vultures

We’ve all seen it from time to time. Traveling in our vehicles, we glance up in the distant sky and spot a kettle of vultures, circling. We immediately know that there must be something dead nearby, a foul carcass of some kind that attracted these birds that prey on the dead.vultures

Don’t you wish this alert system also worked in our personal lives? Can you imagine the pitfalls we could avoid in life if we had a similar warning sign, circling the rotting circumstances ahead signaling dead situations, people, places or things? We would immediately know not to invest in a relationship with that person, or take that particular job, or agree to join that ministry if we were aware of the vultures attached to it feeding off of its remains. Oh, the heartache and disappointment that could be avoided if only this was indeed reality.

But this truly can be our reality.

The wisdom that Jesus expressed in Matthew 7:15-20 lets us know that toxic people, places and things can be recognized by their “fruit,” thus creating an opportunity for detour. Verse 16  specifically states, “You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” If a person has a track record of causing death in everything that they do, then we should be cautious not to enter into relationship with them. If a person is full of negativity, we should use that as a sign to avoid that person.

The same holds true for toxic places and things. Be keen to your surroundings. Vultures are not drawn to life. This is one of the first clues that you are in the wrong place. We must utilize the spiritual discernment the Holy Spirit equips us with before entering new situations.

Let people’s actions prove what they speak. Let the Holy Spirit and common sense guide your decision-making.

Let history serve as our vultures.

distortion….

And I gotta be more stubborn than this wall that I’m pushin’ at — convinced of the vision like ‘What are ya’ll lookin’ at?’

–Propaganda

I recently saw a documentary about people with eating disorders.** What really stuck out to me was the way these people perceived themselves.  One person at a doctor’s office was asked to draw an outline of themselves using a magic marker on a life-size sheet of paper taped to a wall—the outline was supposed to be a reflection of their self-image.  Once this person sketched the outline, the attending physician then stood the patient up against the paper and drew a true-to-life outline with another color marker.  The results were amazing to see.  The origdistortioninal outline was completely inaccurate—pitifully thin and a total distortion of reality.  Until the person could step back and look at themselves, they could not understand how warped their worldview had become.

That documentary made me think of how distorted human beings’ ways of thinking can be.  Sometimes our own perception of truth is so distorted that we actually have to step out of the situation that we are in to realize the truth.  I hadn’t thought much about this idea until we began a teaching series on love that we have been learning for months in our church services.  The series made me reflect on the record-setting movie “The Passion of the Christ”, written and directed by Mel Gibson, who went through a very intense process trying to get the film approved.  Many people tried to prevent the movie’s release because it portrayed a particular group of people in a very negative light. In this case, one might argue, this group held a distorted view in the opposite way – thinking more highly of themselves than perhaps they ought (Romans 12:3). As a result there didn’t seem to be much positive interest in the movie, which didn’t make sense to me until I read an interesting online commentary. The commentary’s author basically made the point that the movie was embellished to depict Christ’s crucifixion as being driven by emotion rather than by commitment to a Divine mission to save humanity (Romans 8:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

The media knows that such an emotional sentiment is easier for humans to relate to because we are all emotional beings.  But sometimes emotion is what prevents us from loving people unconditionally, often because of the hurt we might feel from a painful emotional experience.  Ironically, The Passion left many viewers feeling deeply saddened about the horror involved in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—yet these feelings can make us forget the reasoning behind why this event was necessary.  In fact, it was not such a terrible event, but a glorious one.  Because of Christ’s crucifixion, all people can now be forgiven for all our sins against God.

The response to this movie gives us an idea of how distorted our ways of thinking can be.  We must seek to love unconditionally just as Jesus loves us—based on God’s enabling and not based on our own fickle emotions.  Jesus loves us so much that he sacrificed His life so we could have a chance to live eternally.  Yes, Jesus felt hurt and anger over the sinful condition of the world (Mark 3:5; 11:15-18), but not once did Jesus stop loving anyone because of His hurt.  Not once was His love distorted, which is one lesson that Jesus wants to teach us (Mark 12:30-31).  He used His own life to teach us how to live ours.  When we base our lives on feelings, our views of life become distorted and that is not the way God loves and cares for us.  When drawing an outline of our lives, nothing will ever be distorted from God’s view, only from ours.

**Note: This article is an update of the original version written in 2011.

secrets to success(FULL marriage)

I know the secret to a successful Christian marriage! “How do I know this?” you may ask. Well, I know because I’ve been married for 3 years. Yes – a whopping 3 years! That alone pretty much makes me an expert.

But seriously, all jokes aside, I believe the secret here is actually no secret at all. The strategy to succeed in marriage has been utilized for years and years by followers of Christ who dare to commit to the marital standards spelled out in Scripture. It is simply a matter of learning and applying.

marriage1

I feel enriched when I attend an Excellent Wives Bible Study event hosted by Marriage Ministry Together, Inc., or get to sit in on a Love & Respect session, or even attend a Weekend to Remember® conference hosted by Focus on the Family. Sitting back and taking notes at these events, I learn and relearn winning tactics from people who’ve invested years of their lives in marriage. These folks put valuable time-honored information – often very personally – out in the open for all who are interested in gleaning from it.

Oftentimes, what I hear is not new to me. However, I’ve concluded that these reinforcements are not only valuable, but very necessary. Principles such as wives respecting their husbands and husbands loving their wives (Eph. 5:22-33); and accepting your spouse for who they are (Rom. 15:7), realizing that you are two different imperfect people. Gathering this knowledge from multiple reputable sources is definitely reassuring.

My husband often tells me not to reinvent the wheel – a concept that ringmarriage3s true particularly for maintaining a successful marriage under the guidance of Scripture. However, it is not enough to know this stuff. No, the key is to actually apply what you know to be good for your marriage. And that’s one of the many reasons it’s so important for me to be reminded of these principles on a daily basis. After 3 years (and counting), I can say that applying these biblical principles to my marriage has helped grow our relationship by leaps and bounds. We don’t have a perfect marriage, but we do have Christ and it will be perfected through Him.

marriage2John and I have been blessed to have marital support available to us from the Browns and many others. We also intentionally take time to participate in events that will build us up as a couple. And finally, sometimes after some tugging, we make a strong effort to apply what we are learning. And you know what? We actually witness positive change and growth in our marriage!

Now, if I can only get this SEX thing down…. 🙂 but that’s a different article.

do you know?

As part of my quest to grow as a spiritually mature Christian, I am currently reading a book titled Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Although I will not focus on that specific concept in this blog, the introduction of a chapter titled “Going Back in Order to go Forward[i] ties into a thought I have been meditating on lately. The chapter begins, “Emotionally healthy spirituality is about reality, not denial or illusion. It is about embracing God’s choice to birth us into a particular family, in a particular place, at a particular moment in history.”

This passage only reinforces my gratitude to God for birthing me into a family of believers. I am so thankful that from very early on in my life I have known about Jesus. That name was never foreign to me. I wasn’t introduced to Him by a friend at school, or by a distant relative, or by some history teacher; and I didn’t have to search far to find out about Him. My family consisted of weekly church-goers, and because of this upbringing I knjohn 17.3ew who Jesus was. And I am thankful.

However, as I got older, my knowledge of Christ would not suffice. I found this out when my father passed while I was in the 11th grade. It wasn’t enough for me to know of Christ, I had to know Christ—and there is a difference. Knowing Christ is established by gaining and developing a personal relationship with Him (John 17:3, 20-26). Just knowing about Him will not carry you through personal struggles and storms. Knowing about the God of my mother did not help when my mother passed. Knowing of the God of my grandmother did not relieve the lonely distress of my two-month stint in the hospital. Only through a personal relationship with Christ can I say that I made it through losing my only brother at the age of 35. Knowing of Christ would not have sustained me when life hit me and crushed me so deeply that I saw no hope for my future.

I am fortunate. I did not have to search high and low for my Savior. He has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I did not have to wander in the wilderness, jumping from one belief system to another, before I eventually came into the knowledge of Christ. I am eternally thankful for that. However I learned at a very early age that knowing about Jesus Christ—the God of my mother, father, sister, whomever—was not enough to sustain me through life. I learned that I needed to know God for myself. Developing a personal relationship with Him for myself was the only way I could be here today, sane and in my right mind.

Wouldn’t you like to know Him also?

knowing Jesus

[i] Scazzero, Peter. “Going Back in Order to Go Forward.” Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Nashville, TN: Integrity, 2006. 86. Print.

forget about that last play

I am a basketball player at heart. I’ve played ball since I was a child and continued through high school. It was my first love and I have fond memories of playing still to this day. When I’m on the court, you hear strictly “swish.”

 bball

Skill, knowledge of the game, and athleticism all play a major role in basketball success—but I think the key aspect separating good players from great players is mental maturity. Mental maturity, to me, in any sport, is the ability to continue to play the game after you’ve committed a bad play. You must have the mentality to hustle back on defense after you’ve thrown the ball away. And your level of mental maturity can keep you on the court or land you on the bench.

One of my favorite movies, for obvious reason, is Love and Basketball. In one pivotal scene, Monica, the lead character, was battling for a starting position on her college team. Toward the end of a tight game, she threw the ball away with mere seconds left on the clock, which could have cost her team the victory. Instead, she hustled back on defense and ultimately won the game. Rather than succumb to her mistake, which was a huge one, she continued to play, and because of that she secured the starting position. Just as with sports, we need to have the mental maturity in our Christian walk to forget about our past sins. We must still forge forward knowing we have a less-than-perfect record.

Any failure I experienced as a star athlete usually stemmed from three things: lack of initiative, lack of confidence, and anger. (Yes, in addition to natural basketball talent and athleticism, I had a bad attitude.) Plagued with this mentality, I was prone to make a mistake on the court, which would saddle me with guilt. Remaining stuck on that last play, I would simply check out of the game mentally.

My spiritual life has been filled with the same pitfalls, which can have me benched here and there. When I’m not committed to studying, praying, or meditating on God’s word, I become spiritually bankrupt—which leads to sin—which leads to guilt. I get stuck in the snare of my past sins, making them bigger than God. I get stuck having lost confidence in God’s sovereignty. Then being angry, mostly with myself for the mess I have made, I get stuck there on that last play where I threw the ball away. And as I wallow in my self-pity, the other team scores, and I am rightly sidelined and left to watch the game from the bench.

But in order to win I must bounce back, realizing what Christ did on the cross for me, understanding that His promises are true, realizing that I have ALREADY been forgiven once I truly repent and turn away from that sin. No good coach in the world would punish a player that has the mental capability to bounce back from a mistake and learn how not to continue to make the same mistake again. So there is no reason to believe God would punish us for making a mistake in life, provided we learn from it, forget about it, and bounce back. Otherwise, we remain stagnant.

past sin

So please…forget about that last play.

this i believe

 From John: Here is what i wrote for a class  assignment in a graduate course on nonprofit leadership. Each student was to complete a “This I Believe” essay as a way of uncovering our core beliefs as emerging nonprofit difference-makers. We are reciting our essays to the entire class tomorrow, so here’s a sneak peek at mine. i’d like to thank my wife for allowing me to use “Shay’s Corner” to share my heart with you.

 

i believe i did this assignment incorrectly. Ephesians 5 says “See that ye walk circumspectly. Not as fools,
but as wise, redeeming the time” so let me start at the beginning.

i believe my parents didn’t know what they was doing, too young to be screwing, so i spent just north of high school graduation in the womb and they had no clue what they was producing.

i came out with a lop-sided noggin. With enough room to fit more questions than answers. My head was
always too big for my body.

i am the, product of debt, divorce, dysfunction, and broken dreams. But with no grounding, i always
thought that the earth revolved around me. Delirious with grandeur, but the least likely to succeed.

i was that plastic-covered furniture that wasn’t even paid for yet. See my lifestyle was beyond fake–like a
modesty sign on Beyonce. A know-it-all with a dunce cap facing the wrong way. Why God even bothered
is beyond me.

But He stooped down, made a pit stop in West Philly and traded my pain for a dose of His grace and
now i’ve been changed. And you don’t really know me, just what i read off the page. And there’s a lot of
opinions about what it means to be “Christian,” but here’s what i can say.

TV, your bitter grandmother, and your inner atheist will convince you that it means…rule-keeping, not
thinking, always passing judgment. Legalism, mere religion, and that a dime a dozen.

But i can tell you from personal experience it’s more like…going into the schoolyear knowing the least
popular kid is you. Cuz you believe in resurrection and moral absolutes. It’s taking up my cross to follow Him daily, knowing if i do it in my own strength i’m constantly failing. Telling people i’m gonna go be with Him later, i’m an alien. It’s the noblest and hardest thing you can ever do in your life, even though His yoke is easy and burden is light. See for me it’s, well, marriage.

Now it’s true that the Bible does say that all have sinned, and our sin has a price. But being saved is not just about not getting hell, it’s that you do get Christ. See most people have it backwards. They’re so far left,
that they can’t seem to get it right.

But the good news is that God loves us all. His grace redeemed me although He knew i would drop the
ball. So He sent His own Son to pick up the cost—with willingly stretched-out arms He shed His blood on
a cross, to bring mankind back to right standing with God…cuz building bridges is better than building
walls.

This i believe, that when i’m done speaking, over half the people here will clap politely not understanding
a fourth of what they heard, and i’m not exaggerating one eighth. So to the sixteenth degree, i’m hoping
you see me. Treating you with Christian compassion and Generosity. Even if with your lifestyle i may
totally disagree.

Cuz i believe–if Jesus were here today, He would tell hell to get out, He would literally get the hell outta
here. His heart would be larger than Jupiter. For the poor, sick, the needy and just because i believe in
Him doesn’t make me stupider.

For all those reasons i believe … in Better Days Ahead, that’s betterdaysahead.org. Can you believe that?

by JP3

hide n’ go seek

hide

I had a moment of nostalgia the other day thinking of the childhood games I used to play with my friends. As kids we spent the greater portion of the day – get this — playing outside. We played everything from baseball and kickball, to less structured games like red light green light and wall ball. Although I loved them all, the one that really grabbed me in this moment of reflection was Hide n’ Go Seek. You know, the classic game where a group of people scatters to hide and one “lucky” person has the job of finding them. Most often no one wanted to be the Seeker, but someone had to accept the lonely task in order to play the game successfully.

What made my memories of this game even more vivid was the element of darkness. It was more intense, more difficult, and sometimes more frightening when played at night. You see, something is lost, counter-intuitively, when playing Hide n’ Go Seek during the day; the sun is shining brightly and there are fewer places to hide. But in the dark you can hide out almost anywhere, thus making it more difficult for the Seeker to find anyone. I smile as I think of this innocent game I played as a child and frown when I think of its implications as an adult.

We tend to paraphrase the title of the game from Hide n’ Go Seek to Hide n’ Seek. In doing so, we miss the game’s true essence. The word “go” means to continue in a certain state or condition. The Seeker must continue to seek until they find who’s hidden. A popular Biblical passage reads, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Mirroring the game, the passage reminds us how challenging it is to seek God during our “nights”. When it’s difficult to see our hand in front of our face. When times are so bleak that we are just about to give up hope.  Times when God seems so distant, times when we have no more tears to cry, no more voice to yell out. In times like these we must remember to continually seek God until we find Him, at least that’s what the scripture is alluding to. Just like we know our hand is there, we should be reassured that God is there. He doesn’t hide from us, our circumstances hide His presence.

We didn’t give up seeking when we played as children, what makes it any different now?

But oh, how I miss my childhood at times, when games were just that…games.