Risk It

I was walking along the sidewalk wrestling with my future and verbally processing, which is often the case. My friend Matt, the strong silent type, was walking alongside me. I rambled on and on about ideas for going to seminary and maybe becoming a pastor. He listened and asked questions. After weeks of this he finally let out a sigh and asked one final question, “Bro, what are you afraid of? You keep talking about this stuff but that’s all you’ve been doing, talking. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of happening if you go to seminary?”

I don’t really remember what I said in that moment. I do remember the feeling though. It was that feeling of someone seeing right through you. When you are called out so clearly and with such intensity that you can’t help but come up short. My “wrestling with God” was more about my desire to avoid pain than it was about seeking God’s will.

What I learned through that process was that to move forward in life requires risk.

Risk is something that we tend to shy away from. There are men and women whose sole job is “risk management.” They live their lives to help companies and organizations to figure out how to limit their risk. We have, by and large, come to see risk as something that is a negative.

“Determine your risks and rewards.”

“That is awful risky, are you sure?”

“I don’t think I’d be willing to risk it.”

Risk, by its very definition holds in it the possibility of pain, failure, and regret. Therefore, we avoid it. Yet, risk by its very definition hold in it the possibility of joy, adventure, and success. Therefore, we are drawn to it.

This whole risk business is a tension, a tension of possible joy and possible pain. When we weigh our options we are often weighing whether or not the possible pain is worth the possible joy.

Too many of us are unwilling to risk it. We are like the batter with a 3-1 count that will only swing at the absolute perfect pitch at the absolute perfect speed and location, so they let the nearly perfect pitch pass them by.

We become stagnant in our lives because we are afraid to risk

When we worry too much about the possible pain and yet grow weary or frustrated with the life we are living often we begin to change the wrong things. We think that maybe it’s our marriage that is the problem, or our kids, or our house. The fact of the matter is that it is us. When we feel stuck it is because we are afraid to risk.

Typically, this comes in terms of relationships. Often in our lives we feel isolated and alone. This isolation is usually due to not being willing to enter into relationship with another. To really enter in with someone demands that we let them in and that brings an inherent risk of pain.

It is said of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)” There was great risk of pain in Jesus’ mission. There was pain in Judas’ betrayal. There was pain in the death of Lazarus. There was pain in being human. There was pain in the act of dying on the cross. Yet all this pain was worth the risk for “the joy that was set before him.”

I was deeply afraid of transition when I was “wrestling with God” about going to seminary. I was afraid of not having enough money. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of pain. The cost was going to be real and the risk of pain was scary. Soon, the thought of missing out on the joy of obeying my call was too much to bear. I was finally willing to risk the pain to move forward in my life.

What about you? What risk are you being called to step into? What’s holding you back?

Let Them Tell Their Story

This week I had the privilege of sitting down with an amazing teacher. She had just taught in a morning gathering I lead called, Merge. We were meeting for me to provide feedback so that she could continue to grow and improve in her skills as a teacher and communicator. As we talked she said, “You know, I think in narrative.”

I think in narrative.

That really struck me. Don’t we all love stories? A good story can capture your attention and make you see the world differently. I think that’s part of the reason that Jesus told parables, he knew that a good story could flip the world on its head.

Storytelling is an art. Some people are great storytellers, others not so much. Yet, we all tell stories.

In my neighborhood there’s a group of folks that gather around fire pits in the summer for “Fireball Fridays.” Yes, you guessed it Fireball whiskey is ever present (some of us bring good beverages) but that’s not really the point of the meeting at the fire pit. The real purpose of that gathering is the telling of stories (even though nobody would articulate it that way). We sit and listen to story after story and we laugh and cry. There is such beauty in those times. When the weather turns from fall to winter, we mourn the loss of these gatherings. We wait with hopefulness for the times to come in the summer.

We long for these times because we get to tell stories.

I have recently fallen in love with Psalm 107. It begins like this…

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—

It goes on to tell story after story in the form of a poem of the redeemed. It tells of how people were saved from the desert, prison, the storm and others.

The beginning has been in my mind for about a week now, “Let the redeemed tell their story…”

I was scanning my Twitter newsfeed today and came across a tweet that grabbed my attention, Dan White Jr wrote, “Preaching in the New Testament was primarily dialogical but our Western preaching is monological.”

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story. 

So much of the communication that happens in most of our churches is from the front and the people are largely receivers. Yet, it seems that by doing things this way we are are missing much of what the body of Christ has to offer.

On Sunday nights in my home our missional community gathers for dinner, Scriptures, prayer, and communion. It’s fantastically beautiful. As we open the Scriptures together we tell stories. We connect the Scriptures to our lives and our histories. I teach and give perspective but as a congregation from youngest to oldest we are involved by telling stories to one another. We weep together and laugh together and tease one another all over the Scriptures.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

I love that this teacher I met with “thinks in narrative.” This is why she is an amazing teacher.

Through narrative truth connects.

The redeemed are compelled to tell their story. There is something in us that has to tell the story. We must tell the story of God’s goodness to us.

What’s your story? What good things have you seen God do? I want to hear your story. 

I have launched a podcast called, “Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.” If you want to hear more about what I’m thinking about life and how to live it to the full check it out: Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.

Why You Matter

He sat there staring at the white board with a blank expression bordering on rage. His eyes were unblinking and slightly moist. He slowly moved the dry erase marker back and forth between his fingers. A deep sigh and then a sense of resignation as he capped the marker and leaned back in his chair.

She stood there with anger in her eyes. Arms folded and a stance that was begging for a fight. When she looked at you there was an emptiness in her gaze that cut through you and left you feeling heartbroken. The hurt, the pain, and the anguish were almost tangible. She never made it to the table.

The two boys sat at the table with the now all too common look of confusion. They had no idea what to write. They didn’t matter. Nobody would care if they were gone and never to return, so they thought.

These scenes were played out over and over again as student after student arrived to participate in the #WhyYouMatter campaign at our local middle school.

There were other scenes too. Scenes of smiles and laughter. Groups of kids easily writing down why they matter and joyfully posing for the camera, alone and in groups. One group of girls bounced in and immediately wrote, “I matter because life is LIT!” There was so much joy and happiness in them, they embraced a girl who didn’t have anything to write and they left together giggling.

What struck me is how few of these kids have ever had anyone speak life to them. 

Then the teachers and other adults in the building arrived to do the same. Many of them struggled.

Many of the adults struggled to answer the question, “Why do you matter?”

What struck me is how few of these adults have ever had anyone speak life to them. 

When was the last time you had someone speak life to you? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you hear from someone that you matter? Who looked you in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”

When was the last time you spoke life to someone else? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you tell someone that they matter to you? Who have you looked in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”

Every day I left that school with a mix of deep emotions. Joy over seeing kids speak life into one another. Happiness when kids knew who they were and knew that their lives mattered to people. But also deep heartbreak over the ones who couldn’t speak or hear love in their lives.

There is as deep and abiding need in our lives to know we are loved. There is also a need to know that we love another.

Once again I am confronted with the reality that we are image bearers of God. We are like him in real ways. When we first encounter God in the Bible it is in creation and he is speaking. As image bearers we have voices. Our words have power, tremendous power. This is a sacred power and too often we either forget about this power or we use it unwisely. We can speak words of life or death. These words are chosen by us and leveraged by us.

Do you know what else we can do? Not speak. Sometimes silence is golden. Other times silence is causes pain. I think many of the people, children and adults, who didn’t know why they matter is not because someone said something mean or hurtful to them. I think much of it is the result of people not having said anything. They felt like ghosts, they were living their lives as apparitions that nobody noticed enough to even be mean to. Our silence can be the most hurtful words we speak.

We must speak life into this world. Who will you tell today? Who will you look at and say, “You matter. You matter because I care about you. You matter because I love you.”

What is Repentance?

“Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!”

That phrase has been uttered by the parents of boys from ages past and will be uttered for ages to come. There is just something about little boys and their desire to run.

The first time I said these words my son was about two. He had discovered the joy of running and the game of running away from Mom and Dad. The three of us were at Panera having a little lunch date and as were packing up my boy smiled up at me took off! I tried the words, not too loudly and not with too much authority because we were in Panera. They didn’t work. Those little legs rushed him around the corner. At that moment, my wife and I had a decision to make. How do we wrangle this little guy? We went with divide and conquer. She went one way, I went the other. The problem? He went a third and ended up in the kitchen. One of the kind employees brought out this squirmy, giggling, little dude and gave him back to us.

But those words, “Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!” Turned out to be utterly useless.

Do you know what’s funny? Many of us think that God is saying that to us all the time. Why? I have often discussed repentance with people and they, without exception, have always thought that it is a negative. If you were to define the word “repentance,” you would probably say something like, “To stop doing something bad or wrong, to turn from sin.”

Over the years, I have come to think that maybe that’s not the best definition. Particularly, as we think about what it means in the context of our spirituality.

What is repentance?

Repentance at its most fundamental level is simply to turn around from the direction you’re currently heading. Does it have a correlation to the stopping of doing bad things? Absolutely. But that is not all that it is. This is the great problem with so much of our understanding of the Christian life and spirituality. We focus on one aspect of some issue and think that is all there is, yet there is so much more.

Repentance is much more than simply to stop doing bad things. It is not just to stop sinning. It is that, but it’s more than that too. 

Whenever God breaks in and we experience a “kairos” moment there is a turning involved. That turning is rightly understood as repentance. This turn could be a move from better to best. It very well could be a shift where we turn from a very good thing that we are doing to something that is even better. Think about that for a moment. Have you ever considered the reality that repentance can be positive?

Repentance demands change.

To repent is to turn and that means change. I think that a very real part of what it is that causes us to think about repentance in a negative light is that many of us hate change. Change for so many is a dirty word.

We prefer to be comfortable and change, almost by definition, is uncomfortable. Change challenges us and moves us from one place to another. When we experience change we begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, we can’t or don’t control everything around us.

Perhaps, above all, we want to be in control. We want to control our outcomes and circumstances. When there is lack of control we experience fear. This fear drives us to do whatever it is that we need to do to regain that control.

As a result, “repentance,” becomes something that we avoid and hide from. We cast it in a negative light and only understand it in conjunction with sin.

Repentance is good!

The reality is that repentance is good. As my friend The Beard says, “Super good.” When we repent it moves us towards a place where we can believe God in a fresh new way. We are able to move out on new adventures.

When we repent, when we change direction we get to experience life in a new way. It is fun, it is exciting, it is joy.

Repentance is to turn. It is not the call of the angry Father or an angry God to simply stop sinning.

At the end of the day, repentance is a loving Father inviting us into a new depth of joy.

You’re Enough

I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of white pastors, “You speak privately, but not publicly.”

I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of men, “I’m disappointed in the men who said nice things about your moms, wives, and daughters because that wasn’t the point of International Women’s Day.”

I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique of evangelicals, “You don’t challenge the Christians who are doing horrible things loud enough.”

I opened up my Twitter one day and saw the critique…

Some of us seek to speak for the oppressed and the marginalized. We are coming to recognize what is obvious to everyone around us, that we have tremendous power. As a result, there is a need to leverage that power for those whom we have set aside and created a system to oppress.

Many of us, don’t want kudos. We don’t need an “atta boy” for doing things that are right and just. I don’t think I need to celebrate my kids for doing their chores and I don’t think folks in the minority culture need to celebrate a person like me for doing what I should have been doing all along.

Please hear me, we do not need to be acknowledged nor do we have an expectation of acknowledgment for simply doing what is right. I am also not speaking to those, in this moment, who are in the minority culture.

I am speaking directly to those of us who want to stand in the gap and want to be the kind of people who are not satisfied with the status quo. We need to recognize that hearing critique is hard to hear when your whole paradigm is being shifted. The critique of our engagement can be draining and it can make us feel like we are never going to be enough. This simply is not true.

For those of you, who like me, are trying to speak up and love well, you are enough. Do not become discouraged by critique. We, I, deserve and need to hear the critique. We must continue to do better and to do so demands that we hear from those we seek to platform and lift up.

Yet, in this know that you are enough.

Keep working at it. Keep listening. Keep trying to be better.

Don’t stop.

Our friends who are women, black, Latino, or of any other minority culture can’t take a break from being who they are. You can’t take a break either. You can’t decide to just take a break for a few days.

What we can do is recognize that we are enough. You and I, we won’t get it right every time. There is a fundamental change in our thinking and perspective that has to shift. You and I have to recognize our implicit role in the systemic brokenness that plagues our world. It is the air we breathe and that means it is really hard to recognize. So, we listen and we hear critique and we try to do better the next time. Remember, it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right. Those are two very different things.

Those days that you open your Twitter or Facebook and you see the critique of you as an ally, take a deep breath, reflect, and try again. You may grow weary, frustrated, and even annoyed. In those moments step back and ask yourself what must it be like in the shoes of our friends who walk around in a world every day where the deck is stacked against them. Demand from yourself tenacity and resolve.

We are enough. We won’t be perfect but we can acknowledge our willingness to be in process. When we do that we are able to hear the critique as not an attack but an invitation into loving well.