Do You Want To Get Well?

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This is part one of a teaching series called "Transforming" by David Rice, at Markey Church. You can listen to the sermon podcast by going to markeychurch.org.

We've Got A Problem

If you've been around the Church for any length of time, you've noticed something strange. It's a problem that is pervasive, and I'm sure it's been around for a long time, but it has a unique expression in North America in the 21st century. 

Here's the problem: too often, the Church can be full of people who proclaim that Jesus is Lord on Sunday morning, but live their lives as if that isn't true the rest of the week. 

I think it's important to address these kinds of problems head on.  So for the next few weeks, we'll be asking the following questions at Markey Church:

What does God invite us into?

What is a Christian discipleship?

What is the invitation of the Christian life?

What does it look like to change and grow?

What is God's role in our spiritual transformation, and what is our role?

Last Friday night, my 10-year-old and I met some friends for a Tigers game at Comerica Park. We were celebrating the birthday of another 10-year-old, who chose to invite us to the game.

It was an epic game.  Not because it had much in the way of post-season implications, but because it ended in jubilant fashion.

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In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied, Jeimer Candelario, third-baseman for the Tigers, stepped up the plate, and drilled a walk-off homerun to left field to win the game. 

The euphoric eruption from the crowd, the players, the entire experience - it still makes me smile just thinking about it. It was awesome!

That game took me deeply into thinking about something that I think about a lot: what is a disciple?

What Is A Disciple?

 

When we were at Comerica Park on Friday night, I did my best to get on the field. I tried to get the attention of the Tigers dugout. I spoke with security about getting a pass. I put on a Tigers jersey, hoping that they would let me know. No luck (I'm kidding about all of this, btw).

Apparently, if you want to play for the Tigers, you can't just show up as a 37-year-old and declare that you have a desire to be on the team. No one gives you any attention that way. 

So, I did what thousands of people do every year - I bought a ticket, wore my Cabarera shirt, purchased the most expensive hot dog of my life, and sat in the stands, cheering on the home team, all the way to glory (at least for a night). (Note: the tickets were a gift, and I don't own a Cabarera shirt :)

In baseball, there's a difference between the Players, and the Spectators. Everyone knows this. The Spectators pay to see the Players play. And the Players get paid to entertain the Spectators. The roles are clear. 

In the life of faith though, things gets muddied up. Things aren't so clear. Many of us have confused Christianity with being a Spectator. We love to attend the games, watch from the stands, root for the home team, and even pay the price of admission. But we don't even dream of getting on the field, or into the game. That would be too costly.

So what is discipleship? A disciple is someone who believes AND participates in God's ongoing work in the world. A disciple isn't simply someone who watches from the stands, wears the jersey, and roots for the home team.  A disciple is on on the field, playing for the win, representing the franchise to the best of their ability.

“I made the disheartening discovery that it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”
— Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So in the Christian life, are you a Spectator, or are you a Player? Are you a Believer, or are you a Disciple?

The Kingdom of God

I think Jesus would tell us that there are no spectators in the Kingdom of God. If you want to be part of God's Kingdom, Jesus doesn't let you simply believe. Jesus expects that you get out of the stands, and participate with God in God's work, in your own life, and in the life of the world.

So much of the endless parade of church-related disasters are, at their root, a product of a Christian culture that says all you have to do is believe. The pastors who abuse their power, the Christians who participate in genocide, the "Christian Jerks", as my Dad named them. All of this is because we've communicated to people for decades that discipleship is an option. You can be a Christian without following the Way of Jesus. All you have to be is believe.

This way of viewing Christianity is both devoid of the broader biblical narrative, AND it is immensely harmful for everyone involved. Can good things still come out of this view? Of course. Nothing is beyond the work of God in the world.

But we've convinced ourselves of a counterfeit gospel. One that only wants Jesus for his blood, as Dallas Willard would say (he called it a Vampire Gospel), and wants nothing to do with the life of Jesus. 

Matthew 28:19-20 doesn't give us this option though. As Jesus wraps up his time on earth at the end of Matthew, he says clearly that we're to "go" and "make disciples." We're to baptise them, and teach them everything Jesus told us. 

This is remarkably different from the dominant posture of the North American evangelical church with our mantras of "please come to church on Sunday" and "read your bible everyday."

Jesus doesn't simply want your attention. Jesus wants your life.

Do You Want To Get Well?

Take John 5 for example. 

There's this amazing exchange that Jesus has with a lame man near the pool of Bethesda.

One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
— John 5:5-6 NLT

"Would you like to get well?"

Don't you just love this guy? I mean, who asks someone this who had been sick for "thirty-eight" years? Jesus does, that's who. Because Jesus knows something that we don't know. Jesus knows that too often, you and I, and this guy at the Pool of Bethesda, we cling to our identities of shame and bondage. 

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
— John 5:7 NLT

"It's not my fault", we say. Of course I can't get well. I try and try, but nothing ever happens. 

His un-wellness had become his identity. And his identity was so pervasive, that even a simple but direct question of the Son of God could not penetrate it. 

Yet, Jesus continues to invite the man into wholeness. 

What would it take for this man to say, "yes, I want to get well?"

Craig Groeschel says, "you can have control, or you can have growth, but you can't have both."

So true. 

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He tolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!
— John 5:8-9 NLT

This is what Jesus invites you into as well. Jesus invites you into a life of wholeness.  A life of trust, where you take him at his word. A life where you stop making excuses about your identity, and believe his words more than the words you currently believe about yourself.

Jesus gives you a new name. No longer are you the unlucky lame one. You are restored. You are healed. You are redeemed.

Jesus does that.

Jesus invites you out of the stands, and onto the field.

You're invited into a life of spiritual transformation.

The only questions you have to wrestle with right now is, "Do you want to get well?"

Shame, Isolation, and Pastoral Leadership

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This one is for my pastor friends.

I'm reading this fantastic book called Fail by J.R. Briggs (that's the photo quote here). I highly recommend J.R.'s book to anyone is pastoral leadership, or anyone who wants to understand how exhausting pastoral leadership can be.

Being a pastor is terribly difficult. Us pastors, we all know this.

We bring our own stories of shame, pain, fear, and neediness into our leadership. The result can be less than flattering at best, and seriously abusive or harmful at worst.

I know the isolation of pastoral leadership. It's honestly way more difficult than I could have ever imagined, especially in a small church context.

The late leadership guru Peter Drucker famously said that the four most difficult jobs in the world (in no particular order) are President of the United States, President of a University/College, COE of a hospital, and a local pastor.

I'm reluctant to write any of this, but I think it's important for folks to understand the difficulty of what pastors face on a regular basis.

As a spiritual leader/guide, it is SOOO easy to think that I/we need to have our lives put together, OR project that we have our lives put together. The temptation is real, at least for me.

But my life is simply NOT put together.

More often than not, my life tends to be a mess.

Just in the past few months, I've dealt with the following: 1) emotional burnout, 2) a staff member I care deeply about abruptly resigning, 3) two invasive lip surgeries, 4) financial stress, both at home and at work, 5) regular communication stalemates at home (usually my fault, related to #1), and the list could go on and on.

What all of these messes tend to produce initially is a deep feeling of shame.

According to Brené Brown, shame is a deep belief and feeling that what I've done, or left undone, isn't simply bad, but that because of my actions or behaviors, I AM BAD. Shame says to me (and you) that we are not worthy of connection and belonging.

Shame is real y'all. Especially for an enneagram 3 like myself

So what do we do about this?

I wish I had a simple answer. All I can share with you is what I do, and hope that this somehow helps. I know these things have helped me tremendously:

1. Lean into connection. Take risks. Ask people for coffee, for breakfast, for a phone call, for a video chat. Lean into your friendships, especially with those who know you the best and have stuck with you the longest. You're worthy of connection. To be honest, I get turned down from folks more than I care to admit, but the connection I have as a result is always worth the risk.

2. Find a good counselor, and see her/him regularly. I started doing this nearly three years ago know. I drive nearly three hours for in-person appointments. I do some appointments over the phone. It has been so worth it for my health, and the health of my family, and the church I serve.

3. Take your physical health seriously. I've always been a big guy. Since I was a kid, I've always carried more weight than I'd like. It's too easy to miss this one, especially if it wasn't modeled well for you as a kid. I walk a few miles 4-5 times a week, and that's been consistent only in the past several months for me. I still have a long way to go to get to better health, but I'm working my way there. Just being vulnerable here...

4. Find a good hobby that has nothing to do with your work. Listening to church leadership podcasts is not a hobby. Spending time with people you pastor outside of the office is not a hobby. Fly fishing is a hobby. So is bread baking. Gardening too. Find something that feeds your soul, that you can connect into, connect with others around, and that will help you disconnect from your ministry work.

5. Create, and fight for, space in your life for silence, solitude, reading scripture, writing, prayer, spiritual practices, and reflection. I get up early to do this, but not as much as I'd like. I have a window in the early morning, before my kids are awake, for time with God that is significant and meaningful to me. If I miss this window, I often miss that time.

6. Prioritize your family, your marriage, and your kids, over the church that you serve. You will be a healthier person for it, your ego will perhaps receive some necessary deflation, and those that you serve will benefit from it in the long run. Your family needs you, and they will continue to be your family long after you leave your current ministry context. Don't sacrifice your family for the sake of God's work. That's not what God asks of you, and if you think God is asking you to do that, I would humbly suggest that what your hearing is NOT the voice of God.

7. Grieve your losses. When you're a leader in the public eye (even of a 10 person church) people will criticize you for all kinds of things. It just comes with the territory. Harness it for what it is: learn what you can, make appropriate adjustments, but realize that so much of that criticizing is simply hurting people avoiding their own pain, and throwing it at you. Set clear boundaries, but don't hit back. Take your pain to your trusted spiritual friends, and to God in your solitude and silence time. Pouring your heart out to God is what will heal you, not hurting the people who are trying to hurt you.

8. Find a community outside of your ministry context. I get why people resist this, but for me, this has been life-saving. I love the people I serve. I give and receive so many hugs on a Sunday morning, and I'm genuinely glad to see the people that God has entrusted to my leadership and care. But if I'm looking for validated from the folks that I serve, I'll always been needy, and looking for something they are not meant to give me. So, beginning about two years ago, once a quarter, I head to Chicago for a ministry leadership cohort with about 70 other ministry leaders. This has probably saved my life more than I can say at this point. I have friends that I see and spend time with locally who are not part of my church, and outside of my area too. Many of these friendship keep me grounded, because many of my friends are just not that impressed with me. As an enneagram three, that's what I need.

So, in summary...

My life is often a mess. I often feel down. I often feel defeated. I used to asked God to make me humble, but I've stopped asking, because it seems like God got a little carried away :)

I'm still a work in process. My life is both broken AND beautiful.

That's how it is. But I'm learning, and growing, and being transformed. It can hurt way more than I'd like it too, but that's what a life found in God feels like sometimes. As Waterdeep said, "you gotta let the fire burn you if you wanna get free."

And if you have a pastor or spiritual leader, please keep in mind that the work that she/he does is some of the most difficult work that anyone can do in our culture. So be kind to us, pray for us, and make sure we're seeing a good counselor or spiritual director (or both), because, well, we really need it. Don't assume you know what we need, but be an advocate for us that we get what we need. We'll be forever grateful for your voice in that battle.

And if you're a pastor who feels isolated, alone, beat up, torn down - whatever it is - reach out to me, or preferably, to someone who knows you well.

Don't keep your pain inside, don't keep your exhaustion a secret. There's still hope. God is still making all things new. Including your very own life.

Call a counselor, talk to a spiritual friend. Reach out to a trusted person.

You were never meant to do this alone. If you think you have to remain isolated, you're beginning to believe the LIE. There's a different, and much better, Way.

I'm rooting for you, all the way.

May grace and peace be yours today.

It's ok to be afraid; it's not ok to stay there.

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Wendy and I spent several days last week in Chicago. Specifically, we stayed in a neighborhood southwest of downtown called Brighton Park. We didn't mean to. It was cheap, and clean, and that works for us.

Our host was a Mexican immigrant named José. He was kind, thoughtful, helpful, and hard-working. José rents out half his house on airbnb, and drives for Lyft.

I think that's the definition of hustling.

While in Brighton Park we felt safe. We had great food. We were shown wonderful hospitality. We had a great experience.

And Brighton Park is majority Latino, based on my visit. I only saw a handful of other white folks while we were there.

We fear what we don't understand. We fear what we don't expose ourselves to.

Being afraid is natural. It's ok to be afraid. I would suggest it's not ok to stay there, because often you can do something about it, especially if you're like me.

When you're afraid of a group of people, I always recommend starting with food.

Learn to make some great, authentic tacos at home (google Rick Bayless, get some books from the library, and have at it). Or pozole. Or chilaquiles. Then, go find the best tacos in the part of town where immigrants live. The. Best.

Go have a Halal burger at Taystee's Burgers in Dearborn, outside of Detroit. I haven't been there yet, but it's on my list for the near future. Muslims eat burgers too. Just like you. I promise.

When we have limited experiences with a whole group of people (immigrants) and then powerful people tell us to be afraid of them, we too often choose to be afraid, because we don't know any better.

My reporting tells me that in at least one immigrant neighborhood I visited last week on the southwest side of Chicago, you would be welcomed, treated with dignity and respect, and have some of the best tacos in the Midwest.

Does that mean there are still violent gangs made up of Latinos out there - well, sure. But that doesn't make every Latino a violent gang member, anymore than having white skin makes you a violent murderer, like Timothy McVeigh.

Go to Paco's Tacos on Archer Ave. Order the carnitas, the barbacoa, and the lengua (for me, next time) - you won't be disappointed.

Give a thumbs up to the guy at the griddle who made your food and say "muy bueno" when you're done because you're a dork and you don't really know any Spanish. But hey, you're trying.

If you're afraid of people from Mexico, maybe rent an airbnb in a neighborhood where the people don't look or talk like you. Get some good food. Speak in terribly broken Spanish. People watch. Enjoy the company.

Choose to engage, not to be afraid.

We'll all be better for it.

Culture Wars and The Way of Jesus

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This is a post about culture wars and the Way of Jesus

I was born in 1981 to a family firmly entrenched in the world of the Religious Right. I don't think my parents set out to be entrenched in that world, but living and working among the outer edges of the Jesus People movement, and the music that they made, will do that to you.

I was brought up to believe that "they" are against "us".

I don't ever explicitly remember my parents saying this to me, but that was the message I received at church, at my Christian school, and in the Christian circles we ran in.

They are against us.
They are secular.
They are not of God.
They are sinful.
They are evil.
They want to destroy our way of life.
They are a threat to us.
They must be eliminated.

I think the cultural moment the Church in North America is having right now is really the last dregs of this movement that began in the 1970s, came to prominence in the 1980s, wielding some measure of power in the 1990s and 2000s, and now, on it's death bed, is wreaking havoc for so many people in our culture.

Whatever you want to call this movement, what I've come to see that at it's core this movement is all about power.

Power to remain in control.
Power to fight off that which threatens us.
Power to determine how people use their bodies.
Power to legislate folks to look, act, and behave like us.
Power to force our values upon other people.

This movement, which I believe began with a pure intention, has morphed over the decades into a blatantly political force.

This movement not so subtly says, "Exercising power over and against our enemies is the way to be Christian in our world today."

The problem is that this has nothing to do with Christianity.

Sure, it uses religious language, and postures itself upon religious values and ideas, but this movement is devoid of the Christian faith because the premise of this movement is devoid of Christ.

The premise of this movement says that the way to defend our values and our position in society is defend what God stands for in the public square, and by any means necessary, force those who want nothing to do with our values to adhere to our values as often as possible.

We've played at faith with a huge measure of anxiety, and therefore we've turned the Way of Jesus into a voting block.

Shame on us.

So, what do we do?

When the world around us is crazy and out of control and nothing seems sacred anymore, what do we do?

That is, what do Christian people do?

The most anxious thing we CAN do is turn our uncertainty and anxiety into political power, and wield that power to control our situation.

That is pure anxiety, and it is the opposite of the Way of Jesus.  
This goes for folks on the Right AND the Left.

The Way of Jesus brings a non-anxious presence.
The Way of Jesus choose love over fear.
The Way of Jesus seeks to listen before seeking to be heard.
The Way of Jesus empathizes with those we don't like, so that we can see them as human, made in God's image, just like us.
The Way of Jesus calls us out of our fear, our anxiety, and into a life that is marked by compassion, patience, and the long game.
The Way of Jesus helps us see that we're fighting against Powers and Principalities, not simply people we don't like and don't trust.

Ultimately, I'm with Snyder, who says "Truly Christian transformation of culture comes through Christlike (and hence sacrificial) love, community and being."

This Way is SOOO impractical. But it is the best way.

In order to change our culture, we must die to our own attempts to constantly force our culture to change.

In order to change our culture, we must begin with our own spiritual transformation.

In order to change our culture, we must let Christ change us.

Dear Christian, are you letting Christ do this in your life?

Are you bringing your anxiety to Jesus? Your fear? Your discouragement?  Are you mourning the loss the the nation that you once knew, where the systems worked for you? Are you bringing your grief to God?

Or, are you taking that anxiety out on the most available target? Namely, those you don't know, who are far from you, that scare you. Are you using your fear and anxiety to express your politics in such a way that “we” win, and “they” lose?

There is another Way.

The Way of Jesus calls us out of our self-centered posture in the world. The one that demands that everyone value what we value, and do what we want them to do.

The Way of Jesus invites us to die to our preferences, and to our agendas, and to our efforts to control the world.

The Way of Jesus is not passive - it is VERY active. But it leads with love.

Love is the most active posture one can take in the world.
Love is the most courageous posture one can take in the world.
Love is the most godly posture one can take in the world.
Love will change you, and it will change the world.

So, Christian friend: if your posture in the world is anxious, fearful, and defensive, it is not the Way of Jesus.

I'm not sure what it is, but please don't confuse it with the Way of Jesus. 

It is likely the Way of Death & Destruction.

The Way of Jesus looks like Jesus: loving, compassionate, empathetic, valuing time alone with the Father, and above all, self-sacrifical to the very end.

That, my friends, is Good News that will change our culture.

And it must begin with you, right where you are, in the middle of your life, even today.

So may you choose the Way of Jesus today, and every day after.

May you relinquish you addiction to control.

May you see your anxiety plainly for what it is.

May you name your fear before God.

May you stop judging people who you've never met.

May you turn off the tv news, and the disconnect from the internet, regularly.

May you find a quiet spot to bring your fear and anxiety before God.

May you grieve the loss that has come with cultural change.

May you be curious about what God is up to, even if you don't understand it.

And may you ask God to deeply transform you, for the sake of the world.

In the name of the Father who loves us.
In the name of Jesus who saves us.
In the name of the Spirit who guides us.

Amen.

Four Years (You're Building Something)

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Four years.

Today marks four years since I began my role as Lead Pastor of Markey Church.

When I became Lead Pastor of Markey Church I was 32 years old. I'd never been a Lead/Senior Pastor before.

I'd been part of both large and small churches, urban, suburban and rural churches, and I'd served in Youth Ministry, Worship Ministry, Adult Discipleship, and even in Janitorial Ministry (yes, that's a thing). I was the jack-of-all-trades pastor who had no idea what I was stepping into.

And then they asked me to be the Lead Pastor of Markey Church.

They voted - who does that? I won :)

I assumed the Lead Pastor role of a grieving faith community that didn't yet know it was grieving. It would take me 9 months to realize that things weren't as they seemed, that we were an aging, tired congregation that had seen and done A LOT of good work through the 80s, 90, and 00s, but we'd slowed down, and were in a downward spiral. It would take me 18 months to realize that much of the pain folks were feeling was grief and loss due to the changes I was leading.

We were tired. We were (many of us) pretty content to be where we were. We were stagnant.

And we were dying.

I brought my ego, my ambition, my hapless leadership skills, and my rough preaching presence to this tired congregation.

We started dancing, and we stepped on each others toes. A lot.

I hurt people. People hurt me (one even called me the mini-pope - which was weird).

I was invited to come and not do the ministry of the church on my own, but to develop leaders and then send them out to be the ministers of Markey Church. But when the culture of the church is the exact opposite of this, that sort of cultural change is difficult. Maybe impossible? And excruciatingly painful.

This year has probably been the most difficult.

I think I feel like this with every anniversary. We've seen a lot of staff change this year, more programming change, and we've continued to say goodbye to folks for whom the changes I'm leading are simply too much.

Also, we continue to connect with a wide group of folks, mostly younger, who don't have a church home. But their habits around regularly being part of our common life together are not as developed as our older crowd.

Super-honestly moment: it's really difficult to prepare sermons, worship songs, prayers, and an entire sequence of a common gathering, holding the faces and stories of particular people, knowing that the work you're doing is designed to be helpful to them, to bless them, and then have many of those same people not engage with your work. It's just hard, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

It's been the year where we're far past the point of no return in our plans for organizational change within our church and spiritual renewal within the hearts and lives of our people, but STILL not yet to the point where I can see the fruit of all the work I'm putting into this place, these people, this church.

It's as if I stumbled into an old, somewhat forgotten apple orchard. One that was beloved by an older farmer, but had seen better days.

I’ve been invited to tend to that orchard. I had graduated from orchardist school, been an assistant farm-hard on other properties, and now I was ready for my own, real-life orchard.

When an apple tree gets old, it still may be producing some fruit from those towering branches, but there’s all sorts of decay, disease, and gnarly growth that needs attention. Sometimes you can nurture it back to health. Sometimes you can't

The wise orchardist knows that in order to revive an old-growth apple orchard, one needs to do a few things, because the goal of an apple orchard is growth and health and...apples: 1) apple trees that are showing signs of disease need special care and attention, and at times need to be cut down, 2) new trees need to be planted in their place, and tended too with love and care, and 3) every tree needs some significant pruning work.

Because sometimes, God calls you to come with a knife.

Pruning hurts like hell, but it's through the pruning that we create the conditions for new growth to take place.

So I began my work of loving the old trees, but seeing to their removal when necessary (some we tended to until they reached the end of their life-cycle, and some we had to remove, because they were no longer bearing fruit).

I began my work of pruning those that remain, and through the process learned to submit to the pruning of the Creator in my own life.

And I began my work of procuring new seedlings, planting them in good dirt, full of compost (the rotten stuff of our lives) and tending to them, so that one day, they can produce fruit that’s worthy to nourish those that come to them hungry, looking for wholeness.

The problem with tending to an orchard in this way is that it takes times.

Lots of time. Like, waaaaaay too much time.

A typical apple tree takes 5-7 years just to begin to produce fruit from a seedling. A culture within an organization is the same.

And even then, apple trees don’t reach full maturity until year 10 or more. That's when they begin to bear the fruit that they were designed to bear.

So, here I am. Tending to this orchard. We’ve removed the old diseased trees that were not bearing fruit (mostly, they've removed themselves). We’ve planted so many new seedlings that are not yet producing fruit. And we’ve chopped off so many branches from the otherwise healthy trees, so that they can continue to produce healthy, lush fruit that nourishes those that come to them hungry, looking for wholeness.

As I survey the orchard I tend to, my honest feelings at this moment are wrapped up in the lack of harvest. As an apple orchardist, I LIVE for the harvest. I long to pick a fresh Empire or Macintosh from the branch, and take that first bite from its sun-warmed flesh.

It truly is what feeds my soul.

And yet….the harvest has not yet materialized.

And so I go on hope.

There has been hurt, and pain, and betrayal, and biting letters, and rumors behind my back, and ill-intended words. To be sure, this is from a small, but persistent bunch. This has significantly died down in the past few years, but the pain lingers.

There has been my own failure to care, my own failure to use my time wisely, and my own incompetence in tending to the orchard with grace, love, and care.

But this is where we are. We’re on the cusp of a new growing season. One where our young seedlings are beginning to show signs of health and growth. Where they can begin to spread their branches toward the sun, in worship, as only apple trees can do.

The picture above is one of the behind-the-scenes fruits of my labor. It represents so much praying, dreaming, wrestling with God, setbacks, and heartbreak on behalf of both me and the leaders I serve alongside of. I'll write more about it in the coming week.

That we’re raising money is not really the point. The point is that we’re raising trees, able to withstand the rigors of life, that continue to grow toward the Sun, in worship, in reverence. Trees that will bear much fruit

That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

So I take heart today, knowing that my work is in process, as is God’s work in my own life, and in my own heart.

I trust that God is at work in your life as well.

Recently, Steve Wiens reminded me on his podcast that we're all building something. It’s something worth building. And anything worth building takes time.

It takes time to rebuild a fruitful, healthy apple orchard.

It takes time to grow a marriage, a family, a life.

It takes time to nurture a dream. To work up the courage to act on that dream. To withstand the onslaught of folks who tell you that your dream is not worth pursuing.

They'll tell you that you're mad - and that you're unworthy of doing your work.

But your job is not to listen to those folks.

Your job is to do your work. To do it well. To do it unto the Creator, for that's what you've been made to do.

And your probably not going to see the fruits of your labor tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe even next year.

It may take a decade.

It takes time to build a church, because the church is the people, and people are a mixed up bundle of life and lies, hope and doubt, joy and sorrow.

God has chosen to work through people to bring about the renewal of all things.

So there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

We are in imperfect bunch, Markey Church. Always will be.

I'm an imperfect pastor, as you all know. But I'm learning. I'm growing. I'm asking you to give your lives away for something greater than yourself. Because that's what I'm doing, and I just want you to join me in this work.

So may you know today that God is with you.

May you know today that God is for you.

May you know today that goodness is to your right and to your left.

May you know that your Father looks upon you with kindness, and that your Father is proud.

I'm so grateful to be on this journey with you all.

Here’s to another year!

The Struggle Is Real

I want to invite you into something that I wrestle with deeply in my heart on a weekly basis. It goes something like this:  1) I care deeply about the formation of people into citizens of the Kingdom of God, here on earth, just as it is in heaven.  2) I think it's possible, and actually our proper place in the created order, to seek after the Kingdom of God in the here and now, discern what God's Spirit is doing in and among us, and order our lives to join God in God's work of renewing and restoring all things.   3) That means how we spend our days, what we do for work, how we raise our children, how we pursue our marriages and relationships, how we use our money and resources, how we vote, how we treat our enemies, and how we organize our communities - these ALL have connections to how we live into our faith in the present moment of everyday.  4) Faith is NOT an abstraction, or simply something that is going on inside of me. If faith is to have any value at all, it MUST have bearing on our real lives. Faith must have a tangible expression in our everyday living, from what we buy, who we spend time with, where we work, and how we order everything else in our lives.   5) Why follow Jesus? I truly believe, as Andy Stanley says, that following Jesus will make your life better, and make you better at life. I think this is true no matter where you are in your faith journey. Jesus continues to invite you to follow after his Way, which is the most difficult way, but the most life-giving way too.  6) I'm a Pastor by vocation, so I spend my working life leading, organizing, and dreaming about new and old ways of invite those connected to my church community into a deeper, more holistic expression of faith in the world in which they live and move and spend their days.   7) I know for many people who were raised in the Church, being part of a local faith community as adults has become something that has fallen to the back burner. It is not a priority For some this is because of bad experiences, which I completely get as someone who has had bad experiences in the Church world.  8) Perhaps I'm really bad at this work (see number 5), but my general impression is that the majority of folks that I'm attempting to lead, especially those close to my age (20s-40s), are not that interested in being part of a church community that would, in my opinion, help them live more deeply into their faith in a holistic way, especially in their work, their marriages, their parenting, and their normal, everyday lives.  9) I'm not sure what to do about this (above), other than to continue to make the invitation clear that our church is FOR you, that we are working hard to make this a space and a people that values you, and that we think there is a place for you to belong here.  10) My hunch, as a 36-year-old parent of two young children, is that, for many of my peers, faith has become more and more a private expression and experience, therefore many folks simply don't see the need to be connected to a larger faith community or tradition.   11) The problem with that approach, in my view, is that it ignores the theological nature and the biblical imperative of Christianity being a communal activity or expression. Meaning, you can't be a Christian all by yourself. You can't be a Christian all alone in your head. You can THINK of yourself being a Christian, but you cannot fully PRACTICE Christianity as an isolated individual. Confession, reconciliation, hospitality, care of souls - all of this only works in the context of a faith community.  12) This quote from John Ortberg has startled me out of some of my thinking and, and it's working its way into my behavior too:  "Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them." -John Ortberg   13) I don't want to skim my life, and I don't want you to skim your life either. I want you and I both to fully live our lives.  14) I believe many folks my age who will not commit to being part of a local church use a sort of logic that goes something like this: "I don't find the experience valuable, so I guess it's not for me." This is what I would call the mentality of a well-verse consumer. I get this, because I feel this way about so many things, including church at times.  15) But this mentality is allowing us to divorce ourselves from the community of Jesus followers that has planted itself in the middle of our lives. At the church I lead, we have done SO MUCH work over the past four years to create environments that are geared toward folks in my generation. We're continuing that work in earnest over the next two years. All that to say, we're creating a community that is FOR the missing generation, or two, that have walked away from the Church.  16) Here's my deeper concern: many of my peers are so addicted to busy and hurry, that the practice of being part of a local church is simply not high on the priority list. As a pastor to many folks in my age group, I see how busy your lives are. I feel that same weight of busyness too.   17) John Ortberg asked a mentor over 20 years ago what he needed to do to be spiritually healthy, that mentor (Dallas Willard, no less) told him one thing.  What do you suppose that one thing was?   Read your bible everyday? Pray everyday? Spend more time with your family? Go to church more often? Get involved in more causes? Give away your money? Volunteer your time more?  Here's what Willard told Ortberg: "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."  That's it.  Everything else can flow forth from that.   It must flow forth from that.  As a pastor, I want to invite you to live into this invitation today, and into this spring quarter.  Perhaps there's something (or many things) you need to stop doing in order to do what's most important?   Perhaps there are ways in which you want your life to look like, but you're choosing the easy path, the path of least resistance?  As Richard Rohr says, "What are you going to do with your now resurrected life?"  I pray that you'll slow down, so you can spend time listening to the Father, who is speaking to us, if we make space to listen. Will you pray this for me too?  I pray that you'll choose to organize your life to be part of a local church. God is indeed doing something in the world, and often that something is centered in the Church. For all of it's foibiles, I'm still here, choosing to renew and reform from the inside. I'd love for you to join me in this work.  And if you don't know where to begin, I can help with that. I am a pastor, after all, who dreams and leads on behalf of those who often can't see what God may be inviting them into. I can help.   You have to make the first move though.   See you Sunday.

I want to invite you into something that I wrestle with deeply in my heart on a weekly basis. It goes something like this:

1) I care deeply about the formation of people into citizens of the Kingdom of God, here on earth, just as it is in heaven.

2) I think it's possible, and actually our proper place in the created order, to seek after the Kingdom of God in the here and now, discern what God's Spirit is doing in and among us, and order our lives to join God in God's work of renewing and restoring all things. 

3) That means how we spend our days, what we do for work, how we raise our children, how we pursue our marriages and relationships, how we use our money and resources, how we vote, how we treat our enemies, and how we organize our communities - these ALL have connections to how we live into our faith in the present moment of everyday.

4) Faith is NOT an abstraction, or simply something that is going on inside of me. If faith is to have any value at all, it MUST have bearing on our real lives. Faith must have a tangible expression in our everyday living, from what we buy, who we spend time with, where we work, and how we order everything else in our lives. 

5) Why follow Jesus? I truly believe, as Andy Stanley says, that following Jesus will make your life better, and make you better at life. I think this is true no matter where you are in your faith journey. Jesus continues to invite you to follow after his Way, which is the most difficult way, but the most life-giving way too.

6) I'm a Pastor by vocation, so I spend my working life leading, organizing, and dreaming about new and old ways of invite those connected to my church community into a deeper, more holistic expression of faith in the world in which they live and move and spend their days. 

7) I know for many people who were raised in the Church, being part of a local faith community as adults has become something that has fallen to the back burner. It is not a priority For some this is because of bad experiences, which I completely get as someone who has had bad experiences in the Church world.

8) Perhaps I'm really bad at this work (see number 5), but my general impression is that the majority of folks that I'm attempting to lead, especially those close to my age (20s-40s), are not that interested in being part of a church community that would, in my opinion, help them live more deeply into their faith in a holistic way, especially in their work, their marriages, their parenting, and their normal, everyday lives.

9) I'm not sure what to do about this (above), other than to continue to make the invitation clear that our church is FOR you, that we are working hard to make this a space and a people that values you, and that we think there is a place for you to belong here.

10) My hunch, as a 36-year-old parent of two young children, is that, for many of my peers, faith has become more and more a private expression and experience, therefore many folks simply don't see the need to be connected to a larger faith community or tradition. 

11) The problem with that approach, in my view, is that it ignores the theological nature and the biblical imperative of Christianity being a communal activity or expression. Meaning, you can't be a Christian all by yourself. You can't be a Christian all alone in your head. You can THINK of yourself being a Christian, but you cannot fully PRACTICE Christianity as an isolated individual. Confession, reconciliation, hospitality, care of souls - all of this only works in the context of a faith community.

12) This quote from John Ortberg has startled me out of some of my thinking and, and it's working its way into my behavior too:

"Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them." -John Ortberg

13) I don't want to skim my life, and I don't want you to skim your life either. I want you and I both to fully live our lives.

14) I believe many folks my age who will not commit to being part of a local church use a sort of logic that goes something like this: "I don't find the experience valuable, so I guess it's not for me." This is what I would call the mentality of a well-verse consumer. I get this, because I feel this way about so many things, including church at times.

15) But this mentality is allowing us to divorce ourselves from the community of Jesus followers that has planted itself in the middle of our lives. At the church I lead, we have done SO MUCH work over the past four years to create environments that are geared toward folks in my generation. We're continuing that work in earnest over the next two years. All that to say, we're creating a community that is FOR the missing generation, or two, that have walked away from the Church.

16) Here's my deeper concern: many of my peers are so addicted to busy and hurry, that the practice of being part of a local church is simply not high on the priority list. As a pastor to many folks in my age group, I see how busy your lives are. I feel that same weight of busyness too. 

17) John Ortberg asked a mentor over 20 years ago what he needed to do to be spiritually healthy, that mentor (Dallas Willard, no less) told him one thing.

What do you suppose that one thing was? 

Read your bible everyday?
Pray everyday?
Spend more time with your family?
Go to church more often?
Get involved in more causes?
Give away your money?
Volunteer your time more?

Here's what Willard told Ortberg: "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

That's it.

Everything else can flow forth from that. 

It must flow forth from that.

As a pastor, I want to invite you to live into this invitation today, and into this spring quarter.

Perhaps there's something (or many things) you need to stop doing in order to do what's most important? 

Perhaps there are ways in which you want your life to look like, but you're choosing the easy path, the path of least resistance?

As Richard Rohr says, "What are you going to do with your now resurrected life?"

I pray that you'll slow down, so you can spend time listening to the Father, who is speaking to us, if we make space to listen. Will you pray this for me too?

I pray that you'll choose to organize your life to be part of a local church. God is indeed doing something in the world, and often that something is centered in the Church. For all of it's foibiles, I'm still here, choosing to renew and reform from the inside. I'd love for you to join me in this work.

And if you don't know where to begin, I can help with that. I am a pastor, after all, who dreams and leads on behalf of those who often can't see what God may be inviting them into. I can help. 

You have to make the first move though. 

See you Sunday.

The Most Difficult Path

Pike Place.jpg

I am a man with a foot in two places. And I think it's right where I'm suppose to be, right now.

Foot One.
Last month, Wendy and I traveled to Seattle for a few days. It was the first time we'd been back after leaving five years ago. And it was a great trip, full of memories and reminiscing and friends and longings. I love that city, and everything it holds for me. I grew up there, forged a marriage there, became a father there, and solidified my vocational calling there. Seattle holds a lot of meaning for me. And while it's no longer my home, I feel at home when I'm there.

Foot Two.
I live in rural, Northern Michigan, and have for 3.5 years. It's a beautiful, life-giving, yet sparse, place. It's full of beauty and brokenness. It's where I've grown up some more, where I'm learning to be a pastor, and a father, and a husband, sometimes in ways that are too difficult and painful for me to acknowledge. But I'm learning. I'm growing. I'm leading. I'm serving. (you should come join me here).

And I'm grateful for both these places. For all the places I've lived. Hillsdale, and Fort Wayne, and Canby, and Texas, and Huntington. I'm grateful for all these places, what I've learned, how I've suffered, how I've grown. I don't wish to go back to any of them. They taught me what I needed to learn in that season. So I'm grateful.

I'm reading this Brené Brown book called Braving the Wilderness, and it's so good. The theme of the book is all about what it takes, what it means, and what it looks like, to find true belonging, no matter where you are.

Brené says that true belonging takes an incredible amount of courage, because it often means standing alone. Knowing who you are, being confident in who you are, regardless of how people are responding to who you are. True belonging is a posture of grit and strength and steadfastness in a world that begs us to feel anxious and lonely and lost. "Be afraid" the world tells us. True belonging, on the other hand, says "know who you are, know your place in the world, and be yourself, regardless of what's thrown your way."

For me, that means lots of quiet time, lots of thinking and reflection. It means enduring the loneliness of life, knowing that I am often sized up, especially given my role in the church, but very often not truly known.

People have opinions ABOUT pastors, but very few people KNOW their pastor.

To a certain extent, that's how it is, and how it should be. But it is a very lonely place to live from.

Henri Nouwen says that "worrying causes us to be all over the place but seldom at home. One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless."

We are not at home. We THINK that home is marked by worry and fear and anxiety. But to be at home, to truly make a home in the world, is to be at peace with where you are, who you are, and what you've been given. It is to truly be yourself, and to belong to where you are.

I'm still working on this. I hope you are too.

What keeps us from truly belonging to where we are and who we are is usually as simple (and complex) as one word.

Pain.

Brené Brown says it like this: "Pain will subside only when we acknowledge it and care for it. Addressing it with love and compassion would take only a minuscule percentage of the energy it takes to fight it, but approaching pain head-on is terrifying. Most of us were not taught how to recognize pain, name it, and be with it. Our families and culture believe that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us. When we own our emotion, we can rebuild and find our way through the pain."

At the beginning of chapter four in Braving The Wilderness there's this quote from James Baldwin: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."

We are terrified of the pain we feel. It's why so many of us are overwhelmed, overweight, over-medicated, overworked, and over-religioned.

We want anything that will help us numb the pain, walk around it, and hope that it will go away.

But pain doesn't go away by ignoring it. The only way you can get pain to go away is by stepping into it.

But in stepping into it, it marks you. Deeply.

And this is where my faith in Jesus comes in.

Jesus literally embraced the pain of the world, walked straight into, and felt the entire weight of it, so that we no longer have to be controlled by it.

We will still feel pain. But we no longer have to be beholden to it. There is another way. A Better Way.

So what does this have to do with me and Seattle + Roscommon County?

Seattle was a season of deep pain, but deep healing for me. It holds so much hope in so many parts of my life.

I take that deep pain, deep healing, and deep hope with me now as I live and lead in Roscommon County. There is deep pain here, and the deep pain can only be faced by those who have faced their own deep pain.

Everything else is an inadequate bandaid.

Part of my learning here is realizing how little I actually know. I have so much to learn, and so much more growth to embrace.

There's always another invitation to step into the pain in my life. But as I do that, as I step into the pain of my life, the pain of others, what I've come to call The Most Difficult Path, that's where real healing begins to happen.

This is The Most Difficult Path.

And you're invited to step into. When you're feeling alone, and anxious, and controlled, and worried, it may be you're being invited to deal with pain. Maybe not. But, I've found for me, that's often what it has been.

You need a guide to do this kind of work, so I implore you to find one. Make it a priority. You're worth it, you know.

And if you need a place to lay down some roots, may I invite you to where you're heart comes alive and in so doing can bring some healing into the world? For me, for this season, this is Roscommon County. There's so much goodness here, even though I often feel like I don't belong.

But I'm reminded often that I belong everywhere, and nowhere. I belong to myself, the self that God is knitting together in my life, as I continue to step into pain and brokenness.

I belong there. Right where the beauty and the brokenness intersect.

This is truly The Most Difficult Path, but it is the only place I can be while I do my living, if I want to truly live.

So may you see your pain for what it is.

May you embrace it, and chose to learn from it.

May you step into The Most Difficult Path.

And in doing so, may you find something of the healing and connection that you so desperately long for.

The Way It's Always Been

liturgy ordinary.jpg

This past Sunday in my message at Markey Church, I spoke about racism, love, and repentance.

I asked the question "Who is my neighbor?", and did my best to answer it with vulnerability and honesty. You can listen to that message here: http://markeychurch.org/sermons_it…/the-way-its-always-been/

After sitting with this teaching for several days, both before and after I delivered it publicly, I have a few thoughts on how it relates to where we are as a country/culture, and the role of people of faith in our national conversation:

1. I think many of us have a difficult time distinguishing between an evil act or attitude, and an evil person. For the most part, people are complex in our actions, relationships and experiences. We show a huge capacity for love and goodness, and an equally large capacity to hurt each other. I think many well-meaning people get confused and defensive when they are faced with their own actions that may have aligned themselves with the work of Evil in the world, and the good, honorable, or decent person they see in the mirror. We are all susceptible to aligning ourselves with Evil on a daily basis. It is human nature, at this juncture. And yet we are also created good, by a good and loving Father, who wants the best for us. We need to learn to hold that tension much better.

2. When it comes to race and racism in America, most folks who identify as "white" have been the primary movers when it comes to holding power, and therefore are the most to blame when it comes to racial injustice or unrest in our society at large. White folks have always held the keys to culture power and control. Many white folks I know are really good, decent people, AND they have benefitted from the systems and structures in our society that are predicated on racism, either currently, or historically. Access to wealth, to education, to jobs, to housing, and to so many other things that have benefitted me and my family have been available to me and my family first.

3. For a white person to begin to acknowledge their role in this and see clearly the powers and structures that are motivated by Evil does not mean that every white person IS evil. Acknowledgment of Evil in the world, and how Evil may have actually impacted me, is a very Christian posture. We are meant to be people of repentance. We are meant to be people of reconciliation. We are meant to be the first movers in acknowledging how we have been complicit in the work of Evil in our culture. To acknowledge our complicity is NOT to say we are equal to Evil. It is simply to speak the truth, that Evil has a hold on parts of our lives. To continue to pretend otherwise only strengthens the grip of Evil in our culture.

4. Too many people of faith, particularly conservatives, and particularly Evangelicals, and more and more Progressives, are trading the cruciform posture of Christianity that Jesus displayed, and the Apostle Paul wrote of, for a version of Christianity that is at once consumed with maintaining cultural power, cultural victory, and and an endless parade of belief in God mixed with the politics of nationalism. To be American is NOT to be Christian. To go to church is NOT to be Christian. Christians don't vote for a particular political ideology - the evidence shows this every cycle. When we confuse our voting record or our political ideology with the Way of Jesus, we bastardize the Gospel and turn it into a vehicle where we are saved by our ideological purity. In many ways, this is the opposite of what Jesus taught, and what the early church looked like.

5. The early church, as evidenced by the book of Galatians, and others, was made up of people who were both Jews AND Greeks, Slaves AND Freedmen, Women AND Men - basically, people who were DRAMATICALLY different from each other, people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic classes, all sorts of ideologies. If people in the ancient Roman world could find common ground under the banner "Jesus is Lord", then surely we can today, for our task is not nearly as daunting as theirs was.

6. To repent means to not only turn away from (metanoia, in Greek) but to also change our behavior, or turn toward something new (teshuva, in Hebrew). It is an active, outward change in our posture, behavior, and stance toward others. It is not simply an internal confession, but an external one that has deep implications for how we will live our lives.

7. I can honestly say that, as a white, straight, Christian pastor, that I'm a racist. I could tell you stories of growing up in a small, homogenous town, of watching the tv show Cops as a kid, of substitute teaching in the Fort Wayne school system, or living in the most diverse zip code in the country, etc. But I'll simply tell you this: my racism isn't signified by a flag, by nasty words, or by an outward hatred toward others, but it is simply a seed in my heart that was unintentionally planted there by my culture, and has slowly grown, unbeknownst to me, for many years. Now that I'm aware of it (I have been for at least a decade now) my work is to continually repent of it. To bring that seed before God, like a cancer patient in remission going to their six-month check up. I don't say this with abundant guilt, or shame, nor do I say it with a high-road mindset. It simply is. It is mine to bring before God, and to actively work against.

8. Love is not a feeling. Love is not an emotion. Love is a Rugged Commitment, as Scot McKnight says. It is an active choice to be WITH and FOR someone else, to pursue their benefit and blessing, at times instead of my own. Love is all we need, but it is not a sentimental feeling. It is a posture, and it looks different depending on your story, and who you are attempting to show love towards.

9. For my friends who consider themselves Christians, and yet say things like, "I don't have a racists bone in my body", I would simply say this: Self-deception is the most sinister of all sins. I know it well, and I'm sure I will continue to learn more of it while I continue to breathe. It is our time to own the injustice in our world, to see the role that we play in it, to repent of it in every way we can. Christians do this. You can still be a Conservative, a Democrat, a Liberal, a Republican, a Libertarian, etc. AND do this work. Acknowledging the racism both in your own heart AND at play in our culture should not be a partisan issue. Those who are telling you it should be that are peddlers of their own Self-deception.

This will cost you something. It may cost you a lot. But it is the beginning of setting things right. Little by little, bit by bit, this is how (one of many ways) we begin to partner with God in making all things new in the world. This is how we actively pray that God's Kingdom come here on earth just as it is in heaven.

This is what Christianity looks like - self-giving, working on behalf of others, setting our self-interests aside, and having a Rugged Commitment (Love) for those around us. Even those we don't know, don't see, and don't like.

10. I'm laying all this out, and inviting you into this part of my story, because I genuinely believe there is goodness here for you. Repentance ALWAYS begins the process of restoration. Without that beginning, we're living hollowed out lives, built on our own achievements and egos. This is not Christianity. Christians believe, and therefore act as if it were true, that repentance brings healing, restoration, and forgiveness. This works is hard, you will have to dig deep, it is not a quick fix, but it is the best way to live. Promise.

May we own our stories of racism. 
May we learn to repent, to turn away from, and to turn toward something new.
May we do the hard work of reconciliation.
May we learn to listen to those we disagree with.
May we learn to listen to those who are hurting, rather than telling them "how it is".
May we have patience with each other.
And may the sin of nationalism, that potent and fiery mixture of faith and politics (and often, race), begin to subside, and quickly die in the pit of hell, where it belongs.

p.s.
If you need some help walking into or through any of this, DM me, and I can point you toward some good resources.

p.s.s
Generally speaking, when you have a strong reaction to something, it usually means that there's something there for you to learn about or grow into. From one who struggles with this to another, I'm here to help, if help is what you want or need.

p.s.s.s
I'm just scratching the surface with my own racists tendencies, so if you see something in me and I'm not aware of, I need to know. I only ask that you would be kind in letting me know. That's the best way for me to hear you, and I want to hear you.

p.s.s.s.s (this is getting ridiculous)
The cross in this photo is called a palm cross. I use it to pray in the morning. For a tactile guy like me, it's really helpful. The book Liturgy of the Ordinary is really good. You should read it.

Grace & Peace,
d

On Turning 36

Today's my 36th-birthday, and I'm reflecting on my life, as I have been for the past few weeks, with as much honesty and vulnerability that I can muster. Here's a few things I'm learning as I begin my 37th year...

1. I can't be of help to those around me if I'm not taking care of myself.

If my emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are not being met on a regular basis, then I simply don't have much to give to the world. It's like trying to go on an endless road trip for thousands of miles, and only putting $5 worth of gas in the tank (while eating small bags of cheetos and drinking endless soda) and expecting things to work out just fine. You simply don't get very far that way. We need fuel and regular maintenance to live sustainable lives.

I need this too. I'm at my best as a husband, father, leader, teacher, and pastor when I choose to prioritize my own health, growth, and healing, SO THAT I can be of service to others. Taking care of myself is FOR the sake of others

It's tragic and unacceptable to me how American culture places so little value on self-care, and how the Church follows the lead of our culture in this regard. I've had to unlearn so many bad habits that were formed in childhood and early adulthood in order to lean into this one. And I'm still unlearning. But I'm also learning to make different choices, and finding myself in new and better places as a result.

This all takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and courage, and it costs a lot, but it is always worth it.

2. Vulnerability is the birthplace for compassion and empathy to grow in my life toward others.

I'm a super-judgmental person. I will own you in my thoughts. I'm smarter, better, more-put together, and I have an answer for everything. Most of you don't know this about me, because I'm really good at hiding it. Many of you DO know this about me, and I'm sorry.

Here's the problem with this way of living: it is devoid of connection to others in any meaningful sense. A life lived in the manner I described above is a life lived out of misery, isolation, and self-loathing. If being right (or PERCEIVED as being right) is the priority, being alone is the result.

I've been reading this Brené Brown book called Rising Strong over the past couple weeks, and I've been learning so much from her. Brené defines connection as "the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship." Man, that's good.

Brené says that shame is the thing that keeps us disconnected. I don't want you to know that I don't have my life put together. I don't want you to know that I have moments, days, where I'm a terrible father, an awful husband, a horrible boss, a distant son or brother. I don't want you to hear the cursing of others I do under by breath, or the contempt I have for you.

I want you to think I have it figured out. That I'm nice, and calm, and generous. That I'm capable. That I can conquer the world.

And I will trade meaningful relationships for the perception that you have of me, as long as you perceive me as put-together and successful.

At least I used to live this way. I used to want this. That house of cards has been tumbling down for several years now.

More and more, I could care less about what people know or see about me. I know who I am, I know who I belong to, I know what I'm here for, and I know I am loved.

In short, I know that I'm worthy of love and belonging. So I know I'm worth knowing, and I'm worthy of connection.

3. Everything about life is a gift.

I've learned from Ann Voskamp that gratitude is the antidote to fear, isolation, self-pity, and selfishness. Gratitude is the posture in life that says, "all is gift."

Everything I have, every relationship, every experience, every physical object, every desire, every longing, every heartache, every hope - these are ALL gifts. They are undeserved, yet I receive them anyway. The trick is in the receiving.

Probably more than anything these days, I'm full of gratitude for my wife, Wendy, and my boys, Josiah and Jonah. They are the most tangible expressions of God's grace in my life on a daily basis. They endure my lowest lows, my insecurity, my anger, my un-health, and my highest highs. And yet they love me.

I'm grateful for the people of Markey Church, who allow me to be their pastor. You know how imperfect I am in this role, yet you've chosen to stay. I'm grateful for that every single day.

I'm grateful for my Mom, my Dad, my brothers, my friends, my dog, good books, moving films, good food (and sometimes, bad food, which can also be good), great restaurants, traveling, time off, summer, winter, snow, sunshine, orange juice, reuben sandwiches at Zingerman's, good cheese, live music, four-part harmony, my back porch, and that sunset in East Tennessee last week (good Lord, that brought me to tears).

I'm grateful for you too. Thanks for reading. And thanks for accompanying me on this journey we call life. I hope to see you soon.

Paying Attention To My Life

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for our family.

We’ve celebrated three birthdays (Wendy, Jonah, + Luna), one anniversary (Wendy + I), one or more of our family members has taken trips to Detroit, Boyne City, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Holland (Michigan). We’ve dug and planted garden beds, destroyed some concrete walkways, assembled a trampoline, kept on eye on baby birds, shopped at a Thai grocery store, spent time with friends, and spent many hours outside on the porch, in the garden, and the backyard, just taking it all in.

Here’s what I’ve discovered over the last two weeks as I’ve paid attention to my life:

1. I love my people. Wendy, Josiah, and Jonah are my favorite people to be with. They bring me so much joy, each one of them. I’ve had a handful of days off from work during these past two weeks, and we’ve spent lots of time together doing everything, and nothing, and it’s been the best. What a joy it is to have this family, my family.

2. Wendy is an an incredibly gracious and strong life partner. I often reflect on how Wendy is someone that I can’t believe agreed to marry me. I can honestly say that I don’t deserve this woman in my life, and that is why her presence and her love are the most tangible expression of God’s grace that I see on a daily basis. She is so good to me, so strong, so much fun to be with, and just a lovely person all around.

3. The Deep Sadness, and the longing for something more, is real. I have these days, these moments, where I’m so in tune with my longing and desire, that I ache for something beyond what I see here and now. At times, this longing can get distorted into something totally self-centered and self-inflicted, but at it’s most true, it is a longing for things as they ought to be. What theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls “Hope", or what N.T. Wright calls “putting the world to rights", or what C.S. Lewis meant when he said, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." This world, as I know it, is full of beauty AND brokenness, full of light AND darkness, full of truth AND lies, full of hope AND despair. I think the Way of Jesus is to know both the beauty and the brokenness, to feel the darkness, and to trust the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God, even when you can’t SEE or FEEL it.

4. I LOVE praying the Hours. At my retreat in Chicago last week, and every retreat I take there with the Transforming Community, we pray the Hours every morning, noon, evening, and at bedtime. It is such a grounding activity, to recognize that the world and everything in it is what God has made, and to rightly position ourselves as the receivers of God’s world, and the caretakers of this place and these people. I’ve been using The Little Book of Hours at home throughout the day, praying the Hours every morning, noon, and evening, and it has been a profound experience of centering and blessing. I highly recommend it.

5. I love making food with flavors that sing. Of course I’ve known this about myself for years, having worked in the food world for so many years as deli manager, cheesemonger, cook, recipe developer, and entrepreneur, but it’s amazing to me how taking singulair ingredients or flavors, and combining them using traditional techniques, can make my heart so happy. My happiness is multiplied x 1000 when my people love what I love too.

6. I think I’m going to make brownies today. Maybe with mini marshmallows on top, which is totally Cook’s Country. And BBQ pulled pork. That is all.

7. Gardening is SO MUCH WORK, but my heart comes alive with hope as I plant seeds, transplant seedlings, shape beds, and anticipate the joys of tomatoes and peppers and basil and kale and lettuces and squash and cucumbers and ground cherries for the next several months. Growing things brings me so much joy.

8. Eugene Peterson has a new collection of sermons from his 29 years as a Presbyterian pastor to the same congregation. It’s called "As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, and it’s brilliant. Rob Bell’s new book "What Is The Bible?" is also really insightful, and fun (utterly Rob). And my spiritual director, Rory Noland, has a great book called “Worship On Earth As It Is In Heaven” all about cultivating a life of private worship, and I’ve been finding that really helpful too.

9. I miss living 5 minutes from Costco. No shame here.

10. I’m really looking forward to the next 3-4 months of the summer season. We’ll get to spend time with the Zenz family at Higgins Lake, the Ritchie family camping in West Michigan, the Dennison family in North Carolina, we'll have my Mom here with us for a week in June, and we'll go camping for a week in the UP with my in-laws. We’ve been spending hours and hours outside, taking it all in, not wanting to squander a moment away from this gorgeous season. We know how long winter is in Northern Michigan, and so we’re learning to embrace the seasonal changes with gusto. To live in the present moment. To not miss anything.

These are a few things I’m trying to live into as I listen to my life, and the God who is speaking to me through my life.

May you pay attention today too.

May you embrace what is before you.

May you turn off the tv, set aside the things that don’t matter, set down your phone (I’m looking at you, YOU), and be where you are.

Fully.

Abundantly.

And with gusto.