Categories
Christian Living

A Fall to Grace

One day morning will dawn, your eyes will open, and you will awaken with the literal reality that the dream you had for yourself is over and it’s time to move on.

I can think to specific days in 2000, 2003, 2008, and most recently in summer 2011 when I rolled out of bed with the knowledge that I’d just crossed a line. The dreams I knew were gone. And I had to find new dreams.

In each case, those mornings felt like I’d just fallen from a place of positional power, security, and recognition. Even in going from one role to another– even if that new role was “better” than the one I’d left, it still felt like a fall.

Perhaps it is a guy thing? But much of who you are and how you think of yourself on a day-to-day basis is wrapped up in what you do, who you work with, and the people you do stuff with. When that’s gone– whether by choice or not– you experience this unmooring free fall feeling.

While other leaders have experienced ugly falls from grace I have never experienced that. Instead, in times where the things I knew are suddenly gone because I’ve moved on to something else… I’ve experienced something I can only describe as a fall to grace.

The free fall feeling of change always lands in the loving arms of a God who has nurtured and cared for me from the beginning. And those strong palms support my back as I try to get my bearings. God’s grace supports me, lifts me up, and the warmth of that palm reminds me that I’ll be fine.

To know Hope you must know Despair

Despair is not the enemy of hope. Frustration and anxiety may not be your friends but they are repeatedly wrestled on your way to hope. Over the years, plenty of people have called me overly hopeful– almost stupid hopeful. From my eyes I only know summits of hope because I have been in great depths of despair. In the darkness of that valley I’ve cried out to God, “What am I doing here! I can’t do this anymore. I hate every last step of this! AAAAHHHH!!!!” The echoes of those moments haunt me.

But when you’ve been there– when you’ve screamed in that valley and heard those cries echoed back empty? Then you discover that any step above that is a step towards hope.

But knowing hope, truly living a hope-filled, is a reflex against despair.

To know Faith you must know Doubt

It perplexes me that some have made doubt the enemy of faith. I would argue that you can’t know what faith is until you know what doubt is. Both are invisible. Both are real. And both are internal, silent motivators of our daily actions.

In putting both feet on either side of the faith/doubt teeter totter I desire balance while one always wins over the other. I’m either standing on faith or standing on doubt.

Falling into the arms of grace isn’t an action of doubt or faith. But the resolve that comes through pushing against doubts gravity to take action is a step of faith. That is what reassures me that grace truly will catch me.

To know Grace you must know Failure

One of my mentors, at each of these moments over the past decade, has asked me… “What are the things you are running away from by doing this and what are the things you are running to?” Even in roles where everyone has labeled me a success I know there were failures. I know there were expectations unmet. I know I expressed attitudes I shouldn’t have. There were many times when I worked on what I wanted to work on to the neglect of what others thought I should be working on.

Even on the road to success there are many failures you have to deal with. Being honest about that with myself and with others helps me discover what grace really means in my life.

Because of my failures I don’t deserve anything good. But good keeps coming my way. That’s not a reflection of my character or timing or anything else. But it is a reflection of the character of God.

Friends- I have no idea what is going on in your life. But I do know that we will all encounter times where we experience free fall. My encouragement? Fall into the receiving hands of grace.

Categories
Christian Living

Dispatches from the land of Hope

My dear friends of Despair,

I know you are tired. Despair is an exhausting existence. As you know I was a resident there for many years.

I know that each day is much the same. You spend countless hours looking for nourishment, feeding on things of no nutritional value, then falling asleep with the horrifying hunger reality that the next day you’ll awaken just to look for food that food won’t fill you up. It’s a life of unsatisfying hunger which lead me to malnutrition of my body and soul.

There is nothing left for you there. It’s time to flee the life you know in Despair and join me here in a place named Hope.

The land of Hope only seems scary because Despair is so familiar. After a couple of days you’ll get used to it. It’s nice here. The air is clean. The beds are soft. You won’t be hungry over here, there’s plenty to feast on.

People are more friendly, too. Instead of gnawing on the food of the past they are eagerly building tomorrow. I love talking to the people of Hope. Sometimes, just in casual conversation with a Hopeful, my eyes will well of with tears of Joy.

It took leaving Despair behind to discover that the people over there are murderers. They fixate on happiness in order to steal your Joy. Then they feast on your joy, mocking its value while consuming it like a taste test at a Chinese buffet. All my life it felt like the people of Despair would finally turn around and their hunger would be satisfied. But they are like zombies, dead men walking.

If you moved to the land of Hope we could be neighbors. I know we’re friends now. But imagine how much closer we’d be if we lived in the same place? Heck, our kids could go to school together. Maybe they’d even call you aunt or uncle? I’d love that… but it’s just not practical with us living so far apart.

Join me in the land of Hope. Leave Despair behind.

Hopeful,

Adam

 

Categories
Christian Living

I choose hope

Recession? Here's the NASDAQ Index July 2, 2009 -July 2, 2011

Our culture loves despair. We ignore the facts and choose lamentation.

Listen to an hour of the news and you’ll hear how dangerous our country is. (Crime is down significantly over the past 30 years) You’ll hear how horrible the economy is. (The image above shows the NASDAQ Index the past two years.) Public school stink. (In fact, most major metropolitan school systems have seen test scores steadily increase over the past decade.)

Find a slow news and the media just goes back to the wheel of despair news stories that you love. Teen pregnancy, homelessness, violence in schools, date rape, sexting… you know the list. They go back to that wheel of despair because YOU LOVE THAT NEWS! Our culture is sick, ¬†twisted, and upside down.

We love to point to examples of bad news and apply them to our entire culture. Gang violence up 2% in Chicago? People in Arizona will go buy a handgun, just in case it spreads. A school in the district is struggling? Pull financial support, start a private school, all the kids with means will go there.

We’re all going to hell in a handbasket and there’s nothing you can do about it. Armageddon is on the horizon, cope and deal baby!

That’s our culture of despair.

I reject despair for a posture of hope

I refuse to be defined, to think of myself, or to allow myself to be manipulated by an evil system which loves despair. Jesus did not die so I could live a life of despair. He subjected himself, even to death, so that I could live life to full. (John 10:10)

  • My project is faced with impossible odds? I like my odds of winning.
  • Life biggest challenges afoot? I smile at the opportunity.
  • Less than 5% of our neighborhood attends a church? Let’s get to work loving our neighbors.
  • One of my students lives in ruin because of bad decisions? Today can be the next chapter in an amazing story of redemption.
  • 1.5 million people left homeless after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince? Well, let’s feed this 5,000. It’s a start.
  • The church cut the budget, staff let go, initiatives put on ice? Time for some soft innovation.
  • Everything that could have gone wrong today did? Tomorrow is a new day. Let’s learn from this and move forward.

I choose to fear God alone and allow Him to have dominion over what He’s asked me to do. He’s not surprised by my circumstance. He’s never let me down. And He takes great pleasure when I put my faith and trust in Him despite the odds.

The only story Americans like more than despair? A comeback. Your comeback can begin right here and right now. But you have to put on hope. You have to wear it like a jacket. You have to allow hope to define you.

Hope goes beyond and attitude and a forced smile.

It is a posture I choose to carry in all areas.

If you don’t like hope. You won’t like me.

Join me. Reject despair.

Assume a posture of hope.

Categories
haiti

Apocalypse Now – Life and Theology in Haiti

24 hours into my second trip to Haiti and I started crafting this phrase:

Theology and culture always co-mingle. You just hope that theology and culture never conspire against the goals of the church.

In America: Theology and culture conspire to destroy the church through our belief in the American Dream and pursuit of happiness.

In Haiti: Theology and culture conspire to over-spiritualize everything.

At least that’s my opinion after my second visit. The first go-round, I was doing my best to look past all of that so I could focus on evaluating the needs of the people. But this time, it became clear to me that the desire to blame everything on the spiritual world was seriously hampering rebuilding.

God may have been in the earthquake. But there were certainly human factors at play as well.

Walking around Carrefour, the epicenter of the January 12th quake, is like a scene out of a movie. Not the beginning and fun parts. And not even after the credits roll. It’s like that sense of curiosity you have when you watch a movie like I Am Legend. What would happen if people re-inhabited the set? That’s the feeling you get walking around the effected areas. You are on the set of a movie about the end of the world.

The world has ended.These are the words of some church leaders. Most Christians in Haiti seem to believe that January 12th was the beginning of the tribulation. And who can blame them? On a single day half the cities people became homeless. Almost 10% of the cities population was killed. Countless homes, business, churches, and government buildings either collapsed or were severely damaged. If this isn’t tribulation than the real tribulation is truly something unimagineable.

Last week I documented some signs of hope in Haiti. This time I wanted to be fair and share some signs of despair. (And evidence that you need to be involved!)

  • Some rebuilding has begun. But with no building codes, horrible materials, and skilled labor lacking… people are just making the same mistakes that lead to so many deaths. It’s easy to blame God, but one major contributor was faulty construction practices.
  • Billions of dollars in foreign aid will be distributed mostly to wealthy oppressors. Joel spoke with a Spaniard on his way out of Haiti. He had been in the country for 3 years and is leaving because he can’t handle the corruption anymore. “Want to know where all the aid is going? The Haitians the NGOs are hiring are selling it out of the back door.” Enough money has been given to Haiti to completely level and rebuild Port-au-Prince. Unless people intervene all of that money will be squandered away bit by bit. Sorry if that’s shocking to you.
  • While there are thousands of NGOs on the ground, very few have camp managers like Sean Penn. Like it or lump it, each camp needs a foreigner who will go to the various NGOs and leverage social currency selflessly on behalf of people. Spiritual needs are great to meet. But there are still plenty of physical needs unmet too. A camp manager who checks in 1-2 times per week isn’t going to cut it. It takes people who make running the camp their life mission to make things happen.
  • The earthquake shook the people, but a culture of dependency is hard to loosen. Americans have a “fix-it” mentality. It’s in our cultural DNA and we exhibit it everywhere we go in the world. As the recipient of generations of this, Haiti (and other places in the world like Haiti) have a “foreigners fix-it” mentality. Our cab driver in Ft. Lauderdale was the perfect example. His wife is a doctor in Haiti and he sends home money to support her. When I asked him when he would move back to his country he told me, “I will move back when I find a white man willing to partner with me on my water and ice business.” When I told him that, in my opinion, the only hope from Haiti was if the Haitian people lead themselves and stopped depending on outsiders… he just laughed. “I wish that same thing, but the Haitian people just like to buy and be given things by white people. It means it is a better gift or business than a Haitian can create.”
  • The government of Haiti is dragging its feet. A major problem facing rebuilding efforts are the myriad of 18th century property laws that govern ownership. You need a permit to remove rubble. And if you are renting you need to get the owners permission. The owner might live in another country, and he may only have a share of the ownership with dozens of cousins. And, of course, to prove you own the land you need to go to a government building which collapsed. Round and round you go. Months go by and nothing gets done. Unless you pay a bribe, that is.

Is there hope for Haiti? Obviously. I believe to the core of my being that Jesus brings renewal of the soul and the land. While this is an incredible time of spiritual revival in Haiti it is also the greatest opportunity in our lifetime for Christians to get involved at the grassroots levels and help root out corruption and see the best interests of the people served.

If not you than who? Want to change the world? Think you are crazy enough?

Step one.