Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

I live in the city that was once the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia. We have a road that runs right smack through the city called Monument Avenue. It is what it sounds like, an avenue that contains monuments, most of which are commemorating personalities and figures of the Confederacy, save for the lone monument commemorating the city’s native son, Arthur Ashe.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or have quarantined yourself from any news channel like you have COVID-19, you’ve seen our “little” statues in the national (and probably international) news. There is major controversy, debate, and outrage over these monuments and whether or not they deserve a place in public.

Those in favor of the monuments continue to claim that tearing them down is erasing history. In my mind, that is a whole other post altogether. Last time that I checked, history was marked by more than monuments prevalently displayed in very public areas. Museums. Parks. Books. I don’t know, seems there are plenty of ways to preserve history….but I digress.

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Richmond put on by an organization that does great work towards racial reconciliation with action and education. It was a wake-up call for me. I’d had my head in the sand for far too long. I transformed myself into an intellectual sponge and have been reading a lot since then.

It’s been a journey and continues to be such, a process of transformation and change, and learning and unlearning, as a friend so eloquently put it.

I have been privileged to have friends of color and to be invited into spaces where honest dialogue can be had. When I’m in doubt or questioning or genuinely confused, I have been grateful to have friends, colleagues, and mentors whom I can call. I trust them. I respect them. I am blessed to be on a journey with them as guides and teachers.

When I’m uncertain, I become far more quiet than I am used to being. In fact, when I come to a place of uncertainty, people who don’t know me would most likely label me an introvert.

I’ve not always been this way. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve done a LOT of work to get to where I am today. It’s been painful, I’ve screwed up far too often, and I can easily slip back into my own biases and preconceived notions.

Last week, during a conversation at a meeting I was attending, the conversation turned towards current events, specifically protests and demonstrations. As we talked through all that was happening around us, one of my African American colleagues and ministry partners said, “They don’t speak for me.” His words have been reverberating in my head since he said them.

I keep hearing those words over and over in my head as I watch so many people rising up to take a stand, but as one friend described it, it’s a flashpan moment – a big flash and then…….nothing.

I watched a video last week of a time when Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and head of the Equal Justice Initiative, spoke at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer, spoke as well.

In the course of Keller’s talk, he said that justice always requires sacrifice. I can’t stop thinking of that.

When I put those two deep thoughts together, I keep asking myself what I am sacrificing so that my black and brown brothers and sisters have a voice. If I speak for them, I still maintain control and power, but if I let them speak for themselves, I relinquish power and control to them. If I give them authority, then their voice gets louder and louder, that authority becomes a megaphone for their voice.

I’m not saying that protests and demonstrations aren’t worthwhile, but I am asking the question of what happens when the dust settles and it’s all over? What is left?

Just like the end of the Civil War didn’t stop racism nor did the Emancipation Proclamation, protests and demonstrations won’t either.

Again, please hear what I’m NOT saying here. I am NOT saying that there isn’t a place for protests and demonstrations, but what am I doing ALONG with protesting and demonstrating? Am I getting dirty? Am I sacrificing for justice?

It’s a convicting and vulnerable question to ask if we really let it unpeel us. As much headway as I feel I have personally made, I’ve still got such a long way to go. My own Christian faith tells me that it’s more of a journey than an arrival, a process rather than a destination.

Two dear friends who have been part of my faith community went to a park in Richmond the other day. They had set aside the day for themselves and were enjoying the weather in this park.

While in the park, they met two young African American men. They started a conversation with them, asking them questions, listening, and hearing about how they are feeling in the midst of all that is happening around them. In the words of my friends, “It was a blessing.” At the end of their time together, despite our current pandemic, they shook hands (I’m sure they all disinfected afterwards).

That handshake, to me, represented something so significant and special. Despite the current pandemic, that handshake said, “I see you, I hear you, I value you.”

In my growing experience, I am realizing that it is the slow and deliberate work of relationships that makes the most difference. I can’t change you. You can’t change me. But I can change me and you can change you. Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to be changed, others can see the change and are stirred and moved by it. It’s an evangelism of sorts, it’s bearing witness.

So, I’ll still take part in protests and demonstrations, I’ll still speak up and stand up, but when I hang up my signs and take off my protesting shoes, what am I doing in the regular places of my life to ensure that I am pursuing justice? Am I making sacrifices for justice? If not, I had better ask myself if I really want justice as badly as I say I do.

God Is Not A Prop

As I watch the national and international news play out on my computer screen day after day, I think it’s important to stay connected to God’s Word. I believe that it is God’s revelation of himself and that as the written word, it also affirms the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the way, the truth, the life.

I consider myself to be an evangelical Christian. I believe that that term has been severely distorted by some who have been trying to use it for personal gain, advancement, and political manipulation. The word “evangelical” derives from the Greek word euangelion which simply means “good news.” By definition, evangelical Christians are ones who should be proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to those around them. Although this term has been hijacked, I personally believe that it’s better to try to redeem the term than continue to allow others to distort it.

Days ago, I wrote about my growth and understanding of the protests in our country. You can read that here. Regardless of my growth and understanding in regards to these protests, I still believe that it’s a tragedy what is happening amidst the looting, destruction, and violence in our country. While I understand the outrage being expressed by many over the senseless murder of George Floyd and far too many African Americans, there are many businesses that have been built by innocent people that are being destroyed as some of the crowds move beyond protest to destruction.

St. John’s Church, an historic Episcopal church attended by presidents for hundreds of years, was damaged by fire and graffiti. The fact that a church would be damaged during all this was tragic and disheartening. While some may consider it to be collateral damage for the greater good of these protests and the awareness of the deeper pandemic of racism in our country, it’s still disappointing.

Recently, there was news that the President of the United States cleared a crowd during protests to make his way in front of St. John’s Church to have his photo taken with a Bible. The news headlines have been plentiful with reports and opinions of many people’s thoughts about not only the photo op but the means used to attain that photo op.

I’ve been going through the Book of Acts with a few men from my church. Although I’ve read it many times before, I am constantly amazed at how the Bible speaks to me in a clear and fresh way every time that I read it. Regardless of the number of times I may have read a certain passage, God’s Word continues to be what it says, “living and active.”

When I saw this recent story develop in the media, I was reminded of an account in Acts 8 of a sorcerer who wanted to use the power of the Holy Spirit for personal gain.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Simon the sorcerer had seen the impact when Peter and the other apostles had laid their hands on people. Great signs and miracles were the result and having been a man who had used this sort of thing to his benefit in the past, he saw the potential for personal gain from what Peter and the apostles had to offer.

Acts 8:18-24

But Peter would have none of that. As Peter says in verse 21, “…your heart is not right before God.” There was nothing wrong with Simon’s desire for this power, it’s just that he didn’t want that power for the right reason. He didn’t want to bring glory to God, he wanted it for his own selfish gain, which was why Peter chastised him.

I don’t believe that God is a prop. We don’t conveniently pull him out when it suits our own personal gain or benefit. We don’t stick him in our back pocket or shove him back in a lamp like a genie, waiting again to rub that lamp until the time comes for us to seek for our next wish to be granted.

We are all imperfect people, we fall short, that’s why we need a savior. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of the glory of God. We make mistakes. At what point do our repeated mistakes move from forgivable miscues to inexcusable and blatant disobedience. While God forgives, repentance is a turning away from our wrongdoing, not a constant repeat of the things we’ve confessed. Grace is free, but in the words of the Apostle Paul, we don’t continue our disobedient acts just so that grace may abound.

My heart is heavy with the tragedy of what has happened in our country. I am grieved over the racism that is continually denied by so many. To me, it’s hard to deny the pandemic of racism based on what we are seeing with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. I am angered and saddened by those who also seem to be seeking to inflame and divide rather than unite and seek healing.

I believe that the only way we can experience true peace is through Jesus Christ. I get that not everyone believes that, but that’s my conviction and I hold unswervingly to that. I also expect that anyone who claims that will follow through with their actions and their lives, moving beyond simple and cheap gimmicks that suit them for the moment. God is not a prop and I think that it’s time that those of us who claim that he is who he says he is stop using him as such and begin to demonstrate that the Good News we claim and proclaim goes beyond photo ops to real life change and peace that passes all understanding.

Packing Up

office pack upAs I stood in my office, looking around at the boxes and empty shelves, I realized that it would be one of the last times that I would be standing in that space. The emotions that crept up on me surprised me more than I thought. I’m usually ready, or at least as ready as possible, for those not so unexpected feelings in moments like that. But not this time.

It’s not like I haven’t moved before, and as moves go, this one may be the shortest move I’ve ever experienced, literally right down the street. Even when I moved out of my office seven years ago, I don’t think I looked back at that office with the same amount of affection and emotion that I do this one.

Maybe it’s the growth that happened in there. Maybe it’s because I’m leaving that office different than I arrived. As I think back over the three years in that office, there are more memories that pop up about what took place there. Counseling appointments. Premarital counseling. Countless strengths conversations as I led people to discover their strengths and live into who God had created them to be. Brainstorming sessions. Hard conversations. How could one little room hold so many memories?

I’ve written before about the sanctity of space, about how we can tend to attach so much meaning to a place that has become near and dear to our hearts. The funny thing is that this space was never seen that way to me, I never cherished it, I hardly looked on it with affection. I never associated the space with the people there, who I love. It was just a space to me.

But as I pack up and move on, the moving on feels so much more significant than other moves. It feels weightier, not in a cumbersome or toilsome way, just in its own significance. I get the sense that I leave behind some parts of me, some parts that needed to be left there, some parts that are no longer part of who I am.

In some ways, as I look back at the last nine years, I feel as if more growth has happened in those years than in any other stretch in my life. If I were to go back and talk to myself from nine years ago, telling him what he would encounter, what he would become, I’m not sure just how he would take it. Of course, I think most of us might shy away from some of our future experiences if we knew just how hard it would be to go through them. In some ways, it’s a good thing that we can’t see as much as we wish we could, we might run away from the very things that shape us into who we become.

It seems that the older I get, the less time I spend in the same place, physically, mentally, spiritually. I grow, I move on. No matter how much of a change junkie I might become, moving on can still be hard and, if given the choice, if moving on means changing for the better and staying in the same place means remaining the same, if I’m honest, I think I would have to say that moving on is always the right thing to do.

And so it goes, and so I move on. There are memories waiting to be made, tasks meant to be conquered, relationships meant to be formed, and growth that needs to occur. In my mind, I hear the words of Paul, writing from prison, uncertain of the future but confident in God.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Welcoming the Future Church – A Book Review

welcoming the future churchThey have been called the most influential generation, and yet Millenials are distancing themselves more and more from the institution of the church. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, but they’ve not always found a place within the larger context of the local church, choosing instead to give their time to things that seem to be more effective.

In his latest book “Welcoming the Future Church,” Jonathan Pokluda shares his experience of watching a weekly gathering targeted at millenials grow from one hundred and fifty to tens of thousands. Pokluda shares in the introduction that, “If young adults aren’t joining and leading in your church, eventually your church will die. Or at the very least, it will miss out on an opportunity to impact and unleash the most influential generation the world has ever seen.”

Pokluda shares the things that he has seen effective at reaching this generation, things that might be surprising to those within the church who have thought that whistles and bells would be the draw that would bring Millenials into the church. He divides his book into three sections: Teach, Engage, and Deploy.

In the Teach section, Pokluda shares that drawing Millenials doesn’t involve a hiding of the truth. Instead, it involves preaching and teaching from the whole of the Bible, not just the comfortable parts. When there are areas that seem to lack clear direction, engaging in conversations about those areas, not shying away from them.

Pokluda shares his method of preparing messages and his approach to receiving feedback to be as effective as possible. He even admits that he has seen more life change come out of conversations than out of sermons, a fairly self-aware and honest assessment from a pastor. He encourages the reader to hear feedback often rather than just a few times a year. Constant feedback allows for constant change which leads to constant movement towards more effective communication.

There is no question that the church as an institution struggles with change. In the Engage section of the book, Pokluda encourages churches to hold loosely to traditions that might stand in the way of engaging the younger generation. Just as he encouraged an honest assessment of his own communication through feedback, he does the same in regards to the methods used within the church. When we base our methods on what worked then rather than what might be effective now, we arrogantly choose to idolize those methods rather than reach a new generation. It’s by design that Pokluda positions this section and discussion after his emphasis on the Bible so as not to be criticized by anyone who might suggest that he is pushing for a compromise in teaching doctrine or morality.

Pokluda encourages an environment within the church where Millenials can learn from other generations and vice versa. While they are open to instruction, they also want to be heard and valued. Relationship and authenticity are key. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver as so many churches have done. Don’t build your church on programs and attractional events only because you will soon lose those you’ve attracted through those things to another church that does them better.

One thing that Pokluda mentions that I particularly appreciated is the importance of discipleship moving beyond straight teaching concepts. If we don’t move from the “learning” aspect to the “doing” of discipleship, can we really call it discipleship? Discipleship means following and that can’t be in word alone, it needs to be accompanied by deeds.

In the last section, “Deploy,” Pokluda speaks of the importance of vision. Millenials (and everyone else in your church, for that matter) need to be given a picture of what can be. That picture needs to be compelling, energizing, and engaging. Expecting that they will come simply because you tell them it’s important is not enough. Pokluda writes, “give young adults a vision bigger than themselves. Don’t bore them by playing church, pretending to have it all together.” He goes on to say that a weak vision is the easiest way to discourage young people to live into their calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Delegation kills two birds with one stone, it benefits the leader by not requiring them to do it all themselves and it allows others to step up to their own strengths and gifts to lead as well. Pokluda shares from his own experiences about how he has seen teams built together to the point of enjoying one another’s company. Shared experiences are essential for this team-building.

In another very helpful section, Pokluda shares his 5 “C’s” of vision casting: convincing, constant, celebrate, communicate, and call. While the section isn’t very long, it provides some good application for the way forward as you engage young people in the life and ministry of your church.

This is a good place to start for anyone struggling with how to best engage the next generation. There are other resources from places like the Fuller Youth Institute which give some additional practical and more in-depth approaches towards engaging the younger generations with spirituality and discipleship. Pokluda’s book provides some helpful measures that don’t feel too overwhelming for someone who feels like they just don’t know where to start. If you find yourself in that place, this book may be helpful to give you a boost and start you on your way towards engaging the next generation.

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

Roll With the Changes

Throughout the first two weeks of this whole COVID-19 experience, it seemed bearable. In some ways, it felt like an adventure. How can we be creative? How can we think new thoughts?

My wife and I have said that we can tolerate most anything when we know that there is an end in sight. After two weeks of social distancing and tightening measures to keep people from spreading this virus further, the novelty and adventure seems to have worn off and it feel like it’s time to buckle down and figure out how to acclimate to this new normal.

When 9/11 took place, I lived in the suburbs of New York City in Connecticut. Our commuter communities were majorly impacted because of the number of people who worked in New York City every day. In those days immediately after everything happened, there was a spirit of togetherness that occurred. People seemed to have been changed by what had taken place. They seemed gentler, more compassionate, more thoughtful. But it didn’t last long.

Once the novelty and immediacy of those initial days wore off, we went back to the way things had been, the way we were (cue Barbra Streisand).

I keep asking myself, will the changes that we are experiencing during this time stick or will we just go back to the way we were? What is the staying power of our changes?

I guess a more important question would be, how are we changing?

By the time this has all passed, I honestly don’t know how any of us will be able to say that we haven’t been changed in some way, shape, or form. If we are present with those we find ourselves isolated with, it seems natural that we would be changed.

From my own vantage point, the perspective of a pastor, I can see that churches have been struggling through these changes. One of the most significant holidays on the church calendar, Easter, is less than two weeks away and will be celebrated far differently than most churches are used to celebrating it.

I’ve never been a big fan of change myself. It’s not that I’m averse to it, it’s just that there are certain things that I like the way that they are and I’d rather keep them that way. But I’ve learned that life rarely affords us the option of staying the same. Change or die seems to be crying out to us as life rolls on.

I’m trying to be more sensitive to what’s changing in me as these days stroll past. How am I different? How am I acting?

I’ve got to say, I’m not winning any awards for how I’ve responded up to this point, especially this week. I’ve fallen short, embracing survival over excellence. I hit the proverbial wall.

But picking myself up again, looking ahead, I’m going to do my best to reflect on what is and what could be. How will I let this time change me? How can I be a different when this is all behind us?

New Year, New Decade

New Year’s Eve has always been an enigmatic celebration to me. While I understand the turning of the year and people’s need to mark it and celebrate it, it’s never felt quite as significant to me as it does to others and, maybe, as it should.

I prefer constant assessment and course corrections over annual resolutions. If I don’t have enough self-awareness to keep tabs on things throughout the year, I don’t feel quite up to speed. Considering the percentage of resolutions that end up on the trash heap within the first month or so, it never seemed incredibly important to me.

I do appreciate thoughtful processing done with trusted friends. As I get older, I find myself gravitating towards these meaningful conversations. What’s the purpose of an unexamined life?

I heard it expressed multiple times as we moved towards the turning of the year that people couldn’t believe that it had been 20 years since Y2K. Thinking back to the significance (or insignificance) of that, it was much ado about nothing. That seems to be the case with so many things though, let’s hype it up only to find out that it wasn’t as big of a deal as we thought it would be.

As I sat around a circle of family listening to everyone talk about their last ten years, it was a new experience for my wife to take the lead when it came to our turn. Usually, I’m the one who talks and she fills in everything that I miss. This time though, she led the way and it was really good for me to hear it.

As the words spilled from her mouth and she described the difficulties of this last decade, it was affirming to me to realize how I wasn’t alone, how she had felt what I had felt as deeply. When I lost my parents, she felt it. When we were part of a church split, she felt is. When I struggled towards the finish line of seminary, she felt it. When our last child was born just two months after my mom died, she felt it.

Sometimes, taking a look back to see just where you’be been can be so helpful. It reminds us of just how far we’ve come, what we’ve conquered, what we’ve endured. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Looking over the past decade, it seems that it’s easy to see a few near misses along the way.

No resolutions for me, just to continue to press on in obedience. I want to make the most of the days ahead. I want to make a difference, to feel like what I am doing is significant. I want to leave a legacy, one that points to Jesus so that my children’s children’s children can know what was most important to me.

Good-byes get harder as time goes by, or maybe I’ve just become more sentimental. 15 years ago, I had no children. My wife and I were living in Asheville, North Carolina and we had flown to Wilmington for my aunt’s funeral. Funerals can bring families together, which is good, but the circumstances around that reuniting are certainly not ideal.

As my parents dropped us off at the airport, I remember embracing my mom as the tears began to flow. Although I would have her around for another seven years, the frequency of our times together would vary. But there was a palpable sense that every good-bye seemed more significant and important. It could be the last good-bye, or among the last.

Those same feelings rise up as we leave behind our family after visiting with them over the holidays. Those good-byes just feel heavier to me and I find my emotions rising up as the day approaches when we’ll head home once again.

I am grateful for yesterday as I look forward to tomorrow. I’m not guaranteed the one and I can’t change the other. All I can do is the best that I can do.

So, I’ll wake up and keep pressing on. Today is a new day. Tomorrow will be as well. New days will add up to weeks and months and years.

May the new day hold new opportunities. May we look back at yesterday not with regret but with a posture of learning, both what we did right and what we did wrong. Not so that we can feel guilt or remorse, but so that we can course correct to make sure we don’t duplicate the missteps of yesterday today.


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.


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!