Falling. . .

Ice-Skating-StopFor those of you who don’t know me, I love ice skating. It’s one of those things that helps me clear my mind, gets my blood pumping, and provides an escape from the tumult of life.

I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t skate fairly proficiently; I learned to skate when I was really young, and continued skating all through middle school and high school. When I go skating, I like to watch people of varying proficiencies, and I notice something: not everyone has what it takes to become a competent ice skater. It’s not that I doubt people’s ability to grasp the necessary skills for skating, it’s that there’s one thing good ice skaters know almost instinctively that others don’t: everyone falls.

Two things manifest when someone learning to skate stumbles on this truth. The first is that they overcome their fear of falling. Fear of falling stems from a fear of being embarrassed and from a fear of the pain, but when you realize that everyone falls, you realize that no one’s laughing at you for falling and that most people aren’t severely injured when they fall.

The second is that they begin to give themselves grace for each fall. Each fall is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. Whenever I’m teaching someone how to skate, I almost always tell them to not be afraid to fall. It will happen, and the sooner a skater learns that it’s okay to fall, the faster they’ll progress. And as they get better, they fall less and less.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to meet Megan Fate Marshman and hear her speak at a conference. During one of her talks she had everyone in the room turn to their neighbor and say, “I’m so glad. . . you’re as messed up as I am.” We all fall. Some fall less than others, but seem unable to progress in life. I think that’s because they haven’t learned that falling is okay; everyone falls. Some seem to fall pretty often, but they’re learning, and eventually they’ll fall less often.

Some have seemingly stopped falling altogether and they’re helping pick others up when they fall. We’ll all get there someday, but I really believe that in order to get there, we have to get over our fear of falling and understand that everyone falls. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to fall; falling is indeed painful, and if we don’t get to the point where we stop falling every time we try to move, we’ll end up a bruise-covered mess. But falling is a necessary part of learning.

I’ve found myself falling on the ice again. I’m working towards learning to play hockey, and in order to do that I need to pick up a few more skills on my skates. As I try to learn these new skills I’m again on my butt pretty often. But that’s part of learning.

I pray that we can all give ourselves some grace as we walk through life making mistakes and by extension give each other grace as well. That’s what community in Jesus should be about.

Pornography, abilities, rights, and dental floss. . .

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
~ Dr. Ian Malcolm

I came across an article today on the havoc that pornography wreaks on a relationship. One of the commenters said this: “What I ask you is what is so bad about porn, I really do not see porn as a sin, in itself is releasing sexual tensions. (sic) Only the benighted would think that it’s a sin against ones (sic) wife. The subject is weak, and saying that it’s lust is callow.”

Disregarding the irony of the commenter referring to the desuetude of pornography as childish, I want to focus on what struck me about his attitude. A fixation on one’s capabilities reveals a self-centeredness characteristic of toddlers and young children. It’s hardly becoming of a grown man; the child exclaims, “Look what I can do!” while the adult asks, “Given what I can do, what then should I do?”

The role of the man in his relationship with his significant other (whether wife, fiancée, or girlfriend) is to pursue and sacrifice, not to satisfy his own needs. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that the husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church, sacrificing himself for her. That’s our role model, guys. That’s how we’re to relate to the most important woman in our lives.

I don’t really want to turn this into a post about maintaining control over one’s libido, though that’s certainly an aspect of this. What I want to consider is the general idea of self control. Being able to do/say/eat/own something doesn’t necessitate doing/saying/eating/owning that thing. In America, we live in a culture where we like to assert our rights. It’s my right to drink whatever size of beverage I want. It’s my right to own whatever kind of gun I want. I realize this is taking a turn towards politics, so I’ll stop citing examples now. I’m not going to comment on whether those rights should exist in the first place or not, but there are consequences for asserting our rights. Drinking as large a soda as you can get your hands on will lead to health complications down the road. Owning as powerful a gun as possible will lead to increased suspicion from local authorities.

In the film Jurassic Park, the scientists that John Hammond hired discovered a way to bring extinct animals back to life. As is common in a Michael Crichton story, the characters didn’t think through the consequences of their actions, and the island descends into chaos.

Every action has a consequence. Everything I do affects some area of my life and, by simple association, also affects the lives of those closest to me. The Bible speaks often of maintaining a certain standard of living, not so that we can earn favor with God because through Christ we already have that, but so that we can live at peace with those around us. Paul wrote to the church in Rome some basic instructions for an ethical lifestyle for Christians. In that section of his letter, the message is that we are to give up our needs and desires for the sake of those around us.

During a recent staff meeting, my pastor gave a lesson on the value of discipline. In every other aspect of life, the benefit of growth is additive. For example, the more I read about something, the more knowledge I gain on the subject matter. But when we learn discipline, growth’s benefit is exponential. So, if I discipline myself to floss daily, not only do I no longer have food stuck between my teeth, but my gums grow stronger and healthier, my breath is much more attractive, and I extend my longevity.

I’m seeing this happen in my own life as well. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that I’m a romantic. But I have a friend with whom I have to keep this character trait in check. You see, I’m the guy that would write letters on parchment paper with a fountain pen and seal them shut with an old-fashioned wax seal, or show up on her doorstep with flowers and a poem. But that isn’t helpful to her at all. Yes, it’s terribly difficult for me to hold that guy back. She’s astoundingly beautiful to me. But I learn to discipline myself—to refrain from singing of her beauty from the rooftops, from whisking her away on a horse-drawn carriage, from writing sonnets about her lilting gracefulness—not just for her well-being, but also in order to learn discipline.

What are the benefits of this discipline? For starters, I begin to understand her need for trust-building. I begin to discover what it means to be patient, not only in this one area of my life, but in many other areas as well.

But it also means that I lay my own wants and desires down and care primarily for what she needs. I give up my natural urges for the sake of meeting her where she’s at and looking after what she requires.

Even though I’m perfectly capable of being the type of guy who writes eloquent love letters and creatively devises romantic evenings, I may not have license to be that type of guy. Because ultimately, every action I take has some kind of effect on another person, likely the one I care for the most. Whatever action I take, I take because I should seek to benefit another, not simply because I can.

Paul put it this way: “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne

What happened last night (pt. 2). . .

After our Life Group meeting a handful of us went to a tavern nearby to spend some time in fellowship. While we were sitting/standing by the bar, I noticed something about our group—our unity in Jesus is so powerful that it holds us together and creates an oddly diverse group. And our diversity is attractive.

A group of people nearby noticed us and started chatting with us. We told them that we’re part of a church, and the natural skepticism ensued, followed by a bit of curiosity. As we chatted more I found that these people actually admired us. I’m pretty sure we’re different from most Christians they’ve come across.

Christ said that the world would know that we are his followers because of our love. For a while I’d thought of it this way: our love is so pervasive that people take notice of it. But I think that it’s actually deeper than that. Sure, our love is pervasive and overwhelming, but there’s something else going on.

Jesus distinctly said that it would be our love for each other that would distinguish us from the world.

Let me put it into perspective. One of the guys who was chatting with us noticed a girl in our group. He asked me if I’d planned on hitting that (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t joking, but he was genuinely curious based on some other stuff I’d said earlier in our conversation). I said simply that I loved her too much to do that. And he was a bit confused.

See, the world defines love in these terms: “I love her so much that I should have sex with her.” But a Christian packs a whole lot more into the concept of love that it actually sounds like this: “I love her too much to have sex with her.” Because to a Christian, the “her” in question is a sister. A sister that should be loved, cherished, respected, and protected.

Of course, that earns us labels like “prude” and “anti-sex.” It’s unfortunate because sex is what I believe to be the most powerful manifestation of the image of God in humanity. So why is the Church considered anti-sex?

It’s tragic that the Church has given sex over to society. We’ve shirked our responsibility to show the beauty of God’s relationship with humanity through sex and decided to not talk about it.

Someone had to pick up the slack. Turns out it’s the culture.

So here’s my question: are we going to do anything about it? Or are we going to let society control sex? Let’s go, Church! We’ve got an opportunity here. . . let’s not waste anymore time.

Missional (pt. 2). . .

It had been almost a year since I last connected with this friend. We met tonight at the Barnes & Noble on Rte. 10 in Morris Plains. I decided to go early so that I could do some book browsing before she arrived.

I found a book about the Apostle Paul and flipped through it a little. As I did, I began to daydream a little. What would it have been like to travel with him? Was he a somber guy, or did he have a clever sense of humor?

And what would it be like to walk alongside someone who understood that deeply what it meant to live a missional lifestyle, who understood the synergy created when cross, culture, and community meet within a life?

As I was making my way from the Religion section to the Science Fiction section, I heard my name called. It was my friend.

After barely a minute of small talk, our conversation dove right into ministry. As we shared our hearts, passions, and discoveries with each other, I couldn’t help but sense that she too was experiencing the same “dip” that I am now crawling out of.

And it’s tough.

It’s tough when God has given you a gift and placed on you a calling, and circumstances push you away from where you feel called. And it’s tough when you look within and find that your own sin, guilt, and depression are pulling you away from taking any step towards what God has called you to.

And it’s tough when that call is ministry, and you know that your ability to serve is almost completely shot.

But, like my friend said tonight, finding yourself drawn to ministry, regardless of how often you’re tossed around and pulled away from it, means that you’re meant for it. When you long for the trenches, for the spiritual battle over the souls of people who surround you. When your mind isn’t satisfied until you’ve filled it with God’s word. When your arms itch to embrace the hurting and broken soul. When your lips purse at the thought of sharing with others everything God has taught you. When your ears perk up at the cries of the youth who is lost, frightened, and alone.

You were meant to be in the trenches.

As I sipped my tea, my friend looked straight into my eyes and asked me, “How is your relationship with God?”

She was meant to be in the trenches.

She drove right to that question. Everything else in our conversation had flowed organically, but this question didn’t. No, it was purposed. Directed. Intentional.

It was as if that was the only thing she wanted to ask me. As if the night would be incomplete if she didn’t help wake me up to the realization that I was headed down the same path the led me into this dark valley I’ve been in.

She knew what was important and how to get at it.

And she opened my heart to a truth I only recently began to notice.

I’ve not been connecting with my Daddy.

And crucial to living a missional lifestyle is maintaining an unbroken, open connection with God.

Because without that connection, we can’t be like Jesus.

And being missional is being like Jesus,

(who was more human than anyone else)

which makes us more human than we were before,

so that we can better connect to the broken and hurting humans who would never listen to us unless we fully realize our own humanity.

Resolutions. . .

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I feel like my life has been at a standstill, and I suppose that’s what’s being reflected here.

I’ve suffered a few hurts over the past few months—several obstacles that I’ve found it difficult to get past. But it seems God’s not finished with me.

Last week I had a conversation with a friend of mine that was a little jarring and difficult to get through. I understand she was just being honest about her assessment of me, but there are things I’m not comfortable with, and, while it may be to my detriment, I may never feel comfortable with them.

But hearing her opinion on this matter may be the catalyst needed for my realizing a new and better me.

To be honest, I don’t think I’m ready to make the changes she suggested. It’s foreign to me, and it makes me feel vulnerable and naked. But I understand her point, and I see where my spiritual and emotional health would be benefited by implementing these changes.

I think we all have things in our lives that, when someone points them out to us, we cringe at the thought of. But we’re just not ready to change those things. Because doing so would weaken the defenses we’ve spent our whole lives building.

I like where I am. It’s comfortable and familiar. It’s easy, and that’s what makes it dangerous.

But perhaps I need to take some risks. We’re getting close to 2010. Maybe it’s time for some resolutions.

Resurrecting the weary. . .

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

On any given Sunday in Morristown and New Brunswick, there are dozens of tired, weary people pouring out their lives and hearts in service to the Kingdom of God. And as difficult as it is seeing my brothers and sisters weakened under the pressures of a busy Sunday, I know that the almighty Eternal One is immersing them in his strength.

Sometimes it appears that promises like the one in Isaiah are unfulfilled in our lives. We’re tired, worn out, burned out, weakened. And yet that miraculous strength has yet to show up to rejuvenate us, to refresh us.

But that strength doesn’t exist to help us out of a jam or to lift us out of weariness.

It exists to bring glory to our God. To remind us that, even in the moments where God feels distant, uncaring, or nonexistent, he is still in control.

To remind us that resurrection takes place all the time. To remind us that God is still in the business of giving life to the dead.

That strength is promised to those who trust that kind of resurrection power. So as I sit at a desk in my church’s offices, thinking about all the weary faces I encounter every Sunday, I am reminded of the power that calls the dead out of the grave.

To my brothers and sisters on staff at Liquid, when the strength-sapping Sundays come around, remember the power that can send you into the skies on eagles’ wings. Remember the power that conquers death.

And remember it belongs to you.

Malls, Mexican food, and men. . .

This post was originally written in September 2008.

Who would have thought an afternoon doing some shopping at the Garden State Plaza and topping it off with a great meal at On the Border would yield a conversation about discovering who God wants us to be?

During the course of our dinner chat, my buddy Matt brought up an interesting thought about mankind’s primary relationships. He is first to connect with his Creator, for this is the chief of humanity’s priorities. He is then to connect with the woman, for this is the creation God designed intently and specifically for the man. All other relationships must take backseat.

As he talked about man’s responsibilities and purpose in relationship, my other friend Courtney brought up a frustration that most women have with men: they don’t step up. They’re weak and unwilling to follow their dreams of changing the world for Christ. They’re unwilling to become the men after God’s heart that they were designed to be. They’ve lost the will to be men.

As a group of single twenty-somethings, the natural inclination for us was to discuss how this affects our past and potential relationships. So let me follow that train of thought for a bit.

God designed us as sexual creatures. He placed His image on our lives in many ways, and our connection to each other on the sexually is just one of the myriad ways He’s done that.

Think about the idea of God loving the world. He longs to connect with the world, to share His joy with all of Creation. But Creation has not known or seen His love or is unwilling to experience His joy. So He places His Son into the hands of Creation and hopes that Creation accepts His proposal of love.

Parallel that with the man in his love for the woman. He longs to connect with the woman, to share his joy with her. But the woman doesn’t know his love or is perhaps unwilling to experience his joy. So he places his heart into the woman’s hands and hopes that she accepts his proposal of love.

Ironically enough, the woman wants more. And she deserves more. Like Courtney said, men have lost their willpower. We know what it means to be a good Christ-follower—trust Jesus and love others. But we’ve forgotten what it means to be a good man.

I know her frustration all too well.

I’ve dreamed big. I’ve longed to serve God with all that I am. I’ve desired to follow in the footsteps of men like King David, King Josiah, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul. Everything inside me cries out to God to allow me the opportunity to do great things for His Kingdom.

But I’m afraid.

I’m afraid, not because of outside forces or society’s push. I am determined to stand strong against that. I’m afraid, not because my friends may think I’m crazy to attempt such incredible things for a God I can’t even physically see. My friends would support me 100% in such an endeavor.

No, I’m afraid because of myself. I’m afraid because I know my flaws and my failures. I know my sins and my selfishness. I’ve seen myself falter time and time again.

That is why I’m afraid.

I dream to take on the world. I dream of doing great and innovative things for the Kingdom like Scott Harrison, Craig Gross, Shane Claiborne, and even my friend Tim Lucas have done.

But I’m afraid because I’ve seen where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’ve been trudging through the mire of lust, barely able to come up for air. I’ve sloshed through the swamps of pride and selfishness, weakened by the downward pull of upward desires.

But worst of all, I’ve suffered through the guilt of my sin, and I’ve been robbed of my dreams. I’m afraid of the evil that I’m capable of.

So to all the “Courtneys” out there—women longing for men who will lead them, boys who are looking for men who will mentor them, and other men searching for strong men who will guide them—I have one request for you: pray for us. Don’t pray that we’ll come into your lives, because odds are we’re already there. Pray that we’ll stand out in your lives. Pray that we’ll overcome our fear of ourselves. Because when we overcome that fear, we’ll finally step up. We’ll become the leaders you want us to be.

Because I, for one, want to dream big again.

But this time, I want my dreams to come true.

Revealed through us (pt. 1). . .

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
~Philippians 1.18-19

Not too many years ago I spent a lot of time arguing about all the little details of inconsequential doctrines that, in retrospect, did more to hinder the movement of the Gospel than I thought. But there I was, more concerned with getting my point across than with investing in someone’s life.

And when I run into people who act the way I used to act, I get disgusted. I want to yell, “Don’t you know that your argumentative debates and judgmental rants are doing more harm than good?”

But I have to remind myself that God is still using those people. I may be turned off by their methods, but they’re still instruments in God’s hands.

I was talking to an old friend last night about some of the aspects of people within God’s Kingdom. Each person has his/her own spiritual gifts that reveal something about God in that person.

Take Bill, Mike, and Tom, for instance. Bill, the Student Ministries Pastor at Liquid Church, has quite obviously been blessed with the gift of compassionate love. God has chosen to reveal His attributes of community, love, and openness through Bill. On Tuesday mornings, Bill sets aside time simply to invest in our friendship. He has no agenda and no ulterior motive. We shoot into Morristown for an early cup of coffee and just learn about each other.

Mike, the Campus Pastor at Liquid Church New Brunswick, has been given the gift of service and humility. God’s mysterious nature as the ultimate Servant is very visible in Mike. He asserts no authority over anyone, but gently cares for people where their needs are. On any given Sunday morning, Mike has already poured my coffee, and is probably waiting for me to turn my back so he can set up my room when I’m not looking.

Tom, the Campus Pastor at Liquid Church Morristown, is an entirely different story. His obvious gift is knowledge and wisdom. He can spend hours poring over the Scriptures, and months later recall the deep mysteries embedded within them. And he has the creds to prove it. With degrees from Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Dallas Theological, and who-knows-where-else, Tom has clearly been chosen to reveal God’s occupation as the Master Teacher.

And when these three men work together, the Kingdom really begins to move forward. . .

(Post continued here. . .)

Nostalgia. . .

I’m currently reading through the book of the Acts of the Apostles for my quiet time. It’s been such an enlightening experience looking through the eyes of the early followers of the Way and peeking into their experiences as the Church first entered the world. It must have been an exciting time.

But as the church scattered abroad, I can’t help but wonder if the Apostles ever thought, “I wish things were the way they used to be.” I mean, the church was pretty successful for a while remaining in Jerusalem. But Christ had told them to go around the world. And around the world they went.

Churches sprang up everywhere. Starting in Jerusalem, then Antioch, then Corinth, Rome, Philippi, Ephesus. . . the new movement spread like wildfire. How many times do you see phrases like, “and about three thousand were added to their number that day,” or “and a great number of people were brought to the Lord”? Over and over again we see the church surging in the number of people reached.

“Remember when we were all in Jerusalem? Man, those were the good ol’ days! When we were healing people in the big city, sharing all we had, giving speeches in all sorts of languages. I never even studied Italian, and there I was, speaking it!”

As I read through passages where major changes were taking place in the early Church, I began to feel nostalgic. I began to miss the days just a few short chapters ago when all the believers assembled in Solomon’s Colonnade.

Just a few months ago, Liquid Church was a group of believers meeting in one place. Early on a Sunday morning, I could walk up the Hyatt stairs and brush past Mike. We’d walk together up to the top of the stairs and chat with Lauren and Tom. The stage would be shared by both David’s moving vocals and Jens’ intense shreds. Bobby and I would lead the same group of kids in learning and worship.

But so much has changed since then. David and Jens no longer share the stage. Mike and Tom no longer greet people on the same set of stairs. Bobby and I no longer share the lesson for children.

Watching Mike introduce the service in Morristown brought me back to those days. The days when “all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

And I found myself thinking, Remember when we were all in Morristown? Remember when we gave away gasoline and car washes? Remember when we raised money to build wells in Africa? Man, those were the good ol’ days!

But I’m wrong. No, these are the “good ol’ days.” The moments we’re in right now are the ones to treasure and make the most of. It’s nice to remember, but without those difficult changes, Liquid would have half the impact that it has now. And the Kingdom of God is moving through New Jersey twice as fast as it would if we were all still meeting in Morristown.

After the church spread out beyond the borders of Jerusalem, these words were written: “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”

See how far we’ve come?

A prayer for my family in Aus. . .

Father, I have brothers and sisters in Melbourne and the surrounding Victoria area who are hurting, frightened, and suffering. I’m scared for them too, Father-God. But I know You have a plan, even though we can’t see it in action right now. Your love still wins out, but it’s hard to see it right now. I can’t imagine what Kate, Nick, Karen, Tiffany, Kellie, and the rest of my family out there must be dealing with, but You can, and will, show Yourself strong on their behalf. I love You, Father-God, and I trust You have something beautiful planned at the end of this tragedy.

We can’t see the front of the tapestry You’re weaving; all we can see is the tangled mess that’s on the back of it. But You’re the Master of the tapestry, Father-God, and I know it will still be a gorgeous one.

But in the midst of this, Father, we’re scared. Please comfort us and assuage our fears. Put Your arms of strength and healing around my family out there staring at this inferno in their backyard. Place a hedge of protection around them so that at some point soon, I too can place my arms around them again as well.

I’m requesting all of this through Jesus.