When Reality Bites…Belief

Oh, the arrogance. Just nothing but pure pride. This may surprise you (wink wink) but I do get that way at times. Since I was the only paid pastor working with teenage students in our town, I was asked to be on a small ecumenical team trying to reach the youth of the city. The team was made up of a handful of people who were volunteer youth leaders from a variety of churches that would meet once a month to plan a big event to reach out to the students once a year. By at least a decade, I was the youngest member on the team. And, by at least a decade, I had the least amount of experience in ministry. I attended my first meeting with them, listened to their ideas, and then went home thinking, “It’s obvious they need me. So, I’ll make their event better and teach them how to do youth ministry in the process.” Me and my humble twenty-something wisdom shining brightly in that thought…

The event did go off more successfully than even I had thought, and each of the youth ministries represented at the event, saw an influx of new students immediately after. It was a huge success. In all of this, what I believed was that I was a fabulous youth pastor who simply just had a gift. And why not? The youth ministry at our church had grown tremendously over the last two years I had been there, which in turn, caused the church to grow. I realize now, in my late-thrity-something wisdom, that very little did that growth have to do with me and very little of that event going well have to do with anything “fabulous” I did. I believed I was humble. I believed I was this great teacher. But reality showed what I really was-arrogant, prideful and not very humble.

This summer, I watched Hidden Figures, a movie I believe every person in America should watch. It didn’t show the extreme racism that tends to make the news, or like we saw in Charlottesville. Nope. It showed the everyday, common, subtle (to me, a white male) racism that went on and continues to go on to this day. There is an exchange between Octavia Spencer’s character-Dorothy Vaughan, and Kirsten Dunst’s character-Vivian Michael. Michael, who is Vaughan’s boss, should prejudice toward Vaughan throughout the whole movie. Again, not in a riot-down-the-street kind of way, but in a subtle, everyday common way. Michael makes this remark “I have nothin’ against y’all.” Vaughan replies, “I know. I know you probably believe that.”

This exchange epitomizes what I believe a lot of us struggle with-the difference between what we believe and reality. Those words were incredibly convicting for me, and I’m thankful for the writers for that fact. I need to be convicted, pointed out, made aware.

I know for me, I need to constantly examine myself if what I believe I am is living up to the reality that is actually going on around me, the reality that I’m living out. I need people in my life to help me by giving me a dose of reality if what I believe about myself, how I act, my tone, my vernacular, my attitude, isn’t really the reality that I am living out to those around me. Just a simple thought, with a deep self examination that I need. Perhaps you need it to.

be blessed today


Picture credit: ‘The Architect’ © Erik Johansson-Source: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/surreal-distorted-reality-by-erik-johansson/

The Opposite of Scarcity

I’m going to be honest, looking for a job when you’ve been gone overseas for a while, is hard. It’s hard to not take a “no” personally. It’s hard to not be discouraged. It’s hard to live in peace and confidence that God will work this all out, and to not give into fear. It’s hard to not live on a constant plane of anxiety or stress. And it’s hard to not continue to think of the “what ifs” that plague my mind.

The last two posts I have been talking about scarcity. Wrestling through what it means when we say “God’s got this, it will be ok.” And, wondering if that is really true. In the end, I do believe it is true. But I must be willing (and “willingness” is a huge word) to accept that what rock bottom or scarcity may mean to God may be much different than what I think. I must willing to accept that rock bottom may mean much more than losing a job or even becoming homeless. Becoming a refugee in the harshest sense, like Abraham or the Israelites under the direction of Moses or like the Christians under Nero, etc. Losing all that I hold dear…just like Job.

Brene Brown, whose work on shame is powerful, said “For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough…” We have a warped sense, at least in North America, that when we have scarcity God will come in and provide for us in an over the top, extreme way- the typical American rags to riches stories we so love. I do believe that happens, and God can chose to do what he desires. But what if His plan is to simply give us enough. Enough to know we are loved. Enough to know we are taken care of. Enough to be “ok” and to know that it is true that “God’s got this.” I have been the recipient of God doing off the wall crazy over the top things. And, I was reminded yesterday, that God also gives what I always need- enough.

Like I mentioned above, this process has been hard, difficult and stretching me beyond what I thought my capacity for trust was. Yesterday was a bad, crappy day. Thankfully, I was scheduled to go hang out with people I love and cherish. My good friend and I sat on his porch and talked. And though there was no job offer, though there was no “here’s a million dollars I had tucked away for you” type of gifts, what he said were words of peace and truth. What he said was enough. It was enough to re-center me to God’s truths and peace….and joy. It wasn’t over the top, but it was enough.

I wonder where God is providing enough for you today and maybe where you can’t see it because you’re waiting for the lavish indulgence. Let’s see where He is enough for us both today, together.

be blessed today


Oh the woes of youth. I was the tallest kid in my school. I was also hefty or let’s say “big boned” in stature, I was up there on the scales. I remember going to the all you can eat buffets as a teenager. I would pride myself in “getting my money’s worth.” And though everyone laughed, it was true. I would eat, eat and eat some more. The dessert bar was my favorite, hitting it once or twice, eating as much as I could. Similar to the American holiday of Thanksgiving where there is a large spread of food and we eat until we can’t eat anymore, that is how I would partake at those buffets. I would often feel over full, too full. But, I kept doing it. I don’t believe that is how our bodies were meant to consume food.

In Russia, there are several palaces, summer palaces, winter palaces and “cottages” that would make any normal house now-a-days look like the horses stable. The palaces there were the over-the-top gold, red velvet and inlaid everything. Everything to the max. My personal taste isn’t that, and looking at those palaces, though incredible, were, in my opinion, gaudy. Gaudy isn’t a good word. It means “excessively showy” and usually it goes by the second meaning which is “cheaply showy in an excessive way.” I know this wasn’t the intention of the kings and queens who ruled for so long, but to me it comes across this way at times.

God is a king. The King of kings we call Him. We talk about His throne, we hear about what He looks like in the best words John and others had at the time to describe Him. I do believe He desires to lavish His love on us in a way we can’t fully grasp. I truly do. Last time, I wrote about how God’s definition of scarcity and our definition might be different. That if He is really taking care of us, how does that work if we are in poverty? I mean real poverty. How can we be ok in that?

Perhaps to answer that is to ask another question- what is the opposite of “scarcity?” I used to think that the opposite was the over-the-top, gluttonous, all you can eat buffet, or the gaudy over-the-top richness that I saw in those palaces. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something different altogether. I used to think that His definition of “I got this, I will never forsake you” was that I would always be in a over-the-top way. Meaning, He would come swooping into rescue me in this big, incredible spectacle.  And I think that isn’t the case, at least not always….but I could be wrong. It is a journey after all. And a dialogue. Let’s keep pondering and wrestling…

more to come..

be blessed today


How was it possible that this was it? How is it possible that it didn’t wash away? Or, perhaps blow over? How was it possible, that that many people lived there? It seemed to stretch on forever, this massive area of nothing. Well, my mindset was that it was nothing. Cardboard boxes as homes, digging through trash to find the salvageable things, living on the edge of the Ganges, both bathing and drinking from the same river that the trash and human waste runoff flows into. This shanty town of hundreds of thousands of people didn’t exist a few months prior to our arrival. There was a much larger one that was bulldozed down in an effort by the city government to control the amount of “squatters” in the area. But it didn’t matter, bulldoze one down and they all just moved to a new area and set up their small, rickety abodes. Nepal and India were my introduction to poverty, I mean true poverty. It seems like an eternity ago now, but the images, smells, tastes, sounds…that are just as powerful now as they were 17 years ago. I haven’t been back, though I have grandiose plans of returning someday.

That wasn’t just poverty, it was scarcity. Scarcity of clean water, dry homes, food, clothing, soap, work, privacy, medicine, health, safety, progress….flourishing…..living.

Scarcity of life, to the point of just trying to survive. That was true scarcity, and I had never witnessed it before. But when your eyes are opened to something, it’s hard not to see it anywhere else.

I ate lunch in a park filled with the homeless, today. I sat there and looked around at their scarcity. Granted, they had more than the Untouchable Caste I witnessed while in India, but the homeless in Portland this afternoon still lived with scarcity. Funny…”with” and “scarcity” in the same sentence……

When we sit down and listen to them, or anyone going through difficulties of any kind, and we tell them that “it will be ok,” I wonder, do we really believe that? Do we really believe that it will be ok? Do we really believe that “God’s got this” and leave it at that? Do you believe that? Do you? When you’re going through the loss of a job, the foreclosure of a home, a broken relationship from a misunderstanding, or an unexpected (or expected for that matter) death? And yet we hear “It will be ok, God’s got this.” Do you really believe that?

Do I?

The man who is homeless who loves Jesus is “ok.” So is the person who is sick and/or physically impoverished. We can still “be ok” and become a refugee, or succumb to the power of another country, or have our economy decimated. And in the end of all that, as we walk the road alone being spat on, or running for our lives, do we think that is also what it means when we say “God’s got this?”

To say that “it will be ok, God’s got this” means that there is an understanding that you or I could end up in one of the situations above, and hold to that same belief that “God’s got it.” God’s definition of scarcity is very different than what ours might be. And if that’s the case, what does God give us if his definition is different? How will we be ok if that’s true? Food for thought as I wrestle with this one currently.

….more to come

be blessed today


The Blessed American Church

I’ve mentioned before that I think we in the American church have forgotten who we are as a people…foreigners. Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 2 and it is mentioned a few other places in the Bible as well. But, I feel we have gotten to a point where we as American Christians, have a “blessed complex.” And by “we” I mean a corporate, underlying, perhaps sub-conscious belief within the Church in America. Myself included. How so?

Let me first give some background. The Builder and Boomer generations were very much of similar mindsets. If you work hard, persevere and live a good moral life, you’ll not only be successful, you’ll also be able to enjoy living comfortably later on in life. To an extent, they were right. These two generations had gone through a lot. They had lived through the horrible Great Depression, had come to the aide of the Allies and ended up being hugely helpful in the winning of both World War 1 and World War 2 and the economy boomed afterwards. They had also seen great death- many of their countrymen in both World Wars, Vietnam as well as stopping “evil” in the Korean War. But America overcame. Being American meant being successful and being successful meant you were blessed. Having a house, picket fence, two cars and a 401k was the non verbal definition of being blessed. But is that really the true definition?

This blessed complex infiltrates our ambitions in that we feel we have the right to live out the rest of our days how we want, to live off of our “successes,” to sit back and relax because we’ve “earned it.” When we ask the question, “don’t we deserve it,” and have it answered with a resounding “YES,” I believe we have become too rooted to this world. By believing that we deserve it, we go on telling the rest of the world to do as we did-work hard, nose to the grindstone, believe in Jesus and they will be successful to. And I would agree…if we were citizens of this world. If we were nationals here we would surely be entitled to enjoy it for all it’s pleasures and to be rewarded by it’s man approved accolades. The Gospel is not based on what anyone deserves. Yet that is what we preach in our actions.

But we are not citizens, we are foreigners. We are not nationals, we are in fact in exile. We are not residents, we are strangers. Giving in to the notion that we work hard and therefore earn it, is not a ideology of the place where we are from. It is a notion of this place. This place is a place built on reward based on effort and work. When it becomes an internal belief , then we have moved it from a place of thought to a heart held belief. I believe we have become far to tied to this place and forgotten to Whom and where we really belong to. We Where we are from, we are only citizens by Grace.

This grace that we don’t deserve yet God gives out generously, is the definition of blessed we need to share with the world. This blessed is where we can truly live out Ephesians 2 where Paul writes that it is by grace we have been saved through faith, not by works so that not one of us can boast. This blessed has nothing to do with effort….simply submitting our control to God. That other definition, the lie, that not only holds others in oppression, it holds us in bondage as well.

More to come….

Live in Grace today

be blessed today

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Poverty-The Misunderstanding

In my 37 years of life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story of the “widow’s mite,” but it’s been several. I may have even preached on this passage in Mark 12 at some point, but I don’t remember. The sermons go on how incredible it was that this woman who had nothing, gave out of her poverty. And, in all of those sermons, I’ve only ever heard this passage spoken of in regards to finances. Perhaps that’s true.  But maybe, just maybe, it goes deeper than just finances.

Last time, I shared my initial thoughts on poverty. To be “in poverty” means that one has very little of something. Generally speaking, we almost always refer to wealth and riches when we speak of poverty. But what if poverty was also poverty of grace, worldview,  culture, understanding of race, gender and social class privilege, etc.? And what if we all had poverty in our understanding of God’s love and power?

I believe we are all in poverty. Every single human on this planet is in poverty. Perhaps not in financial poverty as according to the UN, but in poverty of understanding. Or, in poverty of love. In poverty of justice or maybe in poverty of action. I know I am. I cannot understand what it is like being a women in a man’s business world. I can’t fully grasp what it means to be a minority. I can’t have a clear picture of what it means to have absolutely nothing. But, I can try. When we don’t try, aren’t willing to try or think that we aren’t in poverty, this is where we, especially we as followers of Jesus, I think this is where we are blinded by the plank in our own eyes.

We will always have at least two sides of a political campaign (otherwise what would be the point of having elections?). There will always be other ways to interpret data or look at a situation of need. But this shouldn’t hold us back from trying. What we can do is try, try to learn and understand. Try, as best we can, to see the other persons perspective, the world as they see it, to see God in the way that they do.

What if Jesus, in this parable of the Widow’s Mite was actually pointing at the fact that the constructs and oppression of the society the widow was in was causing her to feel as though she had to give all she owned into that kettle? What if she didn’t know she could give less and not have to “keep up with the Jones’?” What if part of her poverty was not just financial, but it was the poverty of being suppressed in a system that advocated bigger, better, more-that said she had to give all she had, even if it meant she wouldn’t have anything to live on? And perhaps this parable is speaking more about the rich and wealthy for creating such a system? Maybe these wealthy were the real impoverished ones. Maybe.

be blessed today


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