Myself 2.0

I had lunch with a friend yesterday. Nothing unusual about that. Among the things we talked about was the Enneagram, self-awareness, who we are, we were, and who we are becoming. Kind of deep for lunch conversation.

The last few years, for me, has been a journey of self-discovery, figuring out who I am, figuring out what I am good at, figuring out what I’m not so good at, and seeking to become better than I was yesterday. There are certain tools like the Enneagram and StrengthsFinders that have been helpful in that self-discovery.

But, as one who considers himself a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s more than a pursuit, it’s a calling. If Jesus is all that I claim that he is, then I should be changed by him. He isn’t some random stranger that I meet on the street who has no impact on my life. If he is who he says he is and who I believe he is, then like so many of the people who he met throughout the gospels, the collision between my life and him should have an altering effect.

As my friend and I discussed all this, he shared that he was struck by where I was in my overall emotional health. As I thought about it, I said, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” I mean, the big theological word that people throw around is “sanctification,” the process of becoming holy and set apart, more like Jesus.

Funny thing is, I think that some Christians miss the “more like Jesus” part of that. They’ve got the “set apart” part down pat, but when it comes to being different like Jesus, we don’t often excel. We’re set apart and different but in a way that makes an onlooking world scratch their heads or shake their fists. I have a hard time believing that’s what was meant by being different and set apart.

I have often said to friends and those around me that I don’t want to be the person that I was five years ago. In fact, if I am really in pursuit of being changed, transformed, and different, then I shouldn’t be who I was. As I look back over myself through the years, I see changes. Some of those changes are good, some are not so good. Those not so good changes are the ones where I probably haven’t fully given myself over to the work of sanctification in my life.

It’s like training at the gym. It’s not often pleasant when we are going through it. There may be pain afterwards, but hopefully, what we are becoming is better than who we presently are. I think about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses around me. God has given me a lot of people that I call “rearview mirrors.” They act as aids for me to see those blind spots that I am unable to see on my own. But I’ve got to look at them and then heed what they say, just having them alone is not enough to make me better and to see the flaws that so desperately need to be changed and transformed.

Today is a new day and I am grateful for it. God’s mercies are new every morning. My constant prayer is that I will be just a little more different today than I was yesterday, that John the Baptist’s words can echo from me the way they did him, “I must decrease and he must increase.” It doesn’t mean that I lose myself, it means that I just become a more Christ-like version of myself. That’s what I’m going for.

 

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The Cost of Community

I’m beginning to compile thoughts on community. It seems that it’s a recurring theme in my conversations lately. But I’m very curious what people think about community, how they view it, how much it is a part of their lives, and even how they define it.

As I’ve served in a local church for the past fifteen years and been part of a church community of some sorts for the bulk of my life, that has been one of the greatest pictures to me of community. It has defined community for me in so many ways, both the good and the bad.

I would go so far as to say that because of the community of which I have been part, some of the challenges and difficulties in life have been tempered. The loss of parents. The addition of children. Health issues. Going through any of these things on your own with no one around you is a challenge. Add community and the whole dynamic changes.

Here’s one of the insights that I’ve seen lately. I shared this with a friend recently and it continues to resonate as my brain unpacks it more. Community is costly but we aren’t always willing to pay the price. In fact, I think that we are looking for a high-quality product but many times we are only willing to pay economy price for it.

Now, when I say that community is costly, I am not talking about actual financial cost, although it might sometimes come to that. I am talking about resource cost in general. Community costs us, but what are we willing to pay for it.

Over and over, in my experience, I continue to see people who want what they want regardless of what they have to pay for it, but not in the area of community. When it comes to community, people have high expectations and high need but they want to pay low costs and have low commitment.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. You get what you pay for, an old adage that’s as meaningful today as it was when it was first coined. If you aren’t willing to pay the cost and give the commitment to community, do you really have the right to complain when it doesn’t meet the needs that you were hoping it would?

In my job, I have had the opportunity to meet with couples as they move towards marriage, as they struggle with marriage, and as they just encounter everything that life throws at them. Recently, in a wedding I officiated, I told the couple that you don’t go into a marriage expecting to change the other person. Marriage is as much about your own formation as it is about the formation of your partner.

But how many times have I seen couples who come to me and, whether they explicitly say it or not, are saying deep down that the needs that they thought would be met in their spouse are not being met. The first question I want to ask them is, “How are you meeting their needs?”

This is an experiment, a testing ground, this journey that I am on. As I move forward in the launching of a brand new church, community and all the conversations around it will inform so much of what I do. As I journey through, I’ll be taking notes the whole time and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it, successes and failures alike.

Stop Telling Me, Just Show Me

show me don't tell meFor years, I had grown tired of what the church calls evangelism. It just didn’t seem right to me. It felt like an Amway session or a gathering to try to sell someone a timeshare. It didn’t feel genuine and, at times, it felt downright offensive.

Now, I know that Paul wrote in the Bible that the gospel is foolishness for those who are perishing, a stumbling block for some, offensive to others. But the offensiveness should come in the content, not the presentation.

Over the course of my life, I’ve done some of my best learning when I’ve been watching and paying attention to what’s going on around me. I learn better when you show me what to do.

My father-in-law is a contractor. When my wife and I lived close to him, I relished the times when I could work alongside him, learning new things, watching a master at work. The ease with which he would accomplish things was always astounding to me. I wished for the capability that he had and showed often.

While I was working alongside him, he wasn’t sitting there lecturing me about the different steps that he was taking. He would just go about doing the work, asking for the things that he needed along the way. As I watched and learned, questions emerged in my mind and I would ask them as they popped up. My father-in-law obliged to answer the questions, and my education continued.

As I’ve thought a lot about the church lately, I think we’ve stopped learning by doing. We’ve also stopped teaching by showing. Essentially, that’s what discipleship is all about. It’s not saying, “Let me teach you a collection of facts so that you can be smart and know how to be a disciple.” It really needs to be about saying, “Walk with me and I will show you what it means to be a disciple.”

In our errors of teaching rather than showing, we’ve also failed in our witness to the world. Instead of showing the world what it means to love Jesus and be his disciple, we’ve simply said, “You’re not living in such a way as pleases God.” Meanwhile, our lives don’t necessarily indicate anything different either. We say that Jesus changes everything and then we go on living our lives as if he makes no difference at all.

So what would it look like for us to stop telling people how to live and start showing people how to live?

Again, don’t get me wrong here, this doesn’t mean that we never share the gospel with those around us, it simply means that we earn the right to share and be heard by living in such a way that it actually matters to us. I won’t go so far as to say that we need to preach the gospel and use words if we must, but we need to let our actions model the words that we speak.

I was at a gathering not too long ago with some people who have been jaded by the church. They’ve been burned and hurt and they are slowly making their way back to faith. I had adopted a posture of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, so I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut (a fairly significant feat for me).

Finally, the hostess looked over at me and said that she was curious what I was thinking. I shared that I thought it was time for the church to remember that there is an important verse that Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15. He said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have.” Unfortunately, I said, many people had left out some significant words in there……everyone who asks you.

The church needs to do a better job of living questionable lives, lives that cause people to ask questions. We need to do a better job to not only speak about the difference that Jesus makes in us, but also to show it and live it out. In so doing, I am convinced that people will see that difference and then we can live into Peter’s words as they begin to ask us why we’re different. In responding to their questions, I think it will look and feel a little less like a pitch for a timeshare and more like the reason for the hope that lives within us and has changed our lives.

Reflections On Another Trip Around the Sun

Yesterday was my birthday. It was fairly anti-climactic. Save for the excitement of my children (at least a few of them) to open the gifts they had gotten for me, a few friends I saw throughout the day suggesting they sing to me, countless texts and phone calls, and a barrage of greetings on social media, it felt pretty much like any other day.

Once you hit a certain age, birthdays seem to become inconsequential. One day I’ll hit the age when I wake up in the morning and find myself grateful that I’m still breathing. Right now, I’m in the throes of life when waking up with one less ache than the day before is an accomplishment.

Looking back over the year, a lot has happened. I’m off on my own, trying to get a church off the ground as we move towards launching in September. God has continued to humble me through my children, my experiences, and the many people who have shared their lives with me.

While the lives of so many influential people cross my path via news articles, books, movies, musicals, and countless other medium, the question I continue to reflect on is, “What difference have I made?” Am I significant? Have I really made a difference?

I’m growing to understand more every day that setting out to change the world can be somewhat of a lofty goal, but setting out to change myself and to allow myself to be changed is a far more attainable goal.

That doesn’t mean I’m an underachiever like Bart Simpson, it just means that I’m doing the best to influence what I can and walk away from what I can’t. To be honest, I’ve always joked about grandparents when I’ve seen the, reach that age where they just don’t give a #$% anymore. You know, they back out of the driveway and don’t even care if cars are coming either way. They’re going for it whether or not you’re ready for them.

I’m not saying that’s where I am….yet, but I think I’m well on my way.

Life is far too short to deal with people who are perpetually unhappy and unsatisfied. I’ve spent far too much time in the past trying to appease these people, especially within the church. I’m convinced now that if Jesus himself, or even Peter, Paul, or one of the other apostles themselves came back, they wouldn’t be able to please them either.

The gravitational pull of each and every one of us in our depravity and sin is to live our lives completely for us and no one else. That pull extends into the church and creates toxic environments where everyone’s trying to get their way, kind of like a preschool playground.

So, I’m doing my best to be a little less selfish today than I was yesterday, and to be thinking about others. In the process, I’ve rediscovered what that looks like and how it makes me feel. I’ve realized that it’s far from easy, but it sure seems to make everything a little easier.

One more trip around the sun. Older? Yes. Wiser? I hope so.

Still pushing forward. I am grateful for the opportunities that God has afforded me and even more grateful for those who surround me. My family continues to help me grow, in love and life. God continues to stretch me in ways I would never stretch myself. My community of friends is a source of strength, challenge, and hope. Hope because I begin to see just what can happen when we give ourselves to community. It’s costly, yes, but it also provides us with benefits that are priceless.

Here’s to tripping around the sun one more time!

Who’s Changing Here?

I’ve been learning an awful lot lately, mostly about myself. Sometimes the hardest things to learn are about yourself. Self-discovery is painful and hard, but usually results in the most glorious and rewarding transformations if we follow it through to the end. Kind of like emerging from a cocoon, open it too early and you’ve just got a really ugly and deformed caterpillar, but if you let it emerge on its own, the result will be a beautiful butterfly.

Well, I’m no butterfly, but I’d like to think that I’m still in the cocoon.

I am the youngest of two children, so it should be no surprise that the world of raising three children is foreign to me (the world of raising one child would be foreign to me too, if I’m honest). But I struggle most with raising the child who is most like me. Oil and water, that’s how my wife describes the two of us (me and my child, not me and her).

In the midst of this child-rearing that I’m trying to do, my self-discoveries are rarely comfortable. More often than not, they reveal more of my imperfections and inadequacies than I care to admit. I’ve always said that criticism is autobiographical, the things that drive us nuts about others are usually present in us if we take an honest look in the mirror. There is probably nowhere that is evident more so than in raising children.

As I struggled through a difficult evening and subsequent morning of trying to understand what the heck I’m doing as a father, I spent a significant amount of time soul-searching. What was wrong with me? Was I as big of a failure as I felt like? As my child made me feel?

As I was deep in these existential thoughts, I came to a stunning realization that brought me further down to earth, humbling me once again, and helping me realize just how important other people are to me in my own formation and growth.

You see, as one who has focused a lot on strengths over the past few years, I am very aware of what I am good at doing and what I am not good at doing. I see my gifts and strengths and look for ways that I can use them generatively, to help others grow. But the irony of it all is that the lightbulb that went off in my head made me realize that the reason why God brought me to most of the people in my life isn’t really because I’m supposed to help them grow, but because they are supposed to help me grow.

Yes, I know, I’m so vain, I probably think this post is about me (….if you don’t get it, Google Carly Simon and You’re So Vain). In my journey to understand my strengths and look for ways to help others, which I think it still fairly noble, I failed to remember the mutuality that is (or should be) involved in relationships.

As I processed through things in my own head, with my wife, with a friend, I came to the conclusion that the people who have been brought into my life and who can cause headaches and difficulty aren’t necessarily there so that I can help them grow, but to help me grow in all those uncomfortable and difficult ways that I would never grow into on my own.

Not rocket science, you’re probably thinking. I know, but it’s a significant lesson for me to grasp. I am a work in progress. Growth may be fast at times, but mostly it’s slow and iterative. I may not see the results as quickly as I would like to. I can’t plug into the Matrix and have instant gratification by plugging in the “Patience Module” or “Self-discipline Module.”

So, when I stop and look at all the changes that I think I can help to make in others, I really need to first consider all the changes that are probably going to happen in me, if I really and wholly enter into relationship with others. Not always fun, certainly not comfortable, but way more rewarding than I could imagine.

 

To Boldly Go

One consistent piece of wisdom and advice that people have given me regarding church planting has come from those who have done it before. Over and over again, they have said that church planting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done in life, if not the hardest, but one of the most rewarding as well. The rewards are not always or often as visible as you would like them to be. The costs exceed what you are sometimes willing to pay.

As I look back at a challenging week, I can relate to those who have gone before me and passed on this wisdom.

I’m reminded of personal trainers who push you beyond where you would push yourself. It’s the rare breed of person who might push themselves to the point of greatness, exercising self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-control. The rest of us need a village around us to help us reach those heights which seem unattainable on our own. The strength by which we arrive there would not have been conjured up on our own, it has to be supernatural.

The other day, I looked at my wife and I said, “We would be nowhere if it weren’t for prayer.” We have known this during other seasons of our life but the truth of that has been hammered home to us once again. When we have faced challenges in our life together, prayer has been one of our first courses of action. We continue to affirm this and know that something happens when we pray, both individually and corporately.

I look at where I am and I am grateful for those who surround me. Cheerleaders. Encouragers. Achievers. I feel like I am made to look greater by those with whom I have surrounded myself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am learning something new every day. I am growing in ways that I didn’t know I needed to grow or that I was not willing to allow myself on my own. This crucible of leadership is not for the faint of heart. Enter if you are called, all others need not apply.

The wisest man in the world, Solomon, wrote in his book as the teacher that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. There is power in community. We reach new heights when we ride on the wings of others.

I am changing. I am transforming. The growth and transformation is not without pain or discomfort. But I believe that the outcome will significantly surpass all that I could ask or think or imagine.

Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions

new years resolutionsA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I think I used to make New Year’s resolutions. Don’t hold it against me, peer and social pressure have a way of influencing us to do things that we don’t like or aren’t completely convinced will work. I’ll just chalk it up to that.

I’m not quite sure just when I realized how fruitless those resolutions had become. It may have worked backwards, discovering the ineffectiveness of resolutions in other areas of my life, at least once a year resolutions.

Now, I’m all for wanting to improve and get better, but my aversion to New Year’s resolutions is just like my aversion to annual reviews in the work world. If you aren’t having a conversation about the things that need to be changed and reformed throughout the year, why do you think in one hour’s time, you’re going to make a long-lasting change?

I like course corrections. I like to change on the fly. I like to find out how we can do better as we are still moving forward. I don’t think that it requires a specific day of the year. In the case of annual work reviews, if your boss isn’t telling you what he or she needs from you as you’re moving along, then your boss sucks! And if you aren’t telling yourself the things that you need to course correct as you are moving through the year…..well, then, you know the rest.

Why don’t we set up quarter year resolutions or even half year resolutions? Why New Year’s resolutions? Doesn’t it make more sense to just do regular check-ins to see where you are so you can know what has to change as you go? It seems that it would be much more effective, at least it has been for me.

I’m all for resolutions, just not big annual ones. What if we resolved some things together?

Let’s resolve to find some people who will tell us what needs changing as we’re making mistakes.

Let’s resolve to choose a few things to work on so that we don’t feel overwhelmed in our improvements.

Let’s resolve to encourage others and find those who will encourage us when we and they see changes that have been made.

Let’s resolve that honesty, though sometimes painful, is going to sting less when it comes sooner than later.

Let’s resolve that every day we are alive, we are given the gift of starting fresh with the new morning mercies of God’s love.

Now, these are some resolutions that I can get into. I could probably come up with a whole lot more, but I like to start small. Start small, gain a few little victories, and then go from there.

Here’s to 2019! And here’s to resolving our resolutions, making a point to resolve ourselves and be resolved as we go.

Cutting Deep

A little more than four years ago, my community was rocked when a local police officer and his wife were out for a run and the wife was hit by a car and killed. The running community reacted. A memorial run was set up. A memorial license plate was created. An organization began. A legacy was left.

Now, a little more than four years later, tragedy has struck my community again. A beloved preschool teacher was walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a car. Although she initially survived the accident, she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Again, a community reacts and responds.

In the wake of the tragedy, I spoke to countless teachers who talked about the difficulties that have rippled through their school this year. Suicides. Attempted suicides. Sexual assaults. The list goes on. How much more could one community take, they asked?

This is what seems to happen in a tight-knit community, tragedy strikes and the impact runs deep. Part of it is because of how the various neighborhoods in the community are set up. People live there because they want to be connected to each other. People live there because they want to know their neighbors. But there’s risk in that. When we love deeply, we hurt deeply. When tragedy strikes, it cuts deep into our hearts.

This tragedy strikes my family harder than the last one. This woman was my oldest child’s preschool teacher years ago. For nine years, my three children went through that preschool. For nine years, although we didn’t have her more than one year, we were connected. She knew stories about me, from the mouth of my child, that others have probably never heard.

When news hit me about her death, I was numb. In the middle of the night following, I awoke and lay restless in my bed. Her husband. Her children. Her family. My heart ached. What more could I do other than feel their pain and pray?

In a day and age where we all seem connected yet aren’t always, the silver lining of the tragedy is that I see just how connected and tight-knit my community seems to be. I see people rallying around a family in need, a family who is hurting. I know that many people’s interest will wane as the headlines fade from the papers about the incident. Those closest to the family will journey with them for a time. The connections will remain.

My heart hurts today. Many are hurting in the aftermath of this. But I’d be hard-pressed to believe that any who are hurting regretted their connections. Tennyson said that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We were made for connection, we were made for relationship, to avoid relationship for the sake of avoiding pain will only result in the deeper pain of loneliness.

I don’t know what more will come from this tragedy. I hope that there is more than the usual tears shed, meals delivered, flowers and cards sent, and then the resumption of normality for everyone not directly connected to the victim.

We’re going through a series during Lent at my church on slowing down. It seems incredibly relevant on so many levels as I sit here and type this. Slowing down physically. Slowing down mentally. Slowing down emotionally. We need to slow down. We move too fast, and we certainly move too fast to really grieve our losses. I know that one from experience.

Yes, pain cuts deep when we’re connected, but maybe we can slow down and ask ourselves just how this tragedy, and every tragedy that we face, experience, witness, or even hear about, will change the way that we live our lives. Will they make a difference or will we just return to the status quo as soon as the memories fade?

I choose change.

The Gray of Growth

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Challenge and Change.jpg

For anyone who has spent any amount of time in the church, the idea and topic of spiritual formation has most likely come up at one time or another. As is the case with many words and phrases in Western Christianity, some words and phrases have been emptied of their meaning because of the frivolous ways we’ve used them. Spiritual Formation may have become a buzz word in some circles, but it’s an important concept for all of those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ and who desire to continue to grow.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my own life and in our culture is that we really like “Color By Numbers” types of things. We like to have a script laid out before us, clear instructions that will give us a step by step approach towards completing the desired task. But rarely is the path of growth as linear, formulaic, and structured as we think it is.

If you’ve ever gone through any kind of training, you know that there comes a time when the muscles that you are trying to grow and train need to be tricked and challenged. While regular workouts with the same exercises can still be beneficial, in order to experience growth, changing things up becomes necessary to progress and not plateau.

The Apostle Paul understood the need to discipline the body in order to grow and be trained. There needs to be an order and a structure in what we are doing in our training and spiritual formation, but we may have found that we’ve done the same exercises for such a long time that we need to change things up in order to avoid the plateau of growth that can come when we continue to do the same thing over and over again.

As I get older and grow, I am seeing the benefit of growth not only on an individual basic, but on a communal basis. Like so much of life, we need to maintain some kind of balance. We may find ourselves emphasizing more individual growth rather than communal growth, or vice versa, but finding the balance can be a challenge. While the balance may wane and sway at times, we always need to be mindful of the multi-faceted aspect of growth that happens when we learn individually and corporately.

I sometimes wish that I could simply read a book that would give me all the steps that I need to be perfect in my growth, but that’s far too simplistic to think that it can be effective. While there are helpful methods and books that outline these methods, change is important in our growth and challenge will be part of that. Like the sign in my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?