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Why Skip the Oasis?

By on Aug 12, 2014 | 0 comments

The word “oasis” probably evokes one of two images in your head. If you are from my generation, then the word probably turns your mind back to the mid-90’s when the British rock band, Oasis, was tearing up the charts like a champagne supernova in the sky. If you are from one of the generations that has no clue what a Wonderwall is (admittedly, my generation doesn’t really know either), then your mind probably conjures more traditional images.  Most people know an oasis to be an area in a desert where vegetation surrounds some water source like a spring or a well. It’s an area of safety and a source of life in the otherwise lifeless void of the desert. For the desert traveler, an oasis is the difference between life and death on a long journey. In fact, oases are the only reason travelers can actually make long journeys through the desert. Needless to say, they are kind of a big deal. An oasis provides the traveler a great deal of amenities otherwise unavailable in the barren waste of the desert. There a person can find rest in the comfort and relative safety of the trees and their protective shade. Canteens can be replenished and camels can be watered. Oases also provide an excellent opportunity for the traveler to recoup, reflecting on the road traveled thus far and mustering the courage necessary for the road ahead. Again, an oasis is kind of a big deal. So why on earth would anyone intentionally skip the oasis in the desert? Skipping the one life-sustaining pit-stop on the desert road would be ludicrous (not the rapper, note the proper spelling). No one in his right mind would travel on by the rest and replenishment afforded by an oasis. But I believe Christians are guilty of this irresponsible insanity on a regular basis. I see the regular, weekly gathering of my church as an oasis in the desert. Let’s be honest: life is pretty brutal. Monday carries a nasty stigma for a reason. It represents the beginning of a spiritual battle for Christians where they will face innumerable dangers between the end of this week and the beginning of the next. During this barren trek, the Christian will be tested, tried, and tempted in an incredibly hostile environment. The rain dries up and the sun blazes down. And every step along the path of this dry and barren trek, we will desperately need a respite from the sweltering heat.  That respite comes when the church gathers. It’s our oasis. The oasis provides rest in the shade. By regularly gathering with your church, you find safety amongst friends and comfort knowing that you don’t have to worry about being attacked by like-minded travelers (or at least you shouldn’t have to, but that’s a whole other post). The oasis gives you an opportunity to fill your canteens and water your camels. A regular church gathering gives you an opportunity to be replenished and refreshed by the Spirit of God, experiencing His grace poured out abundantly through various means. You are encouraged, challenged, held accountable, and supported by all that you find of the Lord in and through His people. The oasis allows you to work up your nerve and plot your course. Church gatherings provide the environment you need to make the hard decisions of life before you are ever faced with the hard decisions of life. Temptations are going to come. And they are not easy to deny. We rarely make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. Odysseus knew this truth when he was approaching the island of the Sirens. That’s why he decided beforehand to lash himself to the mast of his ship and sail on by. We make a lot of poor decisions in the heat of our week. But we make a lot of good decisions surrounded by God’s people, learning God’s Word, and worshiping in God’s Spirit. We make good decisions in the oasis. That’s a pretty strong argument to put a high premium on a regular stop in the desert oasis. And it’s a strong argument to place regular church gatherings in a high position of priority in our lives. So why would we ever skip it? I’m not talking about missing your church gatherings because you’re sick or because you go out of town for the occasional vacation. I’m talking about people who allow almost any manageable or avoidable excuse to keep them them from gathering with their local body of believers.  I hear it all the time. People skip out on church because… Their show is on or there is a football game they don’t want to miss. They’ve been working really hard this week and just need to rest. They haven’t had any time with their spouse in a while and it’s just a good time for it. The reasons are numerous, and many of them could have been avoided with a little effort and planning. But I’m not trying to shame you into gathering with your church. The truth is that I just don’t understand how you do it. Let me explain… I need the church. I need the oasis to get me through my week. I need the rest in the safety of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I need the accountability that comes from people trying to live...

How much courage does it take to stand behind Goliath?

By on Jul 23, 2014 | 1 comment

Courage appears to be a fleeting concept in modern society. Though I do not doubt that true courage still exists and is exemplified by many men and women fighting noble causes across this world, it has become harder and harder to find in everyday people. In fact, courage often seems to have all but disappeared, along with its ancient counterparts of chivalry and nobility. But like all fashionable trends, courage (or at least the term ‘courage’) is making a comeback.  There has been a lot of talk lately about Michael Sam, a football player from Missouri recently drafted to the St. Louis Rams. Last week, Sam received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s. This award is given to outstanding men and women who possess “strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” Sam was awarded this honor because of his willingness to come out as a gay man in a sport traditionally antagonistic toward homosexuality.  Since coming out, Sam has received enormous amounts of support and acclaim for his willingness to be the first openly gay football player. A quick Google search returned over 200,000 news articles written about him (almost 1400 different article hits on ESPN alone). He has been interviewed, quoted, lauded, and now awarded. So many people backed Sam in his decision that it begs the question: In a society where Christians are vilified, being told to shut their mouths and keep their personal lives to themselves, while outspoken homosexuals are applauded for airing their own personal affairs, exactly how courageous was Sam’s decision? And now, despite the fact that I have made no comment for or against Sam and his sexual preference, this is the point when someone is going to rise up and call me a bigot or hateful or compare me to a slave owner or a segregationist. And that just furthers my point: When you stand alongside the militant majority riding the tidal wave of popular opinion, how much courage do you need?  Matt Walsh, a popular blogger, expressed this conundrum fairly succinctly: “I don’t know Michael Sam. I know more about Michael Sam than I need to, but I don’t know him as a man. He might be brave, for all I know. Maybe he’s rescued kittens from burning buildings, maybe he’s jumped in front of bullets. I’m not saying that he’s not a hero, but I am saying that telling the world about his sex life sure doesn’t make him one. Ellen Page, Jason Collins, Michael Sam — all of these people were greeted by applause and adulation from all across the country. They were hoisted up and canonized by pop culture, most of mainstream society, most major corporations, most of the media, most of academia, most of our politicians, and the President of the United States of America. Their ‘announcements’ instantly ensured them a protected status and, particularly in the case of Collins and Sam, a fame and cultural relevance they would not have otherwise achieved. The criticisms will come from the fringes, and those critics will be drowned out and beaten back by a shouting, venomous mob of dogmatic progressive zealots.” It would be like applauding the courage of the Philistines for standing behind Goliath. How much courage does it take to stand confidently behind a 9-foot-tall mammoth of a man prepared to wage all your battles for you? I don’t know anything about the character of the guys that stood behind that giant, but I can tell you that simply standing behind Goliath and jeering at the opposing army didn’t make them courageous. By this reasoning, we might as well give Malfoy an award for his courageous stance beside Crabbe and Goyle, or hand Johnny Lawrence a ribbon for his bravery when surrounded by Cobra Kai.  No, I’m not equating Sam to either of these big screen bullies. By all accounts, Sam seems to be a pretty nice guy. But if you award someone for his courage to stand behind the giants of mass media and public opinion, then you are starting down a dangerous road toward redefining what true courage means.  If you want further proof of how these giants are going to bat for Sam, just look at the public outcry over Tony Dungy’s recent statements about how drafting Sam would have been a poor business decision because it would bring with it an overly difficult situation that he wouldn’t want to deal with. Without speaking against homosexuality or even Sam’s abilities as a football player, Dungy was instantly ostracized as a bigoted blackguard unfit to as much as comment on the game of football. Some even called for Dungy’s job and mocked his son’s tragic suicide. And all the while, the only thing Sam had to do was sit back and let the equality guard dogs do their thing. That doesn’t seem like courage to me. And now, because of this kind of constant and violent backlash from the giants Sam stands behind, people are unwilling to take their own courageous stances against anything even remotely related to this hot-topic issue. After situations like Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones being fined and sent to ‘educational training’ for expressing disagreement with ESPN airing Sam’s celebratory kiss during the draft, people are too scared to say anything other...

A Letter to the Addicted

By on Jun 12, 2014 | 0 comments

[Almost everyone knows someone affected by addiction. I have, over the course of my life, been close to quite a few people in bondage to a number of different destructive addictions. Many of those people I love and care about deeply. It is because of that deep love that I was motivated to write this letter. It is written from the perspective of a person who is heavily affected by someone else’s addiction. And these feelings are not just conjecture. They were forged in the fiery furnace of personal experience. And while I certainly had particular people in mind while composing this letter, it was written vaguely enough to apply to anyone facing similar struggles. If you are someone battling  addiction or are close to someone caught in their own conflict with addiction, this letter is for you.]   A Letter to the Addicted:   Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate: I love you. Read that again. I love you. When the darkness of your shame and guilt creeps back in, return to that truth. I love you. There is nothing you can say or do that will change that fact. I know you messed up. I know you feel like you ruined everything. But there was at least one thing you didn’t ruin. I still love you.   But let’s also be honest. You did mess up. You messed up pretty big. And while that doesn’t change my love for you, it does change some things. It changes your life. Your actions bear consequences that will affect you for the rest of your days. I hate that, but it’s true.   And whether you are willing to admit or not, your actions also bear consequences for others. You may think that it’s your life to do with as you please, but you’re only fooling yourself if you believe that your life isn’t intricately intertwined with those around you. Many of those people care about you very much. Several of those people depend on you. A few of them even need you.   But you’re not there for them and you’re not there for me. At least, not like you could (or should) be. Our lives will be forever affected by your actions, just as your life will. That’s the unfortunate yet beautiful truth of this communal society in which we live: Everyone is connected. Those closest to you will feel the weight of your decisions through the consequences those decisions bring. So one way or another, you’re not alone in this.   Let’s continue down this path of honesty: I don’t understand addiction. I don’t know what  makes a person choose a substance over a life without it. I don’t know what draws that person back to that substance despite the far-reaching consequences. I don’t understand how that substance can make an otherwise rational person throw reason out the window, all the while ignoring the consequences. I don’t know what it is in a person that makes them scream, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” rushing headlong into what is surely to be a horrible demise. I just don’t understand addiction.   But I do have a pretty good understanding of people, having spent a good deal of time as one myself. I get it. You screwed up. And now you have inside you a darkness that you can’t explain despite your familiarity with addiction. And you carry around the weight of that darkness and its consequent shame and guilt every moment of every day of your life.   But I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret: I carry in me a darkness too. Go ahead, roll your eyes and accuse me of having no clue what darkness is. The truth of the matter is that you have no clue what darkness I struggle with each day my feet hit the floor. Sure, my darkness may take a different shape than yours. Mine may be limned from a different words or painted in different hues, but it is at its root the same darkness.  I may carry my darkness less publicly than you do, but that doesn’t make mine permissible. I have to deal with my darkness the same as you. We all do.   Since we’re being so honest, let’s dive headlong into the deep end and swim around in this pool of honesty for a bit. I hate to dumb down the truth with euphemistic language. So let’s go ahead and call that darkness what it is: It’s sin. We both have in us a natural propensity to spit in the face of God. Now we’re getting a little closer to the real culprit. Because language like this really keeps you and me from using even more damaging language when referring to our sin: language that passes the blame.   I know how you think, at least in some areas of life. I know it’s hard to ever place a finger on the exact location deserving the blunt force of the blame for the addiction in your life. So now I’m going to be as brutally honest as I can in order to help us get to the bottom of this. I know your natural inclination is to place the blame elsewhere. It was this person, or that situation, or this occurrence, that drove you back to your addiction....

Forget New Year’s Resolutions: Set Goals Instead

By on Jan 6, 2014 | 0 comments

Every new year, I hear a lot about people setting new year’s resolutions. I think it’s an admirable thing to take a step back and evaluate yourself, recognizing that there is still room for improvement. What I’m not so keen on is the vicious cycle that seems to follow those resolutions. Tell me if this sounds familiar:   In late December, you know that the new year is coming, so you start thinking about how you want this year to be different than the last one. In early January, you make some decisions that things are, in fact, going to be different. So you make a handful of resolutions. You’re going to eat less, work out more, start running, read more, take up a hobby, etc. You spend most of January feverishly changing your habits to accommodate those resolutions, working tirelessly to make sure you don’t drop the ball (again). By late January, you’ve started slacking on your admirable resolutions and you start to worry that you’re not going to be able to keep it up. By February, you’ve pretty much messed up on every one of your resolutions. You realize that there is no way you’ll be able to catch up. So you hang your head in shame, broken by your failure once again.   Sound familiar? If you’ve ever set a new year’s resolution, you’ve probably walked through that script or one very similar. That’s why I’ve decided to give up new year’s resolutions.   New year’s resolutions seem to always set us up for failure. When we don’t stick to our resolutions, we feel like we’ve seriously dropped the ball once again. And that feeling can be debilitating.   I’ve decided, instead, to set some goals for the new year. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.   Resolutions are decisions you’ve made. They’re your final verdict, concluded by your mind and your will, that things are going to be different. But because they are so resolute (see what I did there?), they leave no room for missing the mark, even by just a little. If you don’t achieve your resolution, it sends a clear message: your will wasn’t strong enough to fulfill what your mind decided. Failure.   Goals, on the other hand, give you a little wiggle room. Think of goals like shooting at a target. In the center of the target, there is a small red circle. But around that red circle, there are numerous other circles. If you are aiming for a goal, chances are that you aren’t going to hit a bullseye your first shot. If your only goal was to hit the bullseye dead on, then you would have failed. But if you’re shooting at a target for the purpose of eventual improvement and hit just outside of the center, even though you are a little off your mark, that’s still a win. And there you find the difference.   Goals allow for failure on the road to improvement. Sure, you didn’t hit exactly on your mark. But your first shot gave you a good foundation upon which you can improve with future shots. Goals allow you to see your failures as steps in the learning process. Then your failures transform from debilitating quicksand into trampolines from which you can soar to greater heights.   Let’s look at this practically. Maybe you have decided each year for the past few years to read your entire Bible in a year. You resolve that by year’s end, you will have read the whole thing. If that’s your resolution and you get behind, you eventually decide that there’s no way to accomplish your resolution, so you quit.   But if you look at reading the Bible in a year as a goal, then even if you get behind, you still press on and see just how close to the target you can get. That way, next year you’ll know what you need to do to improve.   There is an axiom that I have often repeated that I believe to be very true: If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.   If you set no goals for growth, then chances are you’ll look back on 2014 and see pretty much the same thing you saw in 2013. Without a clear destination, there is little chance you’ll know how to get there. So chances are, you’ll go nowhere.   That’s why goals are so important. They move us forward toward our ultimate goals. They are incremental steps toward distant destinations. We know that even the longest journey begins with a single step (thanks Lao-tzu!), but we get so petrified by looking at the length of the journey that we decide to do nothing. But it’s the small steps that move us along our journey, closer to our long term goals.   Want to read more? Make a reading list. Your goal may be 25 books and you only read 20, but I’m guessing that will be more than last year. That’s a huge win.   Want to be in better shape? Set a goal to work out or run three days a week. Maybe you’ll only find time for two, but that’s way better than sitting on your rear end in defeat from your failure.   Want to be a better Christ follower? Set a goal to read your Bible and...