Pathway Blog

I See You
9-5-22
This week let’s talk about when Jesus called Levi to become a disciple.
Levi collected taxes from his fellow Jews for Rome. Ouch! Imagine living next door to him. That jingling in his pocket, is that what he skimmed off your last payment? The guy was a traitor, guilty of treason against Israel and God himself. See him coming, cross to the other side. Don’t wave. No eye contact.
Picking disciples, Jesus preferred fishermen while avoiding professionals. A little odd, but we get used to it. But a tax collector? That’s like inviting a member of the Taliban to Sunday School. We need to dig into this.
First, Jesus didn’t get hung up on what Levi did for a living. Not his dark reputation in the community. Not his affiliation with Rome. Gets me wondering how many people I’ve missed due to their vocation, political persuasion or standing on the social ladder. Jesus looked past all this and saw Levi.
Second, Jesus stepped into Levi’s world. Of all the “booths” in town, Jesus chose to stop by Levi’s tax booth. It didn’t end there. Jesus followed him home for a party. He crossed the threshold into Levi’s world, drank his wine, ate his bread, kicked back in his courtyard. Jesus went to where Levi lived.
Third, Jesus took his stand with Levi. Religious police love to crash parties. Sure enough there they were slinging mud at Jesus for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors … breakers of their precious law. Jesus set them straight. These party goers weren’t criminals. They were wounded and in need of a physician.
It’s cake to love the lovable. But what about the abrasive, the inconvenient, the demanding, the socially awkward … the dodgy? We constantly advocate for loving the person in front of you. How’s this work with people like Levi?
Not that Jesus hands us a formula. We do get to watch him. He refused to let Levi’s vocation have the final say. To him, Levi was more than a tax collector. He respected Levi by entering his world. Even if he never changed, Levi knew one man saw and valued him right where he was. This had to be new to him.
The way we define sin impacts everything. Religious police call it a crime. Jesus saw it as a wound. I cringe when blue lights pull me over. I find healing when I visit my doctor. Instead of arresting him, Jesus offered Levi a new life.

Transactional or Incarnational Church
8-29-22
My, what big words! They came to light in a conversation with our Senior Pastor Adam Shourds. Our church is in the midst of a paradigm shift from transactional to incarnational. In the process, we are coming alive. Love is taking over. Hearts are finding healing and transformation.
Transactional Church: God demands obedience to his law. We routinely fall short. His justice demands blood. But instead of killing us, he has his Son killed. If we believe this applies to us, we acquire salvation which ensures our entrance into heaven when we die.
Churches advertise this, trying to get as many as possible to buy into what you just read. Their black and white approach is cut and dried. But it tends to grow stale, which calls for sprinkles: light shows, musical productions, treats for the kids and such. Whatever attracts more people than the church down the street.
By its very nature, this way of thinking is an instrument churches use to fix, judge, defend, control. Zero tolerance for gray areas, only certainty. Sin can be spotted and indicted in an instant. This whole thing feels like a weapon. All you need is chapter and verse to prove your point.
Incarnational Church: In Jesus, God became flesh and dwelt among us. We call it the incarnation. He traveled the birth canal, caught our germs, drank our water, walked our streets, listened to our stories, suffered our abuse even to death. He allowed us to see his true nature and invites us to do the same.
A healthy church doesn’t push this. It explores it. If God is with us, and Jesus promised he is through the Holy Spirit, we constantly watch for what he’s up to. We hear him as we listen to each other. Authentic sharing becomes not the exception but the norm. We’re amazed as God shows up in unexpected places.
Not chained to a set of beliefs, God is free to create, challenge and collaborate with his people. Nothing static here. We get caught up in a flow that consistently takes us to places that feel like heaven here and now. Every moment is sacred, even the tough ones. God literally lives here in and through us … incarnation.
The toggle switch between these two approaches is marked “fear” or “love”. Focusing on a transaction with God is about me and my fears of him. Focusing on God right here and now is about him and his love for me.

Here Or There
8-22-22
One of my professors used to say, “I don’t want pie in the sky. I want ham where I am.” Believe it or not, he said this in the context of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer invites the kingdom (ham) to happen now versus something we wish for (pie in the sky).
The alternative point of view says our time here on earth is merely a preparation for what’s to come there on the other side. This life is about doing whatever it takes to reach our goal, getting to heaven. Some would go so far as to say they’re only able to endure the HERE because they bank on the THERE.
I have problems with this over-obsession with heaven. First, it flies in the face of God’s initial creation statement. Each day he closed with, “It is good.” This world and the people therein are not a gauntlet we duck and dodge our way through on our way to a better place. Bad things do happen here. Creation, including humanity, may be damaged, but that doesn’t make it or us essentially dangerous.
Second, if the here and now is something we survive on our way to real living, why does God so heavily invest in the here? Why not just let us give it our best, knowing he’ll enjoy an eternal THERE with the special few who successfully navigate the turmoil of HERE? God’s body language leans toward our current life more than it does the next one. His offer of love, joy and peace is about right now.
Third, living for pie in the sky is blatantly utilitarian. We talk about the purpose driven life. If those who focus on heaven are honest, they admit their driving purpose is to make it there. So many ways this gets twisted, like when my destiny becomes more important than your welfare.
I have no beef with heaven. Don’t get me wrong. I do have problems with slighting the person right here because they might interrupt my efforts to get there.
How might this play out practically in our relationships with folks who don’t know Jesus? If we’re focused on the over-yonder, we’re all about them saying the prayer that guarantees entrance into heaven. If we care about the here and now, we clothe and feed and sit and listen. We do all we can to let them know they are valued and respected right here right now.
This is love with no hidden agenda or ulterior motive … God’s kind of love.

Three Truths
8-15-22
A friend shared three truths the other day that were so profound I had to share them today.
1 “People love to their level of self-love.” We’re talking healthy love here versus narcissism. Hurt people hurt people. And nothing hurts worse than self-loathing. If a person can’t love themselves for who they are, nothing else in life works smoothly or graciously … especially relationships.
So, if I’m expecting respect and consideration from someone who is typically rude and uncaring, I’m set up for disappointment. They’re miserable in their own skin … and living proof that misery loves company
2 “People communicate to their level of self-awareness.” We’re not talking choice of words or catchy phrases here. This is about being so lost in our own private chaos that the voices in our head drown out the other voices in the room. When we’re with others, we either shrink into silence or we dominate the conversation.
Self-awareness (knowing the truth about myself) is no small feat. Life is hard. So, I create a private mental version of myself that helps me cope. The rub happens when the person I want to think I am bumps up against the person I really am. I either fall deeper into denial or I dare to risk authenticity.
3 “People behave to their level of healed trauma.” Nobody escapes childhood trauma-free. This doesn’t disrespect parents who do their best. It does embrace the truth that good parents are not perfect. Mistakes. Mishandled conflict. Misunderstandings. Miscalculations. All these little traumas add up to impact behavior.
Tradition says misbehavior is sin-driven. Like, we’re evil by nature. I no longer buy into this. Most of us behave poorly because we’re in pain from unhealed trauma. The saying goes, we’re only as sick as our secrets. Healing starts with the telling of our secrets.
Take these three to the mirror: 1 I love to my level of self-love. 2 I communicate to my level of self-awareness. 3 I behave to my level of healed trauma. Applying these to yourself can be your first steps into hope and healing.
People who make life inconvenient for you … how might all this apply to them? If we let them, these truths can carve out space for empathy and hope. The difficult people in your life don’t need punishment, fixing or avoidance as much as they need your listening ear and caring heart.

“I’m a Christian…”
8-8-22
The other day a friend was telling me about their new acquaintance who was a Christ-follower, which apparently meant it was okay for them to proceed with the friendship. I’m not sure my friend and I mean the same thing when we say Christ-follower. Let’s look at this from two perspectives.
One type of Christ-follower has typically said the right prayer and agreed with the correct beliefs. They manage their behavior so as to reflect local religious etiquette and protocol. They remember the transaction that set all this up and carry it in their pocket as their eternal guarantee.
This arrangement stays between them and Jesus, as they rigorously maintain it with prayer, bible study, church attendance and other disciplines. Like anything else, they get out of it what they put into it. The goal is to be a better Christian. Better than they used to be. And secretly, better than the next guy.
This approach goes well … until it gets ignored or questioned. They’ve worked hard to get where they are. To not agree is the greatest of insults and is met with righteous condescension often followed by an angry exit.
The other type of Christ-follower is quite the contrast. These people are constantly getting caught up in the vortex of God’s beauty and goodness. It’s not like they find God as much as they run out of options and let him find them. Encounters are God-initiated and infinitely unique. They can happen in an instant or over time.
This relationship with God is communal wherein he relentlessly invites followers into a family life far grander and messier than on their own. This is not “a thing” they acquire or manage as a possession. It owns them. Not everybody looks, behaves or believes the same, which presents grace with endless possibilities.
The focus is not to become like God. The focus is God. Where is he showing up? What is he up to? Who or what is he speaking through? How is he inviting you and me to participate? What could love look like in this encounter?
I used to be the first type of Christ-follower. Now, I’m the second. I know many others who have made the shift. I’m not so sure that a lot of us might need to start out as the first type before we can get to the second. Either way, I’d invite you to carefully consider the phrase Christ-follower as it applies to you.

Fear or Love?
8-1-22
Near the beginning of my personal journey of hope and healing someone stated that “We are either driven by fear, or we’re driven by love.” I balked. Surely it couldn’t be that black and white. I’ve since come to embrace it as true.
Most emotions that get out of hand grow out of fear. Fear of harm, deprivation or inconvenience detonates rage. Depression stems from the suppressed fear of hopelessness. Worry is chronic fear. The fear of not mattering feeds self-pity. Bravado, aggression and rude behavior are preemptive attempts to mask fear.
Fear is not a bad emotion. It’s essential to survival. It is only dangerous when it climbs into the driver’s seat … locks us down with paralysis, steals our hopes and dreams, pushes us into isolation, undermines our trust in others and our confidence in self. Given half a chance, fear will dominate the landscape.
A fear-driven life is self-absorbed and obsessive. Defend. Control. Prove. Win. Achieve. Perfect. Produce. Topping the list are personal satisfaction and safety. In case you haven’t noticed, this is all about me. Your role is to help me create and maintain all of the above. To be honest, I expect the same of God.
A love-driven life is about letting God cherish me, fears and all. It’s like falling backwards into his arms. As his love catches and embraces me, I feel adored and acknowledged. Nothing can come between us. He refuses to unlove me. My world changes when this paragraph shifts from concept to experience.
… Okay, this is where frustration sets in, ’cause I can’t seem to find the story or metaphor to bring all this home. John wrote toward the end of his first letter that “God’s perfect love eradicates fear.” He got it. I kinda get it. How do we help you get it? How do we move God’s love from the head to the heart?
My late brother Wayne used to say, “Just live presumptuously.” Live as if this kind of wild love from the Father applies to you. No more judging yourself. No more trying to manage your behavior, your moods, your attitudes or your words. Just start each day with a bold statement, “God adores me no matter what.”
This is not careless living, as some say. This is carefree living that allows me to stop focusing on myself. I can finally get a clear look at you … and see God for who he is. I’m hooked on what I’m seeing. Got no more taste for fear. I only want to love and be loved.

Emotional Calorie Burners
7-25-22
We stockpile emotional calories when we relax, sleep or have fun. Lord knows an average day depletes its share. Chaos. Deadlines. Caustic people. Accidents. Traffic. Unrealistic expectations. Breakdowns. Energetic children.
We face a day with only so many calories in reserve. As it moves along, we know when they run low. Who doesn’t resonate with this? So yeah, we burn calories. And, on a good day at least we have something to show for it.
But there are those emotions that boil over with no positive outcome. We’re talking obsessive emotions like dissatisfaction, self-pity, worry and grudging.
Dissatisfaction. We’d be lost without desire. We’d starve. No procreation. Desire gets us off our butts and into the game. But we’re paralyzed when life is ruled by desire. We’re talking perpetual dissatisfaction. I’ll not be content until I obtain what I desire. This kind of life is wasted waiting and wishing for a day that will never happen.
Self-pity. Everybody gets hurt at the hands of someone else from time to time. Does that make us victims? Maybe … occasionally. If we’re healthy, we push past this mentality. If we don’t, we get stuck feeling sorry for ourselves. Our focus homes in on the wound. I expect the world to make me feel safe and happy. When it doesn’t, life’s no longer worth living.
Worry. There’s a fine line between care and worry. But the line is there. Care provides and at times protects. Worry wants to control, if not guarantee, the narrative and the outcome. Good or bad, if I know the future, I can at least feel some degree of control. Worry is me wishing God would email me a prophetic printout to silence the ramblings of my imagination.
Grudging. Just forgive and forget. How’s this working for you? Well, it kinda works. Trying to forgive is my best right now. Grudging, on the other hand, invades my day with a preoccupation with justice and the slow burn of revenge. What they did needs to be exposed … set right. They should hurt like I did.
All of these have commonalities. They make me the center of my world. They are a complete waste of time. They produce nothing good. They keep me distracted from participating with what God is doing in and around me.
Normal emotions are neither good nor bad. But these calorie guzzlers might need to be explored and then handed over to “a power greater than ourselves.”

Back to Basics
7-18-22
It doesn’t hurt to revisit the basics from time to time, like how do I negotiate the messiness of relationships with God, myself and others? Black and white answers won’t work. Relationships are too complex, given our shifting moods, conflicting desires and circumstances.
Much of life is lived with built-in gauges. My car has a speedometer that tells me how fast I’m going. Your watch tells you if you’re late, early or on time for work. Our calorie counters tell us how we’re doing on our diets. Relationships refuse to lend themselves to precise measurements like this.
Let’s start with my relationship with God. If this one’s not healthy nothing else will be. God is either who we see in Jesus, or he’s something we’ve made up. God risked his life as a fetus, birth in a barn and growing up on our streets. He touched us where we hurt, endured our harshest treatment even unto death yet refused to unlove any of us. He who had all power, gave it up. I either believe he feels the same toward me, or I keep trying to earn what he’s already given me.
How about me? My relationship with myself is the steepest hill I climb. People have hurt me. There is no such thing as a trauma-free childhood. My pain won’t go away. I try to hide it, medicate it, overcompensate for it. It’s still there. Only when I let God love this mess that is me do I find healing. I might even begin to explore loving myself scars and all. So, every morning begins with a clear choice. I either loath my flaws or I celebrate that God adores me flaws and all.
Then, there’s the person in front of me. Boy-howdy, this one can bend and nearly break us. But it doesn’t have to. The lens you look through at an art gallery is entirely different from the one you utilize at a crime scene. One focuses on hidden beauty, the other on evidence that will convict.
We’re either looking for clues the person is sloughing off or we’re rejoicing in the beauty of their best effort. They are either under God’s critical microscope or he is lovingly doing something beautiful in them. And if this is the case, maybe we can find a way to join in, or at least speak out what we see.
Basics to being a healthy human: Let God love me wide open. See, accept and love myself the way God does. Celebrate and participate in how God is loving the person in front of me.

My Great, Great Grandfather
7-11-22
Waldo Corrollon VanValin was the father of Alexander Clyde VanValin who was the father of Ernest Clyde VanValin who was the father of Clyde Emory VanValin who was the father of Wendell Clyde VanValin who is the father of Jacob Clyde VanValin. Clyde’s been around for a while. Waldo didn’t know what he started.
Waldo Corrollon was a 1st Lieutenant, Company A in the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry who fought in the Union Army during the Civil war. I have a portrait of him hanging in my den in full military dress, sword by his side. I looked him up on the internet this morning and found his picture with some army buddies. I cried.
I’ve done more than my share of reading about those dark days when our nation was divided in bloody conflict. The union army was better equipped with larger numbers, while the south was more savvy and innovative. One such inventive tactic by the south resulted in an all-out rout of Grandpa’s unit.
I have a copy of his journal in which he describes their frantic retreat. Apparently, the surprise was so sudden, his entire unit turned tail and ran. Their frenzied escape drove them directly into a tangled thicket. G’pa described the carnage; rebel yell, dense smoke, withering barrage of cannon fire and round balls.
In detail he describes the man next to him falling in a heap, having taken a direct hit to the back of his head. As G’pa turned to look, the ring on his scabbard became entangled in a vine. He was stuck. The enemy was on top of him. His life hung in the balance. Only at the last second was he able to free himself.
But for that last second, our line of Clyde’s just about didn’t come to fruition. I almost wasn’t. If you have a narrow escape story like this, you can empathize. Our stories unite us. You find yourself in mine. I find myself in yours. We forfeit part of what it means to be human when we stop telling our stories.
So, did God step in and save my grandfather’s life? Was it luck? Good karma? G’pa’s sheer determination? All of a sudden, we’ve opened the door to debate. That which could have united becomes divisive. Most unfortunate.
Why our inclination to theologize, politicize and moralize? Speaking of the Civil War, our nation is every bit as polarized as we were back then. Maybe more. What if we started sharing our stories, but not so we can prove or defend a point? Can we just sit down and get to know each other?

Story Telling
7-4-22
What is it that you and I have in common with every other person on the planet? Each of us has a story. We squabble over opinions, convictions, beliefs, ethics, theories, methods and politics. But not our stories. My story is my story. Your story is yours. Both are equally legitimate and valuable.
Swapping stories brings us together. Empathy grows. So does respect. I actually discover things about myself as you tell your story. You let me know I’m not the only one. I think this story thing collectively makes us better people.
Paul’s conversion story gets told four times in the NT. Our heralded academic, who can take us past next week with one of his theological run-on sentences, can’t stop telling his story. His real-life encounter with Jesus gave meaning and worth to everything else he said and did.
Paul’s Damascus Road story, each of us has our own. Those defining moments that shift the direction of a life. Time slows down. Years later, details remain vivid. Every decision made since bears the imprint of what went down. These moments matter to us because we realize how much they mattered to God.
Then there are those funny stories that help us defy the gravity of things. Life may take our money, our health and even our people, but it cannot steal our joy. Ever notice the laughter surrounding reminiscent tales told around a loved-one’s casket? Even as we grieve, we celebrate the residual joy they leave behind.
In Pathway we share pain stories. This is where I’ve ministered for nearly two decades. “Hardship is the pathway to peace” … but only if we explore it, instead of numb, deny or repress it. Over the years we’ve discovered that healing starts in the telling. Sometimes to a group. More often, to that one trusted friend.
In Pathway small groups, nobody is forced to tell their story. But once a week members will have to sit and listen to over an hour’s worth of story snippets from other participants. Almost without fail, those who initially find this listening bit off-putting do a 180 to “Why don’t all small groups use this format?”
The greatest gift you and I have to offer the world is to share and listen to stories. In the end, people will remember, only in passing, our profound wisdom and industrious spirit. They will however treasure deep inside the courage and authenticity we invested every time we shared part of our story with them.

Un-invested Ego
6-27-22
Have you heard the term “un-invest your ego?” Richard Rohr talks about it. Don Ruiz hints at it in The Four Agreements. Jesus said we lose our life to find it, like a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying before it produces fruit.
Stubborn Peter’s ego lost its footing when he denied Jesus. Paul did time in jail before he realized his hyper-zealous approach was more about Paul than the gospel. Moses found his true self after decades of chasing his father-in-law’s goats on the backside of the desert. Solomon spent years building and manicuring his empire before discovering the liability of ego maintenance.
All of us crave attention and affirmation for our accomplishments. We’ll wait for what we think we deserve … significance and satisfaction. At least for most of the people I’ve come across, we start early with the assumption it’s all about me.
Explains why we balk at dying to self … surrendering the ego. But think about it, when it’s all about me it leaves little room for authentic community. And if by chance I do let you in my life, it’s so I can use you to salve or placate my ego.
But way back in the beginning, God said it was not good for me to be alone. I was designed specifically to live as us, not me. I am because we are. But, it’s messy to live as us. We don’t always agree. Your dreams don’t match mine. You like math. I like flowers. You wanna turn left. I wanna turn right. Your drama becomes my burden.
I can’t make you want to turn right or like flowers. What I can do is change my outlook and approach to you … to us. This is where we make our choice. I either shove my ego all up into our relationship or I un-invest it.
This is how it looks: I no longer take it personally when you disagree with me. I feel no inclination to change or fix you. No more rush to defend my opinion or desires. I don’t have anything to protect, prove or pretend. I’m just me. You are just you. I embrace the mess. In time I even celebrate the beauty of diversity.
This ego un-investment is driven by love. Once I know my Father loves me, I can love myself. It doesn’t matter so much what others think. If I’m worth something to God, I no longer need you to validate or protect any part of me. My ego ceases to be a player in what goes on between us.

Wagon or Wheelbarrow?
6-20-22
Wayne Hunter and I were like brothers. We shaped each other’s lives for nearly fifteen years. As pastors, both of us had spent extensive time studying and propagating religious tradition. In 2005, we wound up living in the same city and started to routinely dig deep into fresh possibilities, as the old ways of thinking and doing were impossible and didn’t reflect who Jesus was.
Our thoughts and discoveries became so interwoven, it was hard to say who came up with new ideas and viewpoints. In time, when asked who said what, we’d simply respond, “We did.” I miss him more today than when he died.
At one point I realized we’d had a major shift in our outlook and motivation for ministry. Early on we’d worked hard to earn respected degrees. Churches grew under our ministries. People did our bidding and looked to us for wisdom and leadership. In a manner of speaking, we’d both built our own little empires.
The story of Solomon comes to mind here. Given a blank check signed by God, he asked for wisdom. He started off well; wise counsel as a judge, building the temple etc. But in time he used his IQ to amass an empire for himself: mules, chariots, women, wealth, power. Over time, it all became burdensome and complex, which prompted his book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity, all is vanity.”
Those little red wagons we had as kids; it’s like we drag them around piling in anything that might enhance our career, our reputation, our net worth as well as our ability to sway others. The wagon looks impressive, but gradually gets harder to pull and maintain. There’s a word for this. It’s called hoarding.
That was my half of the metaphor. Wayne finished it, “What if we trade in our wagon for a wheelbarrow?” Think about it. We now arrive on the scene pushing all our stuff out in front. Nothing to hide, protect or explain. There it all is in plain view where we can just give it away to help others. No more need to acquire.
Ultimately, this is a crossroads we all will face somewhere along the line. We either hoard or we help. We can’t do both. Jesus said so, “You cannot serve God and gain.” We either spend our days striving to enhance our own existence, or we turn things around and start doing it for others.
God did NOT gift us with the ability to push a wheelbarrow while pulling a wagon. It’s kinda like the sheep and goat thing. You can’t be a little bit of both. You’re either one or the other.

Respect
6-13-22
Rodney Dangerfield said he couldn’t get any. Aretha Franklin made a hit out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This word comes from the Latin idea of focusing on something we consider worthy of our attention. Not just a second glance, but dedicated attention. (How’s that for a first paragraph … from Hollywood to ancient Rome.)
God has always considered us worthy of his attention. The big story of scripture leaves no doubt about this. But head on the pillow after a rough day, not many of us feel worthy of God’s attention. This is a struggle we all visit.
We grovel, strive and compete for respect. We even hide from it. Road rage keeps coming to mind as I’m writing this. Maybe that’s because it’s the glaring opposite of respect. Armed with a ton of moving metal we disrespect the other person’s right to a particular section of pavement.
It seems to me that respect is entry level love … where love gains its initial foothold. Do I notice you? Do I value you? Granted, love goes much deeper, like am I eager and willing to invest in you? But will we ever get to the investment part if we don’t first learn basic respect?
True respect … do we earn or receive it? Is it a chicken and egg deal where nobody’s sure which comes first? Maybe the two happen together. I put forth effort … it is valued … I feel worthy, which encourages further effort … it is valued … I feel even more worthy … I don’t know about hens and their eggs. I do know that respect has to happen before love and grace can expect to gather momentum.
Examples: The person you’re talking with is preoccupied with texting. A friend says they care, but you do all the heavy lifting. Somebody tells you half-truths assuming you’re dumb enough to buy the lies. The conversation is lopsided; they talk, you listen. Forget love. These are yet to arrive at respect.
For months I’ve been writing about love, love, love. I’m beginning to wonder if we may need to take a few steps back and talk about basic respect. Do I value you as a human God has declared “good”? This means respect regardless of age, race, IQ, sexual orientation, political persuasion or socioeconomic status.
If you don’t feel like God respects you, you need to figure out why. ‘Cause if you can’t accept his respect, you’ll not respect yourself or anybody else. If we’re struggling to find the love these days, let’s at least work on some respect.

Room Elephants

6-6-22

What is it with elephants in the room? The bully who uses sarcasm to get their way. A chronic liar, desperate for approval. A conversation monopolizer who disrespects everybody else in the room. The manipulator who hones passive aggression to a razor’s edge. The lazy “team member” who brags as if.
How do we do community in a healthy way given toxicity in our midst? There are essential elements for group harmony, respect, honesty, open minds, patience, generosity, compassion. These are hard to find in our first paragraph. Do we kick the bums out? Shun them? Electroshock therapy?
Jesus told a trio of room elephant scenarios. If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. If they sue you for your cap and gloves, give them your purse and shoes as well. If they force you to carry their backpack a mile, offer to carry it another. All three examples address abrasive behavior.
In these cases, there is no backing away. Always closer. This isn’t about eliminating the elephant in the room. It’s about helping them see themselves the way others do. After the first slap, everybody is looking. Do I want to be the person who slaps faces? The same applies to lawsuits and second miles.
I’ve known a few evil room elephants. But most are overcompensating for wounds from the past. What if we can help them find hope and healing?
First, make sure your house is in order. Take nothing they do or say personally. This isn’t about your ego, safety or comfort. This is about helping them.
Second, invite them to exaggerate their elephant tendencies. Egg them on. Examples: If they’re manipulative, resist just enough to get them to turn up the heat. If they lie, get them to push it way past believable.
Third, initiate conversation. “It’s really important for you to control the narrative here isn’t it?” “I’m curious, why do you work so hard to keep that person in their place?” “You don’t like when someone questions your authority, do you?” “Your passion is obvious on this issue. Where do you think it comes from?”
Fourth, stay engaged. You’re not trying to correct or fix. You’re helping a troubled soul discover goodness that hides within. Down deep, they don’t want to be a jerk. Healing will take time and happens best in healthy community. And … if community is to be healthy, it will embrace the elephant in the room.

I’m Gonna Win Her Over!

5-30-22

You know about Molly from last week. She’s been with us for ten days now. Still prefers Robbie. Me, not so much. No tail wags yet. Once or twice, she’s come to Robbie when called … only reluctantly eats snacks from our hands. I got her to pee once when I took her out Otherwise, Robbie’s the sole owner of that magic.
Mostly, all I get from Molly is those big brown eyes watching my every move from behind bushy eyebrows. I worked from home last week due to the crud, which kept her head on a swivel every time I shuffled past her bed. I always stop by for a head pat and chat. Still … nothing.
I could pick her up and force her to sit in my lap … or at least beside me. But that feels artificial. I could hover 24/7 … again, not a healthy approach. I find my heart drawn to this little animal in ways I would never have imagined. And I want her to know that.
Thing is, I’m not frustrated. Actually, I’m rather at peace doing it this way. Still, it’d be way cool for her to voluntarily jump up next to me. So, why won’t she? I’m guessing that in her mind, dogs don’t get close with human males. You obey them, or else. A man may offer essentials to keep you alive, but that’s it. The notion that your kind would ever be his best friend has never been awakened.
Between the two of us I’m the only one entertaining the idea of friendship at this point. But … I do have treats and initiative. So, if anything is going to happen between Molly and me, I’ll need to use these resources in a wise and timely fashion. I’m pretty sure it will work because I actually love this little dog … a lot.
We grow into adulthood with messed up opinions of God. Like Molly, the idea that he wants to be best friends can find no footing in us. Some say it’s because we’re sinners. And yet, even when our sins have “officially” been forgiven, it feels more like we’ve been let off the hook by a stern judge than invited over for coffee by our Dad.
Forgiveness amounts to God’s “howdy”. He’s aiming at something far deeper than just a clean slate. Yeah, he is. Watch his debut. He lived for nine months in a virgin’s womb. Hers were the first arms to cuddle him. Her eyes, the first he looked into. He came to trust her. When he grew up, he did the same with little children. John got it and leaned on him at the last supper.
From the cradle to the grave, Jesus left us no doubt. He wants close human companionship. He’s relentless trying to gain our trust. He’s gonna win us over!

Molly

5-23-22

My wife and I have debated for years about getting an indoor dog. We grew up with dogs and raised our kids with them, just never inside. Everybody kept nudging, “They make such warm companions. You’ll love having a devoted pet cuddle up while you watch TV.” So, we got Molly.
She’s a four-year-old Australian Labradoodle … not to be confused with typical Labradoodles. We know little of her backstory. She came from the northeast and was moved from breeder to breeder through multiple states. Three litters later, spayed and out of Tennessee, she found her way to our house.
Molly looks like a sad version of Benji with big brown eyes. Loud noises freak her. Robbie can pet her. But when I try, even reticently, she shies. Molly is yet to wag her tail, vocalize, lick, snuggle or come to either of us. She sits when told, but it’s not as if her heart is in it. Twice when we’ve come home after being gone, she’s run and tried to hide.
Neither of us are dog whisperers. We don’t know what she’s thinking or feeling. Our Spidey senses say she’s likely been around dogs more than people. She sits and stares for hours. No curiosity. No self-will. It’s as if she’s unaware of our affections for her.
A professional would know the reasons behind all this. We don’t … just that this is going to be baby steps at best. Molly will likely never be rowdy, wiggly or overly affectionate. No problem with that. Our goal is for her to feel loved and valued by two old people whose kids have grown and moved on.
She’s such a sweetheart. It’s hard to imagine how she’s come to expect nothing more out of life. She’s open to us supplying her physical survival needs, food, water, shelter and hygiene. Affection, attention, freedom to explore, play time … none of these are even in her doggy dictionary. Yet!
This morning Robbie took Molly out to do her business. I wandered out to survey the garden. As soon as she saw me, she started trembling. It broke my heart. I only want to love her and make her feel safe. Yet all I am to her is a threat, and it will likely take months before she sees me otherwise.
It took decades before I stopped trembling at God’s approach. Now, I feel safest curled up next to him. It’s all because he doggedly refused to give up on me.

Red Truck Pity Party

5-16-22

I’m not a morning person. Just ask my wife. I went to bed in a funk Saturday night and after a fitful sleep got up extra early Sunday so I could be on time for band practice at church. The forced awakening turned things into extra yucky. I pouted as I trimmed my beard and brushed my teeth. Even copious amounts of coffee couldn’t adjust my outlook.
During the commute to church in my infamous little red truck, I got “verbal” with God. He already knew what was on my mind. Just the same, we needed to talk. I was feeling sorry for myself, and he was about to get an ear full. (By the way, he’s a frequent flier when it comes to my truck.)
Things started off predictably: “God, I realize I need to learn some key life’s lessons that can only take root in me when I hurt. But enough is enough. I’ve hurt over this issue too long. If you’ve got something to say, please say it.”
That didn’t work, so I took another approach: “God, I’ve gone above and beyond to remedy this issue. The other person isn’t stepping up like I am. In fact, they routinely ignore my generosity. Nobody seems to care or understand how I feel … including you.” (Oops, did I say that?) Not that I could actually see him, but God just sat there with arms folded, wearing an ever so subtle grin. His body language was like … “Really, that’s where you want to go with this?”
That was it … all I got. I told him I wasn’t mad, but that I had expected something a little more profound or direct. I could swear his grin went to a full-on smile.
That’s when things got a little muddled in my head. Was I thinking it, or was God saying it? Who knows? I do know for sure it became abundantly clear I had a choice. In a few minutes I was going to be with some of my favorite people. I could either bring my down-in-the-mouth sad self, or I could be a positive force.
I went with plan “B” and it was too much fun. Others joined in with humor and uplift. Once we’d finished practice and worship began, I was borderline giddy. The singers were on fire. From behind the drum kit, I choked back tears … the happy kind. Pastor Laura’s message was one of those life-changers. After dismissal, fellowship was spontaneously generous.
Everybody I encountered yesterday came to church with their own load of pain. They may have faced a similar positive or negative choice on the way. Looking back, I’m pretty sure a good number of them must have chosen plan “B.”

Chronic Pain

5-9-22

Last week we explored our problem with pain. Nobody gets a free pass through life without it. These days pain takes up a larger piece of my mental pie, as my physical pain is finding its way into the other corners of my life. Let’s talk.
There is short-term pain. Like when you get fired but then find your dream job. Or break a bone, but do the cast thing. In time, you’re back to normal. Romantic breakups hurt, until you find someone else who loves you even more. A big chunk of life’s pain is only for a season.
So, what about chronic physical pain, with no hope on the horizon? Or maybe cases that actually worsen? Back pain. Headaches. Arthritis. Cancer. Organ failure. The list of struggles that comes with getting older.
Then there’s “head and heart” pain that won’t leave you alone. Grief over a deceased child or loved one. Disappointment over a string of failures and let-downs. A spouse who ignores your affections or even responds negatively. Children who grow up and only come around when they need something. I don’t typically take Arthritis personally. These hurts … I do.
For over two years I watched my first wife fight a losing battle with cancer. Those last few months made no sense. She was just existing with excruciating pain. I even asked God to take her home. You understand if you’ve been there. So, when I talk about pain, I’m not unpacking a concept. I’m talking about my life.
In my darkest times I have to ask “Where is God?” What’s he got to say for himself, given that he is loving and all powerful, yet not stepping up to heal.
I’m starting to realize God sits quietly with me in my pain, most of the time with his arms around me. He’s not waiting for my pain to leave. Nor is he fixing me. He’s volunteering to hurt along with me. And as he does, he’s slowly opening my eyes to a bigger picture of who he is.
Plus, God is no stranger to personal rejection. He gives us life. We ignore him. He provides good things. We show no gratitude. He heals and forgives us. We take him for granted. We routinely hurt God. But instead of isolating or blowing up like we would, he actually ups his investment in us by loving us more.
I have to ask. Would reading about God’s love in a book grip me? No! It is precisely because of my pain I’m starting to get how deeply he feels for me.

The Problem with Pain
5-2-22
My personal problem with pain is that it rubs my face in who I am; vulnerable, mortal, limited, dependent … human. When I think I can, pain tells me I can’t … or should at least sit down and think about it first. When my happiness gets a little too enthusiastic, pain is there to remind me that this too shall pass.

It hurts to be born. It hurts to die. It hurts at all points in between; to break a bone, say goodbye, grow old, be disappointed, worried, lonely or depressed. Pain comes in many forms; sharp to dull ache. We scale it from one to ten.
Our culture is addicted to pain avoidance, be it physical, emotional, mental or relational. Our “cures” come in all forms. Comfort food. Work-a-holism. Substance abuse. Aggression. Frenzied purchasing. Distractions. Isolation.
What if the real problem isn’t pain, but our determined avoidance of it? Jesus promised his guys that “in this world you will have trouble.” He talked about the painful act of “losing our life before finding it.” Remember his “seed dying and falling to the ground so it can produce fruit” metaphor?
We just observed Good Friday and Easter. Talk about dying and falling. Jesus did it. Do we really know who Jesus is until he dies? Don’t get me wrong, for three years he did and taught earth-shaking stuff. But it all goes raw and real with him on the cross.
Think about the people you trust the most in this world. I’d be willing to bet both your understanding of and affection for them deepens every time you watch them suffer. Life thumps them good and hard, and over and over they prove to be who you always thought they were … who you need them to be.
The bible uses the refining fire example. Pain burns off the unessential. Then there is clay on the potter’s wheel. Pain reshapes us. How about Jonah and his big fish? Pain helped him reconsider. Almost-king David fleeing Saul’s wrath. Pain taught him patience, respect and not a few survival skills.
I’m not trying to market pain as something we’ll line up for. But it’s also not the dog-doo in the yard we scramble to avoid. It’s a guaranteed and much needed part of life. We would do well to explore. What am I learning about myself in the midst of this discomfort? How is God revealing himself to me? If this is a dying-seed-falling-to-the-ground moment, what fruit is about to happen?

Ham Sandwich
4-25-22
Here I sit in my office checking out a new album by Alejandro Aranda called the Art of Forgiveness … jury is out. It’s raining. It’s Monday. My tank is close to red lining from Sunday. I just went down to the church kitchen to fix something to drink with the ham sandwich my wife packed in the time-honored brown bag.

On my beverage mission I bumped into a fellow employee and close friend, freshly home after a week of fishing in Florida with his son. We swapped fishing tales, and actually managed not to stray too far from the truth.
Yesterday I played drums in our worship team for two morning services where instead of preaching we listened to stories of resurrection and restoration. A baby boy healed. Journeys out of legalism and perfectionism. Healing from childhood trauma. Adventures in foster parenting. Tears. Laughter. Empathy.
Then, in Pathway last night we had one of our monthly Way Finding sessions. Our interviewee was asked to share about their past, present and plans for the future. The story wound through panic, quick thinking and a mama’s love, as the teller described an incident when they were set up to look guilty in front of law enforcement. Thank God, truth prevailed, and jail time was avoided.
Even before we master the art of language, we babble on about what it means to do life in our little world. The doggy’s tail riggled. Billy ated my candy. I love Aunt Misty bester. My favorite color is plink. When I have a story to tell, I matter. And … I really matter when somebody listens to it.
I spent years laser-focused on the straight and narrow … you know, believing and behaving just the right way. Back in those days when I gathered with others, especially at church, it was about outperforming everybody else in the room. At the end of the day fatigue, anxiety and full-on self-consumption.
Sharing our stories creates and empowers community. The room becomes fully engaged. I find myself in you. You find yourself in me. We link arms, not over shared beliefs or ethics, but mutual hurt and happiness. Your story may not fix me. It does give me hope. It won’t answer all my questions. It does let me know I’m not the only one asking. Walls come down when we share stories.
Well, I’ve finished my sack lunch and moved on to previewing another album. The sun is peeking through … sorta. It’s about time to head home. But, I’d like to thank you for listening to my Monday story that started with a ham sandwich.

The Day After Easter
4-18-22
Lent is over. We’re back to consuming chocolate, red meat and carbonated beverages. The ash stain on our foreheads has long-since been rubbed clean. Maundy Thursday has come and gone along with the agony of Good Friday and triumph of Easter. So … what now?
I spent my younger days feeling self-satisfied to have the only living savior. He’s not just a memory. I don’t have to make routine pilgrimages to visit his occupied grave. I don’t settle for statues, myths or legends. Wow, ain’t I something! I’m a winner in “The Best Religion” contest. So, Easter is about bragging rights?
Or maybe we see the whole Easter event as solid proof that we will one day physically rise again. The grave won’t keep us down. The trumpet will sound. Jesus will return. We will all go home with him to heaven.
An additional idea is that Jesus’ resurrection not only conquered death, it defeated sin. If we want to live sin-free, we just place our trust in his resurrection. No sarcasm. Just a simple question. How’s that working for you?
I have to say, this year Easter has hit me harder and meant more to me than ever. It has nothing to do with theological theories or how I personally benefit from the resurrection. This year means so much because I know Jesus more intimately than I ever have.
I take it personally when he’s hated and brutalized. But at the same time, it grips my heart to watch how with each blow, each sneer, each lie, his love for us only grows. And after the empty tomb, with Mary in the garden, the disciples huddled in fear, doubting Thomas, confused disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter on the beach, Jesus offered only peace, love and restoration.
I have no doubt Jesus’ body rose again. But, the life-changing impact is not that we have a living breathing savior. What gets us is Jesus’ relentless refusal to reject, belittle or hate. His love for you and me sent him to the cross. And his love for you and me burst him forth from the tomb. No matter how dark or hateful we get, he refuses to stop loving us.
I don’t think this is due to God’s stubbornness. No, it’s more about his confidence in the power of his love. He knows love will win. He’s sure of it. And why wouldn’t he be certain? He’s already proved you can crucify it but it won’t stay dead.

The Cross
4-4-22
Two significant seasons mark the Christian calendar, advent and lent. Why was Jesus born gets explored during advent. Why Jesus died seems appropriate this close to Good Friday and Easter.
Not everybody is a why person. Just accept things as they are and move along. With an event as big as the cross we would do well to go deeper. Religion says we are “saved if we believe Christ died for our sins.” But why did he have to die? And what does this have to do with our sins?
No matter how we define it, we’ve all sinned. We’ve broken God’s law. We’ve broken his heart. We’ve broken ourselves and others. A lot of breakage going on. So, we have to wonder how God feels about all this. Is he sad, hurt, angry, depressed, confused? If I was God, all these would apply. But I’m not God.
John tells us over and over that God’s bottom line is always love. He does love. He speaks love. He feels love. He is love. He refuses to un-love us. He loves us so much he sent his Son … and we complete that statement with … to die for us.
Tradition says his Son died to pay our debt, not a business, but a legal debt. We’re all pretty much career criminals with lengthy rap sheets deserving capital punishment. But just before the Judge lowers the boom, he looks over at his Son and says, “You will die in their place.” This fits well with the OT system of sacrificial lambs dying as our substitute. Some of the NT letters back this up.
But in John’s parable of the Good Shepherd, Jesus said he laid down his life to protect us from thieves and wolves. No mention of debt or appeasing a Judge. Jesus surrendered to the vilest parts of our nature, yet loved us with his final breath. Ultimately, he loved us so strongly not even death could contain him.
Jesus didn’t die to cool the red-hot wrath of an angry God. No, this was God laying down his divine power to allow us to discover where we go when we think we have power. But even after absorbing our most grievous blow, his love, the greatest power in the universe, exploded from the grave.
My heart is stirred only for a short time if the cross is nothing but the completion of a legal transaction. Like the aftertaste of a yearly tax refund, it gets filed away under “happy memories.” But if the cross and empty tomb are God’s powerful, unflinching love aimed in my direction, my heart is won over. I will never be the same.

Fig Leaves
3-21-22
If you don’t want to be found out, grab a fig leaf. To hide my true feelings, I reach for a fig leaf. Need to isolate? Dive into a pile of camo fig leaves. If it’s time to strut, I put on my decorative fig leaves. Back in the garden, fig leaves covered up shame and fear. These days we have a leaf for every occasion.
We were originally designed to be naked and unashamed. No pretense. No cover up. Just complete ease with the genuine version of ourselves. Adam and Eve … there had to be moments of conflict, irritability or misunderstanding. But it all took place out in the open, seen for what it was.
One day we decided we wanted to be better than human. The second we crossed that line; we fell into the lie that the missteps we make determine who we are. Shame. Fear. Cover up. I now have to convince you and myself that my intentions are good, even though my mistake is painful and disappointing.
That’s me covering up my human imperfection. Then there’s life itself. Our early influencers told us we were dumb or mean or boring etc. Or we were born tall, short, curly haired, chubby, assertive, passive, happy, sad … ODD. So, we grab more fig leaves to cover up these supposed defects.
Fig leaves come in all forms: over-compensation, bravado, false humility, humor, lying, self-righteousness, misbehavior, aggression, addictions, rebellion, etc. None of these are comfortable or natural. Trying to make them fit is exhausting.
Given all these fig leaves, how can we love each other? I don’t know which version of you I’m looking at right now. Am I dealing with your true feelings or some artful ruse you’ve made up to gain my approval … or submission? No wonder skepticism taints our relationships.
Jesus said he is the truth. He didn’t own a fig leaf. When he was angry, he turned over tables. When he was sad, he wept. When he was tired or hungry or thirsty, he said so. He spoke truth to us, like Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
Jesus also said the truth would set us free. Discovering and uncovering the truth about ourselves breaks everything open to flow freely. I can love both myself and you because I can finally see clearly who it is I’m loving.
But if I tell the truth, they won’t like me. Really … do we really think they don’t already know? Fig leaves have never worked and never will. People see right past them. So why do we waste so much time and energy maintaining them?

Emotions
March 14, 2022
I’ve come to believe there’s no such thing as a “good” or a “bad” emotion. We feel what we feel. Emotions are our response to the world around us. If I’m not angry about child abuse something is wrong with me. If a coiled rattlesnake in my path doesn’t frighten me, I need my head examined.
Let’s call these acute emotions. They speak their mind then sit back down. But, what about emotions that refuse to sit back down? They completely dominate our day. We can call them chronic. Truth is, we only have so many emotional calories to burn per day. Acute uses its fair share. Chronic exhausts our supply.
Examples: Frustration turns to anger which can turn to grudges. Disappointment grows to self-pity. Fear becomes prolonged worry. Regret moves to guilt then morphs into shame. Look at this list. Grudges, self-pity, worry, shame … all are dark, destructive calorie burners. Complete waste of time. Nothing productive.
Obsession is the word. Endless days and nights preoccupied by emotions-gone-rogue that rob our relationships, jeopardize our jobs, steal our health and compromise our potential. What if we marked our calendars for a few months, tracking all the days overshadowed by obsessive emotions? Telling, isn’t it!?
We go various directions with this. Dull through medication. Distract with trivia or busyness. Deny with hypocrisy. Or we can dig. Chronic emotions are chronic for a reason. Some sort of trauma during our formative years keeps them on edge. Start by exploring. Seek therapy. Join a group. You’ll need help.
Those of us who connect with God have begged him to take away these unwanted feelings. We might as well ask him to take away our freewill or remove an appendage. Feelings, freewill, arms and legs are what make us humans. Why would he undo his original design … the design he called good?
Watch David. When he was angry at an enemy, he’d tell God how he felt, then tell God how he wanted them punished, even when it was gruesome. These short conversations ended with, “But, you’ve got this God …” His honest expression of emotion to God was both appropriate and therapeutic.
There is no such thing as a true stoic. We all feel. Emotions are neither good nor bad. They just are. But to be human means we also think, do, desire, decide and relate to others. A healthy life is a balance of all these. If your emotions remain the loudest voice in the room, maybe it’s time to start asking why.

God-music
March 7, 2022
I generally don’t listen to the radio. When I do, it’s Classic Rock, The Beatles, Zeppelin etc. A while back I tried Christian radio for a couple of days. Sorry, but that’s all I could take. Please hear me out as I crawl out on this limb.
I couldn’t ignore it … song after song told God what he can do. They typically start with miracles from scripture, then apply them to today. Plus, I got the feeling they were singing to a God who has a need for notice and affirmation.
Running along side this is a list of reasons why I’m an unworthy recipient of this power. But, when by some turn of fate, God does glance my direction, I’m utterly amazed. Just a guess, but this amazement is what we’ve come to call worship.

A strong God was essential when humanity was growing up in the OT. A powerful God protected them from monsters and kept them from hurting themselves. Jesus showed up with a new way, “You’ve heard it said, but I say …” He treated us like adults. He who had all power, laid it down.
Our ideas about God have consequences. And the soundtrack we create to convey these ideas is telling. Music goes deeper than the explanation of concepts. It awakens both sides of our brain. We comprehend AND experience. Musical God-ideas soak into the fabric of our personal and collective identity.
The subconscious thought process goes like this: We have a very capable God who is not overly interested in us due to our questionable ways. But, if we stroke his ego with compliments, maybe he’ll look our way. This is more subtle than calculated. Nevertheless, no part of it is remotely healthy.
Jesus lived and died love. He left his posse one command. Love each other. His love was extreme; leaving the 99, touching the unclean, cuddling babies, enlisting tax collectors, seeing the invisible, washing feet, forgiving freely and spontaneously, laying down his life. Not even a tomb could restrain his love.
Without thinking about it, when I preset my dial to God’s ability, there’s a good chance I will miss his availability. In my darkest hour, I don’t need a God who can flex. I need one with arms wide open for a hug.

Forgiveness
February 28, 2022
Of the various facets of grace, forgiveness gets the most press. Maybe that’s because we have so much trouble with it. I find it hard to forgive others. Harder to accept God’s forgiveness. Hardest to forgive myself.
Thing is, God has no problem forgiving. Jesus teaching inside a house. Injured guy gets lowered through the roof. Conversation starter, “You’re forgiven.” On the cross, “Father, forgive them…” To the guy hanging next to him, “I’ll see you today in paradise.” Paul, executioner of believers, is forgiven and turned loose to spread the gospel. Jesus to Nicodemus, “I didn’t come to condemn but to save.” Then there’s adulterous, murdering David … wound up a man after God’s heart.
Our misdeeds don’t hurt God’s feelings. As much as he cares for us, our sin doesn’t damage his ego. He forgives almost recklessly. Grudging and revenge hold no purpose for him, especially if he’s the God Jesus says he is.
Our push-back against forgiveness stems from our expectation of perfection. Go back to creation. God said it was good, but never perfect. Darkness offered perfection. We reached for it and missed. We’ve been craving it ever since.
Me: I have this artificially enhanced portrait of myself. Its perfection mocks me. I can’t live up to it. So, every time I fail, life augers down with regret, then guilt, then all-out shame. Shame is just another word for self-hate.
You: If you’re someone close to me, I expect you to perfectly hold down your end of my teeter-totter. When you fail, I go from frustration, to anger, to grudging, to revenge. I want payback.
And I wonder why my bitterness and anger won’t go away. It’s my stockpile of unmet expectations. I’m the judge, jury and executioner. Life is my courtroom.
Jesus talked about a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying. Forgiveness happens when we let our unrealistic expectations die. God looks for us to be good, yet imperfect humans. Can we cut each other the same slack?
Speaking forgiveness out loud is key. It doesn’t make us forget the infraction. But saying “I forgive you” will remove its poison. And … it puts the universe on notice. Love wins. Light triumphs. Grace always finds a way.

God on a Backhoe
February 22, 2022
I still can’t adjust to what I see every time I drive into Bowling Green since the December tornado went through. The devastation and residual heartache. Early on the drama centered around search and rescue. People were trapped in basements and under debris. We collectively held our breath and waited.
What we’ve blogged about the past two weeks is equally dramatic, yet in a more drawn-out chronic way. Our heads and hearts are all tangled up pulling against each other. It feels like we’re trapped under the twisted rubble of it all, unable to negotiate the ins and outs of life with any degree of freedom.
Imagine yourself in the cramped confines of a basement after our recent storm. All you have is a screwdriver and a strong determination to escape. So, you start pecking away at the 2×4’s and cinder blocks that hold you captive. Chip by chip, splinter by splinter you blister your fingers in your valiant attempt to free yourself.
As time drags on your energy wanes. Emotions go from desperate determination to worn out isolation. Nobody is coming. Are they even aware? This is when you begin to doubt if you’re even worth rescuing. Maybe this is a sort of pay back.
What you don’t know is that God himself is on an over-sized backhoe moving huge piles of lumber, shingles and limbs as he digs his way to you. While your little screwdriver is chipping, he’s pulled out the large machinery.
Read the big story in scripture. God has always done the heavy lifting, the grunt work, a bulldozer operator from the get-go. This applies to you and me as well. He wants our freedom more than we want it. He is doing all he can to open up all the good stuff for us, love, joy, peace and wholeness. And he’s relentless.
Still, most of us want to lean into our skills with a screwdriver. We brandish them like swords. “Give me some time. I can work this out.” We stay so busy at it we fail to hear God breaking through on his backhoe right above us. The shafts of light streaming down to us go unseen by eyes clinched in determination.
At some point we eventually give up. Bent screwdriver hanging loosely in scraped and blistered hands, we stop trying to free ourselves. That’s when we look up into the light where we see God sitting on his backhoe, smile on his face, reaching down to give us a hand up.
If this thing between me and God is going to work, it has way more to do with God on a backhoe than it does my prowess with a screwdriver. Watch and listen.

Paradigm Shift
February 7, 2022
Last week we talked about the impossible 18 inches between our head and our heart. My head wants to grasp the concept that God loves me. My heart feels unlovable. My head says it would be prudent to trust others. My heart is afraid. I want to love myself but can’t. The head thinks incorrectly. The heart hurts.
If this is to change, God’s love is where we begin. I will be stuck un-loving me and not trusting you until I feel the touch of God’ love. God designed us to live loved by him. Until we experience this, nothing else will fall into place.
It’s crazy how our insides push back against this. Our brains have storage closets filled with early memories of “mad-God-bad-me” events, both caught and taught. My head insists that God is way too good for me while my heart whispers that I’m way too bad for him. Lonely. Hopeless. Heavy.
All of this is bent and broken ’cause it’s based on a lie. God’s love for me has nothing to do with my lovability and everything to do with his ability to love. My only “job” is to receive God’s love. Groveling, amends making, attitude improvement, behavior management … all a waste of time and energy.
Spreading this lie is the darker side of religious orthodoxy. Fear and shame are their primary colors, as tapping into these emotions enables maintenance of order and propriety. Etiquette and protocol at the expense of honesty and intimacy. Tidy … kinda. Real … not so much.
Like the flat-world belief of old, this unhealthy theology has long gone unquestioned. But if you look around, you’ll notice we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift. We’re waking up to God’s love. My personal paradigm shift began with two catalysts.
First, I camped out in the four gospels for a decade plus, taking Jesus at his word; “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” I found a God who had all power yet gave it up; who could have by rights condemned yet offered hope and healing; who could have demanded servitude yet served. Corrected thoughts.
Second, I explored the voices in my head from my past that whispered lies about my character, my intentions and my worth. I put my discoveries down in writing and shared them with trusted friends. Healed emotions.
Next week we’ll explore this head-heart thing from God’s perspective.

The Impossible 18 Inches
February 7, 2022
What’s with this ordeal between the head and the heart? The head formulates a plan, but the heart is too afraid to carry it out. The heart wants something, but the head calculates otherwise. 18 inches apart and they can’t get along.
This goes to our deepest needs and relationships. Our heads want to believe we have abilities, creativity, beauty and worth. But our heart’s insecurities won’t let us go there. Our hearts long for connection. But toxic voices in our heads say we’ll be rejected like in the past. Insecurity. Indecision. Inability. Impossible.
What’s the story here? How’d we get so divided internally? It started early-on when our head and heart began to form their own version of reality. Problem is, we didn’t exit the safety of the womb equipped for what was ahead.
Our caregiver stops us from self-harm. The head interprets it as unfair. Our heart reacts with anger and hurt, instead of the appropriate gratitude. This really goes bad if our caregiver has mixed motives. Something inside tells us they are out to dominate, manipulate, use or abuse us. We may not know what to call it, but it feels so not right.
Young or old, the heart wants to feel loved, safe and worthy. When we sense that’s not happening, heart and head both want to correct it. But no child has the skill or wisdom to take this on. Still, they try. The trying becomes obsessive and goes from bad to worse, hurtful patterns and habits, character flaws.
By the time we hit adulthood, we’re a mess. Head and heart at war. History of bad decisions. Bent and broken, both at the hands of others as well as our own self-sabotage. Not to mention the collateral damage along the path.
In Pathway we explore this internal civil war. Most of us have made progress which cultivates hope. But I’m personally not convinced war on any level has to be our fate. Can our head and heart be perfectly reunited? Not likely. But is that even where we want to go? Perfection is for delicate niceties on a shelf. True unity is less polished. More like well-worn gloves or a favorite pair of jeans.
In the coming weeks we will double down on this. How do we go about bridging this 18-inch gap between the head and the heart? We won’t find all the answers. That’s okay. What’s important is that we will be together in our exploration.
When I’m at peace with myself, I’m at peace with the person in front of me.

Little Things Make a Legacy
January 31, 2022
When I was a boy, I met an old man who left an indelible mark on my memory. I couldn’t have been over 5 years old, but now in my 60’s those images and emotions are still vivid. His house was cold. Dark anger filled the air. His face was a harsh beet red. I could feel his bloodshot eyes burn a hole in me.
I’m guessing he didn’t wake up one morning and decide his goal in life was to frighten small children. No, his demeanor was the result of a lifetime of small, seemingly insignificant choices.
This applies to all of us. Each day comes filled with crossroads. We choose between me or we, get or give, judge or forgive, hurt or heal. This manifests itself in word and action, but mostly it hides in our thoughts and attitudes. In time, patterns develop that feel less like choices and more like routine life.
This is why we need each other, why we have Pathway, why the Holy Spirit walks alongside us. Left on my own, I can’t always see the real me. More often, I self-justify. My God and my people keep me honest.
Robbie and I have been married well over 30 years. She’s the careful, less decisive one. I’m the assertive, proactive one. At first these extremes were a point of contention. But countless conflicts, discussions and compromises later, we’ve actually rubbed off on each other. I’m more careful. She’s more decisive.
Get the connection. Life is one small choice after another, whether it’s our purchases, conversations, diets, handling of crises, leisure activities, donations, celebrations, attitudes, relationships etc. In the case of long-term relationships like marriage, neighbors, work, church etc. our minute-by-minute choices have a communal and cumulative effect … either healthy or unhealthy.
What about casual encounters? Table server at a restaurant? Guy who roofs our house? Lady at the Quick Sack? Person standing in front of me in line? All these 10 second encounters … what difference does my choice make here? First, I can send a message that the other person is seen and heard. They matter to me. Second, it reminds me again that I want to be a respectful, considerate person.
Let’s conclude this with a key component. I have two options: It’s only 10 seconds. What’s it matter? -OR- I only have 10 seconds with this person. I need to make the best of it. The option I choose says who I want to be today. But more, it solidifies the legacy I leave behind for my kids and grandkids.

Sharing Our Story
January 24, 2022
Last night in Pathway we had one of our storytelling events. Two of our people sat up front. One asked leading questions. The other shared their story. It was one of the most powerful and meaningful nights we’ve had in a while. What is it about telling and listening to stories that creates what happened in that room?
Several words come to mind: authenticity, intimacy, vulnerability, beauty, grace, providence. Let’s explore.
Jesus said that truth will set us free. He’s on to something there. It’s not always the glaring or damning things that shackle us. It’s the little stuff we keep hidden. Sharing them with others breaks their bond. Authenticity.
Life is vague and pastel lived at arm’s length. It’s like those parties where everybody wears a mask. I can only guess who you are and vice-versa. Sharing stories wakes up our empathy and opens us to intimacy.
My guess is that fear is our primary hesitation here. If you really get to know me, you won’t like me. At some point in the story-telling process I have to lower my guard, which leaves me vulnerable to scrutiny. I’ll need a safe place to do this.
Some of our Pathway stories have taken us into the darkness of addiction and even sex trafficking. We’ve shared about racism, child abuse and abandonment. Most of our stories are what you’d call normal. Every story has its own beauty.
There is beauty because we get to see grace at work. Everything from misguided parenting to violent hatred has done damage. But our stories can’t be silenced. Hope and courage are alive and speaking out. Pain and suffering may still be in some of the current chapters, but grace has the final word.
There is power in sharing our stories. We all have monsters from our past (voices in our heads) that threaten us. Talking about these monsters brings them out in the open. We see them for who they are. Fear and dread lose their bite.
What took place last night in Pathway has become fairly typical for us. But it’s taken years to become a safe place to share our stories. We are the most laid-back bunch you’ll find. But we’re hard-core when it comes to two things: Be real. Be loved. This happens every time a story is shared.

Capitulation or Cooperation

January 17, 2022

Almost all humanity’s issues are rooted in a desire for control. We want it. We just don’t know what to do with it. Life on this planet would be an absolute disaster if any one of us were handed the controls.
Truth is, the big stuff happens outside our control. Tornadoes. Untimely deaths. COVID. Chronic illness. Traffic jams. Taxes. Corporate decisions.
This being so, we try to micro-manage the little stuff. Arranging the pencils on our desk. Running a tight ship at home. Ridged budgets. Dieting. Exercise regimens. Carefully scripted emotional expression. Keeping score. Showing up early. Showing up late. Public image. Hierarchy at the office.
If we can’t control the world, we’ll control our little piece of it. This goes well when driven and directed by generosity. The fruit can be both beautiful and beneficial. Most often, this control thing becomes self-focused and never gets enough.
Obviously, we’re not naturally gifted at handling control in a healthy fashion. The cure they gave me early-on was complete capitulation. Hand over all control to God. Melt. Completely surrender your will. The older I got, the less sense this made. Why would God give us freewill only to demand it back?
What if the answer is not capitulation, but cooperation? God has complete and beautiful cooperation in the trinity. Given all power and all wisdom no one person in the trinity dominates or demands. No struggle over control. Each plays their role in love and generosity.
In John’s gospel Jesus offers us God’s quality of eternal life here on earth: joy, peace, love and freedom. It’s as if we’re invited to “plug in” to the trinity. We’re not called to die, but to abide like branches in a vine. We’re not asked to capitulate, but to cooperate with the One who comes along side … God’s Spirit.
When I try to be in control, my focus is on me. When I try to surrender control, my focus is still on me. But when I cooperate (share control) with God, my focus has to be on him … much like his focus is on me. As dance partners, we are alert to each other’s moves. Like a duet, we listen close so we can harmonize.
No debate, he’s the senior partner in this. There will be Gethsemane moments when I agonize over “not my will, but thine.” But I was made for this. It feels like life back in another garden … the one called Eden.

Scales and Improvisation

January 10, 2022

The Senior pastor at our church taught me something a few months back. We can’t improvise musically until we first learn the scales. One is mechanical, calculated and disciplined. The other is spontaneous …next door to heavenly.
We’re talking about life. You have to study the manual before you can get out on the road and drive. I read the recipe book prior to baking my first cake. We learn to crawl … then walk … then run … then compete in sports. Mastering simple spelling and grammar comes in handy before writing one’s first novel.
I’m starting to wonder if this is the way it works with our walk with God. Do we need some sort of theology before we can experience the actual presence of God? Can we know him personally (in our heart) if we don’t first conceptually (in our head) believe he exists and wants to be known by us?
What would we call scales? Orientation? Education? Exposure? We start our kids out in Sunday SCHOOL and Vacation Bible SCHOOL. We have adult bible STUDIES. Traditionally the church has focused on teaching the scales. And so, it should. But what if God wants more than pews filled with educated believers?
In John’s gospel, Nicodemus played the scales like a pro … student of theology and ethics, knew the Old Testament in detail. He caught up with Jesus after hours to pick his brain, assuming he’d hear some fresh ideas and concepts. Instead, Jesus invited him into an experience completely outside his control.
Nicodemus didn’t need information. He needed a personal encounter with the Spirit of God. It would be as radical as a new birth. And it would come upon him like the blowing of the wind. No manual to master. No strategies, methods or programs. He was up to date on his God-info. It was time to meet him personally.
It makes sense to me (might not to you) that once we learn the scales, we need to intentionally stop practicing them. As long as we’re tied to the disciplines, we stay focused on ourselves and our efforts.
C.S. Lewis said he thought God sang creation into being. What if he’s still making music all over the place … blowing like the wind? Maybe one way to encounter God means we stop trying to be better musicians and start listening for the music he’s making … then joining in with spontaneous improvisation.

Petty or Profound

January 3, 2022

I recently witnessed a petty dispute between two people I care about. It was a tug-o-war between thoughtless words versus arrogant stubbornness. I wanted to put both parties in time out. Juvenile, yet in their case, not surprising.

My wife Robbie has a longstanding playful contest with her twin brother over who loves the other the most. She was born slightly ahead of him, so she plays the I’ve-loved-you-the-longest card which of course means she wins. They had their final round over the phone yesterday. He died last night around midnight.
The emotional residue of both events lingers in the air. The grudges and hurt feelings from paragraph one robbed the participants of sleep as they focused on their personal obsessions. Obviously, my wife didn’t sleep well either, but it was for far more profound reasons.
Most of us want to live a life that counts for something. I’d like to leave my little part of the planet better than it was before I got here. How about you? I’m thinking we don’t reach this goal by proving a point or protecting a position. No, I leave my most profound mark when I give myself away.
Jesus talked about losing our life to find it, about living so instinctively generous, the right hand doesn’t know what the left was doing. He also talked about seeds. Unless one falls to the ground and dies, it won’t produce fruit. Paragraph One folks struggle to get this. My wife and her twin lived it.
There is a deep and profound courage in love. It crawls out to the end of a limb when it sees the chance to invest in the life of another. It goes for broke. It’s all in. It takes a strong heart to care like this. This is why Robbie didn’t sleep well last night. The deeper we care, the more intense the pain.
Yet in tears this morning she told me it is worth it. Love is always worth the pain that comes attached to it. And even after such grievous loss, we pick right back up and do it again. We do it because somewhere back along the line we decided that giving ourselves away beats protecting our self-interest.
We will always have petty squabblers. Like little yapping dogs, they’ll snarl as they guard their chew toy. We can let ourselves get tangled in their trivia, or we can fearlessly throw ourselves into the profound adventure of loving the person in front of us.

2022

December 28, 2021

During their final meal, Jesus told his posse it was better if he went away so he could send the Comforter. After the three best years of their lives, they didn’t really buy this. But, as is God’s habit, this was one of his patented upgrades.
God upgraded from “darkness hovering over the face of the deep” to a brand-new creation. He kept going on about how good it was. Then, when the time was right, he became one of us in Jesus. The angels told the shepherds it was “good news.” And now Jesus presents a third upgraded paradigm shift with the Spirit.
As is our habit, we’ve figured out ways to downgrade this gift from God. One group calls him an “it,” using words like energy and force. Another says he’s the written bible. Yet another tries to use him as their spiritual cocaine, sent to provide emotional euphoria. Sadly, most of us settle into him as a concept.
In John’s account of this final meal, he writes four separate times about the Spirit. And he consistently uses one name … Paraclete. Base definition: one who comes along side. Practical use: comforter, counselor, friend, experienced partner. Jesus offers us a senior partner to walk with us through life.
Jesus didn’t say, “It’s better that I go, so I can leave you with a concept or force.” He offered us a life’s partner … not in theory, but in reality. This sounds less like we work for God and more like God simply wants to do life with us.
But surely, I need to get my act together first? Nope. Jesus’ original offer was to deniers, doubters, betrayers, arrogant squabblers and fearful scatterers. God doesn’t wait outside our fear and shame for us to crawl out to him. No, he sits down next to us until we’re ready to get up and venture on with him.
Check out the book of Acts. The Spirit is everywhere. And nearly every time he shows up, someone speaks: healing, wisdom, encouragement etc.
What would 2022 look like if my one-on-one encounters involved me letting my senior partner show me what he’s doing in the other person and then me speaking it out loud?
“Has anyone ever told you how generous you are?” “I see healing in your eyes.” “I sense that you have a passion for your job.” “You’re a world-changer … did you know that?” “Where did you learn to listen like that?”
We can do this.

Tornadoes In Bowling Green

December 20, 2021

Along with others, our little city of Bowling Green, KY is digging out from under the destructive ruin left by a recent tornado that literally ripped its way diagonally through the heart of our town. Lives were lost … entire families gone. Homes were flattened or decapitated. Countless businesses are left to rebuild or close.
The deluge of aid and generosity has been astounding. Our streets are full of out-of-town power crews, large equipment operators, helping hands and strong backs. Donations are now actually being turned away. No politics. No racism. Just generosity. Down deep, people have a lot of goodness in them.
Stories are starting to come out about trembling walls, ripping boards, thudding trees, impaled or turned over vehicles. The hardest part involves our little ones. Moms and Dads hugging, huddling, holding on for dear life to their babies and toddlers. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the wind was too strong.
As the cleanup and rebuild continues, it occurs to me that it is going to take more than chainsaws and donations to get us through this. Our collective inner trauma will grow rather than subside. The odd combination of emotions swirling around inside makes no sense: anger/gratitude, confusion/relief, joy/sadness.
And who is going to even try to offer a definitive answer to the looming question: “How can a good God allow such suffering and loss?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Philosophers and theologians have tackled this one for ages. Nothing they’ve said has ever salved my troubled heart.
During our time together last night in Pathway, we realized we don’t have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to trauma. As a community we’ve been dealing with damaged emotions for over 16 years. Over time, we’ve become a safe place for hurting people to come and find hope and healing.
We don’t have the answer to why this happened, but we can talk about it. We can’t make your hurt go away, but we can help carry your load. If you need to cry, we’ll sit with you. If you need to cuss at God, there will be no judgment. If you want to sit quietly, you will never be singled out. Just be real and be loved.

When God Showed Up at Christmas the Shepherds Saw His Face

December 13, 2021

Shepherds are Hobbits. We’re talking simple people of the earth. Most nights they sleep under the stars. Birth and death are their daily bread. No pretense, gall or hidden agenda. Lots of singing. Humor comes quickly with little caution. They know their place in the big picture … like their fathers and grandfathers.
When the children of Israel originally settled in Egypt, Pharaoh shoved them to the outskirts, saying he abhorred shepherds.
Around Bethlehem, they may not have been at the bottom of the food chain, but they were miles from the top.
Middle eastern shepherds know their sheep. They never drive them but lead the way with a familiar song or a whistle. Jesus said, good shepherds leave the fold in search of just one stray. He also said they lay down their lives for their sheep.
So, God’s baby boy is born somewhere down among the dim lights and smoke rings of town. Up on the hillside you’re nestling in for a peaceful night under the sky. Someone strikes up a tune, just humming the melody. Out of nowhere, it gets upstaged by a heavenly announcement and full-blown concert.
“Peace and good news. God’s baby boy has just arrived in town. He’s wrapped up in a barn.” Initial terror settles into curiosity. So, they go and take a look. “Yup, just like the angel said.” They spread the news and then trudge back up to their flocks, bragging about how cool it was that God had invited them to come and see.
If modern Christmas isn’t anything else, it’s distracting. Big box stores buzzing with Silver Bells and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. The marketing machine is set on hyper drive. On the road and in the air we’re all rushing somewhere.
With tax time in full swing, Bethlehem was pulsing. Two doors down, what happened in that barn went completely unnoticed. Any attempt at a heavenly choir over Bethlehem would have been swallowed up by the local noise.
God was looking for faces that were already turned toward him, who were ready to give full attention to him. Faces turned upward were invited to look down into the face of God’s baby boy.
Busyness robs our focus. We can change this. Our God invites us to see and hear him. He keeps his face turned toward us.
Which way are we facing?

When God Showed Up at Christmas Joseph Saddled the Donkey

December 6, 2021

Mary and Joseph come as a package deal. They’re engaged. No sex. He finds out she’s with child. Being a stand-up guy, Joseph ponders ways to divorce her gracefully. An angel lets him in on the divine secret. And … he buys it. We’ve had thousands of years to digest this one. He’s living it in real time with his future and reputation staring him in his face.
He’s a man, mind you. Even after he gets the memo from above, he behaves himself with Mary. At this point, who would know or care? Well, Joseph would.
The order comes down from Rome that he’s to head back to his roots and pay taxes. Again, he does the right thing. He saddles the donkey that carries his very pregnant wife to Bethlehem. No available guest room means a night in the barn.
Contractions. Water breaks. Fully dilated and effaced. Tiny baby Jesus.
The shepherds come to see. Center stage … baby. Right of center stage … Mary. In the second row … Joseph. Same thing in a few weeks with the wise men.
Local King Herod catches wind that a king is born. Here comes another angel telling Joseph to escape to Egypt. Saddle the donkey. Once Herod is dead, an angel tells him to come back home. Saddle the donkey.
Joseph took Jesus to the temple to be consecrated. He and Mary revisited the temple every year for Passover. At every turn as Jesus’ step-father, Joseph does the right thing. And it’s always in a supporting role.
But the entire story falls apart if not for Joseph. There’s something to be said here about salt-of-the-earth people. Would we call them our small business owners? Farmers? Factory laborers? Waitresses? Retail clerks? Stay at home moms? Sanitation workers? Custodians? Nursing home aids?
Every Christmas we turn up the heat on those who work in supporting roles. They get yelled at on Black Friday, then swamped with returns December 26th. Long hours. Little time off. Treated like cardboard cutout figures.
Actually, you may fall into this circle of people. Day after day, saddle the donkey. It’s as if the world looks right through you.
Well, God doesn’t. You’re the kind of person he trusts to raise and protect his Son. You’re exactly what he’s looking for today. And he winks every time you reach for the saddle.

When God Showed Up at Christmas Mary Felt Him Kick

November 29, 2021

Tradition says Mary was in her teens, while Joseph was a good bit older. They were engaged and practicing abstinence. Out of the blue, Mary gets a visit from Gabriel the angel who tells her what’s about to happen; immaculate conception, pregnant with the Son of God, etc.
She gets that this is a God-thing, but Mary lives in the real world. There will be questions, assumptions, accusations … all this on top of nausea and mood swings. And, what’s with this sudden urge to stockpile soda crackers?
We can only look back on this event. Try living it real time with Mary. All of this is unfamiliar territory. She has no point of reference. She’s willing, but that doesn’t defuse the fear, the confusion, the feelings of isolation. It only makes sense for her to spend her first trimester at Aunt Elizabeth’s House of Wisdom.
It is there she begins to gain some footing. Things start to make sense. In Luke’s gospel, she puts it into a song. She sings about her boringly beige life suddenly having worth. God has honored her as his birth-mother and nurturing caregiver during the most vulnerable years of his earthly stay.
Any misgivings she’d had over how God felt about her were cleared up. To her surprise, she had not been trudging through life unnoticed. Her existence mattered. And all this was verified, not so much by a favored aunt’s wise words or even an angelic visit. Those came and went. No, God had her full attention every time his little baby feet kicked her from the inside out.
How often do we say or hear, “What is God’s will for my life?” Somewhere in our early adulthood we realize it’s time to start making a contribution to this planet. God made sure Mary knew; from angels to aunts to gentle kicks from a baby. He took her from confusion to composing a song with complete clarity.
This Christmas you will gather with friends and family who appear to have “complete clarity” with nailed down careers, a spouse, 2.5 kids, two cars and a house. You … maybe not so much, still can’t seem to figure out why you’re here. Angels and wise aunts could pay you a visit. But, don’t count on it.
But those baby feet … those gentle nudges on the inside when your heart goes out to the person in front of you. Enter into that encounter believing it can and will change the other person’s world like that first Christmas. This is God’s will.

When I know I Am Loved

November 22, 2021

… my thinking changes, like going from “the world is flat” to “the world is round.”

We’re talking a paradigm shift over the past few years. I’ve jumped in the boat with John who called himself, “the one Jesus loved.” This is not a statement born of arrogance. I don’t deserve it. No, it’s a statement of purpose, the reason I live.
The biggest shift in thinking is from judicial to grace-based. Life is no longer about keeping rules or managing behavior. No need for some moral code or set of pool rules to critique myself or the person in front of me. You and I are loved and adored … in our current state. Period!
Life has become nuanced instead of black and white. How you and I relate to each other and God, defies being graded, controlled or monitored by a standard. It is spontaneous and organic, less about precision and more about beauty and heart’s intent. We are now set free to explore goodness and health.
Having lost interest in performance or perfection, my ego no longer needs to be invested. There’s nothing to defend or prove. Life is not a test I have to pass. I simply get to live loved, which creates a whole new world to explore. The old world prompted me toward fight or flight. This one piques my curiosity.
Minute-by-minute living is no longer about me. It’s about something far greater. God’s got something glorious and redemptive going on. His grace is active in every human on the planet. People talk about him having some cosmic plan. Well, this is it. These days, I find myself getting lost in this thing God is doing.
The roles have reversed at the drive-through window. I no longer pull up expecting you to serve me the version of yourself I prefer. Now, I’m the one working the window. When you drive up I invest in what God is already doing inside you. My new goal is to enhance, empower and encourage you.
Anyone who thinks this is lazy or apathetic simply needs to try it for a week or two. Everything inside me wants to keep score and be in charge. To simply receive God’s love in the midst of my unworthiness is the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Stop trying to be excellent. Start letting God love you where you are. It will revolutionize the way you think and look at life.

Blank Check

November 15, 2021

So, we had this open discussion at Pathway the other night. The question was, “If God issued you a signed check for an infinite amount, what would you write down in the lower left corner in the memo slot?”
One word answers popped up all over the room. Faith. Compassion. Empathy. Hope. Love. Joy. Understanding. Patience. Peace. Courage.
The second question dug deeper. “Everything we just named, is already promised and provided by Jesus in the gospels. Why aren’t we cashing in on them?” In other words, why aren’t we actively accepting God’s love?
More short answers … arrogance, stubbornness, unworthiness. One person suggested God might be busy with bigger problems. Another said they had to first do penance for their past. I’m guessing we each have our own answer.
The big story of scripture flows with God’s attempts to love on his children: creation’s garden, Abraham’s adoption, rescue from Egypt, wooing through the prophets, becoming one of us in Jesus, offering his indwelling Spirit.
God didn’t birth us so he could grade, work, fix, browbeat, probe or use us. We’re not one of his hobbies or experiments. Nor are we puppets in some cosmic play. Why would we have kids? Most healthy parents procreate because they want extensions of themselves (children) to love, nurture and enjoy.
Folks I talk with declare they want to experience God’s love. In their head, they believe it’s true. In their heart, not so much. I’m going to risk pointing us in a direction. There are no formulas or guarantees, just a suggested starting point.
1 Stop working at making something happen, like trying to improve or monitor yourself. This isn’t about your performance. This is letting God be God.
2 Know that prior to any breakthrough experience of love, there will be significant dismantling of your current values, desires, self-image, religion and habits/routines. Just know that God will do the work. Not you.
3 Once you hand yourself over to the care of God, he will lovingly reconstruct you in his way and in his time. Be on the lookout. This is quite an adventure.

Seeing Eyes…Hearing Ears

November 8, 2021

“He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus had a lot to say about being alert and aware. If you read the four gospels, you’ll discover these as recurring themes. Some of Jesus’ last words to his posse were “watch and pray.”
Jesus routinely saw and heard folks, from a single person to an entire room. Did he have a divine advantage? Maybe. Maybe not. A brief conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well gave Jesus all he needed to move her forward. Post resurrection, realizing what he’d walked in to, Jesus spoke peace to a room full of fearful disciples. Jesus was a reader of people.
Back in the day, my goal as a “good Christian” was to read myself; my behavior and beliefs. As a pastor it was my job to encourage others to do the same. This sounds good, but it was all about me controlling the narrative, and it wasn’t working. I couldn’t manage much of anything when it came to myself, which neutralized my right to ask others to follow suit.
At that point, my only option was to stop self-managing and let Jesus take it from there. He saw my heart, not my mistakes. He heard the cries buried beneath my bravado. He saw me and loved me, not in spite of my mess-ups but because of them. Right about then I changed directions … a new slant on repentance.
Old me: Life focused on me. Prepare for every encounter. Rehearse my lines. Groom my image. Control the conversation with a wall of words, compliments, humor, correctness, whatever it took. Never let them see you sweat. Keep your fig leaves firmly and carefully arranged.
New me: Life is about the bigger picture. God is as invested in others as he is in me. And he invites me to partner in his investment. This is where seeing and hearing come in. I see and hear what I’m looking and listening for. If I’m into maintaining an image and a clean rap sheet, that is my focus. If I’m into your hope and healing, my eyes and ears are turned toward you.
What’s that I see in your eyes? What was that subtle change in your tone of voice? I notice you keep going back to that topic. What are you trying to tell me? I’m here to see and hear you, to value and respect your story. I have no hidden plan. I’m not trying to get you to say a prayer, see things my way or clean up your act. I just want you to know you are seen and heard … deeply loved.

My Personal Reconstruction

November 1, 2021

These past several weeks I’ve shared how my approach to prayer and scripture have changed. I’d like to wind this up by sharing other ways my life’s been transformed in my latter years.
1 I’m not responsible “for” my ministry or my relationships. I’m responsible “in” them. I’m simply the authentic version of me in whatever setting. Furthermore, I don’t see myself working “for” God as much as doing life “with” him. Loving others is not a job I do for God. It’s something God and I enjoy doing together.
2 Truth is a river, not a static pond. As Jesus said, “Be faithful with little things and you will be given bigger things.” Once I’ve explored the small bit of truth that came my way, he offers a larger bit. This is the story of scripture. We began with garden walks and wound up with the indwelling Spirit “leading us into all truth.”
3 I have a past that is part of my story. I have hopes for my future. But, I live in the moment. Each encounter is my universe, my purpose, my calling … God’s will for me. Every conversation is sacred. I’m fully alive when I’m loving the person in front of me. All this versus some dictating blueprint from which I cannot vary.
4 Ministry in a broader sense is motivated and directed more by awareness than some designed program. Read the room/neighborhood. Who is present? What is the atmosphere … the need … the mutual dream? Respond accordingly.
5 To me, worship is not telling God he’s good over and over as if he’s an affirmation junkie. Worship is not a euphoric experience as if God is my cocaine. Worship is not me groveling in shame as if God is my taskmaster. And worship is not me creating an ideal space in hopes God will be enticed to show up.
Worship is the Last Supper, where Jesus invites the room to get real with their stuff: denial, betrayal, cowardice, arrogance etc. He then turns everything on its head by washing feet and offering his broken body and shed blood for his beloved posse. Worship is a mysterious and beautiful mix of honesty and grace.
6 Due to the magic of recovery, I don’t take things personally like I once did. Praise and criticism have a much shorter shelf life. Neither keeps me awake at night. My ego is no longer invested. This, and everything in today’s blog, is due to me realizing I am loved by my Father.

The Bible

October 25, 2021

Sitting on our old roll-top desk is a ragged little black New Testament my parents gave me when I turned six. I’ve had many others over the years. The bible … I learned about it in Sunday School, VBS, Christian Life Club, summer camps, revivals, Sunday preaching and midweek prayer meeting.
Dad and I spent hours talking about it over the years. I dug deep into it during my college and seminary studies. I’ve pondered it, preached and taught from it for nearly 40 years. I love and respect this book.
Over time, my approach to it has shifted quite radically. As a child I was told to memorize it. In school I learned how to look at it through a microscope: verb tenses, cultural context, etc. In my latter years I’ve intentionally taken several giant steps back to gain a panoramic view of the story. This has been fruitful!
The bible was written over a long stretch of time by numerous authors who rarely collaborated. To try and cherry pick a verse here and another one there stopped making sense to me. It’s not just poor scholarship. It is disrespectful to the writers who each had their own unique experience with God.
Now if somebody pulls out a verse from Mark’s gospel, I ask if they know Mark. How can we know what he means in this verse if we don’t know him? To get to know Mark I’ve read his gospel in single sittings over and over: no note taking, no pondering, kinda like reading a novel. Like the old telegraph operators, I’ve come to recognize his cadence; like I could recognize his aftershave in a crowd.
In the big story of scripture, people are always God’s priority, over rules, systems and institutions. It makes sense that the people who wrote scripture should be at least as crucial to us as the points we say they are making. It makes even more sense that we embrace what Mark writes more deeply once we get to know him.
Concepts intrigue the mind. Relational encounters change the heart. At this point the church is overflowing with ideas and information. We need stories that grip the heart and beckon us down a path toward hope and healing.
As we explore the stories and people of scripture, we can find ourselves in their struggle, their confusion and their victory. These were not saints with special powers. They were ancient versions of you and me. God loved to a better place, as many as were willing. He will do the same for us if we let him.

Prayer

October 18, 2021

I’ve been rediscovering prayer over the past 15 years. I had to. I was all over the map with it. Monday I was mindlessly mumbling memorized “poems” I called prayer while reading the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table. Tuesday my screw-ups would cause me to crawl to God in reluctant trepidation.
We have written prayers, traditional prayers and prayers in unknown tongues. We pray passages from the bible. There are ritual prayers, mostly said in church. Somebody told us it works best if we kneel, close our eyes and fold our hands. Wandering thoughts are a no, no. Bruised knees are proof of sincerity.
Prayer often resembles a job or obligation. Like mowing the lawn or doing the laundry, it has to be done if we want to maintain a healthy, tidy walk with God. Whether it produces ecstasy or simple satisfaction over doing our duty, once we’ve said “amen” we can carry on with the rest of our daily routine.
Then there is crisis prayer, when life is threatened. These are the rare occasions when we get real with God. This is also when we show him we mean business … make big promises that will get his attention.
Your adult child calls you once a day to recite something they’ve memorized. You won’t hear from them for a while if they’ve messed up. For sure, when they need something, you’re on speed dial. Can you say parental vending machine? You’ve heard them with their friends. They never talk with you like that. Their calls to you feel like a have-to thing. They rarely feel like a want-to.
“What’s a God to do? I created Eden so I could be with you. I called Abraham so I could adopt you. I gave Moses guidelines so you could be happy and safe. I sent you my only Son so I could be one of you. I gifted you with my indwelling Spirit. I’m at work in everybody all the time.”
When it comes to this God-human thing, he is the initiator. He does all the heavy lifting. We aren’t asked to have the faith of a mountain to move a mustard seed. It’s the reverse. What we bring to the table is very small. Just being aware of this changes our prayer life.
I no longer believe in the power of prayer … well, at least not my part in the conversation. My part is to be aware, to watch and listen, to stay engaged. And the question is not will God give me what I want. The question is, do I trust God to be who he says he is? And do I trust him when he says he loves me?

Triangulation

October 11, 2021

If you have symptoms, you get tested for COVID. Nobody wants to infect others with this virus. But what if we have a relational virus like what we’ve been exploring these past few weeks? Codependency. Gas-lighting. Passive-aggression. They are equally hurtful.
In Pathway we test positive for these viruses all the time. It happens as we share our stories. We inevitably see the truth about ourselves as we listen to others describe their issues. Outsiders are skeptical. It works, actually really well. This time we’re exploring triangulation … toxic relational triads:
-Divorced Mom and Dad force their child to pass negative messages back and forth in the middle of joint custody. “Tell your dad he’s a sorry excuse for a father.” “Tell your mom I’ve found a girlfriend way better than her.”
-Three people are talking on the porch. One has to leave. The two remaining immediately start talking about him, like they’re intoxicated on slander.
-A brother shares his secret thoughts and feelings with a sibling, only to have them go straight to a third family member with all the information.
-An office worker needs to confront a fellow employee, but hates conflict. So they snag an innocent third person to do the dirty work.
Obviously, triangulation takes many forms. Our first question might be, “Am I the one doing the triangulating or am I the one stuck in the middle?” It’s likely we’ve all played both roles at one time or another. None of it is healthy.
A victim of triangulation feels betrayed and disrespected, rather like a pawn in a game being played by others. This leaves an indelible mark when a child is the one who gets caught in the middle. They either become expert triangulators or create their own victim’s hideout.
No easy answers here. First, if you feel like you’re a victim, say so and step away. Second, if you talk about or use others, ask yourself, “What am I getting out of criticizing and diminishing others in order to feel better about myself?”
We press into truth because truth sets us free.

Passive Aggression

October 4, 2021

Last week we tried to tackle gas-lighting. This week, let’s see what we can do with passive aggression. These two words … how did they wind up sitting next to each other? The weather is really hot cold. He drove north south down the road. These words are exact opposites. It doesn’t make sense.
No way can I write a definition that feels solid or permanent. This critter has too many sides to it, too many masks in the closet. Here’s what I’ll throw against the wall today: I express my feelings toward you in a way that can later be plausibly denied. I’m mad, but I’m not mad.
This takes on way too many forms to provide an exhaustive list of clues. Roll of the eyes. Tone of voice. Slamming door. Sicky sweetness. Isolation. Going mute. Body language. Hidden verbal barbs. Drama. Stoicism. Sarcasm. Etc.
“I guess some people don’t think about how lonely it gets around here.”
“I’m the only one in this house who cares that this has been broken for weeks.”
“Well, it’s not the brand I usually buy, but I’ll try to make it work.”
“No, really it’s no trouble to help out. I’m sure you tried to find someone else.”
“Why would I be mad that you’re the only invitee who didn’t attend my party?”
Instead of throwing a brick to make your point, you pepper the other person with pebbles. It’s a way of releasing emotions while appearing harmless.
We prioritize our safety and reputation. Being brutally honest with our feelings “vulnerablizes” both. So we craft an approach that artificially creates a halo of niceness we wear around others. Cultures and religions even turn this nice thing into a core ethic, which only ups expectations.

Passive aggression is little more than a carefully crafted lie. I make sure you get the point while deceiving you about my true feelings. Intentionally or not, I’m assuming I’m smart enough to run the con and you’re dumb enough to buy it.
In Pathway we have two core values: be real and be loved. Instead of running around sweeping up after the messes caused by passive aggression, we’re intentionally building a community where it’s okay to express our true feelings and know we will be loved for it. It’s working.
Jesus made it simple: “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.”

Gaslighting

September 27, 2021

We had an open discussion in Pathway last night about gas-lighting. I knew right off I needed to take notes. This topic is the fourth session in a workbook I wrote that we’re currently using here at the church. I now realize my writing only touched the tip of the iceberg.
control.
This workbook deals with various family dysfunctions like codependency, toxic dancing, hierarchy, triangulation etc. Gas-lighting is the dark, deadly, diabolical one on the list, a premeditated attempt to shatter the soul of another person.
control.
Goal: Make someone doubt themselves on every level. “You’re crazy. You make stupid choices. You’re a loser. Your hopes and dreams are ridiculous. You couldn’t survive without me.” The gas-lighter does all this in an attempt to feel powerful and in control.
Strategy: The gas-lighter hurts their victim then turns it around claiming the wounded person is actually the one at fault. Or they claim it didn’t happen at all. Then, they explain it away as proof the recipient is losing their mind. The gas-lighter accuses the victim at every turn, while declaring their own innocence.
Tone: The gas-lighter might use bravado, tears, anger etc. It amounts to a relentless barrage of manipulation mixed with condescension, whatever it takes to create a pretense of credibility and sound reasonable to the victim.
Outcome: The victim is typically left shredded, second-guessing themselves at every turn. Isolation is common. Depending on the severity and longevity of the abuse, they’re looking at significant time in therapy or recovery.
Gas-lighting happens everywhere; between friends, in marriages, in parenting, between siblings. We find it in the corporate world, on ball teams, in the classroom. It even shows up when politicians and the media strive to convince constituents theirs is the only true reality.
Much like our discussion last night, what I just wrote feels like a gut-punch. We’re talking widespread cancer eating away at our relationships. But I’ll not forget how our Pathway host closed out last night. “So, I’ve listened to what we’ve been saying tonight. Very informative and helpful. But it makes me wonder. What would it look like if we did the opposite of gas-lighting to each other?”

Codependency

September 20, 2021

What can we say about codependency? The word has been tossed around for decades. Psycho-babble in its purest form! Working as a recovery pastor, the concept has become as common as air and just as relevant. I’m yet to meet a non-codependent person. We’re talking standard equipment.
Prepositions … you and a tree. You can be on the tree, in it, beside it. You can go around it, through it, under it, over it. Your entire life is defined by how you relate to the tree. Take it away and you’re lost … no clue who you are. Codependency.
There is a dark side to codependency that comes out when I use you to help me feel a certain way about myself. I over-work to gain your approval. I cuss you to relieve tension. I need you to need me. I play the fool so you’ll correct me. I awkwardly intrude until you notice me. This goes on and on.
Codependency’s primary danger is its parasitic nature. My relationship with you obsesses over what I can get out of you as a “host” from which I withdraw. And if everybody is codependent, we’re literally swarming mosquitoes sucking the life out of each other. No wonder we’re collectively unhealthy.
So, who am I if you take away my tree in the second paragraph? I’m not sure! I’ve always relied on it to tell me who I am and who I ought to be. Might I find my true nature if I walked out of the forest for a time? This sounds like a good idea since self-discovery is the biggest part of recovery.
Once I find myself, my encounters with you are no longer about me relying on you for my identity or internal well being. My ego can heal. No need for you to inform or massage it. I don’t have to invest it in our conversations. I have nothing to prove, defend, fix or fight. I can be a healthy human sharing life with you.
This finding of myself doesn’t just happen. Only my Creator knows the difference between the real me and all the protective fig leaves I’ve piled on over time. Given a chance, he helps me shed my wardrobe. Yeah, he’s good with this level of meticulous. Anyway, he’s never really been into fig leaves.
Imagine a world free from codependency. Folks meeting eye to eye with no hidden agenda, no raging ego, no ax to grind, no hierarchy to maintain. We walk up to each other … “How can I invest myself in you today?” We’ve just stepped out of codependency and into community on steroids!

Cage Fighting

September 13, 2021

Cage fighting involves mixed martial arts where no holds are barred …very few rules. Fighters show up trained in Ju-jitsu, Karate, boxing, wrestling, Judo, Taekwondo etc. The boxing expert wants to stand up and slug it out, while the wrestler wants to tackle their opponent and decide the contest down on the mat.
Before any of us get knocked out, let’s dig into this metaphor. Relationships come fraught with conflict. It is impossible for two people to walk freely and happily through life without disagreement.
Take a young marriage for example. He is a Judo guy. No offensive moves. Wait until the other person acts … and then react. She is a wrestler; likes to get in your face, pin her opponent until he says “uncle.” She accuses. He ducks and hides. She interrogates. He dodges.
Over time, their disputes become patterned. Once the first move is made an observer, taking notes in the corner, can predict what comes next. Like Big Time Wrestling, their arguments have become choreographed. They don’t respond to each other. They react like cage fighters.
These predictable patterns didn’t just happen. They were modeled in their family of origin. Mom threw dishes. Dad punched the wall. Mom cried. Dad pouted. Mom took refuge in her work. Dad watched TV. Dad fortified with alcohol. Mom used food. Growing up, all this was caught more than taught.
Does this offend you in any way? It does me. God created us with a freewill. To think we’re locked into some kind of pre-set package of reactions? Yeah, I’m not good with that. Jesus talked about freedom. Surely there is some way to break free from all this, so we can begin to respond versus react to relational friction.
Let’s start by admitting we’re all cage fighters with trained techniques. If we can make peace with this admission, we can backtrack to where we learned these moves originally. After we’ve processed the feelings these discoveries might trigger, we’ll be free to take an objective look at why we do what we do.
This gets us to the hope and healing of recovery. Unwrapping the “why” behind our thoughts, feelings and actions helps us uncover those broken and bent places in need of restoration. Mind you, God will be at the center of all this, loving you to a better place, which will certainly be somewhere outside the cage.

Family of Origin

September 6, 2021

Last night Pathway was stellar … one of those spaces in time when you know God is working his magic. Deep thoughts. Authentic sharing. We began with questions that required popcorn answers.
Question 1: In one word, describe the home you grew up in … manic, safe, controlled, stoic, depressed, chill, shallow, passive.
Question 2: What was your primary emotion growing up … insecure, anxious, happy, fearful, insignificant, content.
Question 3: Do you tend more toward replicating patterns from your upbringing or breaking from them? Most people said they wanted to break cycles.
A thought/question lingered in the air as our hour drew to a close. Obviously, good or bad, our upbringing shaped us. Some of the nurturing and guidance served to empower and enhance the gifts and goodness God designed into us. But, our early caregivers also mistakenly mishandled, mislabeled and miscast us, which negatively impacted us into adulthood.
God had something unique and beautiful in mind at our conception. But we were born into a world that misled us from the get go. Sometimes, it was on purpose. More often, we just misunderstood. Either way, it all stuck to us like mud. Mom leaves the room to answer the phone … I’m abandoned. Uncle Joe touches my privates … I’m a bad person. Dad cheats on Mom … it’s my fault. Big brother bullies me … I’m weak. Big sister makes straight A’s … I’m second class.
What do we do with all this? We can overcompensate. We can become angry and bitter. We can curl up and sulk. We can medicate. We can punish our current friends and family for mistakes made back then. Or we can seek hope and healing.
We’re not talking over-the-counter pain relief. This healing takes time. It takes brutal honesty. It takes trust of at least one confidant. The most important facet is to open up to God’s love. Let it grow from concept to experience. Only God can see past all that sticky mud to the essential you he had in mind originally.
Layer by layer, he peels off the mud. And as he helps you unwrap your true nature, you discover something beautiful and awesome.

Salt

August 30, 2021

I’m straight up plagiarizing this week from Pastor Laura Vincent who preaches at Broadway’s Greenwood campus. She gave me permission. This truth is too rich.
From an early age, we ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We quiz college freshmen on what they plan to do with their major. Almost every introductory conversation we have with a new friend, “So, what do you do for a living?” Our culture links our identity and even our worth with work.
Dr. Phil steps in right about now … “So, how’s that working for you?” Some of us love what we do for a living. I do. But we’ve all had or still have jobs that feel like a sharp poke in the eye … or a dull ache in the backside. What do we do when what we do for a living feels more like dying?
How can we find purpose or fulfillment in daily drudgery? Jesus talked about us being the salt of the earth. We flavor our surroundings; calm down the bitter and enhance the sweetness. We’re not the main course. It’s not about us. But then, it is kinda about us. We’re either a victim of our surroundings or we enhance them.
This applies to whatever badge you wear when you walk through the door. If you’re the CEO, are you creating systems and procedures that respect and value your employees? If your a group leader or foreperson, do you lead with a tone that brings dignity to those under you? If you’re a worker, do you take the time to lift up the person laboring next to you?
Salt comes in tiny little packages and small glass shakers. It only takes a little. Small gestures, backed by great love, can change an entire day for a person, even a pod … or an entire office. And, it’s worth it.
The intentionality of all this will completely change your outlook on your occupation. There is a momentum to grace. Once it gets up a head of steam, it’s futile to try and stop it. It’s beautiful. It’s restorative. It’s infectious.
One word of caution: saltiness doesn’t mean we’re trying to fix or correct the people with whom we work. No preaching. No self-righteous posing. This is about noticing what God is doing (or wanting to do) in the other person or even in the work place and then participating in it. We encourage. We empower. We enhance.
Salt.

Freedom

August 24, 2021

There’s a lot of talk about freedom these days. It centers around mandatory COVID prevention/protection. I fear the dialog has leaned toward reactionary and away from rational.
First, to an outside observer, America’s version of freedom sends off mixed signals. The original declaration of freedom (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) only applied to white males; not women or people of color. Both of these inconsistencies have been corrected on paper. But, in reality, not entirely.
Secondly, we have a history of making laws that limit personal liberties for the good of the larger community. The personal right to own slaves was abolished out of respect for human rights. To save lives, the personal freedom to drive all over the road was mandated to right side only. Seat belts and child restraint laws overruled parental rights. These are some of America’s mixed signals.
What did Jesus say about freedom? He said “the truth would set us free … free indeed.” And his truth, above all else, was love. He lived, taught and died love. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it won’t produce fruit.” “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his brother.”
Given all the power of the Godhead, the One who could have called ten thousand angels, surrendered his personal freedom in order to free humanity. Only once in the Garden of Gethsemane did the issue of personal rights come up. In the end, he gave his up and became the grain of wheat that fell.
So, here’s the question: how do we, as Americans, reconcile “taking up our cross daily” with demanding our personal rights? Jesus understands our struggle with this and helps us work our way through it.
Jesus invited the rich young ruler to give it all up so he could find freedom from his dependence on wealth and power. Jesus promised to quench the thirst of the woman at the well, who was obviously addicted to relationships. Jesus offered freedom through spiritual rebirth to scholarly, self-protective Nicodemus.
The players in that last paragraph were locked into their own tiny world called “me.” Freedom could be theirs only if they willingly switched their focus beyond themselves to something greater. Personal freedom … Americans fight for it. Jesus gives it up for the sake of something greater.

Agreeing to Disagree

August 16, 2021

This is a mainstay for healthy community. I have my opinion. You have yours. The two don’t always line up. Still, our friendship is strong. We agree to disagree. Sounds honorable and diplomatic. Let’s explore.
How about some extremes? Drinking gasoline is unhealthy. (Not a matter of opinion.) That brand of gas is the best. (Matter of opinion.) Skateboarding in rush-hour traffic is a dangerous hobby. (Not a matter of opinion.) Wearing my favorite shoes makes skateboarding fun. (Matter of opinion.)
One human owning another is good for our economy. What about this one? At one point in our history many held the opinion that slavery was okay, even backed by scripture. Now it’s illegal and unethical. What happened?
If community is to progress in a healthy manner, certain opinions can no longer be held as viable. This doesn’t go over well because one side now realizes their opinion is unacceptable instead of just different. Hence the Civil War.
This is a sticking point for democracy. We celebrate freedom of thought and speech. But from time to time we have to ask some to surrender their freedom to carry out certain activities for the sake of the larger community.
Our current national crisis is no longer a matter of opinion. Scientifically proven measures point to the direction out of this. We’ve run out of time to agree to disagree. We either cooperate or pay an awful price.
I know three scientists/doctors personally. They are competent, honest and generous; qualified to do research I don’t pretend to comprehend. I trust them as friends and experts. Even with a strong aversion against vaccines and masks, I’ve heeded their advice as they’ve assured me these measures save lives.
Continuing our metaphor … if folks insist on owning slaves, those in authority have to step in with mandates. The motive is not to steal personal freedom, but to save lives based on mature thinking. By its nature, science is on the cutting edge of fresh discoveries, which only strengthens the idea they should take the lead in this. And even if they don’t have all the answers, they’re our best bet.
There are two ways to hear what our leaders are asking. They are either covertly plotting our demise through coercion. Or, they’re openly inviting us to cooperate so we can collectively rise above this mess. Then one day soon we can get back to agreeing to disagree.

Don’t Put That In Your Mouth

August 9, 2021

The stuff kids put in their mouths. Gravel, feathers, bugs, leaves, sticks … into the pie-hole it goes. Thank God it’s only a phase. But is it?
Granted, Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles us … but what comes out.” In reality, it actually does matter what we take in: values, influences, information, experiences, relationships etc.
When we’re little we don’t have a say in what they feed us. Our diet is up to someone else. And what we ingest is caught as much as taught: habits, attitudes and outlook on life. For a while it’s all we know. We get used to it, chugging it down as correct, normal and good for us.
Healthy input cultivates healthy growth, which we celebrate. But if anger, abuse and misinformation are our steady diet, over time we actually develop a taste for that which is dark and toxic. We build a tolerance for venomous attitudes, expect people to be harmful. Putting crazy stuff in our mouths is our daily bread.
In recovery, we seek healing of memories from our past and make amends for the harm we’ve caused as we find our way out of the fog of trauma. This is our sweet spot, but we can’t get there as long as our diet keeps dragging us back.
There’s a saying: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” If you’re stuck in your recovery, you may need to switch menus. This calls for a careful examination of the voices that currently speak into your life. Consider asking for help here.
It’s likely these toxic voices are part of your daily pattern … voices you never question … voices you even echo. Our taste buds have more to do with habit, acquired taste and convenience than good health. “I always watch this news … read this author … listen to this preacher … visit this website … hang out with these folks.”
You can’t tell the toxicity level of food by tasting it. You monitor its aftereffects. So, if what you’re hearing from familiar voices consistently stirs up feelings of aggression, disgust, anger, fear or hopelessness toward the world around you, maybe it’s time to heed the advice: “Don’t put that in your mouth.”

Pathway Recovery

August 2, 2021

I’m the Pathway recovery pastor here at Broadway UMC. Over the past 15 years, we’ve collectively discovered and cultivated what we call recovery. Our understanding of the word centers around the healing of relationships.
The first hitch we see in God’s creative flow is when he said, “It’s NOT good for man to be alone.” Like the Trinity, we were meant to live in relationship. But these days our relationships are broken: with God, ourselves and others. True recovery needs to go deeper than clean and sober, like digging in and healing broken relationships.
Relationship with God: tradition tells us our wickedness has broken this one. I’m not so sure anymore. My relationship with God started to heal when I realized the fearsome God of my youth was not the real God. Knowing all the bad stuff I’d say and do, God created me anyway. Discovering this changed everything.
Relationship with me: once I fell into God’s love, I found I could love myself. I still mess up. But, this doesn’t define me. Being loved by my Father is who I am … not my behavior, performance or even my motives. Gone is shame, anger, depression, anxiety etc. Health keeps happening in me, almost like magic.
Relationship with you: once my inflamed emotions calmed down, they no longer cried out for medication. Harmful habits and obsessions lost momentum. My fragile ego no longer expects you to carry it around on a pillow. Our interactions are becoming reasonably healthy, replacing the old irrational codependency.
I’ve stopped seeing you as a threat and started exploring what it looks like to share love with you like I do with God. With a healthier self-image, gone is my need to fix you, to self-defend or to seek your approval; all codependent residue from the old version of us.
Recovery is not a task you and I complete. It’s not a byproduct of diligence, discipline or practice. It starts with capitulation to God’s love. For years, I tried and failed to make myself more lovable. I finally gave up and let God love me the way I was. No determination … only trust. The rest just happened.
If you and I want relational healing, we slide over to the passenger side, where there are no controls, where we’re just along for the ride. We don’t work recovery as much as we let it do its work in us.

Bicycles

July 26, 2021

To ride a bike, grammar-school level skills have to be learned. Balance. Braking. Momentum. Steering. After a few scabbed knees and a slightly bruised ego, you manage to peddle a block or two without crashing.
Leapfrog a few decades. Those who remain serious about cycling explore the landscape on cross country bikes. The scenery is breathtaking. The experience is far more intimate than racing by in a car. No more obsessing over basic skills. This is about soaking in the adventure.
Both activities take place on essentially the same machine. Pedals must be pedaled to go forward. Brakes must be braked to stop. Handlebars must be handled to turn. But while it’s all fun, the first paragraph takes place in a safe, cloistered neighborhood, while the second happens out on the open road.
At 65, I’ve studied scripture all my life. It started with SS, VBS and family devotions in a pastor’s home. I attended a Christian college and Seminary, plus have pastored over 40 years. This book has been my bicycle for the duration.
These days churches split over the bible. Politicians will grab a photo opp with it. We still swear on it from time to time. And, in some circles, it’s called good scholarship to cherry pick bits and pieces to prove one’s point. Church signs declare, “We are bible-based.” Same bicycle … completely different destinations.
Many who ride this bike studiously stay within shouting distance of home. Don’t wreck (behavior management). Don’t get lost (no new ideas). We have to wonder how God feels about this. The story of him loving on his children over thousands of years … walling off a mere 2 block radius.
If nothing else, a story this beautiful and diverse should spark curiosity over what’s beyond the next bend. Look back at the big story of scripture. Over each rise, paradigm-shifting moments leave us breathless. Laws apparently set in stone, get dislodged and replaced with an invitation to experience a fresh expression of grace from the heart of God.
What should you and I do with the bible? Stop using it to validate my rightness and your wrongness. Stop picking at verses and start looking for God’s footprints in the big story. Stop asking it to be scientifically accurate or mathematically consistent. Just let it be what it is, the profoundly true love story between God and his kids. This book can take you places you’ve never been, but only if you exercise the courage to ride it more than two blocks from home.

The Big Wish

July 19, 2021

Given no restraints, what do you want most in life? Power? Profit? Mortality? Notoriety? Knowledge? Comfort? Security? What would it take to make life suit you? What is your highest hope … your big wish?
Let’s swim a few laps around the deep end of the human mind. In this pool we find logic that figures things out rationally. We discover emotions that show us how we’re responding to what’s going on around us. There’s memory … looking back. Looking forward, we have desire: the big wish.
Okay, let’s switch metaphors. What we desire takes up a far bigger piece of our mental pie chart than we might guess. Sometimes it takes up the entire pie. In our more impulsive moments, wanting something is the only rationale we need to obtain it. Why did I say/do/buy that? Because I wanted to. Period.
Dig into that. Why did I want to? That’s the question. It takes me back up to the first paragraph. What is my big wish in life. With little hesitation or consideration, I will pursue whatever helps that wish come true. And I’ll utilize the rest of my mental pie chart to make it happen. (yup, still on the pie metaphor)
Our big wish becomes our purpose in life. It colors career choice, family relations, hobbies, purchases, fashion, work habits, outlook, attitude, character etc. And once we near the final turn, it’s become our legacy that will linger on in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind.
I know people who bring hope and healing into every room they enter. I know others who walk in seeking all the attention. I had a Grandpa who made me feel like my simple presence made his day. But, I’ve also had friends who made me feel like they were sucking the life out of me. All of this, driven by their big wish.
Jesus was an open book with his big wish. “I didn’t come to condemn, but to save.” He never wavered … with tax collectors, adulterers, kings or paupers. And with his last breath, “Dad, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Can you name your big wish? To get to the bottom of this is not as easy as one might think. Some of us struggle to come at this from the positive. It’s more like, what don’t I want to be, instead of what do I want to be. It’s easier to identify what you’re trying to avoid than what you’d ultimately like to pursue.
Maybe a good place to start would be to ask, “What do I hope people say about me when I’m gone?”

Assumptions

July 12, 2021

Are you one who thinks most people try their best, or do you assume, given the chance, they slough off? I’ve noticed that if we’re in the group that thinks people do their best, we tend to offer grace and support for their effort. If we think they’re intentionally slacking, we judge and critique.
Where we stand on this creates the world we live in. Let’s come at this from several angles:
1 Start with yourself. Can you remember a day in your life when you set out to do poorly? You know … be apathetic, presumptuous, fumbling, clumsy, rude or disrespectful. I’ve been all these at one point or another, but not on purpose.
2 How do we even define what it means to do one’s best? Is it to perform perfectly? Push until you drop? Hit all your marks? Or is it more like that end-of-the-day sense of satisfaction … which would feel differently for each individual? You know, given the hand you were dealt, you did reasonably well (your best).
3 Egotistically, what do I get out of declaring whether you’re doing your best or slacking off? Is it even healthy to think this way? What does it say about my inner workings when I assume I’m qualified to know your motives?
4 What if there was a reset button that could flip our assumptions? Instead of picking apart the other person’s awkward stumbling, we’d celebrate their best attempts at running the race with crutches. Glowering from afar would be replaced with coming close enough to lend a hand and an encouraging word.
God gets misrepresented in all this, like he’s on the picky side. But watch, when we mess up and hide behind fig leaves and bushes, he comes calling for us. And after centuries of continuous hide-n-seek, he decides to become one of us and move in next door. A judgmental God in town would obsess over our half-efforts and rude behavior. Instead, he looks at Peter, who he knows is going to deny him, and dubs him the cornerstone of his future church.
There’s a little something in each of us that wants to wander off … duck and hide. But there’s something bigger that wants to offer God and his world the best we have. When I fail to access the best in me, maybe you can come along side and help me find it. And when you struggle with your best, I can do the same.

We’re Only As Good As Our God

July 5, 2021

I’m a recovery pastor in a multi-faceted, inclusive, grace-based church. Our particular ministry is called Pathway, where folks find help for hurts of all kinds, way beyond just substance abuse. We dig into all facets of recovery … emotional, relational, mental, social and theological (who God is).
I became a pastor in my mid 20’s. Even in my earliest years of ministry I had a nagging conviction that if we don’t know who God is, nothing else comes out right. Even from childhood, I’ve been searching, pondering, studying, crying out … trying to know what God is like and how he feels about me.
As a child, my God was far away, huge, very old and unapproachable. In his lap he held a note pad where he angrily wrote down my every infraction … even if I was only thinking of “infracting.” I went to bed every night afraid I’d die and he’d send me to hell. Back then, my God was a bully.
There was a lengthy phase when I labored under the notion I could up my game enough to pacify God’s wrath. Keeping the rules and tending to religious diligence might coax him to at least tolerate me. Like he’d allow me in the room, but make me sit in the far corner. At that point, my God was reluctant.
Early in my recovery, there was intense anger toward God. I’d worked hard for him and felt as though he’d hung me out to dry. None of that was true, as I soon discovered. But my anger proved to be essential, because it prompted the most honest conversations I’d ever had with God. This God listened to me.
Getting honest with God opened me to be honest with myself and trusted friends. When I showed God my true feelings, he showed me his. It was like a curtain was pulled back. What I saw was my heavenly Dad, arms wide open, inviting me to climb up in his lap for a hug. This God adored me. Always had!
Retrace all this. When the God in my head was a bully, I cowered in fear. When the God in my head was reluctant, I stayed preoccupied with myself. When my God listened to me, I dared to trust him. When I realized God adored me, I was able to truly love others … in ways I’d never been able to before.
God wants to be known. Our immature and false ideas of him don’t happen because he’s hiding or trying to confuse us. For all kinds of reasons, it takes time, patience and experience to discover who the real God is. But once we do, we are changed. And lest we forget, we’re only as good as our God.

What Is God’s Will For My Life?

June 28, 2021

I get asked this question all the time. I’m an old guy. People think I’m supposed to know stuff. Big mistake. Being old means mostly I forget stuff.
Before we get to my “heretical” opinion on this, let’s explore a few traditional answers … ’cause you know I ain’t going with any of them:
First, God has a blueprint plan that must play out like clockwork. Proponents of this idea frequent the OT prophets, Matthew 24, Mark 13 and John’s Revelation. Theoretically, the correct compilation of verses provides a look into how the plan will play out. But as current events shift, the latest theory falls apart and new ones have to be drawn up.
Second, I’m designed to fit like a cog into God’s clockwork plan. To miss or refuse this is the most grievous mistake I can make in life. Even being slightly off could screw things up. I have one chance to get it right … or else.
Third, since I work for God, my performance must meet the highest standards. He’s watching. How much I contribute to his master plan determines my value to him. In the end my work will be judged, which will set my eternal fate.
If all or even part of this is true, it’s no wonder people stress over knowing God’s will. The stakes could prove deadly. Reaching the goal feels impossible.
An alternative approach:
Jesus made it clear, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Watch him. His “plans” were routinely interrupted. He went with the flow. Never once do we see him treating a person like a cog in a machine. And even when his guy Peter messed up, Jesus restored him as if nothing had happened.
If God does have a “master plan” what is it? In the garden, it was to walk with us. In Egypt, it was to rescue us. In the wilderness, it was to identify with us. In Jesus, it was to become one of us. In the Holy Spirit, it is to partner with us. Catch the plan? He’s with us. He’s for us. He loves us. Right here. Right now.
Think of all the time you’ve wasted shaming over your past and stressing over your future. Right now is all you really have.

Let the God of the past and future love you in this moment. And then pass that love along to the person in front of you. This is God’s will for your life. And this you can know for sure.


Trigger-People

June 21, 2021

We all have one or two in our lives. They push our buttons, make us want to relapse, lose our religion, move to another state. Trigger-people come in all varieties: bullies, deceivers, whiners, braggers, know-it-alls, ticking bombs, motor mouths, self-consumed, hyper-extremists, fixers, hypochondriacs. They’re impossible.
We talk a lot about love and grace, which is easy with some people. How do we love people we don’t like? I’m not so good with lists, but I’m gonna try:
1 Slow down and imagine how God sees them. He adores them as much as he does you. And he’s just as invested and involved in their life as he is yours. They’re one of his treasured children.
2 In your mental picture, paint them as wounded, not evil. Granted, there are dark people who look to devour you. Most trigger-people are just living out the cliché: “hurt people, hurt people.” Misery does, in fact, love company.
3 Extract your needs from the equation. This isn’t about your comfort, self-worth or security. Stop expecting to feel happy or fulfilled around them.
4 They are dysfunctional with everybody. Their words and actions are not aimed at you. You’re simply the closest target.
5 Actively look for God’s fingerprints in their lives. When you see them, speak it out. Even negative traits are flavored with traces of God’s goodness. Plus trigger-people rarely hear genuine affirmation. It might just get them thinking.
6 Hone your listening skills. Read between the lines. The outer manifestations that bug you point to deeper issues. Why waste time obsessing over symptoms, when there’s a chance to explore the hidden wound beneath.
7 Show the respect to a trigger-person they refuse to give themselves. Let them know they’re heard and they count. You can affirm a person, without feeding their dysfunction.
8 Refuse to grade yourself. This is not about you performing well on a test. This is about you being healthy with an unhealthy person. It’s not your job to fix or change them. You’re just loving them. And awkward love beats no love.
Is this what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies?”

What You Believe

June 14, 2021

Sitting at a bus stop, two recently acquainted friends explore their new relationship. It comes up that they both attend church. Watch where this goes:
“What do you all believe about infant baptism? The rapture? Is it KJV, RSV or NIV? Can women speak at your church? The writing of scripture … dictated or inspired? What about worship style? Speaking in tongues? Prophetic utterance? Eternal security? How is one “saved”? Wine or grape juice for the Lord’s supper? How about alternate lifestyles? Politics?”
Isn’t it interesting … this is where we go with these things? It’s like sizing each other up on a dating site, as if there’s no point in pursuing further conversations if our religious beliefs aren’t a match.
Now expand this to the level of local churches, regional conglomerates and worldwide denominations. Groups of people joined together over what they believe. Mutual beliefs get set in stone. Don’t question or push back. Non-compliance won’t end well … demotion, dismissal or damnation.
We eat what we like: chicken versus burgers, veggies versus pizza etc. Friday PM we head to the restaurant that caters to our taste. Sunday AM we head to the church that does the same, only doctrinally. It’s like beliefs are less about study or conviction and more about flavors for which we’ve acquired a taste.
Maybe this is why Jesus didn’t hang his hat on beliefs. Sure, he invited us to believe in him, but that was about trusting him personally. He never laid out a blueprinted set of beliefs. And he certainly didn’t dangle us over a fiery afterlife if we didn’t march in lockstep with a dogma.
We do catch Jesus talking about the afterlife, but it’s to the religious bullies of his day. In one conversation he brought up sheep and goats. In this story it quickly becomes obvious, sheep are the good guys and goats are … well, you know. He outlined a day of reckoning, when the two species would be separated. Jesus’ deciding factor had nothing to do with what they believed. Instead, he talked about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the downhearted. Love.
Isn’t it sad how the American church, that paints Jesus’ name all over itself, is currently mired in division? And the break-up conversations inevitably come down to squabbling over items of belief. While, if Jesus is any indication, God is more interested in how we love than what we believe.

The Big Story

June 7, 2021

At the beginning of The Big Story our God is unseen but clearly heard. He speaks and at the sound of his voice light happens. Planets and constellations are formed. With his finger he traces rivers out across the miles. Critters pop up like ants from a mound. Humans are born naked and unashamed. He is huge. We are small.
As the story moves along we make a practice of falling into holes from which we can’t escape on our own. Enslaved by Pharaoh, our God becomes our rescuer. Ignorant and self-destructive in the desert, God becomes our ever-present mentor. Embarrassed because we aren’t keeping up with our neighbors, God reluctantly gives us a king. When these kings lead us astray, our God all but begs for our return. He’s still big, but it feels different. We’re growing … painfully.
Then in Bethlehem, God is but a tiny speck in a big picture. He grows up as one of us, survives the ups and downs. The Son kicks off his short-lived ministry with baptism and an audible blessing from the clouds, immediately followed by a sojourn in the wilderness of deprivation, where in his most vulnerable state he faces a formidable set of temptations from the dark side.
His ministry meets with both praise and rejection. He touches people he’s not supposed to, probes our secrets, pushes boundaries, pokes coiled snakes and introduces lavish levels of grace. As if ignoring the same power we see at the start of The Big Story, he bends down to write in the dirt next to the prostitute, washes feet and comforts panicked disciples with “peace be still.” He looks smaller, while his love feels bigger. And now we can look him in the eye.
At the very end, he surprises his guys with more … and more is better. He has to leave them so he can send his Spirit to live in them, to lead them into all truth. He will be their Paraclete – one who comes alongside. Never will any of them, or us, awaken to a day when God isn’t close by.
If I’m reading The Big Story right he is with us, not as judge, policeman or boss. Jesus used the word Paraclete; partner. And did we mention, this arrangement is 24/7.
A blind person can only imagine the redness of a rose. A deaf person cannot hear a robin’s melody. This does nothing to diminish the reality of either. Me not feeling God’s presence can’t wash out or water down the truth of what we read in The Big Story. Next time you fret over not feeling God, remember he feels you strongly enough to make up the difference … and more.

Love Skeptics

June 1, 2021

Sorry for revisiting Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. We spent time on it over a month ago … called it The Good Father. I can’t get it off my mind.
In recovery, we connect the dots between current pain and childhood trauma. Parents mess up. Ours did. We are or will. Our kids are or will. It’s part of the human equation … just not the entire equation.
In this story we have two messed up sons raised by a perfect parent. One went wild, the other raged, yet their dad was the best ever. Apparently, perfect parenting is no guarantee. So, if you’re currently raising little ones, take a breath. You’re not programming robots. You’re raising a free-willed humans.
What’s the deal here? As good as dad was, his sons somehow misunderstood his love, which translated into them mistrusting him. It’s like they thought he was holding out. One worked harder to earn love he already had. The other asked for his cut so he could spend it loving himself better than he thought his dad was.
This is Adam and Eve all over again. God created a place he called “very good” and turned it over to them. Every day he came and hung out with them. The entire experience was drenched in love. And yet, they thirsted for more.
What’s with humanity? Is it dissatisfaction, restlessness or curiosity? Somehow God’s love isn’t enough. Our taste calls for something more. We want love plus: plus stuff, plus fame, plus power, plus immortality, plus instant gratification, plus zero pain or resistance, plus all the answers. If we’re legalists, love plus rules.
We’re love skeptics. This shows up in our broken relationships. Our fix-it attempts include coercion, intervention and correction. When they don’t work, as a last ditch effort, we throw love against the wall to see if it sticks.
God holds love in the highest regard. Read the big story. It’s his first move. Everything he says or does is driven and directed by love. It’s not a gamble to him. It’s his bedrock … his go-to. He knows at the end of the day, love will win. It’s not his plan “B” or “C”. It’s his plan “A”. John even says God is love.
Imagine a world where we’re this confident in the power of love. Every encounter is transformed. Mistrust and misunderstanding lose their footing.

Gut Reactions

May 24, 2021

A person’s first thoughts and feelings in a crisis provide an X ray into their soul. Do they blame? Get angry? Lend a helping hand? Freeze? Run? Empathize?
I’ve come to believe our gut reactions can be sorted into two boxes. One could be labeled “generous”, the other “stingy.” I also believe we’re hit and miss with this. In one setting we rush to self-protect. Change the setting and we’re all about helping the other person.
Over a year of the COVID crisis has provided us a long term, “in bulk,” wide angle view of ourselves. Our gut reactions are all over the map:
”I’ll rush to the front lines to help those in need.”
”Nothing else matters as long as I survive.”
“It violates my personal rights to ask me to wear a mask or get vaccinated.”
”This gives me a chance to figure out alternative ways to love on people.”
”I’ll just sit this one out. Binge watch. Pursue my hobbies.”
Given this crisis, do I buy supplies for my aging neighbor or hoard them for myself? Is my focus primarily on me or those around me? Am I looking for someone to blame or for someone to help? Do I get mad or do I get creative? There are no right or wrong answers for any of this. Our answers might even be “neither” or “both.” For certain, the best answer is always the honest one.
None of this is written to indict or shame. We’re only skimming the surface of the issue. What goes on in a person’s heart is more complex and nuanced than what you just read. Even so, we can explore.
COVID has taken our normal tendencies and injected them with radioactive dye that makes our issues glow for all to see. We are being exposed at our very best and our very worst. This feels precarious. Do we move out of state and enter witness protection? Or do we come clean and start learning how to apply grace to the rough edges we find in ourselves and others.
We will never grow in grace until faced with situations that challenge or resist it. Loving someone who reciprocates is smooth and fun. But, what do we do with love that goes unnoticed or is outright rejected? Grace shared during a personal crisis can feel ridiculous or frightening. But it’s grace at its best.

Anger and … The Next Time

May 17, 2021

These sessions have not been about eliminating or demonizing anger. We’ve tried to honestly examine it; what triggers it, what it can become. We’ve even acknowledged times when anger is appropriate and healthy. Just know for sure … none of us will ever live anger free.
This session we’re asking what we should do next time we’re faced with anger:
–Try doing nothing: count, bite your lip, hum a tune, leave the room. Buy time. Give the flame some time to die down. Shooting first and asking questions later may work with a charging bear, not so much with people. Big emotions like anger, lust and panic typically take a wrong first turn if left unchecked.
–Once you’ve bought time, do a quick check. Is the anger about you or someone else? There’s a world of difference between empathetic and ego-centric anger. Empathy steps up in cases of injustice, disrespect, exploitation, manipulation and abuse. When it’s the ego, it feels more like an invasion of your space: public image or treasured stuff like long-held beliefs, private secrets, political loyalties.
–What about chronic anger? Life is a steady stream of discontent and/or frustration. A slow burn. Ticking time bomb. Hair trigger. Whatever metaphor works for you. This brand of anger calls for some help. Chronic anger is usually walled in by the bricks and mortar of past memories. Honest sharing in recovery groups like this is the place to break through and find truth.
–Healthy anger … how do you know if it’s healthy and what do you do with it? Good anger is driven by love and a devotion to relational fair-play.(If you’re angry at the mistreatment of anyone, yet you do/say nothing, it’s as if you’re contributing to the abuse.) Speak for the voiceless. Shield the weak. And if you’re still a little hot under the collar, find an extra mile and walk it.
–Then, there’s the aftermath. You’ve had an anger episode. It might be justified, selfish or a little of both. Take time to process what just happened. Your thinking will want to head toward one of two extremes. Your temper will either get hotter, or it will want to turn inward and become shame. Both options are unhealthy.
Let’s wind all this down. We will routinely be faced with anger toward someone or something. It’s part of life, kinda like breathing. Maybe accepting that fact, with care and honesty, is where we need to learn to live.

Anger and Control

May 10, 2021

If I’m honest, most of my anger is ultimately aimed at God. I’m not as angry at you as I am at God for allowing you to be a jerk. I’m not as mad at my mean boss as I am at God for not nuking him. My anger over my current situation comes from a notion that God could have done better.
As loving as God is, we still want things he’s not willing to provide. What he withholds he does for our good. But we don’t see it that way. So we haul him into court to press charges: “God, you’re not doing your job.”
When we can’t make these charges stick, we take matters into our own hands. Let me handle the jerks in my life … give the boss a piece of my mind. We can’t resist control, from the big stuff down to arranging the pencils on our desk.
See the wreckage in our future?
For starters, none of us are equipped to control our lives. We lack the skills, the emotional stability and the energy. Plus, we have mixed motives. The rain we would have fall on our garden would flood out our neighbor. The food we would stockpile for our kids would deprive the hungry family across town.
What’s more, me being boss turns the universe on its head. Now, it’s as if God works for me. I’m the deity in my story. People aren’t so much my friends and family. They’re pawns I move about the board to suit my purposes.
This is our story. We don’t get many years under our belts before we start mistrusting God. He’s either tardy, apathetic or misdirected. We’d all agree he has what it takes to control. It just feels like he’s not seizing the moment. So we get mad at him for not managing things as well as we would if we were God.
I can only carry on this way for so long before it runs me off in the ditch, which makes me feel confused and powerless. Either I try harder, get madder and leave more wounded on the side of the road. Or, I surrender my grip on the wheel and let someone more qualified drive the bus.
The Psalms are a good place to go with this. David spoke out his anger at not being in control. He hated it when the wicked prospered. He told God how he’d like to “adjust” them, which could get quite graphic. But he was honest … and in the end, humble. This is it! We tell God what we’d do if we were in his shoes and then acknowledge he’s the only one qualified to fill those shoes.

Anger and Expectations

May 3, 2021

There are Christmas expectations: “I hope Santa gives me what I asked for.” Traumatic expectations: “This is gonna hurt.” Daily expectations: “That dog will bark at me when I run by. ”Unreasonable expectations: “I’ll win the lottery.”
Expectations come in all shapes and sizes. I can dread the worst. I can look forward to the best. Life is a continuous string of expectations and would be short-lived and painful without them. I expect gravity to prevail if I unwisely walk off a cliff. I expect the food I eat will sustain me. I expect to get burned if I touch the flame. I expect to feel love when we hug.
To NOT get what we expect, now there’s the bind. Promotion denied. Agreement reversed. Good deed unappreciated. Hopeful outcome of a medical test shattered. These can go sad. More often they go mad.
There’s a buildup of pressure with all this. It’s called anticipation. How do we release that pressure when we don’t get what we want … yell at the spouse and kids, slam doors, pull out the sarcasm? Anger is the intensive reaction to unmet expectations.
All of this is common to who we are. So, what do we do with it? Do we stop expecting altogether? That would slice off part of what it means to be human. Do we push harder and yell louder? This would be a reaction, not a solution.
What if unmet expectations aren’t just giant potholes on life’s highway? What if they’re crossroads? Like when we don’t get what we want, we have a chance to choose between anger and creative options? Who can calculate how much better life is today because imaginative minds were challenged to come up with a plan “B”?
Talk about unmet expectations … look what we’ve done to God. Yet, all down through our history of letting him down, he’s always come up with innovative, gracious responses. He’d be in his rights to go the angry route. But he doesn’t, which lets us know up front that anger is not our only option.
One more thought … if I struggle with anger over unmet expectations, isn’t it likely that what I’m expecting is self-serving? Maybe one solution for chronic anger would be to invest myself in something other than my own wants and wishes … like the person in front of me.

Anger and Fear

April 26, 2021

Fear is one of those primal emotions, essential to our early survival. There were large hungry animals roaming the neighborhood with plans to eat us for lunch. Senses were kept on high alert to insure that didn’t happen. Fear was the natural reaction any time we felt we were on the menu.
There are two exits in the fear room. One is marked “hide in here.” The other is “fight back.” Thing is, nobody gingerly opens either door. In our panic, whichever one we choose, we bust it wide open. So when we hit the fight door, our driver is typically anger and it is rarely calculated or under control.
This two-sided coin of fear and anger shouldn’t be hidden away in shame. Simply embrace it as part of the currency of human emotion. Let’s talk about it.
Fear-driven anger is sometimes nothing more than self-defense. As in, you beat on a metal pan to keep the prowling bear from getting any closer. He’s like the guy at work who has disrupted or threatened your day. You have no desire to hurt him, so your push-back is just enough to get him to leave you alone.
Then there’s pedal to the metal anger that wants to eliminate the threat. It doesn’t beat on a metal pan. It throws it with intent. The word “rage” works here. Some call it hate. It is often motivated by insane levels of fear. Maybe hyper-acute panic. Maybe chronic paranoia … long standing unsettled spirit.
People prone toward anger create a persona that intimidates. They seem “bigger” than average, maybe even stronger or more courageous than most. In time, they learn to use this to their advantage. Hit first, so the other guy will back down before he realizes just how frightened you are.
There are appropriate times to be angry: when you see exploitation, injustice, abuse etc. Anger, in itself, is not unhealthy. There are times when it’s the healthiest emotional response. A lack of anger might even indicate un-health.
But, nobody’s going to defend chronic, aggressive, raging anger as a healthy expression. It’s not cool. It’s not courageous. It’s actually little more than brazen bravado, like a loud-mouthed, puffed-up Chihuahua trying to pull off his best Doberman impression.
We’re going to dig deeper into this anger thing in the coming weeks. But for now, let’s do a soul search to see where we are with it personally.

Focus

April 19, 2021

Back in my Seminary days spiritual disciplines began trending. They mostly involved prayer, fasting, bible study, stewardship etc. The list was short. Today, a quick online search reveals we’re currently up to twelve.
These disciplines were meant to help a person focus. Eyes on the prize of spiritual excellence. Stay on course. Position oneself to be a worthy recipient of grace. This was a plan I could tackle with gusto.
I recall diving in with my prayer journal and high-lighted verses. There was a “runner’s high” at first. Wow, who knew I could be such a faithful disciple of Christ! In those days, I recall encouraging others to be disciplined like me.
Then, life happened. Like sitting in a car with a grizzled Vietnam vet as he declared I wasn’t worth what the church paid me. Or the fledgling congregation I served getting kicked out of its rental space. Or like moving to a new church in a new state with our baby girl only to watch my wife die of terminal breast cancer. Or the pain of realizing my time was up at a church I’d pastored 16 years, then moving my family to Bowling Green with no job, no home and very little money.
For 25 years I’d maintained my disciplines. They hadn’t maintained me. I felt alone, unloved and helpless against my habits and hang-ups. Inside I was a mess: angry, afraid, depressed, envious, bitter … etc. I wasn’t the husband or father I wanted to be. Professionally and personally I felt like a failure.
Then my wife and I stumbled into a faith-based recovery ministry. Neither of us were addicts or alcoholics; just bleeding out. Fast-forward a few years. It was in this same recovery community I first experienced God’s love for me. I knew, that I knew, that I knew. Everything changed. Hope and healing took hold.
Life became focused. Except this time it wasn’t on my disciplines. It was on the God who loves me. The same people, places and things I’d always had were still in my life. Only now, I was seeing God in all of it … where he’d been all along. All those years, my focus on disciplines had caused me to look right past him.
God’s love and presence are not rare or illusive. He’s always with each of us. So if we want to be disciplined, maybe we should devote ourselves to focus on all the ways he reveals himself in a 24 hour day.

Hate-Speak in Jesus’ Name

April 12, 2021

I don’t feel safe around people who speak hatefully. Everything inside me wants to run and hide. And if I can’t find the exit, I retreat into my private head-space. If hate-speak doesn’t trouble you, I want to know your secret.
In recent years it has become fashionable to verbally cut people to pieces. Social media is driven by it, and much of it is carried out in the name of Jesus. From deep inside I have hard push-back against this. I just don’t get it. How can you disrespect others in Jesus’ name?
Forget subtlety. It’s in your face. Christianity has beaten its plowshares into swords: “We have the answers, and should be the ones controlling the culture. Obviously, our rights take priority over yours. We are the keepers of the truth, which gives us license to speak in condescending (hateful) tones about you and your kind. And ,just so you’ll know, you’re an idiot if you don’t agree.”
I don’t want to argue good and bad Christianity. But, all this finger pointing about what is sin or not sin and who is in and who is out …where is the grace? These are nothing more than accelerants fueling the fires of Christian hate-speak. If this is what we’re calling “the good news,” I’m not interested.
If anyone was ever sinless and had firsthand knowledge about heaven and hell, it was Jesus. Yet, the only time he resorted to harsh tones was when dealing with arrogant, self-righteous church leaders. Watch him with hookers, tax collectors and street-level sinners. He invited and embraced.
We walk toward what we’re focused on. This is truth. If I’m all about being right or proving my point, I take up arms and march toward whatever battle line I feel is “under attack.” If I’m looking to bring hope and healing, I focus on the person in front of me. If they’re lonely, I listen. If they’re hungry, I feed them. If they’re naked, I clothe them. And if they want to know why, I tell them.
Some may say we’re splitting hairs here. The proof is in the side effects. A Christianity that rails against what it considers to be wrong, unintentionally becomes obsessed with policing others. A Christianity that presses into being helpful, unintentionally becomes possessed by love.

Running Wide Open

April 5, 2021

Most of you know I’m a recovery pastor in a ministry called Pathway. Like the rest of the planet, this nasty COVID has messed us up for over a year. Last night was our first night to be back in our “place” in the building … The Cup. It felt like home, so we treated it as such with an informal “family” discussion.
The focus question went something like: What does it look like to run wide open with God’s love? Rephrased … describe that sweet spot when you know down deep you’re loved by the Father.
(As the Pathway ministry at Broadway UMC has matured over the past 16 years, one core value has solidified. Hope and healing rush in when a person has that ah-ha moment that they are adored by their Father. We call it magic, ’cause that’s what it feels like to be in the same room when the realization takes place.)
So, here we were back in our familiar spot, relaxed and sharing our hearts. Some talked about experiencing God’s love in bits and pieces rather than a constant flow. Others shared about the toxic voices from their past that pulled them back toward the notion that God’s love must be earned. One mentioned a certain yearly event where they felt God’s love more keenly. Of course, a common place was out in nature.
Then a father of a toddler started to describe a recent walk he’d taken with his little boy in the woods. Every other step there was a new rock or a stick or flower.
Our young dad said it was one of the best times they’d ever had together and it all happened at “wide open” speeds of 8 feet per hour.
This was it. His little boy was both aware and fascinated with what we would routinely pass by or call mundane and insignificant. From a toddler we learn that running wide open with God’s love has nothing to do with speed or earth shaking events. It’s about awareness. God’s always there. Do we see him?
We can’t overlook the other player in this event. Dad was having the time of his life. It wasn’t the rocks or sticks or flowers. It was our young father getting caught up in the joy these little items brought to his son.
Put yourself in God’s shoes. He started the whole thing walking with his naked kids in the woods and he enjoyed it enough to show up every day. No agenda. No right or wrong way to do it. Just walk. Hmm?

Mom

March 29, 2021

We went over a year without seeing Mom. She’s in a healthcare facility across the state that was locked down due to the plague. We were able to talk on the phone and message, but nothing face to face.
Mom’s been bed-fast since before COVID. If it weren’t for her caregivers, she wouldn’t have survived these past 12 months. But they’re not family. I wondered how she’d be after a whole year of zero contact with her offspring.
A few days ago we went to see her. It was rich. Each moment counted. Every word meant more than usual. She actually looked more healthy than the last time we’d seen her. Pretty amazing.
We talked around the world … old times, family lineage, current affairs, daily routines, nursing home cuisine etc. What captured me was hearing about her connection with the aids and nurses who care for her. She doesn’t just know their names, she knows the names of their children.
Come to find out, she makes it her daily agenda to ask them questions about back-stories, likes and dislikes, concerns and worries. And in her 90’s she still remembers details so she can bring them up later. These oft underpaid hard workers know somebody cares about them up on the second floor.
Mom has several sayings she tries to live by: “God is silently planning for you in love.” … and … “Bloom where you’re planted.” A long and challenging life, which included raising five children, has ultimately “planted” her on her back in a hospital bed in a room at the end of the hall. But she’s not finished yet. She’s living out her own words, “You’re never too old to learn.”
One more thing … my mom has always been a private, rather independent person; slow to ask for help. Now, it’s her only option. I can only guess how hard that transition was for her. But it speaks volumes about the inner capacity of humans to deepen and expand if we’re willing.
If you currently have the world by the tale, enjoy the fleeting moments. At one point or another, we’ve all been ten feet tall and bullet-proof. But life marches on, through pandemics, arthritis, empty pockets and old age. One thing remains a constant. We are relentlessly loved by the Father and we can always find new ways to pass that love along to the person in front of us.

The Book

March 22, 2021

No one would claim this story, traditionally called the prodigal son, makes a definitive statement about scripture. But what if we let it? To begin with, let’s look at where we are with the good book today.
Most churches treat the bible as a policy and procedure manual. Leaders sift through, then collectively pick out parts that support their prescribed etiquette and protocol. Thus they can claim their core beliefs are in the book, meaning they have chapter and verse to back up what they believe and how they live.
This has become the basis for being un-friended by church. Break protocol by believing the wrong thing or misbehaving (kinda like these two sons) and they’ll show you the door. Something’s not right, ’cause neither son got kicked out by the father. Either we’re doing church incorrectly, or the father messed up.
If the family business here is the church, the good Father is the brilliant center. His business flourished, not so much outside the law, but by a higher law of love. Exploitative misbehavior was met with generosity and hugs. Anger received an open, empathetic ear. He left them room to explore and self-correct.
Neither son was asked to conform to rules from a book. Instead, the Father allowed both space to discover who they were and how they wanted to relate to him and each other. Dad just kept pressing in with love, all the way through broken rules, juvenile selfishness and ridiculous accusations.
What if this story is the bible in capsule form? Like, if we get this, we’ll get the big story as well.
It is reasonable for a Dad to set limits and boundaries for his boys when they were little, like God did in the O.T. Then in the N.T. invite them to discover how to relate to him as grownups like in this story we’ve been digging into.
Some claim it weakens or disrespects scripture to call it a story of a Father and his kids. Like, we need teeth/rules to keep us in line. But what if this story told by Jesus so many years ago was our invitation to mature into a more adult-to-adult relationship with the Father.
The good Father in this story is one of Jesus’ most vivid portrayals of love. Whichever adult son you identify with, be grateful your Dad has known you since childhood and is continually loving you to a better place.

Awkward Conversations

March 15, 2021

We’ve been watching a Dad in relentless pursuit of his sons. He scans the horizon so he’ll be ready to run to meet his wandering son. He leaves the party to head outside and try to tap into the heart of his working son. In both cases he takes the initiative, knowing the conversations will get painfully awkward.
What if we explore these encounters in the context of prayer?
Wandering Son starts out with an audacious prayer for his piece of the family pie. When he wastes the proceeds and winds up in the pig pen, he formulates a second prayer. Out of options, with one last chance at survival, he will propose hiring on with his dad. Rehearse your lines. Speak with conviction, humility and remorse. Grovel if you must. The goal is to acquire undeserved food and shelter.
When the conversation finally took place, he didn’t even get out of the starting blocks. Dad jumped in with hugs and party plans. Maybe he’d been rehearsing his lines as well: rings, robes and T-bones.
Working Son was a loaded grenade. Under his breath, he’d been composing his prayer for as long as he could remember. It only took a whiff of steaks on the grill to pull his pin and explode in his father’s face.
This prayer paints God as a courtroom defendant; a notion way out of bounds for many of us. But Dad gave his son freedom to speak his mind, even if it came from false assumptions and juvenile self-centeredness. Dad knew his son had to spew poison before he’d be ready for some much needed soul-searching.
Like these sons, we’re all over the map with prayer: Composed words. Log our time. Proper posture. Forced sincerity. All-out panic. Struggling to concentrate. Quoting the good book. Brow-beaten with shame. Daily grocery lists. Frozen by fear. Only counts if we feel something. Never miss a day. God has seen it all.
In this story, Dad didn’t dodge or deny selfish requests, clumsy reconciliations or enraged accusations. And whether they fully grasped their father’s love or not, at least these sons were able to express themselves honestly with him.
Neither son was a very good pray-er. But, Dad always heard their hearts and responded with grace. When it comes to prayer, God isn’t looking for proper or pretty. He just wants real, even if it gets awkward or audacious.

Sugar Daddy

March 8, 2021

We’re notorious for warping God’s gestures of affection to suit ourselves. God gives freewill and we use it to pick bad fruit. He provides speech and we use it to build a tower to our greatness. We use the guidelines he gave us to judge each other. Some even try to turn the gift of his Spirit into religious cocaine.
Both sons grew up watching their father’s generosity. Big brother competed for it. Little brother exploited it. “If he’s got deep pockets … I’ll get me some of that.”
For lengthy periods in Christian history this idea would have fallen on deaf ears. Hardship left no room for “extras.” This is not the case today. We want what we want … with sprinkles. If it gets a little worn, replace it. If we’re bored, grab the remote. We can’t live without the updated version. Instant gratification.
Young son enjoyed the grace of his father, apparently for years. At some point, the idea hit him that he could cash in on the generosity and “grace” himself better than his dad had been doing, so he asked for his ticket to happier days.
We don’t have to look far in the modern church to uncover this. Cherry-pick promises out of scripture to squeeze God like a genie in a bottle. Use our status as believers to justify hurtful treatment of others. Expect our Father to provide full protection as we chart a rebelliously careless course. He’s our Sugar Daddy. This is a family business. Why not get God to work for me?
When I embrace God as my good Father like in this story, I am perfectly graced. When I try to make him my Sugar Daddy, my thinking gets bent. So, if I’m in a bad mood, he must be holding out. Or if life gets rough, he’s fallen down on his job. He owes me perfect kids, an ideal marriage and routine promotions.
In all things we are certainly grateful to our Father. But, he doesn’t turn the lights green on our way to work. Nor does he provide convenient parking spots just because we ask. This is a contrived God of our own making. Not the good Father.
If I’m entitled, it’s not God’s doing. He’d much rather I learn to love my way through the same struggles and disappointments he experienced with his sons.

Life as a Contest

March 1, 2021

How about the oldest son in our story? He’s the center of attention until little guy shows up. Instant competition. But that’s okay, he’s got a head start. He’s pretty sure he’s figured out what Dad’s looking for. So, he’ll point out when he gets it right and point the finger when brother doesn’t.
But, little brother doesn’t have to do anything but be his cute little self, even if it includes breakage and spillage. To big brother’s dismay, he still gets hugs and high fives. Big brother will have to up his game: Little brother gets a hug. I’ll be huggier. Little brother pockets the same weekly allowance. I’ll work for mine. Little brother gets by with imperfection. I’ll be perfect.
Talk about an emotional storm. Suspicion. Envy. Rage. Bitterness. Fatigue. He finally blows up … calls his dad a slave-driver, labels his brother a whore-monger, and ruthlessly condemns and boycotts the celebration of his safe return.
For years older son has labored under a dark, misguided version of his good father, trying to earn a love that’s already his. His endeavor becomes so obsessive he’s willing to demonize those who love him the most … without even blinking.
Sadly, large segments of Christianity still share this older son’s DNA. God’s love and approval are something for which I strive. Try harder. Give more. Pray longer. Stay later. Read more faithfully. Strive for perfection and excellence. Make myself worthy. I have to persuade this reluctant God to look my way.
This turns church into one big contest. I may not be the most righteous person in the room, but I’m better than you. I don’t have all the answers, but I know more than she does. Sure, I mess up, but not nearly as bad as that guy over there.
Every gathering, I see myself as the only person in the room. It’s all about me. But as long as I’m preoccupied with how I measure up to others in some imagined pecking order, I’m blind to the Father’s love … and the welfare of my siblings.
And all the time I’m being my self-consumed self, my Father patiently waits for the day I’m ready to come inside the house and join the family celebration.

Father/Boss

February 22, 2021

We’ve been talking about two boys growing up in a family business, watching their dad in charge. As toddlers, he carried them on his shoulders out to check on the state of the work. It’s all they knew. Let’s unpack this Father a little more.
This family’s business must have been robust to survive a son leaving with his share of the estate. Watch, Dad didn’t even blink when he shared the estate with his inexperienced sons? Successful entrepreneurs would question these tactics. But then, they don’t understand that grace grows when you give it away.
This story isn’t about business strategies. Sure, it was a family business, yet the emphasis was obviously family over business; Dad first, CEO second. This was always the case whether the sons realized it or not. Remember the story’s end when he reminded his eldest that all he owned belonged to him.
The party when the young son returned … what does this tell us? It was never about how much work Dad could get out of either son at day’s end. Enjoying life with his sons was his heart. Dad sets the tone, “This family is not about competition or production quotas. It is about celebrating each other.”
This dad knew his boys … that one would become hyper-responsible and the other would wander off. He never told the dutiful son to sit down and rest. He didn’t stop the roving son from leaving. As the one in charge, he could have. But, he let them pursue their desired paths, hoping they’d one day discover his love.
To force authority on a person degrades the relationship. It may create order, but leaves the recipient feeling disrespected and confused. If made to stay home, the wandering son would have never come to his senses. If he’d not been given room to explode, the laboring son would have never owned his rage toward his dad. This father provided space for both discoveries.
Much of our culture’s religion assumes God has this hyper-need to be boss. He’s designed a cosmic plan that can’t vary one inch to the left or right. He’s the CEO. We are his minions. Work hard for the company. Follow policies and procedures. And you have one chance to get this right … or burn for eternity.
What if life is this story; not a job we do for God, but a family adventure we celebrate with him? And what if, like this story, God has this divine string tied around the heart of each child that he is gently tugging toward home?

Rediscovering the Father

February 15, 2021
I’m writing a recovery workbook by this title, based on Jesus’ tale of a dad with two sons. The story keeps exploding new truth for me. What will you see in it?
We know this one. Dad raises two boys in the family business. Older son is a no-frills hard-working guy. Younger is a free-bird who asks Dad for his piece of the family pie. Dad divides the estate between his sons. Shortly after, the young son decides to use his proceeds to fund a solo flight.
Obviously, he’s not ready to fledge, ’cause he crashes and burns. Out of money, out of friends. Out of friends, out of options. Working for Mr. Pig Farmer, he catches himself drooling over the slop. Time for his “ah-ha” moment … a plan.
His plan is to head home and hire on with Dad. Eyes on the horizon, Dad sees him far off and runs to meet him with hugs and kisses. Both bring their own plan to the reunion. But celebration out-votes obligation. Robes, rings, high dollar beef … time to party. Older son catches wind of the festivities and jumps in with accusations. When Dad consoles, the son goes off on him with pent up rage.
Jesus was born into a world that misunderstood his Father. Church leaders painted him as a demanding task-master. My own dad used to call this “the tyranny of the oughts.” Somebody else labeled it as “The Should Monster.” Jesus used this story to paint, with vivid clarity, a new picture of God.
What can you say about a God who doesn’t run his business so much as he freely shares it with his children. He lets his dutiful kids pursue their addiction to work. He lets his free-bird kids wander and wonder. When we choose unhealthy paths, he seems to love us even more. He responds empathetically the instant any of us open a door, even when he knows the conversation could get clumsy.
We call this parable “the prodigal son.” In reality it’s more about the good Father. Both sons misread him. Older son accuses him. Younger son takes advantage of him. But this Dad is relentless. Nothing either son does or says makes him love them any more or less. This is the God Jesus wants us to know and trust.
If you’re like me, you’ve typically identified with the foibles of the two sons in this story. This is distracting. What if we focus on the Father instead? Sit with him in this story. We’re about to get to know the best Dad ever.

Welcome to Love

February 8, 2021

God believes in love. He creates the world … constantly pursues humanity … becomes one of us … shares his Spirit with us, … all out of love.
His love can be gentle or seem harsh. It can get all up in your face or be subtle as a whisper. It can feel emotionally passionate or logically straightforward. It can discipline or coddle. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don’t. God’s love for us is doggedly relentless. We cannot make him un-love us.
God left no room for confusion with his Son. Touching lepers, cuddling little ones, washing feet, all graphic statements of love. He taught it. He lived it. He died it. He exploded a grave with it.
Enough said …
For much of my life I struggled with damaged emotions: anger, anxiety, low self-esteem, lust, hyper-control issues, depression. I tried praying it all away. I read books. I was the dutiful Christian. Nothing worked.
I preached God’s love during my entire ministry, but I never believed it applied to me. Somehow I lived with the silly notion that my particular version of badness stifled any goodness God could come up with. That’s some warped arrogance right there. Then, one day it dawned on me; this isn’t about my loveability. This is about God’s ability to love.
This is where the water gets over my head. I have no idea how God’s love works inside a person to bring hope and healing. In the grand scheme of things, it is probably best to leave that up to him. All I know is that when I stopped trying to be something extra, his love was able to take over and work its magic. My life took a u-turn. I don’t understand it. I just know it happened.
Back in my wounded days, I tried hard to practice love. I was a pastor, so it was my duty. Plus it looked good on my spiritual resume. But it was all like forcing a right-handed glove on my left hand. Just letting you know … this isn’t something we go out and work on. Our role is to stop trying. Apathetic? No. Hard? Yes!
But know this … when you’ve been loved like God loves, it’s hard to keep it to yourself. It’s not so much that you talk it. It’s more that you breathe it. And it’s not a job you do for God. It’s a life you live with him.
Welcome to love.

Pathway Journey

February 1, 2021
You and I have issues. Most of us are aware of our failures and falling-downs. If by chance we forget, our loved-ones and the scabs on our knees remind us.
This being said, think back five years. Where were you with your issues? Did they control you? Were you even aware of them? Could you talk about them? Were you seeking help: therapy, recovery groups, self-help books, prayer and fasting, etc?
There’s this misguided idea that every issue should have an instant solution. If we read the right book or say the right prayer, our problems will vanish in a puff of smoke. Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that work’n for you?” It’s not unusual to battle some of the same emotional demons for years.
In Pathway, the ministry I’m in, we hear newbies say, “I thought I’d be healed by now. Am I doing this recovery thing wrong? Does this approach even work?” Fair questions, for sure. Instead of quick cures, we invite them to keep coming back.
Pathway has two core values: Be real. Be loved. Bring your authentic self and let us love you. That’s it. The safety these values create invites people to open up their humanity. After a few visits, they realize the playing field is level. There are no “poster children” who have arrived. Week after week, God inhabits the honesty of his people. The magic can be palatable.
Over the years we’ve suited up and shown up, not knowing how our gatherings will unfold. A song may open an “ah-ha” moment. You might discover hope in someone’s story. It’s not chaotic, but there’s no rigid pattern, formula or strategy. The agenda is flexible. People always take priority over program and planning.
Recovery is not something you grasp. It is something that grasps you. It begins when you admit that you are powerless over your issues and fall back into the arms of your loving Father. And it happens best in healthy community.
Pathway… a journey in hope and healing.

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Wendell VanValin, Pathway Minister

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