“God the Father, God The Son, and God the Holy Bible.” Doesn’t sound right, does it? And yet, this is basically how I was brought up. We really didn’t talk much in my church about the Holy Spirit. He was way too abstract! We much preferred talking about the Bible and, in my context, the King James Version of the Bible. To be honest, it really always felt like we were worshiping the Bible. If we read and memorized our Bibles, we were told we were pretty much good with God. Yes, we should pray, but that was just an exercise in confessing our sins and laundry listing our requests. The Bible was the thing that was most important. And please, please, don’t hear me wrong. The Bible is the greatest gift God gave us second only to Jesus, but it is not equal to Jesus. Jesus is the full expression of God while the Bible is what God decided to show us about Himself and how He works. Because Jesus isn’t here right now, we gladly and gratefully take this inspired book of books and let it lead us because it is God’s words for us. Here’s how I describe the Bible:
The Bible is how we see God most clearly today. We see Him everywhere in nature, in people, and in the beauty of it all. But, that picture is not nearly as clear as God wants to make Himself. How does a God so big, powerful and knowledgeable best reveal Himself to us? Well, He shows up in a way we can see and speaks in ways we can understand. The Bible is an inspired collection of people’s stories of their encounters with God and God’s desperate pursuit to bring each of us home. God preserved these stories scattered throughout history so we could know Him better. The ultimate preserved story is that of God becoming flesh, dying to redeem us, and then conquering the death we deserve. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. When we see Jesus, we have the best picture of Who God is and what He is all about. Scripture is an incomplete picture of God, but from God’s perspective, it’s everything we need to be able to place our trust in Who God is and what He is about.
“Burn, Baby, Burn!!!” Okay, so the preacher never actually said that. He told all of us at church that day if we didn’t admit our sins, beg for forgiveness, and ask Christ into our hearts, we would spend eternity burning in hell. From the twinkle he had in his eye, it sure seemed like he was way too excited about the thought of us burning! And I have to admit, it was effective. That day as a four year old boy, I knew I was a sinner and would burn unless I got some Jesus in my life. So I confessed my sins (which took a long time even though I was only 4!), begged for forgiveness, and asked Christ into my heart. But, I have to wonder if that preacher might have missed the point. For years, I spent my spiritual time preparing for heaven, and by that, I mean preparing for after this life is over; my focus was completely on life after death. That’s when everything would be perfect with no more sin, pain, suffering and death. I was so looking forward to getting outta here. In fact, many times I questioned why God didn’t go ahead and just take me “home” ‘cause that would have been a whole lot easier than messing with this world. It made perfect sense to me with the understanding of the gospel (the good news of Jesus) that I was given as a child. But that is not the whole gospel.
If I were asked to describe the good news of Jesus today, I would use much different terms than I would have 20 years ago. It would probably go something like this:
The Good News about Jesus is that He is for us. Each one of us living on planet earth is frustrated and, to at least some extent, making it up as we go along. We are trying to convince both ourselves and everyone else that we are actually good people and have a good handle on how to live this life. But deep inside ourselves, we know something is desperately wrong. We are missing something that is essential to us being complete. In fact, we are in a search for completeness, but everything that we go searching for leaves us eventually feeling empty. These things that we use to make us “complete” might work for a while, but they cannot fill the void in our souls. We are designed for something more and created to be something so much more. The only thing that will complete us is the thing that is most foreign to our natures: to admit that there is nothing we can do to fill ourselves. We are dependent on someone else to do that for us. We are dependent on someone else to complete us, to make us whole, to give us the essence of life. That person is Jesus. We don’t like this idea because it means we have to surrender control of our lives to someone else, and we love to believe we are in control. We are even happy to just pretend we are in control until we can’t any longer because it has become obvious that we are on a path of self-destruction. We are on a path that is leading to a head on collision with reality, and the results will be the absolute destruction of our souls, leaving us in a place of desolation, isolation, and despondency. BUT (and this is the good news), Jesus hasn’t given up on us. Even though we have rejected Him and His ways repeatedly, even though we have betrayed Him time and again, He loving and passionately pursues us to bring hope. He brings us hope in Himself. He has come to set us free, to give us life! He is for us! He gave His life to make us whole. He gave His life to give us life. And it’s not something we have to wait to experience until life after death. We can experience His life now! He gives our life purpose, meaning, joy and peace, in the midst of all the crap this world is throwing at us. He is our rock and, when we stand on Him, the storms of this world are transformed from hurricanes to afternoon sprinkles. Jesus calls out to each and everyone of us, “Come, follow me! My burden is easy, and my yoke is light.”
The gospel I heard as a child left me praying I had done everything right with my prayer of repentance. The gospel I know today leaves me inspired to become and do everything God has prepared for me to become and do. This gospel gives me life. Everyone needs a place where they can experience the true good news of Jesus.
Stubborn, headstrong, bullheaded, cantankerous, ornery, hardheaded, mulish, pigheaded, and unreasonable. Those are just some of the synonyms for how my parents referred to me and my little brother, Aaron. Aaron was stubborn in a loud way, and I was stubborn in more of a quiet way. We fought a lot. I mean, what else would two incredibly stubborn boys do? So when it came to whatever our latest debate of the day, Aaron’s arrogance came in the form of him having to have you agree that he was right. He was always so convinced that his view point was correct that he literally could not sleep until you agreed with his position on a topic-no matter what topic it was. My form of being stubborn comes off as more agreeable but is probably an even worse form of pride and doggedness. I would debate with him for a while, but when I came to the conclusion that he was never going to have the clarity of mind to see that he was in error, I would just dismiss him. I would then say something spiritual sounding like, “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Oh, he hated that, and I loved that he did!! In all of those debates/fights, the biggest thing missing was a desire to see another perspective, to see that there is more than one way of looking at things. Truly in most cases, there are many “right” ways to do things. If your initial response to that last sentence was something like, “There might be many ways of doing things, but there is only one right way!” then you might just be as stubborn as I am!
Before I go further, please know that I believe persistence is an incredible gift from God. Otherwise, we would give up at the first sign of trouble, or we wouldn’t stand for anything. We all should be proud that we are resilient and persevering, but we must be careful to ensure we are being tenacious with the right things. When I stubbornly hold to a point without being able to hear a different perspective, I don’t believe I’m being wise. Some of my greatest break throughs in my walk with Jesus have come through people who saw things differently than I did. I made a commitment over 20 years ago now that if someone brought up a perspective that was different than mine about God (or really anything else), I would take the time to research why I believe what I believe versus the other beliefs. Let me tell you, it’s uncomfortable at times. But my faith is stronger because of it. I am stronger because of it. And my witness of Jesus is stronger because of it.
Here’s a quick example. Last night, I was playing sand volleyball with a team I’ve played with since the summer of 2016. One of the young ladies on my team was talking about a great new show she found fascinating. It’s some sort of science show on Netflix with Will Smith as the host. In the middle of telling me about the show, she stopped and said, “Wait, I take that back. Don’t watch that show.” I was very confused. I asked her why she took back her recommendation, and she said it’s because it’s very science based and teaches stuff that goes against the Bible. The old Rob might have debated the point with her on how science is mostly theoretical and how people make statements based on blah, blah, blah… The old me would have felt the compulsion to defend my stance. But slightly wiser version of me today simply said, “What are you talking about? I love science! I’m not bothered by science at all! I nerd out on the stuff!” I asked her the name of the show, and you better believe I’m going to watch it. Not because I’m going to believe everything in the show, but because if my faith can’t stand up to a tv show, then what kind of faith do I have? And there was a bonus to my conversation with this young lady as well. Later, that evening she brought back up that I was a “priest”. I told her I wasn’t a priest but a pastor but that I could understand how that could be confusing. She then went on to ask if I would be willing to perform her marriage ceremony for her. I just wonder if that opportunity would have happened if my stubbornness had led the way in my conversation with her.
Sometimes, agreeing to disagree is the best choice for keeping a relationship alive. But many times for me, it becomes a cop out, the easy way out. I’ve got to do my homework. I have to understand why I believe what I believe, and I need to understand why someone else believes what they believe. Our beliefs are tied to our identity. If we don’t take the time to learn the what and why of someone’s beliefs, we aren’t really taking time for them. We’re just stubbornly pushing our agenda without caring for who they are, and they deserve more.
Hallmark movies, fishing TV, and cooking shows…What do they have in common? They are on the absolute bottom of my “want-to-watch” list! I just don’t get them! Hallmark movies are the sappy, make you want to cry drama. Yuck! Fishing TV, really? It’s boring enough fishing in person when nothing is biting! And then cooking shows: I don’t care how you made it; I just want to eat it!
Now that I’ve made everyone mad at me, let me get to my point: we are all very different. We have different interests, concerns, perspectives, ambitions, passions, upbringings, wiring, personalities, loves, political persuasions, interests, and beliefs. And that’s just for starters! So how in the world are we supposed to get along with one another, let alone communicate with one another? That is the question we must answer if we are to accomplish the dream God has given us to make A Place For Everyone. To make this a place for everyone, we have to be very diligent in understanding everyone.
On the last post, I shared how important it is that each of us exercises Emotional Intelligence (EQ). The first part of that is discovering who you are. Hopefully, you took the time to take the assessment and learn a little more about yourself. But after you learn about yourself, now you’ve got to start learning about others. The best way I’ve found to actually learn and understand others is a practice called Active Listening. Here’s the Wikipedia definition of Active Listening: a technique that is used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts; it requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. Now, your first impression of Active Listening might be similar to mine, which is that seems like a lot of work, and you’re absolutely right. It means we truly have to care about the other person enough that we listen to understand. We ask questions that are open-ended. We set aside our agendas and allow our interests to take second chair to the interests of the other person. We hold back our instincts to judge and seek to learn about this amazing creation of God that sits or stands right in front of us. We care. After all, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
By the way, this isn’t some sales tactic, at least not for us followers of Jesus. This is us truly caring about God’s son or daughter. When we take the time to truly learn about someone and why he/she sees the world the way he/she does, I believe we will find less judgement in our hearts and a whole lot more compassion. Funny, that sure seems like something Jesus would do.
Here’s the challenge I’ll throw out for us. Find someone who’s in your circle of influence who seems to have a different take on reality than you do. You know, someone who probably annoys you a little. Take some time to Actively Listen and learn what that person is all about. It could change everything in your relationship with him/her.
For us to accomplish our dream to create A Place For Everyone, people are going to need some Life-Giving Relationships, and it just might mean you are the one who is supposed to be providing that relationship for this amazing person God designed and created.
“I’m not yelling!” Yes, I am one of those who doesn’t think he yells even though others perceive me as yelling. I grew up in a house full of yellers. My family is loud and sarcastic! My family is probably a bit inappropriate for some people! So when someone says I’m yelling, the filter I run it through is the filter of what yelling looked like in my house. With that in mind, I quickly dismiss this person’s observations that I’m yelling because if they want to hear “yelling”, I can show them yelling!
But here’s the thing. Perception is reality for people. You can argue that perception isn’t reality and people should know better, but what good is that when we are trying to communicate with people, to help people, and to live in community. If I want to be able to speak into people’s lives, to help them experience the love of Jesus, to be a life-giver for them, to help them pursue their God-given purpose then I’ve got to exercise some Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
The first time I heard of EQ was at a Global Leadership Summit, where Dr. Travis Bradberry presented what he thought was the most essential attribute of successful people today in any industry. He spoke of how IQ (intelligence quotient) and business acumen were all nice and grand, but without EQ, you’d never be able to make the splash in this world that you could. I’m not going to bore you with a ton of details. You can go look them up for yourself at TalentSmart.com. But, I will tell you that the more I’ve looked into this EQ thing, the more I’ve become a believer. Why? Because it’s based on two simple concepts: knowing yourself and knowing others.
We know we are all different. We have some similarities, but we are unique. That uniqueness is part of God’s design for each and everyone of us. Each of us holds with us a glimpse of the majesty and glory of God. We are not accidental. So to get to know our great God, it makes sense to get to know His creations, and I think you should start with you. The better I understand myself, the better I understand why I do or don’t do the things I do. When I understand myself, it allows me to start becoming who God created me to be. It requires a lot of sober judgement because I have to admit where I struggle and where I flourish. It also requires that I acknowledge that I don’t know it all, can’t be it all, and that I need help.
So let’s take a step toward getting to know ourselves a bit better. I love personality assessments. I’ve taken a dozen if I’ve taken two! I think they help me be honest with myself. One that is pretty popular in the church world right now is called the Enneagram. It has nine main categories and is pretty accurate on describing what motivates you and how that effects the way you live. You can take a free Enneagram assessment by going to this website: assessment.
I think it would be great to sit down, take the assessment and then see if you agree with the results. Now the more honest you are in your responses, the more accurate the assessment will be. If you don’t think you agree with the results, just ask your spouse or close friend what they think. Let me share a word of warning. Every personality type has a “dark side.” You know why? Because every one of us has a dark side. It doesn’t do us a “hill of beans” to take an assessment like this unless we can admit that we have room for growth. Some of us have a lot of room for growth, and I put myself on the top of that list!
I can’t wait to hear your results. In fact, I’d love it if you would share your results with me. Just email me what number the assessment said you are and whether you agree with it or not! If you share yours, I’ll share mine!
It was way, way past my bedtime. I was breaking the rules, but it was okay because I was breaking the rules with my mom! In my house, rules were just a part of life, and while I was young, my parents were sticklers on bed times. They knew this guy needed a full night’s sleep, or he would be a bear the next day. But, my mom broke that rule when it came to Magnum, P.I. On that night, she would let me stay up with her and watch her favorite show. I felt so honored and loved. She made me feel so special. I know my mom had guilt from not always being at all of my activities, but she more than made up for it by “breaking the rules” with me.
“Fair” can be a really crappy word when we use it in how we deal with one another. On the one hand, we want to be treated fairly, not abused. But on the other, what we really want is to be cherished, honored, desired, and valued. And if we are being honest, we really want more of those things than we deserve. We want to be spoiled. We want someone to “break the rules” for us!
This is one of the things I just really love about our Brooklife family. We don’t just do what is fair or what is right. We do our best to go above and beyond, to love like Jesus loves us. We do our darnedest to spoil people. We want them overwhelmed by goodness. We want them to have a place where they can feel safe and secure to question God, to question us, to question everything. They don’t necessarily deserve that, but that is what love does.
Last year at a conference some of the staff attended, we learned a phrase that has stuck with us. In fact, some of the ladies even bought t-shirts with the phrase. Every time I see it, it reminds me to not be fair but to be loving. It reminds me to spoil someone. It reminds me to “break the rules” for someone, because Jesus broke the rules for us. Here’s the question I hope you’ll ponder with me, “What does love require of me?”
I remember thinking to myself, “This guy actually cares what I think. He’s actually listening to my opinion. Why would he care what I think?” At the time, I was a sophomore in college sitting in the office of the Executive Vice President of my college. Somehow, I had pulled off the dream gig of being Dr. Shoemaker’s personal assistant. I can honestly say that I have no idea how it happened. No one in all my life had garnered as much respect from me as Dr. Shoemaker had. He was the best professor. He pulled off cool even though he was 30+ years older than I. He drove a Buick LeSabre and, somehow, even made that cool! He was the man, and he was my hero. He was asking my opinion, and then, genuinely listening to my response. He had piles of work on his desk, but he stopped to hear from me. That day, I started to believe I might actually be able to make a difference in this world. I started to believe I might have something to contribute. Why? Because someone I looked up to and respected to took time to honor me with his attention.
We live in a world that, itself, seems to have an attention deficit disorder. I mean look at the definition and see if it doesn’t sound like our culture today: “Any of a range of behavioral disorders occurring primarily in children, including such symptoms as poor concentration, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.” We are so busy and distracted by so many things We are running at full speed, and I’m afraid we are missing the most important things. Unfortunately, it happens in the church too. I look back at my last month, and it was a bit insane. Yes, we had an awesome Easter Egg Drop (turned Hunt/Dig), Good Friday service, and Easter services. I’m overwhelmed by how God is using Brooklife to make an impact in this community. But in the middle of all that impact, we can easily lose sight of sitting down and asking someone what they think and letting them know they matter. Who knows where that conversation will take the person? It might be what God uses to light a fire in them…a fire that will give them the confidence to take on the great big dream God has designed for them to live out.
I know I’m no Dr. Shoemaker, but that doesn’t mean I can’t speak life into someone’s soul and let them know that they are an incredible masterpiece of God and matter a ton in this world. It reminds me of what Jesus said to the disciples when they tried to shew the children away from Him. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:14).” You might not be a Dr. Shoemaker either. But, God has given each of us a sphere of influence, and we must make sure we use it to bring life to someone’s soul and, in doing so, help bring the Kingdom of God to this desperate world.
So, by far, it was one of those most intimidating of experiences in life. Rachel and I had picked the place out, but we really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, we had been to this kind of place before, but each one is so different and has their own nuances. I remember actually spending time thinking about what I was going to wear. I wanted to fit in and didn’t want to be the odd ball! When we arrived, it was a bit confusing on where we were supposed to park and where the entrance was. There were two, so we just went for the one that was closest. The trepidation intensified, and we freaked out a bit about being complete strangers there. We wouldn’t know anyone. At least, we didn’t think we would. And then we had the thought, what if we do know someone here. How would we explain why we are here? Once we had entered, then came the fear of trying to find the main attraction. How do we get where we are supposed to go? Once there, what’re we supposed to do? We didn’t want to stand out as the weirdos. It was so awkward!
Guess where we were. Visiting a church one Sunday morning when I was off from Brooklife. I’m a pastor. I’ve been inside more churches than most people. I know how church works and what it is about. I was familiar with this church, even though I had never been there. I know how typical services work and know most of the ins and outs on which most churches operate. Yet, I, the pastor, was freaked out! It made me realize how desperate someone has to be to enter the doors of a church. Their world has to be a wreck; a catastrophe must have occurred in their world. They are looking for something they can’t find anywhere else in their circles. So, they are looking for hope, for some help, for God. I honestly have no clue how they do it, but it did make me ask the question, “How can we make it easier for people?”
I started thinking through strategies. Having people with big smiles at the front doors (which is awesome) might make someone smile, but would it put them at ease? Yes, it will a little. Then once they enter the building, they will be warmly greeted by several people. That’s gotta help a ton! But would it put them at ease? The service can be well thought out, and we can explain everything we’re doing to take away the awkwardness. Would it put them at ease?
We do all these things and so much more, but none of them is as valuable as this one thing:
a friend of theirs meeting them in the parking lot and walking into church with them. All of a sudden, they’re not worried about where to go. They’re not worried about not fitting in ’cause his/her friend gives them the skinny on what to expect. They’re not worried about looking foolish; they’ll just do whatever their friend does. They still may be a little nervous because it’s a new experience. But, it’s the exciting kind of nervous because “I’m safe. I’m with my friend.”
When it comes to what we do as followers of Jesus, there might not be anything as important as building friendships, real ones with real people. Then, when the door opens up to have a God-conversation, you are able to invite those friends to come with you to Brooklife where you’ll be their host. People need you. People are hurting and desperate for love, hope, peace, and belonging. We can give that to them…if we build real friendships with real people in our real world who need the Hope of Jesus.