In a Culture of Never Enough, a Culture at War–The Secret of Contentment

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Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…

Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.

Celebrating Father’s Day with a Difficult Dad

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I know my Dad loved me and always wanted the best for me. He never, ever abused me. But as I grew older, when it came to nurturing a heart to heart relationship, he just wasn’t that into me.

When I was still small enough to sit in his lap he would read to me. And he would swing me. For a season he made up wonderful bedtime stories about Broussard the Dragon who, when Dad lost interest, died tragically in a cave in. When I was older he would play the chess-like board game Camelot with me. And slaughter me.

But pretty much every night after dinner my petroleum engineer dad preferred to spend his time tinkering in his electronics shop. I could go out and talk to him in the garage, and he would explain to me how his gadgets worked, but he was not inclined to sacrifice his favorite pastime to spend all that much time with me.

In his defense, my dad came from a family of thinkers, not feelers. He lost his dad when he was 13. So he didn’t seem to know how to find his way into my world. I had to find my way into his.

6 Reasons Why Chick Fil A got Orlando right (and how many Muslims and Christians can do better)

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Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal”

 

As soon as reports surfaced about Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub, suspicious fingers began pointing to Christian haters. Even after it was reported that the shooter had dedicated his kill to the Islamic State. What grieved me even more was talking to Christians who condemned the killings, but acknowledged they didn’t feel a great sense of compassion on the gay victims because, after all, look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Thankfully, Chick-fil-A in Orlando rolled up its sleeves, fired up its grills and showed our terribly divided culture how to follow Jesus in such a tragedy. On a day when they normally close their doors and give their employees time off to go to church, they were serving their great food to first responders and  blood donors lined up to honor the victims.

Here are 6 reasons why Chick-fil-A got it right and how many Muslims and Christians can do better:

How Donald Trump (and all of us) Can Write a Better Story. With his campaign. With his life.

love-superhero-on-urban-city-background_fyAzLiOu_LImagine going to a Captain America movie where Steve Rogers is being sued. Regardless of the merits, which are never clear, he has reason to suspect the judge is biased and is treating his case unfairly. So the Avengers spend the entire movie plotting his demise.

They use their special powers to investigate the judge. Finally, they use their celebrity to stage a huge reveal: the judge’s grandfather was German and a member of Hydra. The judge is a member of a local German legal community. On that community’s website they found a link to a group sympathetic to Hydra.

Even though the judge has put away many German drug cartel leaders, even though there is absolutely no evidence in his record that he has ever favored Germans in his courtroom, Rogers insists, “He’s a German. And he’s Hydra. We still fight Hydra. We still fight some Germans. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

The end.

We don’t find out how the judge rules on the court case. It doesn’t matter. The outcome would be so politicized that the verdict would be irrelevant. Captain America wins again.

What would you think of the movie? What’s wrong with it and why does it matter?

Ageing with less fear…more anticipation

AgingAt an author’s retreat a few years ago Liz Curtis Higgs grabbed several of us and said, “Come on, let’s take a picture of the Silver Foxes together.” In today’s culture that worships youth, her proud ownership of her silvering hair infected all of us. I’ve never thought of mine quite the same. While ageing is a fact, our attitude determines how we experience it.  And more and more of us are experiencing it.

Experiencecorps.org reports that by 2030 the number of Americans age 55 and older will reach 107.6 million (31 percent of the population). Americans reaching age 65 today have an average life expectancy of an additional 17.9 years (19.2 years for females and 16.3 years for males).

This generation of retirees can anticipate far more from their fourth-quarter than previous generations. They will be the healthiest, longest lived, best educated, most affluent seniors in history. According to a survey conducted for Civic Ventures, 59 percent of older Americans see retirement as “a time to be active and involved, to start new activities, and to set new goals.”

One of the Great Ones Is Gone: Going Full-throttle to the Finish

And a counter-cultural way to think about those "retirement years"

Harry and statueThe only way to get to San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta is to drive down a dry riverbed.  We bounced so much down the boulders in outback Guatemala that I arrived brain-rattled and bruised, but laughing because of the great company we were in.

On a missions training trip, we had come with our new friends Harry and Patty Larson to encourage and equip the leaders of a small church there. Together with their young son Peter the five of us bedded down in a tiny room off the back of the church, “air conditioned” by a 12-inch gap between the walls and ceiling.

Lying there in the dark we could hear the soft flapping of something swooping through the gap, in and out of our room. Unsettled, I asked, “What is that?” From his bed Harry began singing in a perfect Sesame Street Transylvanian accent, “One bat hanging in the steeple, One bat flies in through the door….” Patty chimed in, “That makes two bats in my belfry, Wonderful!”

We giggled at The Count’s perfect tribute to our adventure and drifted off to sleep. I was awakened by dogs barking and a rooster crowing. In the middle of the night. And then the bed started to shake.
“Jack,” I half-whispered, “what is that?”
“It’s just a big truck going down the street.” And he rolled over.
As if a big truck could have made it down that riverbed.

The shaking grew worse. And worse. Earthquake!!
I sat bolt upright. “What do I do?!”
Harry responded, “It’s ok. You’re ok!”
The shaking grew worse.
“What do I do?!!”

Transgender & Bathrooms: FAQ’s from a Christian Worldview

A young mom and I were eating lunch at Chick-fil-A when she asked me, “I saw your Faith and Culture website…What do you think about the boycott of Target?” Thinking that some of you may have questions about the bathroom wars over the transgender issue, I’ll answer her question and others in this post.

To begin with, it’s always helpful to clarify the basics:

Q: What is a transgendered person?
A: Although they get lumped into the LG BT acronym, a transgender person is very different from a gay or lesbian person. A gay or lesbian experiences a same-sex attraction in their sexual orientation. A transgender person is one who feels like the sex of the person they are inside does not align with the biologically endowed person they are on the outside.

The live in constant tension between the two, which is why many try to resolve the tension with hormone therapy or sex-change surgery. They believe that if who they are on the inside could be chemically or surgically aligned with who they are on the outside that they could finally live a more peaceful and happy life.

Q: So their bodies and their brains don’t match?

One big cultural reason for Trump’s success and what it means for our future

There’s this scene at the end of the movie of The Truman Show where Jim Carrey, who plays the unwitting star of a reality show about his life, finally figures out that none of it is real. Like the voice of God speaking out of the “sky,” The Truman Show producer tries to persuade him to stay, “You were real,”…that’s what made you so good to watch.”

Truman/Carrey pauses at the foot of a stair case leading up and out of the giant dome of his set, then takes his final bow and makes his exit. The millions who have watched him since he was a toddler explode into cheers, hi-fives and laughter. In the control room the order is given, “Cease transmission.” All the TV sets go to crackling “snow.”

Two security guys eating pizza look at each other. “What else is on?” asks one.
“Yeah let’s see what else is on.”
“Where’s the TV Guide?”
And the credits roll.

Because the show is over. Transmission has ceased. Time to change the channel. Those of us who have followed the 2016 Great Republican Presidential Race Reality Show find ourselves in the same place. Some breathless with the thrill of victory. Others incredulous over sixteen defeats. Millions of us a bit deflated that the primary “show” is over.

Many of us are trying to parse how such a promising field with so many good candidates has ended with the choice shaping up before us.

After Indiana…Trump or Hillary? Four practical ways to respond with faith and strength

Trump vs Clinton

If you listened closely on Tuesday night, you could hear the collective exhale, the sssighing deflation of many who had hoped for Donald Trump’s mojo to grind to a Midwestern red-state halt. Instead, the concern faded to resignation and the quieting of the contested convention tambourines.

Those of us who supported sixteen other candidates are faced with a rock-and-a-hard-place decision. How do we respond? Here are four practical suggestions:

20 Ways to Reach out and Build Warm-Weather Relational Connections

(in a world that constantly divides)

Brunch tableWeary of the way our culture wars are dividing us? Maybe you long to be used as a person of more influence for good right in your community. Perhaps you’ve often thought about reaching out to people in your neighborhood and building more bridges of friendship. Maybe you long to share the good news of forgiveness and hope in Jesus but you find yourself stuck in your Christian bubble.

With the warmer spring weather and a little creativity we can take practical steps in our own homes and neighborhoods to build relationships up in a world that tends to tear them down. Whether it’s casual and messy or organized and lovely we can shift our focus away from the macro problems to micro solutions. Here are 20 suggestions to stir the pot and help you think more intentionally about doing something good. Taking a little risk:

1. Stay outside in the front yard longer, sit on the porch, let the kids play. Maybe even invite passersby to stop for a snack or refreshment.
2. Throw some shrimp on the barbie and have people over. Or grill hamburgers. For something new, Google a different recipe. Or, rather than lunch or dinner, invite others over for brunch. Food shared within a circle of faces warms and disarms, gets below the surface and opens up discussions of deeper thoughts and needs.
3. Pray that God would enlarge your heart for these relationships, that you would see people as the Lord Jesus sees them. That he would give you the strength (and sometimes the courage) to move beyond the default to TV and social media to connect with real people.

Is Hitting Back “Twice as Hard” Really the Way to Win?

Is the way of Machiavelli more effective than the way of Jesus?

Donald Trump Machiavelli Jesus-900If leaders treat people with contempt, insulting and belittling them, and violating their dignity, can it ultimately serve their best interest? Can it best serve the people who follow him or her? Can leaders hit others back hard and win both power and the hearts of the people?

Donald Trump lives by the advice he dispensed in his best-selling business book The Art of the Deal: “Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.” He has run his campaign under the banner of “You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard.”

For example, back in August, at the first Presidential debate, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump some pointed questions about the way he treated women. What many (most?) journalists considered a fair question Trump considered unfair and hit back hard with an unrelenting stream of negative tweets against Kelly. In January, when Fox refused to remove Kelly from moderating the Iowa debate, he dropped out and held a competing event.

On January 27th Fox News journalist Bill O’Reilly challenged Donald Trump to move past the exchange and rejoin the debate broadcast.

BILL O’REILLY: In your Christian faith, there is a very significant tenet and that’s the tenet of forgiveness. I think you should forgive not only journalists who come at you in ways you don’t like, but I think you should be a bigger man and say, you know what? I didn’t like it and you should make that case all day long. But, I’m not going to take any action against it. You know, don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?
DONALD TRUMP: It probably is. But, you know it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also. You can look at it that way.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no. That’s Old Testament. If you’re the Christian, the eye for the eye rule goes out. Here’s what it is: turning the other cheek (taps his cheek).
TRUMP: You’re taking this much more seriously than I am. I’m not taking it seriously.

Many Beautiful Things Movie: Why have we never heard of Lilias Trotter?

A remarkable artist chooses a hidden life of love over "success" and celebrity.

“This film is a miniature masterpiece.”–Os Guinness…“The whole world should see this movie.”–Michelle Dockery…One of the most lovely and personally inspiring films ever–Lael 

A new movie, Many Beautiful Things, introduces us to a true-life young beauty of means in Victorian England. An extraordinarily gifted artist, she is mentored and celebrated by John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the era, an Oxford professor and founder of its drawing school. He hailed her as one of the most potentially celebrated artists of her time. Ruskin’s challenge: “to give herself up to art.”

If she would dedicate herself to this great gift she would take her place among the cultural elite of England. She would change minds, as she had changed Ruskin’s, about the potential for women to paint great art.

She would also have an extraordinary platform from which to expand her work on behalf of poor and disenfranchised women–prostitutes whom she coaxed into the fledgling YWCA for shelter and job skills, the working women of London forced to eat their lunches on the streets, until she helped build London’s first public restaurant for women.

But another Voice was calling her.

Is there a bright future for the American family?

Dr. Allan Carlson shows us how natural families contribute to human flourishing

Carlson bookMany experts in today’s culture would have us believe that the nurturing of children and family relationships are not as important to our flourishing as individual fulfillment. And, as we pursue individual fulfillment, the changes to the family mean a march of social evolution toward freedom and happiness–being on “the right side of history.”

Despite the leftist lean of the social sciences over the last sixty years, the best research tells a different story.

The Post-Easter Challenge: What do we do now?

My publisher, Crossway Books, has given me a beautiful book of the Masonite drawings by Robert Doares picturing the life of Christ, Immanuel, God with Us. The originals hung in the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College, wide-angle compositions and sweeping vistas fifteen inches high and four feet across.

Doares Great Comission

Before and after Easter, I lay the book out on my entry hall table, turning a page each day and letting the pictures take my imagination across two millennia, back to Jerusalem and Galilee.

In one of the final double-spread pictures, several paths converge on the top of a small mountain in Galilee. From the artist’s helicopter view, a lofty cloudbank rises toward the northwest where the gospel would spread (too wide to be included in this picture).

A small robed figure thrusts one arm toward those distant lands, directing the gaze of eleven men seated in a half circle before him. The Scripture underneath the picture is Christ’s commission to go out and invite others to follow him (Matt. 28:19-20).

As I walked by the table yesterday, I looked at that tiny group sitting in the curve of a path across a broad stony terrace in the sweeping landscape. The sheer measure of Jesus’ invitation stopped me cold. Eleven men are invited to change…everything?

All those miles and miles and city after city? How do you imagine a church? How you imagine missions? How do you take what Christ said and did and roll it out to a world that has never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, or the God of Abraham, or a church?

Walking Away from Baseball: $13 Million │ A Little Divine Affirmation: Priceless

Adam 2014

Jack and I visit with Adam before a 2014 game at Turner Field in Atlanta.

A friend and a timely dream encouraged White Sox hitter Adam LaRoche in his decision.

“I had the strangest dream,” my husband Jack told me at breakfast last Tuesday. “I dreamed I was walking with Adam down a long corridor headed to the field and he told me he was retiring from baseball.

“It was unlike any dream I’ve ever had, extremely vivid and high-def. Adam was sad so I put my arm around him to comfort him. I prayed for him. Then he walked on down the corridor and out onto the field to make his announcement.

“After all these years that would be sad,” I said.

“And then I woke up. It was only 5:30 am so I took it as a prompting from God to pray for Adam.”

Jack and I have known Adam since his family joined our church back in the 90’s. He baptized Adam and took him on his first hunt, a squirrel-control patrol. We’ve attended his Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals games. His mom is one of my best friends. So we didn’t think it all that unusual for Jack to have a dream about Adam. Until later.

United: Getting Over Our Differences

eg_shopicon_36Everyone interested in the Republican presidential primary hopes that at some point we can pull together. But at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that will happen.

The challenge to resolve deep differences tears up families, churches and workplaces as well as political parties. The differences can feel as visceral as a punch in the gut.

For example, when Ben Carson, whom I respect so much, endorsed Donald Trump for president, I joined millions of evangelicals in a collective gasp.

eg_shopicon_36I called a friend of mine who has worked in support of his candidacy. “What has Dr. Carson done?” I moaned. “What?” she replied, “I haven’t heard.” “He’s endorsed Trump.” I informed her, “I feel like the world is tilting on its axis. How can this be?” She moaned with me.

When it comes to faith and politics, we wrap our opinions in heavy blankets of emotion. Beginning with our very first perception of any person, especially a political candidate, we’re not just taking in a scene.

Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous. We see something and immediately evaluate it and enfold it into an emotional response.

When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election

cracked-ground-913-580“Why are you concerned about this presidential primary?” I ask.

“Because,” a friend said over dinner, “someone I don’t trust may gain control of our military might, our nuclear codes–someone who seems easily offended and vengeful.”

“Because,” another said, “I’m afraid I’m losing my homeland. It’s changing right under my feet.”

“I wonder,” said another, “what are people thinking?! They don’t appear to care about issues and substance. They seem charmed by the personality of a Pied Piper.”

It’s getting harder and harder to govern America by politics. The interests of different groups are getting further apart. As political compromise and deal-making breaks down, gridlock sets in. Anger boils.

David Brooks reminds us that, historically, when politics breaks down, the other alternative is a dictator. People give up on politics and look to a perceived strongman to fix the mess.

The strongman promises what he can never realistically deliver, which sets people up for more frustration and anger…

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats)

Yesterday I was speaking to another friend who confided that it was getting to the point where she didn’t even want to let her thoughts go to the state of our nation or the coming election.

How can we not feel threatened, frustrated, distraught…?

I was feeling the same occasional spasms of dread in this wild ride of an election process. Then Sunday two things happened:

Between Rubio and Cruz, Vote Shrewd: A Tale of Two Rallies

Why I've decided to vote for...

You can feel the difference between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz simply by walking into their rallies. In spite of the 35° raw drizzle, about 900 people are chanting, cheering and waving signs to the upbeat music, waiting for Rubio’s bus to roll in.

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We can see our breath in the three-walled party barn.  Sleek, long-haired college interns in galoshes mix it up with all ages in the suburban Lexington venue.  The advance team has set up the stage in the round with bleachers on the two sides facing the bank of cameras in back.

The bus pulls up and Rubio bounds down the short walkway with US Representative Trey Gowdy (of the Benghazi hearings) and US Senator Tim Scott.

Praying for America with Franklin Graham in SC: Frustrated but Hopeful

Undeterred by the 40° weather, we stand in front of the South Carolina capitol, thousands of us, joining Franklin Graham to pray for our nation. It’s the fifth stop on his Decision America Tour to all fifty capitols.

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No other speakers. No political endorsements. The only piece of campaign literature I see is underfoot.

Following Jesus: What Really Shapes Our Decision and Desire?

Is it a question of God empowering our reason and will, or is something more fundamental at work?

Godsight labelYou are praying for your children/siblings/spouse and suddenly you find yourself no longer praying but “writing the book” on how their challenges will sweep them away. The book ends in court or the hospital or the cemetery. Your stomach knots up. Will you give way to fear?

How do you picture that decision-making process between choosing fear or choosing to trust Jesus? Do you see it as I have often seen it—a daily taffy-pull between what our hearts fear here and what God promises over there? Between what the culture rewards over here and what God wants over there, leaving our souls feeling thin and stringy in the middle?

If you’re like me you’ve been taught to view our decisions to love and follow Jesus in three stages:
Perception:
We perceive a threat: I may lose my job, my husband, or in today’s culture, my child. Our candidate may not win. America will go in the wrong direction. We face a choice: Will we give way to fear?
We perceive a temptation: More time dialed in to our phones. Eating fat instead of healthy. An attraction to someone besides our spouse. Will we indulge our desires?
Reason:
I submit what I perceive to logical reflection. Will my desire/choice honor the Lord Jesus? Does it line up with Scripture? Is it loving to others? Will it help me move toward the long-term joy Jesus has for me?
Will:
Life is a contest between a torrent of sinful desire and the way of God. My heart wants this, but my will chooses that. On a good day, my will is stronger than my sinful desires. But not always. (See Romans 7 (“what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”)

We focus and teach our kids so much about surrendering our will to Jesus. Logically processing our decisions through the grid of God’s Word.

But what if our battle is not primarily fought at the level of our will, or even our reason? What if our greatest battle is fought at the level of our perception?