples directly. He indicates that they have come through this. Now they are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. We're being prepared, we're being trained and we can't forget that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Make my day

What do you take for granted? What is so commonplace for you that you don't give it a second thought? What are you so used to that it is simply a part of your day-to-day existence?

Someone (maybe someone you know), somewhere (probably closer than you think) doesn't have it.

This week someone came to me with some Bengals tickets that they simply couldn't use. They are season ticket holders and they can't make it to the game after Christmas. Unfortunate, but not life-changing. After all, they've got tickets to all the games anyway. Instead of giving the tickets to one of their close friends, they asked if I could find someone who could really use them. With the help of the folks at Parkside's outreach I did. And it will be one of the best Christmases in their memory. Because of something someone else takes for granted.

This week at Panera they made an extra sandwich. Instead of dumping it in the trash, they gave it to my wife and made her Wednesday.

This morning at Strabucks someone was rewarded with a free cup of coffee and it made their morning.

Make someone's Christmas this year, it might be easier than you think.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


B is a woman who's had it rough. She grew up in circumstances beyond what many of us could even imagine. Her father was a wizard in the KKK. Her mother was a snake handler. She's had way too many run-ins with both of these groups.

The KKK taught her about hate. The snake-handlers taught her that love has to be earned and then proved. She ran from both of these lies and found more of the same. She was given an ultimatum: 10% to be part of the one true church or leave. She left. She's struggled her whole life.

This week she said, "Since I came here, nobody's judged me. And nobody's asked me for nothing, except for me to come back. I like that."

So do I.
Well done Parkside, well done.

Monday, December 7, 2009


K is an older woman who I've gotten to know over the past few years. To say she's had a tough life is an understatement. She's never had much, she's never wanted much. She was a hard worker, until her health took that ability away from her. She is a mother and a grandmother and very recently became a great-grandmother. She's taking care of a couple of her grandsons and she'll literally do anything for them.

This is a carryover from raising her kids. She recently told me that raising children is her calling, this is what she was designed to do. She didn't say that she is good at it, but she knows that is what she was created to do - because that is what consumes her heart and mind. That is all she thinks about. The same couldn't be said for the father of her kids.

She raised her kids without a dad and she knew that this wasn't right - it wasn't what was best for them. So, she tried to find guys who could be an example for them, who would teach them what it was to be a man. Unfortunately there are very few men out there who know what it is to be a man these days.

She raised her kids without much, so she tried to eke everything she could out of what she got. She learned to work the system and get extra where she could. But not for herself, for her kids and now her grandkids. There's an old question, "Is it okay to steal if you are starving?" She made sure her kids never had to answer that question by answering it for herself.

She gave me a gift this week. It's nothing special and it might seem silly to others. But it means the world to me. I haven't done anything that seems special, just tried to love her and make her feel special, because she is.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Obadiah's Part

In the overall story, when things need to be settled, God handles it. That's his part. When we try to do his part, that's when we get ourselves into trouble. Historically, when the church tries to do God's part we get things like the Crusades and the Inquisition. God doesn't need us to bring justice, thinking that is our job or even our right is foolish and dangerous.

Our society (especially the typical guy) revels in seeing a person do God's part. We love the hero who serves revenge as a cold dish, who (often through violence) makes right the wrongs that have been done. We celebrate the gory spectacle of warriors bringing down those who have brought others down and we salute them as they stand over the fallen oppressors.

"On the day you stood aloof
while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in their day of destruction,
nor boast so much
in their day of trouble.

You should not march through the gates of my people
in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth
in the day of their disaster.

You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives,
nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.

The day of the Lord is near
for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head."

We should recognize what we celebrate for what it is. Our part is not to create some bloody thing that vaguely resembles justice. Our part is to create mercy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Last night my wife and I sat down to a dinner together of what could very rightly be called hot mush. It was a combination of rice, soy, carrots, rice, celery, rice, red peppers, rice and some vitamin and mineral fortification. Oh yeah, and there was rice. It tasted a whole lot like a can of campbell's chicken soup that someone had made using 3x the recommended amount of water.

Weak chicken gruel is not our normal dinner.

We knew that going in, but we did it anyway. It was an exercise in empathy. We were trying to get a tiny glimpse of what the people who are fed by Northwest Haiti Christian Mission are actually fed. All things considered, its not too bad. We cooked up a bag which contains 4-6 meals and wound up eating over half for dinner.

We expected to be hungry afterward and really we weren't. We expected it to taste bad and really it didn't. The worst part about the experience was thinking about eating that twice a day and nothing else. I couldn't imagine eating this and only this for weeks, months or years at a time. But, then again I've never really been hungry. And chances are you haven't been either.

We're partnering with Kids Against Hunger in Cincinnati to package thousands of these meals to help fight hunger in Haiti. KAH will provide the rice, soy, veggies and bags and we'll supply the funds and the manpower to put them all together. It gives a concrete way to give more this Christmas while spending less. You can donate by sending a check to Parkside with KAH in the memo or even better, you can come and pack some bags with us. Sunday 12/6 at Family Christmas from 5:30 - 7:30 or for our Tailgate with a Purpose on 12/13 both at our Salem Road campus.

Because its that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we are completely surrounded by food. We ate a ton while away for Thanksgiving and things show no signs of slowing.
Because I've never really been hungry.
Because I'm a disciple of Jesus, and that's what he would do.
Because everyone deserves a little satisfaction and laughter.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.