Friday, November 28, 2008

Pondering 1 Samuel 3:1-21

The LORD Calls Samuel
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple [a] of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, "Here I am." 5 And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down.

6 Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
"My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

11 And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, [b] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, 'The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.' "

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, "Samuel, my son."
Samuel answered, "Here I am."

17 "What was it he said to you?" Eli asked. "Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you." 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, "He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes."

19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:3 That is, tabernacle
1 Samuel 3:13 Masoretic Text; an ancient Hebrew scribal tradition and Septuagint sons blasphemed God

Words/Phrases That Stuck Out:

*** Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord...; verse 7: This just confirms to me that we are not "born knowing God." That may seem like a non-issue to some, but I know that many of us are tempted to think that all we need is to be born to be tight with God. I do not believe that is so, and a passage like this is just evidence...Samuel may have been a decent enough kid, and certainly would become a man in communion with his creator (as we know if we keep reading the story), but there was a time when it was not so...

*** ...revealed...; verse 7: The language used here, while I admit it is "the best stab at biblical linguist scholars translating ancient Hebrew into English," certainly indicates that Samuel coming to truly know the Lord was an act of THE LORD, not Samuel becoming so enlightened or convinced due solely to his own intellect. God does the revealing, the saving, etc., not us... We need to realize that, as there is temptation to think that our own minds are what redeem us, ultimately.

*** "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."; verse 9: Oh, to have that sort of attitude! I can speak for myself, that attitudes such as this are too few-and-far between. I need to pray for this more, seeking to have a listening ear and sensitive heart to what God is saying to me, encouraging me to do. Notice the emphasis on "is": Too often we ask for God to speak to us, to show us the way...when in reality, he already IS speaking to us...we just need to be willing to open up to him, which, of course, is the big struggle.

*** "He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes."; verse 18: Similar to the above passage, the struggle I have here is actually letting God just do his thing... I know that, God will get done what God wants done (regardless if I am used or not), but I know sometimes, well, I just want to be left alone, or I want what BEN wants done...but it may not be part of God's plan. It could be, of course, but I have to listen first, and then be humble enough to follow god's plan (regardless to if I want it or not), and finally have the courage and attitude to keep following and trusting.

Questions for Me:

Am I listening? Better yet, am I even wanting to listen?

Am I one who would do God's request and plan, regardless of if I like it, or if it makes sense to me? What if those closest to me think I'm bonkers? Is it obvious to others (and not so I can "look all spiritual and pat myself on the back...") that I am a man seeking to hear God and do his bidding, thus others close to me trust the word I'm sensing from the Lord? Or, am I so inconsistent in this that trust isn't given/isn't deserved?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not Another "There is a Big Day Coming Soon...Better Blog on It!" Post...

...well, sort of :-)

Today we go down to spend parts of FIVE days with my family in the Houston, TX, area. I will resist the obvious temptation to spend some words here challenging each of you to be truly grateful and thankful...and instead throw together a haphazard list of things I am grateful for so far this year...just how they come to me...

A renewed passion for scripture. Sad to say, I've been in quite a "personal scriptural study rut" for WAY too long. Oh sure, I open my Bible a lot...but too often just to prepare a message, do something for "work" (and I need to not look at it like that).

Missy (coolest wife anyone could ever want) and Jackson (my Padawan...yes, I think he is a Jedi in training).

Fellow sojourners that walk alongside me, challenge me, lift me up, etc., and this year, a special shout out to my "older sis" Cyndi Cantrell...thanks for being a friend who is always there for support, always keeping me on my toes, and not afraid to bring/accept "coffee peace offerings"...hahaha

My mentor, Tom Loughrey, Sr. You, sir, have so much wisdom to offer...

Parents that support, trust, are fun, etc...

And the bestest Gramma/Pops/Oma/Opa a little boy named Jax could EVER want.

Mother's Day with Granny...and when she went home this summer, a true celebration of an awesome lady, not a "cry fest"...

Great friends, like the Travis', Austin's, Morrison's, Julia, Andy Payne...

New friends, like the CTCYM crew: Amanda "Mandy" Sargent, Brad and Lorinda Yates, etc.

New mornings.

The teens and parents of First UMC, Weatherford. It is always an honor to be among you.

God's provision. I may not always get what I "want", but Lord, you always supply enough. I am thankful for food on the table, a roof, transportation, the ability to occasionally "get out" with the fam...

SEA WORLD/KERRVILLE TRIP. Two words: Awe Some...

The snow in March. Just when I thought Jax and I wouldn't have a "snow day" this last winter...BOOM! I think some of my favorite days EVER have been snow days...and they are so cool with The Boy running around with me.

That's all for now. Gotta fix breakfast and get ready to drive south almost 300 miles!

Have a great week! Blessings to all...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pondering Matthew 20:20-28

A Mother's Request

20Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21"What is it you want?" he asked.
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

22"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
"We can," they answered.

23Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."

24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Words, phrases that stuck out to me:

*** "You don't know what you are asking..."; verse 22: I think sometimes we just simply don't get what it really means to have complete surrender and allegiance to Christ. We are good at saying things to others that sound spiritual, making promises to God, etc., that we so easily back out on once we realize the cost...

*** "These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."; verse 23: This is just a reminder of God's sovereignty to me. God knows what's up...we need to not worry as much about figuring it all out...we just need to be obedient and follow Him. It just seems that we humans are too concerned about future specifics too much, whether it's asking for clear, detailed specifics about our own future (and as long as it's within our own criteria...hahaha) or if it's "out there" stuff like end times scenarios...but i think God just wants us to let him be God sometimes...and trust...

*** "...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."; verses 26-28: First, so much about Jesus' purpose is contained here. To serve. To be ransomed. It is hard for folks to even fathom that, because a) we are modeled leaders that often seem to feel entitled to be "worshipped", served by underlings, etc. Jesus said, "NONE OF THAT!" b) It's tough enough at times for Christians themselves to grasp that God would choose for his own son's death to be what paid for the sins of mankind...let alone non-believers. To those who do not claim to be followers of Christ, the notion of a "loving God sacrificing his son" probably seems barbaric and absurd...but if you look at the Old Testament, you can see how this all came to pass...

I also know a prayer of mine is to seek to be a servant first...and if I am a "leader", it is a leader that is seeking to serve those I'm leading, not be served myself. I was praying specifically to have this attitude this morning...and no kidding, 30 minutes didn't go by before I was "compelled" (aka, I didn't ponder it first, weigh the options...I just DID IT) to get up, sweep the floors, do dishes, laundry, etc. I was compelled to serve my family...and if you know my attitude toward cleaning, chores, etc., you KNOW that was an answer to prayer!!! :-)

Questions for me today:

When I say I seek to "follow Christ", am I just giving him/others lip service? What if I am asked to do a REALLY tough thing? What If I thought I was hearing things right...only to find out God really wants me to head a different direction altogether?

Am I really letting God be God, and trusting in his ultimate sovereignty?

What does a servant leader look like? What needs to be done to make sure "false humility" (for personal gain) doesn't happen?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pondering Luke 2:21-40

Jesus Presented in the Temple
21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"[
a]), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."[b]
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

33The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:23 Exodus 13:2,12
Luke 2:24 Lev. 12:8
Luke 2:29 Or promised, / now dismiss

Words/phrases that stuck out to me:

*** Moved by the Spirit..."; verse 27: How often do I ignore where God is leading? We need discernment, sure, or else every impulse we have can become "God's Spirit told me to..." (and we all know examples where either we or others could have used some wisdom there), but I know I am waaaaay too good at not following some leadings that are probably from God.

*** " you have promised..."; verse 29: Here we see yet another example of someone showing great faith and certainty. Simply put, Simeon certainly didn't seem "surprised" by this encounter with the young Jesus...

*** "...destined to cause the rising and falling of many..."; verse 34: I certainly have seen this (and it has been evidenced throughout history). Jesus rarely causes a "meh" attitude toward him and his claims as savior. In fact, I would propose that even lackadaisical attitudes and beliefs about Jesus equate to "against". To paraphrase early church father Augustine, either Jesus is everything...or he is nothing. Either Jesus changes everything about you, right down to your core...or not. And we all know of times where our faith and allegiance to Christ above all results in surprising anger and frustration thrown back at us by those not believing...despite attempts to show love (sounds like what happened to Jesus some, huh?).

*** "...hearts will be revealed."; verse 35: I think this goes hand-in-hand with the above comments. When we truly encounter the Messiah, our true nature is revealed...and we are laid bare.

*** ...grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."; verse 40: This is about all we get about Jesus age 1 week-12 years or so...but oh how we should all be praying for the same for us and our kids!

Questions for myself:

Am I seeking to truly be completely influenced by God's Spirit? Or even as Tony Evans put it (and I heard on the radio last night) and David Crowder's song of this same title says, "intoxicated" by it? Do I talk myself out of what God wants from me in the name of being "prudent"? If I do try to be open to the I pray for wisdom and discernment so I can better judge what is God...and what is not? Ultimately, do I have the, um, juevos to do what God asks, even if others around (including well-meaning friends) think it's crazy?

Trying to Change the Dreaded Words: "Hold On"

As I continue the journey of being the best husband and father I can be, I have felt especially convicted to be more aware of two words I've made too much a part of my vocabulary for my ENTIRE LIFE (mom and dad can attest...): "Hold on"...

I say those words like crazy. I'm surfing the web, and asked to do something..."hold on"...and the request doesn't happen for like an hour (if at all). I know it has bugged my parents for years, and my wife since we've been married, but I guess I had too much pride (and selfishness, really) to think it was that big a deal. And then you have a kid...start seeing the behavior in them...and begin to go, "Gee, that's kind of annoying! I asked you to start cleaning your mess and you said, 'Hang on Daddy', so you could finish racing your cars...for another 20 minutes...I don't like that attitude!"

Oh crud.

That's me.

So, I've been praying for some attitude change here. Now, some things truly are important and I need to be allowed to finish them (like a couple nights ago when I was frantically trying to finish cooking dinner and if I were to leave my post, stuff would burn...and momma was in the kitchen baking as well, so dang it, Jax needed to wait), and in those instances I am trying to say, "Just a minute, I need to finish ______ first", instead of just a generic, "Hold on!"

But beyond that, as a parent with the goal of modeling good attitudes/behavior to my child, I must, MUST seek humility, ask the hard question, "Where am I at fault by modeling this behavior I wish to change in my son?", and be selfless enough to ask God to change my heart. So, I am praying for the selflessness to stop saying "hold on" so much, especially when I truly am doing NOTHING (like, surfing the web mindlessly, watching Sportscenter, etc.), and just get up and complete the requested task.

Now, don't think I wish to be taken advantage of, either. I also need to pay attention to myself and if I am truly POOPED OUT, and others can help me do the task, I need to lovingly say, "Honey, can you do it for me? I really need to just sit and chill for a bit..." The key is moderation...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pondering Romans 8:18-27

Romans 8:18-27 (NIV)

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

Romans 8:21 Or subjected it in hope. 21 For

Words, phrases, etc., that stuck out:

*** "...our present sufferings are not worth comparing...", middle of verse 18: I think I am often guilty of a "lack of true perspective" at times when I think about my struggles, start whining and complaining, etc. So our present crud a) is not worth comparing to all the Lord has gone through on our behalf...and when we don't deserve it, and b) NONE of it compares to the amazing wonder in store for us in Eternity...the tough thing is that our human minds can't comprehend it, so we aren't as "excited" as we should be!

*** The word "groaning" pops up a lot: I personally like that Paul (writer of this passage) acknowledges that both we have "groanings", and that they aren't dismissed as worthless. Let's be real: sometimes there IS really rough stuff going on in our lives, and it isn't to be taken with a flippant attitude.

*** The word "hope" pops up a lot: I think the word hope is a word we throw around a bunch, but like Jefe says to El Guapo in the fine arthouse film, "The Three Amigos", when Guapo keeps using the word plethora, "I do not think it means what you think it means." The sidebar discussion in my Bible seems to imply that most folks that the word hope to mean something more like "wishful thinking". Wow. I am sooooo guilty of that. Instead of treating hope as a certainty, a true belief that God is who he says he is, that he keeps promises, has saved me, has a grand plan for my life, etc., often I just treat all of it like wishful thinking...just wondering if it is all really true. And I should know better, as God has proved himself time and time again to me so much in life. My hope should be built on those things, not this crazy lack of faith I too often cultivate!

*** "But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?"---end of verse 24: Wow. Good slam there! While I do think our hope can be "born" out of past experiences...they cannot be our true hope. We need to, if we truly believe, have a hope in things we can't see, feel, or prove with a math equation...

*** "...the Spirit intercedes...", middle of verse 27: How cool is that? When we don't know what to say, or how to "articulate" things to God when we need to experience his might...his Spirit knows and takes care of it all. Nice.

Questions, ponderings, etc.

Do I have a real hope? Or, is it only wishful thinking? I need real faith and belief...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pondering Luke 2:1-20

I felt compelled to start a more purposeful scripture reading "plan" this morning, so I started. I do have an old, marked up Bible that I love, but felt led to get out a "Serendipity Bible" I got from an old boss (Ryan McCarthy) in 2001 when I was his intern at Christ Chapel in Ft. Worth. It is a New International Version, but has good reading plans for all kinds of folks. I started the "parenting track" this morning...

On occasion, I may put my thoughts down on the passage for the day...words that stood out...questions I have...challenges I feel. They are for whomever God, you, someone you know...

But, I am going to resist making some "promise" of, "I will put daily reflections", etc. I know that is destined for failure. Let's just say I'll post as I am led/motivated to...and right now, I'm motivated!

Luke 2:1-20:
The Birth of Jesus

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:11 Or Messiah. "The Christ" (Greek) and "the Messiah" (Hebrew) both mean "the Anointed One"; also in verse 26.

Words/Phrases That Stuck Out
...they were terrified (end of verse 9): Throughout the Bible, a healthy "fear of the Lord" is recommended of us. That usually implies great respect, constant checking of our own actions and agendas in light of our Creator and His might. But how often are we truly scared of God? I think the shepherds here were actually a bit freaked out. I know I would be. The good thing is that they didn't bolt the scene, run home to mommy, etc. They stuck it out. We should be so brave and faithful. I believe sometimes we are too scared to really experience God and His plan. We are scared of "freaky" things that God may actually be capable of. We try to keep things safe and comfortable. I am guilty of this. But I also know there have been times in my life where I kept faith and let God "be God", and while some funky stuff may have occurred (and I have a couple pretty supernatural stories that would make some go, "Ben, you've lost it...", but I was there and of sound mind), I was so grateful to experience it. The challenge is actually allowing it to seems some of us are scared of what God may do or say to us...I'm glad the shepherds weren't as wimpy.

...good news...great joy...for all the people...(verse 10): We need to always remind ourselves DAILY (and maybe multiple times daily) that Jesus' arrival is GOOD NEWS for us. And when we realize that, it needs to result in GREAT JOY. Not always "happy" per se, but a sense and attitude of hope that can all people. Believers are too good at not seeming to think that they have good news for others (and themselves) due to the lack of joy. We are all guilty of not grasping this at times, sure, but how many of us know (or, are) folks that claim to believe that Christ has saved them from eternity apart from God (as we will fail in our own attempts to be worthy of God), but in reality are bitter, feel like they got the shaft, or are constantly complaining. I know it is reality that God doesn't promise a problem-free life (see, but if we truly believe this is Good news, who we are at our core being should exude joy, hope, peace, and love...

...just as they had been told. (end of verse 20): Hindsight is 20/20...but how many times have we already heard/read/experienced God's truth in the past, but conveniently forget it all? The shepherds had probably heard the prophecies of the Messiah's arrival for years...and this line is a reminder that it was all foretold (you really should do some research about Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament...pretty cool...). We need to remember what we've learned over the years so God's arrival in an aspect of our lives isn't as "shocking" as we often treat it.

Questions to Ponder

Am I scared of God sometimes? What if I open myself to Him...and I learn something that I don't like, or think is too "risky"? I just need to be open...and let God do His thing...have peace and trust...

Do I really believe the coming of Jesus is Good news for me? Is who I am affected as a result? Am I still always a bitter, complaining, glass-half-empty person? If that attitude is my "default" I realize that God offers hope, and I need to pray that my attitude is changed? Do I realize that what I project has an effect on what others think of faith?

Am I "surprised" when God breaks through and is known to me? Or did I expect it because I know God is faithful?

This is a "Christmas/Advent"-type passage... How am I preparing myself this year for the remembrance of Jesus' birth? Am I preparing?

Monday, November 17, 2008

We Always Compare "Up" (and how that is not a good thing...)

We compare ourselves with folks "above" us too well. And I don't believe it is helpful in many cases. It comes out in many ways, and I want to discuss some of them below:

*** Wealth: I myself have been guilty of this one, and I can't tell you how often teens I've served over the years fall prey to this up-comparison. It goes something like this: Person A, "Oh man, you are soooooo rich." Person B, "No I'm not" (when in reality, they have everything they want, mom and dad make six-figures, they eat wherever, travel tons, etc.). I myself (especially in college) was guilty of this one. I would often bring out-of-state friends to my parents' home on holidays, etc., and often their first response was, "Dang Ben, you didn't tell me your family was loaded." My usual response: "Oh, my parents aren't really that loaded." "Uh, yeah Ben, they are..." Why did I (and others) react that way? Some possibilities...
  • Attempted Humility. I didn't want to necessarily be known as a "rich kid", so I guess I tried to downplay the truth: I was a rich kid. We ate wherever we wanted to. I got vehicles without having to pay a dime. Car insurance was paid for. Gas was paid for. I went to an EXPENSIVE university (and then grad school), all on my parents' dime. You get the picture...and the list surely could go on. Humility is a good thing, but sometimes I tried to convince myself that the truth wasn't, well, the truth...and I was blinded to reality as a result, which can lead to...
  • Not Realizing How Blessed You Are (and How We Should be Grateful, Willing to Share, Etc.). This I've seen in my own life and in others like CRAZY. Essentially, someone is commented on about being "rich", and they deny it profusely, this time to the point of belief: it's beyond attempted humility, they really don't believe they are blessed with wealth. This is a problem. How does it happen? We "compare up", by not thinking we are rich, but those with "more" than us are the rich ones. I can't tell you how many times I've been talking to kids about this issue, and they really don't think they are blessed with wealth (as they drive off in their new-and I mean new-car, chatting away on their new iphone that was a replacement for the one they-oops!-just lost...and I know parents blindly paid for it...and trust me, I've been there too), because they are comparing themselves up to the family down the street that makes millions a year, instead of the "only $400,000" their family brings home. Why is this so dangerous? We feel entitled to the blessings. What would happen if it was all taken away today? What if your dad lost his sweet job, or isn't making the sales? Would you be bitter? Would the family fall apart because they are so tied to "stuff" instead of God and each other? These are things to think about. Instead, we should pray for real humility, gratitude, an attitude to share our blessings with others, and simply being grateful to God for providing AT ALL, even if it isn't as much as you are used to...

***Our Sinfulness: We also compare "up" when it comes to sin. First of all, it is imperative that we realize we are inherently sinful to begin with: For some, that is difficult to realize at all (I will post on that one next...had a good discussion about "sinful nature" yesterday). But even for folks who "know" (even if just in theory) they are sinful at heart, they compare themselves with "worse sinners", and thus can rationalize their own sinful behavior. It can look like this: Someone is struggling with some specific, annoying sins. But when challenged to let God expose them, to repent (aka "seek forgiveness and TURN AWAY from the sin issues), they start to rationalize, comparing up to folks with "worse sins". "At least I'm not a murderer/Hitler/druggie/hooker/etc.". True, true, I'm glad your first name isn't Adolf, but that isn't a good comparison. If our mantra of "sin is sin, period" is true...we can't rest in our "smaller sins". It still separates us from God. If you are having pre- or extra-marital sex, for example, it isn't ok to say, "Oh well, there's worse things I could be doing." It is sin. period. Likewise, you can go "lower" in the perceived sin-level comparison: Jesus even tells us that if we have a bad attitude toward someone, calling them bad names, thinking we are "better" than them, it is the same as murder (;&version=31;). Basically, if we think we are better than someone, or hate someone, etc., it is the same as wishing they didn't exist at all. They are worthless to us. Sounds like we wish they were murder. So, when we continue to have an ugly, bitter, unforgiving spirit towards folks, the argument of, "At least I'm not beating them up/murdering them, and just saying stuff and hating them on the inside", doesn't fly...if we really pay attention to Jesus. ALL of us must cry out daily to God, admit our failings, seek to repent, and ALLOW God to change our hearts. God can change our heart (I can think of several examples where my heart/attitudes are not the same as they once were...and I attribute it to finally allowing God to "Do His thing" with me...); the catch is, we have to truly think we need saving and changing...and allow it to happen...

***Our Own Spiritual "Level": Finally (not that there aren't other examples...), we are too prone to compare "up" spiritually with others. Oh sure, I think a healthy respect of those older, wiser, and more mature in their faith is a good thing! But, I know many who are stunted in their OWN spiritual growth because they see folks who know more scripture, or more biblical history, or pray more, or serve more, or have nicer kids, or, well, you catch my drift, and instead of being motivated to grow themselves, are instead discouraged and end up stunting their own growth. We need not compare ourselves in that way. A believer is a believer, period. Just because someone can get a 100 on a "Bible test" and you can't doesn't mean you stink, or are less loved by God, or even that that person "has all their crud together" (I can't tell you of all the "really spiritual" folks I've met that get an "A" in some area...but an "F" in mercy, or practicing what they preach, etc.). So don't be discouraged and give up on seeking God! Instead, allow it to spur you on to allowing God to grow you and accomplish amazing things through you!

So, we need to stop comparing up with folks. We just need to "rest" in God, seek to be a better follower of Jesus, realize our sin is keeping us from Him (no matter how "small" our sin seems compared to others), and be gracious to whatever He blesses us with...even if it seems small in comparison...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"God does not promise an easy ride, but He does promise to sustain us"

I am sitting in my office, gathering my stuff for the Sunday morning ahead. As I often do (too often?), I have music on, my "Autumn Morning"-mix, of classical, jazz, piano, ambient, Celtic, etc. There is one set of tracks I have on the mix called "Labyrinth", essentially the guided tour of a prayer path we own (and I've done) at the church. Cool back ground music, lots of good words and guidance with a female British accent (makes it sound more spiritual I works).

I may do a separate post on my "labyrinth" experiences, but let's just say the quote I used as the title for this post really just struck me this morning. The lady said, "God does not promise an easy ride, but He does promise to sustain us."

For some reason, that statement fought through the "noise" (of surfing the web, printing lessons, random thoughts, etc.) and reached me. I am grateful. I certainly don't feel like I am going through a rough time or anything, but even when things are generally "good", we need to remember this truth. I think one thing many followers of Christ struggle MIGHTILY with (like, me) is remembering God's promise to save is, sustain us, love us, etc., when "all is well, no complaints." I know for myself, the challenge (and prayer) is to remember this truth not just when it's "all I've got left", but when things are fine-and-dandy as well. I truly don't want to view God just as some cosmic vending machine that dispenses help when things are getting crazy and I shoot some prayer to him. I want to live joyfully and boldly when life is going (all things considered) really well...and remembering that it is only because of God that things are going that way!

But for those times when things are NOT going "our way", we need to grasp on to the knowledge that just because it isn't an easy ride right now, God still sustains. This is another easily forgotten point. We feel entitled to things going our way, or feel like we've been trying to be good, or we look at our life and take score, hoping our "score" results in some sort-of cosmic formula being solved and thus, "God needs to bless me now." It's almost like we think to ourselves (and God), "Ok, I've been nice, I have been praying to you, asking for things, etc., WHERE IS THE GOOD STUFF!!??" We need to realize that God's sustaining, like the British lady reminded me on the Labyrinth track I just heard, isn't necessarily tied to easy times...but sustain He still does. I am able to get up another day. I have a family that loves and cares for me. I eat. I have opportunities to join God as he works in others' lives. These things should be enough, and they are!

Psalm 51:12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And Just Like That...TCU Goes from BCS to...

...the Joe's Plumbing and Bail Bonds Bowl (or something like that).

So I'm saddened by another chance for TCU to truly "arrive" being wasted. I mean, last night's game against Utah (who won, 13-10) was exciting and all, but we gave it to them. If we would have won last night and beaten Air Force at home in a couple weeks, we would have had a great shot to leapfrog other non-BCS school ahead of us (and maybe some bigger schools as they "took each other out") and made it to the biggest game in my tiny school's history.

But, instead (and in large part because our conference, the Mountain West does not really have any exciting bowl tie-ins), we will now be relegated (despite having a much worthier team) to something like the Poinsettia or Armed Forces Bowl (basically played at our home stadium). I realize a "bowl is a bowl", but I guess I remember the days when a bowl game meant a trip elsewhere, a spot on TV that didn't have lots of other competition, etc. But today, you go 6-6, and you may very well get in a bowl, and often there are two or three on TV at the same time. Then you have the fact that conferences have been "ranked", decided if they are worthy of attention, and the Mountain West, which I maintain is a good conference and this year probably stronger than 2 or 3 BCS conferences, doesn't even get a strong opponent for it's "champion's bowl", the Las Vegas Bowl (I think we get the 5th place PAC-10 team...which this year, REALLY doesn't mean much haha). So, despite probably still being highly ranked (I say top 15) in the end, due to our bowl tie-in's...oh well.

That said, I am probably prouder of this year's team (and excited for next...LOTS of key returnees) than ever. There have been several years lately where we were "supposed" to be in the position we were in last night: the BCS buster. This year, we flew under the radar, we played above everyone's perceived potential, and it was very fun and satisfying. As one that has always been naturally drawn to the underdogs in life, it is fun to be a Horned Frog...and I am proud that tiny TCU has quietly become a team nobody wants to play...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Matt Lantz's Election Night Observations

I fully admit that I am stealing all this from Matt Lantz, an old friend and my "little" while I was a member of the TCU BUX (Brothers Under Christ) chapter. I have had many of these same thoughts...and wish to post his list here.

I know some of his comments could be taken as condescending to believers...but I know Matt's heart (or at least think I do) and doubt that is his intent. And I also know many Christians have had a very good attitude and faith about all these things. I just know on election night, once all was decided, many folks, especially lots (not all) younger ones, were very negative, ugly, Matt's thought were something I though could be a challenge/wake-up call for us...

1. A historic night - no matter what candidate you voted for. Unfortunately, for my generation and those younger than myself - there is a certain element of this history that we can't fully appreciate because we didn't experience the pain of the civil rights movement. Still meaningful to my generation, but the magnitude of it all is somewhat lost on us...well...lost on those of us who aren't African American.

2. Watching an election has never been so much fun! Throughout the course of the day these social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc were just buzzing with people throwing their support out to their candidate. These sites were in their infancy in the previous election and have really made this process much more interesting. I'm curious to see how these types of sites will be a huge factor in 2012. $10 says we see the candidates more in chat rooms than in gymnasiums (and we'll see Facebook's profits go through the roof!).

3. Apparently, many American Christians are afraid of Barack Obama. That is stupid on so many levels. And, yes, I mean stupid.

4. A lot of American Christians are obsessed with the phrase, "God is in control." Funny how it only comes out when we're trying to console ourselves. ....that's always bothered me. "You keep using that word....I do not think it means what you think it means." :)

5. I'm thinking that many American Christians are afraid they might actually have to stand up for what they believe in now because it is fast-becoming the minority view. And, ironically, instead of standing up for our beliefs, we find it easier to just slander the person who is threatening our cushy lifestyle. Whoops! So much for standing up for those beliefs. (See also1 Peter 2:13-15)

6. I don't agree with any of Barack Obama's policies, principles or philosophies and don't have to - even though he is my president-elect. That's pretty awesome. Hard for me to imagine living in a place where I couldn't freely do that. I probably take it for granted.

7. The single most popular Facebook status of the day: "I am praying for my country." Why are we saying that? Did we stop praying while a Republican was in the White House? Hmmmm.

8. If John Madden were doing the color commentary on tonight's election he would say, "Obama beat McCain - bam! - right now!" I mean, McCain got straight up embarassed tonight. Landslide victory for Obama. Haven't seen one of these in a looooong time. The past several elections have been won by such narrow margins - I can't remember the last time an election was called by 10pm CST.

9. I think John McCain's concession speech was amazing. Everyone is saying that it was 'gracious.' I thought it was inspiring.

10. No one cried tears of joy when George W. Bush was elected president. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't have cried if McCain would have been elected - and I doubt many others would have either. Why?

11. I think Obama's election is the best economic stimulus package that George Bush has come up with yet.