Discipline Is a Tool

Discipline is one of the best tools we can use to create progress.

As much as I like binging on The West Wing and eating queso, doing so every day would be detrimental to my health. In smaller doses, these things are fantastic. Who doesn’t love eating thousands of chips while watching Toby and CJ get into it after a press briefing?

But the uncomfortable practice of habitually saying no to doing the easy things and yes to doing the hard things will breed forward momentum. The snooze button might be tempting, but the completed novel will be far more rewarding–even though it hurts.

Those three miles may seem daunting today, but good health after a few months of putting on your running shoes and heading out the door will mean more to you than the thirty minutes you could have been scrolling through Instagram.

Discipline shouldn’t come from a desperate need to earn God’s love or prove that you’re worth something to the world. Relax. God already loves you and your worth isn’t tied to your outcomes. Discipline, rather, is a reaction to these foundational truths–not an effort to make them a reality. It’s not meant to create shame in your life.

Miss a day? Pick it back up tomorrow. No big deal. Discipline isn’t a burden to carry, but a tool to wield.

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Dreams for What Could Be

The world’s societies have deplorable pieces: inaccessible clean water, human sex trafficking, corruption, desperate poverty, moral decay–to name just a few.

Heck, I have deplorable pieces: selfishness, greed, bitterness.

But what do we do about solving the largest issues of our day? It’s a simple question requiring complex answers, answers we could (and will) spend the rest of our lives trying to articulate. One thing Jesus models for us, though, is what not to do to solve these massive problems: hate.

The world is full of more pain than we know what to do with, but that shouldn’t make us turn around and hate it or its inhabitants. Developing a grudge against systems and people will do nothing to transform the institutions, individuals, and ideas we are saddened by. We must seek the betterment of our culture and our world, not create a holy huddle to be protected from it.

Fear and division may be comfortable, but they aren’t right.

When Christ famously taught us to pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” I sometimes wish he would’ve said, “Get us the heck away from this broken place.” But he didn’t, because he made us ministers of reconciliation in a world in need of mending.

When Jesus sees a rich young ruler, a man too obsessed with his wealth to follow the Messiah, the Bible says he “looked at him and loved him.” Although this rich young ruler was blinded by his materialism, Jesus loved him. He didn’t look at him and hate him.

The way forward is not to develop a camp where we isolate ourselves from every hurting person, daunting issue, or broken institution. It is through righteous indignation, built on a foundation of love, over the oppressive and unjust corners of our world and heart. We carry with us dreams for what could be–not hatred for what is.

Authenticity

To live authentic lives inherently means to surrender control.

We have to give up trying to manipulate the way people think about us. This is hard, obviously, and nearly impossible. In fact, I’m hoping you’ll think I’m more insightful, intelligent, and profound after reading this.

My commentary on authenticity is washed in hypocrisy. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and maybe the best place to start is with awareness.

Authenticity is more than just a buzz word we use to signify a progressive participation in faith. It’s the active process of taking off the masks and kicking down the walls that keep us from being known by others. It’s sharing a struggle in the midst of the fear over what your friend will think or do after he or she hears how messed up you believe you are.

But, I guarantee you, if your friend has integrity—you will be closer as a result. Our brokenness unites us, not our self-sufficiency. We’re drawn closer when we collectively throw up our hands and admit we don’t have a clue what to do.

To feign perfection is to become an isolationist. Community, true community, is built on the premise that we’re all sick people in need of a Doctor.

Moments

Life is made up of a series of moments.

Some of them are explicitly magnificent, like the ringing of wedding bells, the birth of a child, or the smell of the air in a foreign land. Some of them are explicitly tragic, like the last words, the horrible phone call, or the bad news at the doctor.

But most of life’s moments are seemingly mundane. They conglomerate to make weeks, months, or even years–seasons filed away in our memories as buckets of water rather than a series of drops.

I tend to get the lowest when it seems as if the string of normal won’t stop because I wrongly convinced myself that life is only lived fully in the magnificent or tragic. But, to my relief, the beautiful and painful are found in the alarm going off, the garbage going out, and the kids going to bed.

We don’t need life’s extremes to know we’re alive, that we can feel, appreciate, or mourn.

God isn’t more proud of us on the mountain or more compassionate in the valley. He is who he is on the adventure, in the hospital room, and at the water cooler.

Each moment is meaningful.

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Fear

If I’m honest, fear isn’t something I truly want to eradicate from my life. Fear keeps me safe, and safety keeps me comfortable.

But fear isn’t truly the problem. A love for the path of least resistance is.

Fear is an inherent part of being human. It’s never going away. This is why I’m starting to think the quest to eliminate fear altogether is fruitless. What we need—what I need—is an ability to realize the deceptive power of comfort to keep us from living into all God has.

The question stops being, “How do I get rid of this fear from my life?”

Rather, the question becomes, “Why do I love being comfortable so much?”

Life’s richest moments often find themselves appearing during, or because of, an uncomfortable experience. The big move, the new friendship, the first phone call, the small risk.

God may not have given us a spirit of fear, but that doesn’t mean fear isn’t coming against us. The choice, then, is what we do in the midst of it. Do we rest in the love of God and take courageous steps away from what’s easy, or do we slack back into what we know requires minimal emotional, physical, and spiritual energy?

Combating fear doesn’t start with praying it away. It starts with praying for courage and moving forward in the midst of it.

The Investment Banker and the Bank Janitor: All Work Has Value

One of the greatest lies our culture tells us is that certain types of work are more valuable than others. In the kingdom of God, this couldn’t be further from the truth. All work, done with integrity, is meaningful.

I heard a story from a pastor once about a father talking to his son as they passed a construction site. “Stay in school and work hard, son,” the father said, “or you’ll end up like that man laying bricks.” Oh, how this story breaks my heart.

It points to the faulty assumption that a meaningful life can’t be found in certain employment positions. It turns people into a ladder meant to be climbed, not humans contributing value to the functioning of a society. The Bible talks about how Christians all have unique giftings coming together to make the church function. We all are a different part of one body, fulfilling our specific callings to create a thriving entity.

In a similar way, each job description is a small contribution to the larger narrative of our society. What would we do if we had no way to get rid of waste? How would the economy function without knowledgeable people able to wire electricity?

No matter janitor or CEO, gardener or salesman, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Dignity is not found in the accolades or acclaim–it’s found in our identities as God’s children. As his children, we’re able to pour all of our energy into whatever task is in front of us. As the book of Colossians instructs, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

Is it possible to love people with the love of Christ if we’re belittling the work they do? No, it’s not. And to view all work as valuable means more than a “thank you” to the person working the register, although that’s important. It means also, “What is your name?”

It isn’t just holding the door for the CEO. It’s also, “Tell me more about yourself.”

We don’t simply need more gratitude, we need more latitude in seeing the soul within each person.

It’s our responsibility to take on the cause of Christ–the radical equality found within his jurisdiction. When we get to heaven, the investment banker and the bank janitor will be worshiping together at the feet of Jesus. Why not start building that relationship now?

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Pull Stewardship Out of the Attic

Stewardship is a word I would expect to find dusty and in the attic, a seemingly outdated concept that’s been replaced with more cutting edge ideologies like “minimalism.” It’s time, however, to climb the ladder, clear out the cobwebs, and take stewardship out into our culture again.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Christians should be leaders in the minimalist movement (as I’ve written before). But we all need to be reminded again about the basis of this movement from a Christ-follower’s perspective: none of this stuff is ours to begin with. We are simply managers—stewards—of what’s been entrusted to us for a short time.

At Every Village, we’ve been studying this concept together as a staff. This week, a member of our team used the example of a hotel steward. Part of this person’s job is to make sure your things are taken care of and delivered to the right place on time. Similarly, we are managers of God’s stuff—taking care of his things and getting them to the right places.

When we don’t start with this foundation, minimalism can become a different avenue for us to hold tightly to what little we own, idolizing the pursuit of less instead of glorifying the God that owns it all.

I know, I know. Stewardship seems boring. I mean, can’t we talk about something more exciting? If we think about it long enough, though, we’ll start to understand that stewardship is exciting. God has entrusted us to be managers in his Kingdom, managing his money, time, gifts, and assets.

Trust me, this is something I struggle with. It’s easy to turn my nose up at someone I believe is living selfishly without realizing the sin of my heart is greater. Cynicism, as it turns out, could just as well be spelled “sin”icicsm.

I can also buy things when I feel empty or lonely. I get caught believing more stuff will make me happier. I get caught believing I deserve more because I worked for it, because I own it. But I don’t own it, and it’s impossible to be a good steward when I believe I do.

When we are good stewards, we don’t feel greed. In Luke 12, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” A good way to be on our guard is to remember that the stuff, time, talent, or power we want isn’t ours to own and exploit. It God’s and is for us to manage and leverage for his glory.

Stewardship is important. We’re managers, not owners.

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Robin Williams, Depression, and the Church

After Robin Williams’ recent suicide, depression has been placed in the national spotlight.

How could someone so successful feel so terrible about himself? What does depression actually look like, and what do I do if I feel similarly? What do I do if someone in my life is battling depression?

These and other questions have been discussed on radio stations, news sites, and blogs. But what about in Christian circles? What does the national dialogue about mental illnesses such as depression have to contribute to our churches?

Let me start with this: I love Jesus with all my heart, and I battle depression. Sure, it’s taken different shapes in my life–notably in a difficult season my freshman year of college–but it’s always been a struggle. In fact, yesterday I had an episode where the last thing I wanted to do was walk out my door. Yet, the joy of The Lord is my strength.

The Church will never be able to address depression adequately until it can realize not all forms of sadness and despair are symptoms of sinfulness or spiritual warfare. Sometimes brains have a chemical imbalance, a disease, that creates depression. When someone we know breaks his arm, we pray for him, yes, but we also tell him to go to the doctor and get a cast and some pain medicine.

Sadly, in far too many Christian circles–we treat depression completely differently. Instead of telling our friend to see a doctor and consider medication, we assume he must not be fully satisfied in The Lord–that he is walking in some kind of sin. Certainly, that may be a possibility, but it may be completely off base. He may be suffering from a disease, an illness requiring professional treatment.

Depression may be more prevalent in our churches than we even know. A recent article on churchleaders.com cites Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University as saying, “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed.” One particular section of the article goes deeper into the problem of depression in the church:

Nearly two out of three depressed people don’t seek treatment, according to studies by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Counselors say even fewer depressed ministers get treated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo. “Clergy do not talk about it because it violates their understanding of their faith,” said Scoggin. “They believe they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts.” Stanford, who studies how the Christian community deals with mental illness, said depression in Christian culture carries “a double stigmatization.” Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders—dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness. Polite Southern culture adds its own taboo against “talking about something as personal as your mental health,” noted Scoggin. The result is a culture of avoidance. “You can’t talk about it before it happens and you can’t talk about it after it happens,” said Monty Hale, director of pastoral ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

Yes, depression is happening in our churches. And it isn’t a new issue. Charles Spurgeon, arguably one of the most prolific preachers in history, struggled mightily with depression. Desiring God wrote a profile on him in which it states the following:

It is not easy to imagine the omni-competent, eloquent, brilliant, full-of-energy Spurgeon weeping like a baby for no reason that he could think of. In 1858, at age 24 it happened for the first time. He said, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.”

Maybe depression is happening to you. Maybe it is happening to your friend or family member. Maybe you can relate to the depth of pain and sorrow Spurgeon expresses in this quote, the exhausting, debilitating sorrow of dark seasons. The weight of life may seem too heavy for you to carry, like you’re about to collapse under it. Let me encourage you with this:

It’s okay to be honest. Obedience means sharing your struggle with others, not hiding it under a rug. Counseling is not weak. Medication is not weak. Support groups are not weak. Prayer is not weak. They are strength. God loves you deeply, and he is with you in your pain–even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Now Church, listen up. We must become a place where the previous paragraph is communicated as true and communicated often. We won’t be a refuge or a place of healing for the depressed unless it is so. Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We will never truly reflect this aspect of Christ to the depressed unless we give people the freedom to say they are weary.

The struggle of Robin Williams painfully reminds us, Church, that we must become a place where the depressed have a home with a kitchen table surrounded by people wanting to listen. 

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Are You a Child?

When I was a young child, I asked a ton of questions. I would ask everything from, “Why can’t I have a soda?” to “If God created the world, who created God?” Yes, I was curious.

But I wasn’t alone in my curiosity. The Guardian cites a fascinating study about curiosity in children:

A 1964 study found that babies as young as two months old when presented with different patterns will show a marked preference for the unfamiliar ones. The instinct to explore grows into an instinct for inquiry. Some time after their first birthday, children start to point at things, looking up at their parent as they do so. One of the main reasons babies point is to signal interest, to say, “I want to know about that – what is it?” Before they are able to speak, they are asking a question with their finger.

Children are naturally curious, inherently exploratory. In the Bible, faith like a child is highlighted as an ideal we all should pursue. Jesus even says in Matthew 18, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Wow. Isn’t that a bit much, Jesus? If we don’t change and become like little children, we will never go to heaven?

I used to think Jesus was talking about simple belief here, like we were supposed to check our intellects at the door and take on the brain of a five-year-old. But I don’t believe this anymore, especially when I think back on my own childhood. I didn’t blindly accept things. I asked hard questions and had doubt from a young age. Children are inquirers, not simply taking things at face value.

I believe Christ is talking about two things, humility and dependence. These two concepts are intertwined and equally important.

“Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. He’s pointing to the ruling principles governing his jurisdiction. This jurisdiction looks much different than the world.

Jesus could have come to the world as powerful dictator or a victorious military leader. Instead, he grew up as a carpenter and then became homeless, gathering a raggedy group of twelve men together to love the world’s most rejected people. He sat at a table with tax collectors, the thieves of the day. He had compassion on adulterers, people sure to be murdered in that society. He wept when he learned about the death of his friend. Yes, Jesus modeled for us what it means to walk in humility.

You see, in the world, we’re challenged to desire power, influence, fame, and wealth. None of these are inherently bad, by any means. But they must be stewarded with dependence on God.

Kids are dependent on their parents or guardians to take care of them. Two-year-olds can’t get a paycheck or make dinner. They need someone to do it for them—they are dependent.

We, too, must realize our dependence on Christ. Dependence is simply realizing we have a desperate need. We will never find humility if we don’t realize our own limitations.

Faith like a child can’t mean perfection. Have you worked in child care lately? It’s deeper than behavior. It’s a relationship where we’re humbly dependent on God, free to get mad or sad or broken before him. This is a relationship where we’re free to keep our intelligence and our reasoning.

Do you have faith like a child?

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You Should Be a Member of a Subculture

Every place has a culture with both stated and discrete ways of doing things. Stop at a stop sign. Tip at least 18% at restaurants.

In Austin, there’s a coffee house called Flight Path. In college, it was one of my favorite places to study–mostly because it had a strong culture of silence. It didn’t take long to realize the largest room in the cafe was a place where talking was unacceptable. No rules were posted on the wall stating this explicitly, it was simply a strong cultural expectation.

Most of the rules and strong suggestions, like the silent culture of Flight Path, are good for us, but many aren’t. Maybe in your city, culture dictates a distaste for the homeless. Or it’s discouraging you to talk about your convictions in the work place. Maybe your culture has an aversion to people sharing their faith openly. Or maybe your culture tells you revenge is the natural next step after you’ve been wronged. But the truth is, we don’t live in response to cultural mandates. We live as members of another world, another kingdom–God’s kingdom.

This idea of an invisible kingdom is strange to some people. It feels weird writing it out, like it’s a fantasy land. But it’s not. The kingdom of God is a subculture, a different way of being in the world. I’ve written before about the dangers of the phrase “in the world but not of it” because of the way we can misunderstand the commands of God and become isolationists. What we really need to become are champions of a subculture that loves members of the greater culture at large, but is run by a peculiar, different set of principles.

Merriam-Webster defines a subculture as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.”

Sadly, the Christian subculture is most distinguished in the news by firm stances on hot-button issues: gay marriage, gun control, abortion, etc. It can be a subculture built on fear of a takeover, defensively setting itself apart by declaring what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Clearly coming to a conclusion on these issues is important, but so much more is available to us.

When we see the person of Jesus, we don’t see a man that got his disciples together and spent his time on earth huddled around a table–discussing theories and reminding themselves of how right they were. It wasn’t a group that built a subculture on the foundations of condemnation and fraternity membership. No, the subculture Jesus created was one of truth and hope for the poor. It was a subculture where interacting with culture’s thrown out and downtrodden was an expectation, not an aversion.

This was a subculture that got furious with the rule-based Pharisees, a group I sadly can identify with far too often. I wonder how often our churches resemble a meeting of Pharisees instead of a subculture of Jesus followers?

Take stock of your culture at large. Join the subculture of Christ, choosing to live against the grain in ways that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus. What we will begin to find is that what makes us most against the grain is not the things we stand in opposition to, but the things we advocate for.

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