Thursday, July 22, 2004

Quit Gritting Your Teeth

People that know me know I’m not a morning person.
In no way, shape or form do I love getting up early.
Once I hit my bed, I’m in it for the long haul.
But there does come the occasional time when, for whatever reason, I wake up well before my alarm.
Tuesday morning was one of those mornings.
It’s super easy for me to shrug these early mornings off and roll back over, but I’ve come to learn that there’s usually a meaning behind my waking up early.
So as I sat in my room I was drawn to my copy of The Message and Colossians.
It’s been a while since I’ve woken up early to read, so waking up as early as I did, I knew I better find out what for.
Typically I find myself doing my reading at night, but lately even that’s been sparse.
As I read Colossians chapter 1 I enjoyed chewing on all the meat of it.
But I focused in on verses 10 through 12.
“We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in His orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul--not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us (MSG).”
What a passage.
Did you catch all of that?
I can’t even begin to touch on everything that passage says.
I may be the only one who needed to read that Tuesday morning, but I think we all have times in life where we just get frustrated and want to give up.
We’ve gritted our teeth, we’ve dug in, we’ve trudged ahead, but we’re still not getting anywhere.
Other options are trying to grab our attention and pull us from our task and we’re ready to just throw in the white flag.
Maybe we’re just stuck three feet in the mire and can’t see any way out, but there is a way out.
Now everyone will tell you to grit your teeth and pull through, but I believe that Paul is telling us something else.
He’s saying to stick it out, but us gritting our teeth won’t work.
Gritting your teeth is grim work, because your teeth will wear out. And you’ll loose the strength to carry on.
But we still have to stick it out over the long haul.
Yet as Paul points out, it’s not our strength that will get us through our troubles -- it’s the “glory-strength God gives.”
It’s the strength that Ann Tubbs has found in her sewing ministry.
It’s the strength that Steve Burke has found for his ministry in Guatemala.
It’s the strength that Dan Ramsey had as he faced his last days here on earth.
It’s the strength you can find in cancer wards around the country.
It’s the strength Mother Theresa had to carry on caring for complete strangers up until her death.
It’s not any super power that these people were born with. It’s something outside of them.
It’s the “glory-strength God gives.”
And the more we learn about how God works, the better prepared we’ll be for doing our work.
Each of these people knows how God works.
They know there is something beyond them that gives them the power to push on.
We just have to come to understand the power source and understand how to plug in.
My cousin was married Saturday and joins a long list of my friends and family members that made a commitment to another person this summer -- for the rest of their life.
I know her and her husband will face trials. They’ll face difficulties.
They may even wake up one morning wondering, “What if I hadn’t married this person? What if I remained single? What if I married Joe or Bob?”
But they’ve made a commitment for life.
And they both know they can’t stick it out for the long haul without the “glory-strength God gives.”
My dad’s mom told me on one of my last visits with her, “No matter what happens when you get married, you have to grit your teeth, push on and always remember the commitment you made to your wife -- ‘till death do us part.’ And you can’t do it alone. Your teeth will eventually wear out and you’ll have to depend on a source much greater than you to get you through the rough and tough times.”
“It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us.”
Life wears down on us, but it is God who gives us the power to take part in every wonderful, beautiful and amazing thing He has planned for us.
So don’t quit. Don’t give up and quit wearing your teeth out.
Give your problems up to someone much greater than you and let Him carry your burden so you can push on and see your task through to completion.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A Hymn or Praise

When I was first beginning college in 1997, the modern praise and worship movement in the church was really beginning to first take off.
As a part of my church staff and a leader for the college group, I was part of a team that organized the Sunday evening worship services for the college and youth.
One of the key components we focused on each week was the message of the songs.
We weren’t concerned about they style or age of the song but rather the message.
I personally feel and I believe a large majority of my generation does as well, that if a song does lift up the name of Christ, then it is not we’ve lost the meaning of worship.
I don’t prefer a hymn or praise song because of its style or melody or the instruments used to play them (or lack there of), I prefer it because of its message.
You can’t deny the power of “How Great Though Art,” or its modern counterpart, “Shout to the Lord.”
If I come to church and sing about how hungry or thirsty I am I simply leave feeling hungry and thirsty. But if I come to church and sing about how wonderful, amazing and awe-inspiring our creator is, then I walk out of church ready to take on the world because I know He is there with me and I want more of Him.
I believe that many in my generation are seeing this more and more and I think our churches are missing the point.
Church services are geared and designed to attract the twentysomething crowd, yet they are putting the show before the substance.
We’re tired of the church as a whole offering up lyrically-empty songs and sermons that have no scriptural-meat to them, simply to cater to our generation and make people feel good about themselves.
A quick search through, which caters to the twentysomething crowd shows that we want “that old-time religion” that has meat and substance behind it and don’t need the fancy show that many churches put on.
We want to know how to live our faith out in real and relevant ways.
We love the hymns and we love the praise songs and we love the church as long as it’s real and not simply going through the motions.
Several people in my Sunday school class have come to me expressing their frustration with people in the church, including themselves, simply being fake.
The following is excerpts from a Relevant article, “What makes the church relevant?” by Karen Huber.
“As I sat in the pew Sunday, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well, maybe that was because there was so much going on visually. A power-point board scrolled the lyrics of the chorus. On the stage stood (well, actually swayed) a worship band which consisted of approximately 10 middle-aged men and women: one with a tambourine, another who whipped out a jazzy guitar solo, and the minister who sat at his piano with a boy-band microphone head-set urging us to get funky with the Spirit. Without ever opening a Bible, the service culminated in a sermon that pinpointed three simple rhyming biblical principles. On the most revered day of the week, I experienced the phenomenon commonly known as a “contemporary worship service” and I was embarrassed. The worst part was this was all done for my benefit – the typical twentysomething. Apparently, this was what my generation wanted.
“But this isn’t even about Generation X. Rather, it’s the need to make Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the Church relevant in today’s postmodern culture. But relevant for who?”
As we look at the future of the church, I pray that no matter what the style, whether its a hymn or contemporary -- praise band or acapella -- the message must always be put before the melody.
I pray that we will always put the substance before the delivery.
I pray that it will all bring us closer to Christ as we draw closer to each other and bring new people in. May we seek His face and may our face shine with His glory.
May people see us each Sunday and throughout the week and say as they did with Peter and John, “These men have been with Jesus.”

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Keeping Your Word

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July weekend.
And for those of you who had Monday off as well – I hate you.
Just kidding. No, seriously – I’m just kidding. Please don’t stop reading yet.
I enjoyed a great time on Saturday with a BBQ cooked for 15 people and eaten by only five.
I used to be really good at hosting and preparing parties and BBQ’s when I was in college.
But for some reason over the last year or so my planning has been a bit off.
I think I’ve discovered a problem that seems to be taking place in my generation and those that are following behind us – a reservation doesn’t mean what it used to.
And more importantly our word is no longer our bond.
Maybe I’m one of the few people of my generation who believe you should stay true to your commitments and true to your promises.
Maybe I’m one of the few people left who actually believe that if a person says they’ll show up or do something for me, they’ll actually do it.
Is it my trusting nature or just my ignorance?
I would love to put the blame on my parents’ generation -- a generation who began a downward spiral in neglecting their commitments made at the wedding altar.
I would love to say we’re not responsible for our “me first” attitude.
But I think we’re all responsible for our own actions – no matter what your shrink might tell you.
On a brief side note, I’m still waiting to see someone come on Jerry Springer and tell the world, “I’m a screw up. My parents were great, my grandparents were great, my school was great, my life was great – I just messed it all up. I’m the only one to blame.”
Quit blaming everyone else for your mistakes.
Ok, sorry about that tangent. Back to the topic at hand.
We as a generation must start taking responsibility for our actions.
We must realize that sometimes saying “No” is better than saying “Yes” and then neglecting to fulfill our promise.
If you tell your boss you’ll get a task done, get it done.
If you tell you friend you’ll call, return the call.
If you tell your girlfriend or your wife you love her, mean it.
It seems so simple, yet for so many, including myself, it has become so hard to do, yet sticking by your word goes a long way.

Far better not to vow in the first place than to vow and not pay up. – Eccl. 5:5

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Right is Dumb

Over the last few months I’ve come to believe something – the right is dumb.
Now before you start sending me hate mail, let me explain.
This isn’t a personal belief of mine; I believe it’s a belief of the misguided, far-left.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Spaceballs, and I think is rather fitting here is, “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”
Maybe it’s because they don’t have any real comebacks, or maybe it’s a genuine belief that if you’re part of the right wing conspiracy, you’re just a dumb, ignorant American.
You haven’t experienced the world like they have.
Since I began writing my column last year, I’ve received several letters accusing me of being completely wrong in my religious and political beliefs.
Now while I don’t mind you disagreeing with me, I have to laugh and completely ignore any point you might be making when you resort to saying I’m just a poor uneducated soul.
Am I uneducated just because I have a belief system different than yours?
Am I uneducated because I grew up in the church, or because I grew up in public schools, or because I attended a Baptist university?
What is it that makes me uneducated?
When I was a kid, there were a few comebacks that were the end-all-to-end-all.
When the argument got to these points, you knew it was about time to throw down -- mainly because both sides had run out of any logical arguments.
“Well you fight like a girl.”
“Yeah, well you’re stupid.”
Those are fighting words when you’re a kid.
Now I just laugh.
Texas Monthly’s headline article this month is entitled, “Texas vs. the world! Yes, they hate us. Should we care?”
If you haven’t seen it – go pick up a copy or visit
In the article, author Mimi Swartz points out that the same conservative, qualities that the world loved in J.R. Ewing (and still do) are the same qualities they loath in the leader of the today’s conservative right, President George W. Bush.
This past spring a television series entitled “The Texas Season” was broadcast in Great Britain on BBC Competitor, Channel 4.
While the show largely made fun of Texans, it also made fun of the values many Texans hold true to their heart.
An episode entitled, “Texas Teenage Virgins” mocked a group of Lubbock teens trying to adhere to Bush’s faith-based abstinence program.
“Having demonstrated that Texans were ugly, sexually repressed and bigoted, all that remained for the producers was violent. ‘The Texas Solution’ explored crime and punishment during Bush’s gubernatorial years,” wrote Swartz.
The narrator said Texans were big on forgiveness but low on mercy as they examined the death penalty and punishment in Texas.
Now as I read this article and thought about how Texas and many members of the political-right are looked upon as uneducated or too conservative -- it hit me -- I’ve done the same thing.
When my viewpoint on an issues tends to agree with the left (yes – it does happen sometimes) I’m quick to accuse those disagreeing with my viewpoint as being uneducated or living in a bubble their entire life.
“They don’t know what the real world is like,” I say. “They’ll wake up one day and realize that the world isn’t as perfect or as easy as they think it is.”
It’s easy to call someone names or make fun of their upbringing or belief system.
It’s easy to say someone is ignorant without offering a better suggestion of your own. The hard part is to sit down and discuss the issues face to face.
Someone once said, “Democracy is simply keeping the conversation going.”
But I guess we all stoop to the lowest common denominator when we run out of arguments.