Honesty about struggling with principles

No pic. No silly title. Just some up-front honesty.

After a couple of weeks of writing about principles and doing the right thing, I feel like those convictions are being tested. Over the last week, significant situations have arisen that have challenged my conviction to do what is right; not as a clear choice between right and wrong but in the difficulty between discerning what is right and wrong.

It isn’t always clear for us what right and wrong is. We are flawed people dealing with flawed people. We have imperfect perceptions and memories. We are filled with anger, frustration, jealousy, selfishness, and pride; motivations that often drive us and influence us even if they don’t rear their ugly heads in front of everyone. These things sit just below the surface, waiting to muck things up when we get serious about doing what God wants. They often present as little sins that we can justify away (I hate the phrase “lesser of two evils” for this reason) and these little sins give birth to greater sins (death: James 1:15).

This is part of why prayer is so important. Prayer isn’t about us getting God on our side, it’s us getting on the same page as God. It’s us saying, “God, may Your kingdom come, not mine. May Your will be done, not mine. Give me what I need, protect me from evil, and in everything I do, may you be glorified.” (see Matthew 5:5-13) We pray like that in faith, trusting that when we run into difficult situations where our resolve to live by principle instead of by self interest, and when we run into situations where it isn’t easy to determine what it means to do the right thing, that He will ultimately lead us through those times in a way that is glorifying to Him. This does not mean we will not run into those difficult times, or that there will not be conflict or pain or struggles. It means that, despite whatever we are feeling or experiencing, God is in control: through all the turmoil, pain, heartache, and difficulties; when we feel alone, lost, and abandoned; and when we feel like we’ve failed, over and over again, we can know that God is in control. He loves us, He is there for us, and He will be with us.

I’m in the midst of what seems like a never ending series of conflicts and struggles, all seeming to escalate in emotion and impact even while many of the actual situations seem minor and petty. Sometimes life is like that: increasingly small things become increasingly bigger deals over time. In some of the darker moments its easy to lose hope, but in moments of reflection I remember that God is in control and I begin to renew my belief that He is in the process of doing some amazing things that I am extraordinarily excited to see. I pray that I can stay out of the way and let God do His thing.

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Principles are weird…are you weird?

jetskiSometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, even if we have resolved to live our lives on principle. We will always be tempted to fall back into a habit of self-preservation and the seeking of our own self-interests. However, there’s another factor that will make it difficult to live consistently on principle.

Living on principle is weird.

It is unusual to find someone committed to living on principle. When you do, they stand out. They spend a huge amount of time doing things apart from their own self-interest; they don’t simply volunteer one or two Sundays a month at church, they are consistently and regularly volunteering hours whenever and wherever there is a need, while also being active in other community activities and outreaches. They don’t look at their time as something they sparingly donate, they are focused on making a significant impact on the world around them.

Looking around, you will see lots of people spending their money on lavish vacations, recreational activities, bigger and better vehicles, and other things that make life a little more comfortable. Often times, people who live on principle seem short on cash. They live below their means because their spending is tied to their principles. This doesn’t mean they don’t go on vacation, upgrade vehicles, or have other comforts, but they could have much more than they do if they didn’t spend so much money supporting their church and other worthwhile missions and causes. It isn’t an issue of tithing 10%; that is simply a minimum. Jesus highlights that we are called to more than the minimum; we are called to live generously.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, ESV

Living on principle means putting those valued ideals of yourself and your own comforts. For some, that may mean donations yearly in the tens of thousands of dollars. For others, that may “simply” mean hundreds or thousands of dollars. It means we are willing to sacrifice some things that would be really nice for something bigger than us.

I remember when my youth pastor, Tim Hunter, challenged us to give 10% of whatever we money received as junior high and high school students. He said, “Right now, you are sacrificing a meal out or a case of soda, but if you can’t do that now how will you be able to sacrifice a jet ski or a new car when you tithe as an adult?” Living on principle means the mission is more important than the money.

As a ministry director for a new nonprofit, it’s fair to say that funds are not plentiful in my household. However, we were what I would call “comfortable” in our finances when I was a youth pastor and my wife worked for a law firm. We owned a modest home, had decent vehicles, and I even eventually saved enough money to buy my Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, that purchase came after a year of saving extra money after our tithe, our other bills, and additional giving to groups and missions like our support for a missionary friend in southeast Asia and our giving to a Christian summer camp that we are passionate about. Anything we purchase beyond essentials (true essentials, like food and clothing, NOT “essentials” like cable TV and gym memberships) was weighed against doing what we could do to support the advancement of the gospel in and through the various groups we worked with.

If by some fluke a “normal” person notices that you are living on principle and not for our personal interests, it will grab their attention. While they will talk about going to the cabin every weekend and the new snowmobile they bought to replace the “old one” that they bought last year, you talk about volunteering at the food distribution over the weekend or at the local youth drop in center. In addition, even though they know you make enough money to afford new things, they will notice that you don’t buy new toys every year. They may eventually work up the gumption to ask, “What’s different about you?” And when you give them the answer, their response will be simple.

You’re weird.

And they’re right.

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Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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Beck Confusion and Living On Principle

beckBeck is a pretty amazing guy. He’s been a performer since the mid-80s and has become a national figure. He has had a hugely successful radio career as well as highly rated shows on CNN and Fox News, and has now started his own tv news station called The Blaze. He has multiple albums on Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Albums of All Time” list. He is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and has reached #1 on that list in 4 different book categories. He even has 5 Grammy Awards, including 2015 Album of the Year, which is different than Record of the Year somehow.

Wait, what? Those are two different people? Huh…

So Glen Beck is a pretty controversial guy. A conservative political commentator with strong Libertarian-leaning views, he presents what his radio show calls “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.” I don’t listen to the program regularly, but when I’ve got some time I will tune in. I don’t always agree with him but he often has some insights that I appreciate. His show from Friday (3/6/15) had a clip that got my attention.

National principles. We don’t torture. National principles. We don’t spy on Americans. National principles. Our interests say, “We’ve got to torture.” Our principles say “no.”

While he is talking politics here, I think the distinction between “principles” and “interests” is an important one for of us. What are your guiding principles? What have you chosen as a guiding concept and commitment for your life? If you find yourself acing in a way that is more in line with your interests – what is best for you – than your principles – what you believe to be good and right – you have a problem. We are not called to act in our best interests, we are called to love and serve others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

When we live on principle, we sacrifice. We don’t always get what we want or think we deserve. By some standards of success, we fail. However, when we live on principle, we don’t evaluate our lives by money or power or our standing before others, we evaluate our lives based on the love we give and receive and on how God views our lives and our actions. We ask ourselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” Sometimes this is a very complicated question to ask. Sometimes it’s very easy. And often times it is much easier than we want to pretend it is. Usually living on principle means doing things the hard way instead of taking the easy way out.

If we lived on principle, our lives would be more difficult, but they would be more rewarding and more impactful on the world around us. Think about what would happen if our businesses, churches, organizations, and our nation began operating with the conviction that they would do what is right, not just was is easy or profitable? The world would be a very different place.

 

Take a listen to the Glen Beck Program podcast, available here (quote mentioned here is from “Glenn’s visit to San Fran 3/6/15″ and begins around 16:50).

 

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Thoughts to drive us – We are little kids and its ok

One afternoon, my four-year-old daughter picked up her mom’s phone and sent me a text message that had about fifteen letter g’s, ten letter l‘s, and twelve letter k‘s in it. it was indistinguishable and garbled. The moment I saw the text, I knew who it was from, and I knew she wanted to send me a text but didn’t know how. I knew my daughter’s voice even though it came through unclear and incoherent. I smiled as I read that incoherent text, and I thought, That’s my little girl. In the same way, God receives our jumbled communication and incoherent self-articulation with a smile and a fatherly embrace. He knows us fully, and even amid what we feel is unclear and confusing, he is seeing us for who we truly are, his beloved children. As those who are in Christ, we are always received by the Father.

-Jamin Goggin, Beloved Dust

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We’re In The Cloud!?!?

cloud

Working with youth and young adults for over a decade, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for poor choices. One excuse is repeated far more than any other: you can’t just tell me what I should do, I have to learn it for myself.

It’s a stupid excuse.

It’s also one that I have used myself. A lot of us say something like this, thinking that we hear so many conflicting ideas and different opinions of what we should do that we just can’t trust any of them, even when they come from people we trust. We learn best through experience, so we have to learn what is best through our own personal experiences. In other words, instead of learning from the experiences and stories from others who have made mistakes so that we don’t have to, we are choosing an insane path by repeating those mistakes to see if the same actions will have different consequences. Or, I think more commonly, we are choosing to be lazy. It takes effort and engagement to learn from the past, and generally speaking we have become extraordinarily good at being lazy and avoiding responsibilities.

The writer of the book of Hebrews covers this. He spends an entire chapter (Heb 11), talking about faith and how figures from Old Testament history displayed faith in God’s plan. Each of these individuals proved that trust in God would never be misplaced. The writer then says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1, ESV). We have such a great group of witness, of examples, to learn from and follow that to ignore and not learn from them can only be described as idiotic. Their stories show great and brave decisions that they made and how God took care of them even in the face of adversity, as well as extremely poor decisions that they made repeatedly and the horrible consequences that those decisions brought.

That “cloud of witnesses” does not end with the close of the Old Testament or with the addition of the New Testament. Church history continues these examples of flawed people attempting to follow God and, through good and bad choices, we see stories we can learn from if we choose to throw off the laziness that we so often embrace and live with purpose for God. Augustine, a great thinker and teacher, struggled with sexual temptation and was haunted by decisions he made as a teen. Jerome was a grumpy, argumentative man who was passionate about the Bible. John Wycliffe lacked a sense of humor and had to walk a line of pushing for reform in churches that had become more focused with power and control than with following God, and Wycliffe himself becoming entangled in regional politics. John Wesley was run out of America because of women troubles but used his new circumstances to build a group of passionate Christ followers in England that would become a worldwide movement. The list can go on and on.

And it doesn’t stop with historical figures. We are called to be a part of a church for a reason. Churches are filled with flawed, hypocritical, arrogant human beings just like me who are trying their darndest to be followers of Jesus despite our own sin and the temptations around us. By coming together we can encourage and support each other, which sometimes means giving someone a hug when they’re having a tough time and sometimes mean smacking someone in the back of the head (in love, of course) and telling them they know better. And, if we are brave enough to accept that we can follow Christ alongside people that we don’t completely and totally agree with, we can benefit from an even greater community by coming alongside others in our community beyond the walls of our home church.

This is hard. It means that we have to get over the “I have to learn it myself” mentality and humbly accept that others have something to teach us – and we have to actively look for opportunities to learn from them! We have to get over the laziness that we have all grown accustomed to and learn. If we learn and grow, if we then choose to live life with a purpose beyond our own agenda, God has proven that He will faithfully respond and do amazing things through flawed-but-faithful people. Gideon was short, Moses stuttered, David was an adulterer, Luther was melancholic, and Billy Graham struggled believing the Bible was true. God used groups of young adults to launch the Reformation and The Great Awakening. I pray that we would be humble, willing to learn, and eager to study God’s Word as we seek to be followers of Christ.


This article was first published in the Fairmont Sentinel on February 28th. Check out the Sentinel online.

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Thoughts to drive us – Spurgeon isn’t a fish

SpurgeonCharles Haddon Spurgeon was a British 19th century preacher. Known as “The Prince of Preachers,” he is one of the greatest Christian preachers to ever live, having preached to an estimated 10 million people over the course of his life. The following are quotes by Spurgeon from “Look Unto Me,” a collection of Spurgeon devotionals, edited by Jim Reimann.



There is nothing you could want, nothing you could ask for, nothing you could need in all of time or eternity, nothing living or dying, nothing in this world or the next, and nothing now, nothing on resurrection morning, or nothing in heaven that is not contained in this verse – “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”


Trials actually make more room for comfort. Thus, great hearts can only be made great through great troubles.


When we are full, we forget God. Thus, being satisfied with earth, we are content to do without heaven. Rest assured it is harder to know how to be well fed than it is to know how to be hungry due to the intense propensity of our human nature toward pride and forgetfulness of God.


It is one thing to love the ways of the Lord when times are easy but quite another to cling to them during all kinds of discouragements and difficulties.

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