The #1 way to kill a relationship

A wise man I used to know named Virgil Staples would often say: The 10 most important words in marriage are: I am sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?

The scriptures say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” — Philippians 2:3

The word pride can mean a lot of things – not all bad. We take pride in a job well done, or in our kids when they accomplish something good. But the type of pride that kills relationship – the type of pride the Bible speaks against is when we build ourselves up at the expense of others – when we think of ourselves as superior to others because of who we are or what we’ve done. The word Paul uses in verse 3 is translated “empty pride” or “conceit” – the word is kendoxia and it means empty-pride or groundless self-esteem.

God hates pride. Pride is a sin that is deeply offensive to God because God is the one who is truly above all others. Those who know him know we’re nothing in comparison to him. Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord. Psalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”

For us to be proud would be like the strongest of all ants proclaiming himself the mightiest creature alive, only to look up and see the sole of a descending shoe; or a horse shouting at his fellow horses to proclaim himself the fastest of all creations just as a fighter jet screams by overhead.

You want to kill a relationship? Be proud.

You want to build a relationship? Humble yourself.

The end.

Your Story

I was born in 1975 into a family that was very far from God. My dad was an alcoholic at the time and my oldest sister was strung out on drugs and in and out of a treatment center. That was my situation, but then there is the story.* We all have a situation – a set of details we are living within, a context, a time, a place, a setting. Then there is the story. The story is much harder to see at first, it is the journey of your heart, it is the story of desire, it is the fulfilling of your souls deepest longings.

I was born in 1975 into a family that was very far from God – that is the situation. I was born with a longing to be known, to be loved, to belong, to be one with something bigger than myself – that is the story. My life, your life, and everyone who’s ever lived have a situation and a story. Usually, our focus, our time, our conversations, our energy is spent on the situation. That is right and good for a time because our situations are important. We wonder if we’re in the right place, should we live in this place or that? Do I take this job or the other? Marry this person or wait?

However, at some point in life, we realize that all of the attention of our lives has gone to the externals – to the situation. Out of habit we continue frantically re-arranging the furniture on the deck of the Titanic as our inner lives begin to sink into despair. This moment of desperation, of existential questioning – these mid-life moments – are an invitation to an inward journey. This new journey will be focused more on the story than the situation. It requires a shift of focus that makes no sense to anyone watching, requires more courage than we imagined, and is often riddled with self-doubt and a wandering progress that looks more like two steps forward and three steps back. Everything within me wants to remain focused on the situation, because historically when I have “solved” the externals, then everything was good. This journey isn’t about that though, this is an inward journey, focused on the story of desire rather than the situation of our lives.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” — John 12:24

May you have eyes to see beyond your situation and into the story God is inviting you to live within.

*For more on the idea of situation and story, check out Vivian Gomick’s book here.

When you’re full of fear

I never considered myself a fearful person, and then I had children. I used to feel my posture towards life was one of risk, adventure, and confidence, and then I had children. After giving birth to my first child, I found myself unable to leave the hospital without passing a 15-point safety check on the baby’s car seat. I started buying all manner of outlet covers, and drawer locks and childproof this and that. Apparently we all have different fears though because as I was busy safety proofing my life, I noticed that Tim was in the garage with our newborn showing him how to use an axe.

How does an apprentice of Jesus deal with fear? Fear is real and there is no value in ignoring it, excusing it or minimizing it. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and notice the fear by saying, “oh hello fear, I see you there” and then ask Jesus, what do you want to say to this fear?

One time Jesus was teaching and he said…

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

— Matthew 6:25-27

We all have a choice when we are faced with fear. The truth is, whenever I am afraid there is a lack of love somewhere. It may be overstated, but it is still true, “perfect love casts out all fear.” Will you decide that your love outweighs your fear? Our world is full of things to fear. Life is full of danger but we also know that we are never alone and that love will make a path even if love makes us terrified at times. We cannot be courageous unless we are afraid. May our fears lead us deeper into the unshakable kingdom of God.

Great In-reach is Our Strategy for Outreach

Milton Hershey had a simple idea. He wanted to make the world’s best-tasting chocolate. Something interesting about his story is that Milton Hershey didn’t believe in “advertising.” In fact, until the early 1970s, the Hershey Corporation did not put a dime into advertising. The philosophy of the founder was simply this: if you make the world’s best chocolate, word will get out. No need to advertise if you really are producing something that everyone craves. 

Author Dallas Willard makes a compelling case that authentic transformation (Christian spiritual formation) should be the primary mission of every local church. The best way to do outreach is to do an outstanding job of inreach. After all, who isn’t craving a little more peace, joy, love, and freedom from shame these days?

But following Jesus has often been reduced to what some call easy believism. Being a Christian is often understood to be the minimum requirement for salvation: just say that you believe these few things, check a box, pray this prayer, bada bing bada boom, #saved. This has produced a “nominal” form of Christianity—where we settle for an “experience” of God instead of learning to live our lives with God, we settle for an “experience” of Jesus, rather than being apprenticed by Jesus.

Jesus never said, “pray this prayer so that you can go to heaven when you die.” Jesus did talk an awful lot about the kingdom of God. A kingdom is where the will of the king and the will of the subject are one. The kingdom of God is different than the kingdom of Susie. The kingdom of Susie is where my will is done. The kingdom of God is wherever God is king – and this is the good news that Jesus taught – that there is a kingdom, and you can live in it now. It is not an add on to your life, it is not an “experience” you seek, it is a completely new platform – a total exchanged life – an interactive apprenticeship – where you die and are raised to new life. Being apprenticed by Jesus is learning how to live in light of the fact that we will never stop living. Apprenticeship to Christ is not learning “facts about” or reciting a magic phrase or even the forgiveness of sins. It is a total transfusion, it is the process of allowing Jesus’ thoughts, emotions, will, behavior, and relationship skills to become our own. 

That is what we are up to when we follow God in the way of Jesus.

Hey there, Sadness

Hey there, Sadness,
I see you and I’m making space for you.
You are not my identity
But you are a part of my reality.
I am choosing what is real over image and appearances.
I know I’ve not been kind or gentle with you in the past by ignoring, minimizing, pushing you aside, and I’m so sorry about that.
I can’t promise I’ll always be gentle and kind with you now, but I’d like to try.
Truth is, I’m scared if I let you in, you’ll move in forever and take over.
But someone told me if I walk with you long enough, I just might find I’m walking with Jesus and that sounds really good.
I want to walk with Jesus so I will walk with you.
Hey there, Sadness. I see you.

The goal of transformation

Sometimes we sing a song that says,

Help me to love with open arms like you do,

a love that erases all the lines and sees the truth,

so that when they look in my eyes they would see you,

even in just a smile, they would feel the father’s love.

This is the goal of transformation, to become Christ-like, and to love as God loves.

It reminds me of a story I read in Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits. She says:

There’s a story about a young man who sought out a wise old man and asked, “What great blunder have you made?” The old man replied, “They called me a Christian, but I did not become Christ.” The seeker was perplexed. “You did not become Christ? Is one supposed to become Christ?” The old man answered, “I kept putting distance between myself and him—by seeking, by praying, by reading. I kept deploring the distance, but I never realized that I was creating it.” “But,” the seeker insisted, “is one supposed to become Christ?” His answer: “No distance.”

When there’s no distance between us and Christ within us, we’re most human, most ourselves. When there’s no distance between us and Christ within us, we’re able to love as God loves. This is why the apostle Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, Christ lives in me.” -Gal. 2:20

The Bible speaks of the great mystery of our faith as, “Christ in you, the Hope of glory.” -Col. 1:27.

No distance.

What does it mean to wait well?

Did you know that 96% of Americans will knowingly consume extremely hot food or drink that burns their mouth? 96%!!! That means only 4% of us can wait so we don’t harm ourselves. Strangely, this feels pretty accurate.

Most of us hate waiting because we feel like we are not in control. We can choose either to do things our way by escaping waiting on our own terms or we can surrender our will to God and trust Him to give us hope. We can wait poorly or we can wait well.

What does it mean to wait well?

In the Gospels, when important times of transition came for Jesus, he entered spaces of waiting—the wilderness, a garden, the tomb.

Sometimes when followers of Christ enter seasons of waiting, it feels lonely, dark and immensely long. Sometimes it feels like you are losing your faith, but actually this is all a part of the journey of faith. Waiting in the dark is an important part of giving birth to something new. Just think of all the things that incubate in the darkness – caterpillars in the chrysalis, a seed in the dark soil of the earth, or a baby in the dark womb. In the spiritual life, our truest selves incubate in the dark periods of life where we are required to wait. When we wait well – growth and new life are born. Waiting always seems to feel forever long, and often lonely, but it is an important part of the journey of our souls’ formation.

Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD. -Psalm 27:14