I recently had the honor of having a play that I wrote produced as a part of the Frazer’s annual musical drama production. It was a story of a family that is dealing with their Grandfather’s dementia, and each other, during the Holidays. While I did base certain quirks within my family on certain family members, It is a fiction story. The characters are mostly made up, and this family, though it has some similarities, is far more interesting than my family.
I have to say a huge thanks to Wayne Sigler, who directed the whole thing and did a great job (as usual). I also want to thank the cast who did a great job and make the script look better than I remember it being when it was just on paper. I also have to give a big credit to Ken roach who was one of my early critical readers and who basically wrote the whole sermon in the “Christmas Eve” scene. He also made suggestions that turned into some of the best jokes in the play.
If you haven’t had a chance to look at it you can check it out right here:
I can’t say why my play was chosen, but I can say why I wrote it. In the south where most people have grown up in church, people all think they know the Christmas story. People believe they know everything there is to know about it. So instead of telling them the story they think they know, I like to tell them the same story, but in a different context. The Christmas story is that of Christ humbling himself and coming to the world. This is the story of Christ coming into the life of a family. That way there is just more of a chance for those people who think they know the story of Christ to see it through a new lens.
My family is far more boring
Most people have assumed that the story is at least semi-autobiographical. The only Characters that I’d say are truly based off real people in my life are my grandparents. My grandmother is a spunky, caring woman, who speaks her mind. My grandfather, who we have been slowly losing to dementia, was a great preacher and man of God.
The truth is that my family isn’t quite as exciting as the people you see in the play. We don’t have any food fights at our table. We never had anyone yell at the family and storm out. No one in my family frequents bars, is loose with their dating life, or has ever owned a pink gorilla costume. Despite this we do have our differences, we do have our fights, and we do have bizarre and funny eccentricities that make us, well, us.
The one thing that is 100% factual is regarding the poem in the play. I wrote a blog entry a few years ago about my grandfather and what I’ve learned from him. You can read it here. In it I talked about the Sydney Lanier poem that is featured in the story. Until recently my Granddad would repeat the poem every time that we got together. This past week when we were together for Christmas, my dad suggested that we all say it aloud, (as in the play we’d heard it so much that we all have it memorized) and my Granddad, even in his current state, joined in and said it along with us. It was very meaningful.
The character(s) based on me
Perhaps the thing that people have been saying most often to me is that the character of uncle Charlie must be based on me. I can honestly say that I didn’t write it with that in mind. I think they would be pretty surprised to find that Charlie is not that character with whom I identify the most.
I suppose there is a sense in which I’m Charlie on my best days. But the person with whom I most identify is actually the character of Anne. No, I’ve never been that ostracized from my family nor have I behaved quite as callously or unscrupulously as Anne, but the thing that I really understand in her is the feeling of not being good enough. I am the youngest in my family and as Anne said when you’re the youngest you never stop being the baby even when you’re almost 30. In addition, I’ve lived most of my life feeling like I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough. Some might call this an “inferiority complex” I think that inadequacy is a better word.
It’s been curious to me to find out that this is a trait of many great performers and creative people. Comedians especially talk about how they’re driven by a desire to make people like them. The late Johnny Carson, the “king of late night,” was driven mostly by a desire to prove himself to his mother, who never told him that she was proud of him. My parents were very generous with encouragement and I’m not (nor will I ever be) anything close to Johnny Carson’s level of commercial success or fame.
What this tells me is this: no amount of success (including getting your play produced for a few thousand people) will make you feel adequate, only God can do that. Resting in Christ’s “enough” is far more than the worlds best “just a little more.” Because as Pascal first said, there is a God-shaped hole in all of us. And as Andy Stanley recently said, we all have an appetite to be known and the only one that can satisfy that need to be known is God.
Enough is enough
So, I got it half right; I’m not good enough and I never will be. Neither will you. Scripture tells us that we can do all things through Christ. We usually read that scripture as if “all things” means “great things.” What if it just means “all the things we face” Apart from him we can do nothing including waking up, breathing, and interacting with the world around us. I think it’s healthier to have a perspective that reminds us of how we can’t do anything without God, this kind of inadequacy can lead to a healthy sense of dependance on him. That is the best place to live: in Christ.
At this point I’ve come to see this feeling of inadequacy as a great blessing, as I realize that it’s the truth: I’m not enough, but God’s grace is enough for me. Because I realize that day-to-day, I’ll never be without a feeling for a need with God. I now see it as a loving way that God has drawn me closer to him.
In the wake of my play being produced I’ve heard story after story of people who identify with the family in the play. They see themselves as one character or another. Many people have gone as far as to make contact with their parents or siblings from whom that had been estranged. It’s been really cool to see what God has done with this play. I’ve heard it said that if you take credit for your failures that you’re going to be tempted to take credit for your successes when you need to be willing to Give both over to God. I really feel like that this play has been a means of grace for me, as it’s given me an opportunity see God at work in and through my life, so that he can show me that I don’t have to be good enough, I just have to rely on him.
I always enjoyed watching Inside the Actors Studio when I was in high school. My mom being a theatre teacher, we always listened to actors pretentiously explain their craft while they were adored by the majestic James Lipton. I especially liked the length of the interview which allowed the actor to cover more ground than they might in a normal talk show. As much as I made fun of it, I did enjoy the show and I really appreciated Lipton’s love of performers of any genre and background. Every episode, no matter if he was interviewing Ian McKellen or Desmond Diamond, Mr Lipton ends with the Pivot Questionnaire. The last question on the survey was, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”
I hadn’t thought too hard about this because I basically knew the answer and I think many Christians would say the same thing: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I’ve always identified with the idea of servanthood to a worthy King. I’ve rarely had trouble finding myself aligning with that metaphor for our role in Christ’s kingdom. But recently it came alive for me in a new way.
I was recently listening episode of a podcast that featured an interview with Tom Hiddleston. If you know of Tom Hiddleston, it’s probably from his role as Loki in the Avengers movies. If you’re not a Marvel fan, you may know him from his role in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. In this interview Tom talked about what it was like to work with Spielberg. The interviewer compared it to the scene at the end of Amadeus in which Mozart is dictating his final piece to Salieri. Salieri says that it was as if Mozart was receiving the music directly from heaven. Hiddleston said that watching Spielberg set up a shot was amazing. He said that he was a true master, but that the most amazing thing about him wasn’t his talent, his knowledge, or his creativity. The first thing about Spielberg that impressed Tom was how humble the great director was. Specifically, Tom recalled one scene in which his character was alone on camera. It was a scene that was especially difficult, emotional, and intimate. Spielberg dismissed the camera crew and asked Tom if it was alright if he operated camera. Hiddleston agreed of course. After the first take Spielberg had a few notes for him. And Tom agreed and they moved onto take two. After take two Spielberg lit up and said that it was perfect and he started to move on. Hiddleston stopped him and asked if he could do a third take. Spielberg told him he didn’t need to, that the second take was good, but Tom pleaded with him and said that he could do it even better now that he knew what Spielberg was looking for.
They shot the third take and when it was done Spielberg just said, “Take two was pretty good.” He seemed pretty unconvinced. When they wrapped for the day Spielberg told Tom that he would be reviewing the footage this weekend and that he would let him know what he went with. The next Monday when Tom came to set, he saw Spielberg who simply said, “Tom, take three’s in the movie.” He proceeded to emphasize what an honor it was to have contributed even in a small way to the master’s work.
Everyone is Creative…yes really
I’m a strong believer that “uncreative people” simply do not exist. There are only people who haven’t discovered their brand of creativity. Some people are creative in their hospitality, other people are creative with financial management. Some people are creative with physics and chemistry, other people are creative in their encouragement. Not everyone is artistically creative, but everyone is creative in some way. How you choose to use that creativity will determine the focus of your life.
So my question is: are you settling for take 2 – just doing whatever is the “right thing” to do – or are you asking for take 3? Take 3 looks like a group of medical professionals donating their time to people in their community who can’t afford healthcare. Take 3 looks like men who choose to spend their retirement building wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities. Take 3 looks like a successful TV director going to work at a Christian school so he can ensure there are skilled Christ-followers in the entertainment industry. Take 3 looks like a college student who spent his saturdays teaching impoverished children how to sing Christ’s praises. Take 3 looks like a husband who doesn’t hesitate to give his wife a kidney. Take 3 looks like a family adopting a child when they already had two, three, or four children. Take 3 looks like empty nesters making themselves available for foster and respite care. Take 3 looks like a teenager taking his free time to lead a small group of his peers. Take 3 looks like a young man who starts a non-profit to support an orphanage in africa. Take 3 looks like a church that starts a free clinic in their community. Take 3 looks like people who take a day off to help build a house for people who need a fresh start. Take 3 looks like a father picking up the pieces of a shattered life and doing the hard work of teaching his daughter what he was never taught by his parents.
What I want to hear God say.
So for me, as one of these creative people, I just want to know that I’ve been able to contribute to the master’s work. I want to hear God say, “Will, take 3’s in the movie.”
This past week at Frazer UMC, where I work here in Montgoemry, Levi Garnder, our minister of outreach, brought a great message from the text of John 5. This year we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of John and this past week we talked about Jesus healing the man by the pool. Here’s some of the Scripture from John 5:
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
This scripture is so poignant to me because of the seemingly silly question Jesus asks in verse six: “Do you want to be made well?” You’d think that would be a no brainer, that anyone would see this man and know that just by looking at him that he would desire nothing more than to be made well. Jesus knew enough to know that it wasn’t the case. I think the detail of that question and the answer are in scripture intentionally to teach us about being victims of our circumstances, because even more interesting is the man’s answer. He doesn’t say “yes. of course. duh. what kind of question is that?” He makes an excuse as to why he can’t be made well. He says “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I’m making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” In this answer is his honest answer: “what I really want is for you to feel bad for me.” Because this man had a hard life. He had been sitting by this pool begging for 38 years. It’s quite likely that he survived on hand outs from the others who came by to step into the pool. It was likely that the people walking by felt bad for him and he realized that if he actually were to be healed that as wonderful as it might be, then he might have to do real work. So did he want to be healed? Deep down, of course. But the false-self that he had created depended upon his sickness to maintain his way of life.
If we’re honest, we like to use their painful history as a tool, or worse, a weapon. We lord it over people or try to use it to further our careers and social standing. In reality this kind of use of our pain is almost always toxic and usually won’t create any sustaining foundations on which these structures can last. This is why many popular musicians have such tragic lives. They often start off with the usual issues we all have: issues with their family, faith, & finances. Once they’ve worked out their finances they have a choice to move onto their family and faith or they can start inventing new problems. They don’t want to be made well.
One of my family’s favorite movies is film based on a book by the same name Cold Comfort Farm. It’s rich comedic satire of Jane Austin’s writings – and it cleverly lampoons many of the common plot devices she and other similar authors use. In the story a young woman goes to live with her strange relatives. Her great aunt is up in her room all the time and never leaves. When asked she says “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” And as comical as this might sound it’s become a reference that my whole family understands. If one of us refers to someone who “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” It means they’re hanging onto something unfortunate in their past. They don’t want to be made well.
Ken Roach and Jerrod Dorminey Captured it well in their original Blues Song “the Bethesda Blues.” Featured in this past week’s worship service.
The rest of this post I wrote three years ago. It was one that got several comments on my old blog, including one asking me how someone can get out of the victim mentality. I was surprised at the question but also frustrated that I don’t have a good answer that would fit every situation. The best thing I can offer is this: If someone wants to get better, they can get better. That’s why I believe the man by the pool truly wanted to get better, even if he was playing the victim. But there are those who want to be victims their whole lives. I really believe that prayer is the only thing that can help someone who doesn’t want to be made well. Divine intervention then counseling either from a professional or a wise mentor. Some people just want to cling to their sickness and make excuses when they should cling to Christ and defy everyone’s expectations.
Original Post from June 2011
A great way to stay trapped Perhaps the greatest lesson that my father taught me about life from a early age is that a victim mentality gets you nowhere. Likely everyone that regularly reads my blog would agree with me, but recently I saw some posts on Facebook that reminded me that some people earnestly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to rest on the excuses generated out of whatever unfortunate circumstances their life has given them. To those people I’d like to say: that’s perfectly fine. From a secular point of view it is totally acceptable for you to use your past as an excuse for your current behavior, if you wish to stay trapped your whole life. That’s perfectly ok, no one will force you out of captivity. A person in a victim mentality is much like a person who has been beaten, bruised and forced into a cage. Later, whether days or years, the bruises heal and someone will come to them with the key to their escape. Most will not use the key, however. Why? Because once you’re free you no longer have the excuse, you have to take full responsibility for yourself. Most people would rather be able to lean on the excuse of what has been done to them; garnering sympathy and demanding that people be sensitive to what has happened to them.
Before I continue, I should specify that I do believe that there are many reasons for a person to be a victim that they truly cannot help. Mental Illness or chemical imbalances caused by genetics are among them. But just as those people must choose to submit to therapy and/or medication; those who have chosen to be defined by their most tragic and painful moments, they need to eventually lay it all down to be truly free.
I also should say that I do believe in being as sensitive to people as is reasonable in every situation. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy through which some people have lived and I would never deny them grief, anger, or mourning; all three of which are holy emotions expressed by Jesus himself. However, there is a massive difference between feeling and expressing a holy emotion and allowing yourself to fall victim to your emotions. The difference is in this phrase: “Because ______ happened to me I must always react by ______” When you say that you are becoming victim whether in a small or large way. By contrast each time you say “Despite the fact that ______ happened to me, I will choose to ______” you are choosing to not be victimized.
The Bible tells me so
Please understand that I’m not so arrogant as to say that people shouldn’t be affected by the tragedies of life. I don’t pretend to understand all of the different causes of strife in the world or the pain that people have experienced, but I do know that from a scriptural worldview its impossible to say that a victim mentality is acceptable.
I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible
Or, Perhaps more to the point. . .
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake Col. 1:24a
There are many many more scriptures about rejoicing in suffering. So from a scriptural standpoint, we see Paul – beaten, tortured ‘doomed to die’ and what does he say? “That was good.” Wait, what? “Powerless to help ourselves” “that was good” “overwhelmed” “that was good.” “crushed” “that was good.” seriously. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve come to realize this. Christians are blessed with the hope in Christ and the ability to say that our suffering only brings us closer to Him and by suffering for Him, we take part in the fellowship of His suffering. We go from “that was bad” to “that was hard” to “that was good.”
Is this some kind of sickness? Perhaps masochism? By no means! Looking back and saying something was ‘good’ is far different then deriving pleasure from it. Again, there is nothing wrong with anger and mourning. The only reason why Paul is able to look back at the bad times and call them good is because he realizes they brought him closer to Christ. He realizes that Christ’s resurrection power is at work in our lives, but to access that power we have to die. Think about that for a minute. Its easy for us to think of Christ’s death on the cross as the great tragedy of history and his resurrection as the restoration of that tragedy. Christ’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible without His death. A Christian view of suffering is simply realizing that without death there can be no resurrection.
On the practical end of things…
Even if you’re not looking at this from a scriptural perspective, say you’re an agnostic or a secular humanist, then look at it from the purely practical end of things. If we decide that there are some things in life that a person cannot be expected to recover from, some wounds that cannot be healed; that’s fine, but do you really want to work with someone who’s single greatest aim in life is to make sure everyone is sensitive to their life’s tragedies? After a while there must be a reasonable expectation of growing from your past, and becoming responsible for your present. I don’t say ‘moving on’ because I think that insinuates that you must ignore your past, not at all, instead you grow from it and become stronger than ever.
Steven Covey, the writer of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this in the first Habit. Which is “Be Proactive.” He simply states that a part of being proactive is taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior. He suggests that the main meaning of being responsible is being able to choose your response.
Most people who have a victim mentality get angry at the insinuation that they are somehow to blame for their attitude. They act as if that’s tantamount to being told that they are to blame for the tragedy in their life or their genetic make up. That’s a huge leap in logic. Between stimulus and response there is a narrow space where you can choose. You’re not Pavlov’s dog, forced to salivate by every bell that rings. You’re not a programmed machine, who’s brain will always produce the same reaction given the same set of circumstances.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon active today. He’s participated in several firsts in his field including the first separation of siamese twins that were conjoined at the head. This is featured in a movie called “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Carson. In 2008 Dr. Carson was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in our nation. That’s impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Dr. Carson came from a low-income single parent household in Detroit. At a young age his parents divorced and his mother struggled to find employment as she couldn’t read – the only work she could maintain was that of a house keeper where Ben would later say “She observed that successful people spent a lot more time reading than they did watching television.” And she implemented a rule that her two sons would read two books a week from the library. You can read more about
Ben Carson’s upbringing on NPR’s website.
The reason why the victim mentality is so pervasive is because there is only one alternative: work. It takes work to overcome the setbacks, the emotional stresses, the tragedies of life. No one would’ve blamed Ben Carson for being a below average student, he had a number of things against him. But his mother chose to fight that and later he chose to fight that as well, working hard to get into med school and then working hard to become the best doctor he could be. That’s because they chose not to be victims of their circumstances. Most people can’t even admit that they’re choosing to be victimized because If you admit that you can do something about it and choose not to do something about it, it becomes your fault. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t a struggle for me also, but one thing I’ve realized is that once you are real with yourself about where you are choosing to be victimized then you can start to allow the solution permeate throughout your life.
I’ve struggled with having a victim mentality about many different things. There are some ways in which I continue to deal with it. One small example is the fact that I’m not an athletic person and most of my growing up years I allowed myself to be victimized by that, but as I grew up, I began to fight the impulse to feel victimized and I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new activities. Now I have a whole list of sports and activities that I really enjoy, even if I’m not the best at them. Stepping out in this manner has opened so many opportunities to me that I would have never had if I had rested on the laurels of victimization. I think the message paraphrase of the Bible phrases paul’s words in Philippians well:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Phil 3:12-14
I think one of the mistakes we make when trying to overcome our victim mentality is the idea that we need to have it all figured out, that we need to somehow be totally fixed before we relinquish our victim status. In reality, we just have to admit that we don’t always know exactly what the path to healing is going to look like and we need to trust that it ends at the feet of Jesus. Whatever your excuse is for not living a full and healthy life, that’s not God’s will for you. I can tell you he wants you to take hold of you inheritance now. Yes you have eternal life in terms of length, but you also have abundant life in terms of height and depth, so stop making excuses and grab hold of the abundance that Christ has given you.
I’m mostly neutral toward Pintrest. It seems like a good place for people (mostly women) to get ideas (mostly crafts and recipes.) One thing I cannot stand is these cutesy photos with some popular cliché – that get repinned to my facebook feed. Most of the time these sayings are false, even if they sound nice.
1) “Follow your heart” –
OMGoodness. This is a slightly more appealing way of saying “If it feels good, do it.” That simply is not a good life plan. People who “follow their heart” will wind up disappointed with life because they lived it entirely for themselves. Don’t follow your heart, follow the heart of Jesus.
2) “Life/The Universe Works in Mysterious Ways” –
Life doesn’t WORK. Neither life nor the Universe are sentient entities. Life is a gift given by our Creator who does work in mysterious ways. The Universe is the place that He created. This is a bastardized scripture verse and aside from the fact that it doesn’t make sense; it’s like saying “cheese” or “the table” works in mysterious ways. People say this when they’re afraid of sounding crazy for saying “God.” If you believe God is doing something, say so, but the universe isn’t working for or against you.
3) “Everything Happens for a Reason” –
no where in scripture are we told that everything happens for a specific spiritual reason. We are told that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord – but that isn’t the same thing. Don’t kid yourself by trying to assign transcendental meaning to every little thing that happens. Sure, maybe you missed that plane because God didn’t want you to make it to your brother’s wedding – or maybe you missed it because you were irresponsible.
4) “God made you perfect” –
again, this is one of those hallmark-type sayings that people use to excuse shortcomings. God did make you the way he intended, but you were conceived in a world that is fallen. That means from the moment God began to knit you together, there began a war in your life. God is on one side and the forces of darkness in this world are all on the other. Because of this war, you’re going to have challenges, some won’t be your fault and you can choose whether you’re going to be a victim about it or whether you can overcome it. God loves you just the way you are, but that doesn’t mean he want’s you to be satisfied with the way you are. The Christian life is about constant growth. Growth is change.
fair warning this video has some salty language
5) “You can do anything” –
I have railed against this saying in previous posts because I believe that it results in an entitled attitude. I don’t care what your parents, teachers, professors, youth pastors or preachers told you. On your own you can’t do just anything. You CAN do anything THROUGH CHRIST – who isn’t a genie, but a reigning King in our lives. If he commands it and it seems impossible, then remember that through him you can do anything. If your plans are for you, however, there are no guarantees.
Lord, please give me something that I’ve never worked for or deserve even though I had ample resources and opportunity to obtain it for myself.
People don’t actually pray like that do they?
Oh, but we do.
If I were to pray to God that I suddenly gain physical strength, I wouldn’t expect him to grant me my request. First off that’s not the purpose of prayer and God doesn’t work like a genie, but mainly because that’s ridiculous. I have access to three different gyms that have both free weights and other exercise machines. And though I have seasons where I don’t have free time during the day, most days I have at least a spare hour.
God has provided me with the opportunity to exercise, if I choose not to take advantage of those opportunities – that is my fault.
If I were to pray that God gift me with knowledge when I haven’t studied, I wouldn’t expect him to fulfill that prayer either. Say I chose to fall behind on researching in one of the areas in my field, say broadcast engineering. Suppose I decided to not bother researching it for months – then when a problem arose I asked God to just show me how to fix the issue – why would he want to grant my request? I had the opportunity along and along to do the research and I chose not to. I should pay the consequences.
“But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” Luke 12:48
In spite of the fact that it’s crazy to ask God to give us something we haven’t worked for in the physical or mental realm, we do it all the time when it comes to spiritual discipline. We pray for patience, peace, and knowledge of God’s will. Yet we don’t want to exercise patience. We don’t want to practice peace. We don’t want to study scripture and gain knowledge of God’s will.
Spiritual disciplines are just like other disciplines. It’s absurd for me to walk into a difficult situation asking for God’s will when I haven’t spent time in prayer and time studying scripture, discerning God’s will. It’s foolish for me to ask for God to give me patience in an especially difficult situation when I haven’t practiced patience in the easy situations. God gives us time and opportunities to exercise, it’s up to us to take advantage of the grace he’s given us.
Scripture promises us mercy and grace for sin. We’re not told, however, that we’ll receive more grace when we’re irresponsible with the grace we’ve already been given. In fact we’re told the opposite. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the talent which contains one of the most ungracious sounding quotes from our savior.
“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 25:28-29
To me it’s clear – the amount of grace that God will bless us with in the future is directly contingent upon whether we’re responsible with that we’ve already been given.
This is what I hear from this scripture:
Don’t squander grace. Be students of scripture and prayer warriors. Be exercising patience and practicing peace. These are things that take hard work to develop. If you don’t invest time in these practices, you’ll never be all that your father wants you to be. Don’t squander grace, exercise it.
Westboro baptist church is, as you may know, an organization that claims to be a Christian church located in Topeka Kansas. I say ‘claims’ because their actions clearly show that there are large portions of the Bible that they ignore. WBC is best known for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and people who were openly gay. They often sport extremely hateful slogans that have no Biblical foundation and they teach their children to do the same. In the past ten years I’ve seen this church shown on national TV at least four times and I don’t even watch the news very much. It’s likely that they’ve shown up on TV much much more.
What is the significance of this? Westboro Baptist Church reports its membership at 40. The church that has probably appeared on national news more than any other single church has just 40 members.
I work at a church with seven thousand members. In my four years here we’ve made national news zero times. We’ve helped hundreds, if not thousands of people in need and we’ve seen people being healed of addictions and marriages being saved. We’ve seen people called to go work in other countries and poor neighborhoods. We’ve seen miracles take place and yet we haven’t made national news mainly because it’s not as interesting as hearing about a group of 40 really hateful people. But also because that’s not the way Christianity is depicted in the media.
In TV, film, news, books and popular music Christians are almost always shown to be ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘bigots,’ and ‘extremists.’ When statistically the average church-goer is more likely to be a nominal Christian who doesn’t know enough about their own faith to have strong thoughts on any controversial subject. That’s a problem unto itself, but it is not the one being depicted – instead we’re shown as unstable and hateful.
I haven’t heard any news stories about Mama Maggie Gobran who is living in the slums of Cairo, Egypt and working with the children there. Even Bono’s foundation to feed helpless children has gotten far less press than Sean Penn’s humanitarian efforts – the main difference between to two is their worldview. (It certainly isn’t their ability to get drunk and start fights, as they are both equally talented in that measure.) I haven’t heard a news story about Katie Davis who graduated from high school and immediately went to africa to work with diseased, disabled and otherwise less fortunate children. I don’t hear about the fact that Christianity is being persecuted more violently around the world than any other religion and that every day Christians in countries like Iran, Ethiopia and China put their lives on the line by witnessing to the truth of the Gospel. Because it’s more convenient and easy to place us all in the same box – along with these 40 hateful people.
It’s easy to take a cheap shot at Atheism and point out that almost all of the most terrible dictators have been proud Atheists. Joseph Stalin wanted to get rid of religion in the Soviet Union. Mussolini and Mao Tse-Tung wanted the same for their countries. All three were genuine monsters – killing their own people and anyone who would oppose them. At the same time one can bring up the crusades and the inquisition in relation to Christianity. So instead of basing an argument on unbalanced political leadership I’d like to look at more contemporary leadership right here in the old US of A.
In 1963 Madalyn Murray O’Hair won the landmark court case that removed prayer from public schools. It’s pretty interesting to look at the state of the public education system since then, but that’s another blog entry. O’Hair fought for her son’s right to not have the Bible read nor prayers prayed around him. Her son’s name is William Murray and he’s written a book about his life. You see, he’s a Baptist pastor now and his book entitled My life without God is all about the way his mother tried to raise her children to hate God. Aside from seeing that prayer was removed from schools Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perhaps best known as the founder of American Atheists – an organization that seeks to advance the cause of Atheism – rallying people to the cause of believing in – well, nothing.
O’Hair stole, she cheated, she lied. She broke the law on numerous occasions. She never paid taxes. She abused her children emotionally, manipulating them into unhealthy lifestyles. She and her children (and later grand children) were all morbidly obese. She believed in living ‘high off the hog.’ There wasn’t a charitable bone in her body. Before they were killed, O’Hair, Her Son Jon and William’s Daughter Robin (her granddaughter) all lived together and never separated. Jon never married – he never left his mother’s side. Robin, like her grandmother took to a decadent lifestyle and became severely overweight. None of them ever spoke to William who had become a Christian. When he first told them, they ridiculed him and called him a traitor.
O’Hair was proud of her lawless lifestyle and said she believed that the only law should be ‘do what thou will.’ She hired unrepentant convicted felons who were known for their violent crimes. She claimed that she supported their lifestyle. Ultimately this is what led to her death. A former employee kidnapped her, her son and granddaughter. All three of them were brutally murdered by one of her fellow Atheists.
William Murray said
My mother was an evil person … Not for removing prayer from America’s schools … No … She was just evil. She stole huge amounts of money. She misused the trust of people. She cheated children out of their parents’ inheritance. She cheated on her taxes and even stole from her own organizations. She once printed up phony stock certificates on her own printing press to try to take over another atheist publishing company.
This happened all within my lifetime and yet I don’t remember hearing about it. Maybe you did, but I didn’t.
I say all this because these aren’t some obscure people on the outskirts of the Atheist movement. These were the leaders – and yet it is the Christians that are depicted as foolish and hate filled. When I encounter this kind of hate I get angry. Then I get sad. Then I get energized to show the world the love of Christ.
In reality the difference between the Christian life and a life without God is quite simple.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies. I started reading the books when I was 8th grade. So, like many people now in their mid 20s, I grew up with the books. This christmas my mom and dad gave me the last Harry Potter film on Blu-Ray and just yesterday I was watching the special features when something caught my attention.
Emma Watson, who played Hermione, was talking about her relationship with Jo Rowling, the author of the series. Jo based Hermione loosely on herself and she considered the casting of Hermione more important than any other character. In this Interview, Emma Watson mentioned that after the 3rd movie was released Jo sent her a letter that began, “To my perfect Hermione.” Emma talked about how much that meant; receiving such accolades from the woman who created Hermione was an enormous compliment.
As a person who dabbles in both acting and writing this is not lost on me. To have an author say to an actor that they are ‘perfect’ in their role – that is truly the highest praise possible. For a moment I wondered what that would feel like – having the originator of a character tell you that you did it perfectly. Jo Rowling started the creation of that Character even before Emma Watson was born and yet she felt that when Emma played the part she did so perfectly.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, being a member of the Millennial Generation means that I was given a lot of ‘Be the best you you can be’ talk. And ‘no one can be you but you.’ I always felt that those were vague and even foolish sayings. Sure, you don’t need to copy what everyone else is doing to be you, but everyone needs some guide – some template or role model. It was when I was watching this little featurette that it clicked for me.
As I was thinking ‘It must be amazing to have an author tell you as an actor that you played the part perfectly.’ I had a revelation. I would say that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I remembered this passage:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”
Hebrews 12:2a NIV (emphasis added)
I may never write a book that is made into a blockbuster film and I will almost certainly never be a character in one such movie. I will likely never have a role to play that the whole world will see and critique. Despite this, I still have a part to play – not a mask to wear, but rather a role to fill in my life. The Author has written it for me. Does this mean that I have no choice but to read his narrative with no expression of my own? By no means. He is expecting me to bring myself to this role. He is expecting me to take what is on the page and create my own artistic interpretation of his prose.
It isn’t about ‘me being the best me I can be.’ I’m a prideful, self-centered, boring person on my own. If left to my own devices, I’m only a sad shell of a human being. Instead, it’s about me finding a way to play that role that God has written for me in his great narrative. It’s about me giving a living interpretation of his story – the story he is writing now. I realize that I cannot be ‘perfect’ in the human sense of the word; I cannot be without any apparent flaws. What I can do, however, is be me as he meant me to be – such that God sees me as his perfect Will Adams.
It is my conviction that the greatest privilege we have in this life is simply being a living expression of the prose God is composing throughout history, in hopes that when our part has been played, Christ stands proud as the author of salvation – as the writer who tells the actor ‘you played the role perfectly.’
In an effort to not be judgmental, I believe that we’ve lost discernment – and while discernment may look like judgment, it is actually entirely different.
“Who are we to judge?”
This is the phrase that is most often said when the average Christian explains why they decided not to confront a friend about their sin. I have recently come to the belief that this is blatant misunderstanding about what it means for a Christian to recognize sin.
Why are we afraid of appearing judgmental? Mainly because that’s the stereotype that Christians have been handed and unfortunately, this isn’t unfounded at all. Christians who fall on the other end of this spectrum are equally guilty of muddying the waters of judgement and discernment.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
I’m going to take a stab at an interpretation of this scripture: we’re not supposed to judge. I guess that’s pretty clear. I think the first mistake about this is a misunderstanding about what it means to judge. In the modern context of the word ‘judge’ we get it half right. We understand that saying ‘that is morally wrong’ is judging. But we neglect the other side of that same coin, that saying “that is morally right” is also judging. If you follow Christ you no longer have the right to decide what is right and what is wrong. You’ve given that up – that is up to God and God alone. You never really had the ability anyway and by following Christ you have given up your imagined right to do it, placing it on the cross.
This was a mind blowing revelation to me – the idea that “Judge Not” applies to either direction. The idea that when a person says “that’s ok” they’re being equally judgmental as the person who condemns. Looking now, I know I’ve been guilty of both. I brought this before a friend of mine and he asked me what I though about those times where a clear judgement call needs to be made – that is where discernment enters in. Take a look at this scripture, it may seem to conflict with the one mentioned earlier, but it actually has a very different meaning:
Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 1 Corinthians 2:15 NLT (emphasis added)
Krino vs Anakrino
In Scripture there are two common words that are translated as “judge” ἀνακρίνω “anakrinō” and κρίνω “krinō” – the greek prefix “ana” means upon or against, so krino happens first, followed by anakrino. Krino means judgment as to condemn, to rule, to damn, to determine the law, to decree. This is the word used in the phrase “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1. Anakrino means to examine, to reason, to search, to ask questions or to discern. This word is used in the passage “…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.
What we now know as “judgement” is krino. What we now call “discernment” is anakrino. Judgement is a function of God; he makes the law, he makes decrees and he decides what is right and wrong. Discernment is a function of His followers; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is different from Judgement in that it recognizes instruction from an external source and puts it into practice.
When a cop pulls you over for speeding, do you say “don’t you dare judge me!” No, because you know that there are laws that he’s abiding by – he’s not making the judgement on what speed is dangerous – that was already done – he was merely doing his work as an officer of the peace; following the authority that has been placed over him.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. Corinthians 2:14 NIV (emphasis added)
What many people today call judgement is actually discernment, someone expressing what the Holy Spirit is speaking to them about what is right and wrong. God has already judged – now it is for us to discern what that judgement is and that only comes through the Holy Spirit. Just as judgement is always wrong for us to do, discernment is never wrong. Though, it can be carried out incorrectly; we are told that we must be gentle in our use of discernment.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:1
This is often when people call christians judgmental. Instead of being gentle, they are ungracious, condescending and ultimately un-Christ-like. Gentleness is a key to the proper use of the gift that is discernment.
We’re not supposed to judge; we’re not supposed to make a call on what is wrong OR right based on our own internal moral code. We’re supposed to discern, with the guidance of the Spirit, what God has already judged. To do otherwise is to say you believe you’re smarter than the creator of the universe. So give up your gavel to God and leave the judging up to Him, but don’t neglect discernment; those with the spirit can discern all things.
I learned something interesting recently: the phrase “Catastrophic Failure” is an actual technical term in engineering. It refers to what happens when a structure, vehicle or machine has some small part that wasn’t built to spec or otherwise was weakened that then causes a domino effect that leads to the whole thing to falling apart. There’s a page about it on wikipedia which includes a list of famous catastrophic failures like the disaster at Chernobyl and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
The most recent was the collapse of a the I-85 west bridge going over the Mississippi river. When it happened it was remarkably instantaneous. Despite how large the structure was – it happened in just seconds.
Security Camera Footage of the bridge collapsing
This catastrophic failure cost the city of Minneapolis millions of dollars and thirteen people their lives. No one saw it coming. Experts spent months investigating, trying to discern what could have caused the collapse of a seemingly perfect bridge. They were able to determine that it was most likely caused by one faulty joist.
Someone found this picture from four years before that shows a very slight bowing of the joist that may have lead to the eventual and sudden collapse of the entire bridge.
When I saw this I thought of all the times that we Christians have some small thing in our lives – some little joist, some little piece that needs attention, but we ignore it – we don’t replace it – we let it sit. I know that there have been times in my life where I’ve allowed a faulty joist to exist. I knew about it, even though no one else did – then one day, boom- Catastrophic Failure. Usually its anger at someone, but it could be many things.
The only reason why one doesn’t examine these small things that eventually lead to failure is Pride. My question is what is your faulty joist? What piece in your life needs attention? What needs to be reinforced or replaced? What is keeping you from replacing it? Is it because you may have to seek the help of someone else? I’ve found the only way to strengthen those joists in my own life is to remain humble by being held in honest accountability.
Consider proverbs 16:18 from the message:
First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.
In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asserts that everyone should have a purpose statement in life. This is the 2rd habit “Start with the end is mind.” Its about defining the word ‘important’ for your life. The 3rd habit, “put first things first,” asserts that if you have a standard for what is really important in your life then you can use that to determine how should should spend your time and money.
My life group has been reading through 1 Timothy, a book filled with advice for a younger man from his mentor. In chapter 3 the Apostle Paul outlines the qualifications for church leaders and one of them is that they be ‘temperate.’ One commentator points out that later on Paul says ‘not given to drunkenness’ so its unlikely that he means the same with his use of ‘temperate.’ The same commentator suggested that the word would be better translated as “vigilant.” The Message paraphrase goes as far as to use the phrase “cool and collected.” These may seem like unrelated terms, but where I see them all connected its this: To be temperate, vigilant or cool and collected, you must be purposeful and therefore prepared. The key to this is know what’s important – know the mission so you can be vigilant, so you can be collected, so you can know what to temper towards. Its about personal leadership.
My lifegroup also recently read the book Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. I read it for the first time when it was first released ten years ago, so it was interesting to return to the book now as an adult. The authors argues that men in the church have become ‘nice guys’ when they’re actually called to be dangerous men of God who seek some kind of adventure. I don’t agree with every point in Eldredge’s book, but with this I agree whole heartedly. Consider Matthew 25, the parable of the talents: The risk-taking servants were rewarded. God doesn’t want us burying our riches in the back yard.
If the mission is about personal leadership, then the adventure is about personal vision. And as we know proverbs 29:18 says ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ A more literal translation of this verse is ‘where there is no prophesy, the people cast of restraint.’ This may sound like a totally different message but it isn’t; both translations mean – when you stop seeking God’s perfect will for your life, you won’t get God’s perfect will for your life.
So I thought it was about time that I defined a few things: My mission and my adventure.
Its difficult, but I think I managed to get it down to one statement:
My mission is to find creative ways to disciple christians and communicate the gospel using film, theater, photography and teaching.
This will change over the years, I’m sure. At the very least I hope to add in the word “lead” and then “mentor others” in the future as my role changes, but for now I think this gets to the central message of it.
Part of the difference between the mission and the adventure is the fact that it is not a simple statement. After all, if you can express it in just a few words, how adventurous can it be? (Unless one of those words is “flamethrower”) Using both scripture and the desires I believe God has placed on my heart, this how I see my adventure at this point in my life.
I seek to accomplish everything I do – through arts, through teaching, through relationships with others – to the glory of the one true God. I seek to chase after God and His will for my life in such a way that others might say of me ‘If the gospel isn’t true, Will has totally wasted his life.” I seek to push myself spiritually, mentally and even physically, pouring it all out as a praise offering to God. I want to visit other parts of the world for the purposes of spreading the Good News and collecting stories to bring back home to tell others so that a desire for missions might awake in their hearts. I seek to live a pure and holy life that inspires others to do that same. I seek to have the kind of selfless, contented confidence that the disciples had, that others might say “He has truly been with Jesus.”
I seek to have a network of friends with whom I can share life who want to join me on my adventures – who hold me accountable and support me when I’m down. I seek to prepare the next generation so that when it is no longer my place to lead or work that there will be others, even more capable, who will take my place. I seek to have lived such a full life that when I am old, young men will say of me “I hope that I will one day be as used up, so I might have equally amazing stories to tell.” I seek to live such that when I am gone that the world around me won’t miss a beat – they’ll merely shed a single tear for the temporary loss of my company, but then smile with the knowledge that I carried the torch as long as was needed and that they’ll see me again one day – carrying on the task that God gave me. Carrying it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Hallelujah, praise the Lord!
This is my adventure – you can’t have it. Though yours may look similar, it might have more specifics than mine as God’s vision for your life might be clearer. I suspect as I live my adventure that it will become more specific.