Something Like A Collision

car collisionThe other night, I was driving home from the hospital. I had just gone to visit a friend who has been struggling with health issues lately. Visits like that are always helpful to put things in perspective for my own life.

On the drive home, I was fairly pensive, pondering the existential questions of life as I drove up Interstate 95. My phone buzzed as a message came in from another friend asking whether I had a minute to chat. After my talk-to-text affirmative response, I spent some time on the phone with him hearing about the challenges that he is facing in his life within his own family.

When I hung up the phone with him, my mind raced to a handful of other friends and acquaintances whose lives have been a bit of a challenge lately. Marriages on the rocks. Childrearing challenges. Sickness. Crises of faith. It was a little overwhelming for me to consider.

My mind wandered to this church planting journey that I am on. I thought about the name of this church we are starting, The Branch. Our tagline has been, “Where life and faith meet.” I couldn’t help but think that sometimes that meeting of life and faith meet feels more like an abrupt collision than a cordial meeting.

Years ago, a mentor reminded me that when you embrace a name for yourself as a church, you had better be prepared to embrace all that comes in that name. I couldn’t help but hear his words as I thought about life and faith meeting. I’ve known from the start that this collision of life and faith would be messy.

I’ve never been one to tolerate giving messages or advice that I am not following myself. To think that any kind of meeting of what can sometimes feel like diametrically opposed things like life and faith would be a walk in the park would be naive, in my opinion. Collisions rarely are tidy.

But that’s the thing, as I thought about it, the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I’ve grown weary of encountering people who are hurting who run from the church rather than running towards it. I’ve grown weary of the stories of people forming opinions about Jesus based on his imperfect followers. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like an insider’s club that suspiciously eyes outsiders for fear of what they might have brought with them. I’ve grown weary of church sometimes looking more like a retirement home for the already convinced rather than a hospital for the sick who are desperately in need of attention.

Different. Everyone wants to be different, to establish themselves within their own uniqueness. I guess we’ve embraced that same notion. We want to be different. We want to be a place where life and faith meet so that God can break down barriers to his grace. So, when we begin to see barriers being broken down, I guess you could say that we can begin to measure ourselves against our goal.

I’ve been in a handful of accidents in my lifetime, nothing tremendously horrible (thankfully), but enough to know that collisions rarely leave us without a mark. Even if there is no physical evidence of a collision, it generally impacts us mentally.

I fully expect that the more and more we see life and faith meet, collide even, we will be impacted by those meetings, those collisions. We won’t be the same, and frankly, I think that’s what we’re 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.

What’s Better?

truthBefore I dive into this post, I need to say two things, and I need to say that what follows may ruffle a few feathers. I’m not perfect and am constantly being transformed, but part of my working this out is being done as I write it out.

First of all, I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in New England. My mom, dad, and brother were also all born in Brooklyn. The New York directness of which people speak was inherited by me. If there was something to be said or talked about, we pretty much put it on the table. There weren’t a lot of rugs in my house under which we could sweep things. As hard and uncomfortable as it was to be direct, I experienced it frequently in my family and I think I am a better man for it.

Second of all, I’m not a big political guy. Like other things in life, politics, to me, is a necessary evil. I was the kid who came home in elementary school from a mock election voting for the opposite candidate that my parents had supported. When I told them who I’d voted for, I got a stern talking to in order to set me right. As the decades have worn on, I’ve been just as jaded as everyone else with the political climate in the United States. But, regardless of my dislike or disagreement with a political figure, I’ve still understood that there should be a certain amount of respect that’s due a political candidate, usually because they’ve earned it.

Political correctness, in my opinion, feels like the bane of my existence, mostly because it seems to fly in direct opposition to honesty and truth. While I was raised outside of New York City and I understand and embrace the directness that stems from that subculture, I have also learned over the years that while directness is a good thing, tempering that directness is also an essential part of getting people on board. That’s not to say that I do that well all the time, but it’s something that I have grown in and something which I am constantly striving to get better at doing. Just because something is true doesn’t mean that it needs to be said or said in its truest fashion.

As my wife and I were talking the other day, I was lamenting the fact that there is so much hatred, anger, and animosity that spews all over social media and the media in general. Criticism is one thing, but hatred is a completely different animal. I’ve received enough of my own criticism to understand that there is value in that when it is received and applied well.

But I’ve struggled with the fact that we are not a nation of truth tellers and we don’t seem like we want to be told the truth either. Some people would rather be lied to and be treated well then be told the truth and treated poorly.

What’s worse is that people have somehow equated telling the truth with being mean and nasty and lying as being nice, as if we’ve set up limitations that you can only be one or the other. I can either lie to you and treat you kindly, polishing my speech and candycoating my flaws, or I can speak freely, frankly, and harshly while not caring how my speech comes across.

I don’t think it’s either/or.

We have seen people in the public eye who are forthright and honest but who are complete jerks about it. They cut right to the point, which may be a draw, but their delivery is atrocious and offensive. But why can’t people be direct and kind at the same time? Is it possible to speak the truth in love with a genuine desire to tell people the truth while still being careful and sensitive to what’s being said and how it’s being communicated?

At the same time, why do we have to put on all kinds of fronts in public in order to hide the beast that seems to be lurking behind closed doors? That’s been more than apparent as we’ve seen on a larger and larger scale in the area of sexual harassment. People who have looked polished and clean on the outside have really been devious predators behind closed doors. What’s causing this?

My heart goes out to all of these women (and men) who have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault against some fairly high profile people. The courage that it’s taken to stand up and speak into such a difficult and damaging situation is something that I applaud. But what is it that has caused this? Something has propagated this to the level that it’s at and I think it goes much deeper than anyone is willing to admit.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount seem to get a lot of press, but it’s usually only certain of his words. We seem to forget the whole picture and just like our culture and the media, we like to soundbite things that support our own cause. I realize that in saying that and then quoting Jesus, I may be doing that very thing, but bear with me a second. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” In other words, let what comes out of your mouth be truth, don’t shift your words or waffle around.

One of the conversations that I’ve had with my boss lately has been about what this looks like in our church. How do we become lovingly honest? A phrase that has been used in regards to what that looks like is being ruthlessly self-aware. We become ruthlessly self-aware as we are able to have honest conversations with each other, lovingly and willingly entering into dialogue to talk about things that may be uncomfortable but, in the end, are worthwhile because of the growth that can take place when those conversations happen.

I’ve grown tired of the loss of integrity in our culture. That’s not to say that I am perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do my best to make sure that who I am in public is who I am in private as well. It’s not always easy and to be honest, when who I can tend to be in private comes out publicly, it provides accountability with people who are close to me who confront me on these glaring issues that they see.

So what would it look like if we moved towards these kinds of relationships and conversations? How would it be if we didn’t feel like being honest always meant being a jerk and being nice always meant lying to someone’s face?

I think that we can be lovingly honest. It’s something that I want to strive towards and hope that those who are closest to me will strive for the same thing. That kind of approach can go a long way in changing more than just ourselves and our relationships, I think it can move out and help others to strive towards the same thing themselves.

 

Monumentally Important

gettysburgLast week, my family and I spent the day of the eclipse at Gettysburg National Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After looking at the eclipse (through our glasses), we bought a tour CD, hopped in our car, and rode through the battlefield, listening to a dramatization of the events that took place three days in July of 1863.

 I’ve always been a history hack. History intrigues me and can even excite me, but I’ve never really invested as much time in the learning of it to be any good at remembering it all. That isn’t to say that I am a sloppy student of history, I just haven’t really had the kind of margin or bandwidth in my life to fully dive into the pursuit of history the way that I would like. I’m fascinated by it but like so much in my life, it becomes just one of many things I can spend time pursuing.

 Living just outside Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate Capital, just a little over seventy miles from Charlottesville, my mind was whirring as we drove onto the battlefield. With all the talk of removing Confederate monuments in places like Charlottesville and Richmond, and also having read countless articles of everyone and their brother expressing their views of where monuments belong, I was curious to see just how I reacted to what I would experience at Gettysburg.

 As we listened to the narration of this historical battle on our CD as we drove through the battlefield, we stopped at monument after monument. Each state involved in the battle had its own monument to the men whose lives had been lost there and the brave ones who had fought there.

 My mind quickly thought about the events of those three days more than one hundred and fifty years ago and the war that split the nation. While many may claim that the Civil War was about so much more than slavery, slavery continues to be what gets the headlines with that war. While other issues may have been involved and while I understand that wars are far more complicated than to be diluted down to a single issue, it’s hard to say that slavery, at the very least, played a significant role in the war.

 But my mind also thought about Charlottesville and St. Louis and Charleston and so many other cities that have shown that the ideals for which a war was fought have not died with the men on that battlefield but still rear their ugly heads in the twenty first century.

 We came upon a monument, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, in the midst of the battlefields that had been dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1938. The quotes on the monument were haunting to me.

 “An enduring light to guide us in unity and fellowship.”

 “Peace eternal in a nation united.”

 Were these really true? Cold I honestly say that this was the case?

 Driving through the battlefield and encountering monument after monument, there was one thing that we didn’t encounter: protesters. There was no one shouting hate speech. There were no banners being waved. There was just the silence and solemnity of a former battlefield.

Looking at each of the monuments though, I think they were right where they belonged. They hadn’t been placed in an urban setting with no connection to the war. They were placed in locations that were significant to their meaning and in that context they could be useful and helpful. They could help to educate and teach in that context, pointing future generations not to elevate them or the men they represented, but to remember.

 Funny, when you go to the dictionary to find the definition of “monument,” one of the first definitions you come across is, “something erected in memory of a person, event, etc., as a building, pillar, or statue.” Does that mean that monuments cease to become monuments when they cease to help us remember? Do they still count as monuments when they are erected to give homage and reverence?

 Not far from my home outside Richmond, Virginia, just up I-95 in Woodford, is a shrine to Stonewall Jackson. Now a shrine is a completely different thing than a monument. According to the dictionary, a shrine is, “any place or object hallowed by its history or associations.” Shrines are not monuments and monuments are not shrines.

 So how is it that some of our monuments have become shrines? How have we come to a place where we have somehow separated the meaning and the history  and the context from monuments whose sole purpose was to point us towards those very things?

 I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s as black and white (no pun intended) as some have tried to make it. I don’t think that we can make large sweeping and blanket statements that say, “All monuments are bad and racist.” Nor do I think that we can say, “All monuments are sacred and speak to history regardless of where they are located.

Like so many things, discernment, conversation, and relationship may be required to move past our generalizations and quick fix remedies. When we dwell in generalizations and quick fix remedies, we forgo the efforts required to engage in difficult discussions and conversations. It’s much easier to say, “Tear all the monuments down” than it is to say, “Can we talk about this? Why are they important?”

 There are reasons why I think this has happened, but that’s for another post on another day. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and look at those pictures I took on the battlefields of Gettysburg. I’m going to remember the conversations that I had with my children. I’m going to relish hearing them say that all of us are created equal. And I’m going to do my best to help them understand that monuments aren’t shrines. That seems to be monumentally important to me.

Responding to the Tension

welcome to charlottesvilleThe events in Charlottesville last weekend and the continuing turmoil that we are feeling in our country at the state of disarray and disunity may have us a little on edge. Some of us will look at the situation and say that things are not as bad as they appear, while others will look and say that things are far worse than they appear. One thing that we know for sure is that there is a problem and anyone who would deny that is denying reality.

 As human beings, we can do a really good job of pressing down the tensions and conflicts that are trying to rise, we can make it seem as if the problem is not as big of a deal as we might think it is, denying out of fear, out of pride, or out of something else deep within us, sometimes denying it outright altogether. But the problem remains and, in fact, grows more severe the longer we push it down and deny it.

 Some say we have a problem with racism in our country, and I agree. The racial tensions that we have been experiencing in recent days are not new, they have been lying underneath the surface for a lot longer. I choose not to assign blame to a political figure for their sins of commission or sins of omission, because I think that the problem is much deeper, it extends far beyond just one person. While actions and words (or a lack thereof) may have perpetuated and even instigated other actions, the problem lies much deeper than just outward demonstrations. It’s a heart issue.

 The problem is racism, yes, and the problem is a heart problem, yes, but I would actually go a step further to boldly say that it is actually a sin problem. It’s one that extends far beyond our country to our world, for anytime that we deny that God created us as anything less than equal, we are being disobedient and denying that ALL of us have been created in the image of God.

 Many may disagree with me. Those who don’t espouse to any religious beliefs may think that’s a bit strong, but I think that we could all still agree that it is a moral and ethical issue. There is a cancer that runs deeper than signs and protests, deeper than freedom of speech or expressing opinions, and far deeper than the foundations of the monuments that are in question at this time.

 God’s people, the Israelites, would set up stones at the place where God had done something significant in their lives. They stood as monuments to all that God had brought them through. I am sure that the sight of those stones would bring back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. The words of Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 4 resound to me, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'”

It’s interesting, because Joshua didn’t tell them to tell future generations what the stones meant to them, but what had happened there. There was no interpretation necessary. But the stones were not there because the stones were important, the stones were there because what had happened was important and they never wanted to forget.

I think we’ve forgotten. I think we’ve forgotten what happened here and I think that some of us have forgotten to tell our stories. We’ve elevated a movement or a person or even a bunch of stones, and we’ve forgotten what was behind them and we’ve forgotten to tell our stories.

There will always be extremists, and extremists always get the press. But the rest of us who live in the tension between extremes have a choice. We can either ignore those extremes in hopes that they go away, or we can make our voices louder, choosing to tell the stories of why we’re here. We may not always agree, we may have differing opinions, but if our end goal is to tell truthful stories, I honestly think that some of those differences and disagreements will begin to fall away.

I sat in my office this morning sad. I was sad and even scared that I had three children who had been brought into the world to face these kinds of things. But beyond my sadness and my fear, I could see hope. I could see hope in knowing that I had the opportunity to lift up a different monument for my children, not one forged in stone and steel, but one that was written on their hearts. I have the opportunity to tell them the stories, not to promote a movement or an agenda, but to promote us living according to how we were created, in the image of the One who created us.

The Value of Relationships

Today is the last day of my trip. The end of a journey. For the last three and a half weeks, my family and I have been traveling across the United States. Richmond to Los Angeles and back again. Today, we finally arrive back home.

We’ve squeezed an awful lot into those 24 days. National parks. Baseball games. Reunions with friends. While we’ve been able to do an awful lot, there have been plenty of things that we just haven’t been able to do. There’s only a certain amount of time in a day and as much as you can try to stretch it, you just can’t do everything.

As we’ve been making our way back east towards home, we’ve had the privilege of staying with three of my closest friends from my time in seminary. On the way out, we connected with some family members and some dear friends of my wife’s from her college days.

In the midst of this valuable time, two things have stood out to me.

First of all, the structure of our trip, seeing all the sights that we could see and ending at a much more manageable pace with relationships at the heart of the final days, has been perfect. I can’t think of a better way to spend these last days as we inch our way towards home than to engage in meaningful conversations with some of the people that I love and respect the most.

All of these friends of mine are spread out across the Midwest. South Dakota. Iowa. Ohio. One friend, who we were not able to see, lives in Singapore. Needless to say, we don’t get to see each other very often. While two of the three that I saw were at our seminary graduation a few years ago and one of the three was officially ordained into ministry two years ago, we all have not really spent time together in years.

The second thing that stood out to me was the importance of these relationships. The nature of life is that it just doesn’t slow down. I’ve spent a lot of time during my three month sabbatical considering that truth and its implications. In the midst of schedules, families, crises, and all the things that life throws at us, we make time for the things that are important to us, but even the things that are important to us can have a tendency to fall by the wayside as the things that are directly present before us invade and overtake us like kudzu on trees in the southland.

As I ramp up to dive back into the fray of ministry after three months away, I can’t think of a more fitting preparation for my reentry than to spend time with these friends and their families. One of the things that I valued most about my time in seminary was time spent with these friends outside of the classroom. Sure, we learned a lot within the classroom, but the nature of the program that we went through was that all of us were in ministry and doing ministry while we were getting our degrees. The ability to share about what was happening and the things that we were learning along the way was invaluable.

I am grateful for all of the people that God has placed along my path. I’m especially grateful to these guys that I’ve had the privilege of spending time with over the last few days. I’m not sure when we will have the chance to connect again, but I sure hope it’s soon. Relationships are a much more precious commodity than we can often treat them, I’ve got to make sure that they become a priority. Spending quality time with trusted and respected friends is worth the effort and sacrifice that we make in order for it to happen. The benefits that we will reap from time spent are incalculable, especially when we consider the alternative and just what we might miss out on.

Rules for Sabbatical

Being a pastor is a different kind of job. It’s not just a 9 to 5 job where you do your work and then go home. Oftentimes, it’s a job that last far beyond the bounds of what some might see as the typical daily grind. It’s a job that isn’t easily “left at the office” either. If you are truly called to it, there are deep ties and connections with those to whom you minister. While one might develop some deep relationships with co-workers in normal jobs, working as a pastor may result in deeper relationships with more people.

As I have been preparing to go on my three month sabbatical starting next week, it’s been mildly amusing to hear firsthand or secondhand about what people think are the appropriate levels of engagement that they can have with me along the way. Can we talk to you if we see you in public? What if we’re having a party? Can you come? How about golf? Can you play?

I was at a meeting the other night and made jokes with the others at the meeting as I imagined people seeing me in the grocery store and running the other way for fear of disrupting my sabbatical. If someone did that, I’d be really disappointed (although it might result in a good, hearty laugh). Everyone laughed at the thought of that but I told them that I was legitimately planning to write a post about the rules for my sabbatical. So, here it is.

My lead pastor gave me a piece of advice that I think can frame up a lot of my sabbatical. He said, “If it causes you anxiety or it raises your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.” While life will still go on throughout the thirteen weeks of my sabbatical, this is good wisdom to know the kinds of conversations in which to engage and which should be avoided.

I am a social person and to become anti-social during this time would be uncharacteristic of me. So, I don’t plan to do that. At the same time, engaging in banter on Facebook or other social media outlets may result in that anxiety and raised blood pressure of which I wrote. It also may invigorate me. I plan to continue to blog and hope to actually become a little more consistent and disciplined in my writing through this time. I am going to do my best to allow people to track with me through my blog in a way that they might normally do via more personal contact.

While I will most likely be taking advantage of attending other houses of worship when I am in town during this time, I certainly don’t want people to avoid me, especially when they see me in public. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t talk with me. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t drop me a note here and there, shoot me a text, or even leave me a message, especially if it’s to let me know that they are thinking about me and praying for me. I have a hard time thinking that kind of encouragement would raise my anxiety or my blood pressure.

When it comes to whether or not something is acceptable during this time, I think others can probably abide by the same rule about raising anxiety and blood pressure. Like I said, the thought that people are praying me through this time and the idea of me getting encouraging notes, texts, or emails (to my non-work email) along the way is a pretty neat thought.

This is all new territory for me. My father was a pastor for over forty years and he never had the pleasure of privilege of having a sabbatical. While his church was incredibly accommodating with him for different seasons of his life, especially when he got his doctorate, to the best of my knowledge, he never received an actual sabbatical. So, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity.

I’m excited for what lies ahead during this time. It will be a learning and growing experience. When I get back, I will see just how well I’ve done at raising up others to serve in my areas of ministry. I’m excited to share just where I am along the way and what I’m being taught through the bumps, the curves, and the quiet moments on the road.

3/3/00

Every year on this day, I can’t help but thinking what happened in the year 2000. On March 3, 2000 (3/3/00), I asked my wife (then girlfriend) to marry me. I’ve blogged about it before (see here), but every year, I am astounded at just what happened that day.

Now, my marriage is far from perfect. If I’m honest, I can see my own deficiencies and inadequacies come through. I see my faults and foibles, my sins and missed marks, but there is something about marriage that shows me a picture of God.

We were made for relationship. God did not create us in order that he would have something or someone to play with, robots to heed his every command, or groveling servants who simply obey his every whim. God created us to experience the relationship that had existed between the persons of the Trinity from eternity past. Marriage gives us a picture of that when two people come together to make one.

All too often, we can look at our marriages and think that they are there to fulfill our every wish and desire. We want what we want and when we don’t get it, we think something is wrong. But the longer that I am married, the more I see my own selfishness, the more I see just how deep it runs, and the more I realize that marriage is about being changed and transformed. I’m not who I need to be, but I’m moving in that direction……I hope.

I got married a little later than my peers. It’s not that I hadn’t had relationships that had been serious before, but I just don’t think I was ready or in a place where marriage would have been viable had I not waited as long as I did. I fear that my marriage would have ended in divorce had I got married earlier than I did.

But on March 3, 2000, I was given a gift. She said, “yes.” She said, “yes” to an engineer who eventually became a pastor. She said, “yes” to a home that was only a few minutes away from family but eventually was a half a day’s drive to family. She said, “yes” to not one, or two, but three kids. She said, “yes” to walking alongside me when I buried not one, but two parents. She said, “yes” to an adventure that would lead us to North Carolina and Virginia. She said, “yes” to watching her husband be beaten, battered, and bruised by those who claimed that they were striving to be like Jesus.

In front of a small group of friends and family, I asked her to marry me and she said, “yes.” We celebrated the next day with our family, a few months later at a party with a larger crew, and fifteen months later, we were married.

There are many days when I look back and I wonder what I did to deserve her, and then I realize that I didn’t do anything, that’s grace. Many days I wonder how much more she can put up with, and then I realize that’s grace too. As I wrote in the song with which I proposed to her, “Your love makes me more than I dreamed of, more than I wished for or ever thought I could be.” Every day I get a picture of God’s grace through the gift that he has given me in my wife.

Like I said, we’re far from perfect. We both have issues, I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t have issues, but we’re moving through them. It’s not been an easy road, but the journey has been rewarding and the changes that have taken place in us are not of this world.

I celebrate the gift of grace that came to me through a woman saying, “yes” sixteen years ago. She’s said, “yes” every day since and in that “yes” is a gift that I experience every single day.

I love you, Carebear!

Confess

confessI got a phone call from a friend the other day. He had been struggling and I guess he just needed someone to talk to. As I listened to him talk through his struggles and recounting the past weeks, I realized that he was confessing to me.

For a moment, I stopped and thought of the confessional booth in the Catholic church. The priest goes in one side while the confessor goes into the other side. The confessional booth seems shrouded in darkness and secrecy. It’s a secret place where sins can be confessed without fear or worry of listening ears or prying eyes.

My friend needed to tell someone else what had happened over the past few weeks. He needed to get it off his chest, to feel like he wasn’t the only one bearing the burden. He needed to know that despite his shortcomings and faults, he was still okay.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Despite our trust and faith in God, it can be difficult to simply read words on a page to understand and know that there is forgiveness and absolution for our sins. We want more, we want something tangible.

I think that’s why it’s so difficult for many of us to embrace the idea of grace. We feel like we should do something, that there needs to be an action, a punishment, a penalty, a payment that WE should be making. Instead, we can fail to see that the action, punishment, penalty, and payment have been made once for all. There is no need for additional payment, but there is a need for additional confession and repentance.

Confession is a mysterious thing to me. It’s something that we are called to do and when we do it, most of the time, we find ourselves feeling that burden lifted once we’ve confessed it. While 1 John 1 tells us about the need to confess to God, there is another aspect of confession that I think my friend subconsciously realized that James makes reference to in James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We are called to confess to one another.

In a perfect world and a perfect church, this would most likely not be a problem. Frankly, I think our social media culture has made this more ominous and challenging. Why should we confess our sins to one another when everyone else seems to have it all together? Why should we give someone the ammunition that they might need to exploit us, to abuse us, to question us, and to judge us?

Our hesitation to confess to one another has more to do with fear than anything else. We are afraid of what those confessions might turn in to when in the wrong hands. We are afraid that in our confessing, others won’t feel led to confess in kind.

What would it look like if we all followed the urging of James and confessed to one another? I’m not talking about the, “I kicked the dog on the way to work this morning” confessions, I’m talking about REAL confessions:

“I thought lustfully about someone today.”

“I saw my neighbor’s new car and I wanted it more than anything.”

“I found my fingers and my eyes wandering when I was on the computer last night and I ended up somewhere no one should go.”

“I found a way to make a little extra money at work but I know it’s not legal.”

The list could go on and on, but I wonder how often we utter those confessions to one another. How different would our lives look if we were to have the freedom to confess to one another? How intimately would we need to know someone for us to confess these things to them?

I don’t have the answers, but I was struck by the fact that a friend was willing to make himself vulnerable and lay his burdens down. I wonder when I’ll feel like it’s okay for me to do the same thing.

 

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.