We’re Not the Solution

To truly care about something means to wish its well being with or without us. It’s far too easy to want to see ourselves as the solution to another’s problems more than we want to see their problems solved. Sadly, I fall into this mentality all the time.

But the savior mentality was never meant for us—that role has already been filled. It was placed on the head of a Jewish carpenter with the crown of thorns.

For us to desire the best for others, we must be willing to be a part of a solution—not the entire solution. In fact, we must be willing to be absent from the solution. If we find ourselves unwilling to allow people to find progress in the counsel of other individuals, groups, or organizations, we were never truly out for their best interests at all. Rather, we were seeking a badge to wear.

Does this mean we sit idly by and cast all responsibility onto others? No, but it does mean we should stop trying to change the world and start being faithful to the segment of the world we’ve been tasked with changing—beginning with us. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Maybe the first problem for us to tackle is in our hearts.

The Bible talks about each person playing the particular role put in front of them—represented by different parts of the body. When each of these roles are played, a body can function.

The world doesn’t need more lone-ranger saviors. It needs togetherness, and this requires us to truly put the needs of others ahead of our own by being okay with others having their needs met somewhere else.

Excellence Is Boring

Excellence requires a certain level of boring. To be excellent requires focus, and focus makes us predictable. It means saying no to most things and yes to a few. It means being associated with a particular skill, cause, or activity when our names come up in conversation.

Our wanderlust can be our biggest liability because it can keep us from adopting the amount of boring it takes to become great at something. This is often said of my generation, that we’re too directionless because we live off the thrill of chasing new experiences. I know this can be true in my life.

As a millennial, the world doesn’t know what to do with me. Often, I don’t know what to do with me, either. We’ve been essentially labeled by some as the downfall of America and by others, its only hope. We’re categorized as aimless, careless, and careful. We’re passionate, apathetic, and thoughtful.

In spite of culture’s inability to truly nail us down, one thing is for sure. A tremendous threat to producing great, meaningful work is our aversion to boring.

Producing a great body of work usually takes not just months or even years—it can take decades. It takes getting our hands dirty and sharpening a craft over time. It’s failing and moving on again. Over and over. It takes swallowing the embarrassment we feel when we overhear someone at a party ask, “He’s still trying to do that?” or “She’s still in that field?”

This doesn’t mean we can’t switch hobbies, jobs, or entire career paths. But it does mean we shouldn’t switch because the honeymoon period has worn off. We should switch with the understanding that we won’t become truly great at whatever it is until we commit.

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Understand before Attempting to Be Understood

The Internet was hailed as a way for the walls between us to come tumbling down, giving us a platform to exchange ideas in a civilized way. Sadly, this hasn’t come to fruition. The majority of the people I follow tend to think the same way as I do, and when I take a look at any CNN article, I don’t find respectful discourse.

No, I find news about the latest celebrity scandal followed by someone in the comments section claiming that people who believe in God are stupid. A breaking story about Obama is followed by someone claiming he’s the antichrist. It seems to be a medium full of camps that huddle together and heave fallacious grenades at the settlements down the street.

It’s a crazy world out there, isn’t it? But maybe the answer isn’t to scream louder. Maybe it’s to close our lips and listen–seeking to understand before attempting to be understood. Try arguing from the other side, reading a blog by someone we disagree with, taking a deep breath before we type frantically under the cover of anonymity.

Part of our problem is our inability to see people on the Internet as people. To us, they’re simply usernames and words that push our buttons. But behind the tweet, article, comment, or blog is a human with a soul–a person God loves deeply.

The walls can come down, but they won’t be able to do so if we’re continually building more.

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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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