Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fighting For Responsibility

We have a serious problem in this country, but its not what you think. Forget the economy, forget unemployment, or the environment, or education or healthcare. The problem we face is much deeper, and much more dangerous. It is not limited to one particular political idealogy, and no one people group suffers from it any more then any other. Rich, poor, young, old, black, white...it doesn't matter. No one talks about it, but if we are honest, we know the level to which this problem affects us.

Recently, one of the few doctors who performs late-term abortions was murdered in a church. This, for me, has been troubling on many levels. For one, the fact that the crime was committed in a house of God bothers me. It also bothers me that, as someone who is pro-life, I will now be lumped in with extremists who believe that ideology can be imposed at gun point. I am saddened for his family that they have lost a husband, father, and grandfather. However, what troubles me the most is what comes from within me; or should I say, what is lacking within me. If I am honest with myself, I have to say that I have no feelings of sympathy or outrage that the events took place. I would never begin to try to justify murder, nor do I believe that Dr. Tiller deserved to die. The question of who dies and when really is not up to me. However, in light of the 60'000 lives snuffed out in Dr. Tiller's clinic, its very hard for me to feel sympathy or outrage when I hear that the same has happened to him.

Now, I know there will be some who will read this who will be disgusted by this or call me a facist or be otherwise disappointed in me. I understand where you come from. I write my reaction to his death as means of owning my feelings, of taking responsibility for them. I feel it is necessary to do this so I may discuss the larger point in all of this, the problem our country is facing.

Whenever something newsworthy happens related to abortion, it sparks a debate about the legality and morality of the abortion issue. It is no different today. Despite attempts by the media and by politicians to assert that abortion is a settled issue in this country, there is still passionate opposition to its practice. Pro-lifers tend to assert the morality argument that equates abortion to murder, while pro-choicers waive the Constitution and claim protection from goverment intervention into our private lives. The debate centers around what we do and do not have the right to do with our bodies. However, I believe the issue goes even deeper then that.

The choice to have an abortion, except in cases of rape or molestation (which, by the way, account for less then 1% of all abortions performed), really comes down to a simple choice. It is the answer to the question: "Do I want to take responsibilty for the poor choice I made?" Those mothers that choose to have the child, either to raise it or put it up for adoption are saying yes, I will own my choices. Those who go ahead with the procedure are not. It is really as simple as that. Abortion exists because of the larger problem in our country: a lack of personal accountability.

It goes beyond abortion. We have a failing educational system, not because we don't have enough money, but because we have teachers' unions that do not allow for a system based on merit to decide who leads a classroom and who does not. We have people on welfare who choose not work because Uncle Sam pays better then the entry level job at McDonalds. We use billions of tax payer dollars to bail out auto makers for lacking the forethought to know that you can't overpay your employees to build cars often viewed as inferior to their foreign competitors. We overtax the most productive members of society so we can "spread the wealth around," as our President would say, to those who do not achieve. All the while, we are teaching our children the lesson that, if they make a mistake, they won't have to worry about the consequences and that any trouble they may face is surely the fault of someone else.

Nietzsche once said, "Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves." Rather then battling over what rights we have, we need to change the conversation to include discussion of our responsibilities. We need to raise the level of citizenship in this country so that once again, it means something to be an American. Previous generations have had to fight and die to protect the way of life we take for granted. We owe it to them to debate not only what we can do as Americans, but also what we should do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

There is hope...

Take two fingers. Press them to your neck. If you feel a beat, there's hope.

We are living in troubled times. It seems like every time we turn on the news, all we see is negative. People losing their jobs, retirements going down the tubes, supposedly credible Wall Street advisers being revealed as nothing more then petty thieves. Our entire economic systems appears on the verge of collapsing around us and fundamentally altering our nation's way of life forever.

Take two fingers. Press them to your neck. If you feel a beat, there's hope.

The worst part of it, however, is not the rising unemployment, the declining stock market, or the loss of trust in those former financial "gurus." It's that no one seems to have any idea what to do about it. It is the confusion that's driving us insane. For more then two decades, we were told buying houses and investing in the stock market were surefire ways of achieving financial security. We were told that a college degree was the answer to getting and keeping a job, that if we found a good company to work for and we were successful, we could write our own ticket. If you still believe that, log on to the job boards these days. You'll have to sift between the "work from home" (translation: scam) and the "I need 39 people for sales and management positions" (translation: selling Kirby vacuums door-to-door), and its pretty slim pickings.

Take two fingers. Press them to your neck. If you feel a beat, there's hope.

Not since the Great Depression has this nation faced a crisis of this proportion. While no one seems to know what do, our leaders have decided that doing something is better then nothing, even if that something could drive us further into the hole we have created for ourselves. We have congressmen and senators voting for bills they don't even read and advocating positions with consequences they don't even consider. We have a President desperatly trying to sell us a plan, not because he's sure it will work, but because he needs us to believe it for it to work. And at the end of the day, it will leave the generation that follows us footing the bill.

And yet I am reminded of one simple fact: that there is a God in heaven, and He is still on His throne. The stimulus package could be one trillion or it could be 100 trillion. It really doesn't matter, because when God wants to bless, He blesses. When He wants to take away, He takes away. All throughout the Bible, there are instances of God blessing man, man turning from God, God getting angry, and God getting man's attention. God desires us to be in relationship with Him, and when we turn our backs, its hurts Him and angers Him. He created us in love, and when we forsake Him, it cuts Him to his core. And so, from time to time, God does a little housecleaning, rooting out those elements that are offensive to Him. He wants us to trust Him, and sometimes He finds it necessary, for our benefit, to remove options so that our only choice IS to trust Him and alone.

In light of this, I am always amazed at how quick God is to forgive and restore. In 2 Choronicles 7:14, God says, "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Just that quick, when we turn from our sin, He intervenes and restores us. Now, I am not going to dive in to what He means by "their wicked ways." I'll leave that to God to convict us of. What I will say is that, for too long, we haven't been caring about the things God cares about. Rather then worrying if God is on our side, let's strive to be on His side. Rather then seeking His hand, let's seek His face. Rather then telling everyone within shouting distance what we are against, let's start sharing what we are for.

What these times have taught me is that I am utterly incapable of succeeding on my own strength, my natural born talent, my own understanding of how to live life. I have learned that there is a wisdom that is greater then anything I could ever imagine, that wrote the Book on life before life was ever formed. And so, when I get down, discouraged, disturbed or distraught, my God gives me a simple message: that as long as there is still breath in my lungs and a pounding in my heart, as long as I can take two my fingers, press them to my neck, and feel something beating, there will always, always be hope.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the $25,000 Ferrari and your future

I had this roommate in college named Jake. Jake was a friend from high school, and we both got scholarships to go to Eastern Michigan University, so we decided it would be cool to live in the dorms together. It lasted a semester. Fortunately, it had nothing to do with our relationship; we got along great. Why Jake moved out is a subject for an entirely different blog, trust me.

One thing about Jake is that he loves cars. When we were roommates, he had a 1978 Chevy Nova with a 350 Hemi engine. I have no idea what any of that means, but the way he talked about it made it sound really sweet. That car was his most prized possession and he poured thousands of dollars into that car to make it faster, more powerful, and a smoother ride. Jake was consumed by the idea of having the best car out there, and it became his life's passion. Over the years, I lost contact with Jake, but last I heard, his love of cars landed him a job as an engineer designing car parts somewhere in Indiana. His passion has become his occupation, and that is a great place to be.

Now let's imagine, for one moment, that Jake's dream car is a Ferrari. The sticker price on a Ferrari is anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000. On an engineer's salary, the likelihood of Jake ever owning such a car is next to impossible. Now imagine that Jake meets a man who owns the very Ferrari Jake has dreamed of for so long. Every detail is exactly how Jake would imagine it, right down to the color of the leather seats. Jake knows he could never normally afford it, but just for fun, he asks the man how much he is selling it for. The man looks at Jake and says, "Son, have I got a deal for you. You can take this car off my hands for a mere $25,000!"

Now, most of us would thank the gentleman for his kind offer and be on our merry way, but let's step in to Jake's shoes for just a moment. Here is the car of his dreams, being offered to him at a fraction of its original cost. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jake! In that moment, he has the choice of which set of facts to base his decision: the value or the cost.

If Jake looks strictly at the cost of the car, and compares it to his salary and financial status, the answer is simple: there is no way the Ferrari could be his. But what about his dreams? What are those worth? What would Jake be willing to do to achieve those dreams? What would he be willing to give up, to endure? These questions can only be answered when Jake looks not at the cost, but at the value, and realizes that whatever he would have to do get his dream car would be worth whatever price he would have to pay. When the dream is big enough, the facts simply no longer matter.

Now, before I get emails about fiscal responsibility and good stewardship, understand that this is a parable for our lives. Most of us probably would never go to great lengths for a car, but deep down in places we try not think about, there is a burning desire within us, a dream we dare not express because we lack the faith to believe that something so incredible could actually happen to us. Maybe we look at our current circumstance and can't see how our dreams could ever come true. Or maybe we have been made to feel that having big dreams is somehow selfish or ungodly, and so we put our dreams in a nice little box and, rather then chasing those dreams, say, "Oh, well, if its in God's will, He will make it happen."

As a result, so many people spend so much of their lives not taking action to build towards their dreams, but on activities that distract them from their dreams. A man will join a softball league to relive his glory days rather then work to secure his families financial future because he is afraid of failure. A teenager will screw off in school rather then study that extra hour because they don't think they can cut it at the Ivy League school they wish they could get in to. A woman will never set foot in the expensive jewelry store because she doesn't think she deserves something so nice, and besides, "only the beautiful women get to wear diamonds." We look at the cost of achieving our dreams, and because we don't think they will happen anyway, why pay the price? Why not just settle for good enough? Why not just stay in our comfort zone?

We all have desires for our lives, some that we acknowledge and some we try to bury. Some desires are good and godly desires, while others are fleshly and sinful, and we should rightfully cast those out. But if God is our father and we are His beloved children, is it so hard to believe that He has dreams and desires for us as well? And, because He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all things in between, is it an even greater stretch to believe that His desires for us are far greater then anything we could ask for or imagine for ourselves? If God has big dreams for us, why is it we refuse to have big dreams for ourselves? If God gives us the gifts, talents, tools, and opportunities to achieve those dreams, why do we run from them instead of with them?

I believe that fear and comfort are the two greatest enemies facing the church today. We choose not to take bold steps to chase after our dreams because we are afraid of offending someone, afraid they will laugh at us, afraid of their words of ridicule. We are comfortable in our lives of quiet desperation and so we dare not disturb the universe. Sure, we live paycheck to paycheck, but the stress of stepping out in faith isn't worth doing what is right to fix the mess we created. Certainly, we would love to be in full time ministry, but not if it means giving up our nice corporate paycheck. It would be incredible to have a position of great influence, but not if it is actually going to cost us something.

How did we get so selfish?! When did we forget that God will never even attempt to use us in our comfort zone, because it won't bring Him glory! When Paul was converted, Jesus didn't say, "I will show him how easy and simple his life will be for My name." When the people of Israel were led into the Promised Land, it was more then just a Sunday drive for them to get there. When Joseph was given the dream that his brothers would bow at his feet and he would be a man of great influence, it didn't happen when he woke up for work the next day. If Gideon and his army were at full strength when they attacked the Midianites, where would God's glory be? If the disciples would have been allowed to send the 5000 into the towns to find food, where would God's glory be? It's those moments of supernatural overcoming that speak to the power and sovereignty of a God that is still on the throne.

Some people believe trials come so we can prove to God what we are made of. Phooey. God knows what you are made of. He created you with a plan and a purpose in mind and there is nothing you can do that can prove anything to God He does not already know. Most times, the person needing convincing is the man in the mirror. Rather then being our own greatest ally, we become our own worst enemy and that is not what God created us for. He did not create us to bow to the expectations and judgements of others, but to lead by example with the intent that our leading the way would bring hope to the hopeless. Not only does having to overcome the negativity of others and the insecurity within ourselves bring glory to God, it strengthens ourselves. It gives us a backbone and the knowledge that with God on our side, when the chips are down and there are no visible signs of victory or success, the smart money is still on us. I heard someone once say that the endeavor he was trying to accomplish was hard, the hardest thing he had ever done, but that "it was the hard that made it good."

In reality, I don't know what Jake would have done, whether he would have scrounged up the $25000 to buy the car or if he would have seen the cost as too great. What I do know is that the world has enough Christians who do not chase the dreams of God, who settle for the ordinary when the extraordinary can be within their grasp, who do not want to do the work to earn a reward that can set them free because they are afraid of what others might think or say. We should always count the cost of what we are about to do, but not as a means of determining whether the cost is worth it. Anything that helps us achieve our dreams when they are in line with God's is worth it. That's not the question. The question should be "Why not?" Why not be great? Why not do the unexpected? Why not make a few people uncomfortable? Why not make ourselves uncomfortable? Why not dare to dream, and while you are at it, dream big? I guarantee you that God's dreams for you are a greater and more robust, with a higher calling and a more significant blessing then anything you can possibly conjure up. "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard." Isaiah 58:8. Dream big dreams of God, and watch as your life becomes a living testimony to His divine power and sovereignty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What you are is not what you see

"I really felt led to tell you something, Eric. It doesn't matter what you do, its who you are." I sat in silence and let the words of my girlfriend of, at the time, about five days resonate within me. I hadn't had a job in five months, my bank account balance resembled the ball of a roulette table, going from red to black and back again, and the hope from my latest job interview was dashed once more by that all-to-familiar form letter: "Thank you for your interest, but we have found a candidate who's qualifications better fit blah blah blah blah..." Existing in the financial desert that is unemployment rocked me to my core. If I'm not producing, what good am I? What kind of man can't pay his electric bill? What kind of man can't even pick up the check at dinner with his girlfriend?

My heart was changed, however, in a moment I can only describe as a spiritual breakthrough. For so long, my image of myself rose and fell based on my success in my job, my business, my ministry, and my finances. And yet, in that moment, as I was forced to think about who I was, for the first time in a long time, a peace came over me. Who was I? I was no more the broke, debt-ridden, unemployed bum as I was the successful, entrepreneurial leader. I was a child of the King! I was a beloved child of God, and if God was for me, who could be against me! I was no longer just a sum of my titles, my experiences, my successes and failures. God had erased the labels that had become to define me.

In the New Testament, Jesus says to the disciples; "Come and follow me." In that moment, they cease being mere fisherman, or tax collectors, or zealots, or any other title the world would use to identify them. They were "fishers of men." Jesus came to make all things new, and he had given them a new name and a new purpose, and for the first time, a vision for their lives.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself the question, "Who am I?" Then realize this simple fact... what you are is more then what you see.

They don't answer to us

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago and decided to post so I could get something up on this page. New stuff coming soon!

"So I was talking to a guy I work with the other night and he was sharing with me his thoughts drinking (as he often does and I don't mind listening), and he asked me why I don't drink. I explained that growing up I was never really around it, then when I became a Christian, I had even more of a reason not to. This turned the conversation towards our thoughts on Christians. He shared with me how he had several friends who he used to hang out with a lot who, after joining a Free Methodist church, shunned him because of his "sinful lifestyle." He basically held the opinion that most Christians are judgemental and hypocritical.

My first thought was that of sorrow for this guy. I know what it is like to have people drop you from their lives, and I felt for him. My second thought was to ask where we as Christians get off talking about other people's sins and struggles. I know I have enough of my own garbage to worry about that I have no business judging other people for theirs. I started thinking about why Christians have such a hard time accepting those living a lifestyle we may not agree with.I think the answer lies in our perception of we would call sinful acts.

Make no mistake, the Bible is very clear about how God feels about these acts, and I wouldn't dare try to water that down or call scripture into question. However, behind every sinful action is a desire for life beyond what we are currently experiencing. So, in essence, those who are leading what Christians would consider a sinful lifestyle are doing so because they recognize that there is something more out there then the life most of the world leads. They see that there is more to life then waking up, going to work, coming home, eating, watching TV and going to bed. While they may not be consciously searching, their actions are rooted in a desire for fulfillment.

While I don't condone sin by any means, I do respect that desire, because its a desire I feel. Its like the U2 song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." So instead of condemning those who partake in alcohol, drugs, sex, and partying, can we please realize that these folks are 1.) loved by God as much as we are, 2.) are as much His glorious creations as we are, 3.) no more or less sinful in the eyes of God as we are, and 4.) merely responding to a desire for life. Instead of pointing out the wrong way they are following, let's lift up the fact that they are at least looking for life, and then point them in the direction of where the true source of life is: a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Let's communicate how much we are in need of a savior before we start telling anyone else how much they need a savior. And for the love of God, let's stop cutting people out of our lives simply because we don't like their choices. They don't answer to us."