Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

This morning in my Bible time, I feel that God spoke to me… (and I was moved to blog about it… naturally).

This morning I was in Matthew 14, which is a chapter most noted for 3 pretty sizeable events: the death of John the Baptist, Jesus Feeding the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.

At first, I caught myself thinking: man this is a weighty chapter for Jesus and very clearly you see him-every other paragraph-trying to steal away… to be alone, still and quiet. When you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see this remarkable trait of Jesus’ and it’s our first marker for what I want to talk about today.

You see Jesus was in anguish… I mean just generally speaking he was-think about it: the weight of the world on your shoulders-literally to carry the burden of every human being’s brokenness all around you… painful, unimaginable. This is, perhaps, one reason why he was in constant pursuit of alone time with the Father.

But then when we find him in chapter 14 he’s also in a degree of specific anguish I imagine. In the preceding chapter he’s coming home and I’m just amazed how quickly the scene changes here in verse 57…

54 He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” 55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. 56 All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” 57 And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

And even though he goes on in the rest of that last verse saying, ‘yeah well typical… a prophet is never well-received in his home town’ as if he had already anticipated their response (duh, he’s Jesus), but still: these are his people, his hometown, his neighborhood, his original community. And please don’t underrate the community ties of 1st century Palestine… they did not have the same universally accepted norms of individuality.

So he’s coming off of that slap in the face and goes right into hearing the news of the mortifying death of his dear friend, cousin and, in his words, (Matthew 11:11) the most enviable man who ever lived.

That happens, he tries once again to get some solace and yet people find him, track him down, follow him and even here (in feeding the 5,000) he’s very moved (in anguish) for these people-and no, not just because they’re hungry, but I would venture that he was ‘moved with compassion’ for their spiritual hunger… they were ‘sheep without a shepherd.’

It’s what happens next that interests me the most as a teachable moment for what we are going through in our country and our world RIGHT NOW…

The disciples are caught in a storm and here’s what happens…

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

And here’s the radical perplexity of a life oriented toward Jesus and Kingdom-living:

Yes, even in tragedy, even in tremendous loss and sorrow, even in unimaginable pain-these may all be used as an invitation to experience the real and living God.

So when it may seem callous and untimely to suggest, ‘yes all things do happen for a reason’ it is nonetheless the truth of what we believe, the hope of what we live for:

that all things may be redeemed
that all things can be used for good
that all things are a means for showing us and growing us in something

So here is what I want to say:

For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in depression and anxiety…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in your marriage or parenting…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding feeling isolation, lonliness or rejection…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in sickness and death…

For any of these, Jesus is very present, very real and he bids you come…

To the person who says, ‘keep your prayers’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why does God let this happen’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why God, how God, Where’s God’ HE says YES COME

I’ll leave you with one more proof for this as God’s operation in the world.

There’s a wonderful passage from Jeremiah 29. Jeremiah-God’s messenger-brings a word from the Lord to his chosen people-the Jews-who are in captivity (again, 3 a.m., darkest hour) and while there’s a hugely popular part of the passage in verse 11 (for I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…), what I love is what comes next in verse 13: “if you search for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Do me a favor and repost/share this with anyone in you life who may be struggling in this way and if someone reaches out-good, bad or otherwise-send them a direct message, setup a phone call or coffee date and really lean into it with them… it’s worth it and it might just change a life.

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

So this week’s post was supposed to be about all my tremendous learnings from a leadership conference from the first week of the month, but we are going to have to call a major audible.

After getting just “owned” by the kids these last of weeks and feeling lighter on patience than we have in a long time, my wife and I agreed that this week’s post was about the age-old idiom:

There’s no use crying over spilled milk…

Defined as: getting upset over something that already happened, that cannot be changed

Couldn’t actually find the origin of the phrase but it seems hundreds of years old, because some guy names James Howell was talking about it as early as 1659.

So it is that since the 1600s and probably before that, people were still fussing over that which they cannot control, still fretting over something that cannot be undone… only now responded to.

I have a feeling that when it comes to control in the chaos (seeming anyway), we have permission to go much further back than that!

But before going back in time, let us begin in the year of our Lord 2017, the summer of which has been filled with much “fun and excitement”…

Sometimes the kids get into things… here’s a wrap sheet from 1.5 days this past week, Let us count the blessings:

  • The toddlers dip into the BBQ grease pan and trounce the patio with it. For those who are unfamiliar, this grease it is an incredibly intense sludge that leaves permanent stains to all wood and concrete that it comes into contact with…
  • One of the toddlers, who will remain nameless… SHEPHERD decides to sprint for the white sofa covered nearly head to toe in fresh mud (yes, after being told to stop and wait at the door)
  • This same, said toddler, was found atop the refrigerator digging into a bottle of kids probiotics and a bag of chocolate chips (both hidden and tucked to the back of the fridge) at approximately 6:10 am while I was sitting on the toilet. Note to parents and prospective parents: always remember just not to go to the bathroom by yourself anymore after your kids have reached a certain age… turns out they are very curious, very precocious… in the case of this kid-downright mischievous.
  • And yes of course there has been untold numbers of rice bowl flip flops left and right on the kitchen floor, juices, waters and milks

All of this on top of our garden variety stuff….

We get called in twice a month now to visit our foster baby’s birth mom-always a bit of a harrowing experience-she is a raw and broken woman and yet we are called to pray for her and love her.
We got 5 kids, two of which are, what we call, twin toddlers, one 7-month old that still hasn’t figured out how to put themselves to sleep- go figure?! And to top it all, Rylee has just been just exhausted… you’d think she was pregnant or something…

But all of those things up there are just a prime example of… say it with me people…

SPILT MILK!

So seriously what is the freaking fuss about?!

Rice can be picked up or swept up (sticky by painful stickiness as it may be), we have all the paper towels in the world from Costco for the other messes, we have a washer machine (for now) that gets to work on the couch cushions and, well, a backyard that is precisely that-an outdoor space for wreaking havoc on!

But I guess it’s just fun to fuss, isn’t it…?

It’s necessary to vent and piss and moan, isn’t it…?

I don’t know, but I honestly must feel that way for how much crankiness and drama I put out in response to each one of their “spills.”


Here’s the best I can figure and here’s your leadership lesson (leading in love, leading in work or leading in life):

1, is learning to call it what it is (spilt milk)

It’s just a circumstantial (momentary) reality that hasn’t taken a life or crippled or maimed you in any serious way.

If it’s spilt milk, it means that its small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Be willing to put those “small potatoes” in context and proper proportion of how much they are allowed to impact you.

2, accepting that you cannot control

This is 12-steps classic right here, but anyone in recovery will tell you that this is step 1. Why? Because it’s just that important and it’s the proper starting place!

Stop trying to skip steps and definitely stop trying to control something that ALREADY HAPPENED! The best and sweetest (and most peaceful!) place we can all submit ourselves to be is in relinquishing control.

3, control what you can… your response

My wife’s best prescription? Laughter.

And I’m inclined to agree with her… I just take myself too darn seriously sometimes! So lets agree to CUT IT OUT! And just laugh at that ridiculous blouse-ending grease stain… what’s our favorite article of clothing anyway, but TOTALLY REPLACEABLE!?

So whether you laugh or take 3 big breaths or have a quick walk or say a prayer, your response matters a lot.

It matters for your own personal compounding stress; it matters for collateral damage (in those around you) and it matters in terms of your faith. And that brings me to the final thing I’ll say…

As much as these are the “small potatoes” and “spilt milk” incidents of life, they are not incidental.

Our lives are built on the small moments.

After all, that is what our lives are composed of, in the end, aren’t they? An incredible tapestry of all the small moments.

And take hope, because I’ve also been reminded on more than one occasion that our God is the God of small moments. That’s where he’s doing his work, building our faith, establishing our legacy and building those who are following us.

 

 

Anger and The Filling Of the Holy Spirit

Anger and The Filling Of the Holy Spirit

I struggle with anger.

I have, I wonder sometimes, replaced one addiction for another. They say (recovery and rehab “experts”) that’s what happens anyway… you give up on one thing and you replace it with another intoxicating habit.

I gave up booze 3 years ago this August. And while I’m not convinced that I am an alcoholic (I’ve probably been drunk 2 or 3 times in my life), I do believe that I might be a user.

So I’ve given up alcohol and before that it was probably pornography, but what about today? Am I an anger addict? Do I need anger management?

Don’t get me wrong-I don’t run around punching holes in walls or throwing things (at least when people are looking or indoors), smashing phones, getting physical with people… I’m not verbally abusive. But I do get temperamental, impatient, aggressive, angry in a way when it comes to my kids in particular (having 5 under 5 might have been a little ambitious after all).

So maybe I’m my biggest critic… maybe I’m not an anger junky… but I struggle and I fall short… tremendously short sometimes. I feel weak in this area, incapable, insufficient… sometimes at a total and complete loss of how to get better.

And yet somehow, someway I’m meant to get in front of a bunch of people this weekend and preach on the following subject:

how the filling of the Holy Spirit makes you live an altogether different life. 

Basically it’s like this: on our own-our own power, will, ability, effort we will always and forever fall hopelessly short of living any kind of good, true or just life.

But the premise, LITERALLY OF THE WHOLE NEW TESTAMENT, is that though we can’t on our own, with the Holy Spirit (i.e. The power of the living God inside ourselves) we can.

See this is where it gets interesting. I am a fallen and broken man. And I’m supposed to get up in front of people and explain the truths about how the beginning of God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, meets precisely at our end.

Our end is where He’s beginning.

That’s actually the meaning of the verse, “my power is made perfect in your weakness”  (2 Corinthians 12:9) it means that his strength, his power, his ability is made complete, it comes to a whole when we can no longer ‘keep it together, get it going, try our best’

Well here is what, in part, I have decided to share with them.

I learned about what is really the word with a million meanings; it’s the Greek word used in Ephesians 5 for Paul’s instruction to be “filled with the Spirit.”

He’s just finished outlining all these behaviors and lifestyle choices (of his time-yes indeed still prevalent today) like greed and slanderous talk, promiscuous sex and getting wasted at parties (literally that’s what he says-told you not much has changed).

He says the old is gone (he’s talking to a whole bunch of folks who are saying yes to the Jesus way for the first time-no Judaism as a starting place-just from pagan to follower “overnight”) and with the new you can expect to look, smell, think differently.

And he says this can come only by means of the Holy Spirit. He, in fact, states it as a command, “be FILLED with the Holy Spirit.”

So what of this Greek word?

It’s the word plēroō

I’ll briefly unpack at least 3 different meanings of just his one word.

The first is like the filling of a sail thereby carrying the ship along. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit then and only then will we witness some movement.

That’s what we are after isn’t it? Enough of this definition of insanity! Enough of this stagnancy! Let us move from this place!

The second is like the drenching of a preserved meat with salt. It is a level of saturation that one just cannot shake. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit such that it permeates our every breath then and only then will we witness a different life.

A salty life, a life of flavor and preservation, a legacy that lasts… that’s what we’re after isn’t it?

The third meaning is about control. I have no metaphor to describe this last aspect but it is very simple:

You will produce that which consumes you. What you are filled with-that thing will control you.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be controlled by the Holy Spirit and my oh my what a thing will that be to behold…

That’s what I want. That’s what I want for me, for my family, for my faith community, for the worldwide body of believers.

That’s all I have for you this week. Though you will see that I have attached the 12 steps below. I just always come back to these. Because they are the mental/emotional prescription or doorway to work in conjunction with the spiritual one I’ve given above.

I’ve said it before but for those who want to work on whatever issue they battle in their life-social, emotional, chemical-it doesn’t matter; these steps if taken seriously, I think could usher in serious levels of health that you never thought imaginable.


CELEBRATE RECOVERY 12 STEPS AND BIBLICAL COMPARISONS

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18 NIV

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 NIV

3. We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 NIV

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40 NIV

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16a NIV

6 We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV

7 We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV

8 We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV

9 We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 NIV

10 We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12

11 We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16a NIV

12 Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV

 

Square Up… Face The Reality Of What You Say You Believe (Everyday)

Square Up… Face The Reality Of What You Say You Believe (Everyday)

Have you ever known someone who says one thing and does another? Yeah, we all know that person and we have all been that person!

At the core I think we have a fairly serious issue with hypocrisy-especially as people of faith. And I think that’s a bit of a problem. It’s a problem because it:

  • Hurts our credibility (lacks authenticity)

  • Harms our message (loses trust)

  • Halts our progress (long-lost influence and followers)

Jesus actually said it long before we all experienced it, long before it was a colloquial phrase, but there was a group of people-religious elites and insiders -who Jesus reserved that word (hypocrite) for the most. Here’s one of many things he said on the matter:

So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. Matthew 23:3

Actually this entire chapter in the book of Matthew is reserved for Jesus’ thoughts on hypocrisy and I’ll include a few more zingers… just for fun:

  • 4 “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” DANG.
  • “Everything they do is for show.” ANYONE? ANYONE?
  • 15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell[f] you yourselves are!” WHOOPS!
  • 23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[g] but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.” OUCH!
  • 27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” YIKES!

All of this… FROM ONE CHAPTER. And finally, one more from Matthew 15, just because it’s another of my favorites; it says this:

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.-Matthew 15:8

That last one is one of my favorites, not because I like to use it as a weapon against others, but rather because it so often describes me… 

I serve at a church that is filled with literally every sort of person.

Gay, straight, black, white, asian, latino…

Alcoholic, heroin addict, homeless, mentally ill…

Every weekend I greet these people-that’s my job actually-literally I am charged with leading the team of greeters… I am the CGO… the Chief Greeting Officer.

But more than that,during the week I sit and talk with them, pray with them and try to direct them to services and programs for their daily needs.

And then sometimes I just sit with them in the church service-especially our Saturday night service at 530pm.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching the message from the front row immediately beside my friend Kristen who apparently suffers from some form of schizophrenia and speed addiction.

You see, I’ll be brutally honest with you right from the get go: when I meet these people on campus, one of my very first gut reactions is:

What are the smoothest and quickest ways I can dismiss this individual (and escort them off the lot)…?

It’s horrible that I think this way, I know. Fortunately, most of the time, right after that thought I have another one that creeps in causing this excellent tension. I believe this thought comes from years of hearing Bible stories, going to church and finally reading the Bible for myself. The second thought sounds more like this:

Don’t you understand these are the VERY people Christ came to seek and to save? You have a prime opportunity and indeed mandate to love them, welcome them and serve them in the best way possible. Remember that. Now go…

Another time I sat on the steps of the building which lead right up to the worship service, with a transgender prostitute. Literally. And no, that’s not my assumption or my categorization of this person it was merely the reality of where our church community is located and the types of people we meet and serve.

I sat there with him/her and again thought to myself: 

Holy crap here I am sitting with this person filling out a prayer card while people are already pouring in to attend service-it’s kind of a scene…

I was obviously worried about how it looked to others. I was thinking about the perceptions of those other folks who just come a little more “cleaned up” to church. Honestly, I was also worried about this individual making it up the stairs into the church service… I mean God forbid someone comes to church who might actually need to be there!

Once more the tension crept in with a voice saying:

This is my son, this is my dearly beloved child… love them, welcome them, serve them as I have served them and as I have served you. 

In short, this church, this community, this neighborhood has forced me to square up with what I say I believe more than anything in my whole life (2nd possibly only to raising small children!). 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have these belief system gut checks on a nearly weekly basis. Can you say the same thing? If not, what do you need to do in order to surround yourself with opportunities of greater dissonance like I’ve described above?

You see that is precisely what I would expect from the mindset of an authentic leader: someone who has a worldview forged through experiential friction, unlearning and practicing what they preach. 

You say you believe something. Okay, cool. Have you tested it?

And my hope in writing this is that it would not be so easily interpreted as an issue solely for the religious few. As leaders, that’s a mistake we cannot afford because hypocrisy is an issue of delivering. It’s an issue of follow-through. It’s an issue of authenticity, trust and influence. 

“Recovery” (And 7 Things that we ALL Can Learn From The 12-Steps)

“Recovery” (And 7 Things that we ALL Can Learn From The 12-Steps)

At the church where I belong and work we have arguably one of the largest faith-based recovery group in the country…

On average over 300 people come to “Lifelines” every week on Fridays for what, those familiar with the 12-steps, would call a “meeting.”

Partially this is because our city, Costa Mesa, is one of the national capitols for group homes, recovery organizations, sober living institutes and treatment centers. 

It’s also because our church (and our Lifelines Director!) have done an incredible job of welcoming people and developing people who are looking to turn their lives around. 

But my point is not to toot our own horn here. My point is to speak about recovery from a general learning stance and how I firmly believe the 12-steps are a necessary work for every person, definitely every leader. 

And rather than unpack all 12 steps, there is one that I wish to focus on… step #4:

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

I find myself utterly fixated on the beauty and power of this statement. I love this statement and the potential that working the 12-steps carries for several reasons… I figure I will just list them and let you decide:

  1. First, I just like the word… recovery. It suggests something about our mutual state. That truly all of us from birth are in the midst of recovering from a harsh entry and ensuing reality. Whether you were raised in a perfect cookie-cutter home or your life was total chaos-everyone’s in it… just very few admit it.
  2. After having met dozens of people in recovery, those working the steps, I am convinced that they are literally a cut above the average person-BECAUSE they have agreed to undergo this process. Now whether they fail or succeed-I don’t know. But I don’t care… because how many of you would say yes to that step listed up there?!
  3. I love all the steps and the process as a whole because it means asking questions and processing things that the average person could go their whole lives and never grow through. One could just sit at work, staring at a computer screen everyday for 8 hours for the rest of your life and never change, grow, evolve. 
  4. The steps are not about “SELF-improvement”… the program places chief emphasis on two big ideas: 1, a higher power and; 2, community. The first step is declaring powerlessness, the second?… It’s that someone else has the power (i.e. God). And the program takes special utilization of the word “we”… why? Because the founders new the power of accountability and fellowship in the face of foolish isolation. 
  5. I love people who have agreed to treatment and the 12-steps because they have submitted: “I have a problem and I want to get better.” In short, these people are honest. I just think so few of the rest of us would dare to be so bold. Yeah, so you’re not addicted to booze or heroin-so what. What about that anger problem… that passive aggressive streak… that fear… that anxiety… that unresolved issue… are you even a little bit interested in how you got there and how you might change or learn from it?!
  6. Now on to this particular step. I love it because it’s ruthless. It says: ‘rip through me… the moments, the memories, the scars, wounds and brokenness… so I might wake up to the realities around me’
  7. In step #4 you’re literally supposed to take an event or circumstance then break it down into: effects; feelings and finally; self-examination. GOD, HOW PAINFUL IS THAT?! I mean how many of us seriously and completely ever even go down that road?!

If you’ve ever thought: “man, maybe I need therapy or counseling” then look no further than the the 12-steps. All you need is a book and a mentor/someone to facilitate (and they do NOT have to be a paid professional-that’s the beauty). 

I’ve said it before, but one of the things I believe that makes a truly great leader is self-awareness… the 12 steps is merely a tool to take that point to a whole other brutal level. 

It is a brutal experiment but it’s a WORTHY brutal experiment because it leads to growth. And growth leads to new life. 

That’s the beauty of self-awareness: it’s honest, introspective, surgical BUT doesn’t end there. All of that should lead to decisions, action and progress. 

I’ll put it to you like this: if you’re a leader and you haven’t committed to this discipline either daily in a small way or generally in a systematic way then you’ve skipped one of the great and mandatory “passages” of leadership. AND you will never fully reach your potential NOR can the organizations/people you lead until you do. 

To use one of the MANY great AA credos I’ve heard over the years, “you can save face or save your ass.” In other words: you can keep faking it, remaining “surface level” or you can change and grow. 

What will you chose to do… today, in your relationships… your workplace… your family… your cringe-worthy habits…?