Radical Love is a Lonely Business 

Radical Love is a Lonely Business 

Have you ever felt at odds with the world?

Like you were convinced that your chosen path or idea was the one, but support, encouragement and consensus were all so lacking?

I found this picture for today’s post and thought it was just perfect on a couple different levels for conveying the ethos of my message.

First the little girl’s wonder woman costume… In most all superhero stories there is a moment of isolation for them. They are naturally at odds with the world because they are not natural themselves.

The super hero is a foreigner-not endemic to the neighborhood, community or species. So of course their chosen path, their decided way will forever be at odds with those around them… even whilst saving lives and restoring hope, this isolation remains.

And so the little girl sits alone, almost forgotten, relegated to the curbside enjoyment of her dairy confection. Not that the little warrior princess is concerned for calories yet, she seems as if to say, “screw you guys then, I’ll sit here and eat my ice cream bar.”

My wife and I have found a similar truth to hold steady in our lives, in our own pursuit of putting love in action. Our family, truly pushed by my wife’s vision and hope, has been a part of a foster adoption journey for some years now (if you include the time it took us to get licensed and approved.)

Though we had always talked about adoption when we were early dating and even just after getting married, it was a whole different pivot point after having had a few biological kids already. Somehow, some way we managed to get our first placement two summers ago, and with no guarantees at any point, the placement of Selah became official when she was adopted this last December.

You might say: how could anyone have a bad thing to say about that?

But folks will oppose any manner of good thing. Especially if it is other-worldly.

You see the opposition for us in the decision to take on another baby from the county, for example, carries with it a more subtle variety than what some other love pioneers and revolutionaries might receive. People just kind of pragmatically question and doubt and probe… and they often incredulously ask the direct question “foster-adoption, are you sure?!” While there are a ton of outright haters, I will tell you: the share of cheerleaders, champions and voices of encouragement are few and far between.

You can imagine the responses when we decided to say yes to another fost/adopt placement less than a month from when our previous baby was adopted, bringing the grand total of (potential) Applebee children to 5-what is a SHOCKING and, for some, HORRIFYING number to think about by today’s “standards” (whatever that means).

Honestly once again the responses are just kind of dull. If people-our family or friends-have concerns they are largely keeping silent about it.

It’s not as if we are counting on people holding a parade and constantly praising our heroism, but here is just one more example of how our chosen path is just… different, different in the way it is received and understood… definitely different in the way that it is valued.

About two weeks ago Rylee (my wife) got the call for this baby and then drove out to the hospital and picked him up. That afternoon a 3-day old baby boy was added to our family. We picked up a baby. We just went and drove and got a baby. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

So okay, yes, foster adoption placements like these are probably one of the most hilariously unnatural things around. One moment you got 4 kids and then the next you got 5 and without all the build up of a labor and delivery… and without the pregnancy announcement, without the gender reveal (party, nowadays), without the baby shower, without all the shopping, without all the fanfare, definitely without the maternity/paternity leave.

So I’ll confess, as a result of the overall lack of understanding and value, we are left feeling a little alone, a little isolated… like the little girl and her ice cream bar.

And while it’s not that people try to murder us, imprison us or send us back to krypton, there are days were the lack of support and encouragement remind us of a couple very key principles:

That we are never alone when we are holding fast to God-breathed vision.

That we are never closer to God then when we obediently follow his will.

That we are never living, loving, acting for an audience greater than 1.

That saying yes to giving life, hope and love is a defiant business, but get used to it. For it puts the grandest smile of all on your Father’s face.

If you’ve ever felt this way about any act of love or hope that you’ve taken then rest assured you are in good company. Perhaps the best of company.

Assemble any list you like of pioneers and iconoclasts: the Wilberforce’s, the Bonhoeffer’s, the Rosa Park’s, the Martin Luther’s, the Jesus Christ’s of Nazareth… make the list you want so long as they went against the grain in the name of love.

And I cannot help but leave you with a biblical truth here. Because of course if Christ was going to call you to this work of love he was surely going to outline some words of expectation and encouragement. Here is what Jesus said:

22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way. -Luke 6

So what’s your call to action that you’ve been putting off? What’s the God-sized vision that you’ve been called to that has been minimized by the voices of the haters? Or what’s your list of love pioneers and hope revolutionaries?

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. 

Where Do You Go For Answers? 

Where Do You Go For Answers? 

I once had a text message exchange with a friend and former restaurant co-worker about why he didn’t believe in God.

Having been raised culturally Jewish, now in his twenties, Jason would probably associate as agnostic or the ever-growing “none” category. And one of his statements was so succinctly telling (it did literally fit in the form of a text message after all).

He said: “what reason do people have left to believe when we now have the Internet?” In essence he was saying: the quest for knowledge and information is over! The questions of life can be so easily discerned from the click of a button and a simple google search!

No more need for an out of touch, out of sight, out of relevance God when we are now living in the wildly proliferated Information Age!

I thought to myself: holy crap that’s so true for people isn’t it… When it doubt, when facing a crucial intersection in life, when down on purpose or understanding go to google, not to God.

And then just look at this headline that proves EXACTLY what I’m talking about…

People don’t want to go to God to find the right candidate;
People don’t want to consult the bible to discern what makes a great leader and;
People DEFINITELY don’t wanna go to church to hear what some windbag preacher has to say… So what do we do…?

We Google it.

Google after all is not just a proper noun (the name of a search engine tech firm) it’s a verb!

You know what else is a verb and a noun? Faith. We have it and we do it.

Or at least that’s the aim… What of my greatest fascinations and really convictions is the divergence between those two things though: having it and living it. 

As a person of faith, as a Christ follower I’m shocked and awed by my relative inaction and lack of faith practice and I see it as a historical epidemic as well.

From the time of the 12 disciples right on into today, we Christians seem to oscillate between flashes of brilliance and acts of outright lemming-like foolishness! 

You see where we go for answers matters because we will always act on the information that we find. The article is timely once again: we Google how to vote and then… We vote… We vote Donald trump right into the highest office of leadership in the world. 

Craig Groeschel is fond of emphasizing that leadership is so much based on how we think. Pretty basic really: how we think will determine how we lead. He puts it like this:

Think higher (for this determines who you become)
See broader (determines where you can go)
Care deeper (determines what you can be trusted with)

Basically the way we think determines the way we act and the way we act determines how we lead!

I would contend that we need a more developed, nuanced and overall higher context way of thinking in order to lead well and honor those we influence especially in this “just google it” era we are living in.

Take this last weekend for example, my relatives were in town from Texas (yes, very conservative politically) and we engaged in a lively political dialogue. It was fun, for me at least, because I don’t claim too many political allegiances; I’m content to consider all angles and remain in process AND more importantly I hope to give others the space to do the same. 

However it was clear that my uncles angle on every topic was, for lack of a better word, shoveled.

Do you know kind of what I mean? Kinda like, ‘holy cow are you aware that every single thing that flies out of your mouth seems like a canned response that one or two news sources sold you?!’

Now am I saying that I’m smarter or better because I get my news from literally 100 different places and I don’t necessarily couch myself on either polar end of the political spectrum? 


Hers what I’m saying:

Be a Learner (a life long learner)

Kinda messed up of me-I know, but I encourage you not to be “that guy” (my uncle): like it’s an oversimplified, open and closed case lined with narrow-mindedness! 

Be filled with passionate convictions yes absolutely I highly recommend it… In some areas…

So long as there’s still a place for humble learning and the admission of “having not arrived” in other areas (that will, after all, only serve to authenticate our points of passion when we do speak up!)

Consider Gods voice and the truth of his word

(This approach is ALWAYS going to be more trustworthy than mere knowledge and information alone… Remember you can live your whole life, go all the way to your grave with a full head and an empty heart, but is that REALLY how you want to be remembered?)

Here’s one thing I’ve always said about the Bible: what was true for people thousands of years ago (our struggles, our emotions, our decisions and our predicaments, even our hopes and dreams) is true today.

There is nothing new under the sun. It’s just the Bible has more authoritative and exclusive truth to offer than Google or any other source for that matter. It (the Bible) is “God-breathed“… why wouldn’t you at least test it out for yourself?!

Take meaningful action on what you find 

How you think determines how you act and how you act determines how you lead and how you lead determines, literally, how others live. 

Don’t believe me or think that too dramatic? Look, this blog is about impact and influence. If you still don’t believe that people have the ability to change (due to the leadership of someone else) then consider this story…

My wife and I had the privilege early on in our marriage to travel the world on service “mission trips.” We shared plantains with remote villagers in the jungles of Peru, we saw poverty and a war-torn nation in Sri Lanka.

It was all learning by immersion.

(SIDE-NOTE: this by the way is one of the most potent forms of learning-when, seeking better knowledge or understanding, you venture across your yard, across your street and across the country or globe to see for yourself AND THEN make judgment claims.)

This is also why I refuse to listen to another white person wax on about their opinions or deductions about why we have a problem in inner city Chicago, Harlem or DC until they’ve been there, done that.

They could have read every academic book and listened to the most scholarly pundit but until they’ve actually sat down with someone in that place, then I’ll continue not trusting them any farther than I can throw them.)

In our travels we also saw discarded, forgotten and neglected babies and children. We knew from early on that we would like the chance to adopt one day.

We had babies of our own while getting licensed through the county for foster care and adoption and one day we got a call. Though we could have never known it then, less than two years later that baby girl would be legally our child. 

Now remember my point : be a learner then act on your learning and you will change a life.

For us as leaders of a family…

we saw.
we learned.
we said yes.

And now a baby girl whose mom was on meth and whose dad had 27 criminal counts against him has at least the potential of a better life. 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself 

The Other Woman (and 2 Things I Love About Her)

The Other Woman (and 2 Things I Love About Her)

There’s this woman that I’ve read about 2 or 3 times now and I find her story so completely moving that it nearly brings me to tears every time.

I love and respect this woman (who, as you’ll see in a moment, is not my wife).

I find myself moved and convicted by her story.

I learn a very many leadership lessons from this woman.

She is, in fact, the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with fine perfume in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 7. You can find the story of this woman-who is simply referred to as “a certain immoral woman” (NLT version of the Bible)-in verse 36.

The story goes something like this: Jesus is invited to dinner with some religious folks. You see while these are the type that Jesus quarrels with the most, I do believe that it is because they are actually some of the ones who are closest to Jesus in terms of their belief and yet somehow furthest from Jesus because of how they practice their belief.

Anyway, the point is: Jesus will break bread with pretty much anybody. They are having their meal when in walks this woman.

Just for the sake of capturing a real picture, imagine a modern day woman in her late 30s or early 40s in garb that looks a little tattered from living on the street, hair disheveled, generally dirty and perhaps a little “off”-in personality or general mental state.

She walks in. Makes a B-line for Jesus. She doesn’t go for this big embrace. She doesn’t try and sit next to him. She doesn’t even ask him a hundred questions.

On this day she has one objective and one target… Jesus’ feet.

She, a certain immoral woman, proceeds to lavish Jesus’ feet with 3 things:

Tears. Kisses. And fine perfume.

Now this, for many reasons, leaves the religious elite around the room and table pretty incredulous-for lots of reasons, but mainly because the woman is thought to be “unclean” and the religious elite of Jesus’ time were pretty “anti-unclean” to say the least. But that’s a different story.

There are two things that strike me every time I read this story.

There are two things that move me nearly to tears every time I read this story.

And these are the two reasons why I simply love this woman, want to be like this woman.

  1. She has a remarkably keen sense of self-awareness.

What I love about this woman is that she is so hopelessly and completely self-aware!

She knows her weaknesses, her shortcomings and here history of unwise decisions, you don’t have to tell her… you don’t even have to judge her… her inner judge is doing a fine job. In fact, its probably in overdrive at the moment because she feels that the only place that she is welcome and worthy is at the feet of Jesus. (His feet were probably disgusting by the way-wearing sandals in the desert-they could have been caked with mud or even animal feces).

She’s self aware and as leaders we must seek to emulate her tenacity. With laser like focus, we must attack our own shortcomings and our weaknesses and carry an incredible humility in owning those and growing in those. We can only do that, by the way, if we have help from others in pointing them out! (hint, hint.)

Bottom line is this: a highly acute sense of self-awareness is key for leaders because our growth (and hence our influence/impact) lies at the intersection of intimate familiarity with our shortcomings and the passion to do something about it.

2. She is filled with overflowing passion (literally overflowing into the whole room). 

For as dirty and emotionally messed up and “sin-filled” as this woman might have been-you must give her credit for being quite smart.

Because not only has she found the secret to new life (in being brutally self-aware), she’s discovered the physical embodiment of new life-in the true identity of the man Jesus.

And when you discover the source of growth and new life, you had better believe that smart people chase after it with insane levels of passion and intentionality.

And that’s what gets me every time I read her story. She acts with such awe-inspiring passion and humility that always (literally always-1st in the margin of my print Bible years ago and then again I inadvertently wrote the same note in the notes section of my digital Bible years later) makes me ask one question:

Do I have she same levels of passion and honesty about myself to do what she did? Do you?