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Most of us want something to change in our lives. We need to lose a few pounds. We hate our jobs. The same anxieties and worries that accompanied us last year are still there, gnawing at our edges and eating away what’s essential about us.

But change is hard, so we put it off, or we blame others because they don’t want us to change. This is convenient, actually. We forgo opportunities to change because we don’t believe change is possible, or we don’t want to walk into the risky challenges that change brings.

Even though we want change, we resist it.

One of the greatest barriers to walking into a new beginning is not the resistance you face from others; it’s the resistance you yourself (consciously or unconsciously) bring to bear. 

There is a very human scene in the life of Moses, at one of the most famous intersections in history. Moses was born a Hebrew, then given up by his mother because the Pharaoh ordered the murder of all baby boys under the age of two. He grew up as an Egyptian in the Pharaoh’s palace, a prince who was drawn out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter (who incidentally broke the law by disobeying the King, her father).

One day, Moses went out to see how his brothers (fellow Hebrews) were being treated. Once honored guests in Egypt, they were now slaves. What he saw threw him into a blind rage, and he murdered an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew. Then he ran into the desert, where he stayed for forty years, an exile that didn’t know who he was, where he was from, or where he was going.

One day, Moses sees a bush that is burning, but is not consumed, and God speaks to him. God tells him that God has heard the cries of God’s people, and that God is going to rescue them. God was going to send Moses back to Egypt, to demand that the most powerful leader on planet earth destroy his own economy by letting his slaves – the Hebrew people – go. God promises to go with Moses, and promises that everything God says will happen, will happen.

And then something delicious happens, because it’s exactly what you and I would do. Moses challenges God on every level. Moses questions everything God says that God will do. Moses resists. This is one of the reasons I find the Scriptures so believable and so compelling, because of the ridiculous and beautiful questions Moses has for God in Exodus 3 & 4.

Who am I to confront Pharaoh and lead these people out of Egypt?

If they ask who sent me to demand the release of these slaves, who should I tell them sent me? 

What if they don’t listen to me? What if they don’t believe you sent me?

I don’t speak very well. I stutter. I am slow of speech and tongue. I will mess it up for sure.

Send someone else, I beg you. 

Avivah Zornberg is a scholar of Torah and rabbinic literature, and she was recently interviewed by Krista Tippett on her radio program, On Being. During that interview, Zornberg notices that the word that Moses uses to describe how he’s slow of speech is kaved, which means heavy. Moses literally says he has a heavy mouth. Later in the same story, we read that Pharaoh’s heart is hard, and the same word – kaved - is used. Kaved means heavy, but it also means resistant, impervious, or closed off.

So both Moses (at least initially) and Pharaoh are kaved – resistant – to the change that God wants to bring about in the world through these two men. There is a resistance to God’s desire to set people free that isn’t just being harbored in the heart of Pharaoh, but it’s being harbored in the heart of Moses, and perhaps even in the hearts of the slaves. Something needs to happen in the hearts of Moses and Pharaoh and the people, in order for freedom to happen.

Zornberg says:

“Moses is very sensitive to the problem that he has and that he senses the people also have. So the whole situation as I understand it as the story begins is not a simple one of a cruel, persecuting Pharaoh and poor, helpless victims. It’s poor, helpless victims who will need in some way to arouse within themselves the capacity to be redeemed, that is to open themselves to relationship, to communication. I’d like to suggest that the whole story really is about the need for the people to be more than an object that has to be yanked out of Egypt. But for the people to become, to acquire the kind of life and openness and communicability that makes them want to emerge from that place of death which is Egypt.”

In order for the change that God wants to bring about to actually come about, Moses would need to acquire the kind of life and openness that makes him want to emerge from Egypt. And if he does not acquire that kind of life, he will not be able to lead those people into a new life.

I believe God is inviting us to do all kinds of good in the world, and in order to move towards those good things, we may need to move towards an openness to God, and an openness to each other, that for some reason, we are resisting.

So what do you want? What would make you want to emerge from whatever place of death in which you are currently enslaved? What needs to open which is now closed off in you?

In it together, friends.

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Some of you know that Mary and I have recently made the outrageous decision to leave Church of the Open Door in order to plant a new church here in the twin cities. We love Open Door with all of our hearts, and it has been such a difficult decision to leave. But after about a million conversations, there is an undeniable sense that we need to do this, that God is inviting us to do this, and so we are saying yes. It’s thrilling, scary, and we’re ankle deep in the waters of new beginnings.

Here’s what we know so far:

This new church will be called Genesis, and our vision is to join God’s work of cultivating new beginnings in all of us, everywhere. We believe God is always at work making all things new; God is always repairing and healing what is broken. So we want to partner with God in doing all that good stuff.

We hope to be a quirky mix of contemplative and active, of recognizing and responding, of slowing down and moving forward. We hope our gatherings will be simple, beautiful, hopeful, and anchored in God’s story of resurrection; that surprising new life can and does shoot up out of dead and dying places. We want to be community where joy overcomes cynicism, and where we send each other out into our actual lives, rooted in who God has made each of us, to do all kinds of good wherever we find ourselves. We want to be a place of simplicity, conversation, delight, and restoration. We are calling ourselves ordinary apprentices of Jesus who are learning to love God, ourselves, and others wholeheartedly.

And by ourselves, I mean all 13 of us, so far. We’re huge! Of those 13, we have people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. We don’t have a target audience. We are flinging the doors wide open for people who are desperately hungry for new beginnings: with God, with each other, and in the world. Actually, there are 22 of us, because 9 kids happen to be joining us on the adventure. When I asked Elijah if he’d be coming with us to Genesis, he paused and then said, “Ab-so-wutewy.”

So we’re off to a good start.

We do not know where we will meet yet, but the areas we’re looking at are: Robbinsdale, Crystal, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and parts of South Minneapolis. We’ll meet on Sunday mornings, once a month during June, July, and August, then we’ll begin gathering weekly on Sunday mornings in the fall.

There are so many great churches in the twin cities; you might wonder why we’re starting another one. Even with all the great churches, there are still many who are disillusioned, many who have questions, and many on the margins of faith who haven’t yet found a spiritual community that feels like home. And I have learned that I’m wired up to create a culture where people can pursue God in their actual lives, as their actual selves. And we believe new beginnings often generate new beginnings. So we’re doing it.

So – fellow lunatics – pray for our little band of 22 as we gather others to join us on the adventure. At times, I’m wild with excitement, and at other times, it seems like a whole lot of unknown, and these waters are uncharted, at least for me. I will tell you this: I’m having fun.

So stay tuned. I’ll be providing more info on this adventure in the weeks to come.

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I am reading Jonathan Martin’s winsome book, Prototype. It begins with the startling question, who are you?

That question arrested me. I believe we are asking it all day, every day. It’s why we are so addicted to the buzz of that next email, twitter or Facebook notification. It’s why we’re desperate for the promotion, or the next speaking invitation. That question drives our incessant need for recognition and approval.

We are so eager to know who we are that we’ll let almost anyone and anything tell us, as long as we like what they say. And when we feel like the world is quiet on the subject of who we are, rather than feel the staggering disappointment of our apparent failure, we numb those feelings with excessive alcohol, work, exercise, list making, chocolate, or cheese enchiladas.

Who are you?

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Who do you listen to?

I am a Christian, and I come from a long history of weird beliefs, some of which baffle those who are not Christians. One of those beliefs is that there is a force of evil in the world that is decidedly against me, and against you. And the nearer I get to hearing to the actual answer to the question of who I am, that evil opposes me. In the Bible, that force of evil is called Satan, which simply means the accuser, or adversary.

The accuser’s primary strategy, writes Jonathan Martin, is to get you to believe you need to prove yourself worthy of being loved and affirmed by doing spectacular things. This was the great battle that Jesus faced in the desert during those lonely and frightening forty days.

It is interesting that just before Jesus went into the wilderness (where he was famously tempted by the accuser), he heard God’s voice tell him who he was, in no uncertain terms. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

Before Jesus did any of the miracles and the teaching that would make him so attractive to some and so repellant to others, God answered the great question for Jesus. Who are you? You are my son, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased. 

What do you believe you must do in order to believe that you are loved? Seriously, make a list. Who needs to approve of you? Whose yes must you secure? What project do you need to complete? What vice do you need to abstain from and for how long?

I notice that I incessantly check twitter, Facebook, and email in the hopes that someone will answer that question for me by proving to me that I am important. How ridiculous! But why else would I do it? I don’t really care that much about other people’s babies or cats. I want to know I am needed, and am admired. I want to get the question answered.

When we are listening to the accuser, the voice will always tell us we need to prove our worthiness of being loved by what we do. The voice of the accuser invites us to ask a different question. “What must I do to obtain love and belonging?” This creates a complex web of fear. Martin writes this next truth with startling clarity and brevity: “Satan’s voice is recognizable because it always plays to our fears.” He later writes, “This, incidentally, is one of the clearest hallmarks of the devil’s work – the voice of the accuser is always compulsory and aggressive, whereas the voice that calls us beloved always leads us gently.”

We can recognize God’s voice by listening for the small voice, which calls us beloved before we do anything to earn it. The whispering voice of God leads us away from the clamoring throngs of admirers and haters and towards an embrace, which we did not earn and cannot break out of.

We can recognize the voice of the accuser by its demanding, demeaning tone, which always creates more fear and more hustling for approval. It’s nuanced and insidious, which is why it’s tempting to believe it. But it’s aggressive and leads us to empty places of unfulfilled longing.

We are most like Jesus when we rest in God’s relentless love for us, just as we are and not as we should be.

And that is good news.

I leave you with this stunning reminder from Jason Gray:

(If you can’t see the video above, open this post up in your browser by clicking here).

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I have two conversations lined up today that are making me nervous. They are full of wild opportunity and potential, so on the one hand, my hopes are high. But on the other hand, I’m anxious, and that hand seems to be quite a bit heavier.

So I emailed my beautiful, risk loving family yesterday for encouragement. To a person, they all cheered me on, piling on generous (and frankly, some unprintable) dollops of praise for my ability to think on my feet and do well in these types of conversations.

They all told me to “just be myself,” and everything would take care of itself. So I breathed in their good advice to just be myself. I smiled, a little undone by their unbridled confidence in me. This is what my family has always done. We believe in each other, no matter what we’re up for or up against. We tell each other we love each other, and to Go. For. It.

But then I panicked a little.

Which version of myself should I be?

The one that rambles on and on because I’m actually quite nervous, repeating what I’ve already said a quadrillion different ways, hoping that in the repeating I might actually figure out what I’m saying?

Or the one that doesn’t want to appear arrogant, so I pile all my words in a blender, adding sugar to them so they’ll have no edge and go down easy?

Or the one that is so eager to impress that I make lists of things to talk about beforehand in case I get lost or in case there is a – gasp – pause in the conversation (which is exactly what I did in eighth grade before calling girls that I liked)?

Or the one that has nothing to lose?

Or the one that has everything to lose?

Or the one that is trying to believe he has nothing to lose, but fears he has everything to lose?

Or the one that overanalyzes everything?

Here’s the thing with just being yourself: you’re complex and nuanced, different in the morning than in the evening. Your moods roll in and out like the tide; one moment you’re losing it because your husband left a glob of jelly on the counter (which he ALWAYS does), the next moment you’re weeping because you just love those Bravermans so much.

Some days you have a quiet confidence which seems effortless, but on other days even short conversations are difficult, as waves of insecurity wash over you, knocking you down, drowning you.

Some days you are willing to take risks because you’ve recently realized that your one wild and precious life really is wild and precious, but on other days even the smallest change tugs at the string which could unravel the whole ball.

So here’s what I would want to tell myself today, if I could climb outside of my eager, over analytical, write-a-blog-about-it-before-actually-doing-it, self:

Being myself happens when I begin to stop judging myself. Constantly wondering how well I did at being myself is not being myself. Carefully mapping out a strategy to be myself is not being myself. It is only when I begin to let go of trying hard to be myself that I can begin to embrace my actual self.

I remember being interviewed for a job about a dozen years ago, when I thought I was going to take a different job. Because I thought I wasn’t going to take that job, I actually had fun, laughed, and didn’t analyze every sentence that came out of my mouth as it was coming out. I remember feeling great about that interview, and even feeling bummed about it because it really didn’t matter.

And then, things changed, as things do, and I didn’t take the different job. I took that job, the one I interviewed for without judging myself and my responses. Life is hilarious like that, most of the time.

All the pressure I am putting on myself today is made up. It really is. I cannot do better by grasping these conversations tightly and hoping they go well. So, in whatever conversations you’re going to have today where you’ll need to be yourself, I say let it go. The pressure is made up. Enjoy the conversation. Look for the hidden opportunities that will show themselves to the person that isn’t trying so hard.

Then walk right into them, smiling and beautiful and free.

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Last fall, about 700 of us threw caution to the wind and raised $62,000 so that 62 Ethiopian women could leave sex trafficking, get job training, a new home, and a new life. It was thrilling, stunning, and breathtaking for me. It changed my life. In fact, it has launched me on a whole new adventure that I can’t wait to tell you about (but you’ll have a to wait a little longer). Perhaps the greatest part of Rim to Rim was that it didn’t stop there. Read the story below from my friend Meridith, a mom-turned-lunatic who has decided to create some ripples of her own. I simply can’t believe this stuff. God is actually making all things new, and inviting us along. Utter lunacy. 

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by Meridith Foster

Sometimes a rock gets dropped in the pond of your life. When Steve ran Rim to Rim and shared about it with us, it was a bit more like a meteor shower. I’m learning when that happens, it’s good to look up and pay attention.

Scanning the radio one day in August, I heard a program about a group of hostages in the Sinai Desert. They played audio of their phone calls and pleas for help. I had heard stories of the millions around the world who are enslaved, but this brought it to life. By the time the program ended, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of those who were suffering at that moment. I said the words that maybe you’ve thought too. “God, I don’t know what I could do. But if I can help, show me what to do.” A rock had dropped in my pond.

I’m a wife and a mom, and two days later I was right back in the middle of momville. But the people in the story stayed on my mind. The young girls trafficked in India, the children lured into sex trafficking here in the U.S. What was happening to them while I was making beds and cleaning bathrooms? The phone rang and it was a friend from WBGL, the radio station where I work. She had an idea, something we could do to help victims of sex trafficking. And she wondered if I would lead the project.

It was weird. I felt atypically emotional. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. This conversation was directly connected to what I had prayed two days before. She started to explain something about running in the Illinois Marathon, raising funds, and helping restore sex trafficking victims. I just said, “Whatever it is, the answer is yes.” This was a God thing. Another rock in my pond.

Even knowing it was a God thing, I felt scared. What could I do? I get overwhelmed getting dinner on the table. I started doing the math. What would fit in my schedule? What would be doable? I could walk in a race and talk my kids into walking with me. And we might be able to raise $5,000. That seemed pretty safe.

And then I opened up my email and saw Steve’s blog, and read about Rim to Rim. I started to feel uncomfortable when I got to “What feels a little unreasonable? What are you pretty sure you can’t pull off? Who might you be able to help?”

This time, it was a boulder. I felt the same feeling I’d had in the car two days before. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to figure out what I could pull off in my own strength. Steve was running the Grand Canyon. The. Grand. Canyon. If I really wanted to honor those who are suffering, I needed to be willing to do something unreasonable. Maybe even something that involved a little lunacy.

You can probably guess what’s happened since then. More than 400 fellow lunatics (400!!!) have signed up to walk and run various distances and races during the Illinois Marathon weekend on April 24-26. Moms, dads, kids, cousins, co-workers, and grandmothers who’ve never run before. A state senator is running with us. My 6, 7 and 9 year old daughters are running. My youngest even wrote to The President to see if he could squeeze the 5K into his schedule. We are hoping to raise $50,000 to help Abolition International build a unique restorative care facility outside Nashville, TN. It will be a place where young girls rescued from sex trafficking will experience the love and intensive care necessary to heal. After-care providers from around the world will come to this facility and learn the skills needed to bring restoration to victims in other countries. The ripple effect of these rocks is literally reaching around the world.

I am so grateful that Steve ran Rim to Rim, and shared about it with us. He dropped a big rock in the pond, and it doesn’t have to stop here. You can be a part of it. You can donate to support my daughters and me as we run by clicking here. Don’t stop there, though. Ask yourself some questions: What rocks has God dropped into my life lately? What am I pretty sure I can’t pull off? That thing might be the next rock that needs to be plopped in the pond. There’s no way to know how far the ripples will go.

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Walking With Tension

March 26, 2014 — 3 Comments

Front CoverToday is my friend Jenny Hill’s thirtieth birthday, and tonight, I will have the great honor of reading a portion of her new book, Walking with Tension, at her book release party. I am thrilled and delighted, because she is one of my heroes. Jenny has cerebral palsy, and she is one of the most courageous people I know. She asked me to write the foreword to her book, which I reprinted below.

Happy birthday, Jenny. All kinds of good is happening in the world because you are here.

You can buy Walking With Tension in paperback here and as an ebook here. You can follow Jenny on twitter here, and read her blog here.

Foreword to Walking With Tension

If you are a Christian who is experiencing the disappointment and disillusionment that comes with unexplained pain and suffering, you have most likely received two kinds of responses from fellow Christians. Neither one of them helps, and yet you hear them with such frequency that you wonder if everybody’s reading the same faulty instruction manual entitled, “How to Simultaneously Dismiss and Offend Those Who Suffer,” which nobody has had the decency to burn, or at least rewrite.

Response number one involves people who seem to be more concerned with defending the character of God, rather than walking alongside you in your pain. Their opening arguments begin with the insistence that God is all-powerful, all knowing, and all good. God both initiates and allows your suffering because a greater plan is in the works. They will carefully remind you that even though you can’t see it, and don’t know it, God must have a reason for your pain. God, after all, is in control, and your job is not to understand, but to simply shrug your shoulders and wait until God’s plan finally unfolds.

Response number two involves pressure to follow an immediate action plan through which your suffering will stop. This involves following a formula which, if followed exactly, will relieve you of your pain as soon as you simply put it to action. You hear stories of people who were “just like you,” and now are completely healed. Your hopes are raised and then dashed when these formulas fail. You feel betrayed by God, horribly defective because nothing “works” on you, and perhaps your friends have even given up on you because you must not have enough faith.

In Walking With Tension, Jenny Hill follows neither path. Instead, she blazes a new trail entirely. She tells her courageous story of learning to live with Cerebral Palsy, wrestling and engaging with God all along the way. Her story is captivating because it is raw and in some ways, disappointing. I cried my way through this manuscript, at times yelling at characters in her life that responded to her in ways that were damaging and unhelpful. Jenny writes poignantly and honestly about her struggle to make friends in junior high school while maintaining her identity through excelling in academics. She tells of her relationship with a Christian “healer” who promised results that never came. She writes passionately about both her belief and her unbelief. She teaches us that becoming fully alive in God is a course in which we all must enroll, whatever challenges our life may present.

In the end, Walking with Tension is a story of beauty and redemption. Jenny is learning how to honestly grapple with the disappointing reality that some things are not healed, but she’s also learning to gratefully and eagerly accept the gifts that God has given her in her unique journey. God’s gentle friendship, healing, and consistent leading has marked Jenny in deep and profound ways, and her journey blazes a new trail for those of us who are struggling to find God in our suffering.

If you are a Christian who is experiencing pain and suffering, this book is not the answer for you. But it is the story of a very courageous person, who is learning that God accompanies her in her pain. That God is partnering with her in discovering how her redemption is helping other people to grow and heal. And that healing is sometimes found as one learns to walk out one’s pain and suffering without resolution, but with tension.

Dealing with Rejection

March 20, 2014 — 14 Comments

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In one of my earlier posts this year, I declared some of my hopes and dreams for 2014. One of them was that I’d write a book and get it published. Well, that journey has begun. I have a great agent who has worked with me to hone the proposal, and we have it out to a dozen publishers or so.

Last week, I got my first rejection email.

“We’re going to take a pass on this one,” it read.

How could anyone possibly pass on these life altering concepts that I’ve birthed? How could they look at my baby and not think it’s the most adorable thing in the world? Who in their right mind wouldn’t immediately fly to my house to enter into the bidding war that was certain to ensue?

Ha.

Actually, I was surprised that it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I have gotten lots of nos in my life.

There was the young woman in college who I repeatedly asked out, and who repeatedly gave lame but kind excuses, hoping I would get the hint. When I didn’t, she finally said it straight: “Look, I am not interested in you.” It was painful, but I moved on.

There was the church in Orange County that I so desperately wanted to work at, where I made it all the way down to the final two people. I think I went through 13 interviews, including a weekend trip out there with Mary. I remember walking the beach and thinking, “This is going to happen! I can’t believe it.” A few weeks later, I got the phone call, telling me that even though I was the greatest pastor ever, they were going with the other guy. That was really painful. But I really did move on.

There have been lots and lots of small nos. When I wrote that crazy parenting post that went viral and ended up on Huffington Post, most of the reaction was very positive. But there was also many severe reactions, one that called into question my mental stability, and one that said they were sorry that my wife and kids had to be married to a person that would say those things.

Even our journey with infertility over seven long years felt like rejection. Every month, our hopes would rise, and every month, they’d be dashed against the rocks. Every friend that got pregnant felt like personal rejection. Every new fertility treatment we’d try that didn’t work felt like rejection.

So, how do you deal with rejection?

Feel the disappointment all the way down to the ground. Get mad. Feel hurt. Voice how disappointed you are to friends that can listen. Don’t try to pretend it didn’t matter that much, or that your hopes weren’t really that high. Let your hopes rise, and let them crash.

Ask someone you trust to tell you that they believe in you, and why. I know this sounds cheesy, like demanding that your spouse tell you they love you. But I have found that I need to hear from people who know me that they believe in me, and why they believe in me.

Keep moving towards yes. Your book, your business, your partnership, your idea is not for everyone, but it is for someone, or some group. Someone needs what you give. So, when you’re done being upset, dust off that idea and get it back out there, because the world needs what you give. We’ve all heard how many times Edison failed before the light bulb worked, or how many times Einstein was wrong before he got the theory of relativity right.

You’re a gift to the cosmos, and you will get to yes. Keep going.

I’ll let you know when the book gets published!

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Bowel Movement Miracle

March 19, 2014 — 4 Comments

by Mike Friesen.

Mike is one of my close friends. He’s a great writer, thinker, and theologian. He also works in a home for those with disabilities, and while we were talking recently, I asked him to write a series about what he’s learning. This is part 2. You can read part 1 here. Enjoy. You can follow Mike on twitter here

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As kids, we are taught through the actions of parents and guardians that it is okay to be in need. We had problems and needed things, and they took care of them. We were okay with this because society is okay with this, and because our parents told us it was okay. When we became adults, we felt ashamed when we were not able to escape being in need.

I remember the first time I wiped a butt. One of my clients had issues with his weight and could not do a very good job of wiping himself. If we did not wipe him, he was at risk of getting hemorrhoids.

It was my first overnight shift and my client had just moved into the house. When he woke up in the morning, he took his morning bowel, and he liked to take his time. He and I had something in common that morning; I did not want to wipe his butt and he did not want me to wipe his butt. He resisted me and fought me until my will outlasted his. He then agreed, and I helped him out. After that, I did not find it so hard wiping someone else’s butt, but he still hated it. The months went on he resisted me less and less, and it became less and less of a problem.

I remember it like it was yesterday; It was a cold Minnesota morning. I was doing the dishes in the kitchen and I heard a loud voice coming from his room. He screamed at me, “Hey Mike, come here, I got something to show you.” I walked into his room and he had his bathroom door wide open. There, he was like a defensive lineman in a three point stance, and he said to me, “Hey Mike, what do you think about this?” He then took his shorts off and started shaking his bare butt back-and-forth at me in celebration. He chucked his shorts outside of his bathroom and started doing a naked dance in front of me. After about fifteen seconds of this, he proclaimed to me, “Okay, you can wipe my butt now.”

He taught me two things that morning. The first was that he was on his own journey that took him from humiliation to humility. The second was that he took the vulnerable step into his powerless and embraced the fact that he needed help.

He found a way to take what was once shameful for him and embraced a path that says: I know that I need you, and I am grateful that you are here. For some people, it may be a friend who shows up after a relationship goes bad. For others, it might be going to a meeting where people deal with their own struggles together. For him, it was his acceptance of his powerlessness that culminated in a naked dance party. He expressed his former struggle with joy and gratitude, and shared it with us.

He taught me through his actions to say, “I’ve come to know that I need you in this.” For me to say, “Well, hey, it is okay for you because you have disabilities.” is also to say, “I exclude you from humanity because it is not okay for me to have this because we do not live in the same world.”

This was the first of the miracles that came out of that bathroom.

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I am no stranger to the counselor’s office.

For more than twenty years, counselors have helped me move through painful, stuck seasons in my life so that I can move towards wholeness. I can tend towards drama, I can be overly introspective, and I feel things all the way down to the ground, so I typically need help unraveling things. Several years ago, I was in a season where an important friendship was severely strained and broken, and I wasn’t sure what to do. So I found myself talking to my counselor.

“At the bottom of it all,” I said to him, “is the fear that I was the one who really messed it all up. That it’s really all my fault.” 

He paused and looked right at me, and said the words that would eventually work deep down inside of me to set me free.

“Steve,” he said. “I’m positive you messed it all up.” 

The force with which he said the word positive was impressive. I think he even spit a little bit. He was animated and certain of this little, annoying word.

This is not what counselors are supposed to say. They’re supposed to ask probing, open ended follow up questions that make you squirm in your chair until you come to an aha moment. “Why do you think you messed it all up? In what specific ways do you think you messed it all up? When else have you felt like you’ve messed it all up? In what ways did your mother tell you that you messed everything all up?” 

This counselor was not like that.

After he let the reality of what he said sink in, he went on to say: “Now, walk all the way to the end of that plank. Then, jump off into the abyss of the possibility that you messed it all up. Wait until you hit bottom.” Then he smiled and said, “Now what?”

I realized in that moment how much time and energy I had spent worrying that I had messed it all up, and trying to deflect blame. This is exhausting; it’s a horrible use of time and energy. What if, my counselor was suggesting, we were absolutely certain we were going to mess things up, even really important things? And what if we could jump into the abyss of that reality and find that there was a much more spacious and firm place to stand at the bottom?

There is a paradoxical reality, which insists you must embrace your own brokenness if you are going to move towards wholeness. Only those who understand that their cheese is sliding off their cracker (thanks, Brennan Manning) will understand that embracing your own imperfection is the threshold through which you must walk if you want to end up in the room of wholeness.

This is still really hard for me. I’d still rather get it right, be the one who is right, and not mess it all up. But as time marches on, I am getting better at walking all the way to the end of the plank and jumping off in to the abyss of the possibility that I don’t have to get everything right, and I think I’m maybe becoming a little easier to live with.

So let me be your counselor, at least for a minute. I’m positive you messed it all up. Now, walk all the way to the end of that plank, and jump off into the abyss.

And be free.

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children-playing

What is the gospel?

It’s a fascinating and delicious question. In the first century, “the gospel” was simply a message of good news that a scout would bring back, declaring a victory in a military battle. He would come running into the town square, joyfully declaring the victory, and it would gladden people’s hearts; everyone knew it was good news when they heard it.

When good news is shared, the result is joy.

That’s what the gospel is, at it’s most basic level: when you thought all was lost and the boys who went off to war weren’t coming home, the unexpected happened. They won. They’re coming home. Good news!

So why isn’t the gospel good news for many people?

In his helpful book, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve StepsRichard Rohr writes that for most people, their ego pattern makes them understand their sin, and how change happens, like this:

Sin –> Punishment –> Repentance –> Transformation

The flow of this pattern is that when someone sins, they must be punished, which then might lead to them finally saying they’re sorry and changing their ways. This is actually bad news, because punishment doesn’t lead to transformation. But it’s the pattern we all too often impose on ourselves and those we love. Rohr writes, “Only love effects true inner transformation, not duress, guilt, shunning, or social pressure. Love is not love unless it is totally free. Grace is not grace unless it is totally free.”

Rohr then writes about the pattern of grace:

Sin –> Unconditional love –> Transformation –> Repentance

According to Rohr, “God seduces us into the economy of grace by loving us in spite of ourselves in the very places where we cannot or will not or dare not love ourselves. God resists our evil and conquers it with good.” This is the story of the prodigal son, and it’s the story of every hero that we find in the Scriptures (Moses was a murderer, Jacob a liar, David an adulterer, you get the picture).

In her riveting book Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber defines grace this way: 

“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word. My selfishness is not the end-all… instead, it’s that God makes beautiful things even out of my own shit. Grace isn’t about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be a good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final world. I am a God who makes all things new.” 

Don’t think of your kids, and how you punish them, and how you’re screwing that all up. Don’t think of all the times you have punished yourself or others, and how wretched you are. Yes, your failings hurt you and others and even the planet. But the gospel is good news because those failings are not the final word.

Instead, drink in the fact that the god news is the joyful announcement that in Jesus, through his death and resurrection, there is a new beginning with every breath, and it’s available for all of us, everywhere. God’s grace is the whimsical and beautiful announcement that God is making all things new, and it starts with you, right here, right now.

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