Author Archives: Steve Berven

One For The Ladies: Advice on Dudes!

FIRST: Don’t call them “dudes.” They hate…wait, no they don’t. “Dude” is totally cool. So is “Man.” And “chucklehead.” Guys really don’t care all that much. We call each other really creative, disgusting, and generally quite endearing terms like, “Spud,” “Buttface,” and “Goober” all the time. So call us whatever you want.

Oorrrrr…maybe not. So, hold up. Let’s back things up a bit. I maayyy be a little off base on this one. And here’s why.

Ladies, what you think, and what you say…(hold on…write this one down)…really does matter to him.  How you see him, what he sees reflected in your eyes when you look at him has a powerful impact.  You have a level of power and influence over the heart of your big, strong man that defies all reason.  If a man has given his heart to you, he has shown a level of vulnerability and trust to you that he has very likely shown no other human being on this planet. And that’s something you reaaaally need to think about.

It’s a lot of responsibility. Wait…what?! That’s right. Your husband, your father, even your son has made a choice, taken a step to entrust to you his most valuable and guarded possession: his heart.

And For The Record: men do not do this easily. They do not do it lightly. They do not do it for just anyone. Why?  Because it is dangerous for us. That’s right.  Dangerous.  And it’s a scary thing.

Ladies, you are emotional creatures. By God’s wonderful design you see things and feel things and intuit things that leave a man scratching his head in wonder.  You’ve done it your whole life.  You’ve dealt with the highs and the lows and the aches and the joys of life with an openness and readiness and simple awareness that in most cases just isn’t part of the experience of the average dude out there. Not to say that he can’t see these things, can’t experience them the way you do, but it doesn’t have the same sense of something-come-naturally that it does to you. So, here’s the thing…

Guys don’t operate in the realm of the emotional on a day-to-day basis like you do.  This does not make them broken, this does not make them defective…it makes them “men.”

This does NOT, however, mean that men don’t actually feel these things. But if you hear nothing else, if you retain nothing else I say here, hear this: Men simply do not allow themselves to reveal that aspect of who and what they are to the world because…IT  IS  NOT SAFE for them to do so!

We live in a world that will chew you up and spit you out sometimes. Men are shown how to achieve, how to build. It is our nature. We are drawn to it.  We want to climb it, to build it, to shape it and mold it and exert dominion over it. It’s how we are wired.

And it comes with a cost. Most men are not cruel. Most men are not evil. But most men live in a world that requires a kind of strength and drive and self-possession that has little room for softness, for indecision, for anything that doesn’t involve moving on to the next task to complete, the next obstacle to overcome. And, sometimes, it just really sucks.

But here’s the caveat: we are men…but we are also still God’s creations. We are still emotional beings with every aspect of who and what God is written into our very DNA.  We still need to feel it. We still need to experience it, to share it, and to confide in someone those struggles that we face every. single. day, but can’t allow ourselves to show to anyone else.

To anyone else, except…for you.

You are our refuge. You are the place to which we retreat from a world that demands so much of us that it takes every ounce of what we have to face it all. And when we run out of gas, when we’ve given it all and have nothing left…we come home to you.

So..the question then becomes….what do we come home…to?

Is it a safe place? Is it a place that says, lay down your armor, lay down your sword, for a while the battle is over, and you have come home to a place of comfort and of refuge?

Or…is it something else?

Ladies, I tell you this with the utmost confidence, and with the utmost sincerity, and with all the fervent prayer I can muster, that your man, your husband, your father, your brother, whoever he is, he will move heaven and earth for you…if you give him a safe place to come home to afterwards.

Men are simple creatures. We really aren’t that complex. We want such simple things.

We want your respect. We want your admiration. We want your trust. And more than anything else…we want to know that what we do for you matters.  Even if we do it wrong.

Whaaaaat?!Wait..WHAAAAT?!?! Yes. You heard me. Even if we did it wrong.  You sent us to the store for milk. And we got whole milk instead of skim. Should we have listened better to the instructions? Sure. (see previous post, guys). But we got you MILK!! Ha HAAA! VIC-TO-RY! (this is the part where you swoon and toss us your handkerchief).

And so now you face…The Decision®.  Your girlfriend would have known what you wanted, right? Heck, she can all but read your mind.  She would just know, and she would get it right AND remember the two other things you forgot to ask her to get as well!  Hmmph!

So do you let him have it with both barrels because he FORGOT! And how hard could it BE?! He NEVER listens and you ALWAYS have to……

See where this is going?  Now instead of lacy hankies and batted eyelashes he gets…the business end of the dragon.

So here’s the newsflash, ladies: MEN.  CAN.  NOT.  READ.  YOUR.  MIND.  No, I mean it. Stop laughing. I’m being serious here. No, this is not a joke. Guys will get you exactly what you asked for. Usually. Mostly. And that’s it. We are task oriented. We fulfill requirements. That intuition thing? Wroooong set of chromosomes.

You have to actually tell us things. Sometimes more than once. Especially if the TV is on. It’s just the way things are.  This is not a defect, though it may seem that way.  And you need to plan accordingly.

And that’s where the safety part comes in, where you make the choice to make it safe, and KEEP it safe. He has to be allowed to fail. He has to be allowed to be human. And vulnerable. And imperfect. Because if he can’t do it with you, it’s entirely possible that there’s nowhere else in the world that he can.  And that’s a tough situation for anyone to face.

Here’s another newsflash: it’s hard for men to feel vulnerable. I know, shocking, right?! It runs counter to everything we see and hear and face, every day. So we want to know that we can trust you with our heart, and that you will love us enough to let us be less than perfect.

I know it’s hard. I know that it can take everything you have to step back, take that deep breath….aaaand another deep breath, aaaand maybe even another one…and then make the choice to love him enough to let his heart be more important than your agenda. Your plan.

So you smile, you kiss him, you say thank you, and you put whole milk in the recipe and pick up the skim milk on the way home from dropping the kids off at daycare tomorrow.

Why? Because — and listen closely here — he didn’t do it on purpose. Yes, he could have done it better.  Yes, he could have listened more closely, and maybe it feels to you like he just didn’t care. But ladies, I am here to tell you, it just isn’t true.

His failure to perform the task you wanted in the manner you expected has no bearing on his love for you.

Let me say that again: His failure to perform the task you wanted in the manner you expected has no bearing on his love for you.

And so….it should have no bearing on your love for him.  Men make mistakes. Women make mistakes. But we can make a choice, every day, minute by minute, situation by situation, victory by victory, mistake by mistake…to love the person anyway.

To realize that that may very well be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. And then to do it anyway. Again. And again. And again. Because folks, ladies, gents, when it really comes down to it, that’s what love is.

A choice.

One For The Guys: Advice on Chicks!

First: Don’t call them chicks. They hate that. (Unless you’re in Australia, in which case I guess it’s cool).

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, how can a guy who lives alone, with a divorce under his belt be qualified to lecture ME about how to deal with ch…er, women?!”

Who better to talk about the dangers of drinking than a recovering alcoholic, right?

(Hmmm…miiiight not be the best comparison.)

Actually, the thing is, the best way I can think of to give you advice on how to deal with women…is to give you advice on how to deal with yourself.

We live in a time of crisis. An identity crisis. Women are bombarded with messages about how they should act, who they should be, what they should look like, what values they should hold. Radical feminists set one standard, old-school fundamentalists set another. It can be confusing, frustrating, and downright demoralizing. Women are criticized by the Frothing Fems for staying at home with the kids because it denies them their right to spend 60 hours a week fighting their way up the corporate ladder only to suffer a heart attack at age 53 like us dudes. Or they are criticized by The Traditionalists if they forego starting a family in favor getting that PHD because, I dunno, reasons.

So, guys, I ask…do they really need to be getting the same thing from you?

God made women as women, and men as men. Guys..,women are not a mistake. Ladies…men are not a mistake. They are not this crazy broken thing that you have to fix.  We are two parts of a whole. Two pieces of a mechanism designed to work together. And — IMPORTANT NOTE (write this one down):

WE  ARE   DIFFERENT.  Let me let that sink in a bit.  Kind of ground-breaking stuff here, I know.

We are both engineered to perform exactly the way we do. The man piece and the woman piece fit together because we are designed to.  Not just sexually, but emotionally. Spiritually.  So here’s where I get into the “advice to guys” part.

Okay guys, so…..wait…turn off the game. (You. Over there. Yes you. The boss fight will wait. Yes, yes, I know, you were in the queue for this dungeon for, like, 20 minutes. Trust me. This is more important. Besides, the drop-rate is terrible on that guy. Just buy it on the auction house instead).

Anyway. Now, for the “Advice on Chicks Women.”

They love you. They really do. But there’s one problem. You don’t think like a chick. And that just blows their mind. And you reeeeally need to understand that. Women expect you to think like they do, and when you don’t, when you don’t act or react the way you are “supposed to,” it sets off ALL sorts of alarm bells. Why? Because if one of her girlfriends responded like you just did, Something Would Be Wrong©.

See, here’s the deal. And I know this can hurt like hitting your thumb with a hammer, but…(wait for it)…you have to really listen. I don’t mean listen like guys do. Guys, we talk, we communicate to transmit information and accomplish goals. And then we’re done.  We deal in goals and deliverables. We deal in quantifiables. Tangibles. The ladies…they deal in perceptions, and connections, and shared emotions. Intangibles. The squishy stuff. And it takes a loooong time to communicate that way compared to what guys are really prepared to deal with.

And that’s where we get into trouble.  Guys, seriously, let’s be honest. We don’t multi-task. We really don’t. They do. They can have the TV on in the background, be on the phone with one friend while IM’ing another, keeping track of two kids while planning dinner…and scrapbooking all at the same time. You and me? If the TV is on? Forget it. We’re done communicating with the outside world.

This can, to put it mildly, cause some problems in the area of communication. So here’s the deal. When your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your sister, your mom, any woman of any significance in your life wants to talk to you, to really communicate with you…STOP. WHAT. YOU. ARE. DOING. Just…stop.

And listen.

When I say listen, I mean it. Not, endure it. Not, huff and squirm and ostentatiously check your watch. Why? Because that is communication to a woman! When you do that kind of stuff, you are communicating to her that just about anything else in the world is more important to you at that moment than listening to what she has to say.

And, damn, but that has to hurt. She wants for you to want to connect with her…like her girlfriends would.  She wants for you to listen, and empathize, and not try to fix, but just nod, and touch her hand, and just plain BE INTERESTED. And when you don’t, when you are impatient, or imperious, or dismissive, YOU ARE REJECTING HER. And it will hurt her. And she will react and respond out of that hurt.

And you will be left wondering what the heck just happened?!? And why am I suddenly sleeping on the couch?

Because you weren’t really paying attention.  It’s as simple as that, guys. The women in your life want to know that they are important to you. And you communicate that importance and that value to them when you choose them over everything else.  When they see you turn off the TV, put away the book, step back from the computer and really listen, THAT’S where the connection happens. The one they really want from you more than anyone else.

It’s not hard….but it’s not easy. Not for us. But guys, man, it is so worth it. So they next time she starts to talk, to tell you about her day, when she confides in you her struggles and doubts and starts pouring out that technicolor description of everything that made up her day…just stop….and just listen.  And talk. And nod, and smile and laugh and frown.

But mostly…just listen.

 

 

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Embrace The Foolishness!

If you spend enough time on the Internet — not to say that I do of course — but if you do, you’ll find that there are a lot of really polarizing issues out there. Me, I tend to gravitate towards political and religious discussions, and those can get pretty heated pretty quick.

I’ve seen comments about Christians (and about people of faith in general) that run the gamut from enlightened commentators who state with utter certainty that Christians are mislead, ignorant, close-minded and/or foolish, to those who will insist with all sincerity and concern that teaching your children about God is “child abuse,” or that people with a strong faith in God are mentally ill and need to be rescued from their delusions. I could send you links. Really.

It’s sad, but…it’s also understandable. What Christians think and believe can seem kind of out-there sometimes…even to Christians! A God so mighty that He created the universe, and yet somehow notices something as small as me? Not only notices, but cares? Miracles and healing and a Savior who rose from the dead?! Folly! Foolishness! Bah!

It’s not easy to hold onto your faith sometimes in the face of such doubt and derision. And yet, it is essential that we do it.  Our struggle daily is, and should always be, to be more fully conformed to the image of Christ. To worry less about how we are perceived according to worldly standards, and more about how we measure up on the scale of being Christ-like.

Understanding that as Christians we will have a perspective on the world that will seem strange, confusing, even foolish to those who do not know Him, who do not see with His eyes. But maybe, just maybe, that perspective, that lifestyle that I emulate and communicate will somehow become so compelling, so troublesome, so curious that people who don’t understand it…will want to. My faith and compassion and forgiveness in the face of everything the world has to throw at me will frustrate and confuse and bewilder.

But maybe, just maybe, it will also become something so different from what they know that it will begin to take on the form of a mystery that they must solve.

The mystery of Christ.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…for since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong..  1 Cor. 18-27 (NASB)

Challenge:  Am I communicating a compelling vision of who and what Christ is, by how I live my life, by the choices I make, and by the way I love those around me?

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Victorious Is A Verb

How often do we, as Christians, truly live as if we are victorious? Or do we too often still live in defeat? As though our decision to follow Christ were merely an event experienced along the way, something of little consequence, rather than a fundamental alternation of the very fabric of who and what we are?  To the point that it even alters the way we interact with universe itself?

We. Are. Changed.  But do we live as ones who have been been changed, and are being changed?

Do we live as though we share in the victory of Christ over sin and death? As though we are an intimate part of that victory?  Are we dancing and singing and clanging our symbols as we follow along behind our Victorious One? Or do we live more as mere observers, those who witnessed the action and cheered, but now see ourselves as separate, standing quietly off to the side as they march by? Maybe as not worthy? Maybe not like those “real” Christians over there?

Are we part of a triumphal procession…or are we content to watch and cheer from the sidelines?  Are we truly transformed…or merely affected?

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”  (1 Cor. 15:54)

Challenge: Am I daily living in the victory secured for me by Christ, and is it daily transforming my life?

 

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Trinkets vs. Treasure

Here’s a thought. It might fly in the face of a great deal of theology and conventional wisdom, but I think it tracks. So here goes.

Don’t seek the kingdom. Don’t seek the blessings. Don’t seek the gifts.

Seek the person.

Strive to know only Christ until everything else falls away. Your desire should be for Him, not for what He can give you, not for what he can do for you. But for who He is to you.

The strange truth is that even if God never answered a single prayer, never performed a single miracle in your life, you should still be striving to know Him more fully and completely in every moment.

Not to ask, “where is God?!” when things go sideways on you, but instead, “who is God in this moment? And who am I in Him?”

It is not about rewards, or circumstances, or plans for the future. It is about merely abiding in His presence and that being more than enough.

That said, there are abundant gifts and blessings in store for those who give their life to Him, for those who abide in Him; but they are trinkets compared to the treasure of the simple, consuming love we can and will share. The pearl of great price.

Our hope is not in the promise of blessings in this life, but being more fully in His presence in the next. And so our abiding is manifest in our prayer, and in our seeking to know the person of God…not just clamoring for His stuff!

Challenge: Today, am I going to hunger for more of God’s love, for more knowledge of him? Or will I let myself become too focused on what I do or don’t have, what did or didn’t happen to me? Lord, help me seek you and find you in every situation today!

Thoughts from my quiet time: Being conformed to His will

Everyday, resolve to confess that you still know so little. That the mysteries of God are far from solved, and that truly, the only way to know God is to spend time in His presence. To be more fully conformed to His will.

Wait…what? What does that even mean?!

Conformed to His will. Taking on His likeness, His countenance, so completely that someone looking at you recognizes Him. Not like a doppelganger, but as someone who has spent so much time with another that they begin to share gestures, mannerisms, turns of phrase. The way a couple can finish sentences for each other, or pass the sugar bowl without being asked just because they know the other so well. An intimate familiarity. Something that only come from time spent together.

It is beyond apprenticeship. It is as a servant who never leaves his master’s side, to the point where the servant knows every quirk, every desire, every mannerism and habit of his master. To the point where it becomes a service not born out of obligation, but of love. But then, even more. For the Master loves the servant so much that he adopts him as a son or her as a daughter, because he wants more than just a servant. He wants an heir.

This puts a different feel on “obedience” doesn’t it? It gets to the point where it stops being obedience, and it starts being love. Where the two natures become so intertwined that you do what is right by the other because you don’t know anything different. You truly become conformed to the other. To look at one, is to see the other. His will is the same as your own. Absolute intimacy and spiritual union.

 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Rom. 8:15-17

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
John 14:6-9

Judgement Is Not Your Job.

I have a question. One sort of spawned from reading this article by Beth Woolsey entitled, “3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin.

And that question is: why do we think we can stop other people from sinning, when we can’t even stop OURSELVES from sinning??

Ms. Woolsey takes us back to the story of the woman about to be stoned to death by the Pharisees, where Jesus says by way of condemnation of their methods,”… let any of you who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Thing is, Jesus WAS without sin. Sinless. And so by his own definition he was completely qualified to stone the woman; to throw the first stone.  And yet he didn’t. He showed her grace, and forgiveness and an acceptance the likes of which she had probably never experienced from anyone else. I think it’s pretty safe to say he had an impact on her life. And probably made a friend that day as well.

How much more then are we — as full and complete sinners who are living our lives an eternity away from the perfection of Christ — uniquely UNQUALIFIED to throw that first stone?!  How DARE we stand in judgement of others? That is a role reserved exclusively for the person of God!

Our ministries should not be focused on stopping people from sinning. We can’t do it. We aren’t qualified!  You know who is? God. The Holy Spirit. The changer of hearts and redeemer of lives. Not us. Not the pastors, not the deacons, not the lay preachers or Bible study leaders.

We. Can’t. Do. It.

What can we do? We can work to bring people into relationship with Christ. And then let Him take it from there.

Can I cure an alcoholic? Nope. Can I get a drug user to stop using? Nope.  Can I get a compulsive, self-destructive gambler to push back from the blackjack table? I can try. I can exhort, beg, whine, condemn, yell, plead.  But you know what? Until he wants to stop, until God works that miracle in his heart…it isn’t going to happen. I can’t shame him, I can’t bully him, and I can’t guilt him into changing.

What I can do is tell him that there’s a way. A way out. A way up. I can SHOW him that way, by the way I live my life, by the manifest witness of what God has done in my own life. AND THAT’S IT.

A great deal of what we know today as “church,” we got from Paul, not from Jesus.  Paul and the disciples were the Tiger Team, the Hellfighters.  They were sent out to make disciples of all nations, and Paul as the designated honcho oversaw the process. He was the project manager.

The thing is, his letters to the churches?  They are, without exception, exhortations to hold fast and to hold true to the path they have chosen – to people WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS!

To the people who aren’t?  To the gambler or the housewife, to the alcoholic or the bus driver, to the thief or the school teacher? It’s a different story.

The unsaved are NOT BOUND BY DOCTRINE! It. Does. Not. Apply. To. Them.

And therefore, we cannot hold them accountable to it!! It is utterly meaningless for me to shake a Bible in the face of “a sinner,” spout a bunch of religious rhetoric and hope to have any impact. Other than perhaps inspiring hostility and resentment.  That’s not the way we reach the lost.

As a matter of fact, the very act of attempting to put myself in a separate camp than ”those sinners” is in itself an act of sin!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   Romans 2:1-6

The law (the scriptures) is there to bring an awareness of sin. It’s there to help you understand how and why we need a savior. To get a glimpse of the eternal consequences for breaking the rules.  If I know that the speed limit is 55, and I go 70, when I get a ticket I can’t say, “well I didn’t KNOW!

But you know what else? It’s not my job to write tickets. It’s not my job to enforce the law. I can’t make that guy in the lane next to me drive any slower by shaking a fist or showing a finger. As a matter of fact, I may very well push the person to drive faster just to show me I’m not the boss of him or her, leading him into further violation of the law! And you know what else? I’ve sinned by even trying.

Matthew 5:22 says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Not very kind and gentle words, are they?  I can’t stop that guy from speeding, but I can guard my own heart. Instead of getting angry and cussing, I can step back, say a prayer for him or her, and let God do the work on that other person in His way and in His timing.

Because it IS His job…..not mine.  Not my job. Not my role.

My job is to love, to try and understand, and more importantly to live every day with the understanding that if God took the same attitude towards me that I am taking towards those over whom I am so quick to stand in judgement, I’d be in some deep doo-doo for sure!

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Challenging words. Especially during rush hour.

Time is your most precious commodity.

I’m reading a compelling book called, “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron.  In it she speaks about “stolen moments;” those precious minutes we writers need to steal from the demands of our daily life to “find time” to write.

Her underlying point is that, if you string together enough of these stolen moments, they stop being “moments,” and instead become a “habit.”

Just like going to the gym, if you force it into your schedule for long enough, it becomes something that pushes those other things aside.  It become a fixture, a compulsion, a thing you chose to do instead of all those “other things.”

The same goes for people.  If someTHING is important, you make time for it. If someONE is important, you make time for them.

You know, I can call myself a “photographer,” say that I’m really into photography, but if I never make time to go shoot some pictures…is it really true?  Am I really a photographer if I never take photographs? Am I really a writer if I never write? A sculptor if I never sculpt?

What am I then?

I am a computer gamer. I am an Internet surfer.  I am an Instagramer. A Facebooker.

So, the first and foremost thing to do, at anything, is to show up and put. in. the. time. Stop making excuses.  Stop letting less important things become more important.

I guess it’s a fairly inescapable conclusion, then, that the same must be true of relationships.  You have to show up… you have to put. in. the. work.

If I tell people that I’m a gardener, but my yard is choked with weeds, dead plants, and crabgrass, then their response will likely be, “well, by the looks of things, you’re not a very good one.

The Bible says that, “by their fruits will you know them.” (Matt. 16:20)

Again, if I claim to be that photographer, but have no portfolio, have no evidence of my work, then my claim rings a little hollow, doesn’t it?

And so, if I claim that someONE is important to me, by what “fruit” should I then be known?  What is my portfolio? What is the evidence of this care as it is manifested in my life?

Do I make time for them?  Do I stop letting less important things become more important than this person I say I love?

A true photographer, an artist, a singer, a craftsman invests time in their craft.  Time, energy, money, enthusiasm. Passion.  Their day feels empty without it.  If you are passionate about something (or someone) you notice the absence, you miss it, you crave it.  Without the daily trip to the gym or yoga studio, your whole day feels off.  Without taking the time to press that shutter button a few times, or get a page or two down on the next novel or blog post, you feel like things have been left undone. It’s more than just a casual interest…it’s a genuine desire.

For things you like, you’ll try and find the time.

For things you love, for things about which you are passionate, you MAKE the time!

So. More and more each day, I am asking myself, “am I MAKING TIME for the right things?

If someone looked into my life, what would they say I was passionate about? Laundry?  Dishes? TV Shows? Computer games?

Or my children? My friends? My relationship with God? My own health and well being?

Again, in Luke 12:34, Jesus reminds us and admonishes us, “For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  When you truly treasure something (or someone), you give it your whole heart…not just whatever leftovers you can spare!

With this in mind, I have given myself a new challenge:  to look more closely — every day and in every way — at where I am spending my time and my treasure.  Am I giving my heart, my soul and my precious reserves of time and energy to the right things? The right people?

Or am I wasting what few precious hours I have on this earth on things that don’t really matter?

Only time…will tell.

You Get To Have The Good Stuff!

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?  I get to have the good stuff?  What about that whole “first must be last” thing, and forsaking the flesh, and…and…

Well, I guess it all depends on how you define, “The Good Stuff.”goodstuff1

There is an unfortunate tendency among far too many Christians to continue to live under the condemnation of sin, to hold on to this notion that we are somehow not just unworthy…but worthless as well.  We believe the lies the world tells us, we listen to the lies the Enemy whispers in our ears; that we are less than, that we are forgettable, that somehow God must have turned away from us because of what we’ve done, or what we haven’t done.

‘Cept that, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We hear that a lot, but what does it mean?  It means that God loves us despite what we are, not because of what we are.  It’s called “unconditional love” and it’s a concept most of us really struggle with, because we see so little of it in the world around us.

Or, to put it another way, God can’t be disillusioned with us…because He never had any illusions about us!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Which of your sins didn’t Jesus forgive, which of your sins, your errors, your misjudgments or your failures didn’t He atone for when He died on the cross…2000 years before you were even born?

I first found Christ when I was six years old. So, was I:  a) forgiven only of those first six years of my life? Or: b) was I truly made a new creation, washed clean for all eternity by the blood of Christ, my life fundamentally transformed from that moment forward? Let me give you a hint:  The answer is: b).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2nd Cor. 5:17)

And that’s where we get back to that definition of, “The Good Stuff.”

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

What does that mean?  What is an “abundant life?”

It means you’re allowed to enjoy the good stuff.  You are allowed to be happy, to do things and experience things that bring you happiness.  That you weren’t put here to suffer, but to come to know an abundant life lived under the redemption of Christ.  Don’t live in fear.  Don’t live in recrimination and doubt.  Set aside the insecurities that rob you of your birthright, and chose to truly believe that God means what He says…that He loves you and wants you to know true happiness.

So…do the things that bring you joy! Putter. Sew. Sing. Paint. Draw. Not for anyone else. Just for yourself. The only person it has to be good enough for is you.

Let yourself giggle as you enjoy the delightfully decadent joy of some wonderful bit of bakery fluff coated with some hoity-toity almond butter slide down your throat accompanied by some far-eastern Darjeeling you bought from that quaint little shop in Pike’s Place Market.  And just savor it. Enjoy it.

Walk in your yard and enjoy the blossoms without noticing or caring about the weeds.

Buy that wonderful hand-knit scarf at the street fair, even though you just really shouldn’t, I know, it’s really just too much, and I’ll probably never have anywhere to wear it, and….do it anyway.  Then make a pretty throw with it for the couch instead.

blow-bubblesMake a bunch of silly scribbles in a sketchbook that doesn’t look like anything, but you really like the way the colors go together.  Then stick it on the front of the fridge with a magnet and smile every time you look at it.

Play the piano, just because you know how.  And sing to yourself as loud as you want, and who cares if the neighbors hear you and think you’re weird.  Draw silly faces on the mirror in dry-erase marker and stick your tongue out at them every morning.

It’s called “rejoicing,” and you can do it a lot more often than just standing in a pew on Sunday with a hymnal in your hands!

I think that sometimes, even as even the most devout of Christians, it’s still hard for us to really, truly believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, especially after some of the things He’s let us endure. But that’s the lesson I’m trying to learn now, to really take to heart….I get to be happy.  It’s okay for me to be happy!  What a concept, huh?  I think maybe we miss out on a lot of blessings and don’t experience more happiness in our life because we don’t believe it.  We don’t look for it, don’t let it in, don’t recognize it when it shows up.  We play this karma game.  We take a worldly look at God’s work and figure He’s just waiting…waiting….waiting with the ruler poised over our knuckles for us to give Him another excuse to drop the hammer.

So, please, also try to take this to heart.  You get to be happy.  And you don’t have to feel guilty or unworthy about it.  Try to get to the place, someday, somehow, where you can really believe that it really is okay for you to be happy.  I’m trying to let go of all the things in my past that are holding me back, bogging me down, things the Enemy takes such joy in using against me.

I hope and pray that you, too, will find a way to let go of all the things that were born out of tragedy or sorrow or abandonment or trials…and just let it be the past. Like an alcoholic who’s quit drinking, a drug abuser who’s quit using and gotten clean…don’t let your past define you.  You don’t have to fix it, maybe don’t even have to “heal” it…maybe you just…let it all go.

Give yourself permission for that.  Forgive yourself for all of that past, for all of those things.  God doesn’t require any sort of penance from you for it — He’s already paid your penance for you, and more! I am choosing to not let myself be defined by my past.  Make that choice for yourself as well.

Be free!  Be emancipated from all that. The door to your jail cell is open, and has been for a while.  You just need to walk through it and accept (and experience) true freedom.   “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;”  That is the true essence of God’s forgiveness.

See what kind of a life living in true freedom can bring. It’s called “joy.”  Live that life for yourself; live a life fully in the forgiveness of Christ, free from the burdens of the past.

~ Steve

Sometimes Love Isn’t Easy…

In one of the Apostle Paul’s Epistles, he’s carefully to caveat what he’s about to say with words to the effect of, “I don’t have a word from the Lord on this, BUT…” (1 Corinthians 7:25) That’s kind of where I am right now.  Nothing that has jumped out at me from Scripture, but really just more my general sense of things, so take it for what it’s worth.

God has a strange way of dealing with us sometimes.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think He’s intentionally designed the system to mess with our collective heads.

That said, if there is one thing I have learned in my years of chasing after this thing called “servanthood to God,” it’s that just as sure as I think I’ve got things all figured out, God will step in and let me know — in no uncertain terms — that His ways, His plans are sometimes far deeper and more complex than my simple human mind can comprehend.

That’s where this “faith” thing tends to come in. Right now I’m going through a confusing and chaotic time in my life.  It would be so easy for me to begin to question God, to shake my impotent fist at the sky and wonder, “Why!?

Every other time in my life when I’ve felt like asking that question, the answer has always been (eventually), “because I have something even  better in store for you.”

Sometimes in the midst of our turmoil, our confusion, our sorrow or our strife, it’s too easy to want to blame God for our circumstances.

But…if we truly believe what we say we believe, if we truly believe that God holds us in His hands, that He truly loves us and has a plan for us, then YES, truly we SHOULD blame Him for our circumstances, for He has either brought it to pass or allowed it to happen!

And if there is one thing I HAVE learned in this crazy, mixed up life I’ve led so far, it’s that GOD ALWAYS HAS A PLAN.

We may not be able to see it right now. Heck, we may not even be able to see or understand it until we stand with Him one day in Heaven and listen as He shows us all the ways He cared for us, guided us, how He put those stumbling blocks in our path and why, that we’ll ever truly understand it all.

In the meantime it falls to us to trust in the love of our Father, to believe…even when we can’t see it right now…that He loves us, cares for us, and has a plan for our life that is so much better than anything we could conjure up on our own.

The scary truth of it is that God sometimes brings us into these times of turmoil, of doubt, of questioning and confusion for the sole and simple purpose of teaching us to trust more fully in Him.

As hard as that may be to take some time, it really is at the core of what we, as Christians, need to understand and believe.

God really does love us; but sometimes that love will take forms that we don’t understand. The challenge we face every day is to love Him back, through it all, and remain faithful to His calling no matter what.

Because sometimes love isn’t easy.  Sometimes love takes us right to the edge of what we think we can do…and pushes us over the edge into what we have to rely on God to do for us instead.

For some people, the absolute hardest thing to do is let go of control.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what truly Biblical faith is all about.