Living fully alive

Taking truth from scripture and applying it to our daily lives so that we may live from our calling and experience life to the fullest.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Real Problem With Political Correctness


Political correctness is the attempt by the power in control to influence a culture's values to fit their agenda, often one that benefits their cause or helps them stay in power. Values are critical to any society because they determine our actions. Our culture, traditions and actions are all shaped by what we value.  Our values are based on what we believe. Beliefs, values and actions form a pyramid. Beliefs are the base, core values rest upon them and actions on top.  

What is disturbing is how far and fast our society is burning away the values that have been the foundation of western society, in particular the United States, the Judeo-Christian values which shaped our culture for the past 300 years. 

In the late 60's and 70's our values, the things that meant the most, faith, family, honesty, hard work, freedom and individual rights, the core of our ethics and ideals established from the Bible, began to be challenged. Now we have an all out assault and have exchanged a code of ethics based on moral absolutes for one that is based on situational ethics. As a result:
  • Faith has been deemed unnecessary and even unwanted in the public sector.  Faith in God has been replaced with a faith in the government and self. 
  • Marrige has been redefined from the union between a man and woman to any two persons. 
  • Honesty is an old value that has been replaced by doing or saying whatever needs to be said in order to please those in power or get what we want. 
  • Our value of hard work, a belief that every adult needed to earn his provision, has been chipped away until many believe the government is obligated to provide our needs. A good percentage of our population is willing to give up their freedom and give the government more control as long as they get some extra benefits in return. 
What is even more disturbing is that the new political correctness is not just replacing our long honored values but is actually blaming those values for our society's problems. In reality, as our values have moved away from Biblical to situational ethics, people have increasingly begun to act in manners detrimental to others and more destructive to society in general. Immorality has its consequences. It breeds bad behavior. So it's no wonder that those in authority and those who have influence (media) have begun to realize a need to correct this bad behavior.  Their solution is to establish a new code of conduct, one that deals with the symptom rather than the cause.

The new code of conduct against the "rape culture" on college campuses is an example. For hundreds of years our moral code set guidelines against sex outside of marriage. Along came the sexual revolution and our values were changed so that sex before marriage was condoned. Experts proclaimed it to be physically improbable for a young person to have the discipline to resist sex. So our schools taught that it was acceptable as long as one protected themselves. The consequences have been a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies, sexual diseases, and an increase in rape and abuse. Once again, immorality has its consequences. Is it any wonder that we have a problem with rape on college campuses?

So it's terribly frustrating to watch society try to fix the problem by dealing with the symptom instead of the cause.  Investigations, blame and shame on institutions and programs especially through social media has replaced simply teaching the values of purity, fidelity, respect and marriage.  Political correctness muzzles honesty, silences debate and diverts us away from the real root cause.  

Maybe it's time to put political correctness aside, deal with our problems once again at the root and re-establish the values from the Bible that have served society well for hundreds of years. 
“So then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness!”
1 Corinthians 1:20 GNT
Here is a great video of another example of political correctness masking the true problem. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

God's Flea Market Flip

One of the cable shows I enjoy is Flea Market Flip where two teams go head to head to see who can make the most money transforming unexpected diamonds in the rough they find in flea markets into higher dollar gems. 

What fascinates me is the creativity of the teams, turning what is often old worn out or broken furniture into unique, useful pieces of art, all in one day.  As I was watching the show, it dawned on me that this is a great picture of how God works in our lives.

Think about how God searches for us, undervalued, hidden treasures, wanting to redeem and transform us into masterpieces for His Kingdom! Yes, he purchases each person with his blood, restores us and re-purposes us in such a way that we become much more valuable for His Kingdom! 

In my case, I was living for myself, my objective just to be happy.  When God redeemed me, He gave me a whole new purpose and reason to live. I began to serve God by ministering to others, using my unique gifts and talents. It took much longer than a day, but over time, God sanded off much of my pride and selfishness and gave me a whole new life in the ministry.

I've heard personal story after story of how God has taken a person off the scrap pile of life and restored them into a whole new life.  Drug addicts, ex cons, broken marriages,  people who were basically thrown away, being restored and "flipped" to new life and purpose for Christ. 

Comedian and game show host, Steve Harvey is an example.  He recently shared his story to a college audience about being homeless and living out of his car for three years before God re-purposed his life.  Read his story here.

Even more so than the teams on Flea Market Flip, God's creativity is incredible. But different than Flea Market Flip, God wishes to re-purpose every life, not to sell to someone else but so that He can use and cherish us for His great purposes!  2 Cor. 5:17 

How has God re-purposed your life?  


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Empowered By The Holy Spirit!

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.com
I've had a great amount of time to reflect on my bypass surgery while trying to recover. You do a lot of talking to God in the process. And one of the blessings from this difficult time is being able to experience God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible states that the Holy Spirit is one of the main ways we experience God today, and the fruit of the Spirit is what is manifested in and through me from the Holy Spirit's power. Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These attributes should be what you experience. 

So I realized early on through the surgery and recovery process, that I was relying on the Holy Spirit and there were numerous times that I felt an overwhelming sense of the various fruits of the Spirit being manifested in me. Right from the beginning when I was told I needed surgery and rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, then waiting two days in the hospital before the surgery, I experienced a peace beyond comprehension. I was not anxious or worried, but confident that I was receiving a blessing, to be able to fix my heart before I had a major stroke or heart attack that led to death. I remember telling someone that I had felt a lot more anxious about organizing a church event than bypass surgery. I don't think I could stay so calm without the Spirit's power.

During this process I also seemed to come alive. I had a lot of visitors and I felt energized and had a quicker wit and sense of humor than normal. I was experiencing the joy of the Spirit in a time when I should have been very sad.  

I also recognized a supernatural ability to be kind in a time where everything seemed magnified. Almost everything and everyone seemed to get on my nerves. I sized up every nurse and attendant and could easily identify their idiosyncrasies, many of which seemed to irritate me.  There was the overly talkative, extra perky nurse with the fake southern accent who proclaimed, "you're in good hands now" when introducing the new nurse. Followed by, "Isn't there a commercial or something about being in good hands on tv?" Yes, she was blond! Then there was the male nurse who couldn't seem to understand how any of the machines worked.

Through it all, Barbara can attest to this, I was kind and gentle to all of those who poked me every half hour. I sensed a self-control beyond my power to hold my tongue during some tormenting times. I was not going to be the grumpy patient! Even when my heart went into a-fribilation, feeling as if my heart was going to explode and the nurses couldn't get the EKG machine to work, I was able to stay calm when I wanted to exclaim, "what are you ignorant fools doing? I'm fixing to die!" God continued to give me patience, peace and self-control through two agonizing hours of a heart going crazy in my chest.

I pray that I remained faithful to God through the experience. I certainly felt God's love and the love and support of so many who were praying for me, visiting, bringing food and keeping up with how I was progressing by phone and on social media.  One of the most consistent and faithful who called me almost every day was a friend who had recently gone through a major battle with throat cancer. I think because of his experience, he could so easily identify with what I was going through, that he was aware of my needs.
So this experience has brought me closer to God and closer to my friends and those with whom I have a chance to minister to as a chaplain and coach. Until this time, I could not point to a very difficult period in my life. I think I'll have a lot more empathy for others who are going through a painful period. I pray that God's power through the Holy Spirit continues to be manifested in and through me.  Thank you, Jesus!

By the way, I recommend a couple of books I've had a chance to read during my recovery. The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg and Cast of Characters by Max Lucado.  The Auschwitz Escape is a great historical fiction novel about the famous Nazi death prison. I read this while in the hospital and was reminded that I had it very good compared to those in the death camps. Cast of Characters is a good devotional book (chapter a day)  that could also be used in a small group discussion.

Also, here is a link to a great sermon about living by God's grace from Jeff Harris at Grace Point.  Watch it here. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Change of Heart

Technology is a wonderful thing these days. A machine can look into your heart and determine just what problems you might have that could end your life or severely disable you. As the cardiologist looked at my heart through the echo-cardio gram I could see my heart beating away. He said look right here.  Your chamber should be closing symmetrically, but instead it is wobbling. You've had some heart damage. You've had some sort of heart attack. We need to go in and see how much your arteries are blocked. Two days later I was having quadruple bypass surgery. 
 
I can't live without a functioning heart but I'm thankful that we have the technology to change and fix my heart. My wife, Barbara mentioned how similar our spiritual heart is to our physical heart.  The Bible often refers to our heart as the center of our character, emotions, and will.  It is the chief organ of our physical lives but also the center of our spiritual lives. And yet it says we all have a damaged heart spiritually and all of us are in need of a heart transformation. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 17:9 NIV.  Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19 NIV

And the God who created the universe, the great physician, is the only one who can perform the operation to give us a new heart. 

For most all of us, our arteries are filled with pride and hatred choking out the true life blood of the spirit. Others may have a damaged heart because of the hurt and pain suffered over the years. And the Bible says we are all genetically predisposed to a damaged heart. So every person at some time in their life needs to come to the realization that their heart is not right spiritually. 

But like me, living physically without realizing I had a damaged heart, many go through life without being aware of the need for a new spiritual heart. I was lucky enough to have a warning, (heart burn) to have someone examine my heart and the ability to discern what was wrong. Sometimes it takes a catalyst spiritually also for you to come to the realization that something isn't right with your heart spiritually either. 

It could be a broken relationship or going through a especially difficult time that has given you the opportunity to examine your life.  Hopefully you have had someone speak truth to you and you have signed off on the spiritual heart operation. I'm thankful for the spiritual doctors and mentors who also opened my eyes to my need for a new heart spiritually.
 
Allow God to cut away, reroute, bypass the mess you've created in your heart.  It may be painful. But the rewards on earth and for eternity are worth it. No health insurance is needed, just an open heart to what God wants to do in and through you. 
Next: the benefits of a new heart!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

God is NOT Fair! God is...


As I write this blog, I'm recovering from quadruple bypass surgery. This was an unexpected event that came out of left field. I always considered myself to be a healthy 64 year old who works out regularly and eats a pretty healthy diabetic diet. 

So when the cardiac doctor told me I had 90% blockage in two of my arteries and 100% in another and needed bypass surgery, I could have easily complained about how unfair God was.  The doctor said it was probably hereditary. That made it seem even more unfair. 

But obviously life is not the same or equal for everyone. Some have more problems than others. We all probably know the guy who has a dark cloud that seems to follow him around, always in some kind of trouble. And then there is the jerk who seems to have made it in the shade!  And yet in the past few years fairness has risen to the top of our society's values and I'm not sure where that originated. We want everything to be fair and equal.  So we are constantly comparing our lives to others and there is this movement to somehow control all things, to level out everything. Many believe it is the government's role in society to make everything equal for everyone (except those in power).
  
And this idea that life should or could be equal on all fronts even slips into our theology. We believe that the God who created the world and governs should be fair to one and all as well. I heard a popular pastor recently preach about how God will balance all of your books in the end. He said that God is a fair God and if you have a lot of trials, sickness and disappointments in life, God will return blessings to you that are equal to your trials. I'm not sure where this pastor got this theology but it doesn't come from the Bible. 

The reality is that the God of the Bible is not fair. And praise God that he is not! Because if God were fair, I would be in hell, on my way to an eternity without God. We all would be because that is what every person deserves on earth. Because God's standard is perfection and one sin or anything short of perfection cuts us off from God. None of us are perfect. So if God were fair, we would warrant a sentence of eternity without God (Romans 5:8).

Fair is not a word I use to describe God. God is anything but fair. He chooses one particular race over all others to show his favor. He chooses the less qualified to be his leaders.  Check out Noah, Moses, Saul, David, and Esther. None of these were the most qualified or popular choice to be a leader.  In the New Testament, Jesus shares the parable of the hired workers in Matthew 20. The manager hires day laborers and agrees to pay a certain amount for a day's work. At the end of the day, when it is time to pay, the manager pays the same amount to those who worked 12 hours as to those who were hired late in the day and only worked an hour. "This is not fair", declared the workers who had toiled all day. The manager responds by saying he is not being unfair, but he is being generous.  

The same principle applies in the parable of the prodigal son. On the son's return home he receives a party in spite of his horrendous and irresponsible behavior, squandering his inheritance. In Luke 12:28 we see the elder brother, the responsible child, throwing a fit, claiming it is unfair to reward his brother and not him. 

So fairness is not a high value in God's kingdom. Mercy, love and generosity are the values that describe God. He loves us so much that he provides a way for us to be in a relationship with Him regardless of our past or how good we've been. There is no way to earn it. 

Therefore, I don't expect life to be fair or for all my trials to balance out in good things for me. I am not jealous of those who have it "better" than me.  I am very thankful that God loves me and is merciful to me and that I can spend eternity with him! Jesus didn't come to earth and die so that I might have a "fair" life. No, he came so that we all might have life to the fullest! (John 10:10). That is love that goes way beyond fairness. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Speaking So People Will Listen

Martha Garcia speaking to women in Honduras
I was partnered this past week with someone I didn't know on the golf course.  Sometimes I play as a single and look forward to the opportunity to get to know someone new.  On this day, I was paired with a guy who was in no mood for anything spiritual. As a matter of fact almost everything out of his mouth was a negative statement. What made it worse was that he used the "f" word in almost every sentence. He ranted about California where he lived and complained about the course we were playing.  He didn't like the greens and the holes were not marked correctly according to his GPS.  On and on he went. 

I told him I was a pastor but that didn't stop him one bit. I also tried to be encouraging but nothing seemed to work. I was worn out and depressed by the time we finished and didn't really want to talk to him any more.  The guy said he was a salesman, but I was wondering how he sold anything to anyone with that mouth and attitude.  It reminded me of the importance of our words, and how they make an impression and an impact on others.

As a chaplain to businesses, I have to be very conscious of my conversations.  I must remind myself to be slow to speak, to ask questions and listen. But when I speak, I have a great opportunity to impact a person's life, to lift them up and share with them the keys to the abundant life that Jesus offers us. We all have relationships, and opportunities to do the same.  And if you are a pastor, you have this precious 30 minute window almost every week, give or take a few minutes, to address an audience with your undivided attention. What a tremendous opportunity to affect lives for Christ. This should be your most important 30 minutes of your week and you should do everything possible to make the most of that opportunity. I pray you never take it lightly or for granted.  

If this time is so important, shouldn't we all work at communicating to the best of our ability? When planning a speech or sermon most of us spend a lot of time preparing the content of what we plan to say. Content is the most important thing.  But a close second is how we say what we want to say. How much time do you spend on your delivery, as opposed to the content?  It is my experience that most pastors spend very little time in preparing how they speak. Yet, if you do not communicate effectively or have an awkward speech pattern that creates a barrier for the listener, it may not matter what you say. 

I know a pastor who has a speech pattern of elongating certain words he wants to highlight.  "How are you doing chuuuuurch."  He does this at the end of his phrases, sort of an "up talker" but making his words much longer than necessary and pausing after the word. This slows his speech to a crawl and doesn't make listening to him very easy. He could be a much better communicator but he has to be aware of his speech pattern and then work hard to change it. 

Americans speak generally with a nasal tone, especially women. On a mission trip to Africa I was reminded of this when I heard the African children laughing at the way we talked.  They were imitating the girls speech, speaking out of their noses.  The Africans speak from their diaphragm with this very rich and deep vocal tone, much different than our speech. I hadn't really noticed the difference until the children pointed it out.  Great speakers often are those who speak in a lower tone so if you are one that speaks with a nasal tone, and you want to be an effective speaker, you probably should change your register from the nose to chest.

The best speakers have speech patterns that are not only easy to follow but are also pleasant and compelling to hear.  They will vary their cadence, pace and volume, pausing at the right moment to get across their point. There is an art to speaking well, but many never try to master it and never become the communicators they could be.  

So here are some suggestions on speaking so that people will listen:

1. Listen to yourself.  It is hard for me to listen to myself but I can't change unless I can identify what needs changing. You should record or video yourself whenever possible. Listen and make a list of the things you think should be changed or improved.  

2. Have a mentor or a vocal coach who can critique you and help hold you accountable to change. Often you will not catch everything that could be improved. I have a tendency to say, "you know", way too much and the word "kinda" for no particular reason. My wife is the one who pointed this out to me and holds me accountable now when I begin to slip those words into my speech.

3. Practice, practice and practice some more. Your speech patterns have been formed over many years and are difficult to change. But you can do it if you practice and focus on the areas that need to change. Practice in front of a coach.  Just like a batter taking batting practice while their batting coach watches.  

For more on speaking so that others will want to listen, check out this 9 minute Ted Talk by Julian Treasure. Half way through he talks about the importance of register, timbre, prosody, pace, silence, pitch and volume.   

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Are You A "Skin Tag" Christian?

My pastor, Will Davis Jr., used a crazy analogy this past week to illustrate the life of many Christians. He said many are like "skin tags", those little extra growths of skin we get that have blood pumping through but are absolutely good for nothing. I was laughing at the metaphor as he explained that these "skin tags" are like the spiritual lives of many Christians. They may have the spiritual blood of Christ running through them, but apart from attending an occasional church service, they are pretty much useless to God's kingdom. Kind of gross but it is a good analogy.  Watch the full sermon here.

It is my observation that my generation of Christians (baby boomers) is overflowing with "skin tag" believers. You'll find a lot who attend mega churches, those who want to pop in and out without being noticed. Our generation created the mega church phenomenon. Many have little to no investment in the church they attend and yet they believe they are doing their "Christian duty" by attending occasionally.  

One of the reasons I think this is so prevalent in my generation is that we baby boomers are experts at compartmentalizing our lives. We set aside Sunday mornings for church and a certain amount of days during the week for work and then some for rest or recreation. We live to keep them separate. And so, it is very easy for us to keep our spiritual life from intersecting with our daily life. 

One of the refreshing aspects of the millennial generation is that these young adults seek a different lifestyle than that of their parents. They don't compartmentalize as much. They want a more integrated life instead. Take work for example. They want life, not just a work/life balance. They would like to have time for their friends, family, hobbies, and other small pleasures and pastimes. They work to live, not live to work, and so they want their work to be fun and meaningful.  As one millennial put it, "I want my job to align who I am with what I do".  The older generations may look at them as lazy but I don't begrudge them for wanting to live an integrated life.  

This applies to their faith also. Millennials want to be able to live their faith 24/7.  It's not only a Sunday morning thing for them, it is a lifestyle!  That is what the first century Christians experienced and is what life in Christ should be. But that hasn't been the case for many Christians for years now. 

That may be changing as this new integrated life mindset is having an affect on the church today. The missional movement and the idea of "you don't go to church, you are the church wherever you go" are concepts that have been brought about because of this change of perspective.  There is a higher expectation to being a follower of Christ now, focusing more on application of faith than just knowledge.

It may be harder in the future to be a follower of Christ because of this. So there may be a decline in those who say they are Christians, but those who choose to follow Christ will be more devoted and hopefully a much better model of Jesus to the world than my generation of believers.
For more about the work habits of millennials, check out this blog post, 8 reasons millennials seem lazy at work.