Some thoughts I’ve put into words so you can put them into action.

Whatever Happened to Happiness?

“And then we go to the store and he asks for another toy,” she said, slicing another pizza fresh from the oven. We were at our friends’ house, all our kids playing – running through bedrooms, bathrooms, up and down stairs – five bodies in frenzied motion. My friend had just been talking about the large collection of Thomas the Train toys her youngest has.

“Of course I buy him one, even if it costs an extra $20.”

My first thought was, Isn’t that spoiling the kids? Then I realized I do the same thing. My son has more Legos than I ever dreamed of having myself. My daughter always asks for another stuffed animal when we’re out, and my wife – God bless her – gives in about half the time.

Aren’t we spoiling our kids? Will this madness ever end?!!!

I bet you’re thinking this is a post about how we shouldn’t give in to our kids’ every request for more and more toys, the latest techno fad, or an extra scoop of ice cream. Sorry to burst your bubble – it ain’t. It’s about being a parent – sometimes good parents and sometimes evil parents. But mostly this post is about being happy.

And with that I want you to think about this.

Whatever happened to happiness? Somewhere along the line it became a dirty word. In our zeal to preach contentment and denounce a “keeping up with the Joneses” materialism, we shoved happiness down the tubes. Worse than that, we made it part of the seven deadly sins. We assign it a seat next to the other works of the flesh.

But it isn’t. It’s far from that. Happiness is a holy endeavor. Let me explain.

Remember that conversation I talked about a few paragraphs ago? The one with the mother admitting she gives in to her kids wants and desires? Yeah, that one. Well, my first response was to shame her for spoiling her kids. Then I remembered a talk I had with my dad a couple years ago.

My dad and I love the St Louis Cardinals. Always have, always will. One summer he decided to splurge on tickets for us – right behind home plate. A dream come true! It was the best time at a game I’d ever had. Halfway through the game I looked up at the nosebleed section. You see, back in 1983 my parents took us to Busch Stadium to see the defending World Series champs. But we were so far up that I think we were closer to the moon than the Wizard of Ozzie.

“Remember when we came here twenty years ago?” I asked my dad.

“Yeah, those seats were terrible. I should have paid the extra money and gotten better seats.”

“That’s okay, dad,” I reassured him. “I know we didn’t have a lot of money back then. And I was content just to be here.”

“That’s not the point,” he replied. “I’ve realized that making moments and memories is more important than saving a few bucks.”

That conversation did something to me. I realized that buying a $20 toy or a $200 ticket won’t spoil my kids. We’re supposed to make memories, and if we do that well then…money well spent. And if the kid is happy, then job well done for this parent.

Now, I can already read your mind. “Chris, you’re crazy! You’re suggesting we spoil our kids! How does that teach them to be content and take care of their money???”

I’m not talking about teaching your kids to be content and take care of their money. You teach kids that by teaching them about…being content and taking care of their money. I’m talking about making your kids happy. And I know God wants us to be happy. Here…look!

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-11 (emphasis added)

Hey! We’re evil, right? But we still want our kids to be happy. How much more does our father in heaven want us to be happy.

16 “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:16-17 (emphasis added)

Everything that is good in your life – that makes you happy – comes from God. Why? Because he wants us to be happy. And if God wants us to be happy, why are we so intent on making God out to be someone who wants us to be sad.

There’s this idea that happiness and joy are two different things. Happiness comes from the root word for “happen,” meaning we’re only happy when good things happen to us. But joy is different. It’s rooted in a desire to just know God and accept anything that comes our way. But to suggest that God only wants us to have joy and not happiness would suggest that God doesn’t want good things to happen to us. And I don’t believe that.

Now, you may point to a passage in Philippians where Paul talks about being content. He is joyful no matter what – whether he has a lot of cash on hand or his wallet’s a little light. But Paul realizes that God is in control either way – and maybe especially when things are going good.

There’s one more verse I want you to look at. I’m just going to put the first part of it here.

3 “Blessed are the…”

Matthew 5:3

Told you I was only going to put part of it here. Jesus goes on in this chapter to list some people who don’t really sound blessed – poor, hungry, thirsty, persecuted. But Jesus calls them blessed. In fact, that word for “blessed” is the Greek word makarios. Anyone wanna guess another translation of that word? Go ahead, it’s not hard. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the title of this post.

HAPPY!

That’s right, makarios can also mean happy! Jesus says, “You guys should be so happy!” He doesn’t mean that they should delude themselves into thinking that they’re happy even when bad things are “happening” to them. He’s saying they should be happy because good things are happening to them. “You have mercy and righteousness and grace! You have the Kingdom of God! You’re going to inherit the earth, not heaven or some other planet – this earth and all the stuff in it. Surprise! It’s your lucky day!”

In that same sermon – the Sermon on the Mount – is where he talks about God the Father giving us good gifts. All we have to do is ask. And when some pastors, preachers, ministers, and teachers dare to suggest that Jesus wasn’t kidding, I see pundits and bloggers come out of the woodwork to say, “Yeah, but!”

Well, I’m just crazy enough to believe Jesus. I’m just crazy enough to think he wants me to be happy. So, I’m going to go ahead and keep believing that and guess what? That makes me happy.

 

I Hope Conan O’Brien Doesn’t Hate Me.

My grandfather loved Johnny Carson. Every time I visited, he would let me stay up late and watch the monologue. I never got the jokes. I was 10, why would I? But every night, the news would go off and Johnny would come on, swing that fake golf club, do a double take at Ed McMahon’s laugh, and then put on an hour of entertainment for my grandfather. Every time I think of Johnny Carson, I think of my grandfather.

I never liked Johnny that much. My guy was David Letterman, but only during his stay on “Late Night.” When he moved to CBS, a gangly redheaded comedian/writer took his spot. I was a senior in High School and was getting bored of Letterman by then, so I gave Conan a try. For the first few weeks he was pretty bad. But then he hit his sweet spot and skyrocketed to fame. It led him to the biggest job of his life – The Tonight Show! The same show that Johnny Carson made famous. He had made it!

He lasted 7 months.

NBC eventually begged Jay Leno to return. The internet was frothing mad at NBC, especially the droves of young fans who loved Conan. They took to the internet to display their anger and disappointment. But the anger did something strange: It transformed Conan. It led to a touring variety show across America and eventually Conan’s own show on TBS where he’s a star once again.

But it was something Conan said in his final Tonight Show that deeply affected me. Here’s a short clip:

And with that I want you to think about this.

I’m extremely opinionated. You don’t have to spend much time with me to figure that out. From food to sports to politics, I’ve got my own ideas about how things should be. And I used to express those ideas freely to anyone who would care to listen.

Then one day about a year ago I watched this clip again. I really listened. Conan’s words really cut me to the quick:

“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere.”

I stopped. I thought about it – my opinions, my debates, my politics. And I realized that I am cynical. And then it hit me – Conan O’Brien hates me!

And I don’t want Conan O’Brien to hate me.

So, I decided to completely stop. I quit posting anything political to social media. I tempered every conversation with enough grace that I could see multiple points of view, not just my own. I started listening to people that I disagreed with just to get their perspective on things. I did all that because I was being cynical and not only Conan, but I was starting to hate who I had become.

Politics is fine. Having an opinion is great. I recommend it for everyone. But when you let your opinion paint the way you see everyone and everything in the world, it becomes cynicism and it doesn’t lead to anything.

For me, a couple of things were working against me. First, I viewed my own personal opinions as the only right response to what was happening in the world. If you agreed with me, congratulations! You’re smart. If you disagreed with me, you’re the worst person in the world. And that’s just a horrible thing to think, isn’t it? But I did! For a long time I thought that way. And it took Conan to wake me up and realize how crappy I was being.

Second, I was so sensitive to my own personal opinion that I was easily offended. I took my ideas about how the world should be and put them on my arm and waited for someone to bump into them. When someone would say something disparaging about my opinions, I would let myself get hurt and then respond in anger, frustration, or victimization. I did this subconsciously, but I did it anyway.

Both of these ways are very negative behaviors. I was hurting myself, hurting others, and hurting my relationships. So I decided to stop. I stopped talking politics. I stopped only listening to people who I agreed with. I stopped thinking that anything I think is right and if you disagree you’re wrong. Some of the things I think are probably wrong. Don’t get all excited, I still think most of the things I think are right. Why else would I think them?

Since that time, I’ve noticed I’m much happier. I’ve also started to see other people’s cynicism…and it’s not pretty. Is that what I looked like? Dear God, I hope I don’t anymore. I’ll probably relapse once or twice. I’ve let a few things slip here and there. I’m not saying everyone should stop talking politics. I am saying that if you do – if you hold deep convictions and opinions about the world around you, please do some self-searching and see if you may be cynical. If you are, stop it! It doesn’t lead anywhere.

By the way, if you want to hear Conan’s entire farewell speech, here it is…

The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 3

This week I’ve been writing about Frisbees. You can find part one here and part two here. Frisbee flying takes keeping a balance between lift and drag. Too much force and it hooks past your target. Too little force and it comes up short.

Trying to figure out this thing called life is a lot like that. If we force decisions too much, we’ll overshoot our goal. Not enough work put in, though, and we’ll never hit the target. Lift and drag. And it’s really about us and God doing our own part in a nice balance.

This week’s posts are a little longer than I normally write. Part one sort of explained the big principle of Frisbee faith (or the Gospel According to Wham-O as I called it). Part two went into a little more detail about some Bible verses that (I think) have been misrepresented. Today, I want to wrap it all up with some examples of what I’m talking about, some personal stories about my own journey in figuring out how to fly with lift and drag in my life.

A year ago today we closed on the sale of our house in Broken Arrow, OK. It was a big deal, sort of the midpoint in this big adventure our family is on. We closed one chapter to open a new one. But that whole journey started months earlier, and represents a nice balance between what I was doing and what God did in our lives.

A couple years ago I experienced a moment of divine discontentment. I looked at my career – what I was doing and where I was going – and I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I did a lot of evaluating and talked to a lot of people about it. I also prayed and meditated on what I was supposed to do. I took a trip out of town with the family to sort of clear my head and really think about it. While away I had one of those “divine appointments” that we always talk about – where God puts somebody in your path who says something that hits just the right chord. It was while I was sitting at the dining room table of my old friend and mentor Dr. Oss that it just sort of clicked. What I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had always intended to go onto grad school right after college, but as they say – life got in the way. And I’m glad it did! But in order to do the things I wanted to do now, I had to go back to school. I started looking at MDiv programs, both online and in residence. But the amount of hours in the programs (45+), the cost ($$$), and the fact that much of the coursework I had already done in my undergrad made me rethink it all. Then God reminded me of MSU in Springfield, MO. I had friends that got their masters degree there in religious studies. I looked at the coursework and cost, and it was much lighter on my schedule and budget. Plus, God was really stirring in me a passion to interact with those of different beliefs and faiths than mine. This may be the perfect opportunity.

So, about 18 months ago I started the application process. It was full of ups and downs. Yay, I got accepted! No, I didn’t get the graduate assistantship. Yay, I got a scholarship! No, it wasn’t that much. Through it all, I could tell that I was pushing a little and God was pulling a little. We were working together to make all of this happen.

I really felt that lift and drag when it came to selling our house, which Melisa and I decided to do on our own. And what an experience that was! We would sometimes go weeks without a call, then show the house three times in two days. My parents would ask, “What if you don’t sell the house? Are you still moving?” And we would try to push those negative thoughts out of our heads.

We prayed a lot, we advertised a lot, and in the end it only took one person looking at the house, really. I showed the house one Saturday afternoon to a young couple fresh out of college. Within the week, we had a signed contract.

After that – we were homeless! But I wasn’t too worried. I had done my part, and I was fully expecting God to do his part. We were working in balance here, remember. One day a friend of mine asked, “What are you going to do if you sell your house before you’re ready to move?” I told him that if I had to – gulp! – I’d move in with my parents for a few weeks. “Well, we actually own a house that’s empty,” he told me. “Why don’t you guys live there for a couple of months rent free?”

Wow! It was neat to see how pushing at just the right time got us out of our old house, but then letting up at the right time got us into a free house! Lift and drag. Push and pull. Not too much, not too little. Me working, God working, and the whole thing went spinning across the lawn – flat and straight.

Now we’re on this journey. We’re on top of that Frisbee sailing along. And it’s been a blast! Even when it’s tough (living in the middle of a journey is hard work!) it’s still great because we’re learning and we’re growing. Melisa and the kids were willing to uproot their whole lives so I could live out my dreams. But then again, Melisa ended up working at a great school after working really hard at getting the job and letting God direct her path to the perfect place. You find yourself working real hard at the networking game to make connections, then one day at your son’s preschool you meet someone who hands you a card and says, “Let’s do lunch.”

Lift and drag. Me and God, doing our own thing and making it all work. And I’m really looking forward to where this Frisbee will take us next!

The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 2

On Tuesday I wrote about Frisbees. Flying that flat disc across the lawn is tough. If you throw it too hard, it flies off to the right. If you throw it too light, it falls short off to the left. It takes a nice balance between lift and drag to make the Frisbee fly flat and straight.

If we want to live our lives in pursuit of God, there has to be a balance between lift and drag there too. We can’t push too hard – thinking it’s all up to us – or we could overshoot the goal. But it we don’t push hard enough – thinking it’s all up to God – then we’ll surely come up short. It takes that nice balance. Oh, and you have to keep spinning, too.

Now, on Tuesday we didn’t solve the debate between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom, but I hope I gave you some things to think about. Today, I want to give you an explanation and an example of what I’m talking about.

I’ve heard people say that God is in control of everything all the time. In fact, he’s even decided when we’re going to die! “God has numbered our days,” they say. “It’s in the Bible…somewhere.” Well, the Bible does say something like that, but I’m not sure it says what we think it says. Let’s take a look:

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:16

Okay, that sounds legit. There’s a book somewhere and God wrote down exactly how many days you would live. At the end of that time – like a kitchen timer going off – Bam! End of the line, you’re dead. But this Psalm is really talking about how God made us – in his perfect knowledge and wisdom. The poet comes up with this great line, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” In that act of personal creation, God put us together in just the right way to make us a masterpiece worthy of framing.

That’s a beautiful thought. But the point isn’t so much that God has planned out our future, as it is that he knows so much about us – he even knows how long we’ll live!

Take a look at a couple of other Psalms that talk about this same idea.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

Psalm 39:4

 

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Here the poet is asking God for help in numbering our own days. We actually play a role in figuring that out, deciding how long we’re going to live, and comparing that realization to how great big God is!

An all-knowing God would know exactly how long we’ll live. But, knowing beforehand isn’t the same as deciding beforehand. We still play a part in that whole thing. Just like the lift and drag of day-to-day decisions.

Take a look at another verse, this time a Proverb.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9

At first, this looks like there’s no balance – it’s all up to God. Sure, we can make plans in our own hearts. But God has the last say! HE is the one that establishes our steps. But I’ve got a bone to pick with the translators. Hear me out on this for a second.

The word for “but” is a little bitty Hebrew letter “v”. Most of the time, that little letter is translated “and.” Sure, there are times when a more subtle translation is called for. But let’s go ahead and put “and” back in that verse. Then let’s see what it says.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
and the Lord establishes their steps.

Okay. Go with me on this. Let’s say this is the way the original Proverber meant this little saying. We plan our course – through prayer, through wisdom, through counsel – and because we’ve put so much care into it, God establishes our steps. That makes sense to me. Lift and drag. Perfect balance. Frisbees flying nice and flat and straight.

This means that God actually honors and rewards us for being diligent about planning out our days. I kind of like that. Now, if you go with the preferred translation, the “but”, does the opposite of that make sense? Would God honor and reward someone for not making plans? Would God honor and reward someone for being lazy when it came to decision making? Would God go out of his way to establish the steps of someone just coasting through life, and then frustrate the work of those who make to-do lists, plan ahead, map out strategies in case of disaster?

I think not.

So, there you go. That’s me tackling millennia old Bible translations to prove a point.

And what’s that point? Too often I think we sit back and think God’s got it all under control so we better not do anything to mess up his plans. Other times we feel the weight of every decision and let anxiety rule the day. It’s not a “but,” it’s an “and.” We plan out our days AND God establishes our steps.

Well, I kept rambling and didn’t get around to an example. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you a story from one year ago about how I pushed hard enough and then watched God do some really amazing things.

The Gospel According to Wham-O

Flying a Frisbee is tough. Teaching a 7-year old to fly a Frisbee is even tougher. I found that out as I taught my daughter to fling that round piece of plastic through the air without hitting the tree next to her or winging the dog behind her. Sigh. Teaching a 7-year old anything is pretty tough.

Most of us learned to throw a Frisbee by throwing it. You sort of get the hang of it and figure it out as you go. My daughter? She’s a question-asker. She kept asking questions like, How does it work, Why does it fly, and Why does it keep going to the right? Answers like, Because you’re not throwing it hard enough, Because you’re throwing it too hard, and Because it just does all right, weren’t good enough for her.

So off to the internet we went!

We found a cool video that explains some of the science. And after watching the video…my daughter had more questions. But I had some answers I didn’t expect.

You see, flying a Frisbee is tough. Following God’s lead for our lives is even tougher. But they’re both pretty much the same.

And with that, I want you to think about this.

If you watched the video then you know the science of a Frisbee is pretty simple. Just fling it and it flies. It works off the same idea of an airplane wing – Lift and Drag. Lift pushes up on the front edge of the Frisbee, while drag pulls down on it. The lift and drag of a Frisbee have to be in a certain balance to work. Fling it too hard, and it lifts off to the right and then down into the ground. Fling it too soft, and it drags down to the left and lands a few feet in front of you.

Lift and Drag. Working together. Push too soft, and it won’t reach the destination. Push too hard, and it will over shoot the target.

Now, think of that Frisbee not as a piece of round plastic with a perfect little lip, but as important decisions you make in life. We all want to make good decisions in life, we all want to end up in a good place. And many of us believe that God plays a pivotal role in that. If you want to follow God’s lead, there’s a tension between God’s Sovereignty and our own Free Will. Lift and Drag.

“God’s got it all planned out.”

“It’s all up to me.”

An ages-old debate I don’t think we’ll settle here, but in thinking about that Frisbee I came up with some conclusions:

1. Both God and I Play Important Roles.

You can’t expect either lift or drag to do all the work on the Frisbee. You have to have both. Or it’s not a Frisbee, it’s just a plate.

My life is not completely determined by God. “Yeah, but the Bible says that God has numbered our days, right?” Well, read that again. Go find it – one of those places is in the Psalms – and see if it really means what you think it means. If it really is the case that God has numbered out our days, then nothing we do makes a difference. And I just can’t believe that. You may disagree, and that’s fine. Plenty of people have. But my decisions are important and are a big part of what happens to my life.

My life is not completely determined by me, either. I’d like to think that I’m 100% in control of my life. I decide when to get up in the morning, what to wear and what to eat that day, and how I’m going to spend my time. I decide what job I’m going to do, who I’m going to hang out with, and where I’m going to live. But I’ve lived on this earth long enough to see some things happen that were so completely outside of my intentions that I just shake my head and think, “Wow, God, you really put that all together, didn’t you?”

2. There’s a Balance Between Force and Freedom in My Decisions.

Think about that Frisbee flying through the air. If I push it too hard, it flies out of bounds. If I don’t push it hard enough, it falls short. Same thing with my life. If I follow too hard after one particular thing, I could overshoot the goal. If I don’t put enough effort in, I’ll come up short.

Just like lift and drag work together to get that Frisbee going, there’s both force and freedom I have to use in my life decisions. Sometimes I need to force a particular issue or event, other times I need to let the freedom of life take over. And that can be tricky. Flying a Frisbee is tough, remember. But you balance your life decisions with a bit of wisdom – and wisdom only comes through living life, and usually from making some mistakes. You learn to fly the Frisbee life by pushing a little hard here and letting up over there and eventually you sort of figure out that balance.

3. My Life Will Only Move Forward if I Keep Moving.

The science of the Frisbee is known as gyroscopic force. That’s a big word that means a spinning object will maintain a stable orientation as long as it keeps spinning. You get the right balance of lift and drag, you hit that sweet spot where the Frisbee flies straight and flat, and that bad boy will keep going until it stops spinning. There’s some more science to it, but that’s really all you need to know. If the Frisbee spins, it moves.

The best way to make sure you don’t move forward in life is to just stop. If you’re doing something, you’re going to move forward. Even if it’s not exactly what God has planned – as long as it’s not a self-destructive behavior – then it’s still okay because you’re moving, you’re doing, you’re gaining momentum.

“But I’m just waiting for God to tell me the next move.”

That’s fine. While you wait, keep moving.

“I don’t want to make a move without God.”

Don’t worry, he’s still there. While you move and work and do good stuff, he’s going to be watching and smiling. Trust me. God doesn’t get upset when we do good stuff.

So those are some of my thoughts from flinging a Frisbee around. Maybe you’ve had some similar thoughts, and maybe your ideas are a lot different than mine. That’s fine, I’d still like to hear them. And I hope you come back in a couple of days to read part two where I talk about an explanation and an example – why I don’t think God is completely in control, and why I think he’s more in control than I usually believe he is.

Until then, why don’t you head outside and play Frisbee with your kids. Trust me, you’ll have a great time…even if the Frisbee ends up in a tree.

Peace Among the Pieces

My son loves Legos, which is great for me because I loved Legos when I was a kid. So, that means I get to play with my son’s Legos now. What? I paid for them. It’s only right.

When I was a kid, I played with G.I. Joes, too. That was my go to toy. When we went to the store, I went straight to the G.I. Joe aisle. No stopping to take in the Transformers, no pausing to peruse the Hotwheels. It was just straight to G.I. Joe. And the best part – for me at least – about getting a brand new G.I. Joe was putting it together! There were instructions and decals and all these different parts! I loved when everything was done and it all fit together. And truth be told, I enjoyed putting them together almost as much as playing with them.

I’ve realized something recently, and this is a little hard to talk about, but I’m a bit of an instructions Nazi. Whether it’s toys or a new gadget or the grill my wife bought me for Father’s Day last summer. The instructions are the holy text, and thou shalt not build without first reading the instructions! But man, have I come to realize how wrong I am.

And with that, I’d like you to think about this.

My overemphasis on instructions has affected my son when it comes to Legos. We open the box and I immediately go to the instructions and lay it out. “Okay, step one: Sorting! No, don’t start putting them together, we have to sort according to color and size, son. See, there’s a little picture of the Lego man doing just that.”

Of course it only gets worse later when I see him taking apart his Legos to make other stuff, stuff that’s not in the instructions and stuff that simply shouldn’t be! These creations are anti-Lego, I tell you. They have twenty wheels and five wings and three seats and four steering wheels and…

And then I stop and I realize that I’m being an instructions Nazi.

Why? Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do this to my kids? Why do I get so anxious when I see that toy or grill or whatever not put together the right way?

I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with my neurosis. But I won’t let them. Because I think I’ve figured it out. Or at least, I’ve figured out why I’ve had such a hard time kicking this habit in my later years. It all comes down to peace.

When the Bible talks about peace, it uses two words from the Hebrew and Greek: Shalom and Eirene. Those words don’t mean “a state of mutual harmony” or “the absence of conflict” like our English word means. Both of those words mean pretty much the same thing – Wholeness; Completeness; Put together the right way.

Whenever I learned this, a light bulb went off in my head. *DING* “Oh! Now I get it. To have peace means that everything has to fit together just right.” And since I was an instructions Nazi, it made perfect sense to me. If all the pieces fit, then I can have peace.

How many of you know that when a light bulb goes off it doesn’t always equate to a good idea? Yeah, I’m learning that.

So, my misunderstanding of this whole Shalom/Wholeness thing only served to reinforce my neurosis about instructions.

“No! You need to make sure all your Legos are put together the right way, son. Don’t you understand Shalom?

“No! I need to make sure this assignment is perfect before I turn it in. Don’t you understand Shalom?

“No! I won’t feel fulfilled until all the boxes in my life are checked off. Don’t you understand Shalom?

Well, guess what…I was the one that didn’t understand Shalom. And I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to scream it like that.

The peace of God is not about having all the pieces fit together. The Apostle Paul says as much when he tells us, “Hey, it’s not like I’ve arrived or anything, guys. I’m banging around on this planet just like you, trying to figure all of this stuff out.” (Philippians 3:12)

That’s a paraphrase, but it’s a good paraphrase. And that’s an Apostle! Capital “A” Apostle! Like, wrote down the words of God and we’ve been reading them for 2000 years, Apostle. And all the pieces didn’t fit for him. What makes me think that I’ll have it all put together?

Now, I’m not sure if he ever struggled with the whole Shalom thing too, but I bet he did. He was big into following the Law – which is basically just instructions – before he started following Jesus. But then grace took over big time. And this is how he defined peace:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

So, what is Shalom if it’s not having everything together? I guess the key is that it only comes from God. We look at our lives – at least I do – and I think, “Man, I’m so off track from where I thought I would be. I’m not in the shape I want to be in. My bank account isn’t as full as I want it to be. I don’t meditate, pray, and read my Bible as much as I want to.” And I look at all that and come to the conclusion that Shalom is a long way off.

But then I look at my kids. Put together? HA! My son combs his own hair. You should see it! It’s all messed up and sticking up and flat in the front and a rat’s nest in the back. And he puts the comb down and smiles real big and gives me a thumbs up. And I give him one right back. You know why? Because he’s figured out Shalom. And I haven’t. But I’m trying.

Here’s the deal – I look at his hair and I would never say, “Son, that’s a complete mess!” Even if it is, it’s perfect to me because he’s my son. I wouldn’t want him to be filled with anxiety over something like his hair, or his bed being messed up, or his Legos not being put together the right way. And I don’t think God wants us filled with anxiety over those little things either. Just like I’m my son’s dad, God is my dad. And when he looks down and sees how messed up I am, he still gives me a thumbs up. I don’t know why. He probably shouldn’t. I wouldn’t give me a thumbs up. I guess that’s why Paul said that the peace of God surpasses our understanding.

Put together? HA! I’ve got more Lego pieces missing than I care to admit. But I’m working on it. And my life may end up with twelve wheels and three doors and the blocks are all different colors.

But God gives me a lot of slack. I need to start giving my son a bit more when it comes to his Legos. And I probably need to give myself some more slack when it comes to having all the pieces fit. After all, peace isn’t pieces that fit together perfectly. Peace is being thankful that God gives us a thumbs up anyway.

“I’m Blessed” to be So Lucky

Last week, you probably saw someone post on social media a neat little article entitled The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying. It’s a Huffpost Religion article and that often means it comes with a mixed bag. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I loved mixed bags. I usually end up agreeing with more than I disagree with. Except in this case. The author, Scott Dannemiller is wrong. Or at least I think he’s wrong.

I clicked on the article assuming I’d see something about tolerance or hypocrisy or legalism. But Dannemiller’s one thing Christians should stop saying is “I’m blessed.” Now, Dannemiller was admittedly splitting semantic hairs. But again, he’s wrong. All the way to the end of the article, he’s wrong.

And with that, I want you to think about this.

A couple weeks ago, a friend forwarded me an article about “writing spaces” and wanted my feedback. The author of the article talked about where she likes to do her best writing and even included a picture of a nice desk set up by a back window overlooking trees and birds and nature stuff. I thought it was a pretty good article, so I responded to my friend about my “writing space” which is a little office behind the attached garage that is nice and isolated from the rest of the house. I can go down there and close the door and turn on my space heater and not be bothered by my five year old yelling at my seven year old or my dog barking at a squirrel or the postman. I really love it.

I started talking about my own little “writing space” and I got real excited about it because after fifteen years of marriage we finally bought a house with a nice office just for me. And then I felt a little guilty. Because not everyone has the chance to buy a house like mine (not that it’s anything special, but still). And not every writer has the chance to carve out a little “writing space.” So, I decided to tag on a little addendum to my message – “I’m blessed.” I wanted my friend to know that I don’t take the fact that I have my own office for granted. And the best way I knew to convey that was to say “I’m blessed to have a house like this.”

Of course Scott Dannemiller would disagree with me on that. The Huffpost article I linked above lays out some good points about why I was wrong to say “I’m blessed.” Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, he’s wrong.

The first point he makes is that saying “I’m blessed” reduces God to a divine wish-granter “randomly bestowing cash and cars” to the faithful few. But this is playing off the assumption that God blesses us as incentive for right living. There’s a certain amount of “Protestant Ethic” at play with that, sure. But that theory has suffered a lot lately. More and more, sociologists are seeing that what people do with their money is more important than what they do to get it. And what they do with it is often influenced by how they view it in the first place. When someone says “I’m blessed” when talking about how much they make, they usually don’t mean “Look at how much God loves me more than anyone else.” There usually follows a sense of gratitude that leads to some benevolent action.

His second point is that saying “I’m blessed” is somehow offensive to those who are less fortunate than us. While the Western World’s focus on material success is often a product of an unbalanced view of God and resources, it’s not completely far off from scripture. Many people like to point out that the famous (or infamous) passage in Philippians 4:13 doesn’t mean what people think it means. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” the passage reads. Does that mean I can play professional football, become an actor, run for governor, earn a million dollars…because Christ gives me the strength to do it? Probably not. In fact, the context sort of points to Paul saying, “I’m pretty much desolate here and dependant on others for financial aid, but through Christ’s power I can still accomplish God’s goal for my life.”

But is that what Paul is really saying? Look at Philippians 4:12:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (emphasis added)

Paul admits to having “plenty” and being blessed with “abundance.” Don’t those help him accomplish God’s goals as well? Wouldn’t he say those are blessings?

Look at another passage of scripture that gets a lot of the “blessed” treatment. When Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, he began with the Beatitudes. He gives a shout out to the audience and says, “You guys are so blessed.” And everyone there probably said, “Really? Me? Blessed?” Because they weren’t rich landowners. They were farmers and peasants, poor and destitute, who brought their sick and dying to Jesus to be healed, looking to him to give them an answer to Roman oppression. And Jesus says, “You guys, you are truly blessed!”

The word for “blessed” there is makarios. There are many different ways to translate it. Most scholars decide on “blessed” as the best way. But I like a couple other ways: Happy and Lucky. Happy seems to indicate that you’re overjoyed by some great happenstance of life. And Jesus is really turning that on its head, because that list? Not really stuff you’d be happy about. And lucky? That’s even better. “You’re persecuted? Lucky you! You’re poor? Lucky you!”

What’s so lucky about that group? Well, they didn’t deserve to be blessed, to be given the kingdom, to have someone pull out a chair and say, “here, you can sit at the table of God now.” But they got it. And that’s grace. And our response to anything we ever own or possess should be similar to our response to grace. We didn’t do anything to earn our standing with God. But we got it. And now we acknowledge it as a blessing and we thank him and we let it spur us on to greater things.

And that leads me to my biggest problem with Dannemiller’s article.

In the last paragraph, after making a big case about how bad it is for us to say “I’m blessed,” the author says that he know says “I’m grateful.” Is there a difference between those two? Isn’t saying “I’m blessed” just saying “I’m nothing special, this was some really great extra for my life”?

So again, the author is splitting some semantic hairs here. But I think in our zeal to denounce a certain teaching that equates godliness with worldly riches, we may be overstepping an opportunity to give God credit for good stuff that happens to us too. It’s okay to be happy and to enjoy your stuff. It’s not okay to think that they somehow make you any special than any other of God’s children. And it’s definitely okay – in fact, I’d say its mandatory – to acknowledge that God is the source of all that, whether your material success is an extra million dollars or a clean pair of shoes.

And I can’t think of a better word to use than “blessed” to describe how God has bestowed that on us.