I will never know a God that didn’t gift us His Son

There are several things in my life that I am blessed by, but because they are so consistent, it takes effort and intention to be thankful for them. Because they are so consistent, you don’t notice them…until they’re gone. Yet, I am blessed enough that they have not been gone.

A few examples:

Parental empowerment/approval – The fact that I knew my parents approved of me, loved me, and were proud of me, was a fact that empowered me to keep boundaries against negative adults in my teenage and young adult years. I know people whose feeling of approval was threatened by the changing of the wind. But mine wasn’t. I had a “confidence anchor” that I know many were not blessed with…and I would be a different person without that.

Companionship – The reason the dating phase is so exciting, yet stressful, is because of the uncertainty. When you learn that someone you are interested in wants to be your companion as well, it is exciting because it takes away the lingering uncertainty and loneliness. Because of this, a loyal, unwavering, loving spouse is not “exciting” by those terms…and it’s easy to forget that “romantic void” feeling that was the only reality you ever knew when you were single.

Financial security – As a wedding present, Sarah and I were gifted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University by my old instructor. As a result of this, I learned to stop being a rampant credit card spender (like, rampant, I’m telling you) and start to budget, plan, and actually have a modicum of self-control. Because of this gift, Sarah and I learned to do the Baby Steps and build an emergency fund early on. Ramsey said, concerning the importance of the emergency fund and having some financial security, “Men, your wife has a security gland in her brain. It is connected directly to her face.” It has been a long time, thanks to Dave Ramsey, since we’ve only been one low paycheck away from disaster. But I know that this is not true for a great many families. It is a blessing, one that I would not have come by without Dave Ramsey’s FPU and a wife that keeps me accountable.

There are other blessings that come and go. There are people, and gifts, and situations that we feel blessed by. But since they come and go, it is easier to picture life without them. But the consistent blessings are the ones that are easy to take for granted.

And that’s what’s on my mind this Christmas.

Christmas, the celebration of the Father sending His Son to us to be born as a baby, is a celebration of a one-time event that changed everything. But what is so interesting to me is that once a year, we celebrate this one-time event that affects 365.25 days of my year. Fact is, everything that is true during Christmas is also true for the rest of the year. It is consistent.

And there are some direct effects on me. My framework for life. My psyche. My security. My purpose. There are consistent truths that are not realized by everybody.

Unchanging truth: Christmas shows me my value to God. God sent His Son for me. My value does not go up and down like a stock. Not everybody feels their value. I am able to because of Christmas.

Unchanging truth: The Gospel presents “Grace” rather than “Striving”. A criticism of Christianity is that it is a very poor sociological tool. A good sociological tool rewards good works and punishes bad works. But Christianity was never intended to be a sociological tool…any good works a Christian does is meant to glorify God, not avoid punishment or earn salvation. Other worldviews have people always questioning their standing (am I good or bad?), striving for a level of ethics or morality. Christianity answers that by “providing me Someone Else’s goodness”.

Unchanging truth: When everything else fades, I still have purpose. My purpose is not rooted in my career, my family, my physical or mental skills. In any situation I find myself in, I can glorify the Risen Son of God.

It is my observation that self-destructive behaviors come in bunches when someone loses their sense of purpose. This is part of what makes a “mid-life crisis” so difficult…when one’s purpose/identity is found in the career they do or the kids they are raising, then that purpose goes away when the career starts to focus on the young up-and-comers or the kids start to become adults and move out.

Since my purpose is not found in “phases of life”, my purpose is an unchanging truth.

These things are constant realities for me…but I know that they are not constant realities for others who haven’t grabbed onto them. So it’s hard for me to imagine not having that…but I try to.

I am thankful.

The birth of Christ changed everything…but it changed the whole year, every year, every day.

I hope that you never know purposelessness. I hope that you never know worthlessness. And I hope that you never wonder whether you cut it or not.

What I know is that never knowing those things is possible in Jesus.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless.

 

-Carson

Criticism as a defense mechanism: Don’t let it stop you from greatness!

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

“Criticism is a natural by-product of success. Welcome it!”

 

“Would you like to donate $1 to Muscular Dystrophy Research?”

I think I was at Safeway when I was asked this question. Or was it Carl’s Jr.? Or was it Taco Bell? Or was it Roth’s?
Oh, right, it was probably all of them.

“No, thank you.” But then my inner pretend-sociologist kicked in. “Hey, out of curiosity, when someone says no, how do they usually respond?” I asked the clerk.

She half-smiled, half-sighed. With an exasperated look, she answered my question. “Oh, lots of different ways. Sometimes they tell me their life story, and why they can’t donate. Sometimes, they list off all of the other things that they donate money to. Sometimes, they actually get frustrated at me just for asking! I’m just like ‘It’s okay to say no! It’s fine, I’m not judging you!’”

 

(Sidenote: Generosity is a hard topic for me to blog about, because of Jesus’s teachings on it. If I’m not generous, then I feel ashamed and I have to hide the fact that I’m not generous. But if I am generous, then Jesus basically tells me to shut up about it. So you can never know whether I’m generous or stingy, because I won’t tell you. Oh well.)

 

Here’s what I found so interesting in her response: Why would anyone get mad at Safeway for doing a good thing? “Oh, there’s probably a few people, not too many.” But no, the Safeway clerk said otherwise. It’s common, strangely. Even if they don’t get mad, they get defensive.

 

THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS MAKES US MAD

What we found here was this, and ask any clerk who has asked anyone to donate a dollar to (insert non-profit here) if this is true or not: A successful fundraiser/action/donation/etc. draws out a defensive reaction from people. Why?

 

Actually, I’ve come to find it’s much bigger than just fundraisers.

 

Any success, whether moral/financial/business/personal, draws out a defensive reaction from people. And that is often where criticism comes from.

 

In fact, think about this! If somebody takes a good, selfless, charitable action, such that a critic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, the critic falls back on this tried and true tactic: suggesting a different good action that the person should have taken, in lieu of the one that they did!
For example, have you ever heard this classic line at church? “Missions, missions, missions. All this talk about missions. We have plenty of needs right here in our neighborhood. What about those?”

Are you kidding me? As though donating to missions or doing missions work is a bad thing or something?

Nobody is shouting it from the rooftops…but I’m going to venture a dangerous guess that will never be confirmed or denied. What do you want to bet that the person who brings up this criticism is not donating money to either domestic needs or missions work?

It is simply that the call to action, and the celebration of others’ good actions, draws a defensive reaction from people.

 

We could go for hours with examples. But what I want to point out is that in all aspects of our lives, success draws criticism.

Publicly gush about how great your wife is on Facebook? You’re showboating. Showing off your marriage. I’ll bet you have issues that you’re hiding. Who you trying to impress?

Gush about your kids? “Oh, just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re in for it.”

Make money and buy yourself something? “Oh, that money SHOULD have been spent like blah-blah-blah”

Make money and do something good with it? “Oh, I don’t know why you’re donating money to X when you could be donating money to Y.”

 

THE WORST PART: WHEN THE RESULT OF CRITICISM IS INACTION

Those who take action or go public in any way open themselves up for criticism. It is unavoidable.

But this is what I believe to be the biggest tragedy: When somebody, somewhere, doesn’t take a good action for fear of being criticized. And I believe that this does, in fact, happen.

I always liked to answer questions and ask questions in youth group growing up, in Bible studies, etc. But then, as we talked about Pharisees and about how they loved to be seen by men, it caused a question to cross my mind…

“Carson, what if you’re raising your hand just to be seen? Just for attention?”

It was a good question. I mean, I’m not shy…I do enjoy the limelight. I do enjoy the attention. So does that mean I need to put my hand down? And stop talking?

Just as I was considering stepping back a little bit, someone talked to me. “Hey, I like the questions you ask, and your thoughts. I’m always glad when you show up for the Bible study.”

So I made the decision that day: For me to not raise my hand because people might perceive me as too attention grabby? That concern about how others would perceive me was, in fact, actually self-centered. When there is a good thing to be done, good words to say, then I should take the action. Haters gonna hate.

 

CRITICS THINK IN ISOLATED INCIDENTS, INSTEAD OF THE PROBABILITY OF MULTIPLE SUCCESSES

 

I was reading an article about “second-level thinking” (whatever that means…I’m still learning about it) and there was a new concept I hadn’t thought about before. “First level thinking deals with isolated incidents, second level thinking deals with probabilities.”

If I suggested a change to how we run our martial arts school, then good thinkers would not just “accept” it. However, the “first-level” thinker would think of that one person who wouldn’t like the change, and why they wouldn’t like it. The “second-level” thinker might think the same thing, but they would think “okay, how often is that concern likely to come up, and do we gain more than we are likely to lose if that concern comes up often?”

Therefore, according to this concept, the “first-level thinker” would let that one person, that one possibility, that one criticism, stop them. The second-level thinker doesn’t go in blindly, but it takes more than one kink to stop them.

 

OUR MASTERY OF OURSELVES, OUR WORDS, HAS AN ACTUAL EFFECT ON PEOPLE.

To the dreamer/fighter/entrepreneur in all of us: Don’t let the critic get you down. And, in fact, don’t even try to avoid criticism. Choose who you want to be and go dominated it. Know that you WILL get criticized, and that if you aren’t getting criticized, you aren’t accomplishing anything.

To the critic in all of us, and yes, I know it’s present within me: Any of us can be careless instead of careful with our words. Here’s what I know…I don’t want to be the one who stopped someone from doing something great because they didn’t want to be criticized by me.

I don’t want anybody to hold back or not try something because they thought they would look silly or stupid in my eyes. I want to be someone who spurs people to take action and try new things, not someone who inhibits them and makes them feel self-conscious.

 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

 

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

Easter: Because contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not about “no” but rather about “yes”

This last week, I was reminded of something as a martial arts instructor. Yes, I already knew it, but every now and then this truth resurfaces. And it is the power of the positive.

But when I say positive, I really don’t mean a “yay, happy, joy, good feelings!” positive, but rather a “Yes” positive.

You see, I was teaching some students how to have better balance on their kicks, and an old class management skill flashed across my brain:
“Use positive correction rather than criticism”

Or, in my own words…

“Stop telling the students what NOT to do, and start telling them what to do.”

There can be fifty wrong ways to do a technique, but there’s often one right way (okay, sometimes two or three, but the point stands). I can be a more effective instructor and waste less time if I spend my time on the YES’s instead of the NO’s.

So for balance? STOP saying “Don’t drop your hands” and say “Put your hands where you want them!” STOP saying “Don’t hop!” and say “Bend your base knee!” Stuff like that.

So what does this have to do with Easter?

A sermon that I heard at Generation Unleashed in Portland sticks out in my mind. “Everybody talks about that ONE tree that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from, but nobody is talking about the YES trees. You know, every single other tree in the garden of Eden that they were told that they could FREELY eat from.

In this season of politics, Christians are known for what they are against. (Like there’s anything new to that.) All the things that we say that you can’t do, or you can’t partake in, or any of that stuff. And hey, there’s a reason that God speaks against certain things, and woe to the person who says “Yes” to that which God says “No” to. And woe to the person who says “Uh, I don’t really know, that’s between each person and God” to that which God says “No” to. When God says “No”, then my opinion or my preference or my feelings are non-issues.

However, Easter presents this: God is a “Yes” God. Please do not misunderstand…I do not mean to say that God is a “Whatever you want, buddy” God. But God is a Yes God. While many people are pissing and moaning about the things we can’t do because of God’s commands, God is a God who generously gives opportunities.

While many believe that the Church (as God’s representative, imperfect as she is) is asking them to give up their money, God is providing many of us more money than we actually need (if you disagree, yet you own a video game system, then sit your butt down).

While many believe that God’s commands are sexually prohibitive (some would argue that this is the number one reason people walk away from God, conscious or subconscious), God is the one who provided your genitalia, and the correlated pleasure receptors.

While many, like me, have lost a parent or a loved one, or are losing a parent or a loved one, it is easy in a time of incredible tragedy to lose sight of the fact that every previous breath was provided by God, anyway (This is, in no way, meant to “downplay” the pain or the grieving. Rather, please know that God is your friend during this grieving…not your enemy).

And while many have called on the argument of “How could a good God send someone to hell?” (How could God remove us from something so good, like Heaven or eternal happiness/fullness/wellness) Easter represents God presenting an opportunity.

Is God about removing opportunities? Or is He giving opportunities?

 

He is risen. For those who like to intellectually grapple with Christianity: This means that Jesus wasn’t full of it…that His message was endorsed by God the Father Himself, because what other explanation makes sense?

 

Easter. He is risen.

 

The opportunity is given. God’s yes is given.

So what now?

 

 

 

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)