Right to Rule

Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most beautiful man made things I have ever seen. It is simultaneously beautiful and imposing. It sits up on its mountain overlooking the countryside for miles in every direction. It is easy for me to picture a king sitting up in his palace looking down on his domain. I have always been captivated by the idea of kings and queens. They have left an unmistakeable mark on history. Their palaces and many of the nations of the world stand tribute to their impact on history. Throughout history, most kings and queens have ruled based on one of two things: birthright or right of conquest.

Birthright is what a person is entitled to based on their family and birth order. The queen of England is the queen because she was the oldest child of King George VI. Her son will be king because he is her oldest child. Birthright is what you are entitled to because of who you are. Right of conquest gave someone the right to rule because they conquered in battle. Henry VII had a very weak claim to the throne based on birthright, however, he won the war and got to be king.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus has both. He has both the birthright and right of conquest. Birthright is probably not the best word because while Jesus was born; the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has always been. He is eternal as one aspect of God. But everything, creation itself, YOU, are his by right. Simply by the nature of who he is…God…he has the right to rule creation and the right to rule your heart and life.

But Jesus also has won the right to rule. He has conquered sin and defeated death. Man rebelled against the rule of God in sin, but Jesus has now defeated sin. You owe him your allegiance, your life! He has the right because of who he is and because of what he has done.

What does it look like to let Jesus rule your life? You will have to engage God’s word and spend time in prayer to answer this question. How can you follow a Lord you do not hear? And how can you hear a Lord you do not know?

Not 4 Sale!

When a TV show or football game or youtube video sells an ad to a company, what are they actually selling? They’re not just selling time on the air, they’re selling you. You are their real product (especially in social media). Parents, your kids are their product. You, as a consumer of a certain TV show or viewer of a certain youtube video, become the product of that show or site that they then sell to companies that want to advertise. They are buying your time, your resources, and your energy.

Let me clarify, I am not opposed to TV, youtube, or radio, I use all 3. I am not even opposed to advertising, though I do hate ads and thanks to binge-watching and streaming services watch far fewer of them than I once did. This is not a post about the evils of the advertising market or media that has a certain political persuasion. What I hope to do, is convince you to be aware and deliberate with…well…with your “self.”

First, be aware of your value. You were created by God. Not you generally, as in everyone was created by God, but you specifically (Psalm 139:13). You (if you are a Christian) are adopted by God (Galatians 4:7). You are worth far more than this world can ever know or pay. Know your value.

Second, be aware of how what you consume affects you. We have developed a basic understanding of nutrition in our society. We understand that if all we eat is Sour Patch Kids and Doritos, our body is not going to operate effectively… and we’re going to get fat. What you consume with your mind also affects you. Pay attention to who/what you are giving access to yourself.

I kept hearing about “haul videos” from my students. Haul videos are essentially videos where a person buys a bunch of stuff from a site (Amazon, Wish, eBay, etc…) and then shows themselves opening it and using it or wearing it. I decided to watch a haul video, so I watched a wish haul where a woman tries on a bunch of cheap clothing she bought on Wish.

The video is clean, it doesn’t show anything you wouldn’t see walking through the mall, actually, you’d probably see more walking through the mall. I think the content provider’s intent is to review the quality of the stuff. But there is no denying, she is selling a lifestyle and a culture. Additionally, I know after some research that she is sponsored by several companies. They are buying your time when you watch her videos. They are putting you in their basket. Will you let yourself be sold into their picture of what the world and you should look like?

Think of it this way, companies don’t really sell something to you, they sell you into something. They sell you into a style of clothing. They sell you into a diet. They sell you into a TV show. They are convincing you to give yourself (your time, your money, your emotions) to them. Again, I’m not telling you to stop buying designer clothing, watching TV, or anything like that. I am encouraging you to be aware of what you’re paying and how what you consume affects you.

The world and Jesus are fighting a battle over yourself. He has paid the price for you, bought you with his blood, his death on the cross. If you are a Christian you belong wholly to him. Pay attention to who else is buying you.

Finding Adventure

Over the years I’ve gathered rings, stormed the beaches of Normandy, conquered the world, and raided tombs. I’ve liberated nations, fought off alien invasions, and battled orcs. I’ve played my share of video games in these endeavors. There are a few of the games pictured above that I have been playing since before my students were born. One of the great things about these games is that each brings a new adventure and a new challenge. Today, I thought I would point out some life observations illustrated by some of these games.

Here are a few ways that life and video games are very different:

  1. There are no saves in life. One of the biggest things we have to remember in life is there are no do-overs. You can’t save and come back and do something over again if you mess it up. You don’t get to come back to a moment you missed. We either seize the moment and get it done, or we don’t.
  2. There is no pause. This one is very similar to the first, but with a slightly different implication. We don’t get to pause life. You can (and sometimes need to) get away from something or someone for a season, but life doesn’t stop just because you’ve poked your head in the sand. Time keeps flowing and life keeps happening. Avoiding life isn’t like pausing a game, you don’t get to pick up where you left off.
  3. Life is rarely so simple. Video games have come a long way since I first played Sonic the Hedgehog on my Sega Genesis. The stories are often more intricate than movies, major actors often provide the voices and look of the characters, and games often connect one to the other much like a TV series from seasons to season. But even in this complexity, video games are so much simpler than life. Decisions you make in life have real-life and sometimes even eternal consequences.
  4. The real world is so much bigger. I play a few games that are HUGE! The map (the world you play in) is absolutely enormous. One of the games I play has multiple continents that each could take weeks (or months) to explore and years to play through all of the content. Even still the real world is SO much bigger. It’s not just bigger in the sense of physical size, but it is bigger in diversity. The physical traits of our world can be radically different from place to place. Then there are all the people, each with their own story.

There are some ways that video games and life are similar though and here are a few of them:

  1. Even in real life, sometimes all you can do is watch. One of the most frustrating parts of video games to me is when the game takes away control from you and you can do nothing but look around and watch what happens. Video games sometimes have a fight you cannot win, you start the fight, but then the game takes control and essentially forces you to lose regardless of the choices you made or the buttons you bang on. Sometimes life is the same way. You don’t always have the ability to change the outcome, all you can do is be faithful in the decisions you get to make.
  2. Every life will eventually end. Just as each game will eventually end, so will every life. There comes a time when we all will play our last level to use a video game analogy. We have to make the most of the time we have and play (live) like this may be it.
  3. There is a programmer even in real life. This one really falls into both categories, because God is so much better than a video game programmer. The decisions you can make in a video game are all ultimately determined by the game’s programmers. Life is so much more complex with so many more decisions, but ultimately those decisions all are given to us by the author of life (God). What believers have to remember is that our decisions matter, but ultimately, God is in control of the ending. He works through even our bad decisions to work out the ending. Let me repeat it though, our decisions do matter.

Life is not a video game. But, there are somethings that we can learn from them. Don’t forget to live life. Whether you’re waiting, fighting, planning, or building, live life for the glory of God.

The photos in the collage come from the following games: Sonic the Hedgehog, World of WarCraft, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty (Franchise), Splinter Cell, 007 GoldenEye, Assassins Creed (Franchise), Tomb Raider (Franchise), Halo (Franchise), Age of Empires (Franchise). If you have questions about the specific content of these games or another, feel free to message me.

Broken Values

All decisions are ultimately value decisions. We, people in my cultural area, claim to have a certain set of values. Many here would say that their values are God, family, and country. They might add things like community, integrity, friendship, sports, or hard work if they think about it for a minute. None of those things are bad, several of them are things that I place highest on my list of values. The difficulty is not only having good values, it is have them ordered well. We have to learn to recognize what values are in opposition when we face a decision.

Edmond from the Chronicles of Narnia has become one of my favorite characters. He (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) and Eustice (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)  both illustrate an attitude shift that is one of the things I most hope to see as a student pastor. Their values change. At the beginning of the book (or movie) Edmond’s top values are Turkish Delight and power. We know that because he betrays his family and the Beavers to get both. That does not mean that he does not love and value his family, he just values the other things more and we know that because he made a decision placing Turkish Delight and power over his family. Later, you see him submitting to another and placing his family first, putting his values in their proper order.

As I said before, all decisions are values decisions. I make a choice after dinner on whether or not to eat dessert, there are two values in opposition in that decision, one value is eating things that taste good, the other value is controlling my weight and health.  Which I value more in that moment will determine the choice that I make.

To figure out what you value most, look to see what you let fill your time first. What time do you protect? You say you value church for example, do you protect that time from other values, like sports? If every time you’re faced with the choice between a sport or church, you choose the sport, I’m sorry, but your higher value is the sport. You say you value hard work and family. If every time your phone rings you pick it up to see if its works even when you’re on vacation with your family or watching a movie with your kids or on a date with your spouse, I’m sorry, but your higher value is work. (It might actually be money, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

If your faith, if God is truly your highest value, then you will take steps to protect your time with him and your time with the body of Christ (the church). If family is your second highest value, then you will take steps to protect your time with your family.

Here is what it boils down to, know what you value and know what you value most. Then, make decisions that protect and live out those values in their proper order.

It’s Not About a Choice

I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia again. The books are great fiction. They have stirred a question in me, “What does it mean to choose God?” Or worded another way, “What does it mean to choose to follow God?”

Movies and books so often highlight the choice of the hero. There is this moment where the hero chooses to fight for what is right. There is a moment where the hero chooses to get up off the floor after almost being defeated. There is a moment where the hero’s advisor steps in and gives them the key piece of information they need to win. It looks a little different from story to story, but it all boils down to a single moment.

Life rarely works that way and I think we have deceived ourselves into looking for and waiting for this big “moment” where WE choose to get back up and fight or do what’s right. People, and the church, are loosing their impact because they’re sitting around and waiting for their moment.

Life is not about a single moment. It is about a billion moments. Even if you are one of those rare cases like MLK, Churchill, Wilberforce, or Bonhoeffer, where you are largely remembered for one thing, that one thing still required many, many right choices.

We need to stop waiting for big hero moments and start making the choices God asks us to make in each little moment. Choose to follow God now and keep choosing Him moment by moment. That is how we follow God.

All or Nothing

Texas Tech vs. Texas 2008, 8 seconds left on the clock, it’s all or nothing. Michael Crabtree makes one of the most memorable catches in college football history and Tech wins. Texas vs. USC 2006, 26 seconds left to play and it’s 4th and 5 for Texas, it’s all or nothing. Vince Young takes the ball into the endzone to win one of the most memorable college national championship games of all time.

We all know what all or nothing looks like and when we see someone live it out, it usually makes a huge impression. This morning I read Malachi and the daily devotional from “My Utmost for His Highest.” As they sometimes do, the two connected quite well. Malachi is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It’s short and to the point, but it has a very powerful point.

God is angry with his people for offering to him the scraps. God asked his people to give him the “first fruits,” the best of the flock, the top choice of the produce. Yet what they were bringing him were the lame animals and the spoiled produce. Their gifts to God were comfortable and easy rather than a genuine sacrifice.

While the substance of our gift to God has changed since the Old Testament, what God truly wants, what he demands in-fact, has not changed. God wanted the devotion and submission of his people in Old Testament and he wants the same today. He wants you and he wants all of you.

He doesn’t want what’s left-over after you’ve gone to work, got the kids to school, shuttled them to volleyball, cheer, football, and baseball, fixed dinner, helped with homework, etc… He doesn’t want what’s left-over after you’ve spent the day wearing yourself out at the office or at school and juggling your various other activities or social life in the evening. And too often that’s what we give him.

Parents pour themselves into work and their kids’ lives and when there is time they toss God a few Sundays a month and maybe get their kids to church a few Wednesdays. Believers pour their energy into the American dream, politics, grandkids, kids, parents, friends, sports, and some of the time that is left is given to God…IF we’re not too tired.

Read Malachi and tell me whether or not you think God is going to be okay with that type of gift. Romans 12:1-2 reminds us that WE are the sacrifice that God wants. He wants you and he wants ALL of you, not the left-overs. Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) put it this way: “Get alone with Jesus and either tell Him that you do not want sin to die out in you; or else tell Him that at all costs you want to be identified with His death.1”

He is calling believers out and telling them either be honest with God and just say, “I’d rather keep living in sin,” or give him EVERYTHING. Living the life God calls us to live is an all or nothing proposition. God will never settle for less. God wants the time parents spend with their kids. He wants the sports that athletes play. He wants the skills of musicians, the talent of artists, the work of the employee, the creativity of the entrepreneur, and the whole life of every single person who calls themselves a Christian.

If you are so busy that you can’t get to church…you’re too busy. If your kids are in so many activities that they have no time to rest in the Lord, they are too busy. Whether you put God first or leave him nothing but the scraps, you’ve missed the point…God wants it all, he wants you. Only when you give him yourself will you discover the amazing work that God wants to do. Only then will you find the rest and the peace that God promises.

1. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986).

Are your memories exciting than your dreams?

Are your memories more exciting than your dreams? It is probably one of the best questions my professors asked over the last two weeks of seminars. When your memories of the past are more exciting than your dreams for the future, you have begun to die…

Let me say that again: when your memories of the past are more exciting than your dreams for the future, you have begun to die. This is true whether you are in business, education, or the church. If the future you imagine is less exciting than the past you remember, you are on the downhill side of your growth. You are in decline (or will be soon).

Here is a great question to ask, especially when you’re at church: do you hear people say “I remember when…” or “I imagine seeing..?” When you walk the halls of your church, do you hear, “10 years ago we..?” Or do you hear, “In 10 years, we..?” “Thirty years ago we built…” Or “In 30 year we will be…”

Let’s make this question more personal. Was the most exciting part of your faith journey 1, 5, or 10 years ago? Or was it yesterday? Do you imagine God doing something more exciting in your life and through your ministry in the future than what he has done in the past?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t remember or even celebrate the past. But personally and corporately we cannot live as though our best days are behind us. If we do, God will use someone else.

The Church of Today!

I had a great week with my students at Student Life Camp in Glorieta, NM last week. I’ll be posting about several things that I learned, but I wanted to kick that off with something that the pastor said that really stuck with me. Our camp pastor this last week was Pastor Alex Himaya (http://www.thechurch.at/our-staff), he did a great job engaging our students!

The first morning during Student Pastor Gathering, he said, “you (and your church) need to stop thinking of your students as the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.” (That’s probably not an exact quote, but its the idea he gave us.) In a very real sense he is correct (at least for those students who are believers). If a student (or child for that matter) is a Christian, then he/she is part of the church. In our particular local body, they are members, but even where they are not members, they are part of the body of Christ or the universal church.

Often the way our churches act towards students says something different, even the way we prepare space for our student ministry separates them from today’s church. It’s like we’ve cooked a meal and set aside some leftovers. The students become the leftovers of the church, they’ve been prepared by Christ, but the view of the church is that they have been set aside for “tomorrow.” They are the “future” of the church.

We must be careful though. This mentality limits the power of students in the church. Students have the same Spirit as you and me. They are the church and they can serve the church and are in fact called to do so. The responsibility that you and I have to serve the church and share our faith our students also have. God doesn’t say in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples, unless you’re under 18, then wait a couple of years.” He says, “Go and make disciples.” He makes no distinction between Christians who are 9 and Christians who are 90.

Does this mean that they have the same responsibility for leadership or giving… of course not, but they are the body of Christ and we need to teach and train them accordingly. Most of all, we need to set expectations accordingly, they are not just the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.

Fully Filtered – Losing Freedom & Innocence

I can barely remember what I did in line before the smart phone. Every time I lineup at the grocery store or DQ or the DMV I have a half-dozen games, 4 email accounts, several web pages, and a number of other apps that my fingers can find without really even needing conscious thought. At the first sign of boredom, out comes the phone. So, until Easter, I have given up boredom apps and pointless web surfing. There are some news blogs I’ll read and I will continue to use both my phone and the internet as tools, but until Easter, they will not serve as a solution to boredom.

I realized the other day that I let my phone color the way I see the world. Yes, technically, that is hyperbole, I let things ON my phone color the way I see the world. But regardless, I, and I would argue, we, have too often let our devices to filter our experiences of the world. One of the reasons I will not let our students keep their phones with them all the time at camp is because I want them to experience the moment they are in. The practical issues of them not having phones at all is one that I caved in too, but I take them up for key moments of each day, because I want their focus to be on what is happening rather than on documenting what is happening.

We are killing our kids. I mean we collectively, we as a western, American culture. Part of the reason childhood has devolved in recent years is because of the introduction of smartphones into their world, most people know it, they would just rather play Angry Birds than think about it (I know, that was so 2012, but I think my point stands). Here are 3 of the biggest dangers I see:

(1) What used to be short-term is now permanent. Kids (and) today can’t do anything that just happens and is over. Everything is documented and everything is watched. Someone in your school is as likely to take a picture of your open fly as tell you about it. Of course, then the pic is shared and what would have been embarrassing for an hour or two (if that long) when I was in school, plays out on social media for days or even weeks, sometimes cropping up years later.

(2) What used to be processed is now buried. Used to, you stood in line or you sat at home and boredom turned into creativity or processing or…God forbid, a real conversation. Now, we turn to social media and nuisance games to avoid the boredom that used to help us process and apply creativity. We bury life under a mountain of information, entertainment, and “productivity.” There were 811,911 games (not apps, games) on the app store in 2018. It is so easy to avoid problems and boredom.

(3) What used to be measured by you is now measured by the masses. When we turn things over to social media, it is automatically measured. It is measured in likes, shares, and comments. The measure of our successes has become too strongly tied to the measure given to it by others, particularly for kids who have a harder time filtering out the noise than adults (though, a lot of adults aren’t particularly good at it either).

If we are not careful, everything goes through a tech filter. Nothing is just an experience, in the moment. So what? What about it? Here is my encouragement. Parents, let your kids be bored. They may not like it much at first, but boredom is okay. Give your kids the freedom to experience the world themselves without having everyone else on the planet filter and judge their experiences for them. And give yourself the same freedom.

The practical elements of this will be up to you. For some families, their kids may not need to be on social media and/or smart phones at all, it is a difficult and challenging choice, but if it is right for your family, stick to your guns. That isn’t going to be right for every family though. Its okay to let your kids have a phone and get on some social media platforms at the right age (there are some that are so unhealthy I would never advise using them, but another time). But teach them moderation. Model it and set boundaries that enforce it for them. Set times and places that are tech free or do something similar that works for your family. Teach them not to depend on devices, apps, or tech to relieve stress and solve boredom. Give them space to experience the world unfiltered and to dream unimpaired.

Flaring Faith

Shortly after one of the big west Texas oil booms began I was driving back to Andrews from Dallas fairly late. It’s a drive I’ve made, it feels like, a thousand times. As I left Big Spring to head towards Andrews, I was struck by the flares that just seemed to be burning everywhere. I could have almost driven to Andrews without headlights there were so many flares burning. The valuable oil was stored, piped, or shipped out, the worthless gas was burned. 

I read Malachi this morning. It’s probably my favorite of the minor prophets, the language is so direct and clear. Malachi also has a simple premise that applies as much to us today as it did to those to whom Malachi preached well over 2000 years ago. What you offer to God and how you offer it matters. 

God was angry with the priests and with the nation of Judah in general because the offerings they were giving to him had become the cast offs. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy make God’s expectation clear, offerings given to him should be without blemish, the best of the herd the first fruits of the fields. By the time of Malachi, the people of Judah were offering animals that were blind and lame as their offerings. They were giving animals they had captured from other people rather than from their own flock. They were in essence, giving God what was left over. 

You and I don’t have to sacrifice animals on an altar, but we do still have to worship God. Too often, the gifts and praise we give God are our leftovers. We give God our Sunday morning if we don’t have some other priority or aren’t too tired. We give God Wednesday night if it doesn’t interfere with one of our other activities. We give God money if there is a little left over after we pay for everything else. Basically, we praise God when and how it suits us. 

God is pretty clear in Malachi 3:8-9 (ESV) what he thinks of this kind of offering, of this kind of worship: “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me.” As we burn up the gas we cannot use out here, God will burn up worthless praise offered lazily up to him. 

At the beginning of the book, God notes that the people say in their hearts “What a weariness this is” (Malachi 1:13, ESV), referring to worshipping God. I doubt you’ve ever said those exact words and I doubt the people of Judah did either, but that’s how they acted and how we sometimes act. We act as though worshipping God is wearisome. Far from desiring to praise our savior with our first fruits (the best we have to offer), we drag ourselves to church and give him 1-3 hours a week because we want to “raise our kids in a Christian home.” 

Every cheesy Rom-Com ever has reminded us that it is not about what you are doing, but being in love with the person you’re doing it with. If you’re in love, a burger and fries can be as deeply romantic as 5-star fare if you are giving them the best of yourself. It ceases to be romantic when you give them your “leftover” time and spend your “leftover” money. Imagine how you would feel if you husband or wife, friend or family, girlfriend or boyfriend only gave you the leftovers of their time and even then only when they felt like it. 

And yet, that is exactly what we too often give God. Our leftovers, when we feel like it. And we expect the God of the universe, the creator of all things to be okay with that? Seriously? We expect him to be okay with our leftovers? Your worship, your offering to God, is on no one but you. Not your husband or wife, not your friends or family, not your boyfriend or girlfriend, not your pastor or your worship pastor…it is on you and you alone. God is the God of Justice and he will accept nothing less than your first fruits (the best you have to offer). So will your gift  be acceptable and pleasing to God or will he burn it off just like we burn of the gas we cannot use? Will God be flaring your faith?

Romans 12:1-2 and Matthew 14:14-28 will give you a big hint about what God is looking for in your life.