Urged to Change

All God’s children are more or less the same. In our flesh, we all sin. We might deal with different sins, and we might deal with our sins in different ways, but we are all sinning. No one is better than anybody else.

We will never change, either. Not on our own. But Jesus can change us. By running through us like hot water, He heats us up with the wisdom of the Spirit. We can’t change ourselves, but in Him, we can be changed.

And do you know what? Much as we might want to, we can’t change anybody else!

The urge to change other people can be very strong. It’s part of being human. Sometimes we get into the habit of thinking, “You need to change. I will change you.”

Let me tell you, you have no shot at changing somebody else.

That’s why you have to communicate. Suppose I notice that someone always reacts the same way to me, and it’s not a good reaction. In that scenario, two things have to happen. First, I need to get to the heart of why he reacts that way to me. There needs to be dialogue. If I have an issue with somebody, then I go to him about it. That’s Biblical. I tell him, “I’ve got this issue. I want to know why every time I do this, you react like that. Why?”

Maybe he’ll tell me! Perfect!

Second, I need to look at what he tells me. Is it necessarily the case that he needs to change? Or is it me? Am I the one that needs to make the change?

Think about that scenario! What if you were wishing that a person would change, when all along you were the cause of their frustration or anger?

If that’s true, then God will help you use wisdom to stop provoking him. Then maybe when you change, he’ll change too. He will quit getting angry with you!

Don’t be afraid to speak openly and have that dialogue with the people closest to you. In your most intimate or important relationships, you’ve got to be able to say, “Look, I understand you’re upset, but you have to help me understand why. Why are you upset with me?”

In your closest relationships, you can’t get along without that kind of communication. You’ve got a lot of people in your life. Obviously you’re more engaged with some than others. But with some, you are intimately engaged. You have to communicate.

Of course, you don’t always get to ask them why they are upset. Sometimes your loved ones hide it when they are upset with you, even when you’re depending on them to open up to you.

If my wife was frustrated with me and never told me, then how would I know to be changed by God’s wisdom? If she didn’t point out the places where she was feeling bothered, concerned, hurt, or angry, I might not realize that I need to turn to God for help. I depend on her to tell me when I’m upsetting her.

Of course some things are obvious! I’m sure your husband or wife is not thrilled about it when you yell at them. You don’t get to yell and someone and then say, “I didn’t know I was doing something wrong.” You know you did something wrong!

It’s the same with criticizing someone in a negative or non-constructive way. You know that’s hurtful. You have to take ownership of that.

But if you’re not aware of how you’re troubling someone, you depend on them to tell you.

Jesus sets the best example for how to be in a relationship. More on that next time. See you Saturday.

Even Saints are Sinners

The more I focus on Jesus, the more peace I find. I’m focused on what’s in the present. I’m aware of what’s going on at any given moment. I’m mindful of my own feelings and reactions.

I might be driving down the road and a guy cuts me off and gives me the finger. It makes me so mad! I just want to snap on that guy. But I don’t. Instead I just notice how irritable I am, and breathe in the sweet love of Jesus.

In the past, I have snapped on that guy. I’ve been angry. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve cussed people out. And yes, I have flipped people off. I’ve done all those things. As a believer!

I still feel anger and frustration. The difference is that I’m getting a lot better at not acting on it. I have the ability to calm down. I can head off the anger and frustration. I do it by living in the peace of God.

You can always run into a believer who says, “Well, before I met Jesus I did all those things too. Yeah, before I met Jesus, man, I swore all the time. Before I met Jesus I was drinking and smoking. Before I met Jesus I was lusting. That’s all over with now.”

I always want to say, “But I have Jesus! And I was angry just this morning! I sin all the time, and I have to keep a penitential heart! So how come it’s so easy for you? That doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it kind of stinks!”

Okay, obviously I don’t believe it when people tell me that they don’t sin because they have Jesus. That’s a fairy tale. We all sin. But when you get the wrong idea, and believe that accepting Jesus means that you don’t sin, then you have to try to look the part. You think, “I’m a Christian, so I’m not supposed to cuss. I’m a Christian, so I’m not supposed to lust, or get angry or jealous. I’m a Christian, so I’m supposed to have a perfect marriage. And my children should be perfect too.”

We try so hard to play the part of “sinners that are saved,” that we forget who we truly are, “saints that sin.”

Nobody is perfect, no matter how much they try to look the part. Seriously! Nobody! If you never sin and your marriage and children are perfect, then what do you need Jesus for?

See you Saturday.

The Love We Give Our Children

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”  (John 5:19)

It is the duty of every Christian man to replicate, to the very best of his abilities, everything that he sees Jesus do. John’s Gospel expresses it perfectly here. Just as Jesus does what He sees His Father do, so our children will do what they see us do. In other words, what we do is really important. We are called to be just like Jesus.

What does that mean? What does it mean to be just like Jesus? To begin with, Jesus did not judge us. Instead, He loved us. He stood up for people, no matter how different they were and no matter what social status they had.

If He got angry with anybody, it was the Pharisees, because they were the religious leaders of the time. They were like the presidents of our seminaries, or the pastors of our large churches. People looked to the Pharisees for moral wisdom and spiritual guidance. And what did they do with that leadership? They went around condemning people for their sins. “This is not how it’s supposed to be done,” they said. “You’ll have to pay!”

Jesus thought this was a terrible way to set an example. “You’re embarrassing our Father!” He told them. “You’re embarrassing everything that we stand for! You are whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but filled with rot and decay!”

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees, but He never judged sinners. Ever. He didn’t judge them because He knew, 100%, that when He went up on that cross, He would be taking their shame. He knew it! He said to the prostitute who was about to be stoned, “Go on, I do not judge you. Stop doing what you’re doing, sure, but just go. You are forgiven.”

He was prophesying to her! He was saying, “Look, when I get nailed to that cross, and that blood starts dripping from my body, and I get whipped and beaten, I will be doing it for you. I know you feel shame over what you do. I know you are vulnerable and persecuted. These people want to stone you! But I’m going to take away your shame. In fact, I will die for you! That’s how much I love you.”

I don’t think the Pharisees understood love. To love like Jesus, they would have had to become servants. That would mean changing how they looked at everything. They would need to forgive sinners. They would need to be kind to them, serve them, and love on them.

But that isn’t how they looked at things. They could only imagine making sinners pay.

Jesus came among them and said, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how it goes! I’m going to pay, not them. I’m going to take all of this on. I’m going to die. My Father will turn his back on me so that I can take all the sins of the world upon my shoulders. Why would I do this? Because I love the sinners that you condemn. I love everyone! When I resurrect from the dead, everyone will be redeemed. No one will have to live in shame. No one will have to live in guilt. No one will be condemned to death. Everyone will live in freedom!”

This is the love we should give our children. When they see that they are loved this deeply and this purely, they will respond. They will love you back. They will love you and God so much! They will become filled with love, and love will raise them into beautiful adults. They will be such good people. They will know how to lead by serving, because you will have shown it to them in your relationship with them.

It’s a duty and a calling, but it’s an honor and a privilege.

More on this next time. See you Wednesday.

Why Are Churches Against Drinking?

Doing anything to excess is bad for you. If you eat too much it’s bad for you, because you’re going to get fat. That’s how eating becomes the sin of gluttony. But we don’t say eating is a sin. We say gluttony is a sin. That’s why we don’t say, “Christians are not allowed to eat.”

So why do churches say we can’t drink?

A lot of churches have a rule that drinking alcohol is not allowed if you’re a member of the church’s staff. I don’t agree with that. They are saying that if I’m a pastor, or a youth pastor, or some other member of the staff, then I’m not allowed to sit at my dinner table and have a glass of wine with my wife. Why shouldn’t I? Why do you think anyone should be reprimanded for that?

Of course if the pastor has a drinking problem, then his church is going to take some flak for it. And as James says, he’ll to be held to a higher standard. But the “higher standard” is not whether pastors should drink or not. Jesus is the higher standard to which we are held. Jesus is the highest standard! Jesus, who drank wine.

Some people say drinking is a sin because of what it represents. They say that drinking a glass of wine at the dinner table misrepresents the church.

Does that mean Jesus misrepresented God when He drank wine?

People also talk a lot about avoiding the appearance of evil. But why is it evil to have a glass of wine at dinner with my wife? There’s no “appearance of evil” in that. If I’m drinking wine and standing on the table acting like a hoodlum, then that’s different. That’s the appearance of evil.

Enjoying an alcoholic beverage with my wife over dinner has nothing to do with evil. That’s just your judgment, and it’s not appropriate for you to judge me. I’m doing nothing wrong.

I am only expressing my personal opinion here, but I think that when churches make a rule against drinking, they are living in fear of man, not God. They are too afraid of their reputations. They’re afraid people are going to think bad things about them. They’re afraid if someone on staff has a glass of wine, people will say, “Oh, those aren’t good Christians.”

But why would anyone say that?  No one is doing anything wrong.

Well, they say, the nonbeliever will think that you’re sinning. Again, I have to ask why. Why would nonbelievers judge me for drinking? They wouldn’t. They are nonbelievers. They don’t believe in sin!  Suppose a nonbeliever sees me having a beer and says, “Aren’t you sinning?” If that happened, I would ask, “Well, do you think it’s a sin to drink?” Obviously they would say no. So then I would ask, “Then why do you think I’m sinning?”

There’s no reason to say that drinking alcohol legally, responsibly, and in moderation is a sin. This is a judgment. If you’re not living in sin through drink, then you’re not giving any kind of appearance of evil. You’re not doing anything wrong.

Jesus is the highest standard there is, the King of Kings, God in human flesh! His appearance is the appearance we should reflect, in all our words and deeds. His appearance is the only one that matters. Let’s reflect Him into the world without fear!

See you Wednesday.

Drinking and Driving

Never drink alcohol to the point where you’re no longer sober-minded. My sons are going to know that.

When they ask me if it’s wrong to drink, I will say, “No. It’s not wrong. If you drink to drunkenness, son, that’s when it is wrong.”

I won’t tell them it’s a sin to drink because it’s not true. But it is against the law for them to drink. They can’t legally drink until they are twenty-one. I’ll make sure they know that!

When my sons turn sixteen, they might ask me, “Why can’t I have a beer?” I will tell them, “In this country, it’s not legal. The Bible says to obey the government, and this government doesn’t want you drinking at sixteen years of age.”

Why do I think they’ll ask me at sixteen? It’s the age when they will start driving. Do you remember driving at sixteen? It’s a challenge. You have to build your confidence. Sometimes you don’t know whether to make a left turn or a right turn. You’re not even confident enough to know whether to speed up or slow down at a yellow light. It’s really easy to make a wrong decision.

It’s against the law to drink and drive because the consequences of a wrong decision can be huge. You can kill someone. And teenagers are especially vulnerable to making poor decisions.

I’ll invite them to think about how hard it is to be sixteen and drive. And then I’ll ask, “What makes you think that you’re going to make the right decision at the wheel when you’re sixteen and drunk?”

The government says that when you turn twenty-one, you make adult decisions. An adult decision is a decision that can influence another person’s life. So at twenty-one, you can go ahead and drink. But if you drive drunk and someone dies, you can be jailed with adults, and you can be punished as an adult.

I know young people will argue. They’ll say, “I’m eighteen years old, so I should be able to make my own decisions.” Right. Because you’re good at that. At sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, you’re telling me that the decisions you make are made with a lot of wisdom. You’re telling me that you’ve been through life. You know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Well kids, I know you think you know everything. But you know what? You don’t! I know, because we all thought the same thing when we were sixteen. Or eighteen. I thought I had it all figured out too. I get it! I understand. But it’s not true. And when it comes to alcohol, too much of it can cause you to lose self-control, and this can be dangerous. It can get you or someone else killed.

That’s what I’ll tell my sons. I’ll tell them, and I’ll keep dialoging with them about it. Because when they turn twenty-one, they will no longer be in my control and I won’t be able to help them. They will be adults. They will be making adult decisions. I will still give them wisdom. I will still help them. But I can’t sit there and slap their hands if they have a beer or an alcoholic drink at twenty-one. They can do what they want, and I can’t go to battle for them.

That’s why I have to protect and prepare them now. More on this next time. See you Wednesday.

“I’m Sorry”

We don’t want to wound our children, but we’re not perfect. It can happen! And you know what? There’s grace for that. Wounds can be healed. We do it by building relationships of trust.

I’ve been reflecting on ways to do that. It’s important to respect our children as individuals and learn how each one ticks. Then we can engage with them in ways that show them how much they are valued. We can ask for and receive their permission to protect their hearts. We can pay attention to our tone of voice and speak to them kindly, keeping it level and safe for them. We can explain our anger to them, especially when it’s really ourselves that we’re angry with.

And we can tell them, “I’m sorry.”

The temptation is to say, “I’m the mom,” or “I’m the dad, so it’s my way or the highway. If you don’t like it, too bad.” It’s tempting, but that stuff never works. Ever. It gets kids to shut up and do what they’re told, but it doesn’t build trust.

I’ve done it to my kids. I’ve been impatient or I’ve been in my weakness, and I’ve told them, “Hey, too bad. You’re going to do it.” And they’ve done it. But later, I didn’t feel good about how it went down. I don’t need to wound my kids. I want to be able to say to them, “Let’s talk about this.” So I’ve gone to them and recovered the situation. We’ve sat and talked.

There’s nothing to be lost from having a conversation with my kids. I’m the parent, so I’ll get my way. My way is the right way and I know it. But I talk to them about it. I explain that they’re thinking from a child’s perspective, and I’m thinking from a grown man’s perspective. That’s why I want them to  trust me, and understand that I’m protecting them with what I’m asking them to do. I’m making them better, and I’m watching them become leaders. “I don’t want you to be wounded over it,” I tell them. “I want your heart to remain intact and pure. And I want us to have a relationship.”

We sit there and we dialog. We talk it out. Before you know it, I’m not angry with them, they’re not angry with me, and we’re having a conversation. I ask them if they have any resentment towards me over what happened. If they say yes, then I apologize. I say I’m sorry.

It doesn’t matter if I was right or wrong. My kids have resentment, so I say I’m sorry. By apologizing, I’m not saying they were right. I’m saying, “Look, I’m sorry that I affected you in that way. You know that what I said was right, but how can I say it to you where it won’t hurt you?” All I have to do is ask. They’ll tell me. And then I can say, “Okay, next time I will do that. I’m sorry you felt so hurt.”

Should you say you are sorry? No question. Absolutely, yes, you should always say, “I’m sorry.” If you want a relationship with your children, you’re going to have to understand that.

I’m raising my kids and I’m going to mess it up. When I make mistakes, I have to be a dad and a human being. That means I have to look at them and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t agree with what you did. I don’t like that you did it. But I did not handle it correctly as your dad, and for that, I’m sorry.”

This is not easy. Parenting is not easy! But it’s dialog, and I love having conversations with my kids. This is how we heal wounds and build trust, and it’s awesome.

The Ultimate Parent

I want to raise my sons to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and become servant leaders. In order to do that, I need to parent my sons the same way that God parents me. I mean, God is the ultimate leader! There is no better example I can give them, if I want my sons to grow up to lead by serving.

But this means that I have to think about how I’m parenting them. There can be a very tight connection between the way we view our parents and the way we view God, so I need to be thoughtful with my sons. To be a good parent, I need to look at how God parents me.

It’s very common for us reflect our feelings about our parents onto God. Our parents become a filter through which we see God. Until we’ve had a chance to think this through and grow in maturity, we might expect the same things from God that we got from our parents. This isn’t good if we were parented without grace.

For example, if your parents managed you by punishing you, then you might think of God as a punisher. That causes you to think in negative terms about yourself. When you have trouble in your life, you might think that you deserve it, or that you brought it on yourself. We all bring trouble on ourselves sometimes, sure, but when you think God is punishing you, you don’t realize that He wants to help you.

If your mom or dad was a heavy disciplinarian, or you had an abusive parent, then you might have some really negative ideas about how God sees you. You might believe that God looks at you and says the kinds of things they said, like, “You can’t do anything right.” You might believe that God shames you. You might truly believe that this is how God works.

We can also reflect our feelings about God onto our parents. So if we are angry with God, then we might show it as anger with our mothers or fathers. If we are experiencing God’s forgiveness, then we might be at peace with our parents.

All of this belongs to the ways that we, in our human flesh, portray God. That’s why we have to think about how we’re parenting, so that we don’t put ourselves or our feelings in the way of God. We want to reflect Jesus into our children’s lives, not ourselves as substitutes for Him.

Since we are sinners, we don’t have God’s purity. But we can do this. I start by asking, okay, what do I know about God? Well, I know that God regards me as His child, and He is the ultimate parent. He parents me with grace. God parents us with a ton of grace. He parents us with a ton of love and mercy.

So that’s what I do with my children. I do my best. I mess up! I don’t always do it right. But there is no condemnation. I see that everywhere in scripture. I see it in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters. There is no condemnation because we’re in Christ now. We’re part of God’s family. And in His family, there is no condemnation when we do wrong.

That’s how I parent my sons. God parents me, His child, with grace, so I parent my children with grace. That does not mean that my children get a free pass. I don’t get a free pass either. That’s not the point. The point is that we are living in Christ.

If you live in Christ, you will reflect Him. You will live in relationship with love, grace, and mercy. And when you do mess up, there is no condemnation. There is no shame. There is love, and grace abounds.

More on this next time. See you Friday.