New

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Luke 12:15 (NLT)

I really enjoy new things. There is something so exhilarating about liberating shoes from the box and sliding them to your feet or pulling on a nice comfortable tshirt that fits with perfection. How about gadgets? Gadgets are the best because they do stuff that you didn’t know you needed to do and they tend to have one basic simple purpose. Like the bottle opener I got that looks like the Millennium Falcon. I didn’t know I needed it until I saw it for sale on some Facebook ad. I have other bottle openers, but this one would just change everything—the Force is with this one. Sometimes there is nothing better than some thing that is new.

Which is my problem.

I want new things as bad as my kids want doughnuts on Sunday mornings. I’m not going to say new things are bad, but my strong desire for new possessions, that’s where the trouble lies. I have no doubt that if I had the means to buy anything, I would. Even so, I tend to buy things in spite of my lack of means. I might ask myself, “Tony, why do you want this? Do you actually need it?” (Yes, I talk to myself and I am ok with it.) But even with the personal questioning, there is anxiety in that moment, like I’ll be missing out on something if I don’t buy that new thing. My awareness of this has become a deeper issue.

This has become spiritual.

When I am at home I am bothered by all of the crap I own. I have enough tshirts for a couple families. I don’t even want to talk about how much stuff my kids have. It’s embarrassing. All the possessions I have is taking up space, and I don’t just mean physically. All of it is taking up room in my soul. This realization came as I was having an emotional battle while pulling clothes out of my drawers and closet. I had to convince myself to let things go even though I didn’t even like some of the clothes. It sounds so pathetic when I think about it.

My bond with stuff is borderline idolatry.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but I am guessing you might be facing this issue, too. I bet there is that box (or five) you saved some things in believing you might “need” them someday or it holds some very precious items, yet you haven’t pulled them out in eons. If these things were so important, then why haven’t they been used or looked at? Are they actually meaningful? Do they really add any value to life? One time I bought a house once because my BED would fit in the bedroom. (Why couldn’t I have just sold the stupid bed?!) I want my life to be filled with things that matter and are useful. Above that, I don’t want to have the emotional ties to things that I have. I want a new relationship with what I own. This all reminds me of Jesus saying, “Life is not measured by how much you own.” I’m often finding myself measuring life by what I own! As Americans, we are constantly being bombarded with the ideology that possessions make a man! It’s about time we do something different, something new. If you want to evaluate what you possess, ask these questions:

  1. Does it own me or do I own it?
  2. Am I going to be using this on a regular basis or is it something I can borrow from someone when I need it?
  3. Does it add value to my everyday life?
  4. Do I know someone who needs this more than me? If so, pass it on.

I think these stand as good filters, but add what would be helpful for you (please comment if you can think of something else). Of course the hardest part of this is actually getting rid of it and not finding justification to keep it around (definitely the hardest part for me!). Just be reminded of all the new space you’ll have in life. Space to enjoy the things you own. Space to spend time with friends and family. Space to have money for meaningful things. Space for God to fill. With all that space, there will be a new way to measure that which is in your life. There will be more room for joy and less for anxiety. That’s the best new thing you might ever own.

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With

  
(This is a special post in light of April being poetry month. FYI, I am not a poet.)

Sitting, hiding in the dark, black corner of the room. The storm of pain rages within and I feel I’ve been deserted. I wonder if I will make it, if there is something to which I can hold on.

This time it feels like life is slipping, washing away.

Then the man stands up and whispers, “Peace.” The word commands stillness for my soul. A beam of hope slices into the dark, black corner and I am reminded you are WITH me.

Overthink

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:8 (NIV)

As I am pacing around in my brain for my next blog post, it occurs to me how much I overthink things in life. Raise a hand if you are with me. (Yes. I see that hand! 5 rows from the back.) Our minds get caught in the gravitational pull of a mental black hole and it can be excruciatingly difficult to get out of it. In those moments my overactive imagination develops an idea. This idea tells me that I have to write something so elaborate and inspirational to spark interest in my blog. However, that’s not when I am at my worst. The most obnoxious occurrence of my own overthinking comes when relationships are involved. My emotions go haywire and I begin to think of every possible negative scenario that could happen. This usually happens when I’ve done some bonehead thing or get filled with angst about the great unknown, commonly known as “the future.”

Sometimes I just want to get out of my head.

I know that I am not alone with the individual who raised their hand in the back of the room. I know this because I watch my friends, coworkers, and people that I counsel do it all the time. Sometimes it is humorous to think about all of the things that my brain developed. Most times, it is just plain sad. Sad because all the scenarios (and there are some real dandies!) that I’ve spent a ton of energy creating in my head never come to fruition. Let me ask you this, how much time would you free up and at what level would your anxiety be if you didn’t overthink things? I know that I’d get more than a few days back in my life and a few more hairs on my head.

I think the biggest relationship that we tend to overthink is the relationship we have with God. If you are unsure if this is true, I bet you can find someone around you today who thinks that something bad happened in their life because God is mad at them. You might be that person. And it’s a shame that our minds take us there. If there was a parent who punished their child the way that some people think God is punishing them, I think that a call to Child Protection Services would be appropriate.

How did God become so cruel?

My guess is we are overthinking it (on top of some bad preaching). Just like we often create horrendous scenarios in our heads, we have the ability to do the same with our conception of God. That notion of God just doesn’t work for me. I am going to hang my hat on something simple and not too overthought. 1 John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” This doesn’t sound like the heartless, angry parent that some people call God. It sounds like a God that actually cares about our life and is not looking to punish us. How about you? Do you overthink things? Let’s put our brains and emotions to rest. Your head will likely become a much better place.

Hope

IMG_7314“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (NIV)

Hope is a powerful element of a person’s life. If one has it, they can endure the most difficult of circumstances. If one loses it, it can be rare, if not impossible, to make their way through even the slightest adversity. To say the old adage “this too shall pass” to a person who lacks hope means nothing. For me, I have faced some difficult circumstances in life. These situations have even planted the thought in my head that I could avoid the difficulty that lies ahead by simply ending it all. Fortunately for me, I believed tomorrow would be another chance and I could make it through whatever hardship I was facing. It pains me, and likely many of you, that not everyone looked to tomorrow with any glimmer of hope.

I knew a few people as I was growing-up who decided suicide was the option that they would act on. I wasn’t very close to them, so I didn’t deal with the pain most people deal with through such a tragic situation. Unfortunately, I’m now becoming more familiar with the feeling. As of late, my community has had more than a few young people who made the decision to end their lives. The recent set of events has sent shockwaves through our community, as you can imagine. Though the pain stops for one, it creates long lasting pain for those who are still here. We do know that there are many factors as to why someone ends their life, but there are times when suicide happens and it doesn’t make any sense. Questions about “why” linger around as there is no clear, rational explanation that all people are willing to accept. However, I am willing to hypothesize that there is one factor for many people that have taken their own life.

Hope was lost.

I don’t believe people lose hope or succumb to the thought of ending their life easily. Most often, it is a slow descent to destruction. It is heartbreaking that we live in a world that takes hope from people. How repulsive is it that we can be people who hurt each other in such deep and personal ways? I hate that our society places so much emphasis on perfection and fitting in that it fuels discouragement and depression. When people feel like outsiders, relationships become even more difficult. We want people to know that we exist with feelings, problems, hobbies, stories to share, a need for someone to listen. We want people to be interested in us. It’s all so dreadful that we tend to miss one vital thing. What is that one thing?

God is interested in you.

God is interested in your pain. God is interested in your joys. God is interested in your life, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Because God cares, there is hope. Hope that God is present in your affliction. Hope that God will guide you to a better life than the one you live in. The apostle Paul, who wrote a good majority of the New Testament in the Bible, wrote these words to followers of Christ who faced severe oppression, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” If I can trust that God is good and patient, I will make it through my present circumstance. If I can speak my worries to a God who listens, I will make it through. When I live by the belief that there is a God who loves the world, I have hope. As a result, I become a person that brings that same hope to others encouraging them that they are not alone. What about you? Will you bring hope somewhere to someone today? You never know what kind of difference it could make.

Excuses

giotto_-_scrovegni_-_-31-_-_kiss_of_judas

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9 (NIV)

I have a particular skill. This skill has gotten me out of all sorts of things. It is one of those things that is such a strength that it is also a weakness. You see, I can be very savvy at making excuses. There was a deep discussion I had with myself the other day. It went something like this, “I mean, those cupcakes aren’t going to eat themselves and I spent good money to so that I can be a benefit to my country’s economy. I realize that they are bad for me, I already had one, and that my waist line is not asking for more, but I want to be a good steward. Yep. I am eating this sublime, frosting covered piece of heaven.” Does anyone relate? Have you had these types of discussions in your head? I’m guessing that I am not alone in making excuses.

I use excuses to try to reassure myself with deception.

I will freely admit that there are times that excuses are legit. If you have children, you had a bona fide excuse when they decided that the time for them to piddle in their pants was moments before departure. Or that time when you are invited to a party and you come to realize that when they said “party” they meant one of those affairs where they want you to buy the world’s greatest, scientifically created, scented candles. These situations are beyond your control or are reasonably avoidable. But the ol’ song and dance that we drum up in hopes of finding a loop hole hurts us more than helps us. You can probably think of one or two instances in which you choose to make an excuse. I know that I can. But in that I also remember how selfish I was being when I was trying to “justify” my decision. Damage was done.

My excuses not only sabotaged my integrity with others, but also with myself.

Being that this is Holy Week and Easter is right around the corner, I can’t help but to reflect on some of the moments of that week. For whatever reason, Judas has been on my mind. There are some who think about the Bible way more in depth than I who suggest that Judas thought he was doing the right thing. That in his betrayal he was hoping to force the hand of Jesus to become the King of Israel in the way that he (and many others) thought Jesus was going to be. If that is true, I can imagine how Judas had justified his actions to plant that kiss on the cheek of Jesus. It’s amazing how we will violate our own principles to get what we want. With an excuse we end up losing a bit of who we are or who we want to be. Judas displayed this when he realized what his excuses led to—the condemnation of Jesus. “So Judas threw money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.”* Judas lost the integrity he thought he had. The weight of that was unbearable.

On the flip side, how many great things have happened because people moved beyond excuses? Revolutions have overcome oppressive dictatorships. Slaves were emancipated. Enemies have traded war for peace. Relationships have been restored. Some of the most incredible medical advances have occurred. Inspirational Paralympians compete and do things I can’t do. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Despite what Jesus faced on Good Friday, a choice was made to preserve integrity. Moving beyond excuses really has changed the world. You or I might not change the entire world, but we can have an effect on the world right around us. We can passover the excuses to hold true to our commitments. We can find reasons why adding value to a relationship is more important. The only one that can do that is you and me. No more excuses. Let’s be the people who we say we are going to be.

*(Mt. 27:5 NIV)

Ecuador 

 

 “But now as for what is inside of you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:41

I have never been poor. Sometimes I have felt poor, but I haven’t a clue what really being poor is like. For me,life growing up was spent in middle-class, white, suburbia America. I still live comfortably and am never in want. My stomach has never ever missed a meal. My closet and drawers are overflowing with clean laundry. I’m able to watch TV when I want, have access to the internet, pay for a gym membership, take my kids to fun and exciting places, and do most of the things I want to do just because.

I have no clue what poor is.

I’ve spent about a week in Quito, Ecuador now. What an amazing and beautiful place. The people are so sweet and kind. Quito is an amazingly large city, squeezed in between mountains, with buildings on top of buildings. It is said that there are over 2 million people here, but it seems like there are so many more than that. My time here has been spent with a team of 14 other people from my church and we have worked alongside a ministry called Pan de Vida. The organization seeks to help those in extreme poverty (around $4000 ANNUAL income!) to be able to create a healthy, sustainable life for themselves. The biggest part of what they do is feed the hungry. Then they look to improve the homes of the beneficiaries who get into the program. After that they teach the people (mostly women) a skill that will help them earn an income. All of this is wrapped with the message of Christ.

Our team put on a three-day, taekwondo and Bible camp and each day began with a healthy, home-cooked meal for the kids. I can tell you that I have never seen a small child eat so much food in one sitting. Most would get seconds of the hearty meal that was prepared for them and probably would eat more if it wouldn’t make them sick. The hardest part of that to accept is that these kids, many who took a bus for an hour and a half just to be there, will normally have only three meals a week.

How are your first-world problems?

We also visited the homes of people involved with the mission. Frankly, it was very hard to see how they lived. A dank and smelly 12×12 room for a mom and her 2 kids (the husband died in an accident a year ago) doesn’t seem like enough. The family typically eats about 3 meals a week. The mom has a hard time working because she has to take her one-year-old with her and the bus fare gets expensive when you only make about $20 a month. When she is able to get out, she collects plastic bottles and cardboard to sell for recycling, which doesn’t pay much. What’s mind blowing is that there are those worse off than her. The hardest part of all this is knowing I can’t help them all.

But revolutions only need to start with one.

Oscar Aguirre, the founder of Pan de Vida, started with just one. One child that he was inspired by God to make a difference with. One has now grown to 900+ people being given a bit of hope in this life that someone loves them and cares about the struggle they are in. That someone’s name is Jesus. If you take the opportunity to serve those in economic crisis, you’d understand Jesus’ words when he said, “be generous to the poor.” There is a cleansing of the soul that happens and it is holy. Idols fall. Money’s value changes. The effort you give is greater and surprisingly pure. (At least that’s always been the way it has gone for me.) And I must confess that I don’t put myself in these situations enough. Ecuador is a far off land that has reminded me of such things, but (Lord help me remember) I can certainly make a bigger impact over time at home. Thank you Ecuador and Pan de Vida for reminding me and teaching me what Jesus taught so long ago. Let’s all start a revolution with one.

Persist

shoes

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

My son recently achieved one of the greatest accomplishments that we as humans can attain – he learned to tie his shoes. He’d much rather wear his Velcro shoes every day (which, admittedly, is way easier), but shoes don’t always come in Velcro. I think learning to tie your shoes is like a rite of passage, right? Achieving such a marvelous feat, however, did not happen overnight. Whenever I would tell him that we needed to practice tying it was as if I was asking him to paint the house, fold the laundry, and make dinner for his sister all at the same time. He would let out a big sigh, slouch, traipse over, and plop on the chair with the hopes that it would all be over soon. This charade went on and off for about a year. Then there was that one fine day. I think the sun was shining, birds were singing, and all of heaven was watching. I even think that God told me it was going to be the day that he was going to learn to tie his shoes. So I confidently called him over and said, “Son, we are going to learn to tie your shoes today.” He responded with a surprising amount of positivity. We sat down, got a shoe, crossed the laces, took the rabbit around the tree, pulled him through, and, voila, his shoe was tied!

Persistence paid off.

I wish my son would have learned to tie his shoe the first time, but it didn’t work that way. It took effort for somewhere around a year before he finally got it. There were many days that I gave up before he did and days that he’d rather do absolutely anything else other than wrestle with some shoe laces. However, persistence has its way of bringing things along. When we finally arrive at our desired destination, the satisfaction rating is off the charts. You may have had to persist with some things to reach your goals, but what happened when some goals weren’t reached? Maybe you didn’t make the team. Maybe the relationship didn’t work out. Maybe you didn’t become a professional athlete. Maybe they end up dying despite your best efforts and unrelenting prayers to God.

Sometimes, persistence doesn’t work.

There is so much energy and emotion and time sacrificed to achieve your goal. When expectations aren’t met, the letdown can be devastating. Something so important is now lost. Though you can feel lonely dealing with the loss, you know that you aren’t the first to experience it. Yet it hurts because it happened to you. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to, but life does not end. You and I are not defined by whether our life goals panned out or not. Our life matters because there is a God who loves us and is relentless in our pursuit of us. He doesn’t quit when things are hard. He doesn’t stop because something didn’t “work out” as we would have it. So let’s persist in one thing: loving God. Let not our circumstances dictate our attitude. This is the one thing that if we persist in, we will always succeed.  Then we can truly say the words of Paul, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Good

sunset“There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 (GNT)

I love being a dad. Of all of the things I get to do in the world, this is unequaled. These two little ones bring so much laughter, warmth, and joy that I feel beyond blessed. Then there are those times—parents know what I am talking about here—those times where the same sweet, wonderful kids suddenly lose their minds. They act as if any sensibility they did have was suddenly snatched away by some spiteful creature. As a result, in a moment of irony, I lose it as well and enter the land of temporary insanity. All those lovey things that I know to be true disappear in my mind. And just like that, I begin question my ability to be the dad that I need to be. I ask myself,

“Why am I not perfect?”

I ask this question about practically every area of my life. Why do I lose my cool when I am parenting? Why am I not impeccable at my job? Why can communicating with others be such a struggle for me? I’ll even question why I am not better at painting a wall. Does this ever sound like you? If you aren’t sure, consider these things: Are you able to take a complement? When someone tells you something nice or praises you, do you respond with a simple “thank you”? Or do you expend energy pointing out why they’re wrong? Or diminish what they saw in you by saying “it’s not a big deal”? Do you ever quip back with something negative? In a world of Pinterest and social media, it can be hard not to have a perilous relationship with perfection. On the other hand, there are also those who can take a compliment, but are stingy handing them out. They have a hard time dealing with the imperfection of others. People might perceive them as arrogant and impatient. But whether you struggle to measure up or feel like you’re the only one who does, these are still tarnished relationships with perfection.

Perfect is not normal. Good is. 

I have heard on more than one occasion that I am a good dad. It feels really nice to hear that. But compliments like this also send my mind also racing through all the times I’ve lost my cool or have let my kids down. I immediately start degrading the words of someone who was genuinely trying to share their opinion of the quality of father I am. It’s just the worst. When that happens, it’s because I have missed the point. They didn’t say I am a perfect dad; they said I am a good dad. The old man Solomon said, “There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake.” This serves as a reminder that there are going to be days that I get it right and days that I miss the mark. In fact, that’s exactly why Jesus came to do what he did. He has brought hope to the imperfect humanity that is us. We are reconciled with God because none of us are perfect or good enough. We all miss the mark. Knowing that Jesus did this and that he loves me, I am motivated and strive to be best that I can each day. And when I see growth, I know that God is doing a good work in me. That is good. I believe that is what makes me a good dad. Besides, if we were all perfect, the world would be a pretty boring place, don’t you think?

Amazing

IMG_3345When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Matthew 8:10 (NIV)

If you ever meet my son, you would love him. He is so sweet, kind, funny, loving, and just one of the best kids I know. He loves a good hug, he’s always trying to make jokes, his laugh is infectious, he loves to dance and sing, and wants to be a friend to everyone. He is, without a doubt, one of my most favorite people in the world. (Coincidentally, today is also his 7th birthday!)

A couple of weeks ago, we were enjoying a football game when the quarterback scrambled and leapt over a defender for a touchdown. It was one of those moves that they replay over and over and put on SportsCenter. With eyes wide my son exclaimed, “That was amazing!” It was amazing. But in that moment, I was more amazed by the genuine enthusiasm and wonderment from my offspring. It stopped me in my tracks. As I looked at him relishing the moment, all I could think was,

“I wanna be more amazed.”

We all witness plenty of astonishing things that happen every day, but for as many that are celebrated, how many more are missed? Oftentimes it seems like things have to be over-the-top exceptional to capture our attention. Maybe this is because we live in such a sensationalized world. Maybe it is because, when we have seen something more than once, it loses its luster. Personally, I can find ways to take what is marvelous and desensitize it with logic. I’ll take a beautiful sunset and minimize the beauty to nothing but particles scattering light rays to create color that is perceived by our eyes. Are you with me? Is this you?

And yet, when I am amazed, the world is a much more interesting place.

Innumerable stars brilliantly lighting up the sky at night. Amazing.

My children staring back at me, telling me that they love me. Astonishing.

The peaceful quietness of a perfect snow fall. Breath-taking.

Little seeds growing in the dirt to provide us food to live. Incredible.

As I was thinking about all of this, Matthew 8:10 just struck me; “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed.” Wait, what? So Jesus (aka God), the all-knowing creator of the universe and everything in it, was amazed? Surely, Matthew, you jest?! Tell me that this doesn’t blow your mind a little bit. God not only witnessed everything, he also created everything. Yet here he is, God incarnate, amazed at one man’s faith. This guy is one of billions of people who have lived on earth and Jesus stands amazed. Let that soak in.

I wonder how often God is amazed? Is he amazed at the same things that amaze us? I have no clue. I’d like to imagine that he is amazed about what we perceive as even the most insignificant of things. What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below and tell me what amazes you? Do you think God continues to be amazed by things? If so, what do you think they are? And as you go through your day, take time to be totally captivated by something in your world. I know my son will.