Month: October 2015 (page 2 of 3)

Replaying Failure

What failure do you keep replaying in your mind? The moment you wish you never experienced. The words that got away from you. The decision you would want to have back. When you consider this episode of failing, the gnawing feeling takes over to stall you or pushes you towards perfection.

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You may have seen the Michigan-Michigan State football game on Saturday night. Blake O’Neill fumbled a punt with ten seconds to go. Michigan State not only recovered the football but returned it for a game-winning touchdown. His failure visible to millions of people and will probably make the top lists of game endings.

In watching this moment and thinking about O’Neill, I ask myself and you this question; what failure defines, debilitates, and follows you?

I found myself talking about one of my most painful failures to my wife this weekend. As we rode in the car to Letchworth State Park, I divulged to her how I still replay the episode after the years of the occurrence. Receiving grace in the midst of failure is like forgiving someone, developing patience, and replacing worry with trust; it’s a process.

John Ortberg speaks of the “cave of failure” in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat:

The cave (of failure) is where God does some of his best work in molding and shaping human lives. Sometimes, when all the props and crutches in your life get stripped away and you find you have only God, you discover that God is enough. Sometimes, when your worst fears of inadequacy are confirmed and you discover that you really are out of your league, you experience the liberation of realizing that it is okay to be inadequate and that God wants his power to flow to flow through your weakness. (pg. 139)

Dealing with failure in our lives means facing the fear and shame. Not in terms of overcompensating, but receiving God’s grace. Inadequacy becomes a gift. Following Jesus never includes us puffing up our chests in strength. On the contrary, weakness brings us a closing to knowing Jesus and closer to each other.

O’Neill will face his failure today and every time he sees that replay. Just like us, he will face the encouragement of his family coupled with the harsh words of critics. I still replay my failure and am finding how the grace of God challenges my inner desire to perform and insecurity.

What about your failure? How will you face the lingering fear and shame from it?
It might start with acknowledging it to God and asking him for grace.
It might mean sharing it with a close friend who will provide you with grace and truth.
It might look like you accepting your inadequacy as opposed to pursuing perfection.
It might mean taking a step of action rather than freezing from fear.
It might challenge you to replace the lies you believe to the truth of God’s grace.

May the grace of God move you from replaying your failure towards receiving his love and acceptance based on the Gospel.

Photo credit to Laura Lee Moreau.

Reads of the Week | 10/17/2015

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These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

How Stephen Colbert is Bringing Religion to Late Night by Megan Garber

We might be in the golden age of Late Night television with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. Megan Garber shares the fascinating interplay of faith with Colbert. She references his interviews with Oprah and Vice President Joe Biden.

How Solitude Can Change Your Brain in Profound Ways by Jane Porter

Jane Porter writes about the importance solitude for productivity and creativity. Recently coming from a week of solitude on her own, she gives insights into how the brain processes the big picture and how space aware positively affects our relationships.

Instagramming Ourselves to Death by Justin Zoradi

We live from the high of responding to a text message, tweet, or email. Justin Zoradi points to the problem of focusing the constant interaction with our phones.

Flipping Out byJoe Posnanski

Matthew Lee Anderson shared this article about the Jose Bautista bat flip on social media. Here’s a little humor from this article, “We’re fine with outward displays in every other sport. Why do we ask baseball players to bury their emotions like students in a seminary?”

More than Just Stories by John Frye

A fantastic article detailing the importance of Jesus and His Parables. John Frye speaks of how the parables not only speak about Jesus but how He saw the people listening to him.

What are your reads of the week? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Mikhail Pavstyuk.

Unearned and Undeserved

I found myself in the midst of a season confronting the darkness. Insecurity had caused me to doubt, the love of my friends and the love of Christ. The life long struggle of feeling different and not fitting in had created barriers. Rather than recognizing Christ’s grace, I constantly rehashed my failures, weaknesses, and reasons I did not belong.

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Then, I came across the author, Brennan Manning. God has a way of providing us with the right books and people in the right seasons. They speak into our lives to give us clarity and remind us of God’s presence. Sitting in a Starbucks, I began to read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Manning.

Manning’s background as a former priest and recovering alcoholic provided a unique insight on the grace of Jesus Christ. He spoke with understanding to my life. I soon could see how I substituted my performance for God’s grace. When we make this substitution, we live with debt and earning. Debt focuses on, “I will never be good enough for God’s grace.” Earning focuses on, “I deserve God’s grace.”

The following paragraph from the book caught my attention and caused a pivotal change in my perspective on grace:

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All this is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned – our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep – all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift. “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn or deserve it. (pg. 25)

Many of us wrestle with God’s grace. We wonder if He keeps a checklist and if he watches for us to slip up. Many people can articulate grace as an idea or doctrine. Where most of us struggle is recognizing grace in our everyday life. God’s grace comes to us as a gift. The invitation of grace moves us off of our performance to see Him. He releases us from carrying a load that we could never carry. That’s Good News.

What would happen if you experienced God’s grace as a gift? You might stop believing the lies of insecurity and perfectionism. We might become truly authentic with each other as opposed to hiding ourselves from community. We may start to recognize the love of God in our lives and even the lives of others.

May you today experience God’s grace as an unearned and undeserved gift.

Photo credit by Autumn Mott.

Removing “Should” from Our Vocabulary

My wife Robyn and I will celebrate two years of marriage on October 20th. She exudes a great deal of patience, graciousness, and wisdom. I’ll never forget a piece of advice she gave to me. In the midst of a conversation, she said to me, “I think you might want to consider removing ‘should’ from your vocabulary.”

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One word can make a drastic difference in our conversation. She began to indicate to me what a person hears when we tell them, “You should…”

Should implies authority in a moment when a person seeks your understanding.
Should oversimplifies a difficult issue.
Should can accidently or purposely question a person’s intelligence.
Should comes across more about me than you.
Should can rob people of discovering a solution on their own.

Honestly, I still struggle using the word should. Sometimes in our exuberance to help people, we can miss how we come across to them. Removing this word invites us see conversations with others in a different light; removing the focus off of ourselves and giving them the opportunity to process.

Instead of using “should” in our vocabulary, here are four alternatives:

1. Ask Questions

You have the opportunity to help a person discover how they can grow. Questions, focused more on quality than quantity, invite a person to a different perspective. The best questions include Who, What, When, Where and How. At times, Why can carry negative connotations. That might be another post.

Some questions you can consider; What do you think is your next step? When did you start thinking about this? How can grow from this?

2. Share an Experience to Identify Not to Give Advice

Sharing experiences usually result in using the word “should.” Your experiences can identify with another person. Instead of giving advice, you can share what you thought and how you felt. Experiences say, “Me too…”

3. Partner

Look for ways you can join them in finding a solution. It might look like going to the gym with them. You could attend an event with them. They could rehearse a conversation with you. Partnering walks alongside a person.

4. Model

Modeling takes place in the consistency of relationship. Rather than saying “should” live out what you say.

What alternatives to using the word “should” would you add?

Photo Credit Sarah Babineau in Life of Pix.

Jeremiah and the Reality of Scripture

We can miss the rawness of the scriptures. The Old Testament book of Jeremiah gets mentions for at least two verses; one of which 29:11 details God’s plans for us. This book tells the heartbreaking story of a misunderstood prophet, Jeremiah. The seemingly positive verses come out of the painful existence of a man, who experienced rejection and loneliness.

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In the fall of 2007, I spent fifteen weeks in the book of Jeremiah. Dr. Malcolm Brubaker taught a night class on the 52 chapters of Jeremiah and five chapters of Lamentations. We journeyed with this prophet through his calling from God, conflicts with kings, getting thrown into a cistern, and the rather anti-storybook ending.

Why spend the time engaging this difficult book of the Old Testament? It speaks to the reality of our lives. Somewhere in the footsteps of Jeremiah we encounter a man who vents to God while also experiences His faithfulness. Not because his circumstances improve, rather because God remains present.

The first class Dr. Brubaker read from Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk chapter “Jeremiah as Writer: The Necessary Other.” The “Necessary Other” refers to how our calling from God separates us from others. He read this portion:

In the Book of Jeremiah we encounter a very human prophet, and a God who is alarmingly alive. Jeremiah makes it clear that no one chooses to fall into the hands of such a God. You are chosen, you resist, you resort to rage and bitterness and, finally, you succumb to the God who has given you your identity in the first place. (pg. 45)

The scriptures shockingly invite us to vent and contend with God. They do not hold back the reality of our often painful existence. We end up finding a God, who is there. Not an insecure God to dismiss our laments, but willing to listen to our doubts. The difficulty and encouragement of reading the prophet of Jeremiah has to do with us identifying with him and his relationship with God.

Reading Jeremiah gives us a glimpse of Jesus in the New Testament. Through this prophet, we can understand a Savior, who experiences loneliness, rejection, and pain. The book of Hebrews further explains how Jesus identifies with us so we can pray to Him. Part of the Gospel, the Good News, is Jesus has walked where we walked.

At times, we walk through the seasons of difficulty and doubt. The scriptures introduce us to friends like the prophet Jeremiah. A person we can identify with their pain. Even more so, these portions of scripture reveal the presence of a Savior walking with us in our season of struggle.

Let the reality and rawness of scripture speak to your circumstances, so that we might see the grace of God at work in us.

Photo Credit Ryan McGuire in Gratisography.

Unwritten Rules of Baseball and Retaliation in Our Lives

Baseball players have a code of unwritten rules. Many associated with the game debate the actuality of these rules. Some of these rules include; do not talk about a no-hitter as it happens, do not overly admire a home run, do not step into the batter’s box until the pitcher has warmed up. We find ourselves in the middle of October playoff baseball discussing these rules.

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Last night, the Mets beat the Dodgers 13-7 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. The talk this morning seems focused more on what did not happen as opposed to what did happen.

In Game 2, Dodger Chase Utley slid into second base to detract Ruben Tejada from throwing to first. You can watch the slide below. Utley’s slide into Tejada resulted in a broken leg. Tejada cannot play for the rest of the playoffs.

The question for Game 3 became, “Will the Mets retaliate against the Dodgers?” Baseball’s unwritten rules suggest a Mets’ pitcher hitting a Dodger player, especially Utley. The Mets pitchers did not retaliate, and Utley sat in the dugout.

This episode begs the question for us; Is retaliation worth it?

In the heat of the moment, we want to give those who hurt us justice and vengeance. We rehearse what would we love to say to them. We hope that karma will run its course. Rarely does retaliation fix the problem. More often than not, it exacerbates the fight, bitterness, and resentment.

Retaliation over promises and under delivers. Vengeance never gives us the satisfaction we desire. It often produces guilt and can lodge even more bitterness in our hearts.

Perhaps, this is why Paul says in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” All throughout the scriptures, we are implored to love our enemies and those who hurt us. When we take matters into our hands, we end dismissing the grace we could experience in our lives. Giving others what they do not deserve teaches us of what Jesus has done for us in forgiving us.

Dallas Willard says this about retaliation in the Divine Conspiracy:

…when we are personally injured our world does not suddenly become our injury. We have a larger view of our life and our place in God’s world. we see God;  we see ourselves in his hands. And we see our injurer as more than that one who has imposed on us or hurt us. We recognize his humanity, his pitiful limitations (shared with us), and we also see him under God. This vision, and the grace that comes with it, enables the prayer: “Father forgive them, for they do not really understand what they are doing.” (pg. 176)

What difference would it have made for the Mets to take retaliation against the Dodgers? If anything it could have detracted them from what’s ahead of them

We can ask the same question for ourselves. The grace Jesus has given us extends to others. Forgiveness and reconciliation see the big picture for our own lives and those who hurt us.

Small Talk

You read the title of this post. Your mind might race to awkwardness, anxiety, and fear. For the rare few, they relish the opportunity to meet new people and start new conversations. Whatever you feel about small talk, we will engage people in these short chats today.

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Why is small talk valuable? In the midst of the constant bombardment of self-interest and self-promotion, our conversations can invite people to be known. Sometimes the simplest way to love our neighbor means giving them the space to communicate.

How often do we hear the message, “Get to know me?” Then how refreshing is it when someone says to us, “How can I know you?”

Small talk communicates to a person their significance and value. Taking the time to listen to a person expresses far more than we could ever say to them. Here are five suggestions for small talk:

1. Start the conversation with “Where are you from?” as opposed to “What do you do?”

Many times our conversations die with the question, “What do you do?” A person could be in a career transition, or they could have fielded that question a thousand times. One of my mentors suggested this question because it begins the avenue of storytelling about their life.

Blogger Ashley Fidel said this about finding out what people do, “Through lots of trial and error; I have learned that asking this classic question rarely leads to meaningful or memorable conversations.” She provides other thought provoking conversation starters in her post 7 Conversation Starters Better Than “What Do You Do?”—and 7 That Are Even Worse.

2. Slow down.

My wife Robyn has taught me a lesson about small talk. She has the innate ability to focus on one conversation at a time. While she talks to others, you can tell she’s engaged in the present. To slow down means not rushing to the next great conversation. It means recognizing the moment you have with a person.

3. Use the person’s name.

Joyce E.A. Russell says this in her article The Career Coach: The Power of Using a Name, “A person’s name is the greatest connection to their identity and individuality.”

When we use someone’s name, we acknowledge them and their presence. Also, saying a person’s name will help us remember their name.

4. Find out the person’s expertise.

What topics cause you to light up in a conversation? Our conversations get enriched by talking about those areas in our lives that bring us joy; families, hobbies, vacation spots, sport’s teams, books, careers, etc. By giving a person to share their expertise, we can learn from them and experience their passion.

Think of this in terms of people writing a graduate level thesis. How often do we ask about the topic of people’s research? Most people do not get to engage this aspect outside their field. We can give people time to share what they invest their work.

5. Sense the rhythm of the conversation.

Has the person increased the speed of their words? Have they slowed down and engaged in the conversation? Taking the queues from the other person will help us know how long to remain the conversation. They might have a next appointment to attend. They might have a little free time. Before you end or continue the conversation, find their rhythm for the amount of time they have.

What suggestion do you have for small talking with others? Share them in the comment section below.

Photo Credit to Luke Chesser of Unsplash.

Reads of the Week

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These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

What We Miss When We Resist Change by John Richmond

John Richmond shares about a radical change in direction of his life. Then goes on to draw out from this experience what he learned when he began to embrace change.

Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy by Justin Holcomb

Justin Holcomb underscores the difference between heresy and theological disagreements. Through the perspective of church history, he helps us with grasp the meaning of heresy.

What’s Your Weakness? by Scott Savage

Scott Savage details how weaknesses connect us better to each other as opposed to strengths. He outlines four steps to figure out our strengths our of our weaknesses.

Jesus is My King Not My Concierge by Fred Liggin

A phenomenal example causing us to recognize how we see Jesus in our lives. Fred Liggin writes a poignant article that will cause us to reflect on how we see Jesus.

We Need Both Networks and Communities by Henry Mintzberg

Janna Moss shared this article on my Facebook profile. Henry Mintzberg communicates the importance authentic communities in the workplace. Small Groups matter.

What articles or posts would you consider your read of the week? Share the link in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Alex Wigan from Life of Pix.

Permission to Speak Freely

A good friend sent a handful of us a thoughtful email. He indicated his desire to grow. The email concluded with a list of three to four questions. I stopped at the last question, “Where do you think I need to grow?”

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I remember following up with him on this email. He received expected feedback on areas of growth and at other points he noticed blind spots. It took courage to ask that question. Those of us in this exchange felt valued to have a voice in his life. Not only did he receive the feedback, but he put it into practice.

It’s not easy getting the bad news. People can confirm our deepest insecurities or point out a hidden flaw. Yet, when the truth comes to us out of a motivation of love, we can grow and mature. Grace shapes our hearts by hearing the truth rather than denying the problem.

The Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become more mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Other portions of scripture speak to the fact of exhorting each other in community (Hebrews 3, 6, 10). Part of living in community means learning to process the feedback. We learn to cherish the difficult critiques from brothers and sisters. Somewhere in the tough conversations, the Holy Spirit might speak to an area of our lives.

My friend’s email took the truth a step further. Rather than waiting for people to come to him, he gave them the permission to speak freely. When we give permission to people to speak in our lives, we communicate the value of their friendship. We invite them into our growth process and create the space for authenticity.

Experiencing grace and growth in our lives often means receiving the truth. The people closest to us might shine a light into a dark area of our lives. Instead of waiting for them to come to us, we can invite them to speak freely in our lives.

Who will you give the permission to speak freely in your life today?

Photo credit Maz of Life of Pix.

A Prayer for Healthy Ambition

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We fear the label ordinary.
It seems that every voice tells us to pursue greatness.
Discover the dream and journey towards success.
Along the way, we find that our definitions of dreams and success differ from Yours.

We weary ourselves for the label extraordinary.
You see the extra hours we log for perfection.
You know the anxiety of all our presentations.
You hear us tell ourselves about the things other than You to make us matter.

Jesus, infuse in our hearts healthy ambition.
Teach how to live with excellence in worship.
May our ambition start with what You have done in us before what happens outside of us.
Release us from masquerading strength, so that we might find grace in our weaknesses.

Also, we confess that we have not always prioritized ambition rightly.
Let us start by making an ambition to become more like You in word and deed.
Provide us with the ambition to give grace to those closest to us.
Renew our hearts and minds with Your definition of greatness.
Replace the lies of unhealthy ambition with the truth of the Gospel.

Our ultimate worth and security comes from knowing You, not from personal accomplishments.
Thank You for the patience You have offered to us and the grace You have bestowed on us.

Amen

Photo credit by Xeromatic

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