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June 16, 2013 – Chanute, KS The Fire Escape – Father’s Day Tin Soldiers Event
June 21, 2013 – Big Ticket Festival, Gaylord, Michigan
June 27, 2013 – Cornerstone Full Gospel Church, Duncan Falls, OH
July 12, 2013 – Lifest, Oshkosh, Wi
July 18, 2013 – Sonshine Festival, Wilmar, MN
August 2, 2013 – Soulfest, Gilford, NH
August 3, 2013 – Spirit West Coast, Monterey, CA
August 6, 2013 – Kingdom Bound, Darien Center, NY
I’m exciting to announce I have a featured blog on the largest blog hosting platform on the web-Patheos. This is a blog for guys, dudes, men called…The Tin Soldiers. Check it out here.
I’d love to come to your town and do something together with you that few men ever find the courage to do…meet as one family, taking the gloves off, and sharpening one another. The Tin Soldiers ministry goals are threefold:
First, to destroy isolation by connection, first to God, then to one another. Second, to empower men to discover purpose by unlocking their unique, spiritual gifts. Third, to revive the concept of righteous character as an end in and of itself.
Think Jesus meets Fight Club meets AA. It is men getting together because they want to, because they need to, because they enjoy beating up one another and getting beaten up (spiritually speaking) in the context of anonymity. During our three hours together we will have some fun, plenty of laughs, and plenty to apply once we leave. We will eat, take communion, pray, discuss, and confess with honesty. A message will be shared, and a template will be laid to continue meeting together once I leave.
The Tin Soldiers book will serve as part 1 of our ongoing curriculum. It is a tool, a conversation stimulator. The Tin Soldiers Workbook (coming mid 2013) will be part II of the curriculum, and will take us further into study a reflection on the concepts of addiction, isolation, worship, fellowship, relationships, the male ego, and more.
I will be launching The Tin Soldiers website shortly. This will be a hub for our discussions and weekly reading assignments. It will also serve as a virtual connecting point for all groups. I have also just made The Tin Soldiers available at a sizeable discount for groups here.
I believe that each of us deals in similar problems which are a result of the times in which we live. Unless we learn to satiate our hunger for community and connection for God with true fellowship, we will continue to be addicted and lost. Email my team at email@example.com. I want to come and, by God’s strength, start a discussion…and hopefully, a fellowship.
I have a serious problem. A really bad one. I forget things. Often. And I believe my condition is clinical.
The other day I went to get the mail. In our neighborhood, each mailbox is in a central hub on the street, and in order to pick up your mail, you have to unlock your box with a key. So, on this particular day I grabbed the key and walked out our front door, thinking only about the packages I was expecting.
Now, on this key ring is not just my mail key, but also the key to the neighborhood pool, along with my car keys. This is a valuable set of keys, to say the least. As I approached my mailbox, I inserted the key and opened it. Inside, I found several pieces of mail I had been waiting for. Excited, I headed back to my house, not giving my keys or my mailbox a second thought.
That is until the following day when I went looking for them. They were nowhere to be found. I checked my pants pockets from the day before, my desk, my kitchen table, the laundry basket, my daughter’s favorite hiding places, and all the other spots I thought they could have been. Then, a light went on in my head and I remembered the last place I had used my keys. I checked the mailbox. My keys were gone.
I mentioned this fact to my wife, knowing I would probably get an earful about being more responsible. I told her I had mistakenly left the keys hanging in the lock of the mailbox the day before, forgetting to bring them back inside after I picked up our mail.
I was in trouble. The replacement cost for the community pool key alone was $150. Not to mention the fact that now someone in our neighborhood could have access not only to our mail, but also to MY CAR. I was bummed. And to add insult to injury this was not the first time I had forgotten our keys in the mailbox. Nope. It was the THIRD. Fortunately, in my first two lost mailbox key episodes our neighbors had discovered them and brought our keys back to our front door.
You would think I would have learned my lesson.
I stewed in my own stupidity for about a half hour, while my wife scoured the house, hoping that I had inadvertently put them somewhere else. Finally, when all else failed, I prayed. Then, on a whim my wife decided to try and look inside the mailbox, thinking, once again, a neighbor might have put the keys inside it. She was gone for five minutes or so, while I continued to beg God that she would find them.
When she finally opened the front door and walked in, she was smiling. In her hand she held our missing keys! Some honest neighbor had returned them and had put them back in the mailbox FOR THE THIRD TIME. My wife was able to jimmy it open (did I mention she has a gift with picking locks?) and retrieved them. I was saved, yet again.
At this point in time, I have vowed to elect my wife as the new chairman of retrieving the Schwab mail.
Literally and figuratively I cannot think of a better analogy on how God deals with us. Often times when we make a mistake or get into a bind, we pray for help. Then, He shows up and intervenes. Soon afterward, we immediately forget what He did, go about our lives, and many times, make the same mistake(s) again soon afterward.
We are not just slow to learn. That is not our great error. Our great mis- take is that we do not remember all He has done in our lives. And in so doing, we miss out on so much growth, so much blessing, and cause ourselves so much unnecessary pain.
Not long ago, something very simple was brought to my attention to remedy this. It is a lifeboat, and a possible antidote to all of us chronic for- getters. I mean this piece of advice is so incredible, and so miraculous, that you won’t even believe it. And when I tell you what it is you are going to flip because you didn’t think of it. This thing WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE, I promise. Are you ready? Here it is:
Keep a prayer journal.
Here is why it’s so important: First, it forces you to pray more specifically. Because you are making list, you will realize the needs for prayer in your life and in the lives of those around you with greater depth and detail. Second, it will help you to pray more consistently. There is something about the physical act of writing that helps clarify your thoughts, and this act becomes ingrained as a regimen, quickly. Third, it will cause you to see, in looking back on previous entries, how God has shown up in your life. Your trust in God will grow as you see that He is actively involved in every part of your existence. Fourth, it will cause you to be more thankful. As you see what he does for you, through you, and in you on a daily basis, you will see how in debt you are for His efforts to mold you into the person you are meant to be. Fifth, it keeps you from forgetting. Forgetting what? That He died. That He rose again. That He cares. That He’s there. That He is the reason you could pay your bills last month and He will be the reason again this month. That some how, some way, He will solve the dilemmas that you think are impossible to fix, one way or another.
It’s so common-sense, so obvious, such a no-brainer, that the only reason not to keep a prayer journal is because you are either a) stupid, b) lazy, or c) both of the above. Do it for one month, every day. You will see pronounced growth in your faith and prayer life, and maybe even find the cure to your chronic spiritual forgetfulness.
This is an excerpt from the book The Tin Soldiers, a book written by a man for men about how to deal with the issues men deal with by the power of Christ. To buy The Tin Soldiers in print go here. To buy it as an eBook go here.
Did you take group swimming lessons when you were a kid? I did. And I hated them. The reasons for this were simple. I hated the way I felt singled out, put on the spot, and potentially embarrassed while simultaneously risking my life. I mean, when viewed objectively, it is ridiculous to think that group swimming lessons wouldn’t be tortuous for small children.
I remember my first day of lessons vividly. There were about fifteen kids in my “class”, and most of them looked as bummed and as horrified as I was. And after about fifteen minutes of coaxing, all of them ended up in the shallow end of the pool, putting their faces in the water and blowing bubbles.
Every kid that was, except for me.
I protested not just because I was terrified of the water, but because I saw the bigger picture. I was fighting the inhumane and socially unjust actions of the ruling bourgeoisie and their ardent disregard for the unalienable constitutional rights of minors across every land, nation and tongue.
At least, that was what I told my parents when they picked me up after the hour was over, and I had not put so much as a toe in the pool. They didn’t buy it. And man, did I get it. I was only able to avoid grounding and a spanking by making a solemn promise to enter the water during my next lesson.
So I did it, begrudgingly, and with a defiant attitude, for the next couple lessons. But by the third session I actually started learning how to swim. My fear and mistrust for the water waned. By the fifth lesson I was jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool, albeit with my instructor there to catch me as she treaded water. I started to feel confident in my skills.
The day after my fifth lesson, my family, along with my aunt and uncle, went to the public pool near my home for a little summer outing. My plan was to show off my new aquatic prowess for them.
Right when we arrived, my uncle offered to catch me in the pool as I took to the diving board. In my mind, he was going to tread water, catch me, and safely guide me over to the ladder, just like my swim instructor had during my lessons. What he didn’t know was that I couldn’t totally swim as of yet, so I was depending on his help.
Naively confident, I climbed the diving board ladder. I looked down at my uncle four feet below, then over to my parents, who beamed with smiles. Other families in attendance glanced over. Armed with faith in my new abilities (and in my uncle), I bounced and flew high in the air.
I hit the water and went under. This was normally the moment that my instructor grabbed me, pulled me above the surface and encouraged me, then gently helped me over to the wall. Only this time no hands were reaching for me. My uncle just allowed me to sink under the surface. Instead of helping me, he swam down and pushed me toward the pool wall. Instead of swimming, I did what any kid in my position would have done: I latched onto his legs for dear life.
All I could see were bubbles, blue, and the occasional flash of one of my uncle’s limbs. All I could hear was my own underwater cries for help. It was not very cool. In fact, it was probably one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Then, finally, I felt two hands reach under my arms pulling me upward. At the time I was convinced they were the hands of God…
But they actually belonged to the lifeguard.
He pulled me up to the surface, and as my head broke through the first thing I noticed was the crowd of people lining the outside of the pool. There was a collective sigh when they realized I was all right. My parents grabbed me, pulled me out of the pool, and hugged me. Then they immediately proceeded to sign me up for another month of lessons.
During the following lesson, my swim instructor (after being told of my brush with death by my parents) did something I wasn’t expecting: At the very beginning of the hour she put me on the diving board. Obviously, after my last experience, I wanted no part of the diving board or the deep end of the pool ever again. I told her she was crazy. We argued. But then she said something I have never forgotten: “If you don’t do it now, trust me, you will always be afraid of the diving board. The best thing to do to defeat your fear is to face it head-on. Don’t think. Just jump.”
I thought about it. She had never failed me before. I didn’t trust the water, but I did trust her. So, without hesitating, I launched into the air. During the milliseconds I was in flight I think my heart stopped. All I could see in my mind were images from my last episode on the diving board. My body froze in mid-air. As I hit the water I almost lost my mind in panic, but then my instructor caught me just like she always had, and kept me from sinking. My heart started beating again. I let out a gigantic sigh, as the fear subsided. But this time, instead of guiding me over to the side, she told me to swim by myself. It was the first time I ever tried swimming in the deep end alone. Again, instead of allowing my mind to convince me otherwise, I just took off and swam, like I always did in the shallow end. And I made it to the wall without any help.
I was a swimming champion.
That day was my last swimming lesson, and I spent an entire hour after the session just jumping off the diving board on my own.
I believe this story runs parallel to the experience many, many dudes have had with church. We each have scars that have been dealt to us at the hands of the congregation in some form. Maybe you were on staff and an oppressive pastor made you feel belittled. Maybe you went to a church where there was a scandal that shook your faith. Maybe politics and gossip victimized you. Or maybe you, like so many of us in emerging generations, simply find church to be fake and lame. If you are not in any of these categories and are faithfully involved, hats off to you! You are in the minority, and are quite blessed. Keep these words in your back pocket just in case your situation changes.
We exist in the wake of these bad experiences with fellowship. Ours is a generation of guys who are disillusioned with the institution of church itself. We are distrusting and critical, and I would say our feelings, to a certain extent, are justified. After all, why would anyone jump into the water if they nearly drowned last time?
Here is something we tend to forget, however: Jesus knows how we feel, and he empathizes. He knows that the church today is flawed, and He knows that Christians can be really stupid sometimes. So, I don’t think He is asking us to be church attendees. What He actually desires is that we be connected to others in the body of Christ on a consistent basis, regardless of the venue or form.
We cannot persist in our faith without contact with other people who share our beliefs. And wherever that can be found, for our own sakes, we must make it happen. Even if we are bitter toward church and apprehensive, like the swim instructor said… don’t think, just jump.
I’ll say it again: Don’t think. Just jump. There are a million excuses to put it off or to avoid it, and they are all not good enough reasons. Listen, we aren’t asked to trust in an institution. We are asked to trust a person. And if we don’t trust Him because of church, it’s time we realize that He doesn’t trust church either. Church doesn’t keep us from drowning. Only relationship does.
I recently connected with Indievision Music for an interview about The Tin Solders, Wait for the Siren, and the new P86 Christmas songs. You can read the interview here.
I am going to ask you a question, and I need you to be brutally honest with yourself in your answer.
Who is your hero?
If you are having a hard time answering, allow me to help. This is the person you might have thought of when you had to face the bully, or run the last quarter mile in gym class, or had to conjure up the gall to ask that girl you had a crush on in junior high to the dance. This is the person you think hangs the moon, the person that can do no wrong in your eyes. This is the individual who might be an ultimate example of incorruptible character, the manifestation of all that is right in the universe.
This is the person, for whatever reason, you hold on a pedestal.
Do you have your hero fixed in your brain now? Of course you do. We all have heroes. Having a hero is part of being a dude. Want to know mine? I will give you not one, but seven. And just to be extra awesome, I will give them to you in chronological order.
Schwab’s Top Seven Heroes of All Time In Chronological Order
1. 1983 Bo Jackson
I was a fan of Bo when he played football for Auburn, before he became famous for playing two pro sports at the same time. Just watching him run was like witnessing an overpowering, unstoppable force of nature, like a tsunami. He was not human.
2. 1986 Ferris Bueller
Let’s face it-what dude didn’t think he was the king? That contraption he concocted to fool his parents, just in case they walked in his room while he was skipping school? Legendary. Ferris Bueller inspired me to not only play hooky, but to enjoy myself immensely in the process. He was also my inspiration to develop elaborate schemes to outwit authority figures.
3. 1988 Michael Jordan
This is the “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit” of heroes, but I can’t leave him off my list because he is the obvious choice. When I was a kid, I would watch basketball games just to stare at him. I would eat crap McDonald’s food just because he told me to. I would wear obscenely-priced sneakers, and truly believed they would make me jump higher, because they had a silhouette of him on them. I would even watch stupid movies like Space Jam just because he was in them.
4. 1990 Chuck D of Public Enemy
Don’t get me started. P.E. was the toughest, most dangerous group in the world back then, and I still rock their first four albums from time to time. Chuck D was like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Brown all rolled into one. Flavor Flav was a comic genius, crazy, and the best hype-man on the planet. Their whole crew had an air of terrifying invincibility about them.
5. 1994 The Fab Five
The Michigan Wolverines mighty five-some of Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson. Still, to this day, the coolest college basketball team ever.
6. 1996 Billy Corgan
Those first few Pumpkins records were nothing short of genius. When I think of the phrase “soundtrack to life” I think of their early days.
7. 2003 Eminem
Have you heard the song “Lose Yourself?” Of course you have, and it never gets old. Crass or not, dude has otherworldly skills. And when he destroys the guy in the battle during the closing scene of 8 Mile…incredible.
I have had many other heroes, but these are the first ones that come to mind. The funny thing is, as I think about each of these heroes and examine my list closely, a twinge of disappointment invades my romanticized memories of these guys. This causes me to follow up this list with a second one:
Seven Reasons Why My Top Seven Heroes Let Me Down
1. Bo Jackson was supposed to be indestructible. But after a few short seasons in the NFL he sustained a major hip injury and was forced to retire in his prime. He was predicted to be one of the greatest running backs of all time, but the Nike Icon became the ultimate story of unrealized potential, one of the saddest tales of sports injury that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
2. Ferris Bueller was a fictitious character played by Matthew Broderick. At age ten, I knew Broderick was an actor, but part of me still believed he was Ferris Bueller-hopelessly clever, always outfoxing his opponent, strong, sharp, cunning, charismatic, confident, and crafty. Then I saw Glory. Then I saw The Cable Guy. Then I saw Godzilla. Then he was on Broadway ALOT. It’s not that he isn’t a great actor. But every time he plays a sensitive, fragile role my image of Ferris Bueller erodes a little more. Not to mention that he also married Sarah Jessica Parker. Poor Ferris-he is just a distant 80’s memory.
3. MJ accomplished more in his basketball career than anyone probably ever will. Then he unretired the second time. Then his personal life turned into a train wreck. Then he become an NBA exec and made poor decisions for his team. Then he starred in a Hanes commercial with a Hitler mustache.
4. The Flavor of Love really happened. Many times. I don’t care how tough Chuck D is you can’t overcome the Flavor of Love. I saw Public Enemy play in 2008 and it was really cool…until Flavor Flav did a ten-minute drum solo to end their set.
5. Chris Webber called timeout. The Fab Five lost in the title game twice. They were deeply involved in shady, NCAA-violating activities, especially Webber.
6. Billy Corgan is now a professional wrestling promoter. The most recent Pumpkins efforts have been crazy bad. I think BC has truly lost his mind. It’s hard for me to listen to the old Pumpkins records without cringing now.
7. Encore happened right after 8 Mile. Then, Relapse happened. Marshall Mathers nearly killed himself with drugs. Sure, Recovery was a step back in the right direction (and he made an inspiring comeback), but will he ever be what he was pre-addiction?
To be honest, I was personally affected by every one of these men. For each I had hopes that maybe, just maybe this particular hero would not let me down. Then, every single one did. The more I think about it, the more I see consistent pattern: every single time I crown a hero, they fall. In fact, this doesn’t just happen in my life, it happens in all of our lives. It happens in the life of culture as a whole. Name a star, and they most assuredly will come crashing back to earth. Mel Gibson. Tiger Woods. There are many more. And the funny thing is, every time we see a hero fall, we act surprised, we get disappointed, and we take it personally.
The problem, though, is not the behavior of these actors, artists, celebrities, and athletes. The problem is that we elevate them to a status in our minds that they are not worthy of attaining. They are, after all, human like the rest of us. As a race, we consistently forget one eternal truth:
We were created to worship, but there is only one who deserves it.
We were born to adore, to lift up, and to constantly glorify God. But in our fallen states, this created function becomes distorted, and we try to ascribe divine qualities to men. We can’t help it. It’s just what we do. We even do it with Christian teachers, pastors, evangelists, authors, and musicians.
The worship of humans, however, will actually end up damaging us. This is because every time we are disappointed by someone we place on a pedestal, we become a little more wounded, and a little more bitter about life. Some have even fallen away from faith because of the actions of their former heroes. The point is, we must realize that no one but Jesus alone should receive even an inkling of our worship. Not even the greatest actors, artists, or athletes, who possess extraordinary talent. They are simply creatures, made by the creator as evidences of HIS glory.
I speak to those, specifically, that have been let down by someone whom they have looked up to. If your faith, confidence, self-esteem, or social standing has been affected by the mistakes of someone you’ve admired, you must do something for yourself, before God: forgive them. Realize, in the core of your being, that no matter how talented, smart, funny or beautiful said person is, they are simply human, flawed, and ultimately incomplete.
No man is better than any other, no matter what his gifts. Everything each of us has been given is by the hand of God. To know God is to worship Him alone. To truly connect with His Spirit is to turn from any desires we have to worship anything but Him.
With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? - Isaiah 46:5 NIV
Some of my fondest memories from early childhood involve youth soccer. It was a staple of my summer from age six until I reached high school. Soccer was always a blast…the gathering of hundreds and hundreds of people on those fields, the excitement in the summer air, the chance to score a goal, the pizza parties after every game, the jokes on the sidelines with teammates.
Of course, I wanted to score a goal in every game, and I wanted my team to win, but these were always just icing on an already amazing cake. Most players my age shared these sentiments. It was just fun to be there.
I wish I could say the same about certain parents, though.
I happened to get drafted onto a very good team my second season. We had a couple of very good players, the best of which was a kid named Kyle. The thing I remember most about that team was Kyle’s dad. He was intense. Every game he would yell at the refs, yell at our coach, and most of all yell at his own kid. On more than one occasion he singled out Kyle, in front of the whole team, and screamed, “Your focus sucks! There is going to be hell to pay if you don’t pick it up!”
I felt bad for Kyle. He seemed to live a very real-life version of the Emilio Estevez character from The Breakfast Club.
Our team made it all the way to the league championship game, where we faced an undefeated squad. It was a close game, and we all played our hearts out. The other team had a couple star athletes who you could just tell had a future in soccer. The game was tied with only a few minutes left, when Kyle broke through the defense. It looked like a certain goal, but the kid who played goalie just happened to be one of the best athletes in the whole league. He charged at Kyle before he could take a shot, and executed an amazing slide tackle. The ball went out of bounds for a goal kick. Kyle lay on the ground, apparently injured. That was when the gates of Hades were unleashed…
Kyle’s dad ran onto the field, demanding a penalty kick from the ref. Then, he started yelling at the other’s team’s goalie, calling him a cheat. Next, the goalie’s dad rushed onto the field and started yelling back at Kyle’s dad. The two men called each other every name in the book and every adjective imaginable-names and words I had never heard in my seven years on earth. The referee got between them just as Kyle’s dad grabbed the other guy by the shirt collar. Then, goalie dad took a swing, missing Kyle’s dad and hitting the ref on the ear. That was when both benches of parents emptied. There were dads threatening lawsuits, moms putting up their dukes, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Hundreds gathered from the other fields to see the brawl. I think a popcorn vendor may have even appeared out of a nearby manhole cover. Bookies rolled up in black Lincolns to take bets on the soccer dad melee. Meanwhile, Kyle, the goalie, myself, and all the other kids were just sitting there, looking at each other, shaking our heads, saying, let’s just finish the game.
In the end it took a half hour to break it up, and the police came to escort the two dads off the field. All of this over seven-year-olds who were barely coordinated enough to kick a soccer ball twenty feet. It was like an episode of South Park.
I looked over at Kyle as his dad was being escorted off the field. He was mortified, as was the goalie on the other team. And as it turned out the game ended in a tie. Both teams got trophies, but there was no after party. All of us kids were just relieved the game was over.
In retrospect, I believe Kyle’s father was not a sociopath (though he probably was risking a coronary because he was wound so tight). I think he just wanted what everyone wants-to be special, to be the best, to stand out and rise above his peers. He happened to be fighting for this vicariously and vehemently through his kid’s athletic career. His actions were egregious, but not uncommon; we each possess a competitive streak in us that causes our egos to come into conflict with those around us. We all desire to get a leg up socially, economically, athletically, and even visually.
Whether the venue is business, landing a mate. toddler beauty pageants, or Christmas tree displays, we each have this competitive streak deep in our souls. We are not content with simply fitting in. We are not satisfied with being equals with our neighbors. We want greater recognition, a better-looking spouse, and more friends on Facebook.
Realize that this spirit is at the core of all the sin in the world, and all of the sin in our lives. This drive inside us will seek to defeat others, separate us from God, and ultimately, disqualify us from eternal life. And we are each certain to lead an unsatisfying existence, so long as we define ourselves by comparison to those around us.
Our collective competitive streak is the undoing of our souls. It is insatiable, and undefeatable, except by one, singular means-surrendering completely to Jesus. To surrender completely involves more than just professing Christ as Lord; it is allowing him to motivate every thought we think, every dream we possess, and every tiny little decision. Most people who profess faith today do not do this. And it is the reason why so many are ruled by vain comparisons to peers.
They all stand in direct opposition to our faith in God, and thus, in direct opposition to our goal of becoming men who are truly alive.
You want to win? Stop playing the game.
 See: tanning salons, gym memberships, plastic surgeons, every show on MTV and the Bravo Network, as well as Nicolas Cage. I say Nicolas Cage because he is the only man I have ever seen who has more hair on his head each time he appears in a new movie.
One of my most vivid memories from childhood involves a giant apple tree in my grandparents’ back yard. From as early on as I can remember, I picked apples off this tree to eat right off of the branch. This tree produced an insane amount of fruit, and could be counted on year after year for the best-tasting, largest apples you have ever seen.
I loved that tree. I loved climbing it. I loved eating its fruit. It was a symbol of everything that was good, holy, and right in my childhood world. When life let me down, or I would have a rough day at school, I would go sit underneath that tree, or perch in its branches, and life seemed to balance itself. I could always count on it.
But one day, when I was eight years old, I decided to tempt fate. Two doors down from my grandparents was another apple tree. It looked a little different; it was smaller, had thinner branches, and more skimpy apples. Because I was in an adventurous mood that day-and because, at that age, I thought that all apples trees were the same-I decided I was going to climb the new tree and grab a snack.
So, up I went. I noticed right away that the limbs were bowing under my weight much more than “my” tree. I had a check in my gut, a voice inside telling me to be careful, but I dismissed it, and climbed higher. When I was about ten feet up I decided I was at the optimal height and stopped there. The tree swayed and bellowed, protesting my presence in its branches. Again, I ignored its warnings, and reached for an apple.
It looked edible enough. It was bright and shiny. I didn’t think twice about sinking my teeth into it. I took a bite. And immediately I noticed something was wrong. The normal crunch of the apples from my grandparents’ tree was missing. As was the moist, firm texture of the healthy apples I was so used to eating. That bite in my mouth was dry and squishy. I tried chewing, and as I bit down something foreign sloshed around inside my mouth. More than alarmed, I looked down at the apple…
And what I saw was the stuff of nightmares. There, in my hand, was a dark brown mass of rotted death, complete with half of a worm stuck in it. The other half of the worm was now in my mouth.
A chain reaction ensued. I yelled, and very loudly. When I yelled I also jumped. When I jumped, I landed again on the branch. When I landed, the branch cracked and broke in half, and I began tumbling through the foliage, snapping other branches as I did, until I met the earth with a violent thud, ten feet below. All the while I was shrieking and crying out for my grandparents, God, the local authorities, Spiderman, or any other adult who might help.
As I was lying on the ground, I felt like my ribs were shrapnel. My face was filleted. My limbs were bent awkwardly beneath me. I was, motionless, and barely breathing. I was sure I was dead, or at least about to die. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even cry.
Someone must have heard me, because within exactly seventeen seconds, I was staring up at a crowd of people, which included my grandparents and twenty of their neighbors. Looks of concern peered down at me.
“What happened?” A voice asked.
“Can you move?” asked another.
I decided to try to sit up, certain I had at least a couple dozen broken bones. But miraculously, as my brain sent the message to move to my arms and legs, they listened. I shook the leaves out of my hair. My grandparents picked me up to standing position and dusted me off. Miraculously, my pain subsided quickly. Besides some scratches and bruises, I had no serious injuries.
The looks of concern melted into laughter. Then, the neighbor (the one who owned the tree) shouted, “If I had known you wanted an apple, I would have bought you one from the store! That tree has always produced rotten apples, and it’s always had a weak trunk. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to get it cut down, and here it is!”
One week later a symphony of chainsaws turned the old tree into a stump.
Little did I know at age eight that my fall from the apple tree would serve as the perfect parable for a discussion on character.
See, fruit is the evidence of the core of the tree, just as Jesus said in Matthew 7:18: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It’s the same with men; our outward deeds, words, relationships, and decisions are the proof of our character.
Character is the source of everything we are, along with everything we do. In other words who we are will dictate every other variable in our lives. So the question is this: Who are you? Or perhaps an even better question is this one: Who are you becoming?
Without God, the answer is easy. We are, in our natural state, villains and scoundrels. This is true for all of us, even those who are good at appearing like well put together, happy, well-adjusted fellas on the outside. On the inside we are each massively dysfunctional egomaniacs who are looking to do nothing but eat, hump, avoid work, look at naked girls, play video games, get recognition, listen to music, and seek vengeance on others for our hurts. In our natural state we are adulterers, pornographers, addicts, sloths, fornicators, and gluttons. If left to our own devices without divine intervention, we are essentially nothing more than a generation of reality television stars in the making.
However, if we know God intimately, and we live in constant submission to His Holy Spirit, our character will conform to His, and we will experience a new life through the power of the supernatural. Not only will we become decent humans, but will also experience hope and joy.
We must devote ourselves to adopting the character of Jesus if we are to escape a life of hopelessness.
In Galatians 5:22-23, the apostle Paul states But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. What he refers to are not evidences of our own, natural character, but rather evidences of God’s character in our lives. And the measure to which we display the fruits of the spirit are the measure to which we have become conformed to his character; they are the yardstick by which we gauge our transformation from tin to flesh and bone, so to speak.
But here is the rub: No one can have the character of God on their own. We cannot be filled with true love, true joy, true peace, patience, kindness, and the like, without supernatural possession by his spirit.
God is in the business of making respect-worthy pillars of divine love and mercy out of criminals, out of adulterers, liars, drunkards, gossips, womanizers, egomaniacs, and slime bags. He is in the business of taking our natural dastardly inclinations and turning them on their heads. Why does he want to do this? Because, shockingly, He cares about us, so much so that He was and is willing to do whatever it takes to change us into the type of people we were meant to be-from submitting Himself to execution to arranging the tiny details of our days-so that we can be in his presence.
So many of us feel like we are lacking what we are searching for in this life. So many of us feel incomplete at best, and afflicted at worst. We are victims to our own vices, slaves to our fears, and subordinates to our character flaws. This is not an accident. We were not created to live as tin men, separated from our Father by our own metallic skin, our own rusty hearts. We are each doomed to flail at the mercy of our own shortcomings without intervention.
But if we will allow the Man who made us a little more say each day in our activities, our plans, and our decisions, we will see the impossible made possible. Metal transforms to flesh. And we will look around and wonder, how is it that I am learning to love others unconditionally, how is it that I am patient even amidst chaos?
By a power greater than yourself you are made real, and you will show it in your character.
He will do anything to make us real men. But are we willing to meet Him in this commitment? The real question is, are you willing to lay down your mediocre life of secret sins and lust and emptiness and apathy for a chance at not just the salvation of your soul, but a life of true purpose? Or an even better question is this: how sick are you of feeling incomplete? How far are you willing to go to become the person you were meant to be?
When I was in college, I took an Anthropology class as a part of my undergraduate requirements. If you aren’t familiar with this field of study, it is basically the “science” of human evolution from apes. The instructor was a woman I am going to call Professor Neanderthal, for reasons I am about to explain.
She was a very accomplished anthropologist, quite celebrated, in fact. She had earned the highest possible degrees, and had participated in digs for decades with several famous contemporary archaeologists. Professor Neanderthal was at the top of her game and at the top of her field.
On the first day of class, she handed out the syllabus, and began explaining the purposes of the course. In the midst of her explanation, she made it very clear that, in her opinion, the distinction between the study of human evolution and creationism is that one was a proven explanation of our origin and the other was a belief system based upon fantasy and myth. She was not shy about the fact that she believed the idea that God created man was neither scientifically provable nor logical. I knew I was in for an interesting ride, which would last the entire semester.
As we delved into the material on the first day-which began with a look at our “common ape ancestors”-I raised my hand. I asked, “Is it considered fact in the anthropological community that we evolved?” Is there no room left for any other possibilities?”
She sighed, then smirked. Instead of making eye contact with me, she looked at the class. “Guys, every semester I get someone in class who asks this type of question. I am not here to debate religion. I am here to present scientific evidence on where we come from. If you want to study religion you should go to church. If you want to study science, please feel free to stay for my class the entire semester.”
As the class stretched on, two things became increasingly clear: she was resolute, if not defiant in her lack of belief in a creator, and I was to be the object of her bias against the idea of God and creationism. She did not mince words when it came to taking jabs at Christians. She was haughty about her opinion that God was simply a figment of the imagination, and that belief in him was a crutch for the weak-minded. In fact, most weeks in class she made some sort of snide comment about the God she didn’t believe in, and indirectly, those who follow Him. I asked questions, and more than once, she asked me to keep my opinions to myself. Professor Neanderthal ruled her class with a large club of bias against faith.
She seemed more like an evangelist than a professor; attempting to indoctrinate all those in earshot with a belief system which was not just about examining our origins, but rather hell-bent on disproving the existence of a higher power. Even more than that, she seemed to relish in the fact that no outside force or power was responsible for “mankind becoming what we are today.” At the core of her “science” was the belief that man is the top species on earth because man has adapted by himself to become the dominant creature on the planet.
At the core of this philosophy was an arrogance that, for lack of a better reference, pointed its middle finger to the heavens.
At the end of the semester (after I had earned my “A”), Professor Neanderthal gave me one last jab as I was leaving on the final day of class, stating that she hoped someday I would give science another chance.
I thought about what she said. I never really understood why God hates pride more than any other sin up until that moment. But during the walk to my car that day, the light bulb turned on: There isn’t anything more insulting, more offensive, or more of a slap in the face to our Creator than promoting the idea that He doesn’t exist or that we could replace him as the God of our lives.
As I pondered the words Professor Neanderthal spoke all I could picture was the tower of Babel. Her words conveyed the messages of a race that is still trying to build a skyscraper to heaven in celebration of itself, without acknowledging that we only exist because He chose to give us breath. What ridiculous nerve we have.
We, who turned away from the perfect closeness we had to Him, and exchanged that intimacy and protection for a world of pollution, crime, murder, war, and disease. We humans, who are so proud we cannot see that this independence from God has resulted not in a utopia of freedom, but rather an Earth where evil and pain are the only true guarantees in a life apart from Him. We, the creatures who poison our relationships, poison our offspring, and poison the very ground we walk on. We limp through this life, and yet, we cannot admit that there is someone greater than us that made us for something better than this…this crippled isolation.
The great “science” of our species has resulted in innovations which throughout history, continue to destroy our civilizations. The great adaptation of our race has not resulted in our evolution: we are in the same place we have always been. We are pathetic and lost without divine intervention. We build fantastic machines that can fly, computers which give us instant access to knowledge, and yet our science cannot, will not ever, bring us any closer to defeating the death we ushered in by our rebellion. We relish in our creations, our “knowledge,” but it cannot, will not, ever be able to save our souls. And we continue to snub our creator in the process…out of misplaced confidence in our own race. We are not gods. We are just rechargeable batteries, at best…and the one true living God holds the plug.
As I walked to my car I imagined the conversation that professor Neaderthal will have with her maker some day when she realizes that she spent her entire life using the talents He gave her promoting the fact that He doesn’t exist. What will she say to Him? And what will be his reaction?
The thought made me shiver.