Either Both Or And

My agent has told me more than once that I can be a bit esoteric. There, you have been warned.

I have been recently convicted about a particular bent I have. The same agent who described me as esoteric also identified my arrogance. I own that arrogance, but I don’t let it define me. As someone truly empathic, I understand people on a deep level. It is a gift and a curse. It’s a gift when I can understand another and help them through a tough spot. It’s a curse when I pile on my own judgement of them and eisegete their situation.

Enter the Father of Existentialism.

I have always been a fan of Kierkegaard. His works have been a balm for my particular “bent” because he seems to have suffered similarly. He wrote a brilliant book called Either/Or. In this book, he stresses the need in life to choose. That is, he proposes that we live only when we make distinctions and act on them.

Then came the idea of “Both/And.” In an “Either/Or” life, creativity and fullness come from distinctions. In the “Both/And” life, it comes from seeing what is there (yes I’m an empath), understanding how it works and making it work in your bit of the universe. This approach challenges me. My very important distinctions only matter in this world when I integrate those distinctions in my life.

What does this mean? It means that instead of making distinctions that separate, I choose to find those that include those differences. I think this is the key to how Jesus did discipleship.

When Jesus discipled others, he saw many of the differences and challenges they faced. It didn’t separate him from a person, it moved him to compassion. In this way, Jesus made a connection with people others thought hopeless. Jesus was an expert at making connections.

When I disciple someone, I want to connect with them deeply. I want to be able to see them for who they are. If I let this empathy call out distinctions in my life and eisegete my story into theirs, I will always fail. When I can empathize with them and be moved to compassion, God will win.

Sports, Madness and the Kingdom

Several people have blogged about March Madness or asked me personally about which team or bracket I was pulling for. So I thought I would get some of my thoughts out in public view.

To start, I am not completely against sports or even watching sports, and I am not against playing sports. Sometimes I am a bit competitive.

Having said that, I think sports are one of the most anti-kingdom creations of man. This started with the idea of thousands of people screaming themselves hoarse on Saturday because the care so much about their favorite team. Sunday roles around, and they feel amazing if they can get up and make it to church, but when they arrive, they are marginally  as enthusiastic about worship. Something looks like an idol when that happens to me.

Performance and Grace
In sports, winning counts more than anything. Occasionally  you might hear of someone who focuses on how you play the game, but the majority of hype revolves around the winners. In fact, coaches use every form of manipulation they can to produce winners. They nag, badger, shame, guilt, equivocate, verbally abuse, punish and use any other form of lever they can to get the best performance possible out of their athletes. When we win, they offer us praise. When we lose, they shame and then remove all attention. Then they leaves us alone in our imposed condemnation.

Grace focuses on inclusion because it’s based on freedom and gift giving. It always invites us into relationships that are redeeming and restoring. It cares more about the person than what they do. Practicing grace involves us in our grief and brings fellowship where there was condemnation.

Competitive Divisiveness and Unity
Being competitive only separates winners from losers. This competition gives a false sense of value. When you win, you feel like a winner. You feel better than everyone else. At least until the next competition. Then it’s time to ramp up and perform again. Anxiety sets in. What if we can’t beat the competition? What if we lose this sense of being better? This is self-condemnation at it’s best. It bases self-worth on performance.

Grace treats everyone as equals. It thrives in celebrating distinctions but dies in feelings of separation due to superiority. With grace, we know our need. We live in the tension of being needy and being completely accepted in our needs. We live in the freedom of having to perform.

Imposed Identity over Revealed Identity
The thing that bugs me the most about sport is the way people say, “We won!” Really, I didn’t see you out there on the field. People, for whatever reason, identify with a team and the team becomes their identity. This identity is false though, because it comes from outside of a person. The ease in which we celebrate others is corrupted by our own need to own what is good about something else. It’s a false sense of who we are.

Grace reveals identity by allowing us to accept ourselves for who we are. We see the good and the bad. This true self becomes our focus instead of the performance of something outside of us.

All of this is probably a buzz kill for many sports fans. Don’t let it be. If you enjoy sports, please don’t let this blog change that. However, if any of this made sense, please do search yourself for what grace gives you.

Donald Miller Helped Me Disciple Youth Last Night

I have been working on a teaching moment for a couple of weeks now. It revolves around a play on the words James the Apostle is probably known best for. His “faith without works is dead” is probably one of the most quoted lines in discipleship. I believe that, but I have a phrase of my own that is similar.

Knowledge without purpose is dead.

One of the issues I have with the western church is that they teach so much but expect so little. We really have one of the most educated generations alive. And yet, there is little difference in the lives of believers compared to those who have no faith. If what James says is true, we have a lot of believers, but not a lot of practitioners of faith.

So I have this idea about knowledge informs purpose and how purpose guides our actions. It has percolated in my head now for years but recently come back into my thoughts. Enter Donald Miller. I read his blog pretty regularly. He wrote something so simple. It wasn’t event he point of the post, but it had a profound impact on my thinking and gave me a context for teaching this though.

His words:

The elements of a meaningful story are the same as the elements of a meaningful life:

1. A character.

2. That knows what they want.

3. And is willing to overcome conflict.

4. To get it.”

So last night, I opened our discussion with the question of “What’s your story?” After a few questions about what I meant, we got down to business. Each person had a chance to think and talk about their character (who they are), their purpose, and what they were willing to do to get it. WOW! I hadn’t imagined that it would have such an impact.

I also read James’ passage about faith and ended with Philippians 2:13 (it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose). I think some big decisions were made last night.

Being Decisive, Love Wins and Discipleship

Wow, friend Jeff Goins sent me a video interview of Rob Bell for his new book Love Wins. It is the closest I have seen anyone corner Rob Bell. Watch it for yourself.

There has been a lot of talk about Bell and his new book. Much of it centers around his video and how it seems universalist. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t chime in, but that’s not the point here. What disturbs me is how Bell seems to deliberately obscure what he says. He says that love eventually wins and also that what we do now is important in the case of salvation. Waving off how those two ideas coexist, he claims paradox. If it’s just paradox, like he says, then why write about it?

Granted, the interviewer has an agenda and super-imposes ideas onto Bell. Where Bell says love wins, the interviewer says God wins. I have never heard Bell actually say that. The interviewer accuses Bell of softening the gospel into a more palatable idea. He also asks if it’s relevant what we do in this life repeatedly, even after Bell answers with an affirmative. Even so, Bell still doesn’t make himself clear.

I have been accused of being esoteric and vague at times myself. When faced with a direct question though, I tend to be as explicit as I can. It’s important for me to speak plainly if I can so that I am not misunderstood. Bell doesn’t seem to have that problem.

In discipleship, we speak into people’s lives. Some things are paradoxical and are therefore hard to wrap our minds around. If we can’t make a decision about an idea and clearly communicate it, we should be silent. It isn’t fair to guide someone in their faith, raise a bunch of questions they haven’t thought of and then be obscure in our reasoning to answer those questions. That’s just cruel and irresponsible.

I don’t know what is going on with Rob Bell or his book. He says there are questions he hears as a pastor that led to writing this book. Maybe he has people around him asking these questions. Maybe he explains more in his book and doesn’t want to give anything away in an interview. For whatever reason, I take more issue with what seems careless pastoral awareness than theological expression.

Resurrecting Moments

I was channel surfing the other night and somehow landed on the movie Tin Cup. This movie stars Kevin Costner and tells the story of a driving range golfer who struggles with self-control. He always goes for the impossible shots and ends up paying for the lack of wisdom. One line has stuck with me after the ten minutes I watched (yeah, I couldn’t stay there and watch).

“It’s a defining moment. In a defining moment, you define the moment or the moment defines you.”

I wonder at the truth of that statement. Can we ever define a moment for ourselves? Certainly others try to define us in those moments. For a follower of Christ, I think he defines us in our “moments.” I wonder about all the moments that pass us by that unrealized as defining. If what Jesus says about God the Father is true, that he is always at work, shouldn’t our lives be full of these moments?

In discipleship, we work to realize as many of these moments as possible. Discipleship helps a person realize these moments and points to God’s work in their life. But it shouldn’t end there. We need to resurrect these moments to be relived in our lives. Our memory of those moments convince us that our faith in God exists. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for and these moments point to our hope – a life of God defining us through carefully planned moments.

Do you remember a moment?

Confession – I Like Ideas

When I was in high school, I was given one of their standard career placement tests. Many events from that time have since lapsed from my memory, but the results of this test probably never will. It said that I “like working with ideas, and sometimes, people.” I had no idea how true that test was.

Recently (in my YMCP time) the ugly side of this reared its head. When I am acting like an orphan in my faith, I am arrogant. That’s what was happening last week. It wasn’t overt of directed at any person. Instead, it was directed at ideas. A good friend called me out on it like this:

“Paul, you struggle with arrogance sometimes don’t you?”

“Uh, yeah. (That’s nothing new.)”

“You know, it doesn’t seem like that happens with people. It’s not that you think your ideas are better. You just think you are right and everybody else is wrong.”

“…  that makes sense. I have never thought of that. (yippee! a new idea)”

The same person later affirmed me in such a way that I knew they cared about me in that criticism. They called me an empath. I immediately knew he was right.

At this point God steps in. All of this happened the week I was presenting ideas on created identity. I firmly believe that who we are is more revealed than formed after birth. And here God opens my identity up in front of a group of guys and whispers, “I made you this way. It’s not only ok to like ideas, that is what I made you to do.”

So on either side of my created identity is arrogance or empathy. Both are tied to seeing people where they are – accurately. One side is judgmental and the other is compassionate. In this duality, I will always struggle with the tension between the two.

This understanding helps me to know when I function out of Romans 7 in doing what I don’t want to do. It also releases me from self-condemning thoughts like Romans 8. Understanding my duality helps me make a more deliberate choice between the two because I can more easily identify them.

Any other dualists out there?

Discipleship Environments

I have written several times about how the coffee shop has become the backdrop for discipleship. I guess a post dedicated to it is overdue.

I don’t think anyone would question the effect of ambiance. In America, it’s the difference between a dollar coffee and a $4.91 ceramic mug of seattle’s finest latte. Americans generally pay half again to three, four, or ten times as much for a name brand. We couldn’t be that shallow though, right? There has to be some kind of intrinsic value over the change in price.

Not necessarily. I think the way we assign value to objects or experiences makes this intriguing. When it comes to the experience of discipleship, this is especially interesting.

The narcissist views a meeting with someone based on their value to them. If a they see their appointment as a high value, then they will impart that value to the experience of meeting that person. This becomes a problem and benefit of discipleship.

As a life-investing discipler, I always need to consider what value is being assigned to me. What environment do I create? What experience do I provide? A friend asks the question in a different way. He asks, “What do you fill the room with?”

Here the environment becomes apparent. We can sit in one of many coffee shops, bagel shops, churches, you name it. But the value we create in that experience relies on us. Specifically, it relies on the Holy Spirit working through us. Only through God’s revealed glory in us do we reveal something valuable in another.

What do you fill the room with?

Coaching – Why YMCP Works

For the past six or so months, I have been a part of the Youth Ministry Coaching Program with Mark Oestreicher. I knew that it was going to be a life changing experience. Being a part of a community as transparent and vulnerable as that has to mark you. What I didn’t know was how much I would learn.

We read books together, present ideas, talk about youth ministry issues and share our lives. All of these are things I have done before. Having all of these happen in a group that reflects and pushes back on each other is invaluable. I really can’t fully describe how amazing it is.

For less than the cost of two semesters of seminary, I get to be a part of something that I know will leave a legacy. Every person in this group will go on to do great things. I have no doubt about that. The knowledge alone would be worth the cost. But what YMCP really teaches is the ability to know yourself and share that with others.

Oh, and I am going to lead a group in September in Atlanta. If you want to learn more than a seminary can teach you, if you want to see a depth of character that has been revealed in the mirror, if you want to see how you are made for things beyond what you can imagine, contact me.

(Or read this, visit the YMCP site, or watch the video)

Practicing a life of being, not doing

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