I’m trying to answer this question differently
"How are you?"
"I’m doing great! Work is good. Just finished up a huge project. The kids are busy with soccer and music lessons. My wife is leading a small group at church and is really into it. We’re busy but life is grand!"
That wasn’t the question asked. I didn’t ask for a list of activities or what you are accomplishing. I asked… “How are you?
It’s been said so many times before that it’s become a cliche’. You are a “human-being”… not a “human-doing”. But, we rarely stop long enough to change the flow of this tide. Our identity is wrapped up in what we’ve done, are doing, and will do. I’ve got a lot of friends in vocational ministry and there’s no other place where this is more true.
We all have a difficult time just be-ing. We feel the need to qualify ourselves to those around us by our accomplishments in order to receive the validation we all seek.
And, browsing Facebook and Instagram everyday won’t help you either. All those pretty people… doing all those wonderful things… visiting all those interesting places… living such incredible lives. Our culture screams, “Look at everything you are missing out on!”
What does it look like for you to simply “be”?
For starters, try these:
Be at rest… without feeling guilty that you aren’t doing anything.
Be at peace… reflect and be content with what you’ve been allowed to accomplish thus far.
Be alone… with nothing but your thoughts and without a constant compulsion to check social media.
Be with God… without saying or asking anything. Without accomplishing your dutiful devotion so you can mark one more thing off your list.
Be with your family… without the hyper-activity that fills our calendars with sports and music lessons and church and clubs and activity, activity, activity. Even our “vacations” are chock full of stuff we’ve got to see and do.
The next time someone close asks, don’t give them “the list.” Instead, reflect and answer honestly.
All of this is certainly challenging for me. But, Christ’s work in my life is less about what I’m doing or not doing and more about who I’m becoming. And, hopefully from that becoming, what I do will be all the more rich and meaningful.
The lady who drove me crazy and how God changed my heart… kinda
Several months ago, I received a call to work for a couple weeks on a commercial job. I had just finished a feature film and welcomed the change of pace. The client was a national brand and the agency needed someone local on the ground who knew the area. The inital conversation with the producer was extremely positive and I thought it would be some good fun. Besides, I didn’t have anything else going so I said, “yes.”
When the out of town production staff arrived, everything quickly changed. What was to be a challenging yet enjoyable shoot spiralled into one of the most toxic work environments I’ve ever been in. Even more than the previous project I had been on which was pretty bad.
Everything goes South
I won’t get into all the details but the producer was, how can I say this gently… psycho. You may have worked with people like her. Insecure. Overbearing. Demeaning. Moody. She loved to cause crises so she could be the one to sweep in and be the hero. Everything had to be chaos so she could be the one to fix it. You never knew who you were going to get from one moment to the next. You’d just scratch your head and wonder, “How in the world did a person like this get into the leadership position they currently hold?”
I’m telling you… this lady was crazy. Certifiable. She was the opposite of a people-empowering leader. She was only concerned with being right even if it meant the whole thing burned to the ground. And boy did she have me in her sights. She was gunning for me all the way.
I tried to part ways a couple times but I was already committed and we were a day away from shooting. I can endure almost anything if I know there’s an end in sight. Just grin and bear it. Right?
The problem was, I didn’t want to grin. I didn’t want to bear it. I wanted to punch her in the throat. Go full out UFC on her a-double. I’m serious. My heart was growing dark and all I wanted to do was chokehold this chick until she tapped three times so I could throw my hands up in victory having vanquished my evil foe. I know, I know. Hate is not the godliest of feelings. But, I’ll be honest, that’s the emotion I was struggling with.
A shift in perspective
So, it’s the last day of shooting which means I didn’t have to be around her much and it finally dawns on me… this woman is broken. Like all of us. She’s just broken. She made my life so miserable that I failed to see it for what it was. I failed to see her as human; as an image-bearer.
I turned to a friend who was working with me and said:
“You know the thing that bothers me most? God loves her. She is special to him. She is valuable to him. And that drives me crazy because there is nothing in me that feels that way in this moment.”
That moment of revelation didn’t change anything, really. I was still her whipping boy. For another six hours at least. She still thrived on chaos. She still loved to be mean. But, something in me changed even if just a bit.
I still didn’t like her. I couldn’t wait for it all to be over. But, something about that experience stuck with me. I come back to it quite often. I come back to the question God was asking of me, I think.
What if you lived with the realization that everyone you encounter is broken?
In some way, big or small, every person we meet carries brokenness that runs to their very core. And what if, in that understanding, we asked ourselves these two questions:
What can I do to bring healing to the brokenness that is in them?
How can I be part of their redemptive story?
How different the world would be if we could only see each other in this way.
A Strange Way to Save the World
Today is the day when people around the world celebrate the simple truth that God does things differently… much much differently.
A couple of weeks ago I was trying to explain this to my nine-year-old when we came across Paul’s writing, “God chose the foolish things to shame the wise.” I broke it down like this…
Kick Butt and Take Names
Undoubtedly, we’ve all seen superhero movies where the world needs saving from aliens or bad guys or some other menacing threat. These are some of the highest grossing films that studios put out and we simply can’t get enough. We love it when the hero swoops in at the last moment and saves the day.
We love it because that’s how we would do things. The world needs saving and so we send a show of force. We send in the big guns. Shock and awe. Military superiority. Air power. Kick butt and take names.
But, God doesn’t do things our way. When the world needs saving… he sends a baby. A child that grows up not into a powerful ruler but a humble man willing to be the recipient of rejection, abuse and torture.
It’s foolish. It confounds us. It makes no sense at all. But then again, not a lot about Jesus makes sense to our natural instincts.
"Turn the other cheek…"
"Pray for your enemies…"
"Sell all you have and give to the poor…"
"Forgive over and over those who have wronged you…"
It’s all upside down. It’s ironic that while we want God to do things our way, once a year we celebrate the fact that he doesn’t. And, with all the vigor and energy we can muster! We think we’re celebrating a cute little baby but God didn’t send “baby Jesus” to be cute. He sent him to save the world. To redeem us. To make things right. To make us right.
A lot of people are facing real challenges. Many prayers are being offered. Some are desperate “Hail Mary” prayers. Some are simple pleas for help. Others are angry and loud. Often times, we want answers to come dramatically and quickly, much like a superhero with superpowers. But God rarely works that way.
The road back may not make sense.
The answer may not be the one you wanted.
The “wisdom” that got you into your present circumstance will need God’s “foolishness” to get you out.
And, it’ll be upside down. But be reminded of this: the same God who had you in mind when he sent this precious child… he hears and sees you today. He may be silent but he is neither deaf nor blind.
A Christmas Prayer
No matter what you are facing, may today be the day you find comfort in the manger.
May today be the day you find peace in the God who does things differently. And may that peace wash away your frustration even when that frustration is with him.
May you be reminded that although your prayers are slow to be answered and your pain is so very great, there’s a Savior that loves you deeply. God has come near. He has come close.
Read it again:
God has come near. He has come close.
…and he can be trusted.
reblog: The Beautiful Paradox of Good Friday and the Final Words of Jesus
Originally posted on Good Friday - April 2, 2010
I was chatting with a friend on iChat earlier this morning and I wanted to recognize this important day but somehow “Happy Good Friday” just seemed inappropriate so I settled on a rather weak and cliche “God bless you and your family today.” It’s the best I could come up but I meant it knowing today should be a day of sober reflection for every follower of Christ.
Even the name “Good Friday” is paradoxical. It’s a good day for us but it wasn’t so good for him.
But I also find that Jesus’ final words carry a bit of paradox that a lot of people can relate to and resonate with. I know he was fufilling prophesy but it doesn’t diminish what I believe Jesus was really feeling in that moment and was honest enough to come right out with it…
Matthew 27:45-46: From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi,lama sabachthani?”—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Have you ever felt this way? Ever felt like Almighty God was letting you down? Ever wondered, “What in the world are You waiting for? Step in and DO SOMETHING!”
I know I have. But, I love how God in his wonderful grace and mercy has placed things in his Word so human and so raw. It’s not the glossed over Gospel that is often times presented today. It’s real. It’s gritty. It’s to be wrestled with and grappled with.
The Beautiful Paradox of Good Friday and the Final Words of Jesus can be seen in his follow up to this incredible feeling of despair…
Luke 23:44-46: It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The same God who Jesus felt had left him out to dry, was the same God he committed his life to… committed his spirit to… committed his pain to… committed his trust to.
Jesus is our perfect example. He’s the essence of beauty and life. So…
May you, on this day, even though you feel forsaken and torn and broken and bruised… even by God himself… turn to Him because he’s good. He’s loving. He’s faithful.
And He cares for me and you.
The Gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
The picture of [a biblical] marriage is not of two needy people unsure of their value and purpose, finding their significance and meaning in one another’s arms. If you add two vacuums to each other, you only get a bigger and stronger vacuum.
reblog: Confessing Temptation
Originally posted May 12, 2009
Some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations happen for me online through iChat. I won’t go into what some may assume is an aversion to “real” connectedness and the reasons for choosing indirect interaction as opposed to face-to-face. Get over it. It’s real.
Anyway, I was having a conversation a couple weeks ago with a friend and we were talking about life and struggles and sin and church and blogs and whatever. We were talking about temptations and here’s what I wrote…
I’m finding I have to be up front before [I stumble]
like I was always ashamed of the temptation
and so I’d wait
then confess the sin
it’s much harder for me to confess the temptation
but that’s where the safety is
and that’s the part of american church I guess I’ve been rebelling against
we don’t confess our temptations enough because we want people to think we’re above it
but there’s so much freedom and safety in confessing beforehand
even when it’s like… my heart isn’t in the right place
and to be able to admit that before you act on it
I don’t always get that right for sure but I’m learning
I’m reminded of a statement by Tozer that goes something like this: As humans we try and transcend our humanity and become like God; while God steps down from Heaven and embraces humanity and clothes himself in it through the man, Jesus Christ.
Why are we so afraid to admit our failures? And why, when we haven’t even sinned yet, are we so afraid to admit our frailties in the form of common temptation?
It’s pretty simple… the Church should be a safe place to confess our temptations. Maybe then, we wouldn’t be so consumed with creating forced accountability groups where we all sit in a chair and have to confess our sins.
"Crumbs of Hearsay"
"I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand-from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry-forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor." - Job 42:5-6
I wonder how many of us live on “crusts of hearsay and rumor” of who God is, what he is like, and what he expects and requires.
It’s not lost on me that Job’s revelation comes after much suffering, pain, and subsequent wrestling and even accusing God.
And so I wonder… Could it be that suffering is the only gateway to firsthand knowledge of our Creator? Could it be that failure is actually the only stepping stone to a deeper understanding?
I realize this is not a very American view of Christianity and certainly not a Pentecostal one. In a culture (even church culture) that idolizes success as the primary thing, suffering is to be avoided, spurned, rebuked, and cast off at all costs.
But, might we corporately and individually be living on “crumbs of hearsay” and missing out on true relationship with God and each other as we rush through moments and seasons of struggle that assault our sense of justice and what we think we’re owed?
In our attempt to “cast off sin” quickly, could it be we are not learning anything about ourselves as we abort the process of understanding the very brokenness that drives those appetites and lusts?
Like an anorexic model, we choose appearing pretty and “all together” while we settle for the malnutrition of mere “crumbs”.
With Job, may we echo a new prayer in church life that says…
"I’m sorry-forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!" because our hunger to know God "firsthand-with our own eyes and ears" is greater than our desire to avoid all pain in order to project the image of put-togetherness and perfection.
I Am Right and You Are Wrong
I came across this photo a couple weeks ago as part of The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011. The caption reads:
Christians protect Muslims during prayer in Cairo, Egypt.
As I paused to reflect on the image and all it means, I was reminded of something else. Sadly, there are those in my own faith and a certain brand of Christianity that would take issue with the thought of protecting Muslims. Because, after all, we are “right” and they are “wrong”.
It seems some people can’t move beyond this lowest level of thinking. It consumes them. They are always out to prove their “rightness.”
- Our political party is right and yours is wrong, on all accounts. And, because of our self-convinced and overwhelming “rightness” we certainly won’t budge on any issue.
- Our method of “doing church” is right and yours is wrong. Our tradition, song, worship style, discipleship model… all of the above.
- Our theological position on (insert just about any issue here) is right and therefore yours is wrong. We have Scripture on our side to prove it.
We throw down the gauntlet with a chip on our shoulder, daring anyone to challenge us. Well, maybe it’s not that bad but all of us are guilty of this unloving attitude on some level.
How many times has a mere disagreement between spouses escalated to full-blown argument as it moves beyond the issue at hand into the territory of who is right and who is wrong? All my childish efforts to prove I’m right usually require someone else to be wrong. But at what expense? A deep cost in relationship and much much more.
It’s ironic that the overarching narrative of the Bible is that God wants relationship with his people and they with each other. In light of this truth, “being right” is of relative little importance. It’s easy to miss the heart of God as we trumpet our position on the various issues.
Are we so insecure in our beliefs that we must clamor (most of the time very loudly) for validation? That is usually what is at the core. The need for someone else to affirm us. When we’ve been affirmed by Christ and have truly embraced it, there’s no need to go about attacking or defending.
The older I get, the less concerned I am with being right. I don’t have to defend anything. It just is what it is. I don’t feel the need to correct all the time. I can disagree with others and still be in relationship.
Of course, I’ve not arrived. I just have a growing disdain for this attitude in the political arena and especially amongst my own brothers and sisters. I hate it most of all in me. With love, temperance, and grace I hope to grow out of it completely. If that’s not possible (I’m not sure it is), at least I want to recognize it way in the distance so I can abandon it before too much harm is done.
Your Failure IS What Qualifies You
"In spirituality we learn far more from getting it wrong than we do by getting it right." - Richard Rohr
Last week, I heard some unsettling news. News, that if I’m honest, is really none of my business. But, since I genuinely care about those involved, my first response was one of concern. Some old friends, who I haven’t talked with in a while, are on the verge of making a huge life decision. They’re getting married. Under normal circumstances, I’d be happy for them. But in this case, I’m not. I’m troubled.
One of them has just recently gone through (and I’d say, still in the middle of) a pretty painful experience. It’s still very fresh. And so, there I am all alone at the breakfast table having this internal conversation… pleading.
"It’s too soon! You really need to heal. You’ve gotta talk this out with someone. Give it some time. You need to make sure you’ve recovered from all this stuff. Can’t either of you (or anyone close to you) see that this can’t possibly have a healthy foundation? Come on bro, this isn’t wise at this time."
All the things I want to say but can’t.
Then… the voice. I suspect you know this voice as well. The response in your internal dialogue that is supposed to be theirs but in reality, is your own.
"Who are you to say anything or even have an opinion? Your failures were big. Epic even. Your failures were public. You let people down. You’ve got nothing to say to them or this situation."
And with that, my train of thought came to a screeching and deafening halt as my mental engineer threw the switch to full reverse.
I don’t know if what came next was God speaking or just my increasing resistance to this negative self-talk but it was loud and certain.
"My failures don’t disqualify me from speaking into these kinds of situations but instead they actually make me more qualified to speak."
Let me say it this way…
Your failures don’t disqualify you from speaking into people’s lives. Instead, they actually have the potential to become the most powerful ingredients of your qualifications. It may take time, but you begin to speak with more, not less, authority. You begin to draw from something deeper.
Again, I’ll quote from Richard Rohr in Falling Upward: ”In spirituality we learn far more from getting it wrong than we do by getting it right.”
After all, what is more common to humanity than gross sin and epic failure? What’s more universal than deep pain and struggle?
Grace to Speak
When we allow grace from God and grace from others to heal us deeply, we actually become more equipped to speak to those walking through similar situations. Don’t run from your ability and responsibility to help others simply because you are insecure. People know your junk or maybe it’s just that you do. Either way, get over it.
If (and that’s a big “if”) you’ve healed, grown, and recovered from your darkest moments, then allow God to use you as opportunity comes your way.
reblog: I don’t want to do anything big for God…
Originally posted July 1, 2009
I know my blogging is sporadic at best and I still sometime wonder if it’s worth it or why even bother. But, here I am… unfiltered, uncensored and certainly unpolished.
The statement above (the title not the one about sporadic blogging) is so in contrast from the way I lived my life for years. Most of my life, I was told to “dream a big dream.” Dream a big dream of doing something great… something big… something awesome for God. And, make sure your dream is bigger than anything you can accomplish on your own or else it’s probably not God which is code for you are doing it all in the flesh and without faith and… you get the point. You’ve probably heard it too. Heck… I even preached a couple of these in my day.
And, like most things in life, I’m evaluating everything. It’s just where I am these days and at this point in my journey. So, I’ve been thinking about these statements and more importantly these concepts that we throw off on people in the Western church. And, I’ve been looking to the Word (there’s a novel idea) and comparing this line of thinking to the examples we find in there.
By and large, I don’t see this as the line of thinking in the examples the Holy Spirit, in His limitless wisdom, decided to hand down for all generation to benefit. Most of the men of faith had a measure of contentment rarely seen in church leaders in America. You don’t see the pressured “build it as big as you can, as fast as you can” stressed out, “why isn’t this working, so let’s try the next thing” frenzy that a lot of church leaders exist in.
I don’t see the “big dreams” beginning with man at all. It’s always been initiated by God.
- God comes and taps Noah on the shoulder and somehow this drunkard of a man saves the planet and repopulates the earth.
- God comes to Gideon and his response is, “Certainly, not me.”
- God comes and hits Moses up and Moses argues for three chapters why God got it wrong and he’s not the guy.
- God chooses mere fisherman who are content at working the family business to launch a global movement.
The only figure I can identify with a lot of ambition and “big dreams” to do “great things” for God is Saul… before God knocked him off his horse and he became Paul. He was killing Christians in the name of God and in the name of doing “great things” for God.
So, somewhere along the line, we have to stop the madness of it all and stop the frenzy of it all and just walk. Struggle if need be. And focus on what’s most important. And if somehow God taps us on the shoulder for something extraordinary then fine. And if not, that’s fine too.
We all have our part to do in raising our families. Doing the simple work of caring for others. Loving… truly loving our neighbors. Being generous and humble. Expressing devotion to God in simple service. And, I think in those things, God may just be more pleased than us getting all worked up about fulfilling the “big dreams” and building it as big as we can, as fast as we can.
Some may say, “that’s a cop out” but honestly I pity those that still live in that completely unbiblical, stressed out, fear-filled world of Amercian church leadership.
I for one, am living the dream and it may not be big to others but it is big to those closest to me. And I’ve never been more content.
A lesson from the younger Steve Jobs
I just recently finished a wonderful book by David A. Price called The Pixar Touch. In it, the author chronicles the rise of the computer-animation pioneer and follows the founders’ unrelenting quest to produce the first full-length feature animated movie. For years, Pixar sold computer hardware as it’s core business before getting the opportunity to do what they dreamed of and loved. What a lesson in patience and “keeping your eye on the ball.”
Every story is interesting and compelling if you look hard enough. I believe multiple lessons can be learned from every book. This one is no exception. Many business and life lessons can be gained from the Pixar story but one encounter stands out. I’d like to recount that here.
Of course, the book wouldn’t be complete without spending considerable time on the role of CEO, Steve Jobs. In the past week, there’s been a lot of reflection on the life of Steve Jobs and his impact on culture. His commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 reveals a man who matured and learned a great deal about what is truly important. This story isn’t about that man. It’s about the much younger Steve Jobs.
Let me set the stage. It’s 1986. Steve Jobs has been fired from Apple, the company he founded. Pixar (not their name at the time) is owned by Lucasfilms. All Pixar wants to do is make computer-animated films. This means they aren’t focused on developing the digital sound and video editing systems Lucasfilms wants. Not to mention the boring electronic accounting programs. That’s why George Lucas bought them in the first place.
Lucas wants to sell. Steve Jobs wants to buy. And, after a year of rejecting Jobs’ offer of $5 Million, Lucas finally caves. It’s deal time. Let’s do this.
I’m paraphrasing, but this is what happened next:
Lucas: “Come on up and we’ll sign the papers.”
Jobs: “No, you guys come down here to sign.”
Lucas: “We’re not going anywhere. You come to us.”
Jobs: “No. We’ll sign down here.”
Lucas: “That’s not going to happen.”
Jobs: “The deal is off then.”
They ended up… and here’s the word… compromising. They met in the middle at a lawyer’s office and ended up signing the papers there.
I can hear you now. ”It’s a lesson about compromise. I get it.” Not really. Here’s what you need to understand. We’re talking about sixty miles. It’s a pretty substantial business deal. I’m reading this and I want to scream, “Someone… for the love of Pete… drive the 60 miles.”
Sometimes, we don’t need to compromise. Sometimes, one person just needs to cave and give in for the benefit of the bigger picture.
How many times has the argument over something insignificant escalated to atomic proportions? You and your spouse are at odds, all because one of you isn’t willing to go the relatively short distance to bridge the gap.
You win but really lose.
What has been lost in relationship simply because you don’t know how to “pick your battles”? You win. But you really lose. And, you don’t just lose. Those around you lose too.
Imagine if the deal hadn’t happened. All because of a measly 60 miles. No Woody. No Buzz Lightyear. No Sulley. No Mr. Incredible. No Nemo.
Some could even argue… No rescuing of Disney at a time when it lost the plot and was creatively anemic.
So, the next time you’re tempted to throw the “compromise card,” evaluate whether compromise is really what’s needed. Try and look objectively at the bigger picture. Then you make the effort to close the distance. You drive the 60 miles to make the deal work. You go farther than the other person with a deep understanding that there’s always more at stake than who is “right” and who is “wrong”.
We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life- by expecting constant good health for example- then I set myself up for crashing disappointment.
I came across this image a few weeks back and included it my daily visual inspiration. I haven’t been able to get away from it. If it’s true that “a picture says a thousand words” then this definitely qualifies.
To me, there’s so much going on here. Two friends who love what they do. Proud of what they contribute to their community. Men of meager means. No fame. But, their faces say it all.
What you value
The quality I see most is contentment. You can see it in their eyes… in their smiles. Others might look on them with pity or even disdain, but not me. In some sense, I envy their simplicity. In another, I’ve experience a measure of contentment the past few years as never before.
It all has to do with what you value and what’s truly important. In ministry, it’s easy to fall into the trap of discontentment because you’re working for a “higher calling”. It’s our justification for always wanting more.
- Are you truly at rest?
- Are you really at peace?
- Is there a nagging sense that you’re not paying enough attention to the most important things like family and friendships?
- Do you feel guilty when you take time for yourself?
- Do you feel as though you’re never doing enough?
- Are you able to stop and smile at the work of your hands?
If it’s good enough for an apostle
Take a look at the image above. Soak it in. Slow down. Take a tip from one of the most driven figures in the Bible, Paul, when he said:
Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
- Philippians 4:11-13 -
God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings.