Churches As Hospitals

Churches As HospitalsThe other day I posted the above quote. It raised quite a bit of online and offline discussion. So much so, that I felt it could and should be discussed further.

In my understanding, this quote is an analogous attempt to contrast two ideas. 1.) Churches as museums… where ideas and artifacts and histories are placed on display versus 2.) Churches as hospitals… where the wounded, hurt, injured, and broken find healing.

I do agree with one friend who said, “Churches have become more like Facebook, with people only sharing what they want you to know while hiding so many of their struggles.” Another friend expressed her concerns with the hospital analogy this way, “Odd analogy ‘tho since most people don’t hang out indefinitely for kicks in hospital once healed.” So why do I think this “churches as hospitals” analogy is valid?

  1. Healed and whole are not the same thing. This actually speaks to the concerns mentioned above by both of my friends. Many/some/most churches seem to value what I call Facade Christianity – focusing mostly on perceived output. The reality is that none of us are perfect. Ever. I have a friend whose church attempts to live it out in one of their core values this way, “No pretending. No need to.”
  2. The safest places on the planet. Many/some/most churches say “come as you are”; but really mean, “Come as you are until this date when we think you should fully conform to our ideas of what it means to follow Jesus.” I know this may be the hardest part of the analogy for Christians. They will fire back that the gospel is offensive and should make people feel uncomfortable when they are in opposition to it. Church ought to be a welcoming place that allows people to come and explore faith indefinitely… just as they are.
  3. Churches should be the hope of the world. If this is not true of your church, stay as long as you can without losing your own hope, and try to effect change. If they are unwilling or unable to change, run. Find a compassionate, broken, safe place that encourages all people to come and be infused by the life-giving joy and peace that can be found in Jesus.
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Do Good Christians Doubt?

dealing with doubtThe skeptic’s most frequently asked question must be, “If God is real and he is good, why would he allow suffering?” But skeptics are hardly alone in their questioning. The very point of this post is to shine some light in the direction of the post’s title: Do good Christians doubt? The way I have heard most Christians respond to this question seems to imply that true faith seeks to resist and eliminate doubt. I find such an approach to be disingenuous, misleading, and downright destructive. Let’s talk about why. Everyone doubts. If you don’t today, you may tomorrow, and you certainly will someday. Subscribing to the faith-equals-no-doubt approach forces me to think that if/when I doubt I have tainted or lost my faith. I believe the opposite of this is true. My friend Leslie was recently told she has a brain aneurism. I have asked her permission to retell part of her story, as it specifically relates to doubt. She has been writing in great detail about her journey. She told me why she has chosen to write.

I was just very convicted to share this walk. The good, bad and ugly parts. Why would Christ allow this if He wasn’t planning on using it for His glory? I look forward to seeing what God does with all this.

A significant part of what I know God has already done because of Leslie’s willingness to invite us into her journey is that I have revisited my understanding of the nature of doubt. Before a recently scheduled surgery to implant a device into her brain, Leslie was required to take some medication that would cause her blood to thin and help to avoid clotting during the surgery. In her words…

… as soon as I take that medication, my blood begins to “thin” and my platelets are inhibited. And, I found out, that, should my aneurysm rupture in the next two weeks, this medication would take my survival chances from 20-40% to basically ZERO. Learning that, especially knowing that my aneurysm isn’t stable, it is growing and changing at a rapid rate, my world stopped. So, when it came time to take those pills on Monday, I couldn’t. I am ashamed to admit that I could not even trust the Lord when He has promised over and over again to not leave me or forsake me. I sat and looked at these bottles of pills for what seemed like hours, debating, devastated over the truth that what was required to save me, could also kill me.

When faced with difficult and life-threatening realities, doubt and fear are quick and close. But are they enemies or friends? The answer is likely in how you handle them. Think of your physical body. Most of us would agree that pain is not a good thing. But it can be. Imagine if you were hurt and could not feel pain. A dear friend of mine was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident. After the accident he had to learn to be extra cautious with regard to extreme temperature coming into contact with his lower body. Because he had no feeling it was entirely possible for him to severely burn his flesh and not even know it was happening. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking on lately regarding doubt:

  1. Doubt Is Not the Absence of Faith. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Doubt is a human emotion and only confirms that I am such. I am honestly more nervous about people of faith who seem to never have any doubt. My experience with them is that they are either disconnected from reality or downright denying it. Having worked with doubters and skeptics for years (and been one), I have learned to believe and teach that God is ok with your questions and doubt. He is bigger than them. He desires for you to ask so that he may answer.
  2. Doubt Can Strengthen Faith. When I come to God with my questions and I believe that he is ok with me asking, my heart is open to hear his response. Then when I find that answer, be it in Scripture or in my spirit, I am quite naturally inclined to believe again. All of this is impossible without acknowledging doubt.
  3. Doubt Can Be Debilitating. While I’m sure you see where I’m coming from with relation to doubt, I do believe their are limits. Living with serial doubt can, and likely will, crush a person’s spirit. Having frequent and sizable questions is one thing. Refusing to accept God-given answers is another thing altogether. I love the Scripture that reminds us of the proper flow… ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

So bring your doubt. Run to Jesus. Ask your questions. Expect to hear from him. In the end your faith will be strengthened.

Identity: Knowing Who You Are

RafikiI’d like to begin by exposing my qualifications for writing on this topic. For the last 44+ years I have been trying to discover who I am. Like you, there have been times I thought I was getting close and many more moments that I simply did not have a clue. And while this is entirely a human problem, it manifests itself most particularly in western men. We throw ourselves into our work (which in some ways, we were meant to) and in the end have a difficult (if not, impossible) time distinguishing who we are from what we do.

There is a scene in Disney’s The Lion King that has always highlighted this reality well. Though, ironically, even its answer is incomplete.

Rafiki: Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana.
Simba: Come on, will you cut it out?
Rafiki: Can’t cut it out. It will grow right back. Hehehe.
Simba: Creepy little monkey. Would you stop following me! Who are you?
Rafiki: The question is, who… are you?
Simba: [sighs] I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.
Rafiki: Well, I know who you are! Shh. Come here, it’s a secret.
[Whispers, then grows louder]
Rafiki: Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana!
Simba: Enough already! What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?
Rafiki: It means you’re a baboon… and I’m not.
Simba: I think you’re a little confused.
Rafiki: Wrong! I’m not the one who’s confused. You don’t even know who you are!
Simba: Oh, and I suppose you know?
Rafiki: Sure do. You’re Mufasa’s boy!
[Simba turns around to look at him, shocked]
Rafiki: Bye!

The Challenge of Western Thought
In the west we have come to largely, if not exclusively, value people based on external factors. Don’t believe me? Describe the majority of questions on a typical job application. Contact Information, Education, Work History, etc. – in general, these are the quick and seemingly sensible ways we categorize each other, yet they are wanting. Before we get too far down this path, I am not completely voting to eliminate all elements of western thinking. I’m advocating for an expansion of this way that can lead us toward identity.

This typical classification reinforces that the highest personal value is what school one is able to afford, their race and gender, and what companies have benefitted from their presence. There are certainly times when these questions are relevant, but they leave us with little to no understanding of the individual. One can attend the finest school in the country and pay or push or cheat their way through. Don’t even get me started on race and gender. And just because you’ve worked for a Fortune 500 company does not guarantee that you are a person of character who made them better by your having worked there.

The Challenge Is Gender-Inclusive
I do believe men tend to struggle with this more deeply than women for a number of reasons. First, is the myopia of men. We are generally nearsighted. This is why we can only see well the things closest to us. Most guys deal with things one at a time until they are finished. Second, western culture has assigned the highest male value to the answer to the question, “What do you do?” Ask any man. This is almost always one of the very earliest introductory questions in any social setting.

But don’t think this automatically excludes women. Have you seen the Facebook footprints of most young mothers? What will you find? Pictures of children. Normal enough, I suppose. But every day and every tooth and step and…? Some moms even go so far as to exchange their own profile picture for one of their child. Women are equally challenged to distinguish their role and their identity.

The Way Forward
While I am unapologetically Christian and run all of this through that grid, I think these principles translate to anyone. There are three primary things that I am learning to do. They incorporate the values that we have come to know in the five senses. I see taste, touch, and smell as relatives that all embody experience. Sight is manifested in our ability to observe both ourselves and all that surrounds us. And hearing, surely in our context, is much more than the ability to distinguish sound… it is all about listening. Let’s deal with them in reverse order of their mention above:

Listening
As we seek to know who we are this may be the most valuable asset of all in discovering our identity. Listening includes study and silence and the discipline of making space for those things. It is also about hearing from others. There are people who know me as well or better than I know myself. I have found great advantage in allowing them to speak into my life as well.

Observing
This may be the most difficult of the three. It involves a different set of measurements than the ones with which we are familiar. It values presence over completion. It is as much about awareness as it is discovery. Observation can, and probably should, include all of the five senses. This takes time. It requires being in tune to whispers within that we are not even accustomed to hearing at all. In time the combination of what you hear for yourself and from others will mix with what you are observing in the world around you and lead you to the final principle.

Experiencing
Some of knowing who you are is simple trial and error. How can you know something is in or out, if you have never attempted it? For me, at least, this has not been about shots in the dark. I allow my even my experiences to be informed by my listening and observing. And while I am involved an experience that may play a major part in my identity, I put my listening and observing skills into overdrive. Amazingly these disciplines become skills that help me know who I am.

In the end I hope to learn, as Simba did, that I am not just someone’s son (though I am proudly that). I am the only version of me that has ever been created. And in a culture that sadly emphasizes being one of the “cool kids”, I am most interested in discovering the uniqueness that is me.

God’s Most Difficult Command

THE BOOK OF ELIThe Bible is filled with commands that followers of Jesus are meant to embrace. Perhaps none is more difficult than the one found in Proverbs 3:5-6…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do…

Sounds simple, you say? I suppose at first reading, it may. But when you start to think of its application, and further, its implication, the admonition becomes downright scary. For the thinking person, the questions are likely to start flowing. How do you trust in something/one that is invisible? Does not depending on your own understanding necessitate suspending your intellect? Does seeking his will mean abandoning my own desires? And these are all fair (and answerable) questions. Let’s tackle each of them.

How do you trust in something/one that is invisible?
The answer is simple… notice I did not say easy. The only way to trust is to decide that you are going to attempt to trust. Look at another reality in which this is difficult – the fear of flying. For some, the thought of trusting the technology of an airplane to safely transport them is crippling. So how do you conquer that fear? Unless you are a former hulking NFL football player/commentator, the answer cannot be not flying. And, sorry Mr. Madden, that cannot be the answer for you either. To conquer fear we must fight it. That gets us headed in the right direction with trusting Jesus, too.

Does not depending on your own understanding necessitate suspending your intellect?
For an unfortunate number of Christians it would seem that the answer is all-too-often, “yes”… but, no! No, not depending on your own understanding and suspending your intellect are not the same thing. So exactly how does this work? It works by admitting that I don’t know exactly all of how it works. There is a required humility that is the linchpin in this entire discussion. If you believe that your thoughts are the beginning and end of all discussions, not only will this be woefully apparent to others, it will also be repellant. I prefer to focus on what this means instead of what it does not. For me this is about admitting that God knows more than I do and submitting my “wisdom” to his wisdom.

Does seeking his will mean abandoning my own desires?
This one is a “yes” and “no”. Again, what this really comes down to is… “Who’s in charge?” If I demand control of my life, trusting God becomes more than difficult – it will be nearly impossible. However, if I believe that the one who made me also dreams bigger dreams for me than I ever could for myself, it becomes much more pleasurable. Or put another way, I seek to discover his plans and those plans become my own!

Only after wrestling through the first part of this passage does the second part come to life:

… he will show you which path to take.

And isn’t this what we’re looking for? Direction. Guidance. Clarification. We want to know that the road we’re on is the right one. For the Christian this assurance is found by obeying God’s most difficult command: trust me. And as we learn to trust, we learn that the prophet Isaiah was right, his ways are not our ways. God’s ways transcend our best attempts.

Ferguson and Immigration: Root v. Fruit

roots1So I had a mostly-written article on immigration that I started over the weekend and then on Monday evening came news from Ferguson, Missouri of the the grand jury’s decision. I opted to scrap much of what I had written and lean into the heat of the Ferguson situation, as I see them both in much the same way. News sources and the internet are ablaze with fruit. There is little talk of what is at the root of all of it. Because my audience is largely Christian, my appeal in all of this is to seek the roots for Jesus’ sake. Not only “what would Jesus do?”, but “what did Jesus do?”.

As is unfortunately usual, most Christians fall right into the laps and traps of anger-mongering newscasters bent on pedaling their version of truth. We argue the specifics of what’s going on (fruit) and deflect any conversations that address the why’s (root). Allow me to suggest a better path… likely not easier… or more simple, but better in that it deals with the root.

Position Not Pigment
This first part is huge. For better or worse I don’t think the primary issue is simply the color of one’s skin anymore. Racism has evolved into classism. Don’t believe me? Follow your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and watch what is being said about these two issues (left or right). Better yet, who is doing the talking? The voices that are being pedaled seldom come from a position of poverty let alone proximity to Ferguson or immigration. Because most people on the street do not care about the voices of people on the street. We want to know what our favorite famous talking head is saying. And it happens equally from both sides of the aisle. So if this is the offense, what are we to do about it? Jesus was constant in message and practice that our focus should be on the least and the last. What if we applied that reach to these two issues? What would need to change?

Do Ask Don’t Tell
American Christianity is primarily focused on results. Ask pastors what is the first question they are asked by other pastors at “________ Really Awesome Christian Conference”. I guarantee the answer to that question has something to do with a focus on outwardly visible and measurable results. Because of this reality, much of our approach as Christian leaders has been to come up with a plan that fixes said problem and produces the kinds of results that are visible and measurable.

When it comes to these types of conversations I am deeply stricken with my own lack of knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like to grow up in daily legitimized fear of the police. I don’t know what it feels like to risk everything to leave my country of origin in hope of a better way of life for my family. My results-orientation has often forced me to pretend that I do know. I must come up with some kind of solution.

I think we need to stop trying to tell the disadvantaged how to think/act/be. What if, instead, we adopted a position of asking. Yes, I realize that this removes us from a position of authority and jeopardizes our grasp of tangible results. The hardest part of this for most of us is that we don’t really know anyone in either of these two categories. That would be a good first step. Get to know someone that experiences the things that you and I do not. Ask them what they think needs to be done. Listen.

Penitence Over Politics
One of the truths that I have been changed most by in recent years is this… if Jesus matters, he has to matter in context. My observation is that in discussions of this nature, Christians – like anyone else – are most likely to go to their respective political corners before returning to the middle of the ring to duke it out. This is backwards. I’m not saying our politics do not play a role in our faith, but it is our faith that should inform our politics, not the other way around.

Asking “what does the law say?” is not necessarily a bad question. I just don’t think it’s always the most important question. The most important question for a Christian is always “what does Jesus say?” Certainly Jesus did not address either of these issues specifically or as we understand them in our American context. He did, however, often speak about and act upon seeing all people through the same lens… his children in need of his redemption. That’s me, too.

A Better Path
Often my default response is silence and inaction. But what if we began to head in a different direction than our basest impulses? What if we sought a better path? Certainly this would be more difficult than following the masses. Certainly it will be hard work. Certainly following the aforementioned types of suggestions are in keeping with the spirit of Jesus. Ready. Set. Go.

A November Experiment

calendar-2For the last two years I have been trying to find and establish an identity that defines “re:THINK”. I have listened and written and observed your responses to conversations. As I have said from the beginning, I especially enjoy challenging followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and re:THINK what it means to be Christian.

During the month of November we will interact with the heart of where this blog is headed. I believe I have learned what that is supposed to look (and sound) like. Your reaction this month will prove it. Please share with others – it’s easy. Click your favorite social media connection below!

You’re Not JUST A Youth Pastor

potterThursday afternoon near the end of my work day I stopped at a coffee shop on my route. I noticed a guy with a Bible and a few other books at a table nearby. We had a short conversation as he was leaving. Included in that exchange was my question, “Are you a pastor?” His answer sent me into a 3-day thought process, the fruit of which is this article. His response? “I’m just a youth pastor at ___________ Church.

I began my career as a youth pastor. From that day to this – almost 22 years worth – I have always served students in some capacity. I write these words as one who has shared your experience. I am for you.

Be A Shepherd
If you joined this game for any other reason, you should probably stop and do something else. Students and their families are your flock. You have been tasked with leading them to green pastures. Take yourself seriously and others will too. Understand the gravity of your position.

Be A Strategist
Though you may often wonder if your students are listening, they are. The data supports this notion. Ages 11-18 are among the most formative and developmental years of a child’s life. Because of this, you and I cannot afford to be casual about our approach. What an opportunity we have been given to change the landscape of Christianity by helping students understand and own their faith. Pray. Contextualize. Strategize. What was missing from your own teen experience? Be intentional.

Be A Student
First, I am not suggesting you act like you’re a teenager again. It is imperative to model that being a student is a lifelong process. Show them what you’re learning and who you are reading. Live out your faith by demonstrating that learning never stops.

If you are a Youth Pastor, thank you. Keep striving to be more than you are. If you know a Youth Pastor, please pass this on to them and encourage them to be more than JUST a youth pastor.

Stay Salty My Friends

Landmine Interesting CelebrityJesus tells His followers that…

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

What was He saying?

Contextually this has to be about discipleship. The latter half of Luke 14 has this as its theme. Jesus is explaining what it takes to follow Him. Here’s my take on what it means to be salty and how to stay that way.

I believe the text is talking about flavor or influence. Jesus is teaching us that the best way to represent Him is to be a compelling follower. Is it possible to do this too much or too little?

I love salty snacks. I prefer a bowl of popcorn over a bowl of ice cream any day. You know the saying that you can’t get too much of a good thing? It’s a lie… you salt 1can. Several months ago I discovered that my blood pressure had skyrocketed due in large part to my addiction to salt. Similarly I remember a time I made cookies and mistakenly swapped teaspoons of salt for tablespoons. Needless to say, those were nasty cookies.

Have you ever been around a Christian who was too salty? Well meaning… trying to add flavor and influence… but completely unpalatable.

There is also the very real possibility of not being salty enough. I was eating a bag of pretzels the other day. They were supposed to be salted. I think they had 3 or 4 granules of salt per pretzel. Not tasty.

I know Christians like this as well. They say they are following Christ yet nothing about their life is influential in that regard.

So how do we stay salty? Want to. The #1 thing that holds me back from being salty is me. I enjoy chasing things that don’t matter… good things even. I substitute influence for congruence. I try to fit in when what I should be doing is helping those outside of Christ to find freedom by fitting into His plan.

There is no substitute for time with God. Nothing can replace the saltiness gained from spending time allowing God to do His transformative work.

Family First

Family FirstI have used this saying for years as an out-loud declaration of what I believe in my heart… and now my typical honesty. As you will readily see by the picture, physically getting family together is not always easy. I think the last all-together McQueary time was 2009. That’s not what “family first” is about (only). Family functionality (or dysfunction) is every family member’s responsibility and privilege. Is dysfunction present in families? Yes, always. Because, as it turns out, families are filled with people… and people are filled with dysfunction. But labeling a family “dysfunctional” and moving on is not the right thing to do… especially if you say you follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus and understand yourself through the eyes of Jesus apart from grace, you know that all of us are by nature dysfunctional. This ought not lead us to despair. Instead, this reality allows and demands that we pursue our families the way that Jesus pursues us. As I have stepped back from this thought in the last few days, these are a few of things that “family first” has meant to me (particularly in my adult years).

Nuclear Family First
I realize this title labels me. I further recognize that the definition of nuclear is changing in our culture. Nuclear has historically been defined as a family group consisting of a pair of adults and their children. My emphasis is not on defining or redefining the term, but challenging myself and you that the one(s) to whom you have been partnered and the one(s) to whom you have given birth or are seen as their primary caregiver are foremost in the discussion of which part of family should be first. If you have chosen to be part of this kind of family, they are your most important responsibility. After God, there is no one who is more important to me than Christina, Natalie, Erica, and Tyler. This choice will likely frustrate other family members from time to time, but if you start early and practice the rest of what follows, they will respect you more for it in time.

Marriage, Divorce, and the Oxford Comma
Even my title is a gentle poke at the irreverence with which modernity handles family realities. Growing numbers of individuals find themselves in very different expressions than what was formerly referred to as “the traditional family”. The poke of my (only-humorous-to-a-few) paragraph title is not meant to say that God has no opinions about the categories that people occupy. What is important in my view is that we see all of them as part of the same family. Simply put, marriage does not remove you from a family (your original birth or adoptive family) any more than divorce does. And whether or not a state or a church recognizes your family, put its members first.

Extended Family
First off, I hate that phrase. I think it is at least partially responsible for why many families function the way they do. I like “included family” or something headed in that direction. When Christina and I married 21+ years ago, we did not remove ourselves from our individual families. Instead, we each joined the other’s family. We did not transfer our membership, we multiplied it. I was thinking about this just the other day as it relates to my own situation. I love Lorri and Eddie and Colleen and Kirk and Rebecca and Brian and Lauren as if they were my “natural” siblings. The first three married my siblings and the last four are Christina’s brothers and their wives. Similarly I love my in-laws (another term of which I am not a fan) as a second set of parents. Why does this matter?

A Few Suggestions

  1. Family first is work… period.
  2. Family first is my immediate family before my included family.
  3. Family first means that sometimes other things take second place.
  4. Family first means I spend time with my family simply because they are my family.

Why I Don’t Pray

prayingAllow me a moment of confession. There are seasons and days and moments in my life when I don’t pray. If you’re honest with yourself (and the rest of us), you have also shared such moments and days and seasons. Because we fail to pray does not co-sign us to the pit, but neither is it ok. When I have struggled through seasons of prayerlessness, I have found it greatly informing to ask one simple question. Why am I not praying?

Admittedly, over the course of my life there have likely been dozens of answers to that question. Let me share a few of the ones that I have noticed most often. I’ll share them in reverse order of their severity.

I Am Distracted
This may be the one that is also most common. Let’s face it, we all get busy. Too busy. Schedules and kids and work and life drown out the sound of silence. Fact is, we almost feel a sense of discomfort if/when life isn’t moving a million miles a minute. Our ADD American culture supports (and even exalts) this way of life. Jesus modeled the solution. His practice was to intentionally go away from the noise. Repeatedly we find Jesus leaving the crowds to talk to his father.

I Am Wandering
In the late sixteenth century St. John of the Cross wrote a poem called Dark Night of the Soul. It chronicled his own journey, parts of which were characterized by great darkness and feelings of abandonment and separation from God. In my own life I can attest to times where God’s voice was silent and I just felt lost. As I evaluated those seasons, they were almost devoid of prayer. I really only see one moment in Jesus’ life where he felt this way and that was at his death. Yet even in his feelings of abandonment, his instincts were to cry out to his father.

I Am Independent
This is the saddest (and scariest) answer of all. It’s the hardest to admit. There are many moments of my prayerlessness when I realize that I am not praying because I do not feel that I “need God”. Of course I am wrong. Of course Jesus never experienced this. Here’s how I see it. What is prayer in the first place? Prayer is ultimately dependence. It’s saying, “God I can’t. You must.” Not in demanding fashion. It is desperation. It is worship. This is the ugliest reason of all and as such, the one I do battle with most severely.

Prayer is our greatest privilege. What a beautiful benefit to commune with God in this way. There will most certainly come times when I don’t pray. Ask “why” and get back to it.

Community: Subterranean Oasis

subterraneanIn my writing (and living, for that matter) I am often reminded that I take for granted the parts of my experience that I have forgotten. In other words, as I approach a given subject I am naturally inclined to view it from where I stand today. The problem with that is forgetting the steps it took to reach this day.

In all of my writing about community you have clearly heard a push beyond the walls of the church. My life (and hopefully yours, in time) has been forever changed to develop meaningful relationships across cultural strata that I would have never have ventured into previously. In addition, thanks to the prompting of a friend, I think it is valuable to highlight the importance of other relationships as well.

The year was 1991. I will only relay the parts of the story pertinent to this discussion. I arrived in the frozen tundra of northern Wisconsin. In many ways it was a new way of life. Likely the greatest takeaway (which is difficult because there are many) has been the need for personal, intimate accountability with another person or persons. Since understanding this concept I have had these types of ongoing relationships with Monty, Shannon, Trevor, Brian, Andy, Josh, Allan, Flynn, Jim, Randy, and Jeff. Even writing their names brings tears of joy to my eyes as I think of the influence they have been to my life.

In my opinion it matters entirely how and who and why you select these subterranean oasis friends. Most people in my life never knew the level at which these guys influenced me. They were behind-the-scene relationships. We met regularly. Nothing was out of bounds subject-wise. We discussed our highest highs and lowest lows. But how I decided who I would let in to these corners of my life was very intentional. In each season the “formula” was the same… find someone you can relate to who is of the same heart and passion as you and beyond where you are in at least one area of your spiritual life.

Let me emphasize that choosing a subterranean friend is so important that you should take your time. Pray about it. Watch people. Be able to tell them why you think the two or three of you would be a good fit. And finally… what about group size? Admittedly some (most/all) of this may be my personality, but I have other reasons too. I like to keep it small. I think the largest group I was ever a part of was the first… 4. The smaller the group the easier it is to be real and the more difficult it is to hide. You cannot afford to be without this type of friendship. Long for it. Wait for it. Pray for it. And then muster up all the courage you can find and ask someone to walk with you in this way. You can do it!

Scrapping My Plans

blueprintWe were asked to write in my senior yearbook about what we thought we’d be doing years down the road. I don’t remember the assigned numeric value of said reach. Of course answers ranged from silly to sillier with a dash of serious. Without searching through dozens of boxes for the exact words, I can tell you that my attempt was a mixture of the silly and the serious. I predicted that I would be taking over the 700 Club from Pat Robertson. That was my plan… or some version of it.

Truthfully I spent a good portion of my adulthood as the anarchist who revolted against planning. I took pride in the fact that I was a go-with-the-flow guy. This began to change when I became a leader of leaders and learned that my style did not translate to the majority of those I was attempting to lead. They wanted to know the plan. Where are we going? How do you expect us to get there? These became questions that would simultaneously frustrate me and mature my ability to lead.

The older I become the more I value planning. I try not to get uptight about it, but I do my homework, pray about it much, and read incessantly to help me formulate my plans. This was certainly my practice in getting ready to start a church. I read every book that was even suggested to me, interviewed dozens of guys who had done it, and even learned from people who had rejected faith for a variety of reasons. I had a plan. In all the ways that matter, my plan worked. My greatest boast is that there are a few dozen people (most of whom are still in my life today) who have a different impression of Christianity because of the actions associated with those plans. But in May of 2012 it was time to stop. In the ultimate sense, depending on your perspective, the plans had either run their course or they had not worked. I choose to think the former.

In the days since – and for the better part of 2 years – I have been learning to work through that unplanned reality. I haven’t really written about it until now because I have not been ready to write. Last night I was watching the DVR of the season finale of Criminal Minds and this quote was the sendoff…

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

Yes. Yes. And, yes. This is what I’ve been learning. Admittedly I have had a tough time moving on from this life event. But as I rewound and replayed that quote last night I felt a freedom in my spirit that has been mostly absent. Sometimes we have to let go of the things we had planned so we can get on with the things that are yet to come. Be free. These verses from Scripture say mostly the same thing.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

For now I continue to work as a salesman for my day job and am starting to serve again through our great church that we’ve been called to be part of at The Bridge.