Ten Years Ago Today...

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Ten years ago I experienced a highlight of my short life. Not all that usual and something most people experience. If you’re reading this… it happened to you. I witnessed the birth of our first daughter, Samantha.

Every year on March 13th, we celebrate the birth of our sweet-Sammy-girl. The seared images in the hospital room haunt my mind. Samantha’s chubby cheeks, wide-Pelton-nose, much like her brother Owen and great-grandpa, and lots of hair, thick locks of red hair. Watch out for those redheads they’re not messing around.

But while most people prepared to drink green beer and inhale Shamrock Shakes in 2009, we celebrated with heavy hearts. Those images of hospital rooms, beeping machines, visiting family members, and tears, lots of tears, had a different edge.

The entire pregnancy was one of uncertainty. Would Christy make it to full term? Would there be complications with Samantha? We had prepared ourselves for the worst. Most families are preparing a room with decorations and color schemes matching a boy or girl.

We were preparing our hearts for burial.

Read the rest on Medium…

What is Ash Wednesday For?

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In college, I played on the golf team. One day our assistant coach came to practice with dirt on his forehead. I told him about the dirt, and he told me about the ashes in the shape of a cross.

I’d never heard of Ash Wednesday and was a newly minted follower of Jesus in a Protestant-Reformed-Evangelical-Church. Isn’t Ash Wednesday for Catholics?

For my coach, every year about the same time, he’d go to church and apply ashes on his forehead in the sign of the cross. My coach cussed and said inappropriate things at practice. But the ritual of spreading ashes on his aging face was meaningful. He knew something about grace. 

Years later I realized the importance of Ash Wednesday. Not because it’s a command of Scripture or a “have-to” funneled down from our spiritual leaders. I’ve only taken part in an Ash Wednesday service a handful of times. 

I’m still a Protestant Christian and for many in our tribe Ash Wednesday makes them nervous. It shouldn’t.

Acknowledging the forty days leading up to Resurrection Sunday; with Ash Wednesday, is a wise practice. 

Being a Gen X’er, and a borderline Millennial born in 1979 causes problems. We rebel against tradition, ritual, and authority. Give me honest, real, let me be me, and don’t tell me what to do. Add in an Evangelical-subculture that fears anything sniffing of Catholicism, tradition, confessions, and only The Bible is My Creed, and you have a recipe for a confused soul. 

But Ash Wednesday has become a practice that grounds my life in a generation needing roots. It gives me a foundation to stand on when life feels chaotic. Ash Wednesday brings me low when I feel my ego and pride are getting too high. AW connects me to a community of faith past, present, and future. That we’re not in this alone.

Too many church tribes have tried to make Ash Wednesday more than it is. Borderline magic. At its core AW is about reminders. A reminder I’m ash and dust and going to die. Many traditions when they place the ashes on your head they say: “Repent, and believe the Gospel,” or, “Remember you are dust, and dust you shall return.”

Repent… believe… dust. 

With no structures or traditions in my life I’m a floating soul jumping at every shiny penny. Ash Wednesday reminds me I’m a sinner in need of grace (repent), I have a hard time trusting ultimate realities (believe the Gospel), and I’m finite, weak, and frail (dust). 

Some would say taking part in Ash Wednesday is arcane and oppressive. We don’t need to repent because we’re good, reality is how you want to define it, and live for now, because death is coming, but nothing is after. 

I say AW is life giving. If I’m not careful, I’ll believe I’m good, and have no need for repentance and confession, despite all the data proving otherwise. Without practices like AW I might believe that sin, evil, and death has the last say. Life is just trouble and toil and suffering under the sun. The cross and resurrection says otherwise. 

If I’m not careful, I’ll believe I can do anything I put my mind to. My mind, body, and soul have no limits. Who can stop me? But I’ve been in enough hospital rooms and done enough funerals to know we’re all dust and shadows. I’ve experienced enough sorrow and suffering in my life that proves positive thinking and exercise won’t halt death. Here today and gone tomorrow.  

My heart is prone to wander... Lord I feel it. My golf coach knew it. And millions of others do to.

Ash Wednesday is not a have-to. There’s no command of Scripture that says it’s something we must do, or else. We have tremendous freedom in how we participate, or not. 

This year, I won’t apply the ashes to my head in a formal service, or from a pastor.

But I will pray and tell God I’m sorry for what I thought, did, said, in the last twenty-four hours. I will read the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, and remember I’m dust, a shadow, and finite. 

I will thank God that despite my dustiness, sinfulness, I know I’m loved because of the gospel. I’m going to pray and work knowing justice and resurrection are coming one day. The work of the God-Man tells me so.

Ash Wednesday is not a have-to or should

Rather an invitation to re-frame my heart towards hope. 

Art Is For Paying Attention

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Literature, painting, music—the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things. -Frederick Buechner from Whistling in the Dark

When Did Leisure Become a Curse Word?

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Leisure

W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep cows.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Life in the West is utilitarian and practical (not in the good sense). We punish people for stopping to breathe, stare, and take in things that don’t equate to monetary gain, or getting things done. 

Long lunches and conversation turn into business meetings and strategy sessions.

The intake of art, music, nature, literature, and poetry frowned upon, because… oh what a time waster. The Protestant Work Ethic has a stronghold on most, me included.

When Christians take a day to rest and worship and celebrate being alive in light of their Creator. They're seen as lazy and idle because the boss needs one more spreadsheet and email sent. No rest for the weary.

With all the problems in our society albeit political, educational, religious, morally, or name the category. One problem is dismissed: leisure. We speak past one another. Bowed to the god of productivity and personal development.  We often miss out on the little gifts of Grace all around us because we don’t know how to stand and stare. 

This is not a Christian or atheist, urban or rural, rich or poor, black, white, or brown problem… it’s a human problem. 

What is this life, full of care, if we have no time to stare?

A good question worth considering. 

Malcolm Muggeridge on Fame and Faith

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“I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets–that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue–that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions– that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time–that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you — and I beg you to believe me–multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing–less than nothing, a positive impediment–measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

– Malcolm Muggeridge

(source)

How to Deal with Functional Saviors?

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Every day is a battle of faith. I will sacrifice time, money, energy, and affections to someone or something. Christian or not, we all put our faith in something. We trust in something to give our lives meaning.

Maybe it’s faith in the chair I’m sitting on won’t break. Faith in gravity to keep me planted on earth. Could be faith in a political party or a special someone. Faith that my brain and lungs won’t fail and I’ll make it home for dinner.

Whether conscious or subconscious, whether you’re religious or staunch atheist, we all have a faith system that gives meaning and purpose and stability to our lives. 

As a disciple of Jesus, I’m in a daily battle to give affection and allegiance to the Big S, Savior, and the smaller s variety. Some have called the latter versions: functional saviors. These impotent saviors designed to give meaning, purpose, and weight to my lowly existence, and yet never quite deliver on their promises. 

The scary part about these functional saviors is they’re typically rooted in good things. Like work, family, hobbies, friends, leisure activities, food, and church. 

My small s saviors can be work and productivity. Believing what I accomplish and produce, or write, and how much money I make, defines my existence, worth, and value. It’s when I’m doing, God is please with me. 

I can bow at the alter of parenting. Believing that if the kid’s are happy and healthy, I’ll be too. When the kid’s are growing spiritually, obedient, and thriving in the classroom, and on the soccer field, my joy is complete. When they aren’t, how long oh Lord?

My functional savior can be marriage. Using my wife to be something only God can be for me. Expecting her to meet every need, rather than serve her, like Christ served his church. 

My saviors are many and varied and come in all shapes and sizes. The harsh reality: I confess a Savior, but many functional saviors lurk in the shadows. Vying for my attention and affection with a simple wink of an eye. 

Let’s not live in theological clouds. Can we bring this idea of functional saviors down to earth and to the every day? How do I know what my functional saviors are?

Jerry Bridges in his book The Bookends of the Christian Life, suggests doing this exercise. Fill in the blanks below and see where functional saviors may lurk:

I am preoccupied with________.

If only__________, then I would be happy. 

I get my sense of significance from___________.

I would protect and preserve_____________ at any cost.

I fear losing___________.

The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is______________.

When I lose_________ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

For me, life depends on ____________.

The thing I value more than anything in the world is ____________.

When I daydream, my mind goes to______________.

The best thing I can think of is_______________.

The thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning is______________.

When I work through these questions and shine a spotlight on my soul, it’s not pretty. But that’s why I need the True Savior. When I deal with my little s saviors, I’m faced with the realities of my sins before a holy God. 

But when I deal with my functional saviors, I also see how deep, wide, and high it reveals the love of Christ in the gospel. I’m a great sinner, but I have a Great Savior, who forgives and showers us with mercy. 

I may look to cisterns that don’t hold water, but the gospel keeps leading me back to water that satisfies. 

What functional saviors can you bring to the cross today?


(Source: The Bookends of the Christian Life, by Jerry Bridges, page 73). 

Kurt Cobain on Identity

“I don’t blame the average seventeen-year-old punk-rock kid for calling me a sellout. I understand that. And maybe when they grow up a little bit, they’ll realize there’s more things to life than living out your rock & roll identity so righteously.”
 — Kurt Cobain, 
Rolling Stone

Living and getting older is a great gift. Young people only see the world in small windows and incomplete frames. Everything is black and white and complexity isn’t a thing. Years allow us to be more gracious on things we simply didn’t understand in our youth. Unfortunately Cobain didn’t learn this soon enough.

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Jackson Pollack's Letter to His Teenage Son

A Jackson Pollack painting (Public Domain)

A Jackson Pollack painting (Public Domain)

Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

(Source: American Letters)

What advice will I give my sons and daughter?

Stay awake, pay attention, the world is bursting with the glory of God. The more you “see,” the more joy can be had.

Ten Commandments for Mature Living

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“Life has served me as it serves everyone, sometimes well and sometimes ill, but I have been grateful for the gift of it, for the love that began it and the other loves with which I have been so richly endowed,” -Morris West

In Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, Ronald Rolheiser summarizes the marks of Christian maturity/discipleship with Ten Commandments for Mature Living. Let me share the ten and give a line or two for context:

1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life. 

Life is a gift, salvation is a gift, and God loves to give good gifts to his children. Thankfulness and gratitude are the path of holiness. 

And, the most loving people you know, are the most thankful. Love finds its roots in gratitude.

Mature people enjoy their lives. 


2. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.

Nothing in life is black and white, including our own hearts. The world is complex, and our hearts are sick, who can understand it? 

A mature person can watch the confusion, evil, and nonsense around them, and engage with empathy. Knowing the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Knowing there are no perfect people and everyone’s in process. 

This also includes accepting our seemingly normal and small lives. If we are always waiting for someone or a new situation to fix us, and give us the life we're supposed to live, bitterness is right around the corner.


3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.

Whatever emotional pain we carry it will retransmit on God and others. If someone hates you, you will hate them back. If you’re bitter, you won’t be gracious and loving with others. 

All of us hurt, and will be hurt by others. The question becomes how we’ll respond to the hurts and pains?


4. Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.

Suffering is the path of a compassionate and supple soul. In suffering we are being refined by fire to become more hopeful, faithful, patient, kind, and compassionate. Suffering is never wasted in God’s economy. 

But, many reject any kind of suffering, and see it having no place. That’s when hardness sets in. Depth comes through suffering. 

5. Forgive—those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you. 

 Lack of forgiveness is cancer to the soul. Many people walk around with a false piety while they can’t forgive others who have wronged them, can’t forgive their lot in life, and even can’t forgive God for all the above.

If we understand grace, and understand the forgiveness God extends to us, then we must keep short accounts with God and others. 

6. Bless more and curse less!

Speak words of blessing to others, especially children. Blessing is: great job, I love you, I’m proud of you, so glad you’re my friend or son. Cursing: you do nothing right. I hate you. You’re a jerk. 

“When we act petty, we get to feel petty. When we act like God, we get to feel like God — and God is never depressed,” (page 6). 

7. Live in a more radical sobriety. 

Radical sobriety is about living in the light, telling the truth, and living in wide open spaces. No one is perfect, the cross has outed everyone, so hiding and pretending is the path of destruction. Honesty and openness with our sins and addiction is the path of healing and maturity. 

Living in the light doesn’t mean you have a happy-clappy glow around you. Living in the light is about a posture of honesty and open hands. Where there’s nothing to hide even when it’s hard to talk about it. 

8. Pray, affectively, and liturgically. 

Pray from the heart to God, openly and honestly, and in private. And pray with others in a community. We are too weak and blind to not live in constant prayer. 

Seeking maturity without a prayer life is like trying to start a fire without matches. 

9. Be wide in your embrace.

This one is about accepting the Otherness of people. Most immature people live with skepticism and fear of others who don’t think, believe, live, or have the same ideology as them. Fundamentalism is the root of paranoia. Fundamentalism forgets the Imago Dei of all humans.

If we have a solid identity rooted in Christ, we can embrace, and love others different from us on many levels. 

10. Stand where you are supposed to be standing, and let God provide the rest. 

Be committed and faithful to your place, space, and time. Immature people are always looking for the next thing, next community, and whatever is bigger and better. They can’t seem to love and minster to the people right in front of them. 

Be faithful with the job you've been called. Commit to your spouse, kid’s, church community, neighbors, and other civic duties in the here and now. Stop looking for something elsewhere. 

God will provide what you need when you’re faithful with the little things. 

Life is short and fragile. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. 

How could these ten commandments radically alter how we lived each day?

(Source: Sacred Fire, pages 245-273)

The Joy of Missing Out

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The fear of missing out, FOMO, is killing us. That all we have is now, the next opportunity for growth or experience is guaranteed to fix our boring and joyless lives.

Ask the attendees to the Fyre Festival how that worked out.

Svend Brinkmann, a Danish psychologist, has written a new book warning about FOMO, and her cousin, the personal growth movement. He says the movement is a:

“… rampant development culture that knows no boundaries.”

Brinkmann argues that FOMO goes against the nature of our humanity. People can’t be plugged in all the time. Humans have boundaries and limitations. Sorry Tony Robbins, there’s a limit to human potential. We’re not God.

Instead, Brinkmann argues for disengagement, and what Aristotle suggested moderation in all things. A culture with overwhelming amounts of choice is psychologically damaging, and what he calls the hedonic treadmill.

Missing out is an ethical necessity Brinkmann suggests:

“We are only able to live up to our obligations as human beings if we are willing to miss out on something in order to be there for other, specific, people.”

Missing out requires sacrifice for the greater good. The good of the people and responsibilities right in our midst. That somewhere else is where we find gold and hidden treasure is just a narrative we build in our heads to deal with our ordinary lives.

But in the ordinary and mundane and routine we find much joy and grace. I think it’s time we get off the treadmill and unplug a bit.

*Originally published on Medium.com.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/06/the-joy-of-missing-out-svend-brinkmann-review

Will Our Boys Thrive or Starve with the Current Models of Christian Leadership?

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Is it time to consider the Master Leader for next-generation leadership in the 21st century?

The engine of the predominant leadership model in the modern world needs more than a tune up, it needs an overhaul. The leadership ethos of power, control, efficiency, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and Law; is ineffective and left wanting.

Is it time to consider a new path and a way forward for the upcoming generation of boys soon to be men? Can we in good conscious say the current models of leadership in business, politics, media, entertainment, church, and home, are worthy of imitation?

Every day we hear of a new scandal in the White House, an abuse of power in the boardroom, a sexual predator in Hollywood, and inappropriate behavior of our clergy. Are these the role models of leadership we want to hand down to our kid’s? Can we do better?

I think we can, but it will take a kind of leadership that is so countercultural and against the grain of our modern sensibilities most will reject it. A leadership that embraces and embodies the Master Leader’s wisdom that critiqued our models of power and said (my paraphrase): don’t lord over others (like the world), don’t use your authority to control and manipulate and abuse, become a servant. That’s what I came to do, and it’s the best way to live and lead (Matt. 25:25–28).

I’m speaking to males (not because this doesn’t apply to females), rather, I am a man, and don’t like the hand we’ve been dealt for male Christian leadership in every sphere of life. Let’s say I have a particular soft spot for the next generation of men. Why?

We have a generation of boys pretending to be men. Men who aren’t ready to take a wife, to lead her, love her, serve her. Men who think playing nine hours of video games is a healthy way to live out our existence under the sun. And men who don’t think pornography is harming them or anyone else. Men who think the world owes them something because they are a special snowflake.

We have too many men who aren’t equipped and ready to lead a company or church or family or themselves because the models of leadership handed down in our modern world are built on sand. It’s time we rebuild the foundation with steel.

So what could countercultural Christian leadership look like in the 21st century? What beliefs, practices, and habits are essential for a new way of being and leading in the next generation?

Henri Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, examines the temptation of Jesus to navigate a way forward for Christian leadership. He suggests three shifts, and three disciplines, for empowering the next generation of leadership:

Shift #1: From Relevance to Prayer

When Jesus had fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days Satan tempted him. The first temptation was:

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” (Matt. 4:3).

The temptation of relevance is the air we breathe in our culture. Here’s Jesus being tempted by Satan two thousand years ago. Do a trick for us Jesus… turn those rocks into whole wheat. Show your relevancy and give us what the market demands. We’re hungry, fill our bellies, you’re a difference maker, and impacting the world. Don’t prove to be a square.

Relevance is tempting because at our core we want to make a difference. Seen as someone who has the answers, knows what’s going on, and appears to be in the loop.

But Jesus’ way of being and living and leading is not bent on relevance. He need not prove anything to anyone. He doesn’t have to be in the know and have all the answers (even though he has all the answers being the Son of God).

Jesus is secure in the Father’s love.

Notice how he responds to Satan:

“It is written… Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4).

Bread is nice. Getting things done and making a difference is fine. But man can’t live on relevance alone. Man is built for more than our cultural moment. He needs something greater than accomplishments, success, money, and power. Men need something greater and better and more satisfying.

Man needs God.

Men need to hear a word from Someone that’s not temporal and the latest fad. They need to hear someone say: you’re loved regardless if anyone knows your name, business, or ministry. Your relevance doesn’t predict your acceptance, and your relevance doesn’t tip the scales of my love.

Discipline #1: Prayer

So how do we cultivate a leadership and a life that’s not bent and obsessed on relevance? We pray. Not just pray, but pray like a mystic. Hang on and don’t get weirded out.

Nouwen defines a mystic as someone who’s identity is rooted in God’s first love. Some have called it, God’s one-way love. Prayer is not just asking God to get you out of jams. Prayer is cultivating a relationship with a person. Prayer is the avenue to cultivate an identity rooted in God’s love, and not relevance.

The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is the suicide rate is sky high. No one talks about it. In all the efforts to paint a picture of Apple, Facebook, and Google, being the company to work for, what you find under the hood isn’t pretty.

Yet, young men are being lured into these jobs because they are the relevant place to work. Who doesn’t want to be relevant, right?

But right now in cubicles, board rooms, and pastor’s offices, are men who hate themselves, feel irrelevant, and wonder why no one seems to notice them, or their work. They won’t voice it, but it’s real. I’ve been there.

Prayer is how we cultivate and experience the one-way love of God. Prayer is how we fight the temptation of relevance.

Shift #2: From Popularity to Ministry

Who doesn’t like crazy stunts on You Tube? When I was a kid, we used to ride bicycles off roofs into our friends pools. One of my favorite shows growing up was That’s Incredible, filled with crazy things people did and lived to tell about it.

Jesus tempted a second time is asked to become a stunt man. Satan says:

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matt. 4:5–6).

Come on Jesus, you’re the Son of God, throw yourself off the Temple. The angels will come and save you, right? Pull off this stunt and you’ll be the most popular Rabbi in the land.

Every day we’re tempted to be popular. To prove we have what it takes to do the job, get the girl, and make stuff happen.

Jesus wouldn’t play that game. But instead he says:

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Matt. 4:7).

Jesus didn’t need popularity to live a full life. He didn’t have to prove himself as popular by jumping through the test of Satan.

In fact, every time Jesus did a miracle or something amazing, he’d deflect the act, and tell the recipient of divine grace to keep it under wraps.

When Jesus completed his ministry and resurrected from the dead, he only had 120 followers. By the worlds standards, Jesus was a failure. His popularity was abysmal. 120 followers on social is loser status.

But these 120 disciples changed the world.

Popularity is a fools errand because it’s an isolating act. Seeking popularity is about the Holy Trinity of: me, myself, and I. When you only care about being seen, known, and respected, we push others away. Instead of ministering to others, we’re consumed with perception, or if we’re living up to our standards.

Popularity breeds a belief we have all the gifts, knowledge, and ability to make stuff happen. We possess no weaknesses or faults.

Like Jesus, when we have our identity rooted in the Father’s love, we have no reason to prove ourselves worthy to others. We don’t have to become the mythical stuntman.

So what discipline do we need to fight off the temptation of popularity?

Discipline #2: Confession and Forgiveness

The next generation leader needs a healthy dose of confession, forgiveness, and repentance. No man, woman, or child sees everything, knows everything, has no weaknesses, and can accomplish everything. We all have a sin problem and live in a fallen world. We must acknowledge our sins, tell God, others, and keep short accounts with both.

Saying we’re sorry is one of the most countercultural moves in the universe.
 When we can embrace the reality, we’re all pilgrims on the way, and we hurt God and others daily, and popularity is a dead end, we’ll confess our sins.

When we can be vulnerable and say we’re sorry: we no longer live in isolation of God and others. We enter our communities as equals, no longer needing to be top dog, and marveling at grace.

Shift #3: From Leading to Being Led

As men, this one is difficult. Men want to lead and be out in front. Whether it be at work, school, or home. Leading to being led, is a question of power.

Notice the third temptation of Jesus:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” (Matt. 4:8–9).

Jesus knows power corrupts. Economic, political, and religious power are a threat to intimacy. If our life pursuit is power and control, it pushes aside anyone or anything that gets in our way. Most people on a power trip have a hard time developing intimate relationships with God or people.

Power always threatens intimacy.

Notice how Jesus responds to the temptation of power:

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,’” (Matt. 4:10).

Jesus says, I’m good. You can keep your kingdoms, I will worship and serve God. Power makes for a poor God and threatens worship. Power blinds and makes us god-like. What good is it to have the whole world and forfeit your soul?

So how do we shift from seeking a leadership bent on power? How can we shift from always leading, to being led, and loved by God?

Discipline #3: Theological Reflection

Theological reflection is not about taking seminary classes. Theological reflection is a discipline rooted in shaping and forming a mind in Christ. The world will pummel every man with visions of true masculinity, success, and the good life.

Having minds sharpened and formed by the Scriptures, Christian teachers/pastors/family, and other good Christian literature, is a way to fight the temptations of a world allergic to grace.

Theological reflection is also about discerning where God is leading us, where he’s speaking, and how we can announce good news in a world falling apart.

When we take the discipline of theological reflection seriously we can live, act, pray, and work in Jesus’ name. For his glory, our joy and good, and for the joy of others.

What Nouwen has laid out for the future of Christian leadership is challenging. But a challenge the next generation of Jesus-loving men need to consider.

(Source: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen.)

*Originally published on Medium.com (faith hacking)

How We Destroy Lives

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An interesting take from David Brooks on the Covington High School fiasco:

Within living memory, political polarization had at least something to do with issues, but in the age of social media it’s almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

The problem with social media is everything is instant with no room for reflection and dialogue. Everything is now, you must decide, now, and better not be on the wrong side of the argument. The nature of social media loses the person behind the post or tweet. People become a nameless face defined and described by a moment, picture, or statement.

In my opinion, we have too much time on our hands to make this story national news. We give too much attention and weight to things that will be forgotten by the end of the week. Also, pointing to myself, we don’t give enough attention to the stuff that matters in our own lives and communities.

Social media will destroy many lives, and has, because you can’t tell a compelling story, or give a true impression of someone in 180 characters or less. True understanding and connection takes time, effort, and proximity. Something social can’t and doesn’t offer.

(Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html)

A Prayer for Grace Junkies

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Feel like your life doesn’t match your confession? Are you spiritually dry? Feel like sin is getting the best of you? Are you running from God? Here’s a prayer to pray from the hymn writer and pastor Charles Wesley:

A Prayer for Grace Junkies

O Jesus, full of truth and grace,

More full of grace than I of sin,

Yet once again I seek Thy face;

Open Thine arms and take me in,

And freely my backslidings heal,

And love the faithless sinner still.

Thou know’st the way to bring me back,

My fallen spirit to restore:

O for Thy truth and mercy’s sake,

Forgive, and bid me sin no more;

The ruins of my soul repair,

And make my heart a house of prayer.

-Charles Wesley

What Did Martin Luther King Jr. Think About Walls?

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In a speech given in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his thoughts about the Berlin Wall. Seems timely in our current political climate:

“For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Source: http://time.com/5504826/martin-luther-king-wall-history/

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pursuing Peace, and 3 Documentaries Worth Watching

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If you live in a America, today is the Martin Luther King Day Jr. holiday. The civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s was a complex man who did much good for equality in America. One of the things I want to instill in my kid’s as followers of Jesus, is to be peacemakers. When they see injustice from the little going ons on the playground, to bigger issues of society, they should speak up and pursue peace.

We often watch the famous MLK, I Have a Dream speech, to remind us the ideals of King are right and good, and also to remember they won’t be fully met this side of heaven. Total justice and equality won’t be realized until King Jesus, “makes all things new.” Knowing these truths keeps us humble and kills the pursuit of a utopian society. We understand the problem of racism and other evils are found at the heart level of every human, and fleshes itself out in other systemic sins of society (my take at least).

But we’ll still work toward peace, justice, and love of neighbor, wherever they are found. Jesus has no problem telling us the heart is wicked and the source of all sins (Mark 7:14-24), and simultaneously calling us to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).

Also, if you have a few minutes in the next couple of weeks, these documentaries are worth a watch. MLK was complex, but it’s important to remember the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement were complex as well.

  1. King: A Filmed Record . . . From Montgomery to Memphis, 1970, an older doc worth a watch.

  2. King in the Wilderness, 2018, saw this HBO one last year, and it was fantastic.

  3. In Remembrance of Martin, 1986, this one is from PBS, and they always do a good job.

Mary Oliver on Instructions for Living a Life

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Mary Oliver, the famous Pulitzer Prize winning poet died today. She left behind a large body of fantastic poems. Here’s a line from “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I wonder if we’re living in a day where paying attention, astonishment, and talking about it, is being replaced with: distraction, boredom, and isolation?

(Source: https://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/sometimes-by-mary-oliver/)

Is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Helping or Hurting Us?

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Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

My wife watched the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Somehow I got sucked into the vortex of the organizing guru and sweet Asian lady who doesn’t speak English. The premise is simple:

Step #1: Identify reality: you’re a hoarder. You can couch it as sentimentality or memories of the past. No, you’re a hoarder, you have too much stuff, stop playing games.

Step #2: Smell your clothes, hold up your shoes still in the box, and raise up the porcelain clown to the sky. Now ask one vital question: does it bring you joy (What kind of weird voodoo is this?)?

Step #3: Throw out all the crap that doesn’t give you joy. If you can’t, see Step #1.

Step #4: Find some tiny boxes, fold your clothes into the size of a quarter, now place the clothes in the tiny boxes of your drawers. Find more tiny boxes and place the rest of your possessions inside. You should now have nine things to your name.

Step #5: Now celebrate your new life. With your nine things…

Okay, so I’ve taken liberties on how the show works. Nothing against Ms. Kondo. But you get the gist.

Confession time: I took Kondo’s advice, kind of. My wife told me I needed to go through my closet. It was time to purge clothes. Am I a hoarder, maybe?

It felt good to let go of the shirt I bought ten years ago for an Easter Service. The pants with a stain on the butt, but oh so comfortable, needed to go. And yes, my fat man pants, from when I was carrying holiday weight from the mid 90s.

Now, I didn’t take Kondo’s advice verbatim: does this item give me joy? Instead, I asked: is it stained? Does it smell? Does it fit?

I wasn’t ready to let some weird organizing voodoo and self-help mantra enter my soul. Too practical for that.

I’ll say, it was good to do this exercise of purging and simplifying. It always is.

I can’t say my marriage is better. It was good before. I’m not sure if I’m happier. But it is easier to find clothes and not be overwhelmed with options in the morning. When you have fewer clothes, you tend to not only wear what is near the front of the closet. I wear like five things anyway, so thanks Kondo!

The exercise was also good because it revealed how I buy things I don’t need, or get attached to things I don’t wear, or the ways I tell myself I need something, when I don’t.

Good, I guess.

But here’s what I don’t like about shows like Kondo’s, and others. I’m aware that some of these couples on the show need help in organizing and tidying up. Yes, some of these people are hoarders, and have an unhealthy attachment to their stuff. If you watch the show, you see marriages on the rocks because of the amount of junk and mess in their homes, and lives. I get it.

But is tidying up our closets the answer? Is that going to get us where we need to go?

The culture in the West is in a moment of an unhealthy obsession with efficiency, productivity, technology, and yes, organization. The message goes: if I can get organized, find the right app for accomplishing my goals, and of course, eat the right foods, I will be a good person, I will find the joy I’m seeking.

If something is wrong with me or society, we throw money, technology, education, legislation, or mere grit and will at it. I’m not a problem, it’s everything around me.

Is Kondo hurting people, or helping?

Here’s the thing, our culture runs on Law, not Grace. If you follow the rules, whatever we deem to be the rules, you are a good, worthy, and righteous person. If you don’t, well, your life is a mess, and it’s time to ask: does this sweater bring you joy?

Law.

Our foodie obsessed and healthy eating culture is running on Law not grace. If you eat Kale, you’re good, Big Mac, not so much. What is that a Bud Light? Come on, only good people drink craft beers.

Law, and more Law.

So the couple who organizes their home is now in the graces of… what? Not sure. You’ve met the standard by placing your underwear in a ring box. Good job.

The grace of Jesus, is something different all together. Wait, what? A Jesus juke?

Yep, here’s why. All the shows, blogs, and books on productivity, food, organization, goal setting, and the stuff like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, are the product of a Law based culture.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their lives since the beginning; with Law. Whatever standard I set for myself, whether it be God’s Law, or otherwise, is the determining factor if I’m doing well, or failing at life. My law keeping is the factor of my happiness and joy, or not.

The scales of my life are constantly shifting between goodness and badness based upon how well I’m keeping God’s Law, or My Law. I recycled this week, the scale shifts in the right direction. Threw a can into the trash and now a whale will die in the ocean. Scale, wrong direction. Time to get back on track.

Christian people, and non-Christians, do this all the time.

Here’s the scoop, the Law is designed to be a Revealer, to shine a spotlight on how we fall short of God’s commands, and any commands we build for ourselves. The Law is a grace, yes, because it shows where joy is found. When we walk and live in line with God’s best, His Law, things go much better. Stealing, lying, cheating on your spouse, and worshiping things that can’t satisfy, is always the path of despair, death, and disintegration. We know that in our bones.

So we have an entire culture living separated from the God of grace but seeking satisfaction and rightness in how well they’re killing their goals, tidying their homes, or drinking and eating the right foods. It all looks so nice on the surface. Who would shame a person for wanting to lose weight, eat right, and yes, simplify their closets to four pairs of jeans, a shirt, and one pair if undies?
 But it’s a facade, smoke and mirrors, only deals with the surface of our lives. Doesn’t get to the gut, heart, and the soul.

The gospel says: come and eat all who are thirsty and need of drink. You don’t have to have a clean home, kept all your New Year Resolutions, or only eat Kale.

God’s acceptance of us is pure and beautiful and unmerited grace. God’s gift of grace is not because we’re worthy or awesome or drink the right beer. We’re failures when we get honest with ourselves. But God did something about it. He took our place and covered our inability to keep his commands. Everyone needs a Savior, and we can look for it in Jesus, or in tidying our homes, eating the right foods, or voting for the right candidate.

Does that mean we shouldn’t care about what we eat, if our homes are a mess, or have a few goals for improving your life this year, of course not. But that comes later. And whether we’re staying on the diet or eating Big Macs like mints, God’s love and acceptance is still runs on grace.

Our culture is tired and worn out. A little secret no one wants to admit. Modern society is not kind because it runs on Law and not grace. Everything is a competition and everyone is trying to meet some standard that on our best days; we fall on our faces.

Grace is so contrary to the default mode of our hearts and minds. So whether you have four items in your home after taking Marie’s advice, or have newspapers stacked to the ceiling. Grace is still available, and it’s a holy and crazy grace, most of our culture knows nothing about.

Is Kondo helping or hurting us? Not sure, but I’m going with Grace.

*Originally published on Medium.com.