Thoughts from a Call Center

               I currently work at a call center while completing my Masters degree, and looking for a ministry position. It is a job with plenty of colorful stories to say the least. I am still considered a younger guy at this point who has not quite hit 30 yet. I would fall into the generation that older folks would say are full of entitlement, disrespectful, inarticulate, directionless, and all around the cause of everything that will destroy this part of the galaxy. It’s a heavy role to live up to.

               In my job I deal primarily with individuals who claim to be born again believers with a large section of that population being from generations older than mine. On average, I have found that the older generations in their conversation with me tend to fit most of the above description compared to the younger ones. I have had countless ministers speak far worse to me than any unbeliever has. I have had my fair share of cuss outs from believers. I have heard threats of harm towards staff from older generations, and countless claims of being treated unfairly when they failed to follow any of the rules provided by the organization. I have seen some of the uglier side of humanity from older believers in this job, and that is coming from someone who has seen some pretty ugly things in ministry.

               I say all of this to point out a couple of things that require a constant reminder for me. The first one is that our problems in this world are not because of generational, gender, or race issues. They are because of sin issues. I have been called a racist, a sexist, and entitled and disrespectful youngster all because of needing to tell people they broke the rules. None of these are remotely close to accurate in full context. Is their racism in the world? Absolutely. Are there men and women who are sexist? You can count on it. Are there disrespectful and entitled younger generations? Guaranteed. However, none of this is really the issue. Noe gender, race, or age group has a monopoly on sinful behavior.

               Pastors are struggling. I am pleading you to read this if you are not a pastor. A joke at my job is that the meanest customers we have are pastors, and that is not too far from the truth. Many are cynical and angry. What most of my co-workers don’t understand first hand is that pastors see humanity at its ugliest. They face off in a war where believers who are meant to be the most caring in the world are the ones who tend to cause them the most harm. They are more susceptible to bitterness. It is not an excuse, but it is a harsh reality. Your pastor desperately needs your prayer. I don’t care if he is the jolliest person you know. He needs it.

               It’s really hard to love broken people. I make my living be yelled at by strangers a good portion of the time. They don’t know me. I don’t know them, but for that brief moment there are some who will choose to use this random stranger as the source of all their pain and grief in order to unleash their wrath upon it. Those are hard people to love.

               It is hard to not become like that person. I’ve been doing this for four years now. It is hard not to become a really bitter and angry person sometimes. While the angry people are not constant, there are some weeks where you will just have a string of bad calls. Those are the weeks where you are the most susceptible to break down by giving in and become a very angry person who just yells at others whether it may be a friend, child, or maybe a random stranger who is dealing with you in the customer service line. The other scenario is to just break down and to avoid being that bitter and angry person because at least you know you still have a healthier range of emotions at that point.

               It’s important not to place your value on how strangers treat you. There may be times where you are placed in a circumstance where you are inadequately prepared to deal with a situation through no fault of your own, and unfortunately you are the one there to take the heat when it all falls to pieces. It does not mean you have no value or skills to offer. It may mean there is a need for a readjustment to transition into a place that values you and where you can utilize your skills. It may mean needing to hang in for a while longer while waiting for that opportunity to arrive, but through that waiting it is vital to remember that no stranger can ever place your value on you. Your value is found in Christ, and on what he made you to be.

               I’ve been sitting hear typing this wondering exactly where I am going to go with it. This is after writing multiple posts on other topics that just didn’t feel like the right fit to post when trying to jump back in my blog. This one is different because it turned into being a bit more raw and personal, and that seems to be the phase I am in right now. I guess I have written all this to really end on this simple note. Whether you are the one answering the phone, or making the, call I beg of you to remember the words of Philo of Alexandria, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle.”

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Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Live with Faith

There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the topic of faith. We struggle with its meaning. We wrestle with its function. We debate how it looks. We argue over how it relates to salvation. I have been struggling through faith in a way. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Some people say they have a crisis of faith, and mean that they struggle with determining whether the very core of their beliefs are still true. This is not what I am referring to in myself.

I find it can be a struggle to live a life that has faith as the focus. In this context I am referring more towards living my life in a way that implements the Biblical truths of trusting in the Lord for anything that might arise. The only thing the temporary future guarantees for anyone is uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. There is no sense in ignoring that fact. People try to. For some reason it is easy for us to get into our head that faith means no acknowledgment of things in the world that are scary.

Fear is inevitable, but it is how we respond to that fear. Psalm 112 states that the righteous man does not fear bad news. His eyes are fixed on God. The Psalm does not guarantee bad news is absent in the life of the believer. In fact, it expects it to be guaranteed. It expects that life is going to be hard, but it also expects that someone who trust in the Lord will choose to focus on the creator who can deal with the struggles that arise rather than be paralyzed in facing the problem itself.

We often looking at a life of faith as having that one big moment that shows our great extent of faith. Once we bank a couple of those we don’t need to worry about the big faith moments anymore. It took a great deal of faith for me to move halfway across the country on my own to live in Kansas for ministry. It took even more faith for me to move back to Virginia with a family and no job. It felt like I had made my big faith moments. I shouldn’t need to have any others. That is not how a life of faith works though.

A life of faith is not comprised of the giant moments. It is comprised of every moment. It is filled with the moments of forgoing losing a temper out of fear when the unknown is crashing in. it is the resistance to feed off of anxiety when trouble shows its ugly head. It is knowing that everyone will answer for what they are responsible for, and only worrying about what God is holding you responsible for. It is about being able to look at some of the worst humanity may have to offer, but come home to kiss your wife and children knowing you are set to live a life that can provide a better world for them.

When Christ was at the garden before his crucifixion he did not ignore that what he faced was difficult. He didn’t even deny that it was scary. The fear was not the focus though. He looked past the fear and towards the Father. He chose to trust.

I have realized as craziness swarms around me that I have had the ugly attitude of wondering why I face more uncomfortableness now. Didn’t I just have another big faith moment? That is not how faith works. Faith is a constant. It is looking at the world in its bitter greed and hostility, but yet knowing that your mission remains firm. A new kingdom is coming. We may not see it in all of its glory, but at times we can catch glimpses of it. We catch glimpses in people banding together to provide and encourage those who are struggling. We see it in a church who cares for someone in need. We see it in the love of a family. We catch those glimpses as a reminder that the faith is not in vain. The race will not be lost.

I have no idea what even the next few days will bring, but a life of faith does not require me to. The struggles will be there, but it does not demand a loss of temper. It does not require to be driven by fear. It does not force me to stop enjoying the sweetness of life. Instead, it will forever remain an opportunity to turn to God and follow the example of my savior as I say, “Not my will, but yours.”

A Vomit Covered World

I was born with a kidney blockage. This condition was not recognized for what it was until I was six years old. Growing up with that was difficult. This is not to say I had a hard life. Plenty had it far worse than me. I wasn’t dying, but it was very painful. For me it is a pretty standard benchmark of what I can tolerate. The blockage would make my kidney swell resulting in intense pain. That pain would be so intense I would be up all night vomiting. This was a regular occurrence. It was rather traumatic as a kid.

When I was six the blockage was found and removed with surgery. Every now and then like any kid I would get the stomach bug. I hated it. It threw my body into a crazy funk where it would flashback to those long nights of pain and tears. It still does. I have grown up hating the stomach bug. It is by far always the sickest I ever get, and my mind goes out of control from it. My body literally can’t seem to comprehend it is just a simple virus. It’s awful.

I write this “pleasant” story to fast-forward to about two months ago. My youngest son had thrown up twice by 9:00 in the morning. My wife and I have started to mentally prepare ourselves for what we believe this means. He has the stomach bug, and we will now all drop like flies. As I got ready for work I prepared to give my goodbyes to the family. My youngest son was sitting on my wife’s lap, and recognized I was getting ready to leave for the day. He leaned forward and asked for a kiss.

I didn’t want to kiss him in that moment. My mind told me it was a bad idea even though I knew I would inevitably get sick. Stay away. Survive another day. He’s just vomited twice. You don’t want to deal with that kind of mess. I’m his dad though. I couldn’t resist. I bent down to give my son a kiss.

No one else ended up getting sick, but that’s not the point. I have been thinking about that moment since it happened as I entered into the Christmas season. I realize everyone has blown past Christmas now, but I like moving a little slower. It strikes me that this moment between my son and I is a little bit like the incarnation. God is looking down at a world covered in its own vomit. In its own way it is crying out for help. He doesn’t turn away. He sends His only son in this messed up world. The incarnation is God’s kiss upon this earth. He didn’t have to, but it is in His nature to be a loving father. It is a part of what makes Him who He is.

I have not written on here for a long time. I could say it is because I was busy, and that might partly be true. However, the main reason has been from discouragement. Last year the world just seemed to get a little nuttier. A little more ignorant. Slightly more insane. I had trouble deciding if I wanted to really try and throw my voice into any of it. Last year time and time again the world seemed to show its vomit stained clothing. Like a dog returns to its vomit, the world regularly seemed to return to its folly.

There was a flaw in my thinking. I let the world determine that what it was talking about is what needs to be said. That what they listen to is what needs to be heard. How can a Christian justify voting for so and so? How is the church supposed to respond to some perceived slight? How are believers supposed to live this way or that? The world was full of people telling everyone what to do. That just becomes a bunch of clanging cymbals.

Sometimes the world doesn’t need someone telling them how to change. There are moments where believers don’t need someone telling them how to live their life a certain way to be the “right” Christian.  The church doesn’t need additional ridicule around every turn of another thing it is considered doing wrong. Sometimes everyone just needs people who are striving to follow Christ, and can regularly point to him. We all need to step back and let God tell us what needs to change in ourselves at times. Sometimes the world needs people who can just say “Stop. Listen. Breath.” That’s what I have been trying to do for myself lately. Stop and breathe. I’m not that great at it, but I am trying. I have been striving to put my rhythm in check with God’s agenda. It requires regular maintenance. There is no step to make this be an auto-pilot function.

I have wanted to make a commitment to stay engaged. I am focusing to keep writing. After all, others who write and lead astray will not stop due to my discouragement. It may not be anything spectacular. It may not be filled with sage wisdom. Honestly, there is a real chance it may not do much of anything at all. I can only write what I know and being taught. Today it is simply this. Stop and breathe. When Jesus entered this vomit filled world he spent a great deal of it inviting others to follow his rhythm of the day. His rhythm always included a great deal of this concept. Stop. Breathe. Listen. The world is clamoring to tell you everything that is wrong. Tune it out for a bit. The world does not need one more reactionary. It needs a responder. Know the difference.

Reblogged: He Did Not Look Like a Savior

I originally posted this on April 3rd, 2015.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 3:5

Hanging on a cross. A man who is exposed, bleeding, and dying. A man who is facing a death of humiliation. A death of a criminal. A sign hangs above him full of sarcasm, “Jesus, King of the Jews”. A man who was chosen to be crucified while allowing the freedom of a murderer. A man who had to do everything he could just to take in another breath. A man who is completely helpless. Here hangs the savior of the world.

He didn’t look like much of a savior. He certainly did not look like any messiah the world expected. He was not a military leader. He did not possess the strength of a Samson. He did not lead Israel to freedom like a Moses. He did not reign over Israel into an era of prosperity like a David. Jesus appears to be the least of the bunch. Let’s face it, this man hanging on a cross does not seem to look like a savior.

What is a savior? Is a savior one who comes in the form his subjects demand? Does he simply try and meet the needs of those who ask? Maybe a savior is meant to be something more. Perhaps this savior hanging on a cross is more than He appears to be. There is a story behind this man’s life that you may not have known if you were simply passing by. This man claimed to be the son of God. He didn’t look like any son of God we would have imagined.

The greatest hope of the world did not look like any sort of hope at all. A helpless man hanging on a cross. A man destined to die a painfully excruciating death. Abandoned by his disciples, denied by his closest friends, and alone on a cross. No, wait, not entirely alone. Two men are being crucified with him. Two common criminals hang on crosses next to this savior of the world.

One criminal can only see what hangs in front of him. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior to this man. He looked like a helpless criminal on a cross. This common man mocked and ridiculed this “Savior of the world”. This common criminal played a crucial point in the telling of the story. He was pointing out the clear truth of the situation. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior this world needed.

The second man saw something different. He was another criminal who had earned his punishment on a cross. He recognized something in Jesus. Perhaps he looked past the mere image he saw before him. Perhaps he simply realized some innate truth residing inside the core of his being. The truth set him free. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is true Jesus did not have the strength of a Samson. He did not lead Israel into freedom like a Moses. He did not reign on a throne in an era of prosperity like a David. The only thing he had in common with these other men was death. This common criminal noticed the true diversion of the similarities though. He grasped that even in the one common thread between Jesus and these great men there was a huge difference. Samson, Moses, and David all died as sinners. They were some of the greatest heroes of Israel, but they each had huge flaws. Jesus was facing death, but he was facing death as an innocent man. He was facing death as a sinless man.

Jesus did not look like a savior, but he was the very kind of savior the world needed. A savior does not simply give what others think they want. A savior meets the core need. Jesus was the savior the world needed, but never realized. That was what this common criminal saw. A common criminal who realized the need for a true savior. The kind of savior that was required to look nothing like Samson, Moses, or David. He realized he needed a savior of souls.

You need to understand the need for a savior in order to realize that Jesus was a savior. Without knowing the need you will never fully see Jesus as the perfect savior. He was the perfect savior because he was the perfect sacrifice. He paid our debt for our sin. He brought peace between God and humankind.

Thank God Jesus did not look like a savior.

Reblogged: Some Thoughts on the Westboro Cult

This was originally written and posted on December 18th 2012, but I felt it was worth reposting with Westboro Cult ‘ s threat to protest the Charleston funerals.

In the midst of all the information pouring in over the Connecticut shooting some of you may have heard about Westboro making plans to disturb the area with their hateful message. I think it is time to clear the air over a few things in regards to this organization.

1. They are not a church. Never compare me to these folks and what they believe. We are polar opposites on everything. They may call themselves a Baptist church, but as far as I have seen they show how exactly not to be a Christian church. If your sole view of Christianity is from this cult, then scrap all you know about Christianity. Westboro is as much a Christian church as an elephant is a duck because he is wearing a duck costume made by a four year old that has never even seen a duck before.

2. Westboro cult fails at separating sin and the sinner and winds up hating all that is on this earth. We should hate and detest sin, but what Westboro does is hate God’s creation. I don’t like throwing around the word hate. When I say I hate sin I literally mean I hate it with every fiber of my being, or at least try to. However, I refrain from hatred over the individual. I fear for them, I care for them, and I pity them, but I will never hate them.

3. God loves us. If he didn’t then he never would have died for us. So when this cult carries signs like, “God hates homosexuals” I know they are not from God. God wants us to get out of our sinful lifestyle yes, but He loves us. He grieves over those caught in murder, theft, lying, pornography, and all the other things. He hates that sin has taken over our lives, but He loves us and thus did something about the problem. Honestly, we are celebrating his birth. Does the Christmas story sound like a God of hate to you?

4. Don’t call them a church. This may seem nitpicky and even harsh to some, but don’t go along with the media reports in calling them a church. You don’t get to be part of God’s church because you give yourself that title. They are a cult. I don’t use that term to provoke them or speak poorly of them, but to simply speak in true facts. The world associates me with people like them, and I will not indulge in that.

5. God is grieved over the sin of westboro just like he is over our sin. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he is ticked that these folks are dragging his name through the mud. Easily some of the most vile and untruthful statements about God have been uttered by this cult who claims to worship him. However, if any of them were to repent of their sins and seek God as their real Lord and savior then God would accept them into His kingdom.

6. This means we must be grieved over this cult. Honestly, the flesh in me wants to throw them under the bus, and call them every name in the book I can think of, but that would be sin. Wishing them ill would be wrong. Responding to their hatred with hatred only puts me in their camp. Ouch. That may be a harsh wakeup call for some of you. Hating the westboro cult puts you on the same level as them. Wishing them pain and suffering makes you like them when they laugh at those who they believe are going to hell. Wishing for them to get what they deserve needs to be a realization that we also deserve the same punishment as them. Yes they are a cult. Yes they should not be referred to as a church, but they need God’s salvation as much as anyone else.

So for those who think Westboro is Christianity I urge you to realize that is not the case. They give us a bad name, and have no standing with us. They are living delusional lives under some very corrupt motivations. For my fellow believers I encourage you not to lash out with the same hatred. Otherwise you may find afterwards that the world has reason to view you exactly as they view this cult.

Letters to My Sons: On the Loss of Innocence and Racism

Racism was a somewhat foreign concept for me. That may sound odd, or even ignorant, but it is true. I grew up in a home where basing an opinion off of someone’s color of skin was unthinkable. Everyone was equal. That wasn’t just a saying growing up for me. That was a way of life. I realized racism still existed, but it genuinely existed outside of my world.

College brought on complications. I remember a young man who lived in the room next to me. He tried to bring a gun with him to school because he was a black man who was now living in the south. It was protection for him against those who were white. I remember feeling uncomfortable in my interactions with him. He was so used to being discriminated against that he assumed I must be racist since I was white.

Obama’s election added to the confusion a few years later. I saw black friends rejected by their families for not voting with their race. I heard the racist comments made. The kind of comments you only heard in the movies to signify the bad guy. Again, I just never grew up around this and I felt a piece of innocence continue to die.

I had someone ask me if the Bible spoke against interracial relationships. I was surprised by the question. Scripture was full mixed race marriages, and it was normal to see where I grew up. The innocence continued to seem to die.

I turn on the news to hear of a young man so filled with hate that he would perform a heinous act of terrorism. His goal to kill black people, and instill fear in their hearts. I have a friend/co-worker who is a black man. I respect him a great deal. As we discuss this terrible act I can see a haunting thought in his eyes. There are people out there who would shoot him just because of the color of his skin. The innocence from my upbringing shatters.

I realize something in that moment that I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America. I will never experience the struggles and feelings. I do not have to wonder why someone would shot me because of the color of my skin.

What happened this week can leave people shaken. Innocence can shatter, and we wonder how change can take place. How can the meek and humble being noticed to invoke change? Where is God in those moments?

That is when I think back to my upbringing. That is where God was. In a situation where I was raised in a family that valued his truths of love and compassion. A truth that all of humankind was made in his image. The innocence may shatter, but the convictions of those truths can produce hardness of a diamond. Cared for and crafted in a loving home, but refined in determination through the trials the world thrusts upon us. Evil seems to lurk around every corner, but God engulfs us with His presence.

I cannot change the world over night, but I can start with a small action. I can raise my children in a home that is focused on the redemptive power of the gospel. A home that preaches the equality of mankind. It can be a home where my children will have every opportunity to fall in love with God and his truths. My children will receive the care and tenderness for all of mankind, but will go through life as I pray the pressure will bring out more diamonds.

So I sit here in my son’s bed writing this as he falls asleep. Perhaps this is a letter to my children on racism in a way. Boys, I will give you the innocence I had for as long as I can. The innocence is needed because it gives us purity. Not an innocence built out of ignorance, but out of hope that we can strive for something better.

The hard truth is that men in this world will ty and shatter that innocence. Don’t lose heart. Use it to refine your convictions, and drive your actions for a purpose that is counter to their evil. Actions that make you a lover of good. If all else fails remember C. S. Lewis in his words of Christ work in this world. “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bates his teeth, winter meets its death. And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Tonight my children sleep with a dangerous world surrounding them, but I pray their dreams are bright, there childhood filed with hope and love, and that it will go on for generations, and spread to all they meet. It won’t stop everything, but I can do all I can to spread the hope and truth my parents shared with me.