grief

Grief Unobserved

I was thinking today about grief, and I’m reminded that there are many points of grief in our lives which we fail to recognize. We see the big ones – death of a loved one, severing of a friendship – but the smaller ones go unnoticed. They sting and cut and slowly cause grave injury. They color our worldview and our perspective of others. The big griefs, we face head-on, determined not to let them stop us. The small ones, we ignore, and all too often, they are our undoing.

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The Thing About Passion

Image by Shawn Rossi

I hear it all the time. I even say it sometimes. “I’m just not passionate about that.” It’s a phrase typically uttered when somebody is quitting a role they’ve been serving in or when they are declining to take on a new responsibility. It’s a fancy (perhaps more acceptable) way of saying “I just don’t want to do that.” The expected response is, “Well, you should do what you are passionate about.”

That’s crap. That’s Dr. Phil stuff, not God stuff. Sure, passion has a part to play in our lives and I am a firm believer in investing in what God has wired you for, given you passion for and called you to do. But here’s the thing – God hasn’t given you passion for tasks. Yet, usually, when someone bemoans their lack of passion for something, it is task-oriented.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re a fisherman. You love to fish. You’re passionate about fishing. But does your passion extend to every task involved with fishing? Do you love buying fuel for the boat and bait for the hook? Do you relish cleaning out the cooler after a long day on the water? Are you pumped every time you have to put new tires on the trailer, more duct tape on the seats or when you slice your hand trying to remove a hook? Are those your best moments? Are you passionate about them?

Within anything we do, even the things we’re most passionate about, there are tasks that are unpleasant. There are tasks we do simply because they must be done, not because they give us the warm fuzzies. We know this. And yet, when it comes to certain tasks – particularly ones that have to do with serving God or other people – we so easily glide into the “I’m not passionate about that,” excuse.

As a pastor, I have to do a lot of things every day that I’m not passionate about. I talk to people I would rather not talk to. I fix things I would rather not fix. I answer questions I would rather not answer. Like anything worth doing, there is much about this vocation that is difficult and draining. Sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes, it would be easy to say, “I’m just not passionate about this.”

The problem is, I am. I am passionate about this. “This” (which I’m passionate about) is God and his church. I’m passionate about my God – who he is and what his plan is for me, for my city and for the world. I’m passionate about leading in a healthy, growing church community, rich in diversity, who invites and welcomes anyone and everyone into our family and the family of Jesus. I’m passionate about representing Jesus to the world in a way that truly reflects him, rather than reflecting the political or social agenda of a select few. I’m passionate about seeing others come into and grow in their relationship with Jesus.

And so, I do tasks that I’m not passionate about. I get up at 5 a.m. on Sunday mornings. I buy creamer for coffee, locks for trailers and toner for printers. I wrestle with service formats, communication pieces and website copy. I have meeting after meeting after meeting about budgets and finance and I pray fervently that God will supernaturally provide the resources needed to do the work he has called us to.

I’m not passionate about the tasks, but I’m passionate about the end goal – about God and his church. And in his church, there are a lot of tasks to be done – tasks which are not glamorous and which don’t elicit a whole lot of passion. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who was passionate about running a cable, setting up a curtain or hanging a sign. I’ve never watched anyone leap for joy at the thought of aligning a video projector, making coffee or setting out chairs. I do, however, know people who are passionate about the end goal. And these people will do whatever it takes to create a church environment where people from all walks of life can come and worship God together.

Jesus was passionate about God and his church, too. He was so passionate, in fact, that he endured the tasks of being arrested, beaten and hung on a cross to die. Those things came with the territory. They were part of the job. Was he passionate about them? No. He prayed that he could get out of those tasks. But he was passionate about God’s will – about the plan that had been put into place before the creation of the world. And it was that passion which caused Jesus to take those selfless steps to Calvary.

So, you’re not passionate about “that”? Maybe you need to redefine your “that”. God has given you an incredible opportunity to play a small role in his grand plan for the world, for your city and for the people who walk through the doors of your church. Get passionate about that and you’ll have the motivation to do whatever it takes.

My Dirty Little Secret

Kenyan soilSitting out on the patio on another beautiful Kenyan morning, it’s hard to take in all the events that have brought me here. In fact, my whole life has led up to this point. Now, that may seem overstated, but rest assured, wherever you are right now, your whole life has led up to this point, too. That’s the way life works. It takes us forward, with each moment adding to our experience.

For me, though, I’m particularly aware of how little of my life has gone according to my plan, but how it has nonetheless worked out the way God designed. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes:

…we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

It’s interesting to me that the onus is completely on God. He is the one who makes us worthy. His power brings to fruition our goodness and our deeds. And, implied, is that not only does he bring these things to fruition, but that he plants those desires in us in the first place. So he is the one planting, the one tending and the one harvesting. We’re just the dirt.

As I sit here on the leading edge of what is certain to be a wild ride for me and my family, I’m reminded that I didn’t get myself here and I won’t get myself through. The onus is completely on God. Sure, I have responsibilities, but in the end, those responsibilities just amount to me being good dirt and receiving what God is planting in me. Then he can do the tending and harvesting. I’ll just be the dirt.

The Key to Peace

They say that inner peace is illusive – that we are destined to wrestle with our demons and to be anxious in our thoughts. But God says differently. In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul encourages his readers:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

It’s a familiar passage, but one I read afresh this morning in the midst of thinking about all the logistics of our move to Kenya, all the money to be raised and plans to be made. “Do not be anxious about anything…”

That’s a pretty tall order. Thankfully, Paul gives us the key to this lack of anxiousness. Prayer and petition, infused with thanksgiving, leads to the peace we seek. And when I think about those words, it makes sense. Bringing a request to God, while recognizing the many times and ways he has been faithful to me in the past, is a way of tying the past, present and future together. He has been faithful. He is faithful. Thus, he will be faithful.

Suddenly, the things that might beg for anxiety shrink in the light of God’s faithfulness. The overwhelming concerns of this world dissipate in the presence of the one who created the world and who has overcome it.

The key to peace, then, is found in this thanksgiving-laden prayer – bringing our requests before God while simultaneously thanking him for his faithfulness. The outcome of these prayers, Paul says, is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” and that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I’m in. Let’s do this thing!

TED Talk Tuesday: Could your language affect your ability to save money?

Fascinating research from Keith Chen regarding language and economics. As a notoriously bad saver, it’s comforting to know that my native language is at least partially to blame! However, what is more fascinating to me is the idea that the way we speak about things – the syntax that we use – has such a strong effect on how we think about things.

The Bible, of course, speaks to the power of the tongue and some have taken this idea of “speaking things into existence” to an extreme level. But while some believe they can speak things into reality through the cosmos, what we are learning scientifically is that we can at least speak things into existence in our own minds.

The basic underpinnings of ideas like self-esteem and personal motivation rely on this idea that the things we speak to ourselves and the way that we see ourselves can have a dramatic effect on how we live our lives. What if it’s even more complex than we would like to imagine? What if Chen’s findings carry over into every part of our lives? What if, beyond that, the words we speak and the way we speak them combine with our perception of those words to have an even more powerful influence over our lives than we can fathom?

I have long pondered these ideas as they relate to identity. If I’m going to give myself a label and I have certain perceptions of what that label is, do I then adjust myself to fit that label? In other words, if I believe that the label “suburban” carries with it a list of associations – minivans, coaching soccer, 3 kids and a dog – once I move to the suburbs and decide that I am now “suburban”, do I begin to make alterations to myself to adjust to that label?

Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Maybe it can be attributed to other factors like wanting to have a sense of belonging. But Chen’s research makes me wonder. I wonder how the way we speak and think affects our actions. I wonder if our mental “software” – acquired throughout our lives – has us programmed in certain directions.

This talk truly fascinates me. To be honest, I would love to just hang around with this guy and let him talk for a while. I’m certain I would discover much about myself in the process.

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