You learn early on in life that the best things – the most important things – are the first things. You block time on your calendar FIRST for the most important things. You budget the priority of your money FIRST for the most important things. You don't go to a sale on the third day. You go on the first day, because the best things are out first. This challenges us to our core when we realize how it plays into our relationship with God. In our hyper-individualized culture, we have learned to put ourselves first. We work hard to build our own kingdom, but when we come to know Christ, we are called to lay that down in favor of HIs Kingdom. We become part of something larger than ourselves. We want what HE wants. Leviticus 23:9 reminds us that this applies to our generosity or lack thereof. We are called to bring God our "firstfruits" – the very first of what He provides for us - as a sign of our trust and thanks. The Hebrew word means literally "choicest, finest." When we do, He tells us that it will bring us "near to Him" while helping us maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. It makes sense. When our Creator commands that we give Him the firstfruits of our income – the very best tithe – then we become more deeply engaged in His Kingdom – and thus much closer to the One who is Savior and Lord. So as we gaze upon the buffet of God's blessings bestowed on us, where is He in the line? Do we serve Him first, honoring Him as we do, or is He the one left with the remnants – the dregs – the last fruits? And is that the message we want to send?
This also has deep implications for how we understand the dynamics surrounding the Parkland, FL shooting last week. We grieve. We mourn. We pray. We seek God first. I have seen people diminish the phrase "our thoughts and prayers" as if it has no meaning. We can't say, "Well, we prayed after each tragedy and they are still happening, so prayer doesn't work." You can't hold God to promises He never made. He never said that if we believed in Him, there would be a protective bubble around us. He DID say "in this world you WILL have trouble." How can we not? It's filled with evil that still reigns, but that's precisely why Christ came. He came so that the pain and grief we experience now would never be the final word. He came to defeat sin and evil by HIs cross and resurrection, and we wait for the full consummation of that victory. Between now and then, we gain strength in his promised presence, the presence we experience through prayer. #GodFirst #prayfirst
MY RESPONSE: I have had a significant number of people ask me to "speak out" or "say something" about this latest tragedy. I shared an initial post late last week, but here's the reality: each time such a tragedy occurs, our nation appropriately cries out for action in the wake of agony. Some say "gun control!" Some say "mental health!" Some say "better FBI/law enforcement!" All of that is true. We can't expect there is one solution. We desperately need sensible gun control laws that allow people the right to bear arms, but not arms designed for terror. No one needs an assault rifle. Naturally, people respond with "It's my right!" True, but let's go back to #1. When we enter God's Kingdom by faith, we are not merely living for ourselves any more. Individualism dies, and we now live for a greater good. We grow to want what God wants. We become willing to lay down our wants and desires for the greater good of the lives of others. So, maybe we don't get to shoot an assault rifle for fun. If that means that bad guys won't get them, then I'm willing to lay that down because there is a larger value at work: the value of ALL LIFE. Thus, I yield to His larger Kingdom purpose to protect life wherever I can.
WHILE THAT IS TRUE, we can't act as if gun control is a panacea. It's not. If we enacted it tomorrow, it would still take years to get the 350 million guns currently in circulation off the streets. So, yes, start there, but at the SAME TIME, let's work on mental health deficiencies where Florida ranks dead last in spending. We need to look hard at our society and ask why anxiety and depression rates – as well as suicides – are soaring. There is a growing hopelessness that few seem to want to acknowledge. We have more material goods than ever before, but we are more unhappy than we have ever been before. The UK has even appointed a Cabinet Secretary with the title "Minister of Happiness" to try to understand the root cause. I think you'll find the answer rooted in our lack of faith in anything beyond ourselves. If we are depending on ourselves to satisfy us in life, we will be greatly disappointed. We must find purpose and meaning in something larger than ourselves. The things that need to change to fix our culture cannot be focused on one thing. We have to look at everything. It's not either/or; it's ALL of it.
HERE'S THE HARD PART: We have to be consistent in our outrage and the issues we champion. My heart was broken, as I am sure yours was, to see parents and teens crying out to government leaders, "Protect us! Do something! You must protect our children!" Choked by that emotion, we concur. Absolutely, we must and I pray that we will. However, if we demand that life be protected, we can't stop at school children, can we? How can our government, our political leaders, or we as individuals, have any theological integrity if we only protect some lives but look away from countless others that are being lost? We can't cherrypick which lives matter. The life of a homeless man who wanders into Lake Eola and drowns because he is drunk and can't swim is just as valuable, but we look away. The life of a paranoid schizophrenic locked in the prison of his mind is just as valuable, but we look away. We spend our state funds elsewhere and hardly anyone blinks. The lives of unborn children are just as valuable. Do we protect them? We must SPEAK OUT for all life. Once again, it's not either/or; it's all life. We have to follow where our theology leads us and stand for life wherever it may be threatened.
OLYMPICS: I love the winter Olympics because you see sports you never get to see. Skeleton? Luge? Snowboard cross? It's GREAT, but the really good things are all on too late. Come on! Why can't they show the good things in the early time slots? CRINGEWORTHY: USA Skating must have gulped when Adam Rippon was asked what he was thinking before his performance. Answer: "I wanted a drink and a Xanax." Whoops. NORTH KOREAN CHEER SQUADS: They have been ubiquitous, but according to the NYT, the selection process for these homogenous looking women was rigorous: early 20's, exactly 5'3", from the right political family, and deeply ingrained in the NK political system. Why do we keep showing them?
OBAMA PORTRAITS: When it comes to art, I am no expert, but I do prefer traditional and historic. Did a two-term President sitting amongst a bunch of flowers, symbolic though they might be, seem a little strange to anyone else? While I like the First Lady's portrait design, it didn't seem to look much like her.
RESTAURANT REVIEW: Lazy Moon Pizza. Wow. Just wow.
To all of you who asked for one of the "When I get up, all I need is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus" coffee mugs, we're working on it!!
"This is a profound mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church." Eph 5:32
The FPCO Marriage Retreat was a rich encouragement to me. The presence of God was thick in such palpable ways - a wonderful sense of community and growing relationships, heartfelt testimony, hearty laughter, and the joy of seeing couples sitting together all over the property (Mission Inn) talking through the dynamics of Christian marriage. Paul alludes to the "mystery" in the Ephesian text above when after describing the Christ-like manner in which husbands and wives are to love each other, he says that he is actually talking about Christ and the Church. Marriage, then, has a far more significant purpose. It is not merely about the happiness of a husband or wife; it is about the larger purpose for which God brought them together. As husbands and wives love each sacrificially, they bear witness to the world of the way in which Christ loved His Bride, the Church, by laying down HIs life for her. It is quite a contrast to the cultural view of marriage, one based on consumerism – not convenient. As Stanley Hauerwas wrote, "We don't fall in love and then get married; instead we get married and then learn what love requires." Love is not a feeling to be felt; it is a commitment to be kept.
The greatest blessing of the weekend was talking to couples who had never been to church or a church event. Their view of "the church" was completely built on what they had heard or read – all negative – which created tremendous anxiety beforehand, but they came nonetheless at the invitation of friends. It was such a joy to watch that melt away in mere hours as they found community and love and grace. "We thought it would be about shame and rigid rules. We had no idea that it would be FUN and that we would find such community and warmth – and a new understanding of God.
Furious would be a good word to describe my feelings regarding the Florida House decision to sweep $182M from an affordable housing fund and use it for other purposes. Thankfully, the Senate has it fully funded, so I am praying the House does the right thing and restores the fund. The affordable housing crisis in this state is only going to get worse, so the last thing we need to be doing is taking money away in order to serve more self-serving interests.
One of the great movies of all time is Sandlot. If you have not seen it, give yourself a gift and watch it. It's childhood and growing up and boyhood friendships and baseball – and the fabulous scene where Squints feigns drowning in order to steal a kiss from the oh so beautiful lifeguard, Wendy Peffercorn.
Douglas McKinnon, former Pentagon official and now a consultant on space, shared that asteroids measuring 50 to 400 feet are not detectable and could strike our planet at any time, causing catastrophic loss of life depending on location.
THE QUESTION: After watching the last two episodes of This Is Us, and also reflecting on the many funerals I have done, there is a question that people ask in those moments. It is the question that show has made me ask as Jack's children reflected on their father's life – and it is this: What will they say of me? I'll be standing at a post-funeral reception, and people invariably will ask, "Well, when you're doing my service, what will you say about me?" As I think about my own life – and what my children would say of me – I find my answer is still the same when people ask: "Well, that story is still being written, isn't it? It's never too late to do what God is calling you to do."
As I spoke this weekend about the nature of love: "phileo", "storge", "agape" and "eros"… it was an "aha" moment to realize that eros – erotic, physical love based on attraction - a love that asks 'what can you do for me?'… the love of our culture… is actually one that never shows up in the Bible. Only the first three are used – but not eros. If we'll take time to learn the other three, eros will happen naturally with our spouses – for we have learned the art of love that is Christlike – and true.
What I'm reading: A Lifelong Love, Gary Thomas
What I'm listening to: The Rest of our Life, Tim McGraw/Faith Hill