The Battle for “Mine”

About three weeks ago I picked up on my son’s comment during the car ride, and I attempted to drive home a point. My son had claimed something as “his.” More specifically, he wanted credit from his brother for finding a particular YouTube video. It struck a nerve with me because my oldest son, who is now 13, has become notably more territorial. Explaining all of the factors that would have gone into “his” discovery of the video made me feel better, even though it may have landed on deaf ears.
And then it was my turn. The very next morning, after bringing my sons to school, I stopped by the grocery store for a handful of staple items. The local grocery was quiet early in the morning so only the service counter was open. I set my items on the counter and decided to be Mr. Good Citizen and walked over to put the basket back where I had found it. As I came back to the counter, I noticed that the cashier had begun to check out the woman who was behind me in line. Internally I was taken aback: “I was there first! Didn’t she see that I was doing a good thing? And couldn’t she wait twenty seconds until I returned?”
Mine. That ugly word reared its head in our home again today. My two oldest sons disputed the use of a shared desk in their bedroom. Neither would budge. My attempt to intervene only proved more frustrating to them and to me. I tried to exhibit dominion over them as their father, reaching deep (not that deep) into my bag of tricks to restore order and reclaim peace. My peace. Their conflict was interrupting my day.
I would not often accuse myself of being a fast learner, as this course of events clearly revealed. As I retreated to the bathroom to wash up after a workout – and to avoid further unraveling on my part – it finally dawned on me. I was fighting the wrong battle. My sons were not the problem. The problem was not even the problem. The problem was a lie and the problem was the liar – the father of lies. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) That is the truth, and thankfully, that is the truth that was brought to my mind.
Recognizing that truth helped redirect my energy, helped refocus my battle. Why should I be in combat with my sons when the source of conflict was a spirit of selfishness, greed, and pride? In my very helpless I-can’t-do-it state, I began to speak out truth and claim the victory found in the life of Jesus Christ. I commanded the enemy out of my home and away from my children and humbly acknowledged that neither this house nor these children are “mine.”
“Have your way.” Simple words, but powerful. They ought to leave my lips more often. I would do well to leave my Burger King attitude at the foot of the cross so that God’s will can be accomplished without my resistance. I need to be the burger flipper and fry dipper that simply says, “Have it your way, God.” But far, far too often I think I own the place. Very clearly I don’t.
I need to speak truth more often – not my truth – God’s truth. I need to speak Scripture. I need to pray Scripture. I need to stop believing that I can add anything to what is HIS. I would love to tell you that my oldest sons have hugged and washed each other’s feet. Nope. But I have confirmation that I’m fighting the right battle and I’m chasing them with the truth. When I opened up YouVersion to study Proverbs, the Verse of the Day was the same one I have painted on my living room wall – 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Truth. And I turned on Pandora to bring an atmosphere of worship into the home. I chose the Francesca Battistelli station – my son Joshua’s favorite artist – and the first song that played was “I’m Letting Go.” I pray that I can also make that statement a truth in this home.


What’s the Point of Purity? The Underneath

I like to have a clean kitchen floor. I might like it a little too much. Ten years ago, I never noticed. But now that it is my responsibility, I notice in great detail. Sweeping the kitchen floor is one of the responsibilities that my sons can choose when helping out around the house. They often choose to sweep, I believe, because they find it to be easier than other chores. But, when they do, I have to fight the urge to go sweeping right behind them. Why? Because I see it at a different level of clean than they do.
Purity is very much the same. We have, for example, our “church image.” We clean ourselves up, announce that we are going to church, and walk slowly past those neighbors who choose not to attend church. From a distance, we look pretty good. Again, this is like my kitchen floor. If you came to visit me on any given day, the kitchen floor would look pretty good. You might not even think it should be swept because chances are it would be less than 24 hours since the last sweeping. But I would know differently.
Take your church image one layer deeper. If you have attended the same church for a while, you have hopefully connected with some faithful brothers and sisters. And, if you have been fortunate enough to engage in authentic friendships, somebody knows your dirt. They know you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. They know that all of us get dirt on our floors, so there is no need to pretend. This is the equivalent of my sons sweeping the floor. They know there is dirt, and they are willing to help. And even though they know that, I know that there is more. I know that there is dirt they do not see. So now I have a choice: point it out, or address it myself.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Sweeping the kitchen floor, as with all household responsibilities, has been difficult for me to surrender. I know how to do it, and I can do it quickly and properly. If I surrender the responsibility, it might take longer, and it might not be done properly. I tend to treat my “life dirt” in much the same way. I don’t always know who can handle the mess I have. Who do I allow to get close enough to see? Let’s go back to church, and the kitchen floor. We are reluctant to point out all of our dirt in a church body. That sounds intimidating. But with some, generally the ones we find to be like us, we share. But they don’t see it all, do they? They don’t know about the dirt in the corner, nor of the dirt in the shadows. So now what? Well, now we get on our knees.
The truth is that I don’t see all of the dirt either. I can sweep every day if I want to, but that will not reveal the same thing as if I get on my knees to scrub. I recently gave up mopping in favor of scrubbing. It takes about the same amount of time, and it is more effective. But I don’t allow just anyone to scrub my floor. Someone whom I trust with the task could scrub. Someone that will not mock my mess, but will instead work toward cleaning it up can scrub my floor. The same is true in the Body. Not everyone needs to hear how you spilled all over – again. Not everyone wants to hear. But some do. Or maybe even one. For you this may be a spouse, or a strong brother or sister in Christ. When you engage in authentic, Christ-centered relationships, you may find a scrubbing partner. We often talk of “accountability partners,” but we can just as easily call them “purity partners.” Someone who can not only know your mess, but get down in the mess with you. Someone who will not quickly sweep and leave, but someone who will take time on their knees with you, side-by-side.
That should do it, right? Connect with the Body, share your dirt, and find a purity partner. Clean floor, clean heart..right? Not quite. God, as you may have heard, does not address our outside. Our surface is secondary. Jesus, like his Father, did not address outward appearances as much as he did the underneath. Consider the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery, as recorded in John 8. It is possible that she, like us, had a “church image.” Perhaps she could walk past some and have them fooled. Maybe a few of her closer friends knew of some of her dirt. Maybe she even had a dear friend or sister who knew of her private struggles. It is possible that she, like us, worked really hard to clean up her mess. But it was not enough.
It is not enough for us either. You see, if you came over today, you would think that I have a clean kitchen floor. You would be right, but I could prove you wrong. No matter how much we clean ourselves up, there is always something underneath. When I moved in nearly five years ago, the kitchen had, as it does now, those peel-and-stick tiles in the kitchen. In case you did not know, those don’t stick as well when they sit on a floor that rests over a Michigan basement in winter. Some have come up at the edges. Some have caught on something and broken. What that means, then, is that I have a mess. You will not easily see it, but I know it is there. In fact, I recently peeked under the edge of one of the tiles and was horrified at the dirt underneath. Every time that I, or anyone else, has swept, more dirt has gone underneath.
Sound familiar? You get another ticket, but you quickly take care of it before others find out. You go to a website you swore that you wouldn’t visit again, but then you clear the history to make it “go away.” You promised not to text him anymore, but you do, and then clear your texts. Or your email. Or your messages. You try to clean up your dirt….but it’s still there.
The woman in John 8 had her dirt exposed. She had been caught in adultery and could legally be stoned to death. In keeping with my kitchen floor example, it would be what you would see if I ripped up half of the tiles right before you visited – a filthy mess. But Jesus is not horrified. Not at all. In fact, the picture that is given is one of Jesus’s most calm moments. With a hostile crowd around him and a woman facing death, Jesus draws on the ground. He sees the mess. He knows the consequence. But he also knows this: we all have dirt underneath. So he reminded the crowd of that, and one by one they went away. Jesus knows how we try to cover ourselves; it has been happening since Adam and Eve. But, regardless of the covering, there is an underneath. And it’s a mess. And it belongs to him.
Now, let’s suppose that I want to get serious about having a clean kitchen floor. There is really only one option at this point: strip it all away, expose the mess, and put in something new. That’s it. And that’s it with Jesus, too. You see, if I am selective about who scrubs my floor, I am going to be very picky when it comes to installing a new floor. I want an expert, a Master, if you will. That is Jesus. That is what he did for the woman, and that is what he will do for you.
The woman stood before him, her covered-up mess uncovered. Jesus sent the crowd away to confront their own mess, and remained one-on-one with the woman. It is a classic “Now what?” moment. Jesus saw the underneath, swept it clean (“Neither do I condemn you”), and gave her a new covering (“Go now and leave your life of sin”). Jesus did not come to simply clean us up. Anyone can clean the outside. But who can clean the inside? Only the One we allow in, only Christ.
The verse from Matthew 5 speaks about the “pure in heart.” I believe that, when this woman walked away, she knew she had seen God. She had become pure in heart not because she had done everything right, but because Jesus had transformed her.
Neither will you nor I get everything right. We will sin. That leaves us with a mess. So now what? To truly get at our underneath, you don’t make a prayer request within the Body. You don’t confess to your spouse or accountability partner. Not that you don’t do those things, but in doing those things you should be pointed to, and found standing by, Christ. Only he can make you pure.
You put on a nice covering; it looks good. But I know, and you know, what is underneath. You don’t need to wait until your mess is exposed in public. Please don’t. Jesus loves to transform lives. He was not sent to condemn, but to save. If you have been covering up your dirt, stop. If you didn’t even know it was there, get down on your knees and look. Trust me, it’s there. Expose your heart to Christ. Let the Master not just clean you up but also place a new covering on you. Allow him to present you as one who is pure in heart, with a new underneath.

Finding God in Gum, Part 2

If you read Part 1, you read a censored view behind-the-scenes of my day. No one would have known it unless I shared it. And I never would have shared it if there wasn’t a part 2. Within 24 hours, I went from being thankful for nothing to seeing how God uses everything. We pick up where my sons are dropped off at school:

*The mother of my sons calls me back about Joshua being sick and at school. She thanks the Holy Spirit for prompting her to bring medicine to the school for Joshua. She is already on her way.
*In my spent and worthless state, I remember the principle of praise anyway. I pull out the new cd that I picked up.
*I stop at a gas station, where I never stop but always pass, to buy gum. I always hope for one particular kind, but I have not found it in months. As I walk in, I consider looking to order the gum online (seriously).
*The first words of a song that play on the overhead speakers are, “I found God..” (Song “You Found Me” by The Fray).
*I scan the gum rack and…find my favorite! I buy 3 packs; 2 for me and 1 for a coworker who shares the same favorite and difficulty finding it.
*I gush to the clerk about my excitement at finding the gum. He said that he is glad they had it for me.
*I put in the new cd, Wow Gospel 2013. The first words are, “Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine. Nothing but clouds..” (Kirk Franklin’s song “Smile,” one of my favorites. I turn it up and sing.)
*At a stoplight, I notice a scratch of sunshine in the clouds. I make a comment out loud. The song that begins to play starts like this: “I know you’re praying for a change, To see a sunny day, Nothing good has come your way for so long.” (Song “Hold On” by James Fortune)
*The song ends when I am at a stoplight. I turn it off and simply say, “Thank you.”
*As I try to turn left for work, I skid on the black ice and go past the intersection. As I try to stop at the next side street, the same thing happens. I continue on until I can turn right into a church parking lot.
*As I return the way I came, I notice three wild turkeys next to a house.
*As I pull into work, my “sister” texts, “You ok?” I respond with “I am now.”
*Following a student out of the classroom, I encounter a young man, “Frank,” becoming physically aggressive. We engage to keep him safe. He fights, kicks, curses, and spits.
*When back in the classroom, a lady from Nursing calls me out. She offers me a caramel latte that they had in the office. I’m not much for coffee, but I partake and delight in the thoughtfulness.
*I learn that a friend is incarcerated. I text an attorney friend about it. I get back, “I already have his case.”
*During lunch I found a coworker who shares my affinity for this favorite gum. She told me that I made her day.

What proceeded throughout the remainder of the day was a barrage of people crossing my path at precisely the moment that they were needed. A list that I could not even begin to write down, keep up with, or fully explain. But I could see it. I could see God moving, and weaving, and answering my question.
My question had been “What do I have to have to be thankful for?!” What God was revealing to me was that God uses everything. Everything! In ways that we cannot see nor comprehend. We can only trust and participate. The events of this day I never could have scripted, never could have planned. At the end of the day I realized that I could take credit for one thing – showing up. Everything else was a fluid, unscripted dance. That includes my encounter with “Frank” later in the day. He looked at me and smiled, saying, “I’m better now.” The same young man who tried to kick. The same young man who screamed threats and obscenities. The same young man who spit.
An hour or so after the second encounter, I was struck by this thought: I am Frank. I fight the protection God tries to give. I kick and punch against His grasp. I curse when I do not get my way. I get lost in rage against the way things should go. Then, in time, I hope God has forgotten my mess and say to Him, “I’m better now.”
As I was winding up my adventures of the day, I pulled up to my son’s youth group. I was there because he had twice forgotten his payment for a retreat. I met one of the adults who helps out and she twice told me, “Oh, we just love him!”
Do you see it? I saw two mistakes. She told me twice how he is loved. My son, who I felt inadequate to care for at the beginning of the day, must be pretty awesome. I simply told her, “I love him, too.”
I wish that I could always say that I see God’s movement in my day. If you read Part 1, you know that I don’t. At least not in the way that I did on this day. I feel as if God gave me a special glimpse, a special treat, on this day. A reminder of truth. As if to punctuate it, the song that took me home was called “Every Moment.” It speaks to God holding every moment in his hands, even the moments of finding my favorite gum.

Finding God in Gum, Part 1

I would like to invite you behind the curtain on my private thoughts. I wish to share some of a recent 24-hour stream-of-consciousness / stream-of-activity so that you can see God working. That is, after all, why we choose to expose our weaknesses; so that God’s strength can be revealed. Let’s start with a failure, a perfectly normal place to start:

*I leave work only to discover that I did not bring the forms for the Secretary of State as I had hoped. Instead of completing that errand before I pick up my sons, I will have to swing home for the forms, pick up my sons, then do the errand.
*I begin to wrestle with dinner plans. If the errand goes too long, I don’t really want to spend money to eat out. But..
*My sons come with me from school. I tell my oldest son “No” when he asks to use his iPod in the car. His homework is not done.
*I hope for a quick trip at Secretary of State. My boys want to stay in the car, but I remember a past trauma involving police that took place right around the corner. They grudgingly come in with me.
*The line in Secretary of State is almost out the door – and that is just to take a seat with a number.
*I am given the number 46. The counter is on number 90.
*My oldest son expresses frustration that he does not have his iPod to occupy him.
*My middle son expresses frustration that he has not brought in his homework.
*My youngest son is “starving.”
*I go numb.
*When I am finally called up, 75 minutes later, the clerk tells me that the VIN on my insurance is wrong. We discover that he was looking at the old registration.
*Because the form sent to me reflected my last vehicle, and because I bought milk and bacon on my way home, I am $3 short.
*The ATM in the SOS will not work because it is out of receipt paper. The clerk sends me out into the mall to use that ATM and tells me to come back to the return line.
*Although this ATM is of a bank that I use, that is not the debit card I have with me. I have to pay a $3 just to get my own money.
*The second clerk sees the notes on my insurance now. She questions it, then realizes the first clerk’s error when I explain.
*We leave SOS 90 minutes later. Tired, hungry, and with less than an hour before Cadets. I choose to go to a buffet for dinner.
*I overeat. I have post-decision regret over the amount that I spent.
*We go home instead of directly to Cadets because Jonathan wants to change clothes.
*I tell Joshua that he will not go to Cadets because his homework is not complete. The battle begins.
*Joshua tells me his stomach hurts and begins shutting down because he is disappointed.
*I am at a loss. I spend the drive to Cadets yelling at God.
*Joshua is barely functional for his homework, and I am exhausted. I had 3 hours of sleep the night before.
*I tell Caleb that he cannot listen to Pandora during homework.
*After Cadets I tell Jonathan he cannot play the iPad because his responsibilities are not complete.
*Every one of the three boys goes to bed silent. They did not even seek me out to pray.
*I have restless sleep. In the morning, I choose to write devotions rather than prep breakfast.
*I don’t like the mess of incomplete housework.
*I reason that my sons need to learn more responsibility, so I put the weight of breakfast and clothing unexpectantly back on them.
*Joshua tells me he is still not feeling well. He is near tears.
*Our drive to school is nearly silent. I tell God I have nothing to be thankful for because nothing good or “extra” is happening.
*30 minutes before I am to spend 12 hours caring for other people’s children, I feel barely qualified to care for my own.
*And then..