Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

All the Rage

Posted by flyingbk on 11/09/2016

I’ll have a few thoughts on the election results tomorrow, but today I’d like to share a devotional I wrote for my church this past February. I think it’s quite fitting, whether you’re currently an angry American, or you’ve experienced anger during this year’s election cycle (so yeah, probably all of us).

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In our culture today, it’s become en vogue to become outraged about any little thing. If some news item is deemed “rage-worthy,” scores of people on Twitter, Facebook, etc. gang up on said person(s). It’s like a flash mob that’s competing against each other in regards to who can spew the most venom and vitriol towards somebody who, you know, just totally deserves it and had it coming.

Rage has become all the rage.

There are many problems with this aspect of our culture, but I’ll focus on two. Firstly, we’ve become a very reactive people. We immediately react to every single news update (I’ve been guilty of this too), and that is not healthy. No wonder Proverbs constantly reminds us: “Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent, but folly brings punishment to fools.” (16:22). Note: That’s a lot of prudence.

Secondly (stop me if you’ve heard this one), we’re all sinners. So even our heroes are highly flawed people. One case in point is what’s happening at Princeton University. Many people desire for Princeton to strip any reference to former president Woodrow Wilson because Wilson was a racist and segregationist.

Now, we shouldn’t minimize racism, and it’s easy to be cynical about the university administration’s response. But I believe it’s helpful here. The administration stated: “We owe a great deal to people who are deeply flawed, and not many people can transcend the prejudices of the times they lived in… We assess ourselves with great humility because we, too, are flawed, and it’s likely that we will also be guilty of sins and prejudices that to future generations who look back on our own legacies will be very obvious.”

The next time we gear up to throw a stone at somebody who has done something wrong or even rage and shame-worthy, let us take a second and pause. Let us consider how deeply flawed each of us are, and always reflect on our deep sinfulness first. Only then will we be able to approach the situation with a posture of gospel-infused humility. (This principle can also work really well in marriages and households.)

Cornelius Plantinga wrote: “Evil always appears in tandem with good… Good and evil grow together, intertwine around each other, and grow out of each other in remarkable and complicated ways.”

In conclusion: It’s complicated. Therefore, let us be wise and also ever gracious. Here’s Proverbs again: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (16:24)

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Thoughts on the Election

Posted by flyingbk on 11/07/2016

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A few quick hitters on the 2016 Presidential Election:

The Forecast

Nate Silver’s team over at Fivethirtyeight.com gives Hillary Clinton about a 70% chance to win. That sounds right to me. (Cue the Clinton supporters who believe Silver is engaging in clickbait, and the Trump supporters who want to focus only on a couple select polls.) Recently, I’ve been saying that Donald Trump’s chance to win is about the same as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ odds of winning game 7 at Golden State. Of course, we know what happened then. But I wasn’t floored when LeBron and Co. won back in June; I would be shocked if Trump is giving a victory speech tomorrow night. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, however.

Even Keel

It’s been an odd election year cycle for me. Usually, I’m very invested in the outcome. In presidential elections past, I’ve attended campaign rallies and prayed fervently for the election of certain candidates. I even prayed regularly for specific Senate races. I used to be super-involved, super-invested in every political outcome. I used to read political news and blogs all the time. I would become happy or get outraged when various things went down in Washington.

But I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Now, I’m a firm believer in not spectating or participating in the 24-hour news cycle (more on that another time). I steer clear of political debate on social media because let’s face it: No one changes his or her mind when reading someone else’s post. I very much value my emotional health, and the majority of the ways we discuss politics in our country is not conducive to it.

I did make one mistake while swinging on the pendulum. I’ve joked at times this year, “Well our country is now hopeless. Let’s forget politics and only focus on preaching the gospel.” That’s wrong, too. God is concerned and desires to redeem all fields and institutions, and it’s wrong of me to throw up my hands in frustration with our government and say to hell with it all.

I think the best approach is to have an even keel: a) To focus on people and not get caught up in the hype and rhetoric, but also b) To cover our country and government in prayer, and be a mindful citizen. With this year’s super-duper charged political rhetoric coming from all sides, I’ve instead tried to comprehend why we believe what we believe, and why we support or loathe a certain candidate. More than ever, we need people who can empathize, listen, and relate to each other’s mindsets, and yes, biases.

Let’s Get Ready

Final point: For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Bible is clear: We are to submit to our leadership, whether we voted for that person or not. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard fellow Christians in the past refuse to address  Bush or Obama as president. “Well, he’s not my president, I didn’t vote for him,” they’d say. First of all, those statements represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how the American electoral process works. Secondly, that attitude is a direct violation of what the Word of God says:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
-Romans 13:1-2 (NIV)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 or kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
-1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Whether it’s President Clinton or President Trump, we are to pray for, support, and submit to her or him. Even if we don’t like it, that person has been installed by God to lead America. We ought to always refer to our new leader as ‘president.’ We are not to speak ill of our president, but rather consistently show honor. We can be respectfully critical of the president’s policies, but we best avoid any personal invectives.

When we honor our president, we honor God. When we dishonor our president, we dishonor God. Mature Christians recognize that there is a God-granted flow of power from God to anyone else with power, and therefore submit to God by submitting to ones who are placed above us.

So, whoever wins tomorrow night (and hopefully it is tomorrow night), let’s get ready. Let’s get ready to pray for our president-elect. Let’s get ready to honor and submit. Most of all, let’s keep praying for our country and align our hearts with God’s, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:4, NIV)

 

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The Weekend’s Here! 11-4-16

Posted by flyingbk on 11/04/2016

A reminder that you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter, which drops each Friday. This weekend’s links:

1. Let’s begin with NY Times columnist David Brooks’ piece on how we worry too much, especially during this election cycle. When we worry, we become more selfish. And the antidote is to get busy and involved in other people’s lives. Brooks writes:

Furthermore, action takes us out of ourselves. Worry, like drama, is all about the self. As [Francis] O’Gorman puts it, the worrier is the opposite of a lighthouse: “He doesn’t give out energy for the benefit of others. He absorbs energy at others’ cost.”

If you’re worrying, you’re spiraling into your own narcissistic pool. But concrete plans and actions thrust us into the daily fact of other people’s lives.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon at work in my life (including during this week, which was quite stressful): When I get stressed, I feel like doing nothing and vegging out. But that doesn’t usually get rid of the stress; it just pushes the stress to another day. However, if I take the time to create conversation, check up on how other people are doing, take a long prayer walk in which I pray for others more than myself, or get lost in a good book (which makes me more empathetic)… the worry dissipates. And yes, then we can become more carefree.

2. Billy Bob Thornton. William Hurt. Maria Bello. Olivia Thirby. Molly Parker. Even Dwight Yoakam! There hasn’t been such an ensemble of talent since [insert sports cliche i.e. the 1927 Yankees and 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats]. And yet the show that features this group, the Amazon drama Goliath, is severely underwhelming. I finished it last night, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed in the last two episodes (a sentiment that TV critic Alan Sepinwall shares– spoiler alert).

I mean, it’s a courtroom drama, and you’ve got Billy Bob Thornton (I’d watch anything with him as a principal actor)! And yet when it’s time for him to give his rousing closing argument…complete and cliched flatness. So disappointing. The ending made no sense either and was definitely not earned, which made it fit well with the nonsensical romances and the shallow explorations of gender and sexuality and power. Goliath sought to be a hard-boiled legal thriller, but ended up as that disgusting undercooked and overly runny egg.

3. On a better note, I finished Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale this week. I was always amazed at how this book has over 30,000 reviews and still averages 5 stars. I don’t know of any other book that’s achieved such lofty status. But now I see why. I completed the novel around 1 a.m, splayed out diagonally on my bed with tears in my eyes, feeling a bittersweet mixture of sorrow, exhaustion, pride, and… peace.

Sure, there are plot contrivances and cliches. But Hannah writes gorgeous prose and conveys well the full spectrum of the emotions of wartime. The story also serves as a tribute to the French women who served behind the scenes in World War II- the strength they displayed, the risks they took, and the trauma they endured. A couple choice excerpts:

Isabelle glanced to her left and saw Gaëtan coming toward her. For the first time, she saw him clearly. He was lanky, wiry as an apostrophe mark, and dressed in clothes that appeared to have come from a beggar’s bin. Beneath a fraying cap, his face was scruffy and sharp, unshaven. He had a wide brow and a pronounced chin and deep-set gray eyes that were heavily lashed. The look in those eyes was as sharp as the point of his chin, and revealed a kind of clarified hunger. Last night she’d thought it was how he’d looked at her. Now she saw that it was how he looked at the world.

—–
“These yellow stars,” Rachel said, opening her fist, revealing the ugly little flower of ragged fabric, with its black marking. “We have to wear them on our clothes at all times now.”
Sarah [Rachel’s young daughter] frowned. “But … why?”
“We’re Jews,” Rachel said. “And we’re proud of that. You have to remember how proud we are of it, even if people—”
“Nazis,” Vianne [Rachel’s friend] said more sharply than intended.
“Nazis,” Rachel added, “want to make us feel … bad about it.”
“Will people make fun of me?” Sarah asked, her eyes widening.
“I will wear one, too,” Sophie [Vianne’s daughter] said.
Sarah looked pathetically hopeful at that.
Rachel reached out for her daughter’s hand and held it. “No, baby. This is one thing you and your best friend can’t do together.”
Vianne saw Sarah’s fear and embarrassment and confusion. She was trying her best to be a good girl, to smile and be strong even as tears glazed her eyes. “Oui,” she said at last.

It was the saddest sound Vianne had heard in nearly three years of sorrow.

4. A few quick links to close this out:

-The Mets’ minor league affiliate in Binghamton decided to change its time from the Mets to the…Rumble Ponies. I actually dig the name, and I really like the logo.
-Those of us who have frequented the NY/NJ area airports while spending time at others will not be surprised to learn that we have the three worst airports in all of America.

-You’ve probably already seen this video. If not, prepare to feel frustrated and unsatisfied:

Have a great weekend everyone!

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What Children Teach Us, Part I: Carefree

Posted by flyingbk on 11/02/2016

A few months ago, I visited Brooklyn at the abode of a couple with whom I’m very close. They have a 3-year-old daughter who is an absolute joy to be around, and I’m not just saying that because she once scurried the full width of a 20-person dinner table just to give me a hug. (She even once told her mom “I love Uncle Bob,” punctuated with a happy sigh. No, seriously. I’m not making that up.) We finished our scrumptious pizza dinner, and were just lounging around in the living room. The little girl entertained herself by watching one of those Youtube shows in which these girls play with Barbie dolls. Here’s the video on that particular night:

After the video was over, the time drew nigh for her to go to sleep. However, she had one last surprise in store for us. Seemingly out of nowhere, she starts jumping up and down. That part is hardly surprising, but she then follows it up by looking at each of us and repeatedly imploring: “Everybody DANCE!!! C’mon!!!” She continued to lurch all over the place and make her demands even as we simply laughed and spectated. This joyous episode took place for about 10 minutes.

The first lesson I have learned from children (intro here) is the value of being carefree. One main shackle that holds us all back is the fear of man: Worrying and caring way too much about what others think of us. Therefore, we’ve all become much more civilized and dignified, and we’ve honed our words, mannerisms, even the way we smile and laugh. Our image is paramount, and we prevent ourselves from ‘letting go,’ lest others look or think of us as weird or different.

Certainly, there are times that call for professionalism. But I pity those of us who feel a need to hold back when we’re amongst family and friends. The daughter’s carefree dance routine reminded me of King David in 2 Samuel 6:12-23 (NIV):

12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

We all have a Michal or two in our lives. The one who frowns upon us and even passes us some Haterade when we do or say something carefree or silly. (Pro tip: If you don’t know who the Michal is in your life… then you might be her. Just sayin’.)

King David was so excited about God’s goodness in his own life and his people’s lives. Thus, he can’t help but rejoice, he can’t help but dance with all that he’s got. He knows that many eyes were upon him, and it didn’t matter to him. He was carefree.

I watched my favorite band twice last week. I saw Red in concert at the famous Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ on Sunday, and at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on Monday. The Jersey crowd was much smaller, but the people were also much more lively. (My theory: NYC’ers are less adept at rocking out because of the need to always act so civilized.) I was so carefree on Sunday night, mainly because I went alone. I noticed the occasional glance at my jumping and headbanging as well as my boisterous sing-along attempts, but I didn’t care. There was such freedom in enjoying the music, the performance, the lighting, the rocking out of fellow men and women Red-heads.

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(A photo by me of my main man Michael Barnes in Asbury Park.)

This article recently made me think, though (aside: Game 7 tonight!!! Doesn’t get much better than this!). Am I as carefree when I worship God? I used to be. But the older I get, the more prim and proper I am in worship services. I still lift my hands and sway to the music; I still worship. But if you juxtaposed me at the Red concert vs. me in Sunday worship, you’d see quite the difference.

Going forward, let’s seek to heed the command of my friends’ young daughter, and call to mind what King David’s epic display. Not just in Sunday worship, but throughout each day. Let’s throw off the shackles of the fear of man, and live our lives with loud and unabashed joy. Let’s not worry so much about how we sound or how we look. And let’s remember that we can be carefree and even be a spectacle at times because Jesus unashamedly loves us, even willing to suffer public humiliation at the hands of haters galore.

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Halloween > Christmas?

Posted by flyingbk on 10/31/2016

Everyone knows the grossest part of Halloween. It’s candy corn, of course.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed candy corn. It was a special treat only to be eaten around this time, and this tri-colored triangular concoction was a delight to my eyes as well as my mouth. It’s funny how taste evolves over time; for example, I was that kid who needed his kimchi dipped into water to get the spice out. Now, I love all spicy food and I love kimchi. And since I’m an adult, I’ve come to abhor candy corn for the monstrosity that it is. For you parents who possess kids who savor this abhorrent “treat,” do not be troubled for your kids will surely grow out of it. Hopefully.

The Holy Trinity of candy is common knowledge: Naturally it’s M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces, and Almond Joy. (Honorable Mention: Kit-Kats. And if you are not a fan of Almond Joy, please see yourself out now.)  I envy the kids who will come home tonight with bags full of those top three delights, and pity those who will be stuck with licorice… and candy corn.

The thought hit me yesterday that we are in the homestretch of 2016. Life comes at you fast. Before we know it, it’ll be Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally we’ll be watching the ball drop to ring in 2017. Craziness.

I find a deep irony in a key difference between Halloween and Christmas. No, not because my main choice of Halloween costume when I was a kid was the devil, with a markered-on goatee and a classic red-and-black pitchfork.

Consider: We know that Halloween is not a Christian holiday. It actually has Christian origins, but pagans then got a hold of it. There are many churches today that either refuse to celebrate it or seek to redeem it (Holy Win, Hallelujah Fest, etc.). I wrote about the death of Jack Chick on Friday, and tracts like this one echo the conservative view toward Halloween.

But let’s think about Christmas. The gifts we give one another depend on many factors: your relationship with them (family/friends/co-workers), how close you are, whether you think that person will give you a gift and therefore you feel obligated, how much you like that person. We’re all like Santa in his song about coming to town: We’re making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. And there is so much stinkin’ work that goes into all the planning and shopping: The myriad of trips to the mall, constantly checking online deals, even tussling and fighting with people on Black Friday. Come early-to-mid-December, the consensus among my friends is this:” I’m exhausted.”

Halloween, on the other hand, is completely different. If you’re a host who gives out candy, you buy a few bags; it only takes one trip and not much thought or stress at all. There’s no thought of making a list of people or worry of forgetting anyone or anything.

And who gets candy? EVERYONE. Or rather, anyone who utters three simple words: Trick or treat. Doesn’t matter if the kid is naughty, nice, skinny, fat, cute, ugly, smart, dumb, a sweet kid, a jerk, a nerd, too young, too old, wears a thoughtful costume, wears no costume, brandishes a pitchfork. All you have to do is make a simple request for candy, and it’s yours. There’s no other questions, no other requirements.

In this way, Halloween reminds me of the gospel much more than Christmas. Romans 3:22-24 (NIV) says:

 

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Verse 22 says, “There is no difference.” That’s Halloween. Everyone gets candy, everyone gets the same amount, and usually, everyone gets the good candy (sadly, those who get candy corn may not be the chosen).

The gospel is simple: All you need to qualify for God’s offer of grace and unconditional love is to believe that you need it. You believe you need it, you get it. You utter three simple words to God: “I need you.” It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been, how bad you’ve been, if you grew up in church, if you’ve turned your back on God before… you believe and receive. You become “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.”

You don’t think you need it, you’d rather keep things under the illusion of your own control, you prefer keeping lists of naughty and nice for your life and others… you don’t get it.

So today, let’s remember the beauty and equality of the gospel. Let’s savor God’s unconditional love for us, how Jesus was carved up and then nailed to the cross for us. And save some Almond Joy for me.

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The Weekend Is Here! 10-28-16

Posted by flyingbk on 10/28/2016

A reminder that my weekly newsletter drops every Friday afternoon. You can sign up here!

1. The Christian cartoonist Jack Chick passed away on Sunday. I grew up in a semi-fundamentalist church, and we LOVED our Chick tracts. We passed them around like candy, we got excited every time someone surfaced with a new one, and I would rifle through and read the same pages over and over. The final page was always the same, imploring us to take the only way to heaven.

The one tract that sticks with me to this day is this one, titled “The Letter.” A woman has a dream in which her non-Christian friend writes her a letter from hell. The friend tells her that she’s residing in hell because she never told her about Jesus. The woman wakes up, startled, but with fresh resolve to evangelize to her friend. But since this is Chick, there’s a shock ending , albeit a predictable one, which you can read if you click…

RIP, Jack Chick. I agree with a quote in the Christianity Today piece linked above that he always meant well. See you in heaven.

Chick Publications lives on. They have a few ideas on how you can use their tracts this Halloween! #6 is my favorite 😉

2. There’s two phenomena on social media that always make me sigh in exasperation. First is those who think that writing legalese on a Facebook post will empower them to regain control of their online content and protect them from those goonish Facebook employees. People even use the disclaimer “Just in case:” as if that’s an excuse for being so gullible.

The second is the unwitting usage of false quotes. A point of advice: Before you post a quote that you haven’t read on your own, do a quick Google search and make sure that, you know, it’s a real quote. One that’s been making the rounds of late is this apocryphal C.S. Lewis excerpt from The Screwtape Letters:

I admit falling for this one too (by liking someone’s post). But I mean, just look at it. It’s way too on the nose. Aaron Earls writes about this fake quote, and explains why Lewis’ real words in Screwtape are still quite the warning for us today. The first real quote especially resonated with me. I was super political from 2000-2008, and I’ve been quite apolitical and frustrated since. Both extremes, of course, are wrong. Also, Andrew Walker writes about “The Impossibility of the Apolitical Church.” I greatly appreciate his thoughts, and they mirror what I’ve been thinking during this year’s presidential campaign.

3. The NBA season has begun, and ESPN writer extraordinaire Zach Lowe (who actually taught at my alma mater, Cresskill High School) preps us with this year’s tiers. Naturally, Golden State and Cleveland are 1-2 with quite the gap beneath them. All an NBA fan can hope for is this year is for health. I want to see a Warriors-Clippers playoff series with everyone at 100%, and the same for the likely Cavs-Warriors finals rematch.

I especially love what Lowe wrote about LeBron James:

What LeBron did to Golden State last June should give pause to anyone anointing this four-headed super team. His performances while facing elimination in Games 5 and 6 — a combined 82 points, 29 rebounds, 16 assists, and six aura-shattering blocks — stand as the greatest back-to-back in Finals history. He imagined a way to beat this specific opponent, and then made it happen.

He dragged Stephen Curry through an obstacle course of pick-and-rolls until he cracked just enough room for something — a thundering drive, those dripping soft lobs to Tristan Thompson, cross-court lasers to spot-up shooters. He hounded Draymond Green on defense, switched onto Curry, and vaporized the Curry-Green pick-and-roll that had been the launchpad to a thousand open 3-pointers.

Never has a player done everything humanly possible on a basketball court at such a mind-blowingly high level in two straight Finals against ultra premium competition. That’s one reason James is now officially the greatest player of all-time, and snuck past Michael Jordan this past June. But more on that another time…

Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in The Weekend | 1 Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 4: Healing

Posted by flyingbk on 10/26/2016

Perhaps my favorite book read this year is Falling Into Grace by John Newton. It’s my kind of book: gospel-based, simple yet profound. I could see myself re-reading this book to kick off each new year. It’s that good.

 

In his chapter on healing, Newton tells the following story:

 

There’s an old tale about a scorpion and a frog. One day the scorpion decides that he needs to cross a river. Since scorpions can’t swim, he asks a nearby frog to carry him across the river. The frog was hesitant. “I know how dangerous you are,” he said. “If I let you get on my back, you will certainly sting me and I will die.” “That’s ludicrous,” the scorpion replied. “Think about it. If I sting you, we will both drown.”

 

The frog needed more assurance. “How can I be certain you won’t just wait until we are safely on the other side of the river before stinging me to death?” “I would never do such a thing!” said the scorpion. “How could I? I would be far too grateful for your help to sting you.” The frog pondered the scorpion’s words and reasoned that this scorpion wouldn’t hurt him. “How could he?” the frog thought, as he let the scorpion onto his back.

 

The frog began to swim across the river, gradually feeling safer and safer. But about halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. “You fool!” croaked the frog in agony. “Now we will both drown! Why did you sting me?” The scorpion replied as honestly as he could: “Because I am a scorpion. It is in my nature to sting.”

 

This tale captures our experience as human beings. We want to live lives of mutuality and cooperation, but far too often our instinctual programming sabotages our deepest desires. We resonate deeply with Paul’s experience: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7: 15).

 

 

We are at part 4 of my series on the 103rd Psalm (Past entries: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b, Part 3). As I covered last time, we all have a dark side. And sadly, we each know all too well that a feature of said dark side is an inner scorpion. We sting each other. Often. Whether it be in family, friendship, marriage, any kind of community, social media, fellow drivers, we frequently reveal our sinful nature by stinging.

 

I love how Jesus’ mission is summed up in Matthew 4:23 (NIV), which also fits with our study of this psalm, verses 2 and 3 (NIV):

 

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

 

2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases

 

Jesus loves to heal. While on earth, he healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, the demon-possessed. But he also healed people’s fear, unbelief, shame. In fact, Jesus’ outward healings pointed to the inward. Jesus is about healing each of us, inside and out, our whole person.

 

Back to our inner scorpion. We all like to think that we do a good job of hiding it, and keeping it from rearing its ugly head. But I’m sure our family and friends around us would beg to differ. In his wonderful collection of essays titled We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider writes about his late friend Skelly. His friend was someone who always exaggerated when telling stories; he felt the need to add in extra details to make himself look better or simply in an attempt to make the anecdote funnier. We all have a friend just like Skelly; in fact, I bet you instantly thought of someone as I wrote that description.

 

In this essay, Kreider came up with a brilliant term: The Soul Toupee. He writes:

 

Each of us has a Soul Toupee. The Soul Toupee is that thing about ourselves we are most deeply embarrassed by and like to think we have cunningly concealed from the world, but which is, in fact, pitifully obvious to everybody who knows us. Contemplating one’s own Soul Toupee is not an exercise for the fainthearted.

 

Most of the time other people don’t even get why our Soul Toupee is any big deal or a cause of such evident deep shame to us but they can tell that it is because of our inept, transparent efforts to cover it up, which only call more attention to it and to our self-consciousness about it, and so they gently pretend not to notice it. Meanwhile we’re standing there with our little rigid spongelike square of hair pasted on our heads thinking: Heh – got ‘em all fooled!”

 

 

The world is a cruel, unforgiving place. The older I get, the more I become susceptible to and weathered by insecurities, brokenness, rejection, failure. In addition, I can see it all around me in my older friends. I see people managing their disappointment, armoring up against any kind of possible rejection or failure, and simply giving up on certain areas of their heart and life. And as long as one doesn’t completely isolate himself, those flaws will show up. The soul toupee is on display for all to see, despite our best attempts to play it off or pretend otherwise.

 

I believe I’ve zoned in on my soul toupee. See, I’m an older single male. The vast majority of my friends are married with small children. So I spent a lot of my time third-wheeling, fifth-wheeling, seventh-wheeling, etc. I know I’m in a good place when I’m with them, I don’t think of what number wheel I am, and I’m simply enjoying good company. I know I’m struggling when I’m driving home after hanging with them, and complaining to God about how I have no one to come home to. And now, I’m fully aware that my married friends can also tell which place I’m in, based on how I interacted with them that night. (“Bob, you seem really quiet tonight…”)

 

We are all hurting. We all need healing. The good news is, God wants to heal us. It’s what he does. See his heart in Isaiah 1:5-6 (NIV):

 

5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.

 

I noted in Part 1 of this series how Psalm 103 is a progression. So in order to know and experience how God heals all our diseases, we must get how God forgives all our sins. Again, if we come to grips with our dark side, and see that God loves us even when we’re extremely weak and undeniably dark, we are now ripe for healing.

 

We need to first fathom the wide forgiveness that God offers. Then we can better perceive the depth of his healing. We need to receive forgiveness for all the times we’ve stung God and stung one another. Then God can get to work on our inner stinger.

 

(WARNING: This part is gross.) I had this ugly abscess on my upper back in late August. It just got bigger and bigger with each passing day to the point that I couldn’t sleep on one side because it hurt so much. Finally, I knew it was time to pop this sucker. So I went to my bathroom and prepared for the battle ahead. It was late, after midnight, but I was determined. I found a rhythm: Squeeze hard on both sides, get some pus out, wipe the area down. My bathroom reeked of death. Every time more pus exited, the unbearable stink was replenished. I must’ve done this at least 15 times, but I knew it would be an abject failure if I didn’t get all of it out. I succeeded in my task, and I shudder to think what would’ve transpired otherwise if I approached that night halfheartedly.

 

We all need healing. We all need draining. The pain, the heartbreak, the suffering, the brokenness, the rejection, the disappointment. It all needs to be flushed out. If it’s not dealt with properly, the wound hardens. We grow jaded. Bitterness and disillusionment squeeze out room for joy. The past ends up defining our present and future.

 

So we must come to God, heart open, armor shed, past presented. We must pour out our hearts before him completely, leaving nothing behind. It won’t be easy, and it may even smell really bad. But then he’ll begin to heal us and make us whole again. He wants to heal all of our diseases.

 

 

One day, Kreider and his friends wrote a song and performed it for Skelly. The message of the song is clear: We know your flaws, and yet we still esteem you. Kreider notes Skelly’s reaction:

 

For all his secrecy and his fear of being seen, he was touched that we had observed him so closely, and with such love. He loved that we knew him. This is one reason people need to believe in God–because we want someone to know us, truly, all the way through, even the worst of us.

 

Praise God, for he does indeed exist, and loves us in our darkness. And he’ll also heal us as we allow him to explore every crevice of our hearts.

 

But you see through my forever lies
And you are not believing
And I see in your forever eyes
And you are forever healing

 

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 1 Comment »

What Children Teach Us: Intro

Posted by flyingbk on 10/24/2016

16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
-Luke 18:16-17 (NIV)

Back in the day, there was a season in my life in which I received many prophecies. Regardless of your views about the prophetic, I love that its main aim is to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).

I received one prophecy that I will never forget. A lady was speaking over me, and she said something like this: “Bob, I see you as a child moving into adulthood. (NOTE: I was already an adult, at least by age.) And I see you saying to God, ‘Well, I don’t want to give up those things.’ And God wants you to know that it’s OK. (Insert girlish giggle. No really, she giggled.) It’s OK to hold on those things. It’s who you are.”

I made a simple New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2015. It was this: “Children are people, too.” I had been serving at a church where the main demographic was married couples with small children. And quite frankly, I loathed being around children. My posture stiffened, and I wanted to do nothing with talking to them, holding them, or even being a few feet from them. I cringed when I saw others talking to them in that baby goo-goo-gah-gah language. I have a close friend who was similar to me until he had his first son. So I figured I would be like him: When I have my first child, I’ll magically transform into a wonderful dad who loves being around the little ones.

But when I made that resolution, there was actually magical change (thanks God). I suddenly became more comfortable. I began playing with them more, and even being proactive in making up the distance between me and them. And yes, I learned to humble myself and try talking to them in their pared-down language. I even recently told a close friend that I missed seeing her daughter. That would NEVER have happened before. I’m still iffy about holding them; I still have this deathly fear that I’ll drop or crush them due to my poor form.


In the 22 months in which I’ve been better with children, I realize that I’ve learned so much from their words and actions. Like Jesus stated in the above verses, the kingdom of God belongs to them, and we miss out on being full participants of his kingdom when we do not apply the lessons they provide.

During Jesus’ time, children were considered worthless. So he was making quite the statement when he took them into his arms, and his words in Luke 18:16-17 would’ve stunned those in attendance. Certainly, today’s society values children, but I’m not sure that we’re listening well to what they have to teach us.

So I’m excited to start a new series concerning the lessons children give (I’ll be resuming my 103rd Psalm series on Wednesdays). Each lesson will start with the letter “C.” These lessons came to me during Sunday worship yesterday, and I feverishly scratched out notes in my Moleskine. Like children, we are to be carefree, celebrators, cuddlers, and contenders. And finally, it’s actually quite alright to be childish; in fact, we can only attain true love and community when we accept each other as childish. I’ll be supplementing each post with real examples from the children I’ve been around.

The church I’ve joined features quite the young demographic. I’m usually surrounded by people at least 10 years younger than me. At a lunch table last week, I was seated with three 23 year-olds (two in grad school, one working for a year). I’d like to think that being around them has re-brought out my childlike tendencies. Two have even said to me that they thought I was only in my late 20’s or early 30’s, and they were surprised to learn of my age since I’m so young at heart (No seriously, I’m not making that up). These young’uns generally possess a freshness and love for life that has proved to be a fountain of youth for me. They ain’t jaded yet, and I long to have any remnants of jadedness excised from my heart and soul.

I can’t wait to get started. In the meantime, go check out my friend Irene’s recent blog post about a lesson she learned from her child. And read John Piper’s 10 resolutions for mental health: You’ll be able to sketch the childlikeness in each one. Till next week!

Posted in God, What Children Teach Us | 2 Comments »

The Weekend Is Here! 10-21-16

Posted by flyingbk on 10/21/2016

The first edition of my newsletter will be going out this afternoon. Sign up now to get it! 

On Wednesday night, I was ensconced in my sofa, happily enjoying Game 4 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers. After the inning ended, I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well check out the presidential debate.” Big mistake. It’s like when you can’t turn away from a train wreck. I watched for a full hour until I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s an hour of my life that I can’t get back. Alas. On to this weekend’s links:

1. Last month, Andrew Sullivan wrote about his time at a meditation retreat, but the article is more about his addiction to technology. Gulp. Just like with blogging, I always tell myself that I need to practice a tech sabbath and it ends up happening only once. I know I’m addicted when a) I’m looking at my phone for the duration of a prayer walk, and b) I waste an hour on my phone while lying in bed with the intention of reading. So both have been happening regularly of late.

Since I’m taking a temporary break from ministry, my tech sabbath day should really be the same day as the Sabbath. But that’s fantasy football day (BK Flyers current record: 5-1. BK Flyers current place: 1st)! Still, I will try again this Sunday. So no usage of browsing on my smartphone on Sunday, at least until I snap photos and videos at the Red concert in Asbury Park (Countdown: TWO DAYS). And I’ll look for other pockets of time where I can practice this critically important discipline.

2.  A tremendous feature in the Washington Post on Derek Black, former white nationalist. So many layers in this one, but I especially love the part about how a college student’s weekly Shabbat dinner becomes the impetus for change in Black’s life. It’s a presidential election year, and therefore our charged rhetoric reaches supernova status; combine that with how en vogue it is to be outraged on social media, and you have a recipe for more vitriol and contempt than ever. Bu this piece reminds us of the importance of simply listening to others’ viewpoints instead of dismissing them out of hand.

Also while reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of the movie American History X, whose main character is a radicalized white supremacist and shares the first name as Derek Black. AHX is one of my favorite movies, but I freely acknowledge that the manner in which Derek Vinyard (played so well by Edward Norton) changes his views is way too breezy and convenient. And yet, if someone made a fictional movie about the story of Derek Black, we’d think it was too good to be true. Just a reminder that indeed the truth can be stranger than fiction!

3. I truly believe God dropped a life-giving encouragement on me this week. In my last post, I shared my favorite illustration of the gospel: a lemon sour. And although I used a picture of an Asian bag of candy, the main image in my mind was that of a lemon warhead.

I wrote that post on Wednesday morning, and I taught an essay writing class on Wednesday night. Right when class begins, my student in the back of the room asks me if I want a lemon warhead (!). I say yes, she throws one fiercely at me… and I snatch it out of mid-air. My kids were impressed that I caught it, as was I!

I feel like it was God saying that I’m on the right track with my blog. When I first re-launched this blog on September 12, rust pervaded my writing. But in the last week or two, I believe I’ve been regaining my writing voice.

So thanks again to everyone who has supported me by reading this blog and encouraging me to write. And I love how this warhead was an “extreme sour” one. It only drives the point home even more that we need to bitterly repent to receive the sweet grace of God. My students certainly enjoyed the face I made when I initially tasted the warhead.

4. Since I’m seeing my favorite band for the 11th and 12th times in a few days, I wanted to share a ballad that has spoken so deeply to me. “If I Break” fits perfectly with my last post about coming with grips to our dark side. Each of our souls asks the gnawing question posed in the chorus:

If I break
If I fall
Will you still run to me when I call?
If I close my eyes
And I can’t find my way to you
Will you stay?
If I break
If I break

Hallelujah, that in Jesus Christ, the answer is ever an unequivocal Yes.

(It fascinates me how big Red is in Europe).

 

Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in The Weekend | Leave a Comment »

103rd Psalm Part 3: Forgiven

Posted by flyingbk on 10/19/2016

This is Part 3 of my series on Psalm 103. See: Part I, Part IIa, Part IIb.

I’ve already started working on my first weekly newsletter, due out this Friday. You can sign up here.

My favorite movie of all-time: The Shawshank Redemption.

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At that revelation, a few of you jeered because you think it’s overrated and marred by cliches (a fair assessment, I concede). But most of you cheered because you share my sentiment. It’s a movie about hope and freedom and overcoming unfair circumstances. (The flick is based on Stephen King’s short story, which is worth the read.) So many great scenes, but there are three that jump out at me. Who can forget when Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) secures beer for his fellow inmates atop the roof? Or when he locks the door and plays Mozart over the prison speakers? Red’s (Morgan Freeman’s) musing: “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

shawshankredemption2

But my favorite scene has to be the one shown above, post-prison escape. As Red aptly narrates, Andy “crawled through a river of s*** and came out clean on the other side.” And there is pure joy as the driving rains wash away all the sweat and filth. Andy is free. Many times, I have pictured this exact scene as I repent of my sins. I imagine myself taking a bath in the torrential downpouring of God’s grace, all the guilt and shame and regret expertly diluted, a la Dufresne.

Of course, there’s a stark contrast between Andy and me: Andy was innocent. Me, not so much. How much more, then, do I need to assume the position underneath the cleansing flood as I hear the words of the Lord as expressed in Isaiah 1:18 (NIV):

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
We have now arrived at the first benefit that King David mentions in Psalm 103. Here are verses 2 and 3 (NIV):
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases.

While I taught SAT’s over the summer to four different classes, I loved getting randomly philosophical on them. Sometimes, they’d just roll their eyes or lash out in frustration when I riffed on the importance of self-esteem or why they should read as much as possible. (One good reason for the latter: It actually extends your life.) But I could clearly sense flummoxing and quiet tension when I uttered out of nowhere, “We all have a dark side..Right?”, as I made eye contact with each student. It was fun to watch my normally rabid students suffer from a temporary spell of squirming and averting their gazes.

(NOTE: This music video is amazing. Also, countdown to seeing Red in concert: FOUR DAYS.)

Yeah, we all have a dark side. The older I get, the more intimate I become with mine. Whether it’s sloth, self-idolatry, contempt for certain types of people, lust, pride, addiction… my sins are ever “red as crimson.”

But because of the forgiveness that God offers and David chooses for the first benefit of Psalm 103, there is actually hope for me *only* when I come face-to-face with my dark side. Hope spoils when I glance away from the darkness within, and only confess the sins that I deem respectable or not-so-bad.

sourlemon

My go-to illustration of the gospel is a lemon sour: It’s crazy sour and bitter when it first goes into your mouth, but as you patiently work through it, your tongue locates the sweetness. Bitter repentance of one’s darkness must precede the healing waters. But how many of us have missed out on the sweet because we refuse to abide and spend uncomfortable time sitting with our dark side?

I am always encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-20 (NIV). Here’s a man whom everyone reveres; he’s the gold standard of holiness. That’s much to live up to, and yet Paul is freely vulnerable as he writes:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

When we know the forgiveness of God, there is no more need to pretend. There is no more need to hide and act like we’ve got it all together. There is even fresh motivation to tackle our dark side, i.e. crawl through our own river of s***, for we know that a deluge of freedom and hope await.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. All my inmost being, praise His holy name. He is a God who forgives ALL our sins.

Posted in 103rd Psalm, God | 3 Comments »