Confessions of A Sour Face, Part One.

“You are hard to read;” “You aren’t the most expressive person;””I thought you were mean the first time I met you;””Does he ever talk?”

These are quotes that have been said about me over the span of my life, some within the last week. On a regular basis, I hear from people about my “look.” Apparently, my face does not provide a very comforting, welcoming, or friendly sense in others. And because first impressions are so hard to move away from, it takes a lot of work on my part to guide people towards a truer sense of who I am.

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I have asked myself what is wrong with me? I have tried to even change the position of my mouth to a more smiling posture but that can’t be sustained over long periods of time and seems so fake.

I mentioned this aspect of my existence to some of my friends at the Apprentice Experience. One friend said that these reactions to me was a form of persecution. He said that I was being persecuted for righteousness sake. I guess he meant that because I care more about who I truly am in Christ rather than how I look to others, I wasn’t playing an image management game that seems to be so important to most of the world and I was paying the price for it. He may have overstated things a bit but it got me thinking. Should I work to make sure I am projecting an image that appeases the world’s need for me to look and behave a certain way at all times or should I focus on the inside and Christ’s transformation in me and let people’s perception take care of itself?

The ironic thing is that I am more friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic than I used to be. Honestly, I consider this a minor miracle and a sign of Christ’s transformation in my life. Still, it bothers me when I hear the comments like those above and I wonder what am I supposed to do?

In my next post, I will tell what happened in Kansas and shortly thereafter that gave me my answer to my dilemma.

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Are Difficult Times Required In Order To Grow?

Since I have been writing this blog in earnest over the last year, I have chronicled the amazing times, the heartbreaking times, and the really hard times.

This past year has presented some of the richest and most profound times with God I have ever experienced. But as soon as I experience a spiritual high, the next week will bring devastating news about my Dad’s battle with Cancer. An enriching breakthrough spiritually might be happening in the midst of the most difficult moments of my professional life. There is joy and pain often mixed in the same day, sometimes the same hour.

I began to ask myself, are the times of great spiritual growth preparing me for the struggles and the obstacles or are the obstacles and struggles providing the framework for the times of significant growth? Does the crucible of change and improvement with God have to be struggle, hurt, and difficulty? Or was the growth already there and I just needed the difficulty to demonstrate and contextualize the growth?

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I guess what I am trying to say is that I am thankful for the difficulties while at the same time wishing and praying that they would go away. I know that good will come out of struggle while often trying to avoid it.

Jesus himself asked that the cup he had to bear would pass from him but then prayed that if that couldn’t happen, may God’s will be done. I feel that I understand this sentiment on the tiniest of levels and I am starting to see that God’s will is the best place for me to be.

Just don’t make it too hard, Lord.

Will There Be Christian Robots?

We are handing more and more of our human duties over to machines.

My phone is basically writing my texts for me because it is learning my patterns of communication and use of words. Human chess players are already competing in tournaments, not against machines, but with the machines in what is known as freestyle or advanced chess. Does anyone know anything anymore or do we just know to see if Google knows?

This isn’t just the stuff of movies but a reality to what will be present in 20 years. We are starting to get to the point where we will have to think about where the human ends and the machine begins. The next step will be a human-machine mashup that is something all together different.

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If we haven’t already, we are going to have to start thinking about what is a human and how should it live in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and transhuman technologies. There are already Transhuman theologies popping up. What will be the Church’s answer to this?

Maybe my machine hasn’t fed me the right articles, but I have seen very little written or talked about that tries to provide a Christian response to this rise of the machine. But I have read Kevin Kelley’s The Inevitable and I have listened to this podcast and read this article from secular minds trying to come to grips with this near future. Christians seem to be behind the curve on this.

Too many Christians want to have bullet proof beliefs to take into debates with Atheists or Buddhists or Muslims, but what we really need to be focused on is demonstrating how Christianity is the best way for humans to live.  To present a Jesus Way of being human that has traits, characteristics, and values that humans would be foolish to lose in the age of machines.

It sounds absurd, but there will be serious discussions and thought being paid to what makes a human and how that is different, and should be different, from artificial intelligence. What a great time for Christians to exemplify that the best choice for human existence is a life taught, inspired, transformed, and developed through Jesus Christ. Our goal shouldn’t be to win some debate but to demonstrate that Christ’s way is the future of our existence.

When I Grow Up I Am Going To Be A Good Parent

I am the father of three girls, ages 17, 13, and 8. Parenting is hard enough but having kids at such distinct phases of growing up forces me to wear different hats each time I try to be a father figure.

For my 17 year old, I am thinking about all the things I need to tell her so she can survive a complicated and hard world. For my 13 year old, I am thinking about how can I instill in her how precious she is and that today’s frustrations will be forgotten tomorrow. For my 8 year old, I am trying to demonstrate to her what a father’s love looks like and that she is safe in this world because she has strong parents who love her.

The above paragraph makes me sound so good and noble but the reality is that I am thinking about these things and maybe even acting on these things in the midst of eye rolls, shrugs of disinterest, raised voices, and little patience.

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So much of my work in personal spiritual growth is to be able to manage life as a husband and father. My family is the great laboratory for measuring Christ’s transforming power in me. Everyday I am given a status report as to the improvement I have made in being more loving, or being more merciful, or being forgiving, or being a servant. The old cliche of “parenting will keep you humble” is so true.

The results are not always negative. There are times when I have said something kind and loving that I knew came from a place of Christ transformation and change. There are times when I was willing to sacrifice and extend myself for my children out of care for them and not for myself. There are times when I see past whatever I have planned next and provide words of encouragement, or advice, or teaching that might even resemble what Christ would have said.

I am grateful for my kids and what God has taught me through them and by them. I am grateful that all of my reading, learning, praying, meditating, studying, and work on my own growth in Christ isn’t locked away in a closet but gets a chance to be lived out in a way that stretches me and helps me grow but also, just maybe, benefits the ones that are closest to me.

Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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photo by: Ricardo Romano

I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people, no matter what we try to tell ourselves.

When Jesus comes along and says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, we have to take notice, right? Because in our our way of doing life there is no comparison to the reality of the things above. Our truth will barely reach higher than the rims of our glasses. Our life will likely hurt those around us at some point and at best provide only glimpses of joy and peace.

We need Jesus’ way of life, his truth, and his life sustaining us.

In my 30 years of being a follower of Christ, I have learned to count on Jesus answering prayers. I have learned to count on his teachings being the wisest and most beneficial words in human history. I have learned to count on love never failing. I have learned to count on Christ moving in profound but mysterious ways. This is my reality with Christ.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Your Expectations Will Not Be Met And That Is A Good Thing

How were your expectations met over the Holidays?

Maybe your Christmas with family, which you were dreading, turned out to be quite pleasant or the opposite was the case.

Maybe you were so looking forward to an upcoming encounter with someone but it turned out to be a disappointment.

Maybe, you had big New Year’s plans for your health or your spiritual life but by Jan. 8 they have already come crashing down.

Maybe, your job situation, which you expected to be largely the same, has been turned upside down.

 

I know it is the second week in January but I still can’t shake the Christmas story. The whole story is full of the unexpected. From the revelation of the coming child to Mary to the arrival of the Magi, to the trek to Egypt, the Christmas story is about unfamiliar turns. And out of these ordinary happenings, God seems to be working the most in the unexpected.

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Life is full of unfamiliar pathways. We know this because the unfamiliar has happened to us over and over. We know this because we see people around us faced with the unexpected or a dramatic turn in their life. The unexpected is to be expected. Yet, we let these moment throw us off so often. Questions pop up about everything and we start to ask God if he really knows what he is doing?

If I look back on my own life, though, these unexpected times are when I notice God the most. Yet, in most cases, I would prefer some consistency and predicted outcomes. God has his own predicted outcomes and we should be longing for those instead of trusting in our own schedule, plan, or devices.

Whatever God’s plans are for you this year, may you, and I, be ready for the unexpectedly expected goodness of Him who works in the unfamiliar.

photo credit: hermanturnip

The Costly Results of Forgetting Jesus

Monday, I mentioned the importance of remembering the good news of Jesus. Today, I would like to tell you the dangerous ramifications of forgetting Jesus.

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  1. You have no power except your own. Many years ago, I was the sole breadwinner for a young family of three. I was trying to finish a graduate degree and my job kept me away from home many nights. I wasn’t taking care of myself spiritually and emotionally and began to fall into a depression. I was breaking down. Why? Because I had forgotten Jesus and was trying to manage my life without the help of Christ. I was still at the center of my own life and hadn’t made Christ, with all of his power, the King over all of my existence. I was powerless to accomplish anything  because I was relying on my own power.
  2. You can be easily deceived. By forgetting Jesus and the good news of his life, death, and resurrection, you become susceptible to anybody with a sense of authority in spiritual matters, to tell you what you, as a Christian, need to be doing, even if it runs counter to the message of Christ. If your mind and heart aren’t focused on Christ and all that scripture tells you about him, then you lack the clarity to recognize the difference between what is truly important and was is secondary or even false. This can affect you on a personal level as you pursue paths that have potential for disaster. But it can also affect you on a larger social or political level as the risky marriage of politics and faith turns to manipulation, exploitation, and the inability to see your faith expressed in more creative and life-giving ways.

The only way to avoid these pitfalls is to return to Jesus. Take in his very presence, learn from him how to live your life, understand what he stands for and why he died, and revel in the power of his resurrection. Remember Jesus and live a life of power and truth.

photo credit: jijis

9/11 Gave Me A Spiritual Purpose and A Calling

I remember being at home on the Friday morning after September 11, 2001. I was watching our 2-year old daughter as she played oblivious to the images and sadness that was on display as a memorial service played on our TV. When Billy Graham got up to speak and to pray I shed a few tears for my country and the dark cloud it was now under.

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God had already been doing some pretty significant things in my life at that time but September 11 clarified and focused my calling. I didn’t want to live in a world where the evil carried out by those terrorist on that morning existed. I wanted to not just be a better person but be a part of a plan to make the world a better place and insure where that kind of evil couldn’t happen again.

First, this conviction and movement of God led my wife and I to serve in Social Ministry and then Community Ministry. Now, 15 years later, God has led me to pursue Christian maturity and discipleship, what I call Growing Up.

I believe that changed lives change the world. I know that I am just a lowly blogger who teaches classes, writes, and tries to mentor and disciple. But, if God can take these humble efforts and help someone draw closer to him, change a behavior that hurts others, or share God’s love with a broken world, then my efforts are worth it.

That is how September 11, 2001 shaped my life and where God has taken me since then. I pray that my work makes a difference and that it resonates with the right people at the right time.


Part of my continuing growth in this ministry is a 18-month training called, Apprentice Experience. This training in will teach me more about the nature of God and how he changes lives. I plan to take that knowledge to share with others, so that they can reach Christian maturity, additional wisdom, and transformed lives. But, I need your help to complete the training. Please donate now to my fund raising page and I will keep the message coming and the mission of making a better world through changed lives a reality.

If You Do These Two Things, You Are On Your Way To Growing Up

Growing Up doesn’t have to be hard. If you take yourself off the throne of your own life and place Christ there and then you seek the guidance and teaching of Christ inside you, then you are on your way. Those two things will take care of 70 percent of your growth and seem relatively easy.

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When I did this, I became hungry for God and that made reading the Bible less of a chore. I wanted to change, so I was eager to try out spiritual disciplines that may have intimidated me before such as fasting, meditation, and lectio divina. I knew the great example of service that Christ showed on earth and I wanted to follow his example. These changes were all a part of my transformation. All of this was relatively easy and progress was attainable.

Sure, you will still have a ways to go and some big spiritual hurdles to cross. I am still struggling with some of the same sins and same hang ups that have haunted me for 30 years but God has brought me so far and most of that growth has been 90 percent God and just a little of myself.

Have you been hesitant to Grow Up because you thought it would be too much work? Are you fearful that you couldn’t change? Does some of what is required seem foreign to you?

I am here to tell you that there is attainable growth when you focus on Christ, quit trying to be King of your own life, and by surrendering to his Lordship and transformation.

We will discuss the hard parts later. Right now, let’s revel in the abundant growth that is already available to us.

 

photo credit: Jan Tik

 

10 Blessings For 10 Straight Days

The Soul Training exercise associated with the latest chapter of The Good and Beautiful God is to count your blessings. Smith asks you to try to come up with 10 things God has blessed you with and then see if you can keep going and come up with 100 blessings from God.

I decided to make it a part of my daily meditation and come up with 10 things for 10 straight days. I completed my list a few days ago and thought I would share it with you. Hopefully, this will inspire you to make your own list.

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What has been most helpful about this exercise is how it has opened my eyes to a wide range of goodness around me. My default mentality is often to feel sorry for myself and dwell on what I am missing or still need to obtain. This exercise made me see that almost everything around me is a blessing and that God is incredibly generous and looking out for me.

One thing you will notice about my list is that it is full of mundane, maybe even somewhat silly things. I intentionally tried to not list my family members because those are obvious and would keep me from noticing blessings that I would often overlook.

So, as you make your own list, don’t feel the need to be super spiritual. Sometimes it is the smallest things that provide just the right amount of joy and whimsy that helps remind us of God’s goodness.

My list of 100 blessings from God:

  1. good night’s sleep
  2. UME Prep
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. blogging
  5. DBU
  6. books
  7. Dallas Willard
  8. Michael Roe
  9. Green Tea
  10. less pain
  11. teaching opportunity
  12. my church
  13. running
  14. podcasts
  15. yoga
  16. lighter temperatures
  17. recent days spent with my parents
  18. music
  19. common sense
  20. Texas
  21. good hugs
  22. my car
  23. Olympics
  24. education
  25. Tim
  26. friendship
  27. marriage
  28. good memory
  29. meditation
  30. morning
  31. my job
  32. our house
  33. Henry
  34. Abilene
  35. swimming pools
  36. my mind
  37. bananas and grapes
  38. basketball
  39. the trail
  40. camping
  41. Grace’s 17 years
  42. chocolate milk
  43. accomplishing work tasks
  44. good stories
  45. start of school
  46. healing
  47. beds
  48. mowing
  49. air conditioning
  50. learning
  51. being with my wife
  52. internet
  53. showers
  54. churches
  55. scripture
  56. forgiveness
  57. patience
  58. dancing
  59. medicine
  60. children
  61. parents
  62. date nights
  63. cool evenings
  64. God’s love
  65. breakfast
  66. Eric Nadel
  67. worship
  68. Ben
  69. Joey
  70. Aaron
  71. no teeth were pulled
  72. mashed potatoes
  73. answered prayer
  74. my students
  75. The Mother Hips
  76. Dad
  77. fatherhood
  78. Leah
  79. My mom
  80. opportunities for growth
  81. surviving the first two days
  82. information
  83. night sky
  84. nature
  85. my office
  86. dinner’s at home
  87. Dr. Kiker
  88. Anthony
  89. Chad
  90. travel
  91. Leah’s job
  92. good customer service
  93. generous gifts
  94. Adrian Beltre
  95. Pocket
  96. Audible
  97. Mrs. Roszak
  98. Dr. Barcelo
  99. insurance
  100. baseball