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Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Asterisk

This isn’t a traditional post of mine, but its also not a full blown movie review either.  I hope it finds you well whatever your expectations may be.  (warning, this may delve more into politics and social issues than both of us would prefer… It’s on my heart so I am letting it out… a tad).

@PattyJenks tweeted a list of responses from kindergarten girls that had seen the film.  While some are cute, I noticed a trend in many of the responses from the children, the press and reviewers around the world.

Female empowerment.  Many are praising the films recognition that a woman can do great things.  And quite frankly, this isn’t an issue that anyone should be on the other side of.  Simply put, they can do great things, they have and they will.

What I wish people would focus on is the real accomplishment of the film.  The lead actress, Gal Gadot, brought a level of genuine emotion, sincerity, and empathy that super hero fans aren’t used to.  Not only did the plot build up why the Amazons were empathetic to the plight of mankind, but her specific story provides a greater level of compassion towards them.

Then, when needed, she flips the switch and pulls off epic ferocity, at least on par with, anything we have seen to date.  The supporting cast (Chris Pine, et al), visuals, storyline, writing, directing, score, audio… you name it, nothing detracted from how amazing this movie was set out to be.  And the world has responded.  It nearly doubled the opening weekend sales of Pirates of the Caribbean 4:  Dead Men Tell no Tales.  (which preceded it the week before).  (103 million, vs 62 million respectively – boxofficemojo).

Simply put, this was an amazing movie in every categorical possibility.  This is, of course, in my opinion. (but various sales figures help back that up from an argumentative standpoint as well).

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What I find interesting in it, is our seemingly inherent ability to divide ourselves over every possible issue we face… even those found in entertainment.  Some may say this is just the god Ares (god of war) having his way with us (see I watched it!).  If you aren’t aware some places have shown “women’s only screenings“.

Those screenings were henceforth protested by men wondering what happened to equality.  There was a ban in Lebanon seemingly over the star actress’ heritage.  And, as mentioned above, when asking a great many people what they thought of the film, an overwhelming number of woman felt it sparked positive movement for women (which isn’t meant to be listed as a negative attribute, but does mean that they graded the film more on political issues than the wonderful content that filled it).

When I walked out of the theater, I knew this was my new favorite movie.  I had no clue that it was directed by a woman.  I had no idea the actress was from Israel.  I didn’t know about any political or social issues that it might be tied into.  It was classic good versus evil and good won.  It was a beautifully scripted and decorated picture, played over 2 entertaining hours that is worthy of praise.  The current IMDB score is 8.2/10 and I find that low of a score insulting to the art that resulted from this movie.

But I would call myself a Martin Luther King-ian.  I want equality.  Patty is getting her accolades.  That she is getting more for being a woman, IMHO, seems to be regression in that movement.  Isn’t the idea for her to excel on her merit alone?  I wanted Obama to be a good president… not a black president.  I want Wonder Woman to be a highly successful movie, not a great movie… for a woman (which is what comes out when we laud and praise based on that fact).

What would you rather hear:

“Great job!, you put on the best performance”  or…

“for a woman, that was really good”.

We all fit into our niches no matter how badly society wants to group us up just so they can tear us apart.  How would you feel being graded not only on your accomplishments, but on every other distinguishing factor that makes you unique?  I want black boys and girls playing with white boys and girls.  I want that without having to sacrifice personality, heritage, traits, beliefs, or any other factor.

One of the many issues with trying to fix problems with the past is we tend to over-correct and that causes, in some ways, worse problems than we started with.  There is a computer game coming out soon where the goal is to kill white southern Biblical based occultists.  While that fits my demographic (except for the cult part 😉 ), its not offensive to me.  I get it.  I understand entertainment, fantasy, and what the developers of that game are going for.

What does frustrate me, are the people on the other side of the fence stating, “now its your time!”.  What they are referencing are the Christians who are questioning the game’s motives.  And the people answering are the same people who were against games that targeted terrorists (and so all the enemies in the game looked like middle easterners).  Or the protesters that didn’t like another game set in Africa (where most of the enemies were black).

Instead of being consistent and also boycotting yet another game that seems to stereotype, or instead of learning their lesson and backing off… they are now openly cheering on a game that sticks it to their opponent.  Once again, man kind doing what we do best.  Fighting each other.  They can’t judge the game based on its entertainment value, they have to dig deep until they find something to argue about.  And once they do… the gloves come off.  We can call names, insult, and even send death threats online over how our views differ.

Incidentally, the game isn’t even out yet… which really helps the biases to shine over the controversy.

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I was just thinking about the song “I will always love you” by Whitney Houston (428 million views on Youtube).  And how many men have successfully sang this song.  Arguably some have.  Arguably, the best man’s performance of this song pales in comparison to the plethora of females that have had various success.  Would I like to be the one who sings it OK… for a man?  no.  Would I like to be the first man to sing it great?  no.  Would I like to be known for any achievement based on physical criteria granted to me at birth?  no.

That is called an asterisk and I hate asterisks.  One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is John 3:16.  It says, “for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son…”.  There is no asterisk there.  He did that for the world.  Everyone.  All of us.  Each one side by side and equally loved as the next.

Hatred is the opposite of that.  Hate divides.  Hate excludes.  Hate categorizes.  The first child, the best black, the only woman, the fastest foreigner… all asterisks.

Without trying to take anything away from those who have achieved in this world… wouldn’t it be much more rewarding to just be the best?  Period.  Let me ask it another way.  Why does it feel rewarding if you have to compartmentalize yourself down into groups in order to weed out the pack you are competing against?  In other words, if we are all swimming in different pools, it doesn’t mean much if you are just the best in your pool.

I loved the movie, Wonder Woman, because it was one of the best I’ve seen.  I was impressed by the action sequences performed by Gal because she is one of the most talented I’ve witnessed.  I’m not trying to say to women… that you shouldn’t enjoy that victory.  I’m encouraging you… that the victory is greater than you are celebrating for.  Don’t diminish the achievement into a subcategory which lessens the phenomenal accomplishment.  Get rid of the asterisk and accept the true, raw, unaltered stats.

God didn’t create asterisks.  He created unique and “wonderfully made” individuals that He loves equally.  Our competition, our bias, and even our hate… that didn’t come from Him.  That is where we have to overcome.  That is where we have to step up.  Don’t be the first girl to ignore sexism.  Don’t be the first man to step above racism.  Instead, be a hero.  Be all that God made you and love the world the same way He does.  Show compassion to all.  Love all.  Help all.  Pray for all.  As soon as you stop looking at the whole and start seeing parts… well then you become just like everyone else.

With Jesus’ death imminent, He prayed to God.  “let them all be one as you and I are one”.  He asked for unity.  He spent enough time with mankind to know that this is what we needed most.  It was there where we were weakest.  We just can’t stop sizing each other up and putting each other into lists long enough to appreciate the wonderful gift we each are.

At the risk of getting into more political and social issues than I enjoy, I can’t think of a more perfect ending than Morgan Freeman’s response to baited questions about racism.  His response would make MLK Jr. proud.  When we stop looking at each other outwardly, and start looking into our hearts… perhaps then we can heal.  (incidentally, 300k views on Morgan’s video.  428 million on Whitney’s.)  Its almost as if people don’t want to solve our bigger problems.  Do you?

Then I would encourage you to be like Wonder Woman and look past feminism completely.  Be like Morgan and look past racism completely.  Be like Jesus and look past classes completely.  Stop talking about it.  Stop looking at it.  Start living like you wish everyone else would live towards you.


Am I trying to take away a female icon, role model, or success story?  No.  Dress as her all you like.  Look up to her as young girls.  My attempt is to only ask the questions that haunt all of us… who will we become if we can’t exist in a middle ground of understanding and acceptance?  If this amazing movie can be made without spelling out that women were involved, why can’t the rest of life be lived out the same way… and across all issues.  Why can’t we just enjoy what we like?  Why do we insist on creating asterisks?

 

 

 

 

 

Last Chance…

What if we stopped asking the question… “how would I live differently if I had a second chance… a do-over?”

And instead… we started living like this was our second chance?  Our last chance?  A moment in time where we haven’t yet blown the next big thing?  How would you live?  How will you live now that you know… you get to choose the next moment?

God is Accessible

I was asked to contemplate an attribute of God.  Any one I wanted.  While that may sound simple, I didn’t want to bring anything into this.  So I set my ears to ‘open’ and waited on something to grab my attention.  I didn’t want to be the tiny human trying to explain the almighty God… I wanted Him to teach me something in this.

The very next day, in church, we were singing, “oh God how I need you”.   Several emotions were stirred by this verbiage.  The “oh” signifies desperation.  Or possibly its just an amplification of how much we need Him.  The “how” shows depth, which is a different type of need.  I need you desperately, but also, in this many things.  “oh” is qualitative, while “how” is quantitative.  The “need” shows importance.  I don’t just “want” You, Your presence is more significant than that.  I’m at an impasse.  The obstacles aren’t moving.  Progress has stopped.  If I’m ever to go forward, I “need” God.

And the final word, the one that hit me the hardest, was ‘God’.  I was whisked away to a time years ago where I frequented chat rooms.  (talking (rather typing) in real time to strangers on the internet, if you aren’t familiar with the term).  I said something seemingly innocent in my own mind and caused quite a stir.  I wrote ‘God’.  I was quickly corrected.  “You need to show some respect and type G-d.”  Highly confused I opted for other words like Jesus, Lord, etc.  At every turn I was met with extreme anger and prompt correction.  They simply believed that you can’t say His name.

For some, it wasn’t even an issue of respect, it was a practice to prohibit taking God’s name in vain.  For others, they held God so high above themselves that He was almost like a Greek deity.  Up in the heavens and far too good to be in our presence.  Think about that a moment.  A God whose subjects can’t say His name?  Or even type it?

Let’s compare my mom with my grandmother.  I love my mom.  But she had some rules that kept the house in order.  It wasn’t so bad it felt like a museum, but it was close at times.  No shoes on the furniture.  Never, under any circumstances, could you jump on the furniture.  No food outside of the kitchen, no running in the house.  Etc.

Then I go to grandmother’s home.  There she chose to spoil me.  And I took full advantage.  I would chase the dog relentlessly.  I would get a running start to jump up and plop down on the sofa causing every cushion to suffer an aftershock.  I ate ice cream and drank soda in every room of the home.   Sometimes, I would chase the dog, while running, AND jumping with a drink in my hands.  Multi-tasking!

There weren’t different amounts of love between the two houses.  There were simply different expectations.  My grandmother who didn’t have to worry about my college, or my car, or my expenses, or her own job because she was retired… she just wanted me to be close.  To be happy.  She wanted to hear the words, “I want to go to grandmother’s home!”.  When you aren’t responsible for the children, you seem like a superhero to them.  Parents have rules and boundaries and curfews.  Grandparents have candy, toys, and freedom.  It’s really not fair to the parents.  But hey…. who doesn’t want candy?

God has blessed us with free will.  And just like grandma, He wants us to choose Him.  I feel pretty comfortable in saying, our God, is a jump on the couch kind of God.  He just wants us home with Him.  He wants our laughter, our fat bellies, and our sticky fingers hugging Him around the neck.  Heaven is not going to be a museum.  Museum’s have rules, glass cases, locked doors and tons of security.  Heaven is going to be a playground.  There will be running and jumping and food and drink and singing.  He has chosen to make Himself accessible.  And this is the attribute I am focusing on.

Consider Matthew 12.  Verse 50 says this:  “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”.  And this is why I don’t find it irreverent to say God’s name… or type it… or sing it… or cry out to it!  Written in the word’s of our Savior is that we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus when we follow Him.  Who is He following?  God.  Who is God?  His daddy.  Our brother, Jesus, calls God, Father.  What father doesn’t yearn to hear his baby say, ‘dadda’?  Why do children say mommy and daddy first?  Because their parents are accessible.

Not only accessible, but constantly holding, feeding, changing, and teaching the child.  Exactly what God does for us.  And I do believe He wants us to call on His name.  Father, daddy, pops, God, Lord.  He has many names.  (Isiah 9:6, et al).  And His children are allowed to use them.  And we are encouraged to use them.

The Lord’s prayer is exactly that.  Our Lord and brother, Jesus stopped to teach us how to pray.  He actually said the words, “This, then, is how you should pray…”  And what words did He choose in this epic teaching moment?  How do we start our conversations with God?  “Our Father in heaven…”.  God is accessible.  He is near.  He is present.  We can sing to Him, we can speak to Him, we can worship and praise Him… like He is right in front of us… because He is.

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.  – Acts 17:27-28

Amen!

 

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The Lottery Wont Help

It’s fun to dream about winning the lottery.  Many of us already have our answers ready.  Some have even practiced the interview and mastered that impending question… “What will you do with the money?”.

I remember one such interview where the bewildered winner couldn’t decide between fixing his house or his truck.  He simply couldn’t comprehend what millions meant.  That isn’t a number we tread often in.  And that is exactly why it won’t help us.

In order to GIVE, we have to give of something.  We take something of ours and it becomes someone else’s.  At that point, we no longer have it anymore.  Consider how the library works.  If I go and check out a book, they no longer have it… I do!  So if you go searching for that same book, their answer is, “Sorry, someone else has it”.

With the lottery, We can give and still have.  While we may choose to do good things with the money, a key part of giving is absent… sacrifice.  We could discuss earning versus winning as well, but I’ll leave that for now.

Let’s compare this to something more important than money.  What if I see someone on the street and I wave at them and give a nice big smile?  What have I done?  I could argue I put on my Jesus face.  I was friendly, inviting, polite, and I even felt a little awkward waving at a stranger.

But what have I actually given?  Did it take any time?  ah, time!  something extremely valuable, and in limited resource.  And just like the library, if I’m giving my time to someone, I can’t be giving it to something else.  But the answer is, no, it took as much time to wave as it did effort.

I also didn’t speak.  I didn’t share my story.  I didn’t share God’s story.  I didn’t offer the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected.  I didn’t show love or compassion.  I didn’t offer any fruits of the Spirit.  I waved.  Nothing more, no matter how we dress it up.  I gave pennies and kept millions for myself.

We know from the widow that gave two mites (Luke 21) that it isn’t about how much we give, but instead what percentage.  The woman who gave so little, gave more than the richest of men, because she gave all she had, where they gave small portions.  And thus the problem with so much money.  Much is expected of those that have much.

Consider your time.  We can’t win the ‘time’ lottery.  24 hours fill up a day no matter how lucky you are.  Time puts us all in the same category.  How much are you giving?  Truly giving?  Sacrificing?  Investing in God’s will for you and others?  God calls us to help each other out.  We tithe because He asks us to.  But money does not solve everything.  And that is why He also calls us to go into the world and disciple others.  How much time are we giving?

Bad news… You Won

We can forget what victory means to Christians.  For us, our victory came from the cross.  Jesus has asked that we pick up our cross and follow Him.  It’s a bit confusing because He took our place, but only from the guilt of our sins.  We still have to travel in His footsteps and that journey has its ups and downs to say the least.

So in seasons like this one, we celebrate moms around those who have lost their moms, or had bad relationships, or were abused, or any number of other painful memories.  It’s important to find the cross in these circumstances.  That doesn’t mean to try and pretend there is happiness where sadness overwhelms.  God promised that all things work together for the good of those who believe in Him.  Does that mean your pain is good?  no!  But what is important is that we find that healthy ground where we build our lives on the foundation of God and not on life’s tragedies.

Jesus died for us and we thank Him.  We praise Him.  We worship Him!  But oh what pain He endured.  That pain allowed us everything we hold dear today.  The reason God can straight face to us that all things will work for good is because He endured the worst of it… and it was for OUR good.  We will have our moments.  God never said, ‘I will make life easy for you’.  In fact, there is quite a bit of scripture that alludes to how difficult being a Christian truly is.  Why?  Because we will be attacked by the enemy on top of everything else life throws at us.

But we can find the cross in those moments.  Instead of loathing the past, we can count each scar as a lesson learned.  Instead of bottoming out in loneliness we can tribute loved ones and incorporate their great characteristics in our lives.  Here is what happens if we don’t get a handle on our lives during the bad times.  We end up living around the holidays.  And there are a lot of holidays.  Someone died on my birthday, I was injured at Christmas, I was robbed at Thanksgiving, etc. etc. etc.  We can shut down, isolate, and run from each and every important date for the rest of our lives….

OR… or we could accept that what is important is God.  We made those dates important for our own means.  God doesn’t make us more sad on Mother’s Day.  It’s just another Sunday.  We immortalize the date and subject our souls to personal torment that we create.  Find the cross in that day.  Yes you have endured much.  But next year, there is reason to enjoy the day.  We are over-comers.  We can’t be victorious if we let dates defeat us each year.  Another tool of the enemy is the over dramatization of certain days or times that we give more meaning than others.  They have only the meaning we allow them to have.

We can find ways to honor the fallen, learn from the wicked, grow from neglect, persevere through pain, and triumph over all that does not come from God.  But to do that, we need to see the cross.  That moment when pain and defeat turns to hope and eternity.  When “it is finished” turns into “it has just begun”.  When the sign over the tomb turns from “do not disturb” to “vacancy”… this is when we find our moments of the cross.  This is what the cross does for us.  It says that Christians win even when they seemingly lose.  It means that even death is not defeat.  God’s love has saved us no matter how lost we become.

I felt the need to remind us of two things that keep circling back to each other.  As Christians, we will face hard, hurtful, seemingly impossible moments.  We should not be shocked or disappointed when these times come.  We often mention tests or trials from God.  I do not believe that God does mean or hurtful things to those that He loves (to those that He gave His son for).  Rather, God will help us and while He does so, we can learn from those moments.  And the second thing is that we always have a way back into the light.  Look to that empty cross.  Recall that empty tomb.  And ponder the throne that is occupied.

With God in our corner, today does not have to be a day of sadness.  Sadness is not wrong, but its meant to be temporary.  If you are in pain every year, every holiday, at every solemn memory… find the cross.  There is victory to be had.  There are healthy, proud, confident ways to move forward in honor of the past.  Don’t concede your future based on today’s pain.  If we do not come to terms with our past, it will consume our future.  Whatever pain on whatever day, I pray you plead to God for help and seek His out on this side of heaven for the same.  We want to celebrate with you the victories that you can turn your near defeats into.

My heart hates driving

In traffic, I’ve grown tired of getting cut off, swerved at, beeped at, and being run off the road.  In short, I decided to stand up for myself.  At first it was rare and half-hearted.  ‘No blinker, no access’ I would say to myself.  I’d beep with all the might my imported hatchback could muster (… “meep”)  But the best defense is a great offense.  Riding bumpers, reading lane changes, knowing the road.  I became aggressive.  Anyone nearing my front bumper was the enemy and I wasn’t going to let them have the satisfaction of getting in front of me!

What happened?  My heart changed.  I’m a nice, quiet, laid back guy (My mom said so anyway).  People take advantage of that.  At the end of the day, I want them too.  Its the whole point of being nice.  But something got inside my head and reasoned that it was MY time.  And so I listened.  Full on road rage has settled in at times.  And I realized something needed to change.  So I would, every so often, let people over, slow down at on-ramps, and generally try to share the road.  But this was problematic.  I still hated those people who could have moved over earlier like everyone else.  I still questioned motives.  I still saw the angles.  My heart hadn’t changed back, only my mind had.

I caught myself today letting someone over and complaining the whole time.  They couldn’t hear me but I spoke out-loud to myself… “nice blinker!  oh, and no lights on while raining… kudos for the bad driving trifecta!!!!”.  I was angry.  Doing something nice for someone brings out joy in both parties.  Begrudgingly doing something because we feel forced by religion, parents, authorities, school, or any other reason… that breeds contempt.  In a moment of God-sent wisdom I realized that I wanted to make people happy.  My true desire was to finish last.  When I ‘WANTED’ to let people over, it became fun.  When I was having fun doing what I loved (being nice, and graceful to those around me), I knew my heart was back in the right place.

The heart controls our default actions… the ones we do without thinking.  If I hate driving, drivers, and travel of any kind, then I’m going to be a jerk on the road.  I can fool some people temporarily, but the heart will always stay true over the long haul.  If I want to be nice to other drivers, I can’t just want it mentally.  Its a forced fit that will blow up in my face soon enough.  I have to change the default behavior.  I have to have the heart of a nice person first, then I can successfully and meaningfully treat people nice.

I hope that makes sense.  I hope that analogy works for you… because this is the foundation of understanding the relationship God desires to have with us.  We are not forced.  But, some of us try to force it.  God doesn’t desire us to do things out of feeling forced.  God wants our hearts.  We can begrudgingly go to church.  We can fake a few prayers.  We can choke down scripture readings because we know we are supposed to.  All of those get a big red X with a buzzer sound.

God wants us to want to.  To desire to.  To love to.  In other words, our default should be to wake up excited for church.  Our standard should crave scripture.  Our first response… prayer!  And if we don’t, that isn’t a huge, colossal failure… it just means its time to stop changing our mind in a case by case basis and start changing our hearts permanently.

Doing something because we have to is called work, slavery or imprisonment.  Doing something because we love to is called happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and many other wonderful things.  Hearts don’t change overnight.  If you start clinching the wheel the next time a truck approaches, start conversing with God.  He is behind all successful transplants.  Be patient with yourself through the process.  God does not want the tired, weary, burnt out leftovers from your life.  He gave the best of Himself so He can join with the best of yourself.  Anything less than your most enthusiastic and heartfelt best is a mismatched relationship that needs some work.

 

All I needed was…

Just one more second.

Just one more inch.

Just one more word.

Just one more dollar.

Just one more signature.

Just one more degree.

Just one more step.

Just one more note.

Just one more answer.

Just one more try.

Success isn’t measured by our performance in the moment that matters most.  Success is measured in the preparation for those moments.  If you needed one more second to succeed, then you didn’t prepare properly.  You chose failure when you opted for rest.  You picked second place for yourself, when you needed Friday off.  You decided to have fewer friends when you were too busy to call someone back.  Choices.  Not circumstances.  Not luck.  Not what-ifs.  Options.  Decisions.  Calculated specifics.

You could have done one more yesterday… but you didn’t.  Much of life is like a transaction to me.  If you pay in reps yesterday, you succeed in an amount based on those reps today.  You can’t go back in time and make a payment just because you decided today that you want it more than you did yesterday.  Pay today for what you want tomorrow.  If you want a million dollars in your savings account, can you get there by putting in 1 dollar a day?  NO!  Why do we think we can perform miracles and ace tests we didn’t study for, win races we didn’t run, or gain acceptance we didn’t earn?

Tomorrow, you will take a test.  Wouldn’t it be neat if we could pick our grade?  I’m not going to promise that everyone can choose to get a 100 and then will get it.  What I can promise is that if you put in enough effort to get the 100 then you will.  Two things tend to happen during the training process.  We either procrastinate or we accept mediocrity.  Regardless of the path, some of us are still surprised at how we fell short.  Can I retest?  Will you curve the grade?  Did you cover that, this question didn’t make sense (i.e. its someone else’s fault)?

When I read posts like this one I tend to get sad.  I regret yesterday.  I start the inner dialogue of frustration with myself.  But I’d like to encourage us (you too) to try it from the other perspective.  While its not yesterday anymore… it’s not quite tomorrow yet either.  Why not do something you will thank yourself later for?  Train.  Study.  Live.  Love.  Do good deeds.  Embrace life so that when you can’t anymore, you savor the moments you chose.  This is the anti-regret opportunity.  This isn’t my only post like this.  It won’t be my last.  I’ve read countless others.  Why?  The struggle is real.  The Bitter reality hurts.  But the remedy is just out of your reach.  Will you figure out how to get it?

Do you feel like removing the ed from needed?  You can if you opt to get out of the past and live for the future.  Can you do one more today?  Can you go further?  Will you work harder?  Can’t you go faster?  Don’t you want to be sharper?  Those decisions are born in moments all around you.  Grab that moment and make it your success story.  Make it your time.  Make it yours.  Make it.  Choices come and go so quickly.  Stop pondering and start choosing.  Stop blaming and start excelling.  Stop excusing and start winning.  In all matters of life, YOU are the one that can conquer defeat and make tomorrow a great day.

All I NEED is to choose right now that tomorrow I’m not going to regret anything.

Please Remember the Animal Crackers!

I have feint memories of what my mom did to bring me to church prepared.  This took much thought and work before leaving the house.  I was young, fidgety, and had issues with attention.  I never really saw the work that went into her preparations, but I enjoyed the fruits of her labor (which sometimes was real fruit).   At various points of the church service different things would make their way out of the bag.  Raisins, grapes, the universal staple… animal crackers.  Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes markers, but the activity book always had places to draw.  She always knew what to bring and had just enough to get me through the service… so that everyone else could get through the service.

Now that I’m 40, I guess its time to make my own preparations for church.  I’ve noticed that we all prepare for church differently.  I’m going to point out 3 styles I’ve witnessed (I’m sure you have seen others).

The first group shows up to church empty handed.  No Bible, no bag, no books.  They pull out their phones, but they don’t have Bible apps or study guides on their phones!  You might wonder if they would have come at all if some reason hadn’t dragged them or forced them in some way.  Worship starts and they seem somewhat attentive.  They may even join in at some point, but with a massive asterisk if they do…  It’s not their job to worship.  They showed up, and they expect the church to do its job and either worship for them, or create worship in such a way that it involuntarily jump starts their soul into worship without their consent.  These are the parents that expect school to raise their children.  Trainers must teach their pets and almost everything in life is someone elses fault.  They will come to church, but whether they worship or not is the church’s responsibility.

The second group fully intends to experience God, but they don’t always manage to catch Him while He is there.  They will sing, pray, listen.  But they have to get warmed up.  The right songs at the right beat, with the best prayer might just work.  Its usually a slow build, but they will get there most of the time.  The big difference between the first group and this one is that this group really wants that experience, it just doesn’t always happen.  This group will say things like, “I just didn’t feel it that time”.  Or, “ohhhh, I got that warm fuzzy worship feeling this time!”.  If they don’t experience this good feeling enough, they may start to look for another church home or complain about the song choice, praise team, preacher, etc.  Similar to the first group, they may blame others when church feels ‘boring’.

The third group will approach worship like my mom did with me (only perhaps, the more grown up version).  They will wake up in the morning with worship in mind.  They will pray.  They will pack.  “What should I bring to worship?”, this group will ask.  Bible (or hip phone app), pen and paper for the sermon outline, breath mints for hugs and close prayers with their brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Seriously?  Why not?  Its this type of thinking that allows for the final ingredient.  God?  Check.  Here He is.  And then they leave home en route to the church building.  This group knows that the house of God is not the church building.   They start the day off in preparation of worshiping God and they bring Him with them.  How much sense would it make to have a party honoring someone and you don’t invite the person being honored?

This group shows up and has a servant’s heart from the first handshake with the door greeter.  They aren’t just ready to start worship, they already have been.  And so they interact with family rather than church going acquaintances.  They see visitors as potential in-laws (the good kind) rather than strangers fighting for the back pew.  And when all are seated and the first word spoken… you are already there:  engaged with God, your Father, ready to praise Him for what He has done… and maybe even work out some issues between the two of you.

Worship isn’t something that happens to us, its something we do.  It’s an act.  Its a verb.  It’s a sacrifice of time, emotion, honesty, confession, repentance, acceptance, and so much more.  It starts the moment you wake up in the morning and greet your God and, quite honestly, it should finish when you say ‘good night’.  If you show up to church and the last time you spoke to God was the last time you were at church… you don’t have the relationship that God wants to have with you.

I had some animal crackers very recently.  You never grow out of them.  They taste plain at first (no chocolate, no toppings, no fillings, just… animal shapes and carbs).  But they are a necessity.  They filled a void in my stomach and kept my mind where it belonged.  Today, Jesus fills a void in my soul and keeps me close to God.  I couldn’t imagine trying to go to church without taking Him with me.  Without first talking with Him in the morning.  Reading His words, and possibly even singing along the way.  He is the reason I go to church, how could I leave Him behind or expect someone else to bring Him?

Worship is intentional, purposeful, specific, and directed straight to God.  It’s personal between the two of you.  It’s not passive, and it’s rarely done with dry eyes.  Even more so, it also involves a community of believers… and if they aren’t seeing genuine Christians delivering worship to a beloved Savior, then I start to understand why they don’t want to be a part of the church.

Dear Devil, I’ve Missed You, Welcome Back!

When I first found my faith, you were there.  I remember it.  At first, it was questionable, but every day as I grew firmer in grace you came closer.  When my heart was wholly in God’s hands you had become a regular addition to my life.  You were even a little predictable.  When temptations didn’t work, you moved on to family and friends.  When they wouldn’t waiver you worked outside the box.  Illness, stress, relationships, even loss of loved ones.

You liked to work on my temper, my social issues, and how hard it was for me to say no.  I loved it when I found you in the middle of my mess.  Like a baby deer in headlights you leapt away knowing the name of Jesus was just behind my lips.  But, to your credit, you never came back with an old trick… at least not the same way.  You are the king of subtlety and calling audibles.  Slinking back before I could finish laughing at your escape, I barely noticed how you changed your advances.

When we were constantly at odds life felt complete.  Everything made sense.  Good versus evil, good always wins, it just felt right.  Like Wile E. Coyote you would scamper away, the victim of your own disobedience, while my Savior protected, healed, and loved me.

True to your name, I never even saw how you did it…  That day, when I stopped turning to God for help.  It was so casual and uneventful.  Life calmed down and that rut felt like a comfortable groove.  Church days brought extra rest, Bible time became TV hour, and Prayers were things I did to make myself feel better.  They were more like checklists and observations than any semblance of conversation.  And since I didn’t care to really converse, He didn’t choose to answer.  Days turned to weeks and weeks stole away months before years finally ravaged a significant portion of my life away.

You did it.  I let my guard down, I guess.  I thought I had you all figured out.  But your trickery dismantled my dreams, my hopes, my life, and my heart.  Kudos on how slow and methodical you approached the situation.  A violent attack would have been deflected and I always saw those coming.  But you pulled the long con.  Years and years passed while the pot slowly boiled beneath me.  And to be honest, there were a few times where I actually noticed things weren’t quite right, but I preferred the new sauna I was simmering in.  I was certain of my full downfall when I saw the truth in it all and reasoned that it would be tomorrow’s problem.  ‘Tomorrow’… the battle cry of the defeated.

I did learn something that I somehow always knew.  Once you had everything you wanted out of me… you didn’t want me anymore.  All the drama, all the fights, all the cruelty of life diminished. Living just became a gentle sunny day.  Sure, I was in quick sand, but it was slow and breezy and warm.  It felt like being at the beach.   Your absence was noted as much as His.  With my soul no longer aligned with the Savior’s your time was better spent on someone else.  We spent so many nights fighting.  Battling.  Maneuvering each other.  And then, poof!  You have better things to do.

This isn’t the first time you turned your back at the worst possible moment.  Do you remember the cross?  You turned your back on Jesus with a smug grin on your face.  And you left Him to rot in that tomb for 3 days before you realized that you blew it.  Not just literally, but eternally.  And now you turn your back on me before your work is fully done.  The man that blew away that stone has grabbed my hand again.  I’ve found His footsteps.  And His grace was fully prepared to accept one such as I back again.  He doesn’t care where I come from or what you and I were up to.  He just welcomes me back with open arms.  I must say, coming back is different than the first meeting.  This time… I ran to Him.

Have you ever hugged Jesus?  I guess not, or you wouldn’t hate Him like you do.  It’s incredible.  And it reminded me of something.  And I think it reminded you too.  Because once we embraced, you shrieked.  You showed back up in my life again.  Years of your absence while I floated through life in a waste of inevitable doom and now I finally have something you want again.  Forgiveness, hope, love, a Friend, a Father, a Lord, a God.  You want those things, don’t you.  Because here you are.

When I say, “I’ve missed you”.  I mean that I noticed your absence.  I observed how you only show up to take, destroy, ruin, and then move on.  And here you are.  I see you in the shadows.  I see that hate and fuming regret drizzling from your teeth.  I see resolve in your eyes.  You want this bad.  Just like Jesus, you had me… but you couldn’t hang on.  I don’t want you back in my life, but I welcome what your interference means.  If I didn’t have something good for you to take, you wouldn’t be here.

As evil as you are, you have a good tell.  You don’t waste time on people who aren’t a threat to you.  So now I know two things.  I know that Jesus has taken me back and I know that you want me.  You don’t want me back.  You want me away from Him.  I’ve become a threat again.  A target for your cause.  Where once I was afraid, now I can grin safely in my Savior’s arms.  You want what you can’t have.  Jesus won.  You can’t ever undo what happened on the cross or in the tomb.  While my soul may still be ‘in play’, I’m telling you that you can’t have that either.  Because to take it, you have to go through Him… and we both know how that will end.

I know this won’t stop you, and we will be seeing a lot more of each other as I choose the light of the world.  But one thing is different this time.  I’m not just trying to save myself.  Because I have already been saved, I will be trying to save others.  I’m not ashamed to say His name anymore.  I’ll speak it freely.  The timid boy you once knew has a sword and shield.  Where once I hid behind religion I now stand tall behind THE God.

I know better than to taunt you or tease you.  No insults or threats here.  I just wanted you to know that I see you have returned.  And to be honest, it feels good.  The world is right again.  I am by my Savior’s side and you work tirelessly to pull me away.  What a compliment you give.  That I might be a threat to you.  I know its not me you fear… but you know what even most Christians won’t acknowledge… That Jesus works through those that allow Him to.  He isn’t bound.  He just chooses to work were welcomed.  And He is MOST WELCOMED here!

I never chose you, but you tricked me once.  I do not welcome you in my life, but now I understand why you try so hard.  You know given the choice between a hateful, spiteful, selfish, evil, demon and a loving, saving, forgiving God you wouldn’t have any volunteers.  So you pervert the game.  You obscure the rules, and you confuse the players.  You corrupt and rot because you don’t have the ability to compete fairly.  God creates and heals.   You make the valley of dry bones and God resurrects.  You spread disease and God cures.  You dismantle families and God reunites.  You cheapen and God restores.

Who would choose you?  Not me.  Not again.  I’m taking the narrow path.  The one you have hidden behind lies, manipulation, and coercion.  And until I go, I’ll be showing it to others.  Signs, lights, markers, whatever I have to do.  I’m not worried about me any more.  It’s them that need saving.  So stay with me.  Send your worst.  I can’t handle it, but my God can.  And while you piddle around with bad days, corrupt governments, illness, money issues, and any other obstacles you can conjure up, I’ll be too busy carrying the lost away from you to notice.  I’ll take your temporary misfortunes and hurtful accusations.  I’ll take poverty and loneliness too.  I’m just not interested in this world anymore.  And that is all you’ve got.  You can’t offer ANYTHING that won’t burn away.

I’m going home… and I’m taking them with me!