Scenes from a 21st Century Christian Life

If you’ve been reading The Devotional Guy for awhile, you know that my blog reports events and records experiences that I have living as a Christian in 21st century America. I strive to be transparent and authentic, allowing you a glimpse into my life story–the good, the bad, and the uglies (or at least the not-so-pretty). In many ways, I’m no different than you. I’m a simple man trying to live my life in light of being saved by grace through faith. I can’t claim that my story is the norm. It’s not. But, it’s the story God gave me, so it’s the one I choose to share.

During our free time, Sweet T and I have been taking in the FIFA World Cup, the soccer world’s quadrennial global contest celebrating national pride and athletic will. Soccer is a sport promoted by individual stars but won by cohesive teams, as we’ve witnessed by the early exit of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and their respective teams. Meanwhile, unified units like Croatia, France, England, and Russia, relying on the combined skills of the collective playing at their peak, continue advancing.

The 2018 edition of the World Cup takes place in Russia. One of the Russian cities hosting matches is Kaliningrad, formerly known as Konigsberg, the city where my late Father was born and the birthplace of philosopher Immanuel Kant, author E.T.A. Hoffmann, and a sea of mathematicians, artists, musicians, and scientists.

“Why should not a writer be permitted to make use of the levers of fear, terror and horror because some feeble soul here and there finds it more than it can bear? Shall there be no strong meat at table because there happen to be some guests there whose stomachs are weak, or who have spoiled their own digestions?”
― E.T.A. Hoffmann

Back then, Kaliningrad, known as Konigsberg, was a burgeoning metropolis, and a place where they once crowned kings. The city was founded in 1255 A.D. To the best of my knowledge, my Father’s ancestors populated what is known today as the Kaliningrad Oblast, for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They made their living as fishermen and skillful wood craftsmen near the coastal village of Pillau, now called Baltiysk. Today, the entire area serves as a key military center and naval operations base for Russia, whose borders are nearly 200 miles away. The pictures shown during the telecast of games played during this year’s World Cup are the first I’ve seen of my ancestral home, aside from the occasional photos that crop up the web.

“Soccer is simple. But it is difficult to play simple.” Johan Cruyff

Soccer played an important part of my early youth, as I remember my Opa Bruno’s passion for the game, especially the World Cup, or as he called it “Die Weltmeisterschaft.” Opa Bruno, loved sports, particularly international competitions like the World Cup and the Olympics. It is a love that my Mother’s father passed on to me.

Soccer has also played a huge role in my Sweet T’s life. Having played soccer for 30 years, Sweet T spent much of her career playing with the legendary Sting franchise, founded here in Richardson, by soccer Hall of Famer, Bill Kinder. Back in 1976, the Sting Soccer Under-19 team played before 35,000 people in the Mexican National Championships, becoming the first women’s team to travel outside of the United States as well as the first American team to ever travel to Mexico. Having become the most successful women’s team in the United States, the Sting Soccer team was the only American team invited to compete in the first international women’s soccer tournament in Taipei, Taiwan in 1978, a precursor to FIFA’s first Women’s World Cup a few years later. Sweet T and her teammates played in front of 45,000 fans, losing to Finland in the Final. She and her teammates were trailblazers in advancing the game in the United States, as well as promoting women’s athletics in the United States.

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This year’s World Cup has delivered unexpected results as surprising as recent global political elections. I believe we are seeing a wave of voters expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo, similar to the dissatisfaction that brought down the Berlin Wall, and eventually the U.S.S.R., in 1989; gave rise to the Arab Spring in 2010; paved the way for the election of President Trump in 2016; and established the road leading to this week’s election of a new president in Mexico. In places that hold free elections, we are witnessing candidates elected that are populists, similar to Teddy Roosevelt, favored and gaining the support of the Far Left or Far Right, in their respective countries.

I think people are looking for leaders willing to stand for something, who lead based on the attitudes of their supporters, whose beliefs and values they share and mirror. Admittedly, the dissension and division between people is great and unsettling. Yet, we all seem to agree that things can’t continue going on the same way. Years of undelivered promises, systematic corruption, and nothing getting done has left people disgruntled and full of discontent. People on the left and to the right of the political spectrum want leaders who actually take action and deliver change.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Romans 13: 1 (ESV)

I think the winds of change are just beginning. I believe much is yet to come.

So, how do we respond as Christians living in a chaotic world?

“Jesus said, “Give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

Their mouths hung open, speechless.” Mark 12:17 (The Message)

I think we must look to the Early Christians for an example as they lived under the rule of the Romans. In a world often hostile to them, the Christians continued to gather with one another and serve as salt and light, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During a time when they were often met with hate, they strove to respond in love. Surrounded by people disobedient to God, they desired to obey God, while being respectful of the laws of the land. While they gave to Caesar that which was Caesar’s, they knew were the line in the sand was drawn before they ever had to cross it. They would not disobey God in order to obey man.

 

Living as a Christian in the 21st century undoubtedly has its challenges. If we stay rooted in God’s Word, commune together with Him in prayer, and strive to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then we can persevere and prosper until Christ returns.

By the way, I’m thinking France and England will be playing in the Final on Sunday, July 15, with France prevailing 4-3 in an offensive barnburner.

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.” 

Mark 13:32-37 (The Message)

Please checkout my recent guest appearance on Gary Miller’s WorshipMinistry.com podcast exploring “Everythingness.”

Imperfect People Coming to Grips with an Imperfect World

Before I get too far into this post, let me take a moment and give God a shout of praise! As some of you may recall, I have spent the last 18+ months working on my graduate degree in Managerial Science. Last week my final assignment for the semester came due and I fretted over my grade. Going into the last bend, I had a perfect grade and the reality was that my final paper could only hurt my grade. I am happy to report that I earned a perfect A+ 100! on my paper summarizing the history of operations management and examining current trends and issues facing modern management professionals. I am thankful for the strength and ability God gave me and the support my beloved Sweet T provided through the last couple of weeks. One more semester to go! Woohoo!!!

As you might gather, I am a passionate lifelong learner. I like doing new things. New, unique adventures along this journey of “my life” are something I genuinely look forward too. Keeping my mind engaged is something I’ve learned is key to my physical and spiritual health, as well as my mental wellness. That’s why I enjoy solving puzzles and trying to figure out mysteries or studying history. Recognizing where you’ve been is an important part of knowing where you’re going. We cannot undo the past, but we can certainly learn from it.

Psalm 121

Turmoil is nothing new. We live in turbulent times, filled with discouraging divides, and featuring polarizing perspectives. Everyone has support of their own herd’s echo chamber. We claim victory when the people forming our tribe agree with our POV. We hear, but we do not listen.

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Listening

Listening appears to be a lost art. It is difficult to do when you’re always talking or busy thinking about your response rather than seeking to understand, before being understood. This is true in our individual one-on-one relationships and in our broader community relations. We have our personal circle of loved ones made up of family and friends. We are also neighbors, residents, and citizens of the places we call home. None of us live in a vacuum. Each of us must strive to stay connected despite our differences.

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When I check social media, I find a lot of venomous rage and shade thrown towards those of opposing views.  It’s always been easier to chew someone out over the phone than face-to-face. Sure, it takes courage to speak truth in kindness to another person when we disagree with them. Of course, just because we have an opinion, doesn’t mean someone else wants to hear it. That’s a hard pill for us to swallow.

We don’t all agree. That does not mean we cannot have civil discourse about tough issues that challenge how we live. On the contrary, I believe it makes having a genuine conversation—one that involves twice as much listening as it does speaking—about hard realities imperative. I think if we can get beyond all the hubris and ballyhoo, we might find that we are not as far apart as we’re led to believe.

We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Love God with your everythingness and love others, including those you disagree with, with the same passion you love yourself. Be the salt and the light amid an ever-increasing darkness.

Change

 Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

 

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Be the Change You Want to See

Monday morning signals the start of another work week. With it comes the opportunity to invest in others by building relationship, lending an ear, and stretching out a helping hand. The difference we would like to see in our world flows from us out into the world we inhabit. Change rests with us.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31 (ESV)

Change is a constant season fueling our lives. Nothing rarely remains the same. In an ever-changing world, we may be intimidated faced by an uncertain future. This is, in part, what makes life an unceasing adventure. None of us are promised tomorrow. We certainly aren’t given any reassurance that next week will be anything like last week.

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Last week, many of us lost a good friend who shined kindness and acceptance into our lives. He modeled the Golden Rule-treat others like you would want them to be treated. He is remembered as a kind, generous, jovial, and loyal friend. The type of person that’s hard to come by these days.He genuinely cared for people and looked out for his friends, keeping them out of harm’s way.  His presence in each of our lives will be missed. Many of us will try to remember the lessons he taught us. No doubt, he is gone way too soon.

What impact will you make in the lives of those you encounter this week?

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

If you’re a believer, like me, and a Christ-follower, will people be able to see Jesus reflected in you? If you’re the only Bible anyone reads this week, will people be drawn closer to God through how you live and respond to the world you live, work, and play in?

While change is a constant fire burning, God is steadfast and unchanging. You can depend on Him. He won’t let you down. Life may disappoint you. The Lord will see you through those challenges and difficulties, if you’ll let Him.

Without faith, there is no hope. Without hope, there can be no love. And life is meant to be rich in love, fueled by an abundance of hope and steadfast faith.

Go be the difference you want to see in the world. You can. I believe in you.

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