Walking in the Shoes of Another

All the Colors We Will SeeWhat does the world look like if you are the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in Anchorage Alaska? How do you experience life differently when your husband who you met in South Africa is from Zimbabwe and together you raise your family in Charlotte?

Patrice Gopo gives us a memoir that speaks of her journey and her experiences. She tells of what it was like growing up in Alaska as one of the only black girls in her class and school. She tells of her journey towards discovering who she was and how she was different. She tells of how she initially resisted some of those differences in herself and how she finally began to embrace them.

They say that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes can give you a better understanding for someone. “All the Colors We Will See” is like a long walk down windy roads, following someone who has dealt with her own difference and come to grips with them. Gopo describes the emotions of seeing the Confederate flag hung on neighbors’ homes, on gas stations, and even what it was like when it was finally removed from the statehouse in South Carolina’s capital.

Gopo takes her readers through her childhood and what it was like when her parents decided that they could no longer make their marriage work. She takes us to Jamaica to visit the homeland of her parents. She draws her reader into those moments when she struggled with who she was and makes us understand just a little bit what it looks like from the other side.

Since my own awakening to the privileged upbringing and experience that I had, I have been drawn to stories like Gopo’s which help me to see beyond my own little world. “All the Colors We Will See” helps readers feel just a little bit of what growing up different feels like as Gopo describes things that many of us may take for granted.

What I appreciated about Gopo the most is the grace with which she writes. She never takes an accusatory tone for all of those times when she encountered those who diminished her difference in being black. Even the thoughtless words that escaped people’s mouths were met with grace and compassion by Gopo, a reaction with which I know I would struggle.

“All the Colors We Will See” is the story of a journey that has not been completed. Gopo gives us a window into that. For those who desire to see beyond themselves and try to understand just a fraction of what others may have faced or may be facing, Gopo’s account is worth exploring.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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The Legion of Decency

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a cinephile, a film buff. Although I’m not completely sure where my love of film came from, I know that I’ve passed it on to my kids, for better or worse. I may or may not have been a little more liberal in my permission of what my kids have seen than my own parents were for me.

The other evening, my boys and I were watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unprompted, my oldest announces to me, “These filmmakers are better Christian filmmakers than Christian filmmakers are. People playing God and paying the price.”

It was a moment of pride for me. He’s obviously picked up on my disdain for sanitized storytelling in the form of the Christian market. I’m convinced that Christians have a tendency to whitewash things and offer storybook versions of reality rather than embracing the difficulties and challenges of life. I’m all into fantastic storytelling, but when those fantasies are depicted as reality, I struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had some challenges in my life. Maybe it’s because I like to call the elephants out in the room. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of false prophets portraying the Christian life as easy and full of rainbows and unicorns. Whatever it is, I’m tired of that sanitized storytelling.

When I was a teenager, I was a big Stephen King fan. My fandom has been tempered in my adulthood, mostly because I haven’t had the bandwidth to read very many 500+ page books. His book “On Writing” made an impression on me in my own writing and how I look at art. He comes to a place in that book where he speaks of the Legion of Decency and how some writers, for the sake of said league, sanitize their dialogue at the sacrifice of realism. In fact, he writes, “The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest….”

When I read those words, something clicked within me and I realized why I had struggled with so much of what had been labeled “Christian fiction” or “Christian film.” While I struggled with the storytelling a little, I struggled more with the lack of three dimensional characters. As King says, when your character hits his thumb with a hammer, he probably doesn’t shout, “Oh, sugar!” There may be certain characters that do, but if we’re honest, that’s not really being honest.

I’m not advocating for letting kids watch movies with objectionable material just because those films let their characters be true. Parents can choose what’s appropriate for their kids to watch. As my mom always used to say, I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of language.

I agree, Mom, but I also don’t have to pretend that language doesn’t exist. Sometimes people swear. Sometimes those people happen to be Christian, too.

I recently read a book, a tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. It was such a fascinating read to me because people just didn’t know what to do with her. To Christians, she was too secular. To secularists, she was too Christian. She wasn’t a fan of the line between sacred and secular and so she chose to not adhere to that line. She blurred that line, not in an irreverent way, but in a real and honest sort of way. Her faith came through in her books, but she didn’t sacrifice her characters or her storytelling simply because of her faith.

I guess that’s kind of the heart of what frustrates me. Can’t we just have storytellers who happen to be Christians? Can’t we have musicians who happen to love Jesus? Why do we have to throw the Christian label on everything so that it can be approved by the Legion of Decency?

Frankly, the Legion of Decency has never done me any favors. It didn’t change the fact that my mom got cancer that killed her and my dad died of a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. It didn’t change the fact that my heart was impacted by a virus I had when I was in high school. It didn’t change the fact that one of my best friends lost his little boy at six months to cancer or that a relative delivered their first child stillborn. So, whether the Legion of Decency likes it or not, I honestly say that those things all suck.

That’s why I hold on to hope in something other than what I see around me. But just because I have that hope doesn’t mean that I have to sanitize everything else. The less sanitized that we admit things are, the more awesome that hope comes across. And I really think that hope is awesome, something far beyond anything I could conjure up on my own, and if we’re really honest, the story of how we gain that hope might fly in the face of the Legion of Decency.

 

Above Reproach

I was at the gym this morning and one of the other patrons lamented the further allegations that have come out against Supreme Court judge nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The words that were uttered were, “This will set precedent for everything.”

It was one of those moments in life when I tried my best not to show what I was feeling inside. I really didn’t want to get into it there in the gym. The words that kept playing over and over in my head were, “But what if?” What if the allegations are true?

Most of us, if we are honest, can probably recount at least a story or two of incidents in high school or college that we wish could be wiped out of our memory and the memory of those around us. We’ve had our share of indiscretions that we would just as soon forget. But our desire to forget them doesn’t wipe them out of our memory or the memory of those who were involved.

Some of those incidents may have involved alcohol or drugs. Some may have involved behavior that we were guilty of when under the influence of those things. Our regret over that behavior and those choices doesn’t change the fact that what we did still happened, no matter how much we might want to wipe the slate clean.

I believe in the grace of God and the forgiveness of sin, but forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that there are still consequences when we make bad decisions. Just because we receive grace doesn’t mean we get a free pass for the consequences. Yes, we are forgiven. No, we can’t pay for that forgiveness, but sometimes, we still have to deal with consequences.

I’m not saying that Kavanaugh is guilty, nor am I saying that he is innocent. I’m saying that we all have to own up to our mistakes, regardless of how long it’s been since those mistakes happened and no matter how much we may have grown and matured since.

I was a resident advisor in college and I witnessed more than my fair share of indiscretions around campus. I had multiple heavy conversations that dealt with sexual assault and I wouldn’t wish those on anyone, especially not the ones who were the victims. My heart broke every time that I looked in the eyes of a victim.

I’ve heard multiple people trumpet Kavanaugh’s innocence because of the time that has elapsed since the alleged incidents. I’ve also heard some of those same people talk about the lack of proof that exists. After all, these are just allegations.

But what do you do with allegations?

The biggest lesson that I learn in all of this is to do my best to live above reproach. Sure, there are still people who will heap accusations at you when you do this, but if you live above reproach, those allegations shouldn’t stick. If further allegations come out, it seems that there are some people who cry, “Conspiracy” rather than entertaining the thought that these allegations may be true.

We aren’t talking about statute of limitations here either. What has been done has been done and like I said before, there are repercussions to our actions. Are we willing to face those repercussions? Are we willing to admit fault and own up to those mistakes?

I could write a whole other post on consistency here, but that diminishes the need for us to live lives above reproach. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, when someone is accused for that person to say, “But look at him, he did this too!” That’s not the point. The point is individual responsibility and living lives of integrity.

When I’ve made a mistake or wronged someone, I have to own up to that. If there are repercussions of that, I need to face them, regardless of how long it’s been. Yes, what’s happened in the past is in the past, but if there are past indiscretions that have caused longstanding hurt and pain, and if it’s taken a person a long time to finally muster up the courage to talk about it, does that mean that I am absolved of those repercussions? I don’t think so.

I’m not perfect, none of us are, but I can do my best to live that way. When I don’t, there is grace, but grace still doesn’t cover over all the consequences of my actions. Yes, I believe that I have a savior who has paid the price for my sins, but his paying the price still doesn’t change the fact that some of what I’ve done may require an additional payment on my part, will I own up, admit it, and be willing to take responsibility? Will you?

Pressing On, Pressing In

So, I’m learning a ton about myself, a ton about faith, and just a ton in general. There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt like I’m drinking from the firehose, this season is certainly one of them.

For anyone who has been following my story, my family and I are launching out and planting a church in the next year. It’s something that’s been on our heart since we left Asheville, North Carolina almost eleven years ago.

There are a number of reasons why it’s taken us this long to do it. To be honest, I think that God had a lot of work that he needed to do in me before I was ready to launch out. And honestly, I still don’t know how ready I am, which is probably a good thing. If I felt completely ready and capable, I would probably be relying on my own strength rather than the strength that God gives me.

Since we made our announcement about the plant, I’ve gone through all kinds of waves of emotion. There have been moments of joy, moments of sorrow, moments of doubt, moments of confidence. One thing that is consistent is my daily realization that I cannot do this alone. Not only as an individual, but also not without God’s help in all of this.

I was educated as an engineer. Two degrees. Some people are tired of hearing me say that, but I bring it up because engineers pride themselves in having the answers. In fact, I always prided myself on having the answers to questions that still hadn’t been asked. But where we are right now, this reliance on things that we can’t see, it’s totally out of my norm, I just don’t usually operate this way. I want answers. I want control. I’m not finding a lot of either right now, and I think I’m okay with that.

But this is a different season. I’m trying my best to press on and to press in. I am doing my best to trust and to have faith. I don’t have all the money that I need for the upcoming year. I don’t have all the particulars of what this church that we are starting will look like. I don’t even know for sure where it is that we will be meeting. And you know what? I’m actually okay with all that, and I think that it’s perfectly acceptable.

It’s actually a big step for me to be where I am and I didn’t get here on my own. Some may think I am being reckless. Some may think I’m hanging on to outdated beliefs. I have seen too much in my life, both good and bad, to not believe.

So, we’re pushing on and I am excited to see what God will do. While I may have some unique strengths and gifts, I know that none of this can happen without God. Like Moses in the wilderness, I stand where I am saying, “If you do not go with us, we will not go from this place.” That’s my sentiment. Exactly.

I’ll keep updating here. I’ll keep hanging on to the faith that I have. After all, faith is the assurance of the things that we hope for, the things that we can’t see. Here’s hoping and here’s faithing!!

A Light So Lovely – A Book Review

A Light So LovelyIf you have been educated in public schools sometime after 1970, chances are that you are somewhat familiar with the name Madeleine L’Engle. You may have even read her most famous book “A Wrinkle In Time.” But Ms. L’Engle was so much more than an author of this fantasy/science fiction young adult book which garnered so much attention and was most recently made into a movie in 2018.

In her book “A Light So Lovely” Sarah Arthur undertakes a labor of love to take her readers on a journey through this complicated woman whose faith caused her to forge a path that many have been afraid to travel. L’Engle was not afraid to speak and write freely of her faith, incorporating it into the stories that she would write.

As Arthur writes in the introduction, “God uses imperfect people, in every generation, at each unique point in history, to accomplish his purposes.” And that’s just what he did with Madeleine L’Engle, an imperfect person with an imperfect faith but a passion and zeal for expressing that faith beyond her own flaws and imperfections.

Arthur takes her reader on a journey through some of the many books that L’Engle wrote. She also incorporates conversations and interviews that she had with those who knew L’Engle even incorporating her own words. Arthur paints a portrait of a woman who was flawed yet determined to break the mold that many had cast in the area of young adult writing.

But L’engle could not be confined only to young adult fiction as she also ventured into the world of non-fiction, exploring her faith in books like “Walking on Water,” a book that has become a primer for those who embrace faith in Christ and yet also seek to allow the creativity that they have been given to be expressed outside of the norms that have been imposed by the Christian subculture

As I read “A Light So Lovely,” I found myself scanning the internet for the countless books that were mentioned by Arthur. While I knew of some of them, this book opened my eyes to not only the expansive catalogue written by L’Engle, but also to this woman whose creativity and willingness to use it has influenced generation and beyond of Christian artists and writers.

Sarah Arthur’s love for Madeleine L’Engle is evident on every page in this book. She takes her time to explore the many facets of L’Engle, good and bad, willingly revealing her, warts and all. Arthur leaves the reader longing to imagine themselves sitting down to a cup of tea with L’Engle, exploring issues of faith, creativity, science, and beyond.

Whether you are familiar with Madeleine L’Engle or not, this book is a worthy read. To get a glimpse of this complicated woman is worth the time it takes to thumb through these pages. If you have grappled with the tension of the sacred and the secular before and have felt unfulfilled by some of the empty offerings found within some of the writing of the Christian subculture, this may be a book that you want to give a try. You may just find yourself encouraged and inspired, finding hope that others have journeyed along this road less traveled and emerged along the way and at the end with scars and stories worth telling.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Made For These Times – A Book Review

made for these timesIn the introduction to “Made For These Times,” Katelyn Beaty says it well of who Justin Zoradi is and his contribution to society. She writes that Zoradi is, “a living testament to the notion that our lives are not to be hoarded for ourselves, but to be poured out for others to bring life, freedom, and kingdom hope.” She goes on to say that the kind of life that Zoradi promotes is countercultural, and upside down compared to the culture in which we live. It’s a high bar to set as the reader dives into this book, but I think that the praise Beaty gives to Zoradi is well-deserved.

“Made For These Times” is a book about purpose, about calling, about vocation, about eulogy virtues. How do we make a difference? Is it really possible to make a difference? Can we really make a difference while still valuing our relationships with our spouse and children?

Zoradi tells his own story interspersed with the stories of others who have arrived at a similar place that he has. His faith plays a significant part in telling the story as he seeks to make a difference. But he understands his own part in the story and that he is able to do what he does because of who he is in Christ. He also shares that it is impossible to do everything and, in fact, we aren’t supposed to do it all.

As Zoradi writes, “God prefers our efforts to be unfinished because it allows him to bring in others who will pick up where we left off. You cannot do everything.” It’s a significant conclusion to come to for someone as young as Zoradi, especially considering that there are countless stories of others who have sought to do significant work in their lives who paid the price of broken relationships, families, and even personal health.

I am sure that there will be critics of this book who consider all that Zoradi writes to be sensationalized fluff. I would respectfully disagree with anyone who might think that. Having abandoned one successful career to pursue something that was a calling rather than a career, Zoradi’s words resonated with me. In fact, this book was such an encouragement and confirmation for me to continue to pursue those things that are not necessarily successful in the eyes of the world or culture, but that have the potential for making a significant difference in the few people with whom I interact.

If you are sensing that there is something more to life than simply your 9 to 5 job, pick up a copy of this book. Zoradi will inspire you to live beyond yourself, to seek values that contradict those all around you. You may just find that taking that bold step towards the unknown was the best decision of your life because you were truly made for these times, made to make a difference.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

When Faith and Trust Are Shattered

broken crossThe headlines in recent days have surfaced of allegations not only of Catholic priests who have been accused of child sex crimes, but also that the Pope knew about some of the allegations and did nothing about them.

Meanwhile, over in the protestant world, Willow Creek Church is still trying to crawl out from the dust and wreckage that surrounded their founding pastor, Bill Hybels, and alleged indiscretions as well as the unwillingness of both him and leadership to take responsibility.

Let’s not forget the countless Hollywood actors, producers, and others who have wielded their powers to abuse and take advantage of women.

As I read these headlines, my heart is heavy. It is heavy for the victims who lie in the wake of those who have had power and abused it. Wounds are bad enough but the pain intensifies when the one who has caused them makes no account for their responsibility in causing them.

My heart is also heavy because of the witness of Christ to the world. Unfortunately, those who are not a part of the church, who may look suspiciously at organized faith and religion, do not distinguish between God and those who claim to follow him. We will ultimately judge God by those who claim to follow him. Our judgment of God will be based on the fallibility and brokenness of those who stumble and fall as they follow.

As a pastor, I have a conscious awareness in my bones that, right or wrong, people’s perception of God may be heavily influenced by my representation of him. How I live and act, for the good or bad, will be directly linked to my association with God. I’ve not encountered that frequently when I do something right or when I live well, but it becomes center stage the moment that I step out of line and my flaws are readily apparent.

But allegations such as these are not new, we’ve seen them for years. The Catholic church has been embroiled in controversy before. In fact, it seems like this kind of controversy resurfaces every few years as the victims gain confidence and realize that although they have desperately tried to stuff down their emotions over past events, their courage and the voice of truth needs to stand tall.

Why is it that it seems that men in positions of power abuse that power? Does power really corrupt?

When I read of situations like this, it affirms my belief in the depravity of man, that each and every one of us have been so deeply impacted by sin that our natural tendency is towards it at every turn. The emotional rush that is felt from that power that one gains in authority can easily push someone to that place where they legitimately think that they are the savior and that nothing that they can do will ever lead to dangerous consequences.

As a pastor, people invite me into some of the deepest moments of their lives. When someone is sick or dying, when someone has died, when there is marital conflict, where there is doubt, these are the moments when people seek the church, they seek the face of God, and what they can often find there is the face of a broken and hurting individual who has the potential for allowing their own brokenness to drive their actions.

When someone comes looking for Jesus and instead finds Judas or something worse, their faith and trust are shattered.

How many tears will we continue to allow to fall before this stops? Why have we not set up better guardrails to protect the broken and hurting? Why do we continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?

I am grateful for the boldness of those who have come forward to bravely speak the truth. I pray that even in that bold step, they experience some amount of healing. I pray that they might see beyond the fallible and fallen people who have misrepresented Christ to them and see a savior who weeps with them in their pain. A savior whose heart beats for justice and compassion. A savior whose response to power and authority was to become a servant to all and to criticize and knock down the subversive and abusive powers of the day.

I am grateful that I have found a place where there is accountability and structure, oversight and connection to make sure that I am careful with the authority that has been afforded to me. It is far from perfect, it is still man-made, but it provides for more than I’ve seen in some cases.

May those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ be ready and willing to hear the stories of those whose faith has been shattered. May we listen without judgment and pray for understanding. May we represent Christ as a fragrant aroma, gentle and pleasing, rather than the harsh smell that has emanated from those who have misrepresented him. May we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn the loss of their innocence and may we show the compassion of Christ that led him to willingly sacrifice himself for the sake of even those who hated him.

And to all those whose faith and trust have been shattered, please know that you are loved by God. Know that despite the distortion of love and authority that has been shown to you, there is a God who wields his power not with a heavy hand and a selfish heart, but with a gentle hand and a heart that saw fit to give his only son for the sake of freedom, salvation, and restoration from the things that destroy and corrupt. May you experience and see Christ as he is, not as he has been misrepresented by others.

Here we go!

ashlandFor those people who know me, being in full-time vocational ministry is a second career for me. Prior to becoming a pastor, I was an engineer, moving up the ranks within the company, getting licensed, getting trained, becoming a project manager. I kept doing what I was supposed to do and found that it was very unfulfilling for me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the work. It wasn’t that engineering was a bad field. It was really that it wasn’t what I was made to do. I’ve met lots of people who find fulfillment in the career that they were led to right out of college. I was not one of them.

Since my wife and I stepped away from all that was familiar to us back in the Spring of 2004, God has continued to do a work in me. Every few years, I can feel God stirring within me again. I ask myself a similar question repeatedly about whether I have begun to coast along, check the box, or phone it in. I’ve come to realize that life is far too short to do any of those things.

Losing both of your parents before you turn forty has a way of making you rethink things. I had two wonderful parents who were far from perfect but who taught me a ton about what it means to have faith and to live your life allowing that faith to inform who you are and how you live. While my father may have become a little more comfortable than he should have in some ways, he continued to be an example to me of living out his faith in a real and meaningful way.

Over the last year or so, my wife and I have felt the stirring again. It hasn’t been because of a frustration so much as just a stirring within us for something different.

I had gone to a conference which focused on racial reconciliation a little more than a year ago. As I sat and drank from the firehose, I realized just what a privileged life I had lived. I committed to knowing and learning more to see what I could do to be a part of seeing God’s diverse and multi-cultural kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

I connected with a pastor’s racial reconciliation group. I entered into conversations with others about my own complicity in the racial tensions that swirl around our country. I read book after book to try to gain a better understanding of where we are and just how I can get “woke” and help others get there as well.

I realized early on as a pastor that I could not be the guy who got up on a Sunday to preach a sermon that I hadn’t begun to live out myself. Every time that I stood in front of a congregation to preach, God had already been working me over to begin to embrace and try to live out what I was saying. As hard as I tried to avoid it, God continued to pull me back and stir my heart.

Not too long into our time in Virginia, I was introduced to a place called Ashland. It had hit the national media years ago when the D.C. sniper had ventured all the way down there to claim one of his victims in the parking lot of a Ponderosa located within Ashland.

Ashland is a different kind of town. Part Mayberry and yet also feeling like a small city, the down town area has a quaint and winsome feel to it. You take a stroll through the streets looking in the shop windows as the trains run right through the center of town. There’s no protection from the train, no fences to keep you away. In some ways, it feels like Cheers, it could easily be a place where everyone knows your name.

Randolph-Macon College is located towards the center of town, a small liberal arts college with more than 1400 students. Interstate 95 runs through Ashland, drawing travelers and drifters. The population is more mixed than some of its neighbors with approximately 70% of the population being white, 17% being African-American, 4% being Hispanic, and the rest being a mix of other nationalities. Ashland is a town that truly contains both those who have a lot and those who have next to nothing.

As the church that I have been a part of has made efforts to reach out in the Ashland community over the years, we gained little traction. As God continued to break my heart for the people of Ashland, I prayed and pondered over why our efforts seemed to remain mostly fruitless. I spoke with other pastors and people who had reach out to glean from their learnings and even from their mistakes.

The word that rang in my head through all my ponderings and prayers was, “incarnation.”

We usually hear the word at Christmastime as we speak of God putting on flesh and blood and stepping into time and space to become one of us. God didn’t do that because he was lonely or bored, he did it because this was his perfect plan. The way that God would achieve his perfect plan of redemption was to come and live among us, to move into the neighborhood and show God to the world.

I couldn’t help but think that God’s perfect plan was not only for his redemptive purposes but also to model to us just how we are to live. Just as Christ showed the Father to the world, so the Church is to show Christ to the world by living incarnationally. The Church is the bride of Christ and God’s plan to reach the world involves a tainted and imperfect bride who is daily being redeemed.

After months of wondering and worrying about next steps for my family, God was leading me to a place where he was calling me to step out in faith. The circumstances surrounding it all seemed to have made it nearly impossible to deny and impossible to walk away from what God had been setting up and doing. God was calling us to step out of the boat to do something different. He was calling us to live incarnationally by focusing on a community.

That’s where we are, at a place of faith and trust. While I’ve watched and encouraged others who have planted churches before, I’ve never done it myself. I am generally a quick study, but I’m also not afraid to make mistakes along the way. We’re stepping out to see what God will do.

Some have asked whether our church is splitting. That’s not the case at all. My lead pastor and I have spent countless hours praying and crying and talking about what God is doing. We are multiplying for the sake of God’s kingdom work. We are allowing God to do something different in us and through us.

For a recovering engineer, answers are important to have, but they aren’t coming as fast as I would like them. We are slowly moving to the place where they come into view. We don’t know where we will meet. We don’t know exactly when we will start to meet. We don’t know exactly how this will all be funded. But we trust that God has truly called us to this work and in trusting him, we trust that he will provide all that we need to accomplish what he has called us to do.

It will be different, like nothing I have done before. This needs to be a place that is for Ashland because God loves Ashland. I am terrifyingly excited about what lies ahead. I’ve said before that we need to dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them, I’m pretty sure that this is just the kind of dream that I’ve been talking about.

High Impact Teams – A Book Review

high impact teamsThere were two feelings that I had as I read through “High Impact Teams” by Lance Witt. The first one was as if I were drinking from a firehose. You know the feeling, feeling completely inundated with information, good information, that you didn’t know just how you could sustain it or where you would put it all. The other was the sense of understanding that comes when the conclusions that someone else has come to seem to align with conclusions that you have come to on your own.

“High Impact Teams” could very well have been subtitled, “A handbook for building and sustaining healthy teams.” The process of building and maintaining healthy teams in any organization is a challenge, but it seems that the effort within churches may be an even bigger struggle. In the business world, pushing forward can happen with little effort given to the feelings for the individual. Not always the most effective or intelligent approach, but it happens nonetheless.

Within the church, efforts to move forward can often be encumbered by excuses to not hurt people’s feelings or to give them the benefit of the doubt with second chances or third chances or beyond. But Lance Witt talks about having to say, “No” to people and programs. He talks of identity and finding it not in the programs and activities that we build, but in Christ.

Through eight separate sections of the book, Witt tackles practical and difficult topics in order to build and maintain healthy teams. He talks of emotional health and the need to be balanced in who we are in Christ to let our teams move towards a similar place. He talks of the relationships with people and the need to prioritize them before the goals that we are trying to achieve. He talks of conflict and just how important it is to hit it head on rather than walking around it and doing everything in our power to avoid it.

Over and over again, I found myself pulling out my yellow highlighter to whole sections of this book. As Witt spoke of organizational DNA and the things that both hinder and help it, I was taking mental notes. He shares with wit and wisdom his own experiences, humbly admitting the times in his life when he didn’t get it right as well. There may be times when his gleanings seem more like wisdom from the business world, but the organization of church can gain insights from those kinds of experience.

“High Impact Teams” will find a place on my bookshelf where I can reach for it and delve into the insights again and again. It’s a helpful handbook for those who are truly seeking to create a healthy environment where God can carry out his work. It’s not even necessary to read this book from front to back. I expect that everyone leading a team can benefit from at least one of the sections in this book, so even just reading the individual sections, this is going to be an asset to the bookshelf of any leader inside and even outside of the church.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Light Momentary Afflictions

2 Corinthians 4.jpgThe other night, I spent a few hours on a video call with some good friends from seminary. We realized during our call that we had known each other for ten years. As we took turns sharing updates about where our lives have been going since the last time we all connected, there were up and downs, celebrations and victories, difficulties and challenges.

I have been so grateful for these four brothers over the years. During our time in seminary, I wasn’t always crazy about traveling to Minnesota twice a year, especially in the thick of the February Minnesota winter. I wasn’t crazy about all the classes that we had to sit through either. The one thing that I always looked forward to, though, was what happened when class was done for the day. Even though our days were full, we would spend evenings talking about ministry and how we were being shaped and formed to see things different than what we had experienced or been taught.

While it was great catching up with everyone, when we disconnected, I felt heavy inside. It wasn’t because of the company, it was because of the subject matter. Over the course of our conversation, we talked about life challenges, particularly the loss of parents, something that was near and dear to my heart. Out of the five of us, only me and another friend had lost a parent, but everyone was well aware that it was inevitable to face and something that they were all interested in hearing about, learning from what we had experienced for ourselves.

It’s not every day that you can have meaningful and deep conversations with people. While my heart was heavy with what we had talked about, my heart also felt full having experienced brotherhood, love, and friendship through our conversation. But it sure did remind me of the gravity of life.

A number of other things had happened leading up to this conversation with my friends. My dad’s birthday was last week, always a reminder to me that he is no longer here. While the deepest part of my grieving for him has passed, I don’t think grieving is ever fully over or complete, nor do I think that it should be. Our grief reminds us of how temporary we are and it also reminds me where my hope should be found.

The day after my dad’s birthday, a dear family in our church who has endured significant hardships over the years lost their house in a fire. They also lost their dogs in the fire. This same family had lost their son last fall after a long nine and a half years since surviving a tragic car accident. The fire in the house spread quickly and within a few hours, everything was lost, including their dogs.

As I drove to the house to be with the family as they watched firefighters try to fight this fire, I found myself at a loss for words. I muttered a few obligatory words to God in prayer, and then I honestly told him what I was feeling. I didn’t really know what else to pray than those honest words, crying out on behalf of a family who had already seen and experienced such loss. It was one of those moments when I really wondered why God allows certain things to happen.

On the heels of all of these things, I drove into work the other day with the pall of all of these serious conversations and events hanging over me. I was grateful for the Bible app in my phone that could read passages to me as I drove. I scrolled to 2 Corinthians 4 and pressed “Play,” allowing my phone to read the chapter to me.

When I came to verses 16 through 18, I paused and felt the weight of all of these things coming down. Pulling into the parking lot at my office, my eyes stopped on these verses and I processed just what they meant in light of all that I was feeling.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Light. Momentary. Affliction.

The only word that I really like there, that really feels honest to me, is affliction. To call these things light and momentary almost seems disrespectful at best, heartless at worst.

Then I had to remember just who had written these words. The Apostle Paul knew difficulty. He knew affliction. He had been beaten. He had been shipwrecked. He had spent time in prison. He dealt with a thorn in his flesh which continued to afflict him even after praying three times to God for it to be taken away. This same Paul could call all of these things light momentary afflictions.

Perspective.

My heart is still heavy, but there’s hope. That seems to be what it comes down to for me, is there hope? Can I see past the present circumstances to what will be? Not easy. Not comfortable.

Hope doesn’t extinguish the pain of the present, it just puts it into perspective a little. Hope doesn’t remove scars or grief, but it can often help us see beyond them to the purpose for which they were experienced, or more to the point, what they accomplished in us and how we changed through them.

As I said to my friends on our call, I can’t imagine what life would be like without community. I am grateful for the communities in which I found myself. It’s in those communities that I have been formed, encouraged, and sustained. And so, it’s in those communities that I will remain as I press on.