30 Words In 30 Days: JESUS

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

JESUS.

Some say he was a teacher. They say that his great gift to the world was a fresh, new understanding of what it means to be human. They say he taught us about the highest good. They say he taught us to see beyond our own comforts and into the margins, where the poor and disenfranchised live. They say he was a dynamic storyteller who captivated his audiences and captivates us today with the power of narrative. They say his wisdom was vast. They say his insights were rich.

Some say he was a prophet. They say that his great gift to the world was a picture of the future. They say he came to give us new lenses, so that we might see what was really happening all around us and so that we might also see what was to come. They say that he was clairvoyant, that his intuition resided in a place deeper than human consciousness. They say he came to show us a better way, an unknown path to reach enlightenment and well being and peace.

Some say he was a revolutionary. They say that his great gift to the world was insurgence against the oppressive powers of his age. They say that he came to free slaves and liberate the captives. They say he was a voice for the voiceless and hope for the hopeless. They say he spent time with hookers and crooks and white collar criminals, spitting in the face of the establishment every step of the way. They say he was hated by the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities alike. They say he was loved by the people trampled underfoot by the authorities that hated him.

Some say he was Messiah. They say that his great gift to the world was himself. They say that he was chosen and sent and that he did it all out of love. They say that he came to renew, restore, and resurrect dead things back to life and to do so through himself, the shedding of his own blood and the breaking of his own body. They say he came not only to fix everything but to also change everything. They say that he is the way, the truth, and the life.

What about you? Who do you say he is?

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30 Words In 30 Days: GOD

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

GOD.

Where do we begin when it comes to God? The story tells us that he was before time began. The story tells us that in the beginning there was nothing but God and formlessness and the deep, dark abyss. The word for formless found in Genesis 1v2 can also be translated unreality. In other words, God was there before reality as we know it came into being. And so, where do we begin? We can only begin at some point held within the confines of reality, of our reality. This means that when we begin to talk about, write about, or speculate about God, we are firmly entrenched in the world of conjecture. What we have is our best guess. God is the grandest of the great mysteries.

Where do they end, our thoughts and musings about God? What are the limits of our theology? In Revelation 1v8, John has a vision of God’s self proclamation, I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. He is. Present and alive and active, moving and making and breathing life into people and places and things. He was. We’ve already established that. He always was, he’s always been, since before time began ticking. He is to come. And again, the mystery welcomes us in with open arms. There is more coming. God has always been, God is right now, and there’s still more of him to come. We know to the very cores of our beings that things are not as they should be and so this is very good news. God is to come. He’ll make things right, heal the brokenness, and mend the torn up pieces of our tattered world.

Where do we begin and end? How are we to engage the idea of God, much less God himself? Within the bounds of our frail understanding, what are we to do with the limitless expanse of God’s reality? How will we know that we’re not constantly falling short? We won’t. We’ll never know. But thank God, his love is not predicated on our knowing or understanding or the exactitude of our hypothesizing. In the film Calvary, Brendan Gleeson’s character Father James reminds us that, God is great and the limits of his mercy have not been set. And so again, I ask, where do we begin and end? We begin and end at a place held safely within the limits of God’s mercy, which have not yet been set. There’s room for us here. There’s room for all of our questions and curiosity. There’s room for you and everyone you know. 

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30 Words In 30 Days: FATHER

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

FATHER.

Fathers are supposed to teach sons what it means to be a man. That’s what they tell me, anyway. I learned how to be a man a little bit from watching movies I wasn’t supposed to watch and mostly from a fierce and compassionate Korean woman named Young who is my mother. I also learned how to be a man by watching other boys who were trying to figure it out right along with me. This isn’t a sob story though. I’ve never felt the least bit disadvantaged by not having a father around when I was growing up. My mother did a fine job, the absolute best she could. She taught me what it means to persevere, to stand for something, and to be brave.

But I’d be a foolish to think that not having my father around didn’t affect me at all. It did, probably in more ways than I realize. I find myself discovering all sorts of disjointed and incomplete things about myself, even now, well into my 30’s. I’m sure this cycle will continue on for the rest of my life. And I’m just as sure that the absence of my father is deeply intertwined with this process of uncovering some of the really broken bits of who I am. It’s hard to write about because I still don’t have any real sense for what’s being worked out in me. I still feel like I’m right in the middle of the mess.

Like the rest of my tribe who grew up fatherless, I’ve had difficulty sorting out what the Bible means when it tells us that God is Father. Even harder still is the thought that God is my Father, the paradox being that I ply my trade in the world of church and theology, a world predicated on answering these very questions that echo so incessantly within me. I sing the songs and preach the sermons and tweet the verses and quotes. But full disclosure – I still don’t get it, all this Father God stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I embrace it. I really do. But I embrace it the way I embrace the idea of eternity or origami or Radiohead. It makes very little sense but something about it is undeniably good and something in me yearns for it and so I immerse myself to the point of disorientation in its beautiful mystery.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe no one really gets it. Those of us who had great fathers and those of us who didn’t; maybe none of us really know what made our fathers so great and what made them so terrible. We could oversimplify and say, He was always there for me or He was never there for me. But it’s more than that because, sometimes, God is there for me and sometimes, he isn’t (even though he really is; that’s another point for another day). Some of our fathers were upstanding citizens who contributed to the common good and taught us how to share and throw a football. Some of our fathers were drunks and swindlers and slept with women who weren’t our mothers. But all of our fathers were mysteries, in one way or another. None of it really makes sense, the goodness it takes to love a child nor the brokenness it takes to neglect one.

Whoever you are and whatever your story might be, I pray this for you – that you would experience, as I have, the unfathomable, impossibly mysterious and paradoxical love God has for you as your Father. I pray that somewhere deeper than your heart and mind, deeper than you blood and bones, somewhere hidden way down in the depths of your soul, you would know that you’re his kid and he loves you in ways you’ll never understand.

father

30 Words In 30 Days: JUSTICE

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

JUSTICE.

I don’t know all the in’s and out’s and minute details of the Michael Brown tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. Things like this are never as simple, straightforward, or easy as we’d like for them to be. All I know for sure is that, like most of you, I’m angry and deeply saddened by the harsh reality that this sort of story has become normative in our world. I want so badly to grieve well with Michael Brown’s family and friends. I want to tell them how angry I am that this happened to their boy. I want to scream, enough is enough! so that the whole world can hear. I want resurrection, for Michael Brown to be alive again. Maybe most of all, I want justice, for the wrongs to be made right. I want God to hear and respond to these words from Psalm 7v6:

Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.

I want God to be angry. I want him to rise up against the rage of those who would think it OK to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager. I want God to wake up from what so often feels like his apathetic slumber in the face of mounting tensions in our world. I want him to decree justiceBecause where else are we going to find it? Who else will make wrong things right with any sense of permanence?

A.W. Tozer once said, Justice is not something God has. Justice is something God is. So I guess what I’m asking is not simply for God to act but for God to arrive. We can fabricate some sense of fixing in our world today but I am convinced that healing will only come with the arrival of God himself. Oh Lord, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Right the wrongs. Mend the brokenhearted. Forgive those of us who’ve done wrong and forgive those of us who’ve done nothing. Bring us justice. Be our justice. Make us whole.

justice

30 Words In 30 Days: LEADERSHIP REDUX

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

LEADERSHIP REDUX.

In yesterday’s post, in light of attending the Global Leadership Summit for a couple of days, I offered a short list of ideas on what leadership at its finest might look like. Today, I want to share a few things Patrick Lencioni shared to close Day 1 of the Summit. As he always seems to do, Lencioni offered a few key takeaways that I found to be insightful, inspiring, and practically helpful. Basically, he set me straight on a few things.

We tell everyone to be a leader and to change the leader but in reality, not everyone should lead. For many people, the desire to lead is simply a desire to be known; specifically, to be known as the person who changed the world. But one should aspire to leadership solely for the purpose of sacrificing for the sake of the common good and the betterment of others. In one of the most poignant statements on leadership I’ve heard in a long while, Lencioni said that he was tired of hearing about servant leadership as if it were something unique. He reminded us that there is in fact no other type of leadership but servant leadership and that if it’s not servant leadership, it’s just economics – a desire to receive a personally positive return-on-investment. True leadership desires no such benefit and only the benefit of the larger whole.

Leadership also requires vulnerability. Without it, trust is broken and without trust, one cannot lead. Some have said that leaders must always be thinking, Don’t let them see you sweat. But Lencioni was quick to point out that the people we lead already know we’re sweating. He also noted that it’s near impossible to be too vulnerable. Vulnerability is encapsulated in a willingness to acknowledge when we were wrong and to admit what we don’t know.

Lencioni wrapped up by cautioning us against making leadership too important. Yes, leading well is crucial. But our identities must be found in something of a higher order. Faith and family are a couple examples of key components to a whole, integrated life out of which our best leadership effort can flow. Without doing the difficult work of properly ordering our lives and placing various components in their appropriate places, including leadership, it will be impossible for us to live well, much less lead well.

One final thought to summarize these leadership mistakes we so often make. Pride is the problem and humility is the answer. Before Jesus of Nazareth came on the scene, humility was considered foolishness. But Christ introduced humility as a virtue and, in doing so, perfected leadership.

leadership redux

30 Words In 30 Days: LEADERSHIP

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

LEADERSHIP.

I’m spending the next two days at the Global Leadership Summit. Leadership is not my forte so my time here should be both difficult and helpful. That being said, with the very short amount of time I have this morning, here are just a few thoughts I have about leadership at its finest. I share them now because chances are that many of these ideas will get deconstructed in the next couple of days and I’d like this written record of my current ineptitude.

Leadership at its finest teaches us to ask better questions, not to give better answers.

Leadership at its finest is a humble willingness to learn from anything and anyone.

Leadership at its finest understands that invigorating the spirit is of greater importance than implementing systems.

Leadership at its finest embraces the necessity of systems, even when it’s painful.

Leadership at its finest is always willing to sacrifice convenience for the sake of compassion.

Leadership at its finest creates an environment that demands strong self-awareness, propped up by uncompromising honesty.

Leadership at its finest fosters creativity and curiosity.

Leadership at its finest admits wrongdoing freely and without reservation.

Leadership at its finest is hard.

Leadership at its finest is rewarding.

Leadership at its finest gets better as the days, weeks, months, and years go by.

Leadership at its finest keeps on learning and changes over time.

leadership

30 Words In 30 Days: MOURN

This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days

MOURN.

I don’t know how to mourn well. When my father passed away two years ago, I didn’t mourn so much as I discovered. When a high school friend took his own life a number of years back, I was confused and preoccupied with trying to sort through my mess of emotions. When one of my students during my youth pastor days was killed in a car crash, I was in such utter disbelief, I felt sick and completely undone. But mourning? I’m not sure that I mourned very well in any of those situations.

We live in the sobering reality of a world that’s hurting. There is overwhelming heartache here. Sometimes it’s in a war torn part of the developing world. Sometimes it’s in suburban America. Sometimes it’s right next door. Sometimes it’s our door. But wherever and whenever heartache arrives, it devastates us. Mourning, I believe, is the ability to sit tight in that devastation, to hold one’s ground, to believe that brighter days are still ahead, and to say to the heartache, You may be here a while but I’m going to outlast you. I’m not certain of any of this but I think this might be, at least in part, what it means to mourn well.

If this is true, mourning then requires the company of others because we are far too weak in our moments of greatest hurt and heartache to stand our ground on our own. In that part of Matthew’s Gospel we call the Beatitudes, Jesus says, Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. The word comforted in the Greek is the word parakaleo (παρακαλέω). It means to call to one’s side. It evokes the image of one inviting another to come in close and draw near. I think mourning well involves a sort of drawing near to one another. In our moments of deep loss, we come in close and remind each other that we’re still not alone, even when it feels as though we are.

In Jewish culture there’s a tradition called Shiva. When an individual or family is grieving the loss of a loved one, Shiva is a weeklong period dedicated to mourning well. The door of the home is left open and visitors come and go throughout the week to sit and be with those who are hurting. If the mourners speak, the visitors speak. If the mourners are silent, the visitors are silent. There’s no other expectation than to be fully present with those whose hearts are heavy. In some traditions, the visitors will quietly say these words as they leave the house… May Heaven comfort you… often, these are the only words spoken during their visit.

So maybe that’s what it means to mourn well. To sit with others and be present. To hurt with those who are hurting. To try and share our pain as best we can. To disperse it around until it dissipates, or, at the very least, lightens up a bit. Maybe to mourn well means to draw close enough to one another to hear those wonderful and mysterious words whispered with what little strength we can muster, May Heaven comfort you…

mourn