Categories
Christian Living

What is this election teaching us about us?

If this election cycle has has revealed anything about the current state of the church it’s these two things:

  1. We’ve taught people what we think at the expense of how to think.
  2. We’ve confused felt needs for our needs.

How did we get here?

Full disclosure. You’re not seeing a 2,000 word rant about why I think “you” played a role, and how we got here, in creating the problem I’ve summarized in the above two statements.

I deleted it.

It’s easy to blame “you.” “You” is a perceived enemy I can easily create. “You” is everyone that’s not me.

You” is blaming.

You” is easy. “You” is a bit lazy writing, creating a monster that’s easy to vilify.

What’s my role?

But “you” is also “me.”

It’s much harder to look in the mirror, realize I’ve played as big a role in this as anyone else, and instead say… “What’s my role in making it better?”

So I’m wondering…

  • What can I do to help encourage independent thinking, celebrate intellectual conversation, and create spaces to facilitate that? 
  • How can I better connect with “them” so I’m not guessing about felt needs? What can I do to truly meet needs for actual people instead of imagined ones?
  • How can I help us move from “topical” to “full”? In other words, how do we help people see that Scripture isn’t just what’s interesting to us– skipping around from short burst to short burst in 4 or 6 week “series” and instead dive deeply, sometimes into the boring parts, to connect to a deeper narrative?
  • How do I justify elevating real, researched felt needs above my own needs? You know, because the latter pays the bills sometimes better than the former.
  • How do we fix it without burning it down? 

 

Categories
Christian Living

We is better than me

In my backyard office it’s easy to think only about me.

  • My commute is steps, not minutes.
  • When I want a snack the kitchen is 50 feet away.
  • Want to talk to Kristen? She works 50 feet away, too.
  • It’s as quiet as I want it to be. Want to listen to music from the 90s? No problemo.
  • Want interaction with others? Do it.
  • Don’t want interactions with others? Just turn it off.

For better or worse it’s a me-centric way to work. And it has advantages. I don’t sit through pointless meetings and there are no office politics. A little too warm for my liking? Turn on the AC. Too cool? Turn on the heat. I’ve got no co-workers to negotiate that with. No one knows and frankly no one cares.

When you work alone, in your backyard, it’s easy to think only about yourself. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

We is Better than Me

In the daytime quiet of my backyard, plugging away on an endless… seemingly self-feeding todo list… I have a rational choice to make.

Is this about me or not?

I have a little mantra that I repeat to myself all the time: We is better than me.

 “It is not good that the man should be alone”

Genesis 2:18

From the earliest moments, from Creation, God recognized this value… We is better than me. When I’m alone, when I’m about myself, it’s not good. (Being about me and having alone time are different)

This mantra, We is Better than Me, expresses itself when I’m frustrated in a we setting. I’ve got this in-born desire for things to be about me all the time, to be awesome, to be for me– to want things my way in my time. And when that doesn’t happen? I’ve got this tiny bit of righteous indignation that feels like I need to not just be frustrated that something isn’t working for me but also the deep-seeded need to tell people, to get people on my side, to declare… “This isn’t working for me and you should do something about it because it’s not working for this person either.”

The mantra is especially helpful in these moments. When I’m feeling my most about me, when I’m wanting to grab the pitch forks and let everyone else know that my needs aren’t feeling met… that’s when I repeat the mantra: We is better than me. 

Just because it’s not about me doesn’t mean it’s not good for we. Just because I think I know a better way doesn’t mean my way is better. Usually, it just means I need to learn something new– I need to shut up.

And in a world where everyone can say whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want: Shutting up might just be the most powerful thing you can do. 

We is better than me. 

We don’t just taste communion. We live it.

Categories
Christian Living

The Nature of Work & Vocation

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking– more like rethinking— about the nature of work, vocation, and how all of that impacts daily life.

In short, I think I’ve over-specialized and/or overused “calling” as an excuse to embrace work-a-holic habits, expect overwork, and otherwise potentially make work an idol.

With those two statements in mind I’m asking you, my faithful readers and friends, to help me brainstorm some works that I should look into. (Books, articles, blogs, etc.)

  • Provide as little or as much as you'd like!
  • This won't be shared publicly without your permission, I'd just like to know who you are in case I'd like to follow-up.
  • This won't be posted publicly, just so I can follow-up with you if I have questions.

 

Categories
Christian Living

Reliance

Two things will make you act drunk, blind, and stupid.

Love. And fear.

Sure, there are real things to fear in life.

Instinctive fear in response to danger is completely normal. You hear gunshots and you instantly ducks down and wonder, “Is someone shooting at me or is it New Years Eve and I didn’t know?” Or you are weeding the garden, hear some rustling, and look to the side to see a snake slithering towards you. Or you are crossing the street while looking at your phone and you hear screeching tires.

But that’s not the type of fear I’m talking about. I’m talking about fear that paralyzes us from making a choice or taking an action. You know you need to go back to school… but you just don’t because you’re afraid. You hate your job… but you don’t do anything about it because it’s too risky. You feel compelled to speak up, to tell the truth… but you stay silent because you don’t know what’ll happen if you do.

I believe fear drives us to deeper and deeper levels of insecurity and, for Christians, further and further away from Jesus.

The more I’m afraid the more I’m thinking about me: “What will people think of me if I ____? What are the consequences if _____ goes wrong? What will they say to others if _____? Is that too much risk? If I fail will people think I’m a failure?

While not necessarily bad questions to ponder none should paralyze. Consider, weigh, make a decision and move along.

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John 1:14, The Message

In Jesus-speak this is “the incarnation of Christ.” We believe God became a man to [among other things] bridge the gap between the Father’s divinity– His “not-humanness“– and to walk with us. The Son took all the risk in coming to earth, to become fully human. Here he experienced everything we experience, including fear. (Jesus got 1-on-1 time with Satan.)

Therefore for Christians, the people who identify with Jesus as their Savior and the measure of which is to live a Christ-like life… As we identify our daily life in light of Jesus’ incarnation we are drawn closer and closer to hugging our problems, pushing us past fear, realizing that our most dangerous life is one dictated by fear instead of faith.

fear-faith-reliance-teeter-totter

 

Think of fear as a fulcrum on the teeter-totter of faith and doubt. When we walk in self-reliance we are overcome by fear and all the insecurities and me-ness that comes with it. When we walk in faith-reliance we dwell in the knowledge of what’s worthy of our fear and what’s merely a human response we can push past.

Fear, by itself, isn’t bad. It’s not sinful to experience fear. But the consequences of living a life dictated by fear– or the avoidance of things which might be scary– can lead you to make lots of bad choices. (Indecision is a decision, after all!)

Two things will make you act drunk, blind, and stupid.

Love. And fear.

Choose love.

Categories
Christian Living

Long-term Missions

Last weekend Kristen and I volunteered to help with a clean-up project in our neighborhood. I should clarify… Kristen volunteered and I tagged along. 

As we were raking and hauling load after load of sticks, rotting organic matter, homeless paraphernalia, and pine needles to a 10 yard bin to be hauled away I got to thinking…

In some ways, as an American, it’s pretty easy to wrap your mind around a short-term mission trip. (I’m a huge fan of short-term missions!) In a way… it’s quite a bit harder to maintain a posture that living in your neighborhood is a long-term missions project.

Let’s unpack that…

We live in a society where affinity is king. We chose to see the things we chose to see because we like something. But things that we don’t care about we just don’t see. Our eyes see so many things on a daily basis that we tune almost everything out or else we’d go mad from overstimulation.

So, by default, we look after our own preferences as a primary thing. Things that we have an affinity for get unlimited attention. And we look after everything else as a secondary.

But, as Christians, we are children of a Kingdom where proximity is king. Jesus didn’t say, “Love the people you have something in common with as yourself.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.

Each day we have to fight what our culture has taught us from infancy. Sometimes we need to divert our eyes to ignore the things we have an affinity for in order to see the things as a neighbor.

Jesus is asking us to empathize with the needs of our neighborhood.

Categories
Christian Living

Is Pietism Good News in a Post-Christian Context?

I posted some thoughts on Twitter this morning that I think deserve some unpacking, if even for myself.

The Inciting Question

There is a central, driving question that I think many people outside of the church are asking and those in church leadership are fervently avoiding: If you are inviting me into a life with Jesus is that life better than the one I’m leading without Jesus?

“Does it work for you or are you just trying to get me to come to your church?”

Actually, I don’t just think people are asking that question in an academic-y, wondering kind of way. Real life people are asking me this question.

Statement of Thesis

What I find, from outside of church employment, is that HOW I live the Christian life is much more important towards reaching people than WHAT my religious practices actually are.

This causes confusion because when I’m talking to friends they like the way I live, maybe even aspire to it, but some of the “HOW I live” stuff is oppositional to the people on the platforms at churches. I’m living a life they want but they know that if they step into a church the model for them looks very, very different.

Statement of the Problem

This is what people see. They are struggling with working too much. They have an inborn desire to connect with God (see Romans 1) but the life they see modeled through church is not a life they see as better, it’s really a life indifferent than what they already know.

In fact, they think, asking them to follow Jesus and get connected with a church is actually asking them to become busier and have even less margin.

They want a life worth living and the church seems to offer an alternative busy life not any better than the life they are already living.

In other words, if the Gospel (Good News of Jesus) being offered by the institutional church that people see isn’t really “good news” to them… why bother?

Obviously, the answer is… they don’t bother.

Where Does This Come From?

Theory One – The church is answering a question no one is asking

Back in the day, Seth Godin argues, advertising and marketing focused on features and benefits of products. The idea was that people carefully considered the best product before making a choice. But that all changed in the late 1980’s and 1990’s with Nike’s “Like Mike” campaign. Successful marketing became about identifying with a brand, people didn’t buy Jordan’s shoes because they were the best, they bought them because they wanted to be like Mike. A current version of this might be Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man” campaign.

Is Dos Equis the best beer? [No, they don’t win awards. It’s just cheap Mexican beer.] That’s not the point of the campaign. The point is that interesting people, people with swagger, drink Dos Equis.

Church leadership is often stuck in this pre-1990’s marketing mindset. Programmatic approaches are presupposing that people are looking for the best church. It’s a fundamental disconnect.

People make a choice. They go to a church they want to identify with. And, interestingly, church insiders will openly tell you where they are in opposition to their church because they might want to be identified with it, but not everything it stands for. So you’ll hear church attendees say, “I got to X church but I struggle with their position on women in ministry.”

But, when you’re asking someone to identify as a Christian they look beyond the activities of the church, they look at the people on the platform… who are literally “above” the people in the pews. (As Dan Kimball pointed out 15 years ago… there’s a reason you sit below the person on the platform. It’s not so you can see, it communicates subconsciously that you are below them and you have to “look up” to hear from them.) And the people I talk to? They look at those who work at churches as workaholics, whose life revolves around their work, who have very little social life, whose margin is forced or non-existent… and they think that they are living a better life without Jesus.

The programmatic church is based on felt needs of insiders. But outsiders are asking a question from higher criticism… “Is the life they are asking me to live better than the one I’m currently living?

Theory Two – Programmatic church answered a different question for a different day

spenerFor centuries the church offered few programs. The religious life of pastors looked very different from the one of today. Pietism brought into the church the idea that walking with Jesus meant being involved at church outside of the worship service. And, for a long time, this was a good thing.

But in a post-Christian world, the churches programmatic approach offers very little to someone that they can’t get elsewhere. I don’t need the church to provide a social structure, I have one already. I don’t need the church to provide daily religious activities… I’ve got Google, I can find that if I want it. I don’t need Christian music, I can find Jesus in the art of the world just fine. On and on.

Am I right on this? I don’t know. But it’s what I’m thinking about this morning.

Categories
Christian Living

We is Better Than Me

Sin divides us, Jesus unites

I’m tired of the divisions. I’m sick of divide and monetize.

I’m ready to be a part of something where “we” is better than “me.”

Categories
Christian Living

The Unmoored Life

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John 1:14, The Message

Dr. King’s life reminds me that vocational ministry isn’t limited to church employment. Our calling is bigger than a job.

The incarnation of Jesus takes the Good News preached in our pulpits and invites us to live it out as good news in the neighborhood.

The Unmoored Ministry

It’s been several years since I last worked in a church. It’s a funny thing… you spend a decade pursuing one thing [a career on church staff] and then God invites you to explore something entirely different. [a career serving the church outside of church employment]

If I’m honest I’ve not really recovered. I feel “on purpose” in my work but not quite in the same way as every day grinding it out on staff. And as I’ve written before this sometimes leaves me feeling disconnected and lost. “What am I doing here?” That’s not an unusual question for a Sunday morning. The answer is unsettling: “Just sitting here in this chair, counting down the seconds until it’s over.”

For me, that’s where Dr. King provides some inspiration.

The things we celebrate about Dr. King? Most of them happened when he answered God’s vocational ministry calling by doing something else. Yes, some of that happened when he was leading a congregation. But the big things? They came later.

As I push through a season of feeling a bit unmoored that’s good news to me.

Yes, working in a church is honorable and good. I have many, many friends who work on staff at a local church.

But yes, serving God in whatever you do? That’s important stuff too.

I need to reflect and remember that vocation is different than work. My vocation hasn’t changed. In fact, I might just be leaning into it harder than ever.

Categories
Christian Living

Rubberneck

No, rubbernecking is not some new way to make out that you’ve not yet tried. Instead, it’s the reason it took 11 hours to drive home from San Jose yesterday whereas it took us 7 hours to drive to San Jose on Friday.

Rubbernecking is the human inclination to slow down and look. To scornfully, guiltily gaze at the folly of others.

We really can’t stop ourselves from looking. Whether some poor soul has gotten a flat tire or their baby blew out a diaper: We must slow down enough to look.

We whisper to ourselves…

  • I wonder what happened? 
  • A flat tire? What an idiot.
  • [Looking at a fender bender] I wonder what happened? 
  • [Driving by a bad accident] I shouldn’t look. Kids don’t look. Look the other way. [Meanwhile, you always look.]
  • I can’t believe all of these people slowing down to watch a guy change a diaper. Morons. 

It’s morally wrong to look, we tell ourselves. We curse the rubbernecker for slowing everyone down just so they can look and they should just be minding their own business anyway.

And yet we are the rubbernecker. Our culture sends us one message… “Get there in good time!” while our nature forces us to cause the problem, “I feel guilty or looking, but I can’t stop myself.

The Good Samaritan

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. Luke 10:30-33, emphasis mine

Some say the Bible is irrelevant to daily life today? Dude, Jesus is talking about rubbernecking. That’s quite literally my life on November 29th, 2015!

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Luke 10:34-35

See! Jesus said “Go and do likewise… DO NOT SLOW DOWN TRAFFIC TO LOOK!!!! Rubberneckers are the devil incarnate!

Oh wait. He didn’t say that at all. While he poked fun at the rubbernecker scornfully, careful to insert the very people he’s talking to into his parable as the example of what not to do just to make sure they understood he was talking about them– he said that the polite inclination of minding your own business and driving by was also morally wrong.

We shouldn’t rubberneck. Nor should we mind our own business.

We should stop the car and help.

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:35-37

Go and do likewise.” when you see a dad changing a poopy diaper on the side of I-5… stop and help. At the very least take the dirty diaper in your own car! Why? Not because it’s convenient. Not because it’ll get you there on time. Not because

The Counter-Culture Revolution of Jesus

When a 7 hour drive is turned into an 11 hour drive because of rubbernecking drivers you start to wonder, “Where is Jesus in all of this?”

And the reality is…. He’s right there on the side of the road waiting for you to stop. To get involved instead of driving by. “It’s not good for man to be alone in his car, listening to podcasts and staring at his clock.

This is the revolution.

Culture says mind your own business.

Culture says that the safest thing to do is to stay in your own car.

Culture says don’t stop.

Culture says don’t even slow down.

But Jesus says stop and help.

Embrace his timing.

Embrace his agenda.

Don’t worry about yourself or your own timeline.

Worry about others. Worry about God’s timeline.

Go and do likewise.

Categories
Christian Living

The Second Act

Sebastian Marroquin

Sebastian Marroquin is the son of one of the world’s most notorious criminals, Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar. At the height of his powers Escobar was said to be the seventh richest man in the world. And he controlled up to 80% of the world’s cocaine trade. His unbelievable wealth and power were only matched by his brutality – he was responsible for thousands of deaths and kidnappings during the ’80s and early ’90s – a period when his cartel terrorised Colombia. Sebastian told Outlook his memories of growing up in the palatial Escobar family compound, Hacienda Napoli.

Source

You can’t listen to this interview and NOT hear the words of a forgiven man:

  • “I have been fulfilling the second promise instead of the first.”
  • “I created the documentary because I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation.” 
  • “It wasn’t safe for me to come back to Columbia… I took that risk because I thought peace in the country was much more important than my own life.”
  • “Thank God, I could start from zero. I am free of the past.” [On not having any of his father’s money.]
  • “I never hated my dad… I love him unconditionally. I am not his judge. I am a part of him. I was his son, one of the most important people in his life.”
  • “My dad was one of the best dads. But he was also one of the most dangerous bandits in the world. I have to live with both facts.” 

Steve Fisher

To some, Steve Fisher is most famous for having coached the Fab Five, for Chris Webber’s timeout, and for getting fired from Michigan when it was revealed that some members of that team were being paid by boosters.

But to San Diego, he is known as the man who put San Diego State basketball on the map. He went from giving tickets away all over town to the hottest ticket in town. The school is entering it’s 5th straight season of selling out it’s 12,414 Viejas Arena before the season begins.

At the same time, SDSU has transformed itself from a fallback school of commuter students to a top 100 research university bursting at the seams. There’s a direct connection between success on the hardwood and success on the Mesa.

Second Acts

It’s easy for your life to get defined by your first act.

Sometimes, as in the case of Sebastian Marroquin your first act is defined for you— you’re born into a notorious family. But for most, it’s not that of a drug lord– but it might be a family history of divorce, addiction, abuse, or poverty that defined your first act, you were born into it.

But for still others, like is the case with Steve Fisher, you might have played a role in your own first act failure. [To be clear, Steve Fisher was never tied directly to what happened at Michigan. But we can all agree that he somehow played a role. At the very least he was responsible for the actions of his team.] Or for still others, there is no doubt in your defining first act role— you were the addict, abuser, unfaithful, or carried the bad habits that lead to a life of poverty?

In your first act you experienced failure.

You were the bad news.

Yet, when this happens, you are left with a choice only you can make.

Are you going to allow your life to be defined by your first act or are you going define yourself by your second act?

Some remain defined by their first act failure their entire lives. But other, a small percentage, get up… dust themselves off… and create a strong second act.

This is, in Christian terminology, the crucified life.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Will you be defined by your first act or your second?