Building Bridges

At church, we’ve been going through a study called “Bridges”, a program designed to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims. In a time when building walls seems to be all the rage, building bridges is the exact opposite strategy – and philosophy. While the class has been excellent, the downside is that in a church of over 1,000 people, less than ten are in the class.

When  the Gospel is spread, it is always through bridge-building, never wall-building. Generally speaking, Islamic cultures (particularly in the Middle East) tend to be rather closed and isolated, particularly for women. Muslim men are afforded many other rights and liberties in their cultures, but women often are not. However, due to a variety of reasons (wars, natural disasters, globalism, Internet, etc.), the Islamic world is opening — whether it wishes to or not. In fact, it’s been estimated that more Muslims have heard the Gospel message within the last decade than in the previous 1400 years combined. The largest group of unreached people in the world today are those in Islamic cultures.

Another program at church that’s building bridges into the Muslim/Arab world is ENGAGE, a church-building initiative that provides support to the Syrian refugees that have fled to nearby Lebanon. Many have lost everything and arrive with little more than the clothes on their back; to make matters worse, the refugees are restricted from finding normal employment due to their refugee status, yet many do not qualify for official UN refugee status. The men spend most days either seeking employment or laboring at slave-wages, while the women care for their children and try to acquire food, clothing, etc. for their families. Many of the uprooted children are reduced to begging or menial labor rather than education because of their status and their needs. Though their lives are no longer in immediate danger from warfare, bombs, and terrorism, many refugees are still simply trying to survive.

The humanitarian needs in Syria and Lebanon today are very great – real, basic needs like clean water, food, medical treatment, shelter, clothing, and education.  It’s been estimated that there are at least one million Syrian refugees (though the number is likely much greater) in just Beirut, which is more than 20% of the population. Yet the government is either unable or unwilling to provide assistance, particularly at the numbers which are flowing in. While there are several humanitarian groups (along with UN) providing assistance to the refugees, it still falls far short of their immediate needs.

From the last trip-report from their missions-team in Beirut, the ENGAGE program is having a significant impact on the refugees in the city, though the need is far greater than the church can possibly support. Women and children are being clothed, fed, and assisted with finding shelter, younger children are being educated, and both women and men are being assisted with training and employment. As a result of the church’s initiatives and other humanitarian efforts, the Gospel is spreading the fastest among the refugees who have lost so much. Building bridges by meeting real human needs — loving others as God loves us — is working. The Gospel isn’t merely spiritual, but rubber-meets-the-road practical. The Gospel builds bridges — not walls — first between us and God, and then us with one another.

People are natural wall-builders — it comes easily and naturally to us. We build physical, emotional, and spiritual walls to keep others out or even ourselves in. Often we do it for safety, privacy, and simple peace-of-mind. Physically speaking, walls of any sort can be thrown up quickly, easily, and cheaply. But bridge-building? That takes far more planning, effort, and patience than any wall ever will. Emotional and spiritual walls are no different; it’s far easier, safer, and more comfortable to shut others out than open up and be vulnerable. Yet walls rarely foster spiritual or emotional growth – but bridges do.

In contrast to us, God is a bridge-builder. From the Beginning, He has been creating, building, and giving of Himself. From even the moment of the Fall, He’s been reaching out to us and trying to bridge the gap between us and Him. It was He who sought after Adam and Eve after the Fall, not them — they ran and hid, but He sought and pursued. When God does put up walls (such as with the Temple and tabernacle), it’s to protect us from His holiness that would otherwise consume us. Throughout history, building bridges and restoring relationships has always been in His heart and actions, though it may not seem like it at times. Often, He initially divides in order to build and restore later – sometimes much later!

Twenty years ago, a missions’ leader named Bob Sjogren spoke at church and provided several excellent insights to the heart of God and why Israel is so important to Him. It’s not that the Jewish people are better, smarter, or stronger than those around them, but that their fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) followed Him by faith. Not only that, but why has the land of Israel itself been so important to God? And why does He even go so far as to refer to it “His land” throughout the Bible? Keep in mind that there’s really nothing particularly special about the land of Israel itself – except that it sits in the very center of the three major continents. Not only that, but the geography of Israel is such that the major trade-routes go through that tiny nation, and in fact, the ancient trade-routes would go straight through Jerusalem. And then just as now, the Temple Mount was the focus of Jerusalem.

Since dividing the nations at the Tower of Babel (a judgment of mercy, not wrath), bridge-building has been at the center of God’s plan to draw the nations back to Him. As one people with one language, humanity quickly began to rebel again after the Flood. Therefore He divided the peoples to preserve them and keep His promises to redeem mankind. After the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, God’s plan was to bring the nations to Israel to hear His message and His law. Not only that, but even before they fell into idolatry and were exiled, Israel’s punishment still involved spreading His message: He would scatter them to all the nations, taking His Word with them. Stepping back, it’s almost as if He said to Israel, “Since you failed to tell those who came into My land the message I gave you, I’ll send you out to them! Either way, my message will go forth.”

With the Church, it’s been almost the opposite: from the beginning, He told us to “Go!” but most of us do the opposite: we tend to stay put. In the early church, He would allow or even send persecution specifically to scatter the church abroad, first in Jerusalem and Judea, then Damascus and then to the ends of the earth. In our modern day, it’s been different since there’s little real persecution in the West, though the command to spread the Gospel still stands. Lately He’s been bringing the nations to America (arguably the world’s foremost Christian nation) through immigration, refugees, and the various crises around the globe. Yet many of us continue to resist what He’s doing: spreading the Gospel.

Whatever excuses we come up with to not further His message and mission (intentional or not!), His message will go forth, and He wants to use us to accomplish it. So with that in mind, what should we expect in the years ahead? More crises? More refugee and immigration struggles? More civil unrest and problems? More politization and polarization here at home? Probably — things have a way of getting worse before they get better. Yet His word will go forth regardless. In our day when we can easily go anywhere in the world but often won’t, perhaps He’s saying “Very well, if you won’t go out to proclaim my message, I’ll bring them to you!” Regardless of how badly we fail in His mission for us, His message of salvation will go forth to the nations just as He has promised.

Another insight from both the Bridges class and a survey of global-missions today is that God is moving, particularly in the Muslim world. The largest unreached people-group in the world today are Muslims — over 1.2 billion men, women, and children — and growing fast. At least seven million have immigrated to America (a supposed Christian nation) yet remain unreached. Sometimes He uses dreams and visions to reach the unreachable, but I think He would prefer to use His children to spread His message: us. There will be conflict, division, and problems, but those create opportunities to not only reach them with the love of God, but to reach us and mobilize us into action.

In these days, what does God expect of us? It’s very simple, really: love Him and love others the way we wish to be loved. Get out of our comfort-zones and get involved with what He’s doing, even when it’s tough. The 10/40 Window is open and growing, and the need for both humanitarian effort and the Gospel there is great (87% of the world’s poorest poorest people with nearly zero access to the Gospel or other Christian resources). Before His crucifixion, Jesus declared that the Gospel would be preached to all nations, tribes, and tongues as a witness to them before the End, which means that the 4 billion people in these 69 nations will one day be reached — and because of advances in technology, possibly within our lifetime!

But the thing is, the Gospel isn’t spread with TV or Internet programs, big media schemes, or clever marketing; it’s spread by one person loving another and caring enough about them to share their personal relationship with God. As Christians, we’re all called to make disciples of Jesus; it’s not merely a call given to those destined for the mission-field, it’s for all of us. Discipleship takes time, energy, and effort – it’s about building bridges and relationships, not simply dropping pamphlets all over the place.

Brick by brick, line by line, here a little there a little, His Church is being built all across the world. Person by person, friendship by friendship, the Word is spread and His Family is built. We’re called to build bridges with our neighbors, whether they’re just next door or on the other side of the world.

“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” — Isaiah 2:3b-4

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Repairing the World

This week in Israel, the nation observed “Yom HaShoah” (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to remember the 6+ million Jews (as well as the 6+ million others) who were murdered in the Holocaust. On Yom HaShoah, loud sirens ring out throughout the nation and everyone immediately stops whatever they’re doing (driving, walking, shopping, praying – everything), rises to their feet, and stands perfectly still until the sirens cease (about one minute). Except for the wind, birds, and dogs, the entire land falls silent.

Next week, Israel will observe “Yom HaZikaron” (Memorial Day) and then the following day, “Yom HaAtzmaut” (Independence Day). They intentionally link the two holidays together because without the sacrifices of their countrymen, they would have no independence. When Israel first became a nation again in 1948, they were immediately attacked by their five Arab neighbors, as well as those from within their own country – yet they not only survived, but thrived despite the overwhelming odds against them. In fact, one of best proofs that the God of the Bible is real and sovereign is in the survival of the Jewish people throughout countless waves of persecution over the millennia.

If any group of people in the world could be justified in being bitter towards others (particularly their neighbors), it should be the Jews – yet curiously they as a whole are not, or at least it’s not typically reflected in their temperament and policies. Of course, there is still some racism, but it’s incomparable to what’s around them. Arabs are granted full citizenship rights in Israel, full representation, and their holidays are respected despite dwelling in a predominantly Jewish state. In contrast, most of their Arab neighbors treat Jews as second-class citizens, do not recognize their holidays, and even refuse to recognize Israel as an official nation.

The difference in attitudes between Israel and their neighbors – if not much of the world – is rather remarkable, both at the national level and the individual level. Though the Arab nations are blessed with an abundance of oil resources and great wealth, much of their land remains undeveloped, their education system is severely lacking, and their people remain in poverty. In contrast, Israel has few natural resources yet their education system is excellent, their economy is vibrant, and their welfare system is generous – especially towards immigrants and refugees.

Why the stark difference between the two ancient peoples? For the Jews, it goes back to their roots and their character as a people and what they’ve endured over the last 2,700 years. It goes back to them frequently being persecuted, losing everything, and having to start over from scratch when the odds are stacked against them. When a people is forced to endure the unimaginable, they learn how to survive and find creative ways to cope and even thrive.

In Israel, the unofficial philosophy is “tikkun olam”, which means “to repair what is broken” and in a more practical sense, “repairing the world”. During the Diaspora when Jewish settlers began to return to the land, they found arid deserts, malaria-filled swamps, and little freshwater. The Promised Land was anything but – yet they believed it still was, particularly given their faith in the Book. With those promises and that dream in mind, they set out to heal the land and restore what had been destroyed and neglected, and the idea of “tikkun olam” took root in their new culture.

What does tikkun olam look like in practical terms? In Israel, it means planting hundreds of thousands of trees to reforest a barren land. It means draining swamps and providing clean water and irrigation. It means devising innovative solutions to solve real-world problems. It means turning arid deserts into land that can be used to grow agricultural products from figs to wheat to flowers to citrus. It even means raising fish in the desert! It means providing food, medicine, and education to those in need. It means assimilating millions of refugees and immigrants from all over the world. It means doing something good and useful with what little you have.

Is tikkun olam confined only to Israel for their own benefit? Hardly — Israeli companies and entrepreneurs frequently reach far outside their borders to spread their technology and innovation abroad. In the past, they were forced to do so because of the Arab embargo placed upon Israeli goods by their immediate neighbors, so in order to survive and grow, Israeli companies had to market their goods to Europe, America, and Asia. But as a result of those obstacles and challenges, this tiny nation became a global exporter of technology, clean-water solutions, and agricultural products.

Yet while tikkun olam may seem relatively new, it’s a concept woven throughout the Bible, from the first page to the last. However, we typically know it by a different term: redemption. From before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God’s plan of redemption was in mind: to repair all that was broken in humanity and Creation. Ultimately, He will restore the relationship between us and Himself that we as a race chose to break long ago.

One of the passages in the Bible that bolstered the early settlers of Israel comes from a Messianic prophecy tucked away in Isaiah 35:

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
It shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.”

From this 2,700 year-old passage, the settlers and founders of Israel set out to literally make the “desert bloom” despite its absurdity. And while the passage predominantly speaks of the incredible changes that the Messiah will bring to the land when He comes, the settlers didn’t sit back and wait for that to happen – they rolled up their sleeves and set to turn that dream into a reality. And through their hard work and sacrifice, Israel is being a blessing to the rest of the world (Genesis 12:3, 22:16-18), even though they didn’t consciously set out to accomplish that. They simply set out to restore a small piece of land, got to work, and God has done the rest, multiplying their efforts in ways they could not imagine.

Isn’t that the way with how God often works in us? Though He could instantly change the world or empower us to change it, He doesn’t (at least not yet). He plants a dream in us and assures us of His promises through His Word, yet leaves much of the hard work up to us. It’s up to us to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and drain those swamps, plant those trees, and build those houses. It’s up to us to work hard, use the resources He’s given us, and find creative ways to solve real problems. Glory and honor always follow hardship or even suffering, and rest always follows labor.

Another passage that spoke to the settlers and those who followed was from Isaiah 61:4:

“They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”

How has Israel repaired their land? Day by day, bit by bit, and little by little but being persistent over time. By a handful of people believing in something and setting out to accomplish it – and mobilizing others to do likewise – they are rebuilding their land. By believing and not losing heart, by persisting even though they keep getting knocked down, by pressing on and sacrificing their immediate comforts for their children and grandchildren. In only a handful of decades, the ancient ruins have rebuilt, the deserts are blooming, and Israel has become a blessing to the rest of the world.

Like Israel, we were blessed to be a blessing, a light to shine in the darkness. How can we use the gifts that God has given us? What can we do today to help repair our world and the world of those around us?

How can we make those dreams He has planted in us become real – even as absurd as some of them may seem? How can we use the time He has given us, even if it seems rather short or insignificant?

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” — Genesis 22:16-18

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Fixing Broken Things

“His name is MacGyver, and he can fix anything.”

Growing up in the Midwest, we watched a lot of television in the winter, even though we only got three channels (four, if you count PBS, which we never did). My favorite show growing up was “MacGyver”, remember him? (And no, the new “reboot” doesn’t count.) MacGyver was the guy who could be locked in a basement and somehow improvise a rocket-launcher with an empty toilet-paper roll, duct-tape, baking-soda, and a couple of ball-bearings. Not only that, but he was one of those people who could fix just about anything with whatever he found laying around. In college, I knew a real-life MacGyver named James, this long-haired pot-smoking cammo-jacket-n-army-boots-wearing hipster who could fix and build just about anything. But from his resume and appearance, you’d never know that he’s probably one of the smartest people you’ll ever encounter — and without a college-degree.

I’m good at fixing things — well, some things. I can fix most code problems I encounter relatively well, even if those fixes are marked with “// ugly, dirty HACK!” Most code is pretty logical and once one understands what it’s supposed to do (as opposed to what it does), it’s usually not that difficult to figure out what’s wrong and start making fixes. When it comes to working on my car or stuff around the house, I do alright but can get a little sloppy (sorry, kids!). Admittedly, after awhile I tend to get impatient and start to justify that all the time and effort I’m putting in could be much better spent elsewhere. Then I just patch things up to a tolerable state and say “Good enough!” or (as in the case with cars) bring in an “expert” and pull out the checkbook.

Over the last several months, I’ve been fixing up my house — not to sell or rent out (thank goodness!), but for myself and my kids. Literally every room has been combed through and everything fixed/replaced, patched, updated, and repainted. I guess I’m becoming more like one of the guys from Fixer-Upper than MacGyver these days. We’ve been in the house for nearly sixteen years and never really made more than minor repairs, not even repainting. The house was brand-new when we bought it, and we didn’t really notice the wear-n-tear until about five years ago. My excuse in delaying many of the repairs and updates was, “As long as the kids are young, everything’s a cluttered mess, and we have all these pets running around, it’s a losing battle that can wait for another day.” But now that day is finally here, and it’s been a long row to hoe. My poor house must feel like I’m giving it a root canal or something!

While I’m decent at fixing code and odds-n-ends, when it comes to relationships, I’m afraid it’s a different story. Fixing broken relationships isn’t nearly as easy as fixing code, my house, or even my car. My pride often deceives me into thinking I know how someone else feels, thinks, and might react, but in the end all I’m really doing is making guesses because I can’t see the entire picture, much less actually understand it. Heck, I don’t even know how I feel, think, and might react half the time, so how can I possibly understand how someone completely different from myself might feel, think, and react? But my pride — that stubborn old pride blinds me and fools me into thinking otherwise just about every time.

Sometimes despite how much I try to fix things, they only seem to make it worse. With my house, I can always spackle, patch, or even cut out the broken piece and replace it. If I do it well enough, no one can tell that anything was even broken in the first place (especially after a fresh coat or two of  paint!). With code, it’s even easier; when I royally foul things up at the office, I can always revert my changes and all the mistakes I’ve made are instantly wiped away, as if they’ve never occurred at all; the only thing I’ve lost is time and effort (and coffee). But with people and relationships, it’s never nearly that simple — ever. There is no “Undo” button when it comes to people because we have hearts and memories and feelings, code doesn’t. Sadly, no matter how much we would like to see some friendships restored, sometimes there just isn’t any good way to fix them.

As a Mr. Fix-it Guy, it’s very difficult for me to NOT try to fix things, particularly something important. Whenever I see something that’s broken or not right, I want to drop whatever I’m doing and go fix it. How is it I can fix my house, car, or a complex piece of code yet be completely unable to fix a relationship that’s important to me? Again, perhaps it’s a pride-thing, as if my head and heart think, “I can fix most other things, so I should be able to fix this too!” But the thing is, before you can fix something, you first need to know how that thing is supposed to work, and not just that part individually, but how it works within the rest of the system. Then you need to discern how it was broken in the first place so you can make the correct repairs and so the breakage doesn’t reoccur (or make the damage even worse!). You need to be able to understand all the different pieces and know how they all should be working together, how and when this part should be moving and interacting in accordance with the rest of the system.

manaloneWhen I step back and attempt to do a “root-cause analysis” on a relationship that’s been damaged, I almost always find that some sort of faithlessness (unbelief, lack of trust, etc.) is involved, which hampers friendship, communication, empathy, and even love. Sometimes this occurs between my relationship with God, but more often (and much more tangibly) with other people. As I chew on my failures in this area, I find that in my pride, I make assumptions about what the other person is likely feeling or thinking and then I do or say something foolish or even hurtful based upon that misinformation, and a downward spiral of action-reaction begins. Assumptions are never reality; at best they’re guesses, and at worst they’re falsehoods, yet both are rooted in misguided pride. And sooner or later, that pride-trip ends, reality hits hard and results in me being humbled and often filled with deep regret.

If I apply the same principles to fixing a broken relationship as I do with a broken piece of code or a wall in my house, I realize that I’ll always fall short of being able to fix things on my own. Perhaps it’s not even my place to fix some relationships, at least not completely and fully because I simply don’t have enough knowledge, insight, and understanding into what’s really needed. Perhaps it’s also a matter of perspective because with things I’m fixing, I’m operating from the outside, while with relationships I’m operating from within. With code, I can fire up a debugger and step through everything line-by-line to completely understand what’s happening, but I can’t do that with a head or heart. When it comes to another person, most of my words or actions will be based upon my best-guesses unless I’m able to fully communicate with the other person and fully, totally empathize with them from the inside. At this point, all I can really do is step back, analyze where I messed up, and try not to make the same mistake again — or again and again and again.

The good news in all this is that God knows — and He cares. God knows our relationships. He knows our hearts, our attitudes, and everything involved in them (Psalm 44:21, Romans 8:27). And not only does He know them, He specializes in fixing what’s broken. With His “Divine Debugger”, in His own time and His own way, He steps through our lives and hearts and examines us line-by-line to fix and rewrite anything that’s broken, fragile, or improper. Our Father delights in reconciliation — in broken marriages, damaged friendships, and any other relationship we royally foul up in our pride and foolishness.

Our Father smiles when someone finally comes to their senses and repents of their hurtful words and deeds. He rejoices over the prodigal, the rebel, and the backslider who repents and turns from their wicked ways. God is the Master Fixer-Upper and is the only one who can fully repair broken relationships because He’s the only one who can see all the different pieces of us and how we’re supposed to “work”. He’s the only one who knows all the different dynamics of how we came to be the way we are, who we really are inside, and how all those uptillion words, deeds, and experiences have shaped us and cause us to feel, speak, act, and react the way we do. He knows our tears and heartache and empathizes with our hurts; He counts our tears and stores them up for us (Psalm 56:8). God knows and He cares.

So with that in mind, I’m learning (slowly, clumsily, and painfully), that there are just some things I cannot fix, and I need to accept that despite how much I would like to. I could have all the hopes and dreams in the world to fix whatever I’ve broken, but it’ll never happen without His working. I suppose it’s another piece of that whole “Leave it up to the Lord” thing that I frequently seem to struggle with. It’s not my place to fix everything — that’s God’s — mine is to be faithful, humble, patient, and trusting. It’s my responsibility to believe the best in another person, particularly someone I care about. It’s my responsibility to be quick to seek forgiveness and reconciliation despite my pride and arrogance. It’s my responsibility to trust and hope and love those who God has placed in my life and leave the rest up to Him. It’s my responsibility to love regardless. It’s absurdly simple yet incredibly challenging.

s0791105_sc7Being faithful, believing the best in others, holding fast to what I know to be true, and refusing to fear when things seem to be spiraling downward — those are the things I should be doing rather than making bad assumptions and then acting on them as if I know more than I actually do. I should be patient, kind, gentle, or even long-suffering regardless of how I may be feeling.

Say, that’s starting to sound a little like 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t it? Wrap a big ole piece of duct-tape around that one, MacGyver! (But hold the bubble-gum.)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” — I Corinthians 13: 4-8a

Posted in Character, Christian-life, God, New Beginnings, Personal, Refactoring, relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Scoops, Please!

Disclaimer: this isn’t a post about Raisin Bran (though it would taste wonderful this morning!), but about self-worth. It’s a subject that’s been bouncing around in the back of my mind for awhile, particularly recently. And honestly, the more I consider it, the more I realize that my own sense of self-worth has often been misplaced, probably for most of my life.

Where do we typically get our sense of self-worth from? As a generalization, men tend to get their self-worth from their accomplishments, trophies (house, car, money, etc.), and career; women tend to get their self-worth from relationships/family, home/living-space, and appearance. While none of those things are poor sources in and of themselves, the problem is that there will always be someone more intelligent, more attractive, more creative, wealthier, have a “better” family, be more accomplished, and more <fill in the blank> than you. If our self-worth is based up that (ie, ourselves), then sooner or later, it’ll likely be damaged (and sometimes dramatically).

A couple weeks ago, I had to purchase a different vehicle, which was a rather unexpected surprise. Thankfully, I had a basic idea of what I was looking for and how much I was willing to pay, and the rest was matter of searching online (thanks Google!) and calling around. Needless to say, after buying the new car I’ve noticed that some people look at me a bit differently. All of a sudden, I seem to have more “worth” in their eyes, even though nothing other than my form of transportation has changed (ie, a trophy). True, I went from driving a badly hail-damaged older car held together with duct-tape (and bubble-gum!) to one that’s new and shiny and flawless. But behind that wheel, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, except how I’m perceived by others. My true worth has very little to do with what I drive, where I live, what clothes I wear, or how wealthy I am — but to this world it does. The phrase “Perception is everything” usually rules the day.

Now that my life is finally settling down post-divorce, I’ve been reprocessing things a lot — maybe too much at times! It was about ten years ago that I began tinkering around with writing, and soon after I began producing books, being a writer became a big part of my identity, from which I drew my self-worth — trophies and accomplishments. That voice in my head would go something like, “I may not be all that smart, talented, wealthy, or tall/athletic, but I’m very disciplined, motivated, and I can crank out books like nobody’s business!” And I suppose I did, averaging 2-3 a year from 2008 to 2014. I could consistently sit down before and/or after work and plop down 1,200 words in an hour or two. Back then, my biggest fear was that my writing career was just a flash-in-the-pan — and if I stopped writing, who would I be then?

writersblockA close cousin to self-worth is love, and the two often go hand-in-hand. If you regularly feel loved, your sense of self-worth will be greater than when you don’t. As I look back, I’ve come to realize that perhaps much of my motivation to pump out books was because deep down, that sense of feeling loved was missing or incomplete, so I subconsciously wrote to gain the respect of others. Men generally feel love through admiration and respect over something they’ve accomplished, while women feel love by — well, LOVE (and we think women are the complicated ones!). When making small-talk in the past, writing used to be one of the first things that would come up, but now I rarely mention it (if at all!). However, when many of those relationships evaporated in the divorce, I was broken and whatever sense of self-worth I had practically vanished; my accomplishments didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

So from where should we draw our sense of self-worth that can’t evaporate, be repossessed, rust, or fade away?

Scoop #1: From God, Not Others
If there’s one lesson I’m learning over the last several years it’s that God is the ONLY solid, unchanging Person in this ever-changing universe. Now, it’s one thing to know this in your head but something much, much greater to know it in your heart. Perhaps that’s by His Divine Design, that everything around us is temporary, unsatisfying, and rather fleeting most times — utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Solomon, the second-most wisest man to ever live, had much to say about this subject in Ecclesiastes. When self-worth evaporates, who else but God can meet those needs that are no longer available from our typical (and temporary) sources?

The answers to all our deepest questions about self-worth can only be found in who we are in relation to God, the One who doesn’t change like the fallible and fickle people we all are and certainly not our stuff and accomplishments. It’s our identity before our Creator that really defines us and assures us that we are lovable and that we have intrinsic, eternal worth. It’s knowing and relying on the fact that God loves us more than we can ever know, and He loves us for who we are in Him, not for what we’ve done or what we have. Over and over in the Bible, He proclaims and proves His unfathomable love for us by going to utterly ridiculous lengths to have a deep, meaningful, and eternal relationship with us.

Scoop #2: From Us Deeply Accepting Scoop #1
The biggest hindrance to us drawing self-worth from God is our own doubts, unbelief, and lack of faith. Particularly if we’ve never been really, really loved by others, it’s very difficult to accept that even God can love us the way He designed us to be, that we truly have eternal, incredible self-worth in His eyes. When I was broken and my self-worth evaporated, I had to learn to rely on God to meet most of those needs that were no longer able to be met from my spouse and family — and it took a long time for me to learn to accept that I actually had worth after that huge relationship failure. It was only through soaking in the Psalms, His Word, books, and music that I finally began to accept who I was to Him and in Him. Again, heart-knowledge takes much longer and much more effort to learn and digest than head-knowledge.

Perhaps instead of placing Him in the middle of the pack of our daily rat-race, He needs to be kept far, far ahead of everything else if we are to regularly draw true contentment and our sense of self-worth from Him — and be able to accept it. Maybe that’s why the Bible says that in whatever we do, do as to the Lord (Col 3:23). He needs to always be kept firmly in First Place in our hearts, lives, and thoughts if we are to feel fulfilled in the midst of life’s vanity and futility. Perhaps it’s when He’s pushed aside or to the back of the crowd that we start looking to others to fill those places in our lives that we turn inward — and then downward. Maybe it’s when we take our eyes off Him that we start to deeply question our true worth and quickly sink (remember Peter and his two-step walk on the water?).

In going through this process of being remade, my motivation and drive to crank out books has diminished because maybe deep-down, I no longer need those things from which to draw self-worth from. Perhaps that’s why I no longer feel this burning drive to pour out countless words onto paper everyday or push myself to go on and on without sleep until a chapter or piece of code is done. Perhaps that’s why I no longer beat myself up if I haven’t made much headway on my latest work-in-progress, which has been dragging on for well-over a year now. Of course, I still love writing and coding, but I no longer need to do it in order to feel respected or “worthy”. When I write now, I write for the simple delight of expressing myself and my thoughts in the written word that may (or may not!) touch untold people years after I’m gone. When I write now, I write for the sheer joy it brings me, particularly when I’m writing about Him.

We have Worth Because He Loves Us
We have worth because He made us, pure and simple. It’s not about us, what we’ve done, or what we have, but because of HIM. We are loved because He loved us from eternity past, within every moment of our lives today, and He will love us for all eternity future. He loves us through the good times, the bad times, the dull times, the lonely times, and even the evil/dark times. We are loved and lovable because He made us that way: to love and be loved, to know and be known. We are loved not because we are all that lovable in and of ourselves, but because He is love — it’s His very essence — and we are made in His image, flawed and broken as we may be. The very letters that comprise the root word for “love” in ancient Hebrew mean “the spirit/breath of the father (ahb)”, and much more.

tombWe are loved because He loves us with this furious, raging, unfathomable, almost-insane love — and He has proven it over and over throughout history, but most of all by sending His Son to take our punishment for our sins upon Himself. He loves us so much that He joyfully humbled Himself and took on human flesh, walked among us, and then suffered a horrible sacrificial death for us. We are loved fully, deeply, and completely because of Who HE is, not who we are or what we’ve done… The entire Story of Creation and Redemption is about Him, NOT us. We are loved because He is love and aside from His Son, we are the ultimate objects and reflections of that love. Our self-worth is completely wrapped up in and derived from His accomplishments, not ours.

We are assured of His love and our inherent self-worth because not only He took our place on the cross, but He’s given us everlasting life and has made us joint heirs with Him (Romans 8). We are loved because He is the very essence of sacrificial, agape love (1 John 4:8). Love is His very nature (along with holiness and righteousness) and He is committed to remaking us in His image.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” — 1 John 4:16

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Do the Next Thing

This has been one of those weeks where everything hit the proverbial fan.

fordtow940x760The highlight was getting into an accident on an icy hill that put my car into the shop, and then learning the damage would be far too costly to fix. At home this week, we’re dealing with friend issues, piles of homework, sleepless nights, a house that’s still being put back together after a painting marathon, fighting colds, a long bout of anxiety, a big software release at work, and two broken hearts (and a partridge in a pair-tree). I don’t often feel overwhelmed, but I certainly have this week.

Do the Next Thing

The good news in all of this is that we’re healthy (aside from the colds), no one was hurt in the accident, I’m steadily and happily employed, we have plenty of food, and have a decent roof over our heads. Just being thankful for those things has gone a long way in keepin’ on keepin’ on this week. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt overwhelmed and was starting to forget what that feels like — and then this week happened. I’m hoping that in a couple weeks things will be back to “normal” (whatever that is).

Do the Next Thing

With everything that’s going on right now, I think the “two broken hearts” is the hardest element to deal with in all this. One is freshly broken while the other is slowly healing. The rest can be boiled down to tasks to check off, taking one thing at a time, working through it, then moving on to the next one. Usually I can turn off my brain and just tear through everything, but having a broken spirit just makes everything feel like sloughing through mud. At least all the other issues have temporarily taken a big part of my attention off myself and placed it elsewhere (like on my car).

Do the Next Thing

In all this, I’m finding that lasting growth and depth in my heart occurs just as with most other things: in exhaustion, in being pushed and pulled and stretched, and in being carried through various upheavals when it’s completely out of my control. It’s not necessarily when we’re in love that our hearts grow the most and the deepest (though it may certainly feel like it), it’s in the storms or even in the aftermath, when you can’t sleep a wink and continually pour over everything. “What could I have done or said differently?” “How can I possibly fix this?” “How can I do better next time?” “How could I have loved better?” “When will I feel whole again?”

Do the Next Thing

Something else I’m finding is that in helping another with their broken heart, you can help your own. As I’m comforting and counseling my youngest daughter in her broken relationship, I’m hearing many of the same words being spoken to me in the night that I have spoken to her. Words like, “Time and God will heal this”, “I’m here for you and am right by your side”, “I’m not going anywhere”, “I am for you and we’ll get through this together”, and this week, “Do the next thing.”

Perhaps there’s something to that proverb that says “Whoever refreshes others will themselves be refreshed” after all. Half the healing process with my daughter is keeping her busy and her mind occupied (which isn’t always easy with a young teenager — Squirrel!!). For myself, I can always find something to keep busy with, even if it’s not all that enjoyable. But for her, it’s different and more intense — particularly since the wounds are still so fresh and open.

Do the Next Thing

I first learned of the phrase “Do the Next Thing” from Elisabeth Elliot around the time of her passing in 2015, and she had drawn it from an old Saxon poem after her husband was martyred (mentioned on her “Gateway to Joy” radio program):

When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. I was alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together. I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing

The Saxon poem which helped Elliot through her grief and the incredible challenges that followed is:

Do it immediately;
   Do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly,
   Casting all care;
Do it with reverence,
   Tracing His Hand,
Who placed it before thee with
   Earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence,
   Safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings,
   Do the Next Thing

Do the Next Thing

When things don’t go according to plan (OUR plan) — particularly when it’s a major upheaval — it’s always helped to look on the bright side of things and try to find something (sometimes anything!) to be thankful for. “What is God doing in all this?” “What is HIS plan for allowing this to happen?” “What does He want me to take away from this?”

However, when reality jumps back in and my mind/heart start swirling with anxious thoughts, sometimes the conversation gets rather ugly and accusatory words pop out, like “God, don’t You know I was relying on that!” “How could You allow this to happen?” “Why didn’t You DO SOMETHING to prevent that?” “What the heck am I supposed to do now?” “How can things be made right now (and right now!)?” “When will this end?”

Do the Next Thing

So this week after everything went from a normal (harried) cadence to a transportation crisis, a lot of ugliness popped out of me, particularly at night after the kids went to bed and the day was finally, completely over. But after the angry questions were asked, sleep still didn’t come and the Bible was opened (reluctantly, I’m afraid). Reading several of the Psalms helped, along with James’ “Count it all joy” verses. And while reading the Bible and praying may not change our circumstances, they (in being used by the Spirit) certainly help in changing our attitudes and perspectives. It certainly changed some of mine.

Do the Next Thing

prayer2-620x499It’s not in normalcy that we are usually tested and the true nature of our hearts are really exposed (both good and bad), but in the crises. How does our actual response to a crisis match up with how we want to respond or how we should respond? God can certainly handle our embittered and accusatory questions (thanks for taking those arrows, Job!) but in the end it’s we and our attitudes and perspectives that need to change, not Him and His. He’s working on US in this life, not vice-versa.

And with that in mind — knowing that these situations are actually heart/attitude issues that He’s using — it boils down to a matter of faith on my part. Knowing that He’s at work and is ALWAYS working (John 5:17) helps take my focus off all the problems and overwhelmingness of what’s going on and re-centers it on Him and rubber-meets-the-road faith and trust. Do I trust Him enough to provide for my transportation needs? Do I trust Him enough to provide the finances to buy another car? Do I trust Him enough to provide for us even though things are rather tight?

Do I trust Him enough to mend our broken hearts? Do I trust Him enough to obey Him, follow Him, and “Do the next thing” for Him? Do I trust Him enough to give us a future though things look very bleak at times? Do I trust Him enough?

Do the Next Thing

So for now, “doing the next thing” for me is trusting Him and then finding another reliable form of transportation. After that, it’s church, homework, finishing the house (my kids are REALLY sick of seeing blue-tape everywhere), and… Doing the Next Thing.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” — Philippians 4:6

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The Most Important Question

If someone pulled you aside and asked you “What is the most important question ever asked?” what would you answer? Some of the more probable answers would be “Where did I come from?”, “Where am I going?, or “Why am I here?”

imagesWith such a question in mind, the Bible quickly comes to the rescue. In fact, the very first question asked just happens to be the most important one that we can ask: “Did God really say?” All other questions we might come up with in this world are secondary to that primary question.

Though it’s one of the more significant concepts in the Bible, the Law of First Mention is often not applied nearly enough when studying the Bible. In theological terms, the Law of First Mention is “the principle in the interpretation of Scripture which states that the first mention or occurrence of a subject in Scripture establishes an unchangeable pattern, with that subject remaining unchanged in the mind of God throughout Scripture.” In layman’s terms, this means that whenever a particular word or concept is encountered in the Bible, its first occurrence should be used as the main source to more fully understand and interpret it.

As the Creator, God has created a universe full of laws which are extremely precise, detailed, and complex which govern all entities from atoms to huge galaxies and everything in between. Things that may seem so basic and simple such as bacteria or a simple cell are actually incredibly complex the more closely they’re examined. Yet when it comes to His Word, we often don’t ascribe that same precision, complexity, and depth — though it’s His Book, to many of us it’s still ink on a page and not this supernatural thing filled with life, depth, and complexity. Like His Creation, the deeper we dig into His Word, the more detailed, intricate, and astounding it becomes. When applied consistently to the Bible, the Law of First Mention alone can provide several years’ worth of studies if one has the time (and patience!).

One of the best examples of the Law of First Mention in the Bible is the first occurrence of the word “love”. It’s not found until Genesis 22:2 in which God commands Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” It’s not that God didn’t love us before this (a nearly 2,000 year-span), but that His Word simply didn’t use it in it’s current inspired form — by His design. In this passage, God is having Abraham and Isaac prophetically act out the sacrifice that the Father would make of His Son 2,000 years later, and in the very spot no less! In this context, the word “love” means much more than simply deep affection and parental love — it means how he feels about the thing he cherishes most. Aside from God and Sarah, Isaac was Abraham’s entire world, the son of promise, as well as his heir and legacy. Also, God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” even though he wasn’t (remember Ishmael?), yet God slights him to make the prophetic model perfectly fit. In the end, Abraham chose to obey God and keep the faith even though it might cost him his beloved son. His faith in God was so great that he even believed that He could — and would — raise the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Now if God wants us to not only know how much He loves us and the great lengths He would go to redeem us, wouldn’t the best place to first mention the word “love” be in the greatest foreshadowing of what He would one day do for us on the cross?

garden-of-eden-21359726With the Law of First Mention in mind, the first question in the Bible is asked from the serpent to Eve in Genesis 3:1: “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” While the question is simple enough, what the serpent did was nothing short of revolutionary, as it questioned God’s authority, integrity, and benevolence. For the first time (that we know of), God’s Word was called into question. And while that first question is focused primarily on the trees in the Garden, the most significant part of the question can be boiled down to “Did God really say [fill in the blank]?” That blank can be filled in with all sorts of matters, and usually is many times a day! Did God really say that I should love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength — though it may cost me everything? Did God really say I should love others as myself — though they don’t deserve it? Did God really say that I should (or should not) do this or that — though I desperately want to?

This post began as part of the previous one about dinosaurs and faith (“Dinosaurs: A Question of Faith“) and quickly became too long to include. Not only is the Flood, the dwelling of dinosaurs and men together, and a young-earth creation constantly scoffed at in much of the world (and in the church) today, but many aspects of the historical record of the Bible are as well, particularly the first half of Genesis. In the minds of skeptics, if any part of Genesis can be invalidated, the entire book can be called into question. And if Genesis thereby falls, the rest of the Bible falls with it because it’s the very foundation of the entire book, particularly the Gospel (no Fall means no need for a Savior). Often even the eye-witness accounts in Genesis are disputed, though the evidence is right in front of us. The story of how the Dead Sea was formed at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has been read for thousands of years by millions of people, yet archaeology and geology consistently deny it. In Genesis 18, we have the firsthand account of Abraham (and Lot and his daughters) who SAW these events happen and yet it’s cast aside as a mere myth. “Did God really say that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their wickedness, pride, and sin?”

The same holds true with the Flood and the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 — secular archaeology and geology consistently refuse to acknowledge the firsthand Biblical accounts and go to great lengths to counter biblical history. Traditional archaeology is very comfortable with the slow, steady progression in which mankind is crude and gradually becomes more civilized and smarter, but the reality is that man was just as intelligent then as he is now (if not moreso!), and that just like today, many different things were happening all at the same time. As with the Fall, soon after the Flood cities were being built, crops were being farmed, animals were being domesticated, wars were occurring, and everyday struggles were happening similar to today. Some were very civilized while others were very basic and crude. Knowledge and technology ebb and flow, rise and fall. Even in the 21st century, we have stone-age cultures existing not too far from highly civilized societies such as in South America, Africa, and Australia. “Did God really say there was a worldwide Flood that destroyed the former world and everything and everyone in it except for one family and a boatload of animals?”

In the end, how we perceive our world and interpret history, geology, and archaeology comes down to our personal faith and our answer to that one fundamental question: “Did God really say?” In examining His creation, it’s almost as if He has made it so that we would be forced to consciously choose between what He said and what others may say, whether it’s a serpent or a pastor or a professor. As Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 declare, God’s handiwork and witness have been clearly displayed such that no one is without excuse. And while He could have put up a huge heavenly billboard declaring Himself to us, He didn’t — He gives us the freedom to choose. Aspects of our universe have the appearance of great age so we would have to consider it, even though there are many other factors that point to the reality of a young creation. But even if He would’ve done so (as with the constellations/Mazzaroth), mankind would have devised a way to deny Him.

forefathers-monumentSometimes it’s almost a 50-50 toss-up when everything is considered, yet even if ALL evidence would point to evolution, the same question would still remain: “Did God really say?” And that question must be answered by each one of us someday. Did God really say that we are a fallen race in need of a Savior? (Ephesians 2) Did God really say that Jesus is the (only) Way, the (only) Truth, and the (only) Life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him? (John 14:6) Did God really say there’s a literal hell for all who do not accept His provision for them? (Matt 25:46) Did God really say that He will literally come to earth some day and rule the nations with a rod of iron? (Psalm 2)

Curiously, the second question in the Bible is asked from God to Adam in Genesis 3:9: “Where are you?” which is just as important as the first. As the first question asked by God, it’s incredibly significant because it shows His love and concern for His creation. When I was younger, I used to picture this scene in the Garden of Eden as Him being this angry giant stomping through the brush bellowing “Where are you?!” But does that match with God’s character and personality in the rest of the Bible, particularly with Jesus in mind? Not at all — and by putting Jesus in the Garden as the One seeking after Adam, that scene becomes much softer and gentler, if not even mournful, as if He’s calling for one of His little lost sheep. The pinnacle of His creation just disobeyed and rejected Him — and wanted to be equal with God Himself (knowing good and evil) — and yet God is seeking after him to draw him back! He’s not angry or vengeful but grieved over their broken relationship, the loss of intimacy. Isn’t that the way He calls to each of us as His lost, terrified sheep: “Where are you?”

God always comes seeking us first. God always initiates in drawing us closer to Him. God always goes seeking after the lost. God always intervenes in His creation — sometimes quietly and sometimes very dramatically. God is always the initiator and we are the responders. God intervenes and interrupts and interjects Himself into not only His creation, but into our individual lives. While He offers everyone His gift of salvation, sometimes He has to go to extreme measures to get the attention of those whom He has called, though we may be running from Him faster and farther than Jonah! And though God always gives us a choice, in the end He always has His way.

starAs Christmas rapidly approaches and we jump into the New Year, let us seek to keep those two questions at the forefront as we live and respond accordingly: “Did God really say?” and “Where are you?” When we’re tempted to compromise or surrender or hang it up, let us remember that His is for us and helps us in our struggles (Romans 8:31-39).

May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” — Isaiah 9:6-7

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Dinosaurs: A Question of Faith

Dinosaurs. Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with dinosaurs. What boy hasn’t been at one time or another? However, after watching Jurassic Park and thinking about what a real-life dinosaur experience would be like, I think I’ll pass!

8A couple months ago, I read an interesting article about how recent discoveries of dinosaurs bones (not merely dinosaur fossils, but bones) have been confirming the literal Biblical account in Genesis. No, not the old Day-Age model that theologians, pastors, and believers try to twist and contort to make Genesis fit with evolution and archaeology, but the literal, ~6000 year-old, Six-Day Creation model. According to the article, portions of actual DNA have been discovered in the bone cells of these creatures which in evolutionary science supposedly went extinct roughly 65 million years ago. Given that DNA molecules, red-blood cells, and tissues in general are unstable and quickly break down, there shouldn’t be any dinosaur DNA (or Carbon-14 for that matter) after 60,000 years, much less 65 million. Such discoveries simply should not exist — yet they do… and more are being discovered. Ironically, since Darwin’s theory of evolution was introduced 150 years ago, the harder the evolutionists and paleontologists try to substantiate the theory, the more evidence is discovered which directly contradicts it. How frustrating it must be to try to fit dinosaur DNA, Carbon-14 dates, and other OOPARTs (Out Of Place ARTifacts) into a theory which was fundamentally disproven at least centuries ago, that life cannot arise from non-life (spontaneous generation)!

Along with the hundreds of fulfilled prophetic events described in detail in the Bible and confirmed by history and archaeology, the other significant contributor to my personal walk of faith was studying Creationism and giving their arguments a fair, unbiased chance, many of which I found to be rather indisputable. Many are simply arguments involving physical laws and good old-fashioned common sense. While I’m admittedly no scientist, common sense can go a long way in simply deciding for yourself which theory of origins best fits the evidence. Everyone has their own beliefs and opinions of our origins and even truth, despite the fact that certain things are indeed true and others are not. For myself, I found that when I stepped back and honestly examined the Creation arguments and the Bible, it answered many of the questions I had far better and more completely than those presented by the evolutionary camp (which I had been taught from elementary school through college).

When I first began moving towards the “Young Earth” Creationist camp, the age of the earth issue was a significant stumbling-block for me. How could a young-earth model possibly be reconciled with radiometric dating, carbon dating, and basic principles of geology? What helped me personally answer those questions was the consideration of several dozen age-limiting factors in general earth-science such as the earth’s rotation gradually but steadily slowing, the moon moving further away from earth, the decreasing magnetic field, population growth-rates, the maximum half-life limit of Carbon-14, etc. While there are several dozen age-limiting factors available that can be used to disprove the “billions of years” theories, only one or two solid age-limiting factors should be enough to dispel any notion that the earth is more than 10,000 years old, much less a million or a billion! If one considers basic population growth-rates, the simple question of “Where’s all the bones and evidence?” should make anyone hesitate before postulating that humans — much less all the rest of the vertebrates in the animal kingdom — are more than 6-10,000 years old. Why was there a sudden explosion of cities and civilization in the Middle East (not sub-Saharan Africa) about 5,000 years ago, but before that practically nothing?

sonorasaurus-with-manAnother kicker for me was the subject of dinosaurs, or “dragons” as they were previously known before the modern term (which means “terrible lizards”) was coined two centuries ago. For decades, evolutionists have declared that “No one has ever seen a living dinosaur.” Now according to evolutionary theory, that must certainly be true because the oldest fossils of humans (more or less) have been dated at just under 3 million years old while the dinosaurs are thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a shred of “evidence” of such terrible lizards — no tales, myths, legends, drawings, sketches, nothing — anything to be found in any culture anywhere on earth. Yet many cultures throughout history declare otherwise, from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, Greeks, Native Americans, to an author in the Bible (Job 40-41). It would be understandable if the ancients found the large bones and described huge mammals with fur, but they didn’t — they described huge reptiles. Again, if all terrible lizards went extinct long before mankind arose, there should be absolutely no “memory” of such creatures. Yet there are — from murals on cliffs to pottery to textual descriptions to recipes to legends, traditions, and festivals that are still celebrated today, many of which are surprisingly accurate (even some of the fire-breathing tales!).

One of the few verses in the Bible that mixes both Creationism with prophecy is in 2 Peter 3:3-6 in which Peter (writing of the Day of the Lord) declares:

…knowing this first: that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” For of this they are willfully ignorant: that by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, whereby the world as it then was, being overflowed with water, perished.

hqdefault4-1This passage predicts two of the pillars of evolution: uniformitarianism (“all things continue as they were”) and the blatant denial of the Flood and a literal Creation (being “willfully ignorant”). The debate between creationists and evolutionists isn’t a matter of science or the evidence but the interpretation of both as based upon their personal biases and worldviews. Though the evidence is the same, one looks at the majesty of the Grand Canyon and sees billions of years while the other sees the sudden, pervasive destruction of the Flood. There are over 200 cultural accounts of a massive Flood, yet evolutionists continually deny that any such event ever occurred. They postulate that the dinosaurs gassed themselves to death (dino-farts) or were struck by a huge meteor (which should’ve destroyed ALL life on earth), but never, ever by water (much less a global Flood), which is the only reasonable explanation for creating so many fossils in the first place (rapid burial by mud/sediments). As with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the formation of the Dead Sea in Genesis 19, it doesn’t matter if there were eye-witnesses who described the events as they occurred — according to modern archaeology, it all happened millions of years ago instead of under 6,000.

As a “Young Earther” (though I prefer Bible literalist), I’ve often been amazed at the double-standards between how creationists and evolutionists are treated — particularly in the universities and the scientific community — and even how various ideas and explanations of origins are regarded. Both camps have their own specific “religious” arguments to support their beliefs, and both can easily point to science to support their claims. After all, one group declares “In the Beginning, God created everything in six days” while in the other, “Billions of years ago, Nothing exploded and out of that chaos, time, space, order, and information arose and everything evolved by chance into the incredibly ordered universe we have today.”? At the core of both viewpoints is “faith” — both for the creationist as well as the evolutionist — though one believes in “God” while the other believes in “Nothing” or “Chance.” Where exactly did this Nothing come from in the first place, where did the energy come from, and what would cause Nothing to explode? After all, Time, Space, Matter, and Energy are all intertwined and affect one another — and for Nothing to explode, it would’ve first had to have originate somewhere at sometime, right?

The fundamental debate of our origins is NOT about evolution versus creation — it’s about God, the Creator, particularly the God of the Bible who judges everyone for their deeds and beliefs and holds them accountable for them. It’s about “Did God really say?” that there’s a literal judgement, Heaven, and Hell. No one likes having their evil/sin exposed and judged (John 3:19 – that men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil). No one likes to have to choose between two choices they have no control over (Heaven and Hell), so we invent elaborate ways of simply avoiding the choice by declaring that the Creation never occurred in the first place — after all, if there’s no Creation, then there’s no need for a Creator. In interpreting the evidence to conform to evolutionary theory, with most it’s not some grand, elaborate conspiracy or even conscious decision as much as peer pressure — not wanting to go against the grain of the rest of the scientific community, particularly when one’s reputation, popularity, and livelihood are at stake.

garden-of-eden-21359726In the end, all matters of faith — even those of evolutionary science — come down to the very first question asked of man by the serpent (ironically, another “terrible lizard”) in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” Everything we encounter in this world and this life relates to that one fundamental question that was asked long ago — or not so long ago, depending on one’s view of origins. And depending on what we really believe deep, deep down in our hearts is how we will personally interpret the world around us and answer that fundamental question.

Whenever bones are dug up or new archaeological discoveries are made, that solitary question lurks quietly in the background waiting to be asked — and answered — by each one of us: “Did God really say?”

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” — Exodus 20:11

Posted in Christian-life, Creation, God, Personal, Refactoring | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Perspectives, Love, and Liberty

books-1Think of your favorite book for a moment — do you realize that NO ONE will ever read that book the same way as you? Even the incredibly detailed and intricate works like “The Lord of the Rings” are never read quite the same way. The other day while hunting around for a clever quote about perspectives, I stumbled across the following from Edmund Wilson which intrigued me:

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

At first glance, the quote makes very little sense since most books are indeed read by more than one person (save for diaries, journals, or really bad writers!). What Wilson meant is that “No two people interpret or ‘digest’ a book in the same way”… it’s all about one’s perspective. The same can said of music, movies, and other forms of entertainment, but not quite in the same way as with a book because readers have to mentally reconstruct everything they read, such as the characters, their appearances, expressions, feelings, and all the smells, sounds, and mood of the settings, regardless of how much detail is provided by the author.

Every person has their own unique perspective when it comes to interpreting books and works of art simply because every person is unique, has different opinions, and has a different history. There are as many different perspectives as there are people! And to further complicate matters, the same person may have very different perspectives on the same work over the course of their lives as they experience new things (good and bad) and interact with others in ever-changing ways. The same book I read a year or two could have a very different meaning to me if I read it again today. Apart from God, the only real constant in this life — and this universe — is that its constantly changing; something is always growing or dying, starting or stopping, taking its first breath or breathing its last.

Something I’ve been observing over the past year is a steady shifting in my personal perspectives on a variety of topics, ranging from marriage to church to politics to relationships — and then some. Though I expected some changes to occur after going through the divorce, I thought they would be confined mostly to marriage and family, since those were the main things that really changed over the past couple years. Perhaps what’s happening is that some of the ragged edges of my mind and heart are being patched, sanded, and buffed by the ending of the divorce process. No matter how civil a divorce may be, it still involves the tearing apart of two lives that were once joined and intertwined, like two pieces of wood that were glued together and then ripped in two. In every tearing, there are bound to be some jagged edges when the breaking is finally complete. And though I’ve felt quite healthy and stable for the last year and a half, looking at my life from the outside seems anything but stable! And that’s where perspectives come into play.

The second entry of Google’s definition of perspective is: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Perspective is an odd thing, particularly when it comes to relationships and especially with marriage. When I was married, I used to feel surrounded by single people all the time. But now that I’m unmarried, I seem to see couples everywhere I go — and sometimes painfully so when I’m feeling lonely or isolated. With this shifting of perspectives in my personal life, I’m much more aware of relationships and such now than I was when I was married and more sensitive to the “little things” than I used to be before. Relationships are precious, and the more intimate they are, the more they need to be protected, cultivated, and nurtured.

imagesThough I have not been divorced very long, I’m starting to finally understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35, in that from the perspective of the Gospel, it’s better to remain unmarried than be married. I may not necessarily agree with that all the time (or even want to!), but I do understand the passage now at a much deeper level. There is a certain liberty that has been granted to me now that I’m no longer married, not a liberty to do whatever I want, with whoever I want, or whenever I want, but a certain liberty nevertheless. Heck, now I can go to the beach for the weekend on a moment’s notice, even if it means flying halfway across the country!

Much of the energy, emotions, and time I used to direct towards my wife I now direct elsewhere out of necessity, such as on my children, friendships, and other relationships — including my relationship with God. I used to worry about many things when I was married, particularly money and finances and the distant future, such as how I could ever possibly support us after a lifetime of a single-income household. I was frequently anxious about how what the future would look like, our standard of living, and what we would do after the kids left home. But now that I’m divorced, those pressures no longer weigh on me much at all — well, except for financing the kids’ college educations. For the most part, my perspectives on the future are just as they should have been all along: unknowable and quietly trusting in God for His providence. Of course, there are still daily pressures and everything, but given all the upheavals in the past two years, the future just doesn’t seem all that much worth worrying about. Literally anything can happen at any time, so why waste precious time and energy today worrying about tomorrow? If God has proven Himself to be faithful in the past, then why should I worry about Him not being faithful in the future?

The greatest impact on a person’s life and their perspectives is other people, and the more intimate the relationship is, the greater impact they will have. People change people, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. We’re always either growing towards someone or receding from them, but rarely just staying the same spot. One of the reasons why the Gospel and Christianity are on a completely different level from every other belief-system is because it is centered around a Person: Jesus Christ, Who’s committed to conforming us to Himself. And He’s not just “a person”, but “THE PERSON” Who made it all and holds everything together! All other religions focus on capricious, unknowable deities, objects, nature, or even Nothing, and any change that occurs is mostly caused by yourself or those around you. Not so with Jesus — it’s not by our efforts and deeds that really transform us, but His (Galatians). The relationship with whatever we revere changes us and makes us more like them, for good or bad, for better or worse. Consider those you are closest to for a moment and the impact they have on your life — I do rather frequently. Are you becoming a better person (i.e., kinder, more loving, more complete, godlier) with your spouse or significant-other, your friends and family? Are you growing closer towards them or more distant, building more bridges or more walls? Are you becoming more kind, loving, empathetic, compassionate, and godly the closer you get to them?

manaloneAs for my personal walk of faith with regards to perspectives, in many ways, I find myself walking very much the way I did when I was still married, despite all the changes in my personal life. I was sort of surprised about this at first until I realized that my faithfulness is not determined by anyone other than myself. Faithfulness is to be practiced regardless of relationship status, feelings, and personal circumstances. It matters what we set our hearts and desires on, because sooner or later we’ll become like the “gods” we worship. Though single, I still go out of my way to avoid certain women in the office and at the gym. I still guard my eyes and avoid second-looks, and the same holds true with guarding my heart. I still try my best to focus on God and what He would have me do with each day and in the different situations and relationships in my life. In the end, isn’t that all that will really remain anyway?

For the sake of the kids, transitions, and financial concerns, our divorce process from start to finish (the initial decision all the way to completely new lives) took more than a year longer than it probably should have — but it’s finally complete. After nearly twenty years, I’m now fully single again. So now as I’m settling into this new life of working, raising the kids, and living this life I’ve been given, what does God really expect of me?

God expects me to be faithful and live just as if I was still married and devoted to one special person, even though I’m single. Loneliness, regrets, and even depression will come and go in this life, but my relationship with Him will last forever.

God expects me to continue running this race of faith regardless of how I might feel, what my living situation may be like, how big the bills may be, and how frightening or even hopeless the future may seem at times.

God expects me to rely upon Him for carrying me through whatever storms and upheavals may come upon me, such as job-loss, health situations, and teenager issues, and a thousand other of life’s upsets that cannot be predicted or prepared for.

God expects me to keep eternal perspectives at the forefront, to keep my eyes focused on Him and fully, unconditionally love those He has placed into my life, and point them towards Him in whatever I find myself doing.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

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Decisions, Decisions, 2016

Life is full of tough decisions — and when it comes to politics, sometimes repugnant decisions! Though the 2016 political season has been ongoing for the last year, we only have a couple weeks left until the general election. Then — it’s back to “life” as we know it.

imagesPersonally speaking, I haven’t been paying much attention to much of it this season because frankly, both candidates rather disgust me. It’s not merely a matter of choosing the lesser of two “evils” this time because both have been running neck and neck for most of their careers! One candidate has a long history of corruption and subversion of the law, while the other is, well — Trump, a crass egomaniac with absolutely no political experience (probably not even student council!).

Something that’s rather unique in this election (at least for me) is accepting that there is no “clear” choice between the two candidates and the country will continue to be deeply divided for the next 4-8 years, as it has been for much of the last 25. The only times I remember real unity in America was in the 1990’s with Bush I and briefly after 9-11 with Bush II. Otherwise, the country has been continually and bitterly divided for the better part of the last three decades. In 2016, both candidates are viewed as “evil” by their opposition, regardless of the evidence denying (or confirming!) their opinions. Both candidates have psychopathic tendencies and long lists of accusations and accusers. Sadly, the nation is so polarized now that there will be demands for impeachment for whichever candidate wins before even the last ballot has been counted in November!

As far as I see it, the following choices in “Decision 2016” are:

1) Don’t Vote. Don’t vote, don’t encourage them. I’m not saying completely abstain from the political process, just don’t cast a vote for the president. As a citizen of a constitutional republic, I believe we do have a responsibility to participate in the democratic process. In this republic, the people choose their government at all levels of society. However, there’s no law that says you MUST vote, nor are there any biblical or moral laws that would be broken by abstaining from this cockamamie election. If you have a clearer conscience by NOT voting than having to choose among these two candidates, then simply don’t vote for either one…

2) Third Party (any of them!). In my opinion, third-party votes are simply wasted votes, though it is a valid choice. If anything, voting third-party has the same result as not voting but keeps the facade of “choice” and the “hope of change” going. Third-parties typically split the vote of whatever primary political party they lean towards. The Libertarian Party is a mixed bag of both major parties and is almost a crap-shoot. The only time a third-party (the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party over 100 years ago) was moderately successful was because it split the Republican vote, which handed the election to Democrat candidate Woodrow Wilson, who promptly reintroduced segregation, the Federal Reserve System, and threw us into WWI. America has a two-party system that’s been entrenched since the Thirteen Colonies under Britain (Whigs and Tories) and that’s just the way it is. We don’t have parliamentary system (thank goodness!) and though frustrating, two-party political systems tend to be more stable and predictable than others.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-04-at-10.34.10-AM-1024x7703) Hillary Clinton. Clinton is an expert in power politics and has been mired in controversies and scandals for decades. Her pay-for-play schemes with the Clinton Foundation (particularly over Haiti) are the latest that have come to light. She’s had many of the same mentors, advisers, and community organizers as Obama, and would likely continue the same poor economic policies we’ve had, as well as the destabilizing policies in the Middle East while not addressing terrorism (or at least the source of terrorism). She would continue to pressure Israel to negotiate with terrorist organizations like Hamas, the PA, and push against the only free, stable democracy in the Middle East. Clinton is extremely polarizing and has demonstrated that she cannot be trusted with significant power (though she isn’t a hothead like her opponent). She has been embroiled in investigations for years and her presidency would only produce more of the same: endless investigations, polarization, corruption, and abuse of power.

160229_MarcoRubio_NeverTrumpSticker_grande4) Donald Trump. Trump is an unapologetic egomaniac, womanizer, and narcissist, as well as a shady businessman and tax-cheat. Practically everything he builds or buys is renamed in his honor. Who knows what would be renamed in DC if he were elected president! Trump is extremely divisive, shrewd, polarizing, and rather xenophobic. He’s an irresponsible, reality-TV loudmouth who riles up his crowds and then excuses himself from the ensuing chaos that he created. Though he has a long history as a CEO, the federal government is NOT a corporation and cannot (and should not!) be administered like one. (Thank you, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and Jefferson!) If elected, it’s quite likely that Trump would make an utter mockery of the presidency and the country with his character, personality, and policies. If he blows his stack at his own hired staff, how will he possibly handle Congress who will oppose him at every turn? Trump comes off as a bloviating hothead who doesn’t understand (or care about?) the consequences of his rash words and decisions, especially in global matters. One cannot shoot from the hip like Bush II without far-reaching consequences and often bloodshed, as we’ve seen with Iraq, Syria, and other unstable nations. If president, Trump would be incredibly ineffective and likely govern like several other 19th Century presidents like James Tyler or Zachary Taylor — he would get elected but govern very poorly.

5) Split the Ticket. Vote for one candidate as president, but then vote for the opposing party in all the other offices. The Founders distrusted everyone with political power — even themselves — and put constitutional structures in place such as “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” to prevent (or at least minimize) power from accumulating. They rightly understood that government always grows in size and scope, and at the expense of individual liberty. The Constitution and the federal government it created was designed not for efficiency, but for gridlock to keep federal power divided and restricted. Historically, political parties are the most dangerous when they control more than one branch of government (ie, both the Presidency and the Congress). Splitting the ticket divides the power and minimizes the impact either party can have. The other good news is that the party that wins the Presidency usually loses Congress two years later…

stock-photo-8203837-man-prayingIn deciding the responsible thing to do as both a Christian and an American citizen in this election, it’s painfully clear that neither of these candidates can really be trusted with power, yet someone will be elected in order to run the federal government. I find myself evaluating their sponsors and supporters more than the actual candidates themselves, because my opinions are much more solid on those people and organizations, and they have a much longer (and better documented) history. Both candidates have deep character flaws, a sordid history of scandals and corruption, and worship the Almighty Dollar regardless of their religious affiliation! In particular, I was quite disgusted with the contortions of several Christian leaders trying to claim that Trump is indeed “saved” so the GOP can rely upon the evangelical vote again. To be candid, we’re voting for an administrator of a secular government, not a minister — and thank God our government IS secular and maintains a strict Separation of Church and State (surprisingly, a Christian principle). However, apology or not, what does it say about Trump’s character to be speaking of any woman in the crude/vile terms he did several years ago, particularly as a father of two grown daughters?

The unfortunate reality of the matter is that one of these two deeply-flawed candidates will win this election and we’ll be stuck with them for the next four to eight years, for better or worse! The Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders regardless of how likable or unlikable, honest or corrupt, good or evil, godly or ungodly they are. Therefore, the following are a few of the questions that should be asked before entering the voting booth this fall:

Which is the more faithful or trustworthy candidate, both personally and professionally? How does their personal life affect their professional life? Is this person capable of doing the job regardless of their personal flaws? Which can be trusted more with the immense power that comes with the highest office in the land?

Could you entrust your children’s lives with them, which you will be if they’re serving in the armed forces? Does the candidate respect and support the military, which protects both our sovereignty and provides some measure of stability throughout the world?

Would the candidate appoint the best, most qualified people to their administration, or simply return political favors to their friends and donors? Would they appoint officers who would be faithful to their oaths and adhere to the Rule of Law? Does the candidate have a history of cronyism and scandal?

Would the candidate further divide the country and worsen the instability, particularly when it comes to race problems, the police/civil authorities, immigration (legal and illegal), and other societal issues?

Would the candidate enforce the laws and uphold the Constitution (as their oaths demand) or actively subvert them? Would the candidate appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would follow the Constitution or bend it to their personal views? Would the candidate subvert justice and the Rule of Law?

Would the candidate seek to undo or uphold the policies (and executive orders) of the previous administrations, especially with regards to Iran, Iraq, Syria, and certainly Israel. The last two presidents have dramatically destabilized the Middle East during their tenures and have demonstrated that the US is very fickle both politically and militarily. Because of the Arab Spring and the mess in Iraq, the already-volatile region has been thrown into chaos, millions of people have become refugees, and Iran, the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world, has practically been handed the Bomb (and a ton of cash) in exchange for little more than empty promises.

Will Clinton or Trump being elected mean the end of the country? No, not any more than Obama or Bush being elected did. Any change a president makes can be reverted by another, and both the Congress and the Supreme Court can (and have) restricted the power of an unpopular or even renegade president. America is not a dictatorship and is far stronger, smarter, and better than whoever our president happens to be.

Lastly, America’s future is in God’s hands, just as every other nation’s future is. As I see it, America will continue to be blessed as long as we continue to bless and support Israel (Genesis 12:2-3), though we won’t be free of problems nor the consequences of our own decisions. The regathering of Israel as described in Ezekiel 36-37 will continue on His time-table regardless of who resides in the White House. God is completely sovereign and in control, and we can trust Him with our nation’s — and our own — future.

“…He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness,And light dwells with Him.” — Daniel 2:21-22

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A Peculiar Epiphany

Epiphanies. Sometimes they hit you right out of the blue for no apparent reason. I don’t have epiphanies very often, but when I do, they’re usually rather significant. Sometimes they’re a stream of thoughts that rush through my mind, while other times they’re merely very strong emotions that change the way I perceive or interpret something.

lightbulbWhen I consider the word “epiphany”, I tend to imagine a bright light-bulb lighting up right over my head and suddenly, everything becomes clear. However, there’s another kind of epiphany that isn’t nearly as comforting, the kind in which you suddenly see things for the way they actually are, not how you believe or imagine or even wish them to be. It almost feels like that light-bulb overhead is actually turning off, leaving you in darkness. I think I had one of those last weekend, and I didn’t like it very much!

The other day, a close friend of mine had a birthday gathering for her mother. I didn’t really think much about it at the time because I know enough people that my calendar is usually filled with birthdays. I’m not quite sure why, but later on this intense feeling of “reality setting in” came over me, and it made me grieve for the first time in a long while about what I’ve lost in the divorce. It wasn’t over the relationship with my former wife, but the relationships with my former family here. It abruptly hit me that I have absolutely no family of my own anywhere nearby and will probably never go to one of those birthday celebrations again, or at least not without an airline ticket.

In that moment, I suddenly felt very untethered from everyone, almost like being alone in a life-raft in the middle of the Pacific. With that epiphany, the realization of just how far away my family is really struck a nerve. Soon after my first daughter was born in 2000, we decided to leave California so we could buy a house and be closer to family. Since most of mine is scattered across the Midwest and East Coast and her’s was mostly here in Colorado, we decided to move to Denver to put down roots. The funny thing (albeit sad) is that while we did put down many roots over the fifteen years that followed, the divorce completely uprooted all my family connections here. I was planning on moving east earlier this year, but for the sake of my kids and their relationships here, I chose to stay in Denver. Though it was the right decision to make, the consequences of that choice and the reality of continuing to live “untethered” here for the foreseeable future finally sank in.

Looking back over the last fifteen-plus years, we always had tons of birthday parties, Saturday-night gatherings, dinners, holiday celebrations, and impromptu visits with my wife’s side — but then after the divorce, it was immediately switched to nothing, at least for me. All those family gatherings and relationships that were comfortable, often taken for granted, and even a little irritating at times are now completely unavailable to me. It’s not really that I miss the individuals in my former family (though there is that to some extent), it’s that I miss belonging to a real family closeby, a group of people you can usually completely be yourself with, a group of people you can laugh and joke and get on each other’s nerves with. Of course, I can always visit my own family back east, but that’s only around the holidays and there’s simply no such thing as spontaneity when you have to fly across the country to see one another.

imagesTo add to the mix, the holidays are coming soon, which are much different for me now after the divorce too. Holidays are tough enough for singles, but especially divorcees and widows/widowers because they remember all the times-past, what was and can no longer be. Christmas Eve used to always be spent with my in-laws and the grandparents, but last year I ended up in an expensive restaurant downtown. This year? Who knows — I might just have a tall glass of egg-nog and go to bed early! I used to look forward to the holiday season every year, but now it’s mixed with all these other negative emotions, and I find myself almost looking forward to them being over with so I don’t have to deal with those negative feelings. I didn’t just lose a spouse in the divorce, I lost nearly everyone I had built relationships with over the last twenty years, an entire family of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Especially after divorce, people lose many of their social connections because so many are made with other married couples. Though I’m still living in the same home and have the same routines, I may as well have moved to the other side of the world.

The last time I went to Israel, I stayed in a Lone Soldiers’ Home on one of my weekends off-base, which is a mix between a dormitory and a hotel. In the IDF, they have thousands of young men and women who enlist from all over the world known as “Lone Soldiers” because they’re completely alone outside the army. They usually have no family, friends, contacts in the land except a calling/feeling of obligation to serve their homeland. They have no support system except for what the army provides, which is extra money and housing assistance on the weekends and holidays. But while their physical needs are met, their social needs are far less tangible and much more complicated. Every lone-soldiers’ situation is unique, and often what ends up happening is that they connect with other lone-soldiers and/or fellow soldiers with families in Israel and are practically adopted into them while serving in Israel. Holidays and weekends are no longer spent alone, and they have the different social roles and relationships they can connect with and look forward to. It’s nice having all the different facets of a family around, like a mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles — even if they’re not really your own.

showimageIn some ways — perhaps many, MANY ways — being a single-parent with no immediate family around after divorce feels like being a lone-soldier, especially when the kids are at their other parent’s place for the weekends or the holidays. I find life going from being very hectic when they’re around to very quiet (or even very boring) when they’re not. When an emergency occurs (which can be frequently with kids!), what’s a single parent with no real family available or support system supposed to do? Who can you trust to pick them up from school if you have to work late if there’s no one around? And what about birthdays and holidays, especially if their friends aren’t available?

Until I divorced, I never realized how often family is taken for granted and how isolated we can be even in a room full of people. How absurd is it that in this highly-connected world that so many single-parents (or just singles in general) feel very alone and disconnected, yet be in such close proximity to so many others in the exact same situation. The same with retirees and empty-nesters whose kids have grown up and moved away. We’re mere feet away from one another, yet so many of us have the same basic social needs that are going unmet! It’s not merely ironic, but pathetic if we’re honest!

Maybe we need some “Lone Parent” programs here in America similar to the Lone Soldier programs in Israel. Such programs could involve basic single-parent assistance like pickups from school, babysitting, after-school safe-places, birthday parties, pizza-gifts, cards, holidays, “just because” stuff, etc. As a single-parent, wouldn’t it be great to know that someone is just thinking about you and your kids sometimes? Maybe such programs could be paired with retirees or empty-nesters who now aren’t busy enough or no longer feeling needed after working for 30-40 years. People need people, and one of the effects of the Industrial Revolution is that it has divided people into those that are productive/necessary to society and those which are not.

It just strikes me as rather silly (if not pathetic) to have so many people with so many basic social needs that are so closeby, and all it would take is a little incentive and organization to solve part of the problem. But alas, many of us are just too busy, and often mollify our own loneliness by simply adding more activities and busyness. It’s often easier to ignore or minimize one problem by focusing or even creating others. I know what the Bible says about God placing the lonely in families and caring for the helpless and overwhelmed, and I do have a lot of optimism for the future… it’s just that the immediate days ahead seem to have more than their share of dread at times.

live_photo16806617The funny thing about such a “Lone Parent” or “Lone Person” program is that this seems to be one of the basic responsibilities of the Church (caring for mothers, widows, the lonely, etc.), but we seem to be doing a lousy job of it. In the early days of the Pilgrims and Puritans, they actively placed singles, widows, and orphans into families — they rightly understood the importance and necessity of everyone belonging to a family. While the Bible and it’s teachings are very relationship-centric, we in modern America tend to favor independence and self-sufficiency more than is healthy, which leads to being too busy and overwhelmed. Admitting to others that we need help or need others feels like weakness or insufficiency on our part. We’d rather shout “Me do it!” and burn ourselves out than accept help from those who offer it. So many single-parents feel like failures because we can’t keep those twenty plates spinning in the air all at the same time 24/7. We were made to need others and not to try to do it all ourselves, yet we keep trying nevertheless.

The church I attend (Crossroads) has several good programs to help our local community, particularly single-mothers and those who are struggling, such as the “Car Care Clinic” and “Cold Weather Care”, both of which are helping many people and growing quickly. My next questions are, “Why doesn’t every church have such programs?” and “What more can I do to reach out and/or create similar programs to help others?” We need more of those — many more.

If we don’t take the initiative to help those who are lonely and overwhelmed, who will?

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2

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