Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about how you’re sabotaging satisfaction in life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • That relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert. I’ve maintained adequate levels of dissatisfaction my entire adult life.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race! (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog he doesn’t know exists, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downton Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? EVERY RIGHT if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, if I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass.

And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………You didn’t guess. I’ll just tell you. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

As it turned out, my unrealistic expectations were akin to Round Up. I killed whatever grass I found under my feet.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job.

It makes sense, then, that changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

Where is there joylessness in your life? Where is there discontent?

Now, what adjustments–however small–can you make to your expectations in these areas? Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.

 

One symptom of a sick heart

Image result for doctor checkupDoctors have their ways of providing a diagnosis given symptoms that one may be experiencing.

For years, Lindsey and I watched House M.D. come up with the diagnosis that nobody else could figure out…usually with the help of a series of home investigations, ruling out sarcoidosis, and a steady supply of Vicodin.

Reading Scripture should be a diagnostic measure for us, which may be why some just don’t read. It also has the prescription (no, not more cowbell) for what ails you.

Galatians 5:14 reminds us that all of the Old Testament, like, all of it, is fulfilled/made complete/rolled up in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The diagnostic? Well, I could simply ask, are you loving your neighbors? But let me press a bit more.

I am reading A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker (Jen’s husband)–and I’ll just say, phenomenal. It may be the best book on spiritual formations/spiritual reconstruction I’ve ever read.

Brandon points to the signs of a heart that is being transformed by the gospel, and one such sign (symptom, if you will) is: “People stop annoying you because you see their brokenness and identify it with your brokenness” (p.39).

  • How often are you annoyed by people?
  • What kinds of people annoy you?
  • What triggers that ‘please get away from me’ knee jerk in your mind?
  • How much of someone can you take before wanting to punt them?

These are the questions that help identify whether our hearts are sick. Sick with superiority. Sick with self-centeredness. Sick with envy.

So how much, how often, why, etc., do people annoy you? Take it to the Lord, dear son or daughter.

Image result for more cowbell animated gifDid I hear someone say more cowbell?

Sometimes it’s the right idea but you’re the wrong person

Image result for solomon's temple

Solomon’s, NOT DAVID’S, temple

I hated even writing that title.

I still hate reading it.

It reminds me  of  that whole, was Facebook the idea of Mark Zuckerberg or those tall Winklevoss twins?

At any rate, I feel like that wrong person sometimes. Especially when I look at what person X is doing or how person Q is thriving  and think, “I could be doing that” or “I had that idea, too” or “Seriously, him?”

You may have a great idea, a good idea. But you may not be the right person to do it. That could be for any number of reasons–don’t have the platform, too educated, not educated enough, don’t know the right people, short on cash, maxed out credit.

King David, it turns out, had a really great idea. It was actually a good idea in the moral sense. But David didn’t get to do it. Here is son Solomon’s account of dad’s dream and subsequent denial:

2 Chronicles 6:7-10

Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, it is not you who shall build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 10 Now the Lord has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.

Great job, David! Way to dream a big, bold, God-sized dream! Nevertheless…no…not now…not ever…at least, not you…

I have historically journaled my dreams and tried not to talk about them too much lest a Solomon come along and get to live them out instead of me. But at some point David must have told Solomon what he was thinking and imagining. It caught Solomon’s imagination, too. And God wanted it to be Solomon.

There’s honor in thinking big and having great ideas, morally great ideas, and not being the one who sees it to fruition. That’s okay in the economy of God’s kingdom because all credit goes to Him anyways. All glory goes to Him.

So maybe it’s time to dream out loud a bit more and share what big thing is stirring within and monopolizing our thoughts. And then to pray something like, “Lord, if not me, then someone.”

You can demolish or be demolished. Here’s how.

One of the positives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

One of the negatives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

It’s one thing to dream about making something better or starting something fresh, but it’s another thing to try to live that out before it happens–if it’s going to happen at all–and to imagine that whatever you’re dreaming actually exists and is being enjoyed by others right now. That’s the part I have trouble with.

The imagined future, the possibilities, all the what ifs and so on, are all far better than the present. Result?

Discouragement, dissatisfaction, and discontentment with the present. Yep, all the d-words…

So I was expressing these feelings one day, and Lindsey reminded me that I need to take every thought captive.

OH NO SHE DIDN’T quote Bible words at me! She didn’t pay an exorbitant amount of money on a degree that she could’ve gotten for $900 in a little deal called Logos! Okay, she helped pay for it, but that paper on my wall has my name on it.

The apostle Paul writes about “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, HCSB).

EVERY THOUGHT. That’s just exhausting.

Paul precedes the what  with the why: “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds…(verses 3-4).

Love that last part I underlined. Demolition. There’s nothing gentle or sweet about that.

Image result for demolition

A massive metal machine gently massaging rubble

would easily say that my dreaming, and subsequent discontentment, has been a stronghold.

The lie of something better, grass that’s greener…water your own stinking grass.

I want to live into what Jim Elliot urged, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I want to demolish those strongholds by the power of the Spirit of Truth.

Jesus said today has its own troubles. Today has more than enough to keep you occupied. Stop worrying about tomorrow and your five-year plan. Just be obedient to Jesus today. And the next day. And repeat.

As thoughts arise, measure them against the truth of God’s Word.

  • Is this thought leading me closer to Christ?
  • Is it stirring affections for the Lord?
  • OR is it leading me into one of those d-words?
  • Ultimately, if I run with this thought and let it linger, will I end up in sin of some sort?

God be with you (and me) in taking EVERY thought captive to obey Christ today.

 

Busy but Bored

I’ve read two authors whose books end up having more underlined than not, leading me at times to…dare I say…dog-ear pages (gasp). But I can’t help it. They’re both priceless. Their words are salve for the soul, especially the soul of a Christian leader. I am speaking of Eugene Peterson (whom I’ve blogged about before and before) and Henri Nouwen.

I have just begun The Dance of Life by Nouwen and already applied multiple sticky notes to mark sections, underlined, written lines to write about later, and so forth. The following is what made me go daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, Henri. Tell me this doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies of your soul:

“It is remarkable how much of our life is lived without reflection on its meaning. It is not surprising that so many people are busy but bored! They have many things to do and are always running to get them done, but beneath the hectic activity they often wonder if anything is truly happening. A life that is not reflected upon eventually loses its meaning and becomes boring” (p.46). 

Remember that old Rascal Flatts song “I Melt”? Yeah, me neither. But I did.

Especially upon reading the phrase busy but bored. What an apt description of my life, so often due to a lack of reflection, a failure to frame experiences and responsibilities with purpose or intentionality.

If you’re busy but bored, perhaps it’s time to create some space to sit in silence, to stop the chatter–both internally and digitally, and to ask What’s the point of what I’m doing? How does this fit into God’s design? And then sit with it. It’s sometimes terrifying what we hear.

Grace be with you.

Rural Recuperation

rural

 

My surrogate writer, Jen Hatmaker, again took the words out of my gut. This time in Interrupted (pp. 72-3): “The path of descent becomes our own liberation. We are freed from the exhausting stance of defense. We are no longer compelled to be right and are thus relieved from the burden of maintaining some reputation. We are released from the idols of greed, control, and status. The pressure to protect the house of cards is alleviated when we take the lowest place.”

Home has been Los Angeles and St. Louis. In the burbs, of course. But big, nonetheless.

For so long, especially in the machinations of megachurch world, I longed to be known. To grow a ministry. To get noticed. To amass a Twitter following (using Jesus to do so, but fully expecting them to follow and probably worship me, to be honest). To answer the call from the unknown number and–FINALLY!!–an invitation to speak at _________ conference or _________ church. I could’ve filled that blank with so many names, sexy names.

Enter rural life.

There’s no being known, except for the people you see face-to-face. Mainly because they’ve been burned on Facebook and only engage the faces in front of them. Rural doesn’t care about Twitter–most don’t even know what it is and are suspicious when you use the word.

        “Hey Earl, you see that tweet?” “Boy, why you talkin’ bout birds? You wantin’ to go               huntin’?” (There are no g’s on the ends of words in rural)

Rural has been healing for my spotlight-hungry, bigger/better/brighter soul.

There’s little to defend in rural. It’s rare that anyone is on the offensive. It happens, but not much. About as often as I see the horseman riding down Highway 19. There’s no need to project an image. People can tell if you care. And if they can’t tell, they don’t care. Success shmess. No house of cards to protect here.

You can still be an arrogant, prideful jerk in rural. But it’s harder. The feeling of superiority you get at the local grocer eventually becomes shame that you feel such things, and you (I) start pondering what stories those faces are hiding (and drowning out with copious amounts of Mountain Dew). See, even that was judgment. But seriously, nobody needs that much devil’s brew.

I’m not fully recuperated and don’t expect to be this side of the River Jordan. Jesus is still working. He’s saving me from myself. Rural has been an irreplaceable agent of sanctification and has provided the space needed for recuperation.

I feel bad for the Spirit. How agonizing it must be to humble me without killing me. I’ve been prideful for as long as I can remember. Mostly out of insecurity. Terribly insecure. Terrified of not being smart or witty or fit–house of cards.

By the power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and the sweet patience of my bride, I have hopes that humility might stick. I feel like things would get pretty nasty if I started trying to climb the ladder again.

This post is what happens when my wife says, go take some time to yourself. Thanks, babe.

 

Self-Righteous Scheming…for God!

I was talking with a friend and coworker yesterday morning about Jesus’ interactions with  people, particularly in the first several chapters of Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 3:1-2, Jesus is in the synagogue and in walks a man with a deformed hand. Mark records that “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” They are the Pharisees. Pharisees are easy targets for us in the 21st century because that’s who Jesus got after.

The not-so-obvious irony in wanting to join Jesus in this crusade against self-righteous legalists who impose slavish expectations on people is that we, yes we, are all too often the self-righteous. As Andy Stanley said recently, “The self-righteous are rarely self-aware.” I am not really concerned what you think about Andy; the statement is true. If you disagree you’re just proving the point.

But what my colleague and I discussed was the fact that the Pharisees watched Jesus, not to discern what the Lord might be doing in Him or through Him, but to accuse Him. They were, in pious posture, rooting for Jesus to fail, to trip up, to finally fulfill the expectations they’d had for Him all along so that they might, well, win. Self-righteous people want to win. They have to win.

And if we aren’t self-aware we too will keep tabs on people in hopes they’ll fall. We will want to have our suspicions confirmed rather than work for the good of the person(s) and others around us.

Down in verse 5, Jesus is both angry and grieved by their hardness of heart. Jesus sees straight through them, into their shadowy hearts where  the light of grace has yet to take up residence. And the Pharisees go out to the Herodians in hopes of finding someone to agree with them.

When you find yourself looking for accomplices in your self-righteous scheming, you’re one step away from shouting, “Crucify Him!” All under the guise of righteous motivation.

Children’s Songs for the Childish Christian

If you’ve grown up in or around church, you’ve learned the same songs over the years…

“Jesus Loves Me”…really? Me?

“This Little Light of Mine”…should it shine, like, all the time? Can I hide it ever?

“Jesus Loves the Little Children”…which ones? ALL the children of the world.

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”…still? Yep. 

It turns out I have the hardest time believing and living out the songs deemed most suitable for children.  I fundamentally believe Jesus forgives me, but loves me is a different story. I know my light should shine, but how often I put it under that danged bushel or let Satan blow it out. Jesus loves all the children of the world, but I struggle with some of the folks around me.

Then there’s the mother of all kids sing-a-longs…God has the whole wide world in His hands. He does. I know that. But over the last 10 years I haven’t lived like it. I’ve tried to control. I’ve manipulated situations to ensure they turn out the best for me. I’ve tried to play the role of Geppetto the puppeteer in my attempts to steer others in a favorable way. It’s quite childish.

Yet every time I try to hold the world in my hands, I’m riddled with anxiety, fear, and a palpable sense of inadequacy. Turns out I make a horrible Sovereign. My hands aren’t big enough…which is true literally as well–I have smallish hands.

The prophet Isaiah reminds me that I’ll never be up to the task: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Isaiah 40:12, HCSB.  Answer: Not I.

God has been so gracious reveal to me that I know way more than I believe and believe way more than I live. So I’m learning to believe and live the songs I’m singing with my kids. And with #4 on the way, I have a lot more late night concerts to come….

Good vs. Great — The Toughest Battle

Business strategist and author Jim Collins wrote in his book Good to Great that “good is the enemy of great.” In short it means the majority settle for what’s good instead of striving for what’s great or what’s best. 

Instinctively we know that’s true because a lot of us have done some good things. But there’s an aching to do something great. 

Yet here many of us sit, reading the blogs of those who’ve done great things, scrolling through tweets of those who’ve done great things, listening to their podcasts, and fantasizing away most days–about doing great things, of course. 

John Piper is one of the guys in the world I admire. Some theological differences aside, I can’t discount his contribution to the world of pastoral ministry and pastoral training. Beyond that, he is a man of simple means and steadfast single-mindedness. This is what pastor John wrote about the good and great tension:

            “The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” 

Not surprisingly, that quote comes from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Don’t waste your life with a bunch of goods and okays and acceptables. The point is not to say that you can only do one thing your whole life or have a sole interest like Dr. Frankenstein.

Rather, the point is to say, if you are mastered by an unending devotion to carry out God’s will no matter the kickback or obstacles, then you’ll make a durable difference in the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll be invited to speak at a conference or get a book deal (it’s possible), but it does mean you will influence and inspire those in your circles of influence. 

And what that person who inspires you has done for you, you may well do for others. It could be for co-workers, for your children, grandchildren, church members, who knows…

But be mastered by the most important thing, by a sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s leading. That will serve you and God’s kingdom no matter the endeavor you choose. Nothing will count more in the end beyond the blood of Jesus than whether the Lord is able to say to you, “I spoke. You obeyed. Well done.” 

Why I Deactivated Twitter

Because I’m so super spiritual, and I’m cutting out anything that might distract me from the all supreme purpose of glorifying God in the stratosphere of His immensity and indesribableness!!!!

(not sure who made this pic, but it’s superb)

Ok, just the opposite. And I made up indesribableness.

It’s really because Twitter makes my spirit struggle.

I’m a dreamer, as I’ve mentioned. With that comes a predisposition toward living vicariously–and ultimately, enviously–through the lives of others.

For me it tends to be other pastors. I see their successes and triumphs and how much they “LOVE their church” and “can’t believe they get paid to do this” and it takes me to places in my mind that don’t actually exist.

After 10 years of battling chronic, oppressive discontentment, I’m tired of playing the comparison game and asking 1,000 what ifs and on and on and on. It’s exhausting. It makes those closest to me exhausted.

I think about how many times I tweeted something that sounded so insightful and godly, all the while I was in a horrible place. Why? Because I had to have something for someone to like or retweet. I needed to keep up with the Joneses of the Twitterverse…only they aren’t Joneses. They’re Pipers, Chandlers, Giglios, Stanleys, Acuffs, etc. The Hebrews 11 of Evangelical Who’s Who.

So I kissed Twitter goodbye for Lent and probably for longer. At least until I’m mature enough in Christ to not need the adulation of cyber congregants.

Perhaps there’s something in your life that’s more of a distraction and deterrent to Spiritual maturity than anything else.