Good, Better, Best

 

Every Christmas and New Year is a time of cheer, love, traditions, hot cocoa, and conversations with family and friends around the fireplace. It is a time of celebration, to celebrate the joyous birth of Jesus Christ, while also ringing in the New Year with Dick Clark. It truly is one of the most magical holidays of the year.

However, each year around this same time, amidst the swirling frenzy of shopping and binging on Christmas cookies or whatever else co-workers concoct for the daily office Christmas celebration, it a time of deep reflection for me. I survey my own past year to see what the heck I have done with my life and whether it is still in line with my hopes, dreams, and expectations. As I reflect upon the year, I also quiet my emotion and soul and allow God to take my mind down winding paths and thoughts of the heart. It is more a combination of thought, prayer, talking to myself and God, but not saying any actual verbal words, and more like allowing the heart to sink deep into myself, thinking and listening in a very abandoned sort of way.

Each year I realize at some point during this process that at no particular moment was I ever alone in this world. I see how God worked out the clanging sounds of days and weeks gone wrong with the grace of an orchestra conductor. And how things that made me feel like “This is really it. This is the end of….” God worked out the good in ways that I did not expect and or think could happen.

In the midst of this same realization, I also am aware how much I fell short of “doing” the things that I felt I should have done this year to justify God’s goodness and affection toward me. And I will fall short again in 2012. Without a doubt. I try to be good to bring out his goodness. Thankfully His love is not subservient to my shortcomings.

The fact is, God’s goodness towards me and you is just unjustifiable. He is good because HE is good. That’s all there is to it. HE is GOOD and that is why He does GOOD things. Might I also mention that He did a real good thing many centuries ago by becoming flesh one night and going through hell to be closer to us? And that’s why we celebrate Christmas, good friends, and a fresh 365 days. We are given the fresh start of a New Year like a freshly baked cookie — just waiting for us to taste and see that it is really good.

Here’s to a New Year. To a good God. To a Father that celebrates with us the gift of the past and the hope of the future.

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You Might be a Cultural Christian if…..


1. Somewhere in your house you have a 5 x 5 plaque, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” hung for all to see.

2. You only tithe or give when the Pastor gives his tithing and/or offering speech.

3. You read your Word mostly when things are not going your way.

4. You say phrases like “Read your Word”, “Joy of the Lord”, “How is your Walk going?” etc.

5. You try to drop hot Christian words like “Blessed” or “Prayer” when talking to strangers to test whether or not they are Christians too.

6. You do the Christian side hug. (Thank you Jon Acuff for this one)

7. Your automatic reaction to anyone’s misfortune is “I’ll be praying for you,” when you know, and they know, you won’t pray one word.

8. You make a point to cheerfully smile at strangers or other Christians to make sure they know you have the “Joy of the Lord” upon you.

9. When in doubt, you choose Republican.

10. Most of your friends are Cultural Christians, too.

What is a Cultural Christian?

I got to thinking about being a cultural Christian just last week as I was talking to a stranger who told me they were a cultural Catholic. “What does that mean?” I thought to myself. And then I began thinking about all the ways that I, too, have become more of a cultural Christian as well: someone who follows the traditions and quirks of Christianity as a substitute for the real relationship.

Sometimes I know that I lack the power of God in my life when I am not changing or allowing myself to be transformed or made new everyday, and instead I just keep doing the same old “Christian” things hoping that it will somehow change me or my situation. When saying “I’ll pray for you” becomes more important than actually doing it. When the show of Christianity becomes more important than the real work going on backstage.

It’s all the trappings of Christianity without the power or life of God breathed into it. To me that’s what really being a Cultural Christian is about. The power of God is His ability to create something from nothing or to take evil and turn it too good or to raise something that was dead and make it new. Certain areas of my life lack that power most times. And I can’t make up for it with my Christian T-shirt that says “Prays Well With Others.”.

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Which Reality is Real?

“Reality” can be a slap in the face, a splash of cold water, a wake up call that sounds like your alarm come 6:30 am – something you want to smack to make go away.

Some people like to say you need a dose of reality, but really what reality are we talking about?

REALITY? REALLY?

The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:11 (an often-quoted verse) “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Gosh. That’s a lot of promise. Especially for a 20-something who hasn’t got it all quite figured out yet, and perhaps living a reality that isn’t exactly what we thought it would be.

Thankfully, God is all about reality. His reality, which he says is to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you “hope and a future”. As an adult in transition it is often hard to believe these words. It sounds more like a wish list, or some little carrot a hiring manager throws out at you, like the phrase “upward mobility,” to get you to sign the dotted line to the worst job you can possibly ever dream of.

Interesting enough, the context in which God spoke these words, were to a battered and captive people called the Israelites in the midst of a 70-year captivity to a foreign country. Talk about a bad deal. And still in the midst of this captivity, God had the audacity to tell them, “I have plans to prosper you, and not to harm you.”

Sometimes our reality feels like there is no way out. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The reality of the now, feels like it will be inescapable later.

ONE OF THOSE FRIENDS

Do you ever hang out with one of those strange, confused people who never seem phased by their current situation? They lost their job, dog, and favorite pair of sunglasses all in the same week and yet they still have an actual smile on their face ? An authentic-I’m going to be fine-look. 

This strange, weird person’s reality seems different than what is currently happening in their life. Their hope is not based on external problems, but on something internal, something permanent, something based more in the future than what’s currently going on in the present.

My guess is that they’re holding on to a DIFFERENT reality. God’s reality. The promise that says, “yes, your dog died, you lost your job, and your favorite TV show that you normally watch to drown out the problems of the world, was cancelled. But even if you can’t see the light at the end of the dark and lonely tunnel, your Father can. And he can’t wait to show you how crazy he is about you. He can’t wait to reveal that EVEN THIS reality, will somehow turn into good.”

WHAT IS YOUR REALITY?

So maybe the current situation you’re in really isn’t the dose of reality you need. Maybe you need to take a huge spoonful of a truer reality based on the dreams and vision inside of you. Maybe where you are headed is more important than where you are at. Maybe it’s simply a choice each of us makes.  Which reality is more real?

____

I have a really hard time seeing past the present reality to what I feel is my future. Anyone feel the same?

Article written by Paul and Naomi Angone

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Why We Need to Climb the Hills

 

Picture of Hills

Picture by Rantes via Creative Commons

 

I strap on my old tennis shoes. The ones that used to be as white as Jesus Christ’s Sunday School robe, but now are dingy, torn, and stained – shoes that smell like meat that’s been left out of the refrigerator too long.

These shoes have one purpose now – to hike, for hike-sakes. To get away and stand on top of at least one peak, since life’s mountains have felt a tad unscalable.

One afternoon my shoes decided to go further, longer, and higher than before, passing all the previous spots that had been full of well, this is far enough. In two hours, I ended on a higher peak, a nameless spot that turned my usual magnifying glass view to that of a blimp.

I stood proud on my peak, looking over sprawling Los Angeles and the sporadic pockets of green where someone forgot to build houses and highways.

Looking to the right across a small valley, I saw another hill – one I’d never seen before but now was clearly visible, slightly higher and more rugged. A hill without the three-foot wide path to the top like the one I’d just courageously scaled.

I could see the winding snake of blazed dirt of those who had climbed the other hill before. The next time I come, I thought, I’ll climb that hill.

So that’s what I did. The new climb wasn’t as straight-forward. It took more sweat, strain, and improvisation. But the view – even better. The peak – a greater victory.

Then the same thing happened. I looked across the next valley, to the next mountain and again from this new perspective I could see the path to the top. “Next time I’ll climb that mountain.”

So I came back. Found my way to the next hill. Climbed. Sweat. Stood at a higher peak. Looked across. Saw another mountain with a better view. This happened five successive times. Each mountain I climbed, giving me the view I needed to climb the next. Each peak giving me the confidence that I could make it to the next.

Next Time I’ll Climb That Mountain…

How true that is of life. As I climb through this life wanting to tackle Everest, where I can stake my Paul Angone Did It! flag, leaving a mark as far as my view. I’ll only be able to see how to climb Everest, if I first start with the hills.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Sir Edmund Hillary

Each challenge, each climb, each step is putting me one closer to the perspective I need. Each hill will give me the view and strategy to tackle the next. I’m learning something new about the world and myself with each step up each hill.

Whatever hill stands in front of you right now, it has a purpose. Keep climbing and I promise you’ll be amazed by the view.

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What My Six-Month-Old Baby Taught Me About Jesus


 Proud Dad Picture

Six months ago almost to the date, I wrote: Let it be noted today that my life has forever changed.

The reason? I had just watched my wife give birth to our first child — six pounds eleven ounces carrying such a weight as to completely smash my world.  Everything, every word that I once was so sure about, falling apart as I gazed at the true meaning behind life’s profundities.

The biggest change? My understanding of how much God really loved me. Because I tasted the love for the first time that a father has for a child. And that love ruined me. God’s love was more theoretical and theological before that day. Now it’s actual. No more questioning how much a father truly loves a child, because now I am that dad.

TODAY’S DRAMATIC CHANGE
Sick Baby Picture

However, six months later, let it be noted that my life has forever changed again.

The reason? Today is the first day our little baby girl has ever been sick. She has an infection, which is clogging her nose, making her cough, and creating so much mucus that her one strategy for removal has been to throw up. A strategy she has turned to repeatedly.

As I’ve watch our little six-month-old girl experience what it means to be sick for the very first time, nothing has ever wrenched my emotions so completely. Her sickness breaking my heart into pieces as I look at that red nose and eyes that won’t stop watering, as they stare at me and ask, “Daddy, why aren’t you stopping this?”

Oh my love how I wish I could. What a completely helpless feeling to watch your little child in so much pain. As I held her in my arms and walked her around outside to try and help her forget, I didn’t even realize what I’d been whispering in her ear with so much certainty that it was coming from a place beyond my mind. I kept saying over and over again, “My little girl, Daddy would gladly take on your sickness for you if he could.” Over and over and over I repeated this to her – maybe if I said it enough times somehow I could make it true.

And it was at that moment that I stopped, looked at her and finally understood another word that I never had before. Sacrifice. It was not idle words of comfort that I was trying to ease her pain with. No, I realized at that moment how willing and ready I’d be to take on any sickness, pain, or heartache for her if it meant she didn’t have to.

Sure it’s just a nose infection now, but the resolution of that fact will never change. As she grows older, no matter how many times she rolls her eyes at me, breaks curfew, or storms out of a room —  if a car was going to hit her and the only way to save her was to step in the way, sixteen times out of ten, I would do it. Because giving up my life to save hers would not even be a sacrifice. It would be automatic. A choice that is more reflex than deliberation. My love for her would have no other way.

JESUS’ CHOICE

Just as I understood God’s love the day I held my little girl for the first time, I now finally understand Jesus’ sacrifice. His love for us would have no other way, because no other choice would do.

To ease our pain and suffering with his own was the only choice his love would make. It is a love that transforms sacrifice.  God’s love is fierce like a hurricane — his sacrifice is the same. A sacrifice so consuming that there is no escape.

To be a replacement for my daughter would be a choice I’d take a million times out of ten. Thank you, God, that I have that choice because of yours.

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Why God’s Love is Our Truest Vocation

What is God's Love PicturePicture by the very talented mother of five, Amanda Tipton

God’s love is so simple, yet so radical that it is nearly impossible to comprehend.

God is love, and God’s love must be the first step and focal point of who we are. God’s love is not logical by our standards. It is unconditional. It’s not based out of our merit, but out of his. We must base our identity on who we truly are; a child deeply loved by a magnificent Father who is the author of love itself. We must start with love to give ourselves the necessary permission to go anywhere else. If God’s love is not the root of our identity, then our identity will have no base.

How long have I known about God and yet failed to recognize him as he daily passes by? How long have I failed to hear the whisper or feel the touch of his unconditional love? To truly know God, his love must be deeply felt; a knowing as deep into the heart as it is the head. A knowing that changes you for good. A knowing of God’s love that transforms who we are.

Accepting ourselves as dearly loved children gives us permission to struggle through the process of self-discovery, which will aid us in our search for true calling. We must see ourselves as Christ see us. This is the only starting point, worth starting.

Who Are We?

Our identity cannot be found in a list of accomplishments. Because if our love for self is based on accolades, then what will happen when all the voices of praise have fallen silent? What will happen when the path to our calling becomes incredibly difficult? Perseverance will be utterly necessary if we are to walk down the path of our true vocation. If our false self is leading us, we will be lost by first nightfall.

God wants us to know him. God desires for me and you to just spend intimate time with him, connecting in personal conversation as we would with a good friend or spouse. God loves who you are. Yet how often do we neglect the relationship? How many times have I missed the profound simplicity of a life spent in conversation with God because I was consumed with my seven-step-spiritual plans or daily agendas?

To know God and to be known by God is foundational and is something I have missed almost my entire life, like continually missing the train and then wondering why I never make it home.

God’s Love is Our Vocation

So, “what do you do?” It’s our conversation starter—our flint. We hope it sparks a picture of this person. What job is the real you? A tough answer when your job, or lack of job, is any thing but. But is this even the right question? We should not be asking each other what we do, as if a quick title sums us up. No, it is who we are that trumps all. Our identity in his love is our true, all-consuming, vocation.

Our identity is not a job.

Our identity is His love.

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The Millennial Generations’ Destiny Drive-Thru

I am a part of the Millennial Generation.

If you’re confused with who or what the Millennial Generation even is, The Millennial Generation aka Gen Y aka Gen Next aka Net Generation aka Echo Boomers aka We’re So Cool and Ambiguous We Need Five Different Generational Titles (I wonder why this is confusing?) was born somewhere between the mid-70′s or early 80′s (again depending on what scholar you read) all the way until 2000.

Millennials are typically categorized by being the dream-big, sky’s-the-limit, creative, driven, I-can-do-anything generation.

I like these attributes. I think it will propel us to make an important impact in this world.

But we are also proud members of the entitled, get-it-now, instant gratification, I-can’t-wait-ten-seconds, Nextflix, Ipad, ITunes, Facebook, streaming, instant-everything, give-it-to-me-NOW generation.

At 28 years old I realize how embedded I was (and still am) in the idea that the red carpet would precede all my steps. After college, I thought I’d just pull up to the Destiny Drive-Thru and place my order, “Yes, I’d like a medium fry, burger with no onions, chocolate shake, and the exact purpose and plans for the next sixty years of my life. Thanks.”

“What? Did you say that would take ten minutes? What kind of operation you guys running here?!!”

I felt entitled to so much, and expected so little time and struggle to get there.

So after college when the big wasn’t happening, I became depressed and confused. I became angry at God for apparently abandoning me, when I was completely ready and willing to do those big things.

Where was the Jeremiah 29:11 of the big plans God had promised me? I was supposed to be changing the world, so why was I doing accounting in a cubicle, serving coffee, selling insurance, (insert your job you never thought you would be doing here: ________).

PARADIGM SHIFT

But after years of frustration and feeling like somehow God had let me down, I understand now that God in his infinite grace did not allow the big to happen when I demanded it. If I would’ve received the glamorous, big life I dreamed of it would’ve been like putting a semi-truck on my shoulders. I would’ve been crushed.

Because the time, effort, struggle, frustration — these are not just punishments or failures. No, this is a part of the preparation. Just like an Olympic athlete puts in years of training to be ready when their time comes, so must I learn that without the hard work there will be no accomplishment. We can’t be strengthened if there is no resistance. The higher the obstacles, the bigger the party on the other side.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10).

Now looking back at these last couple years after college, how I wish I would have heeded these words. If I could have taken this to heart, really understood just this one piece of advice, the “meaningless” could’ve been wrought with such meaning.

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