Confessions of A Sour Face, Part Two

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a certain surface quality that doesn’t immediately endear myself to people. I also mentioned that this bothers me and makes me think of things I need to do to make myself appear more friendly and approachable. But, I realized that this is foolish.

One of the speakers at the Apprentice Gathering Conference that our Community got to participate in led us through an active imagination exercise. She asked us to close our eyes and imagine that there is a figure standing in front of us and when that figure turns around we realize that it is ourselves. This version of ourselves that is in front of us is holding a gift in their hand and begins to hand us the gift.

The problem was, in my imagination, I could never turn around. This version of myself that was supposed to hand me a gift would never turn around. It was very strange. Mind you, I don’t over-spiritualize situations but this was just really odd. It is my imagination, why would it be blocked from showing me myself and what was in my hand?

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Move to the following Sunday in my own church’s service. The sermon is over and the ritual that our church follows is a song is sung and people are given a chance to respond to the message.  During these times, sometimes I pray, sometimes I am silent, and sometimes I sing. This time, I bowed my head and closed my eyes. What did I see? I saw Christ handing me a gift!

I am not trying to be cute or trying to be dramatic or trying to be overly spiritual, this is what I saw.

What does it mean?

Remember that I went into the Gathering in Wichita discussing with some friends how I get frustrated by how people respond to me and often have a negative reaction. As the week went along and I had moments with God to reflect on these things and got to listen to strong teaching on struggle and forgiveness I started to realize something. God has made me how I am for a purpose and he wants to use who and how I am for his glory. I didn’t need to get in touch with myself to understand this, I needed to get in touch with Christ. Whatever gift my imaginary self was wanting to give me was not what I needed to receive. What I needed to receive was the gift of Christ and all that he has to offer. That is where I will find fulfillment, understanding, love, acceptance, and purpose.

I may have a sour face but Christ needs to use me the way that I am and that was a rich lesson to learn. I don’t need other’s approval and admiration. God will provide what I need and when I need it. I can quit trying to fix my face and keep working, with Christ’s transformation, on my heart. Then I will be the Christ that only I can be.

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Confessions of A Sour Face, Part One.

“You are hard to read;” “You aren’t the most expressive person;””I thought you were mean the first time I met you;””Does he ever talk?”

These are quotes that have been said about me over the span of my life, some within the last week. On a regular basis, I hear from people about my “look.” Apparently, my face does not provide a very comforting, welcoming, or friendly sense in others. And because first impressions are so hard to move away from, it takes a lot of work on my part to guide people towards a truer sense of who I am.

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I have asked myself what is wrong with me? I have tried to even change the position of my mouth to a more smiling posture but that can’t be sustained over long periods of time and seems so fake.

I mentioned this aspect of my existence to some of my friends at the Apprentice Experience. One friend said that these reactions to me was a form of persecution. He said that I was being persecuted for righteousness sake. I guess he meant that because I care more about who I truly am in Christ rather than how I look to others, I wasn’t playing an image management game that seems to be so important to most of the world and I was paying the price for it. He may have overstated things a bit but it got me thinking. Should I work to make sure I am projecting an image that appeases the world’s need for me to look and behave a certain way at all times or should I focus on the inside and Christ’s transformation in me and let people’s perception take care of itself?

The ironic thing is that I am more friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic than I used to be. Honestly, I consider this a minor miracle and a sign of Christ’s transformation in my life. Still, it bothers me when I hear the comments like those above and I wonder what am I supposed to do?

In my next post, I will tell what happened in Kansas and shortly thereafter that gave me my answer to my dilemma.

Too Much Of A Good Thing Can Still Be Too Much

Go to a music festival, a 5k, or a golf scramble and you will see all sorts of fetishizing. It seems half the enjoyment that people have surrounding these things is the chance to obsess over new gear, new toys, some great new equipment that is going to make you successful or cool or admired. In reality, you are probably none of these things, you are just a grown up kid that has the latest and greatest. It is all so frivolous.

Last week, at a national spiritual formation conference I attended, I saw many examples of this kind of fetshizing. There were three different places to buy books and whenever a source or a tool or a website or a piece of art was mentioned, people would practically fall over themselves to get access or to pull it up or to add it on to their stack of resources. I am guilty of this. But, I have to watch myself. I don’t want to become like a golfer who always buys the latest clubs and gimmicks but barely works on his game. I don’t want to become like the runner who has the latest shoes, shorts, visor, and compression socks but hasn’t mentally prepared for the rigors of a race.

One person tweeted about the conference, “The Apprentice Gathering, where all the spiritual formation nerds hang out.” I don’t want to be a spiritual formation nerd, I want to be changed and transformed by the power of Jesus Christ in my life. Will I need the help of books, seminars, resources, and apps? – probably but what I really need to do is ask daily, “What kind of person do you want me to be, Lord?”; “What can I do right now that would allow me to grow into that person?”; “What do I need to put aside so that I can become closer to that person?”

Gluttony can happen within areas beyond food. We can be gluttons with spiritual things and spiritual resources. These resources just end up cluttering our minds and our spaces and make true transformation harder to access.

Do you find yourself wanting to sign up for every Bible study you hear about? Have you purchased books that you have never read? Do you lust over the latest and greatest just because it is the latest and greatest even if you don’t really need it and your life season requires something different?

Commitment to Jesus is just that and not commitment to consuming things about Jesus. I only want what will get me closer to Growing Up and nothing else. May that be our prayer today.

It’s About Time

Eleven weeks have passed since my Dad died.

After the funeral, I took a day off and then went back to work. I have not had significant time off since then. That is one of the reasons I am looking so forward to this week.

On Tuesday, I will be traveling back to Wichita, Kansas for Gathering 3 of the Apprentice Experience. For the next four days I hope to be renewed in my thinking, to be refreshed in my spirit, and to reflect on what has been an incredibly difficult 2017. I want to rest and to enjoy being around some of the best people I know.

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At the end of the week, our group will converge with a national conference called the Apprentice Gathering. It should be an incredible time. I am sure I will have the chance to report on some of what I have learned in future posts.

I want to thank all of you who read the blog and have reached out to me and prayed for me. Your support has been so encouraging and life giving. If there is any way I can return the favor, please let me know. Thank you.

What if The Gospel is Greater Than We Imagined?

One of our readings in preparation for the third gathering of the Apprentice Experience is The Magnificent Story: Uncovering A Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by James Bryan Smith. I am so privileged to actually know Jim and to have shared meals with him and chatted with him about his work and about some of my meager efforts at discipleship and spiritual formation ministry. This is a guy who had Rich Mullins as a tenant in his house and was designated by Dallas Willard to write a Curriculum of Christlikeness.

But after reading The Magnificent Story, I am especially blessed to be associated with his ministry as a participant in the Apprentice Experience. This book, though not shy on theology and some scholarly heavy lifting, does for the Gospel what Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy did for the Kingdom of God. If you thought you knew all their was to know about the Gospel, Smith would say that you have just been exposed to a reduction and not the magnificent story full of goodness, beauty, and truth. He looks at reduced gospels such as the social gospel or the penal substitution gospel as important theological points but because they are reductions have become distortions that are doing more harm than good. As an alternative, Smith emphasis the Trinity as something we lose when our gospel gets distorted. He also mentions things like the miracle of creation, incarnation, and the great end of the story when we will see the new heaven and the new earth.

I have been exposed to Smith’s writing enough to know that he is not interested in hype. His book, though a departure, in many ways, from tried and true narratives coming out of evangelical circles, is meant to expose people to the vast expanse and wonder of God and his work on earth. He is not trying to present some counter view just to sell books or create a social media buzz. He has felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to write this book and the two books that will follow this one – The Magnificent Journey and The Magnificient Mission.

Our culture is so full of outrage, so full of narrow-mindedness, so full of criticism that I wonder if we are allowed to enjoy anything anymore. Smith reminds us that God and his work is worth enjoying and is intended to be enjoyed and now is the time to start enjoying God’s magnificent story.

 

What I Would Tell My Twenty Year Old Self

I am 42-years old. I now have a daughter who is a Freshman in college. I recently tried to write some things to her detailing what I wish I knew entering college. That got me thinking about myself as a young person and what would have been important to know when I was 20-years old. Here is a portion of that list.

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  1. Pursue Christ not feelings. I once spent time at a lake talking to God about all that I wanted to experience. I began most of my sentences with, “I want to know what it feels like to…” Looking back on that now, I am frightened by my foolishness. By God’s hand I didn’t fall into some self absorbed, emotion only fueled existence that only sought feelings at the expense of the transforming power of Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Christ is much more worthy of pursuit than my feelings. The latter is a dead end.
  2. Being a Contrarian has its limits. I am one of those people who in a room full of liberals will be the most conservative in the room or in a room full of conservatives will be the most liberal in the room. I am not intentionally trying to be difficult, it is just that too much blind consensus makes me uncomfortable. So, in the evangelical world that I grew up in and continued to partake of in college, I tended to narrow my faith to a set of beliefs that were more personal preference than a soul stirring philosophy of life. More a reaction to what I saw around me than a productive sense of direction. In a way, I had been guilty of the same problems I saw in my evangelical circles. In an effort to be reactionary against what I thought were a narrow set of beliefs, I had built up my own reduced version of beliefs. The depth and breadth of the full gospel were lost to those I was reacting against and to myself.
  3. Change is Possible. Twenty plus years later I am a different person. Many people hold back on this Growing Up in Christ thing because they don’t really think that change can happen. I can say that Christ has transformed my life but at 20-years-old I would have been skeptical. Today, I am a friendlier and more patient person. I am less selfish. I don’t let anger and bitterness consume me. I am more genuine and less likely to embrace falseness and pretense. Lust doesn’t have the hold on me as it once did. I understand more of the heart of Christ and have been able to learn from him in a variety of ways. It is not as important for me to always be right. Christ can change lives. It has happened to me.

The Christian Life: Unfiltered

Scripture says that the one who has loved one another has fulfilled the law. Any other commandment is summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The sum of God’s purpose for human beings is to love one another. No filter is needed. You don’t have to run this through a denominational filter, or a political filter, or a theological filter, or a family filter, or a social media filter. This is a biblical directive, it is right there in black and white. The mark of Christianity is whether we are loving our neighbor as ourselves. You don’t need someone to tell you what this means and whether or not one thing counts as loving your neighbor and one thing doesn’t. If you are a Christian and you don’t know what love looks like, then you might need to start your faith over.

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This past week in Houston, there have been many signs of this kind of love for neighbor. Volunteers in boats are saving people from their washed out homes, public service personnel are risking their lives and maybe even the protection of their own home and possessions to help others. And we are celebrating these acts of sacrifice and love. The stories about heroes are more present on social media than stories of destruction or loss. We can’t get enough of it. Why? Because, deep down we know the goodness that is found in this kind of love. We recognize the purity of helping another person simply because they need help.

May Christians return to this truest mark of the faith. Let us put away all of our filters that give us convenient excuses for not doing God’s will. Life is too short to not love, to not practice goodness.

Let us live a filterless life.

 

One Place Where It Didn’t Help Me To Be White

Despite my shortness and my whiteness, my sport growing up was basketball. I loved the action meshed with specific skills meshed with constant competition. I was good enough to play on varsity at a large high school and then to play at a small non-scholarship college.

One of the reasons I progressed as a player was the fact that I played against tougher competition. That usually meant playing against and with players of a different skin color, specifically black. Marcus, Maurice, Chinda, Tyrone, and Sedrick were names of some of the players I commonly played against.

Tyrone was one of the best players to ever come out of our town. He was a quiet guy who had the physical skills to score while also being a presence defensively and under the basket.

I had been away to college for a few years but when I was back over Christmas Break or Spring Break I would go to a local gym for a noon basketball run. These games were pseudo organized; but usually if you wanted to play you had to be picked up by some players who needed an extra hand to make a full five.

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Though I had been around this gym my whole life this was an adult crowd who weren’t too impressed by my stature and color. Even though it was my turn to get into a game some maneuvering would inevitably happen and my turn would get overlooked or I would just simply be denied access to the game. In the eyes of those present, I was too white, there was no way I was going to be any good. Until Tyrone showed up.

Tyrone knew me, knew that I could shoot, played hard, would get him the ball and would be deceptively good when the game needed me to be. While all of the other guys were finding ways for me to not get on their team, Tyrone always managed to include me on his squad. And then we would rule the gym. With these games, if you win you get to stay on the floor and another team gets a chance to beat you. If you are successful, you might play three or four games in a row and never have to sit out. We consistently won and I got to ride Tyrone’s coattails.

In this environment, I was the one that was being overlooked and judged based on my skin color, I was the one that didn’t get a fair shake because of ethnicity. I needed Tyrone to recognize and understand my talents and to see me as an asset to the success he was trying to accomplish and to pick me. This made me want to play harder to show my worth and to live up to Tyrone’s expectations of my contributions. Working together we accomplished more than we could on our own.

I in no way want to equal this one experience to what many African Americans have faced their whole life, but I want to show the value of moving beyond our superficial way of thinking.

If our thoughts just stop at skin color then we will never see the potential in a person, we will never recognize true talent in a wide variety of areas, we will never get to work together. Everyone talks about creating conversations or building dialogue with those of another race and this is no doubt helpful but conversations end and dialogue moves on to another group.

What we need is to recognize the unique talents and skills that can be found in any culture and blend that with our own talent and skills to create a better neighborhood, a better church, a better school, and a better society.

Tyrone did it for me. Who can I be a Tyrone for?

What about you?

 

Our Societies Biggest Blind Spot

I have seen some incredulous reactions over the last week regarding Charlottesville, Virginia. People are shocked at the fact that 50 years since the civil rights movement there are still white supremacists and Nazis. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

You see, 50 years ago there was legislated and structural racism. There were laws in place and public policies established that segregated and limited the rights of black people. These laws and policies were largely removed 50 years ago.

What we are seeing now is the limits of legislated measures. You can’t legislate the heart and when people still harbor hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and condescension in their heart things like Charlottesville can occur. The problem is, those that want to fight against racism have very little to work with because this issue is a heart issue and not an institutional issue. Reducing this whole problem to the simple removal of controversial symbols and statues may help but it still does nothing about the heart.

Part of the problem with the secularization of society is that the heart is barely acknowledged. Character is old-fashioned and considered naive and child’s play. These things are pushed to the side so we can tear down some statues and blast someone on social media. No one, not the KKK, not the Nazis, not the Antifa, not the Religious Right wants to deal with matters of the heart. Why? Because this is too hard. It is easier to join a mass bombardment of tweets than take the time, the silence, the prayer, and the work to change the heart. Also, one would have to acknowledge our own limitations and our own lack of imagination and compassion to develop a society or community that govern effectively. Dallas Willard says that, “there are no human solutions to human problems.”

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So rally if you must, post something on Facebook if you need to, try to legislate something good for all but until we acknowledge our need for God and begin to rely on the leading of his Son to transform our heart and create in us a version of himself, we will be looking at the same problems, or worse, 50 years from now.

This is why I care so much about Growing Up and helping myself and others find transformation in Christ. It is only in Christ that we find solutions, we find change, we find hope, and we find a vision for the future.

Jeremiah 29:11 And Being Where We Don’t Want To Be

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Rightly or wrongly, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted scriptures of the 21st Century. Bible scholars will look down their noses at those of us who use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and don’t understand all of the political and historical background surrounding Judah and the loss of its best and brightest in the Exile to Babylon. But what makes verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and its wonderful follow-up 12 and 13 so profound is that I don’t have to know the context in order to gain truth and inspiration from it in a variety of ways.

As I have studied this passage and the entire chapter, what I realized is that those in exile were in a place they did not want to be – physically and spiritually. They thought they couldn’t experience God where they were because, in their minds, God could only be found in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were told by a few false prophets that they would be leaving soon, and they took a “what do we care” approach to their existence in Babylon. Why should they even try to make a living or contribute to society in this God-forsaken place if they would be soon exiting? Jeremiah, delivering God’s message, tells them otherwise. In the lead up to our passage, they were told to get married, plant crops, be good citizens, and try to prosper, even pray for the city they have been forced to.  God is asking them to trust him because he knows the plans, and they are good. He is asking them to seek him, even 800 miles from home because they will find him even there.[1]

My wife, Leah, was not in the country when my father died on July 8. She was in Zambia, Africa on a mission trip. She was in a place she wanted to be but not at that moment in time. In our fractured conversations over the phone, she asked me, “What do you want me to do?” She was hurting and emotional and wanting to help, but I didn’t want her traveling 7,000 miles by herself and my Dad wouldn’t have wanted that either. I told her, echoing the words of Jeremiah 29, to do what she was called to do: to serve the kids in the orphanage where they were staying, to share Christ’s love to the Zambian ladies they were on retreat with, and to boldly deliver the gospel message of Jesus. I believed and tried to express to her that we have to be faithful to our calling and to trust that a faithful God has the plans in place that would prosper what she was doing while allowing her to find God in the midst of such disconnect and distance from the one’s she loved.

On the night my Dad died, after a session led by my wife, 22 ladies gave their lives to Jesus. God was moving because Leah decided to prosper where she was planted and live up to the calling that brought her to Africa. She had every right to check out, to take an emotional break, to say everything was too much, but that was not why she was sent to Africa and that would not have been what my Dad would have wanted. She, in the midst of pain and uncertainty, sought God and found him in Zambia.

I was also in a place I didn’t want to be.. Who wants to watch their father die? But as my mom, sister, and I held hands and prayed over my deceased father, we had the assurance of all of the great promises of scripture, including Jeremiah 29:11-13. Even in our pain, we knew we had hope, and we knew we had a future. And as we sought God, he listened to us and came to us.

As verse 14 states, “I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Are we willing to be found by God no matter what situation, good or bad, we find ourselves in?

[1] Peterson, Eugene. Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2008.