Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sensitive Geek MAN: Piano forte

There is a residual part of me that hangs on to the belief that it is important that I learn to play the piano. I think this mostly comes from my undergraduate work in music. Piano was a rather import aspect of that time, and I never really thought that I learned it well enough. I know that since then I have let my mediocre talents slide into the abysmal.

We have a piano in our house. It is the instrument that I grew up on, that I originally learned to play on.  My parents gave it to us when we bought a house. My wife plays beautifully, which I love. However, she has never really taken to the traditional piano technique. She plays by ear and is self-taught. She is one of those people who can just sit down and play. I have even tested her, letting her listen to songs I know she has never heard before and seeing if she can replay them; she always succeeds.

Meanwhile, when i sit down to play the piano, I have to take the slow way around. I can read music, which she cannot, but I do not understand the keyboard the way that she does. So I slowly cobble notes and chords together, building a song in a plodding, frustrating manner. A song that she, after hearing it once, could put together with little difficulty.

There is really no reason for me to play the piano. I like the instument, but there is no practical use. I don't need it for my job, or any of my extracurriculars. It is literally a hold over from childhood and college. Yet it sits in our living room and I want to be able to sit and play something beautiful on it. I want to redeem all those hours I spent practicing, all the money that was spent on lessons and on the piano itself. I hold out little hope that I ever will.

My daughter shows some burgeoning interest in the piano.  She is too young to really start with it, but I see that it fascinates her. I hold hope in check, as I do not want to pressure her into playing, but I secretly hope that she takes to it and loves it and accomplishes the things I never could. It will, in a sense, redeem my trifling efforts, since it will have been my haggard relationship with the keys that first introduces her to it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Renewing Mind: Money for Nothin

I am not a financial genius.

I would say that I do average at watching my finances. I am able to tithe, able to save some money, pay my bills, and have a little fun. That was great when I was single.  When I got married, we started trying to be a little more intentional about our money, but it usually ended poorly. Since it is exponentially harder to be aware of 2 people's finances at the same time, we eventually settled into a more advanced version of what I had been doing before.

Now we are having kids. It just seemed that we really needed to get a handle on what was happening with our money. So last night, 2 friends of ours from church who are also financial planners came over to talk to us about it. They made things very easy, gave us a little homework to do, and got us thinking in the right direction. The thing I realized after we talked was that I should have done something like this 15 years ago.  I had this mindset that paying too much attention to my money was somehow sinful, that it meant I was putting money before God. Now I realize that I oversimplified it. Being responsible with the gifts you are given is very biblical.

So, my suggestion to any one who hasn't figured out what your money is doing, figure it out. If you aren't good with finances, that's fine. Find someone to help you. I can recommend some people. If you feel like you don't make or have enough money to make it worthwhile, you're wrong.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Renewing Mind: A lapse in Vigilance

Yesterday I didn't post. It is the first real one that I have missed since I started this, 56 days ago.

As far as runs go, I think that is pretty good, but I still am a little peeved about the lapse. I think mostly it's because I don't really have a great reason for missing it. I just got caught up in other things and forgot. No good reason, just a little bit of absent-mindedness.

I think that is how sin usually makes it into our lives as well. Sure, there might be the one or two big things that you struggle with, the epic, titanic battles; but mostly, I feel like sin sneaks in when we are distracted by other things. It sneaks into the tone of voice I use when I am talking to someone, or into how I drive when I am rocking out, or how my pride peaks out when I am unconsciously judging people on TV. It is an insidious, evil ninja: if there is anyway to get in an mess up your life, it will find it.

Which is why we need to be ridiculously vigilant and why grace is so important. Grace forgives all the sin we have in our lives, even when--especially when--we don't know it's there. It frees us up to be vigilant about what we can see through the power of faith in Christ.

So, I'm not going to be too on myself for missing a day. I'll just start over and keep writing and hope that I slowly get better at it and that my progress somehow helps out someone else.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Renewing Mind/Sensitive Geek MAN: Marriage Works

I haven't been married that long in the grand scheme of things, so I am not sure my advice on the matter is fully vested. However, having been married as long as I have (and also having dated a decent but not overwhelming number of women before I got married) I have come to a few conclusions.

I am going to share one now.

When you are young, you think of all of these things you want in a spouse: the movies they like, the sorts of things you will do together, the books they read, whether they like the outdoors, what music they listen to, whether they like to dance, if you have things in common, blah blah blah.

There is really only 2 things you need to make a marriage work.

1. A spouse that doesn't believe in divorce no matter what.
2. A spouse that will work things through with you no matter how long it takes.

Now, those of you who read this blog or know me are probably surprised I didn't say that one of the things you need is Jesus Christ. Well, I am sure there are people in the world who have functional marriages and don't know The Lord. However, I do believe that knowing and following Jesus is the most important thing you can have in common and for me it was a non-negotiable. Also, if you both know Jesus you should automatically get those other 2 things as well as a good slew of other things that will help.

Anyway, if you have the above 2 things, it is very possible to make a marriage work, and marriage is hard work--don't believe anyone who says otherwise. If you go into your marriage thinking it is going to be always fun and romantic and light and wonderful, you are in for a rude awakening and possibly divorce (unless you also have those above 2 things and/or Jesus.) Marriage is work even for the best couples. There will be times you don't want to work, that you wonder why you got married, that you wonder what the other person could possibly see in you, but you can get through it. When you make it through those sorts of trials, you get something wonderful: a relationship where you can trust the other person unreservedly, because they have proven they will always be there, supporting you even when they don't feel like it and loving you even when they don't like you.

So, this is a message to my wife: When I said I would go where you go and stay where you stay, I meant it. I love you even when we are making each other crazy. We have good times and bad, but the important thing is that we have Jesus and each other.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Renewing Mind: Be Ye Kind

Other people's bad behavior does not excuse your own bad behavior.

The other day I was forced to have a potentially volatile conversation with someone at work. Before the conversation, I made a conscious choice to be kind and gentle even if we were disagreeing. I believe I did fairly well, even though we did disagree a few times.

After the conversation, someone who overheard it accused me of being overly accommodating, although he used more colorful language to describe it. His argument was that the person who I had been talking to is difficult and doesn't deserve my politeness. Even if that is true, I am not being kind to anyone based on what they deserve, I am attempting based on the kind of person I want to be. How you treat others says more about you than it does about them.

I fail at kindness far to often to point fingers, I just believe that my actions are my own responsibility and I am not given a special dispensation just because the other person deserves my wrath. We all deserve wrath and Thank God we don't receive it. I agree that, unfortunately, that people try to take advantage of those who are kind, but that doesn't mean that kindness should stop. It just means that kindness and gentleness need to be combined with strength and boundaries.

So no, I will not fix your computer. But I love you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Renewing Mind/Sensitive Geek MAN: The American Nightmare

There are days when i think that the "American Dream" is killing us.

I know the most iconic symbol of the American Dream is owning a house, which I think most people would say is a difficult prospect at the moment. However, even though owning a house is problematic at this point, I think the attitude behind it is alive and well. The pursuit of comfort, of things, of increasing wealth and prosperity is ingrained in the minds of a lot of americans.  I know it is ingrained in my brain and my failure to attain those things the way I 'think' i was supposed to causes me a rather pathetic amount of angst.

I don't think it needs to be that way, for me or anyone else. Is it worth having both parents work and miss out on the lives of their children just so the family can have a few more bucks in the bank? Is it worth having a house if the payments on it trap you in it? Is it worth worrying yourself into a stupor over tragedies that might befall you and whether you have the monetary resources to weather them? Our media, our culture, everything around us says YES. But we chase those things and don't feel more fulfilled. We don't feel safer.

Because we are putting our trust in the wrong things. Money is only as good as the government that backs it, and I think most of us agree that our government is having serious issues. Security is only as good as the people who protect you, and everyday we hear stories of injustices perpetrated by the very organizations that are supposed to see to our well-being. Saving is only as good as the institutions into which you put your money for safe-keeping, and none of our investment opportunities have proven to be even mildly trustworthy.

So I say we stop chasing the American Dream. Start being honest with ourselves. I will probably never be able to retire, but really there is no reason to if I am doing a worthwhile work. I may not have every possession that my heart fancies, but less things that I own mean more of my affections are free to be used on better things. I can spend those affections on my friends, my family, my God.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Renewing Mind: A Somehow Pleasing Pain

Being a Christian is funny.

I'm encouraged by things that are actually pointing out how sinful I really am. How often does that happen. that you are really truly uplifted by criticisms? We claim all the time that we want constructive criticism, but how often are you really happy about receiving it?  I think deep down we say we want criticism, but we really want people to just tell us how well we are doing and how awesome we are.

Which is why it is odd when, sitting in church listening to my (in my opinion) brilliant pastor, I feel really convicted by what he is sharing with us and I really like it. I think this happens for 2 reasons.

First, when I feel conviction and see a place in my life that I need to give more to Christ, I have a chance to really let Him into my life more, which is exciting. I know it will be work and it won't always be fun, but because I love Him I know that ultimately it will be for the best, and that excites me.

Second, when I feel convicted it reminds me that my soul has been made alive in Christ. Before I was caught up in the divine grip of grace, my soul would never have felt anything at a sermon of this sort. I was deadened to this sort of stimulus. That I feel it know, can see it working in me, even if it is a slow process, gives me such joy. It is a proof that Christ is in me and I in Him. Anything that reminds me of that can't be something to be sorrowful about, no matter how harsh the criticism.

That's the peculiarity of a life in Christ: Pain is made a joyous experience, wisdom is seen in foolishness, strength is shown through weakness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Renewing Mind: All Souls Day

Today is the Catholic Celebration of All Souls Day.

I am not Catholic, was not raised Catholic, so I may not completely understand what this day is all about; but from what I understand this day is meant for the remembrance of those souls who are being prepared for heaven through purgatory. The idea is that the 'faithful departed' who have not been fully cleansed because of venal sins or some such are having their final sins worked out in purgatory. This day is in remembrance of them.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no real biblical passage that proves their is such a place as purgatory. My understanding is that is a Catholic tradition more than a scriptural doctrine, although I am sure there are some scriptures that can be taken out of context to support purgatory.

The bigger issue in my mind is that the concept of purgatory weakens the power of Christ. If there are people who, while believing in Christ and trusting Him for their salvation, still are not allowed into heaven because they where not fully cleansed, that demeans the power of Christ to save the lost. It implies that there is something we must do in regards to our salvation other than have faith and that our actions after we have come to Christ can actually dull Christ's salvific work.

Ephesians says:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

This makes it very clear that there is nothing we do that saves us. From the perspective of making us right for heaven, our actions have no influence in our attainment of heaven.

The confusion may come in the Epistle of James, where he says "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” –James 2:14
He goes on to say "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” –James 2:18

James is not saying that your works save you or even have any influence in the salvation offered by Christ. He is saying that a true faith in Christ will overflow out of a believer, causing them to go spread the message of Christ through good done to others.

 That being said, All Soul's Day, in it's strictest sense, celebrate nothing. Anyone who has died in Christ attains heaven without further issue.

If we take All Soul's Day a little less literally, it is a sad day of remembering those who died without the saving power of Christ in their lives.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Renewing Mind: All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day, the day that when the Catholic Church (and possible some liturgical protestants churches) celebrate those who have attained entrance to heaven.

Not growing up in the Catholic tradition, I am not sure how the celebration of this day actually occurs, but I like the idea in general. I think it is a good idea to think on those who have gone before, those who set an example for us as we live out our lives here on Earth.

However, it occurs to me that we could just as easily recognize this day as a celebration of Jesus's triumph in our own lives. Those of us who are in Christ are already a new creation, even though we struggle with flesh. We have, in a sense, already achieved heaven. Since our eternity is already secured, I think that entitles us to celebrate on this day, but our celebration should be one that looks to Christ's justification in our lives, not anything that we have done.

So happy All Saints Day, ye saints of the Lord.