Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Shame is A Worthless Emotion

“Shame is a worthless emotion"

I was having coffee a few weeks ago with a friend at a local diner (way too early in the morning I might add) and we were talking about all sorts of struggles that people go through in life when he said to me “Shame is a worthless emotion”.

He went on to talk about how the very emotion/feeling of shame, as he has seen it work in himself and others, only ever does 2 things to people. From his perspective shame either makes people overly dependent on "getting it right" and being (or at least appearing) perfect, sometimes through the vehicle of religion, or it makes people go the opposite way and give up trying entirely because they could never achieve being the person they want to be.

Both, he said, were unhealthy extremes.

I can safely say throughout my life I’ve seen this play out for myself. I’m far from perfect, in fact I’m a very messed up person. Shame seems like its always been right by my side, in fact, I can’t remember what it’s like to feel no shame, to feel free, confident, like I don’t have to prove myself to anyone or try to earn love.

Shame has at times caused me to gravitate to both extremes. I’ve found myself doing everything possible to “get it right” and follow the rules so that the shame would go away. I’ve also had plenty of times in my life where “getting it right” felt so impossible that I just gave up entirely and acted a fool.

When I talk about shame, I’m talking about this deep, internal feeling that I don’t measure up. Sometimes its a feeling caused by mistakes I make or times when I fail to do what is right, but for me, shame mostly feels like this dark passenger (to steal a term from “Dexter”) that is always by my side, always whispering in my ear.

“You don’t measure up as a husband"

“You fail as a friend"

“God wants nothing to do with you"

“No matter how hard you try, you will always fail"

“Your life is destined to always be messed up"

Boy, shame sure sounds an awful lot like self-pity as well.

But thats what shame does. It creates a story, a narrative in our heads that plays over and over like a broken record.

What’s the story playing on repeat for you? What are the lies that exist in your narrative?

You know, the real tricky thing about life is that it can often feel like even when we try to create a new, more truthful story about ourselves, it always seems like there’s a situation or conversation or mistake we make waiting right around the corner that feeds into the lies we tell ourselves.

I agree with my friend, shame is a worthless emotion, especially in light of how I believe God sees us.

Part of the sneaky work of shame is to make us feel alone, isolated, like we are the only ones experiencing the pain we feel. It’s just not true. One of the best things people in my life have done for me lately is to remind me that I’m not alone and my story is not unique in that I’m broken and I have dozens of lies I believe about myself.

I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced death, or painful relationships, or who's felt like they don’t measure up as a spouse, or who is constantly trying to prove their value and worth to people.

Shame tells us we’re alone and that it’s important we keep up appearances and not let anyone in.

Forget that. No one was meant to walk through this life alone.

I’m not going to start preaching to you, because I have yet to work this out fully on my own and I don’t believe me proposing that I have all the answers will do anything but add to my already deep need to prove my worth to people.

Rather, here are the perspective shifts I’m attempting in key relationships, and maybe it can give you some help or insight too.

1. God

It’s hard for me to look at myself in the mirror most days. So if I can’t even look at myself with love & confidence, I can’t imagine God would look on me with love.


That’s why God is God, because he doesn’t think like us. He sees us, he sees our whole self, our true self. I love author Brennan Manning, and one of the things he says is “God doesn’t accept us in spite of our sin, he accepts us with it because that is true acceptance.” Meaning, God doesn’t think “Well, if they could just get their crap together then I would love them”.

God sees us for who we truly are, he sees our true self even when we don’t or we try to hide it. The greatest tool of shame is to get us to hide. So it’s understandably scary to try and approach a God who sees us, but I also think it’s incredibly freeing as well.

I think God wants my heart. I think God wants to see me free of shame. I think God knows shame is a worthless emotion. I think God actually does accept me and approve of me. I think he actually loves me because I was created in his image and he sees me as such.

So, I’m done with shame and I’m all in on Gods acceptance of me. I’m all in that I don’t have to prove myself with God. I’m all in that God is both just and merciful. I’m all in that I’ve messed up but that because Jesus stands in my place he sees me as a new creation, not all my failures.

2. Spouse

I’ve been married less than two years, but I’ve already noticed a pattern in me. When I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror, I project that onto my wife and assume she wants nothing to do with me as well (sounds pretty similar to how I treat God)

As I’m constantly reminded by my beautiful wife, she wouldn’t have said “yes” if she wasn’t truly committed to me through the good and bad, through the times when I feel like “Husband of the Year” and the times when I know for a fact I’m not.

The trick here is not to let shame do it’s work. When I hear “You don’t measure up” I need reminded that because of Christ living in me, I do measure up and am in fact worthy of my wife and can confidently stand up as a man and love her like the daughter of the living God that she is.

3. Community

Maybe you aren’t married, maybe you are. Either way, hopefully we all have people in our lives that we would consider a friend. Shame likes to tell us what others see when they look at us, and it’s always negative.

When we come to a more full understanding of our identity and value because we were created in the image of God and are beloved by him, it feels like a fog lifts and we can see our relationships with more clarity.

Comparison games disappear as we are injected with a greater sense of identity and value. I no longer have to look at what’s happening in other peoples lives as a value statement about me. I can cheer someone on when they succeed, and when I feel hurt I can remind myself to give people the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately assuming cruel intentions.

I can let people in more and learn to trust when shame disappears. I can see them as being created in God’s image and treat them how God would treat them. I can fight for the highest good of someone else because I’m no longer only concerned with whats best for me or how they view me. I can SEE people as their true self and see past the walls and barriers they may put up.

I can feel secure in my relationships, experience human intimacy, be vulnerable, and not always fight so hard to be and feel worthy or valuable or respected, because I know I already am all those things in Christ.

I challenge you to look at yourself with less and less shame, and start to attempt to see yourself as God does. One of the things I want to try and do soon is write a letter from God to myself. I heard of someone else doing that recently, and I think it would be a great way to shift perspective and try to begin to see myself as God sees me.

I can’t take credit for most of the wisdom in this post. It’s only been through God and the community of people he has put in my life that I’ve even begun to see through the fog of shame and understand what it means that I am beloved by God and created in his image.

May you realize shame is a worthless emotion. May you change the narrative in your head from lies to truth. May you see yourself how God sees you. May you know you don’t have to compare yourself to others. May you understand that you are beloved and accepted by God, whether you “get it right” or not. Because thats the gospel, thats what we have access to now through what Christ did and who He is. None of us have to feel alone ever again.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Have you ever found yourself so afraid to do something that you, in a sense, become paralyzed?

It's a weird feeling. You know action is required, but your mental & emotional state hasn't met up with the rest of your body yet.

It's a feeling, that for most of us, can be closely associated with lots of different moments in our lives.

Maybe for you it was a moment when you were trying to profess feelings for someone else and couldn't work up the nerve to ask them out or say how you felt.

Maybe it was a moment during an interview for a job you really wanted. You're asked a hard question and can't find the right answer, or at least the answer you thought they were looking for, so you stammer or make something up.

Maybe it's that moment when you have tons of work to do, but decide to take a nap instead (not that I've ever done that....).

Perhaps it was a time of danger, a car accident, witnessing a crime, etc and instead of jumping into action and handling the situation well, you just go numb, overwhelmed by adrenaline and fear.

Whatever it is, we've all had experiences where we feel afraid or overwhelmed and instead of stepping forward with confidence, we avoid, become paralyzed, and don't do anything.

In some fashion, I've experienced moments similar to the above examples (yes, even the nap one). I've found myself hampered by fear more times than I care to admit. Fear can be a good thing, there is absolutely such a thing as healthy fear (fear that actually keeps you safe in some way), but I'm referring to unhealthy fear here, fear that for me comes from a deep need to feel loved and accepted.

Literally as I type the words to this blog post that I've been wanting to write for weeks, but haven't (out of fear of sounding dumb), I find myself constantly nagged and poked by every word. Instead of focusing on the heart of what I want to express, I find myself wondering in the back of my mind how every word will affect those reading or their opinion of me.

It's unhealthy fear and it's paralyzing.

I know a lot of people who struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, etc. Perhaps you are one. I wish there was some magic cure to these internal issues many of us face, but the reality for most of us is that they stem from a complicated network of emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, and relational experiences throughout our lives that have taught us to think and act the way we do.

It's a seemingly impossible task to undo all the baggage and hurt we have accrued that we feel have turned us into the mess we are sometimes. Yet, there is a hope. Not temporary hope, not the distractions we normally turn to when we want to numb or avoid the fear (TV, sex, food, gambling, etc) but hope that gets into the root and helps us to re-wire ourselves in a positive way.

For me, I know it's a pervasive fear of failure. I've built up a narrative throughout various experiences in my life that, unless I perform well and am mostly successful at whatever I do, I will lose all love and acceptance from God and people in my life.

So how do I respond to this potentially crippling fear? Perfection. I'll just be perfect. I won't ever make a mistake. I'll make sure the house is clean everyday, I'll be a good person to everyone, I'll be funny, charming, well-spoken, say and do all the right things so no one ever has to see my flaws and so that I never have to experience anyone seeing my flaws.

Ok. That works for a while, until I get honest with myself and have to come to grips with reality: The loneliness and fear haven't gone away, not completely. In fact, sometimes they've even gotten worse.

You see, when we build our lives on a foundation of perfection, always being great people, and attempting to avoid ever having anyone enter the messiness of our life, we actually become more lonely and afraid.

Perfection takes on many forms. Make everyone like you, be a people pleaser, accumulate stuff, post all the right things on social media.

We operate in a false self so often that we may even begin to lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that we are way better of a person than we actually are.

"Oh well, that wasn't my fault"
"I'm a pretty great person and everyone loves me, nothing at all is wrong with my life."

The costume and mask we wear to hide our true selves and avoid intimacy starts small but eventually becomes as vast and complicated a web of emotions as the web of experiences that made us feel lonely and afraid in the first place.

Basically, instead of fixing the root causes of loneliness and fear, we add to them and make it worse. All in the name of perfection, or at the least appearance of it. We all have a million things we don't like about ourselves and assume others will feel the same way and reject us.

I've lied to myself, put on a mask, operated out of fear, and tried too hard to get others to like me. All in the name of conquering my fears and loneliness.

Then I remember 1 John 4:18:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."


That hits me at my core. I convince myself that I will only experience love if I don't make any mistakes. So I isolate, hide, put out the persona I want others to see, etc. But this verse tells me that perfect love drives out my fear. So, the question is, what is perfect love?

Perfect love is faithful to us when we screw up, perfect love trusts, hopes, perseveres. Perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, perfect love is full of grace and truth. Perfect love meets us right where we are, in all our mess, and helps us grow and move forward.

Perfect love. In a word, God.

God is faithful. God perseveres with us. God is full of grace and truth. God loves us right where we are and doesn't let us stay there. Could it be that simple?

We get tripped up because everything we've experienced in this life tells us otherwise. It tells us that people don't always stick around, that we are all selfish, that we have to look out for #1, that we have to keep it together or we lose it all.

When we experience the kind of love God has to offer, we realize we don't have to live in unhealthy fear of rejection anymore. We experience a kind of freedom as the fear and stress melt away. 

I think of what Jesus said in John 16:33:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The world can be a hard place to live in sometimes. But we can find hope and take heart because we have a savior in Jesus who isn't ignorant to our struggle, but who knows what its like to be human, who ultimately conquered sin, death, and fear.

When we experience freedom from fear through God's faithful love, when we find ourselves able to trust God, we find also how we can break the cycle of fear and loneliness in others:

Galatians 5:13

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love."

We have the opportunity every day, in every circumstance to extend the kind of love we need from God to the people in our lives. We have the opportunity to extend love that hopes, perseveres, is faithful, trusts, and casts out fear.

When I have lucid moments, I realize my pursuit of perfection is ridiculous. Not only am I an imperfect human being (and always will be), but I'm pretty sure we can never realistically expect others to be perfect. No matter how much of a pedestal we put our fellow human beings on sometimes (which we shouldn't), a part of us should never be shocked by the brokenness and imperfection in our world. 

Maybe in a weird way, our own mess empowers us to have grace for other people when faced with theirs. Maybe thats the whole point, to not put people mentally in high places they don't belong, or even to view others as lower than us. 

Maybe the point is to walk out life together, with all it's mess, and keep pointing our fellow imperfect human beings not to us or other humans, but to the only perfect love capable of driving out the fear and loneliness for good. 

I think our lives would be infinitely more beautiful if we all put away the mask, accepted the imperfections of us and others, and let our true selves walk in the freedom of the love of God.

So to myself and all the other perfectionists out there I say:

Stop hiding in fear. 
You aren't alone.
Be relentlessly loved and accepted as you are by God. 
Develop a ruthless trust in God. 
Start relentlessly loving others because you are free to do so.
Put away the mask for good.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fighting the Politician Within

I was hanging out with some friends last night, one of whom was watching “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” (side note: I love Jon Stewart and it sucks that he won’t be hosting anymore) and it was the episode right after Donald Trump’s comments about how he does not consider John McCain to be a war hero.

True to form, Jon Stewart was ripping the Donald a new one for opening his mouth and saying horrible things. Stewart observed how this seems to be a trend with Donald Trump, always running his mouth and attacking people. Now I don’t really follow politics that much, but recently I’ve heard a lot of people remark that because of his candor and lack of verbal filter, Donald Trump does not seem to have much regard for what he says or does and therefore defies what it traditionally looks like to be a politician.

Most politicians have a very well thought out narrative crafted by a whole team of people specifically paid to help make sure that particular politician always has their best on display and never creates controversy or looks like an idiot. Since no human is perfect, no politician is ever truly without their controversies or dumb things they’ve said or done, but one could say that in most cases their biggest objective (especially when campaigning) is to paint the best possible picture of themselves.  

Whether they would admit it or not, for many politicians this need to display a flawless appearance will often take precedence above the very issues they are campaigning for. Regardless of your political stance (because that’s not the point of this at all) we can all admit that politics & politicians will forever be flawed no matter what they try to present about themselves or how much they attack their opponents. This is simply because human beings are flawed, its just the way it goes. 

Recently, someone I’m close to referred to me as a “politician.” The comment was made in jest, but it got me thinking nonetheless. If I’m shining a light on the deepest places of my heart and being honest with myself and others, there is absolutely a politician that lives within me. 

For as long as I can remember I have always been overly aware of what others are thinking about me and how the things I say and do are being perceived by them. My whole life I have been in a constant struggle between my desire to present the absolute best version of myself and the reality of my deeply flawed, sinful nature. It’s like I’m constantly assessing every situation I’m in to make sure that I did the absolute best job I could of presenting the best version of myself while desperately hoping that the other person thinks I’m awesome too. That makes it really hard to make mistakes or have an imperfect moment because when my flaws show up, I can't stop being afraid that I destroyed the “stunning perception” I think they have of me in the first place. It’s all quite confusing.

Even as I type this I find myself constantly going back over what I’ve written to make sure I am communicating at my absolute best and being clear about what I want to present while thinking about how you might be perceiving it. 

Part of this is healthy, it’s not a bad thing to be self aware or consider how others might perceive what you are saying or doing. But what I’m referencing within myself is the dark side of this that focuses so much on my ego and what others think of me that I lose focus of everything and everyone else.

It feels like so much work to tap into the honest, real, vulnerable, raw side of myself sometimes. I know that deep within I have a genuine desire to be in intimacy with God and have great, connected relationships with others, but if feels like the politician within me won’t let that happen.

The politician within is all about being in control. He is all about controlling the message that goes out to others whether its with what I say or what I do. The politician within has a deep fear that if any part of me ever comes off as flawed or vulnerable that I will be destroyed and lose all my (perceived) power & influence. (admittedly this is a deeply selfish thought)

A perfect example of this occurred this past week. The non-profit organization i work for, Current, was featured in the local paper (The Canton Repository) on 2 separate occasions in 1 week. Real, flawed, human, genuine Corey was just simply thankful for and humbled by these articles. He was just excited that the story of so many amazing people who make this city a better place was allowed to be shared with others. Corey secure in Christ wasn’t even worried about getting any recognition and didn’t pay that much attention to it because he knows where his foundation lies in Christ.

But the politician within instantly started feeling the pressure to live up to the public persona that was presented. God forbid people know that this past week I was waking up most days feeling emotional turmoil, overwhelmed, stressed out, afraid, constantly worried. God forbid people know that I’m not superman and that I make tons of mistakes in my relationships. God forbid people know that I sometimes feel very lonely, or angry, or discouraged, or arrogant, or whatever.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that as I’ve grown in emotional maturity and have tried to gain an understanding of what healthy relationships look like that I firmly believe there are appropriate & safe places to share certain things. I believe their are healthy levels of vulnerability/communication and that they shift depending on the health of the space/relationship.

Any public space forum (Facebook, speaking, a blog) is not the place to get into the nitty, gritty details chronicling every last difficult part of my life. This isn’t my monthly counseling session (though writing can be therapeutic) and I want to share not to just get it out there, but because I believe that by sharing certain parts of my story others can be built up and encouraged in theirs. 

However to walk around constantly over-analyzing, putting pressure on myself to be perfect, always being afraid to reveal the flawed parts of myself even in safe places is just not what I was created for. It’s not what any of us were created for.

We were created for broken, flawed, intimate, deeply beautiful relationships with God and others. We were created to be good gifts to each other in relationship, and a huge part of that is sharing our real, messy selves.

As much as we may want to, we simply don’t always get to control the message about ourselves going out to others. There is a huge difference in my mind between doing what is within your control to love others and be like Christ, and just learning how to say all the right things so you can control your appearance.

There are many in our world, especially within Christianity, who are only truly concerned with building up themselves, their kingdom, their identity, their ego. They aren’t fully integrated with themselves, meaning they are different people on the outside than they are on the inside.

The transformational work of Christ is not to teach us how to be religious and simply say the right things. The transformational work of Christ in our lives involves action. It involves dressing up like Christ and putting on his qualities even when we don’t feel like it. It involves constantly dying to ourselves. It involves saying the right things and then actually living them out. It means our daily lives show that we value the things and people we say we value.

It’s not enough to say to my wife “I love you and will lay down my life for you.” Thats great, but if when push comes to shove I only act selfishly and in my best interest and in doing so hurt her, then I’m not in tune with reality. What I say, what I profess to believe, and what I do are all different things in that scenario.

I see this sickness that lives within. I am the man who wants to build his own kingdom. I am the man who says one thing and lives another. I am the man who tries to control others, use people, and who only fights for himself. I am the man who is different on the outside than I am on the inside.

I’ve heard this big phrase “vein imaginations” tossed out in counseling before. It basically refers to the ways that each of us as individuals perceive ourselves that don’t line up with reality.

The politician within thrives on these “vein imaginations.” They are his lifeblood. When I allow these vein imaginations or false narratives to be in control, instead of Christ, I’m fighting a losing battle in my relationships.

Vein imaginations can be good or bad. They can lead us to think that we are way better and more perfect than we really are, or they can convince us that we are more worthless and terrible than we really are.

The only way to combat these imaginations & the politician within is to fix our eyes on Christ. When I allow Jesus to tell me who I am, when I allow Jesus to guide my relationships, when I allow Jesus to be my sole focus, everything else becomes clear.

I no longer have to let the politician within be in control. I can be vulnerable and weak with others and risk getting hurt because Jesus is where I find my identity, not in what others think or perceive. I can be the man I claim to be and take real, life changing action in my relationships because I am being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different, not just by my own effort.

When I surrender to Christ, the politician within disappears.

Because who I am, what I say, and what I do become more aligned with the person of Jesus. I begin to look more like Him. I begin to grow in character, maturity, & integrity. I don’t have to present a false self to others to gain their approval because I already have it in Jesus.

Where do you see the politician within active in your life? Where do you see him holding you back from connecting in meaningful ways with your relationships? With God?

Where have you allowed your identity to be dictated by others in a negative way? Where have you tried to gain control over others? Or where have you tried to control the message coming out about yourself to others?

We all have a politician within. We all have vein imaginations and false narratives about ourselves. We all tend to look at others as slightly less perfect versions of ourselves instead of looking at them as different people who, like us, were created in God’s image and therefore worthy of our sacrifice and love. 

Maybe you just flat out think that you aren’t even worthy of being in relationships with others or God because of all your baggage.

Whatever the case may be, it is my hope and prayer that starting today you and I can stop looking to ourselves or to the politician within to try and gain the relationships, the love, the intimacy, and the connection we so deeply desire. My hope is we can start fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author of our story, the giver of life and freedom, the one who speaks into our identity as his sons and daughters.

When we turn our eyes toward Jesus, all the junk and cares of this world start to grow strangely dim, and a funny thing happens: we become who we were created to be.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

You Are Good at Relationships.

Over the course of my life, I have been blessed to know lots of people and have many relationships. Within those I have learned much about myself and my identity, both the good parts and the bad. Unfortunately, whether it’s lies about my identity others have knowingly or unknowingly made me believe or mistakes I have made in relationships that led to real consequences, I have developed a narrative in my head most days that I am bad at relationships. 

Sometimes this leads to isolation, other times it causes me to fight for myself and I   become mean, arrogant, or just plain selfish. But a thought struck me today as I was reading “Scary Close” by Donald Miller (a book I highly recommended), which is all   about connecting with others in true intimacy in light of who God is and our identity as his children.

Miller talks about a conversation he had with a friend where Miller was highlighting all of his relationship mistakes and baggage. Miller's friend tells him that in spite of all his mistakes he thinks Miller is "good at relationships."

This led me to think:

"What if in spite of all my mistakes and past/present relationship baggage, I am good at relationships?"

It’s always some combination of both right? I certainly have had times where I am very bad at relationships. I cause hurt, pain, I judge others, I act arrogantly/selfishly, I lack patience, I don't give grace. But I’m also good at relationships. I love, I fight for the   highest good of others, I show compassion, humility, grace, etc.

I wonder what would happen if my identity wasn’t built on a false narrative in my head that I am just plain bad at relationships. I wonder what would happen if I stopped     viewing every conversation as nothing more than a battle to hide my flaws and started actively looking for the ways I could be a good gift to that other person.

Because I think we were created by God, in His image, to be good gifts to each other. 

Just check out Ephesians 2:10:

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

I think we were created to connect, to be in relationship, to build each other up as co-image bearers of Christ. I think we were created to have freedom in Christ and not be held hostage to the expectations of others or to hold others hostage to ours. I don’t     think life was meant to be a game of guilt, shame, identity bashing, control, manipulation, and constant fear.

What could we gain or give by seeing ourselves as God sees us (good gifts)? 

What would change in our lives if we weren’t driven by guilt, fear, and a need to controlothers? 

How would we begin to see our relationships evolve if we felt the freedom that comes
from knowing our identity in Christ?

What would it look like to truly love one another instead of isolating ourselves or alwaystrying to prove ourselves?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What Really Matters

No matter how bad things got in my family growing up, I always held out hope that things would get better because of my relationship with Christ. 
It didn't matter if we were homeless, unable to pay the bills, if I was outcast at school, had no friends, went to bed crying some nights, etc. I always knew deep down in my heart that as long as I had Christ, there was hope for us.
Growing up there wasn't much circumstantial evidence to point to the existence of God. Things were pretty chaotic and crappy. What ultimately pointed me to Jesus and enabled me to trust in Him through even the darkest nights was the love of God I experienced through many of the people he had put in my life.
Before I could give a theological argument and a thoughtful presentation for the validity of the gospel of Christ and the existence of God, I experienced God through the love of his followers. Long before I knew it in my head, I knew in my heart that God was real.
The fact that God chose flawed people like you and I to be the ones who show the world his love and transforming power simply blows my mind. Yet it is clear through the testimony of scripture that God chose his church to be his messengers, He chose us through his strength and power to be ministers of reconciliation to a hurting world.
My friend Chad loves to say that the way we live and relate to each other may be the only Bible some people ever read. Based on my experience as a kid, I know in my heart he is telling the truth.
That's why a conversation I had today at our Laundry Project hurt me so deeply.
You see, at our Laundry Projects we strive to create a positive community atmosphere where families can receive the tangible blessing of free laundry, but more importantly experience the love of God through relationship.
That's why it took me by surprise when I overheard one laundry customer giving account to another of a very bad experience at a different agency also designed to aid struggling families. When I inquired further, both of the families proceeded to recall numerous bad experiences they have had at charitable agencies over the years where, from their standpoint, they were treated as lowly due to their circumstances.
Many of the agencies that operate in a charitable fashion are created to help struggling families, but what I heard spelled out to me in no uncertain terms was these moms feeling more hurt than helped after their experiences.
In my experience in non-profit world, an often quoted passage is Matthew 25 where Jesus begins giving account of what will happen when people enter into eternity. He describes a scene where God will separate people into 2 categories based on the practical love they showed to those in need. The people standing before God go on to say:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ - Matthew 25:37-40
It's pretty clear from that passage (and many others in scripture) that God cares greatly about the poor and downtrodden. However, there is one other passage that is highly important to consider in light of who God is and the heart he has for the poor. The apostle Paul elaborates on this charge to care for the poor when he says: 
"If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." - 1 Corinthians 13:3

When I talked with these families it made me recall my own experiences as a child in poverty. I began to remember all the places my mom and I went, many of them agencies with a clear Christian message, yet our experiences often left us feeling like the least of these, but in the worst way possible.

Many a worker in food pantries, welfare agencies, Christmas giveaways, etc treated my family and I like second class citizens when I was growing up. We didn't feel welcome, we felt like a burden.

As an adult I can empathize from both perspectives. My heart breaks for these families and their stories of being treated badly at certain agencies, but I also feel a measure of brokenness for the workers who may have treated them poorly.

The reason being the way most charity is done. Most charity would fall under the category of what Robert Lupton in his book "Toxic Charity" calls "bad giving." It's where products or services are freely given so often that families come to depend on them to survive or worse yet, develop an entitlement to the free thing being given.

Shane Claiborne describes this tension in his book "Irresistible Revolution" when he says that unhealthy relationships are allowed to exist because the poor are getting what they need and the people giving it are allowed to feel great about themselves, so no one complains.

Most workers in the compassion industry are desperately suffering from compassion fatigue. Tired of the entitlement and dependency being displayed by the families they are serving, they often become burned out and irritable toward those they had a heart to help in the first place.

Not understanding why they are getting nasty looks when they line up for the "free thing," many families leave this form of charity feeling worthless and hurt.

One of the families said to me "I would rather not get the help I need than go to some of those places again."

That's very disturbing. At what point did our compassion turn us into jaded and frustrated people? At what point did we put meeting needs over actually loving others?

The solution is simple to say, but is very hard to understand how it is practically played out. We must be more concerned with developing people and empowering them to grow than putting a band-aid on their situation.

If I always give to others what they could be gaining by their own initiative, I am essentially treating them as second class citizens. This is not to say that giving or being generous is bad, but what is the end goal? Wouldn't it be better to give less frequently money and products and give more of our experience of community and relationships?

The groceries left on our doorstep as a kid is not what pointed me toward Christ, it was people sticking by my side and recognizing that I was created in the image of God and therefore important enough to be invested into as a person through relationship. They recognized that I had potential and all it needed was some love and time to develop.

Those in poverty, whether it's America or a third world country, are not hopeless. We are not their saviors. Christ is. God wants us to engage and show others His love, to be involved, to care for their needs both practical and spiritual. But nothing will ever change unless we take ourselves off the throne and remember that Jesus is Lord. 

I want to make sure that I am loving "the least of these" and doing it in a way that helps people and communities come one step closer to looking more like Jesus. I want to point people to Jesus, not act as their savior. I want the least of these to feel like the best of these.

May we think on what draws us near to Christ, may we love others like we want to be loved, may we regain focus of what really matters. 

Obviously there is more to this discussion than can be put in one blog post, and there are more experiences both positive and negative than just the families mentioned. These issues are vast and complicated, and my simple encouragement is to engage with the brokenness in our world, be humble, lean into Christ, point others to him, and never stop learning how to best love those around us. 

All it requires sometimes is a willingness to listen and treat others as we would wish to be treated. I believe in the Church, I believe in Christ, I believe in his followers. I have seen the people of God accomplish great things and bring so much to the world. It is my heart that we would simply continue to let Christ develop us, so that we may give that to others.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


You know, we face very interesting challenges in today's culture. 

With the onset of social media and the Information Age, we are no longer hidden from the realities of our very broken world and it's very broken people.

Regardless of your belief system or faith background we all have the sense that something is not entirely right with the world. From a Christian perspective we would view humanity's problems as the result of our sin nature and choosing to follow our own ways as opposed to being connected in relationship with God.

We see the first documented case of rebellion toward God in the book of Genesis, and the result of sin entering the world everyday that we are alive.

With access to the rest of the world right at our fingertips it seems that hardly a day goes by where we don't hear of some tragedy or evil act that breaks our hearts and affects our ability to relate with our fellow humans.

Most recently we have heard reports of crisis in Syria, injustice in Iraq, racial & social tensions in Ferguson, MO over the death of Mike Brown, Ebola, etc. 

Even the suicide of a beloved celebrity and comedian in Robin Williams has stirred something deep in the hearts of so many.

I have seen many people commenting on these issues and more over the last several weeks and have chosen largely to remain silent. It's not because I don't have anything to say or even people that wouldn't listen, but because in an age where everyone has a voice and a place to use it, I have intentionally decided to do more listening. 

I should backtrack slightly, I'm a horrible listener. I'm much better at instantly spouting off whatever strong options I have to anyone who is in earshot and I sometimes struggle to really consider how what I'm saying is being heard or how it may affect others.

I'm used to having multiple platforms to say stuff and people wanting to hear what I have to say, but in the blessing of having an audience I found myself losing touch with what it means to speak words that carry weight.

When I take no time in the presence of God, to seek the Holy Spirit, and to really think before I speak, I act in opposition to being a good steward of the audience I have. Whether that's one person or a hundred.

I'm about to get married and I need to listen to my future spouse and what she communicates. Im in a new job as a missionary in Lake Township, OH and I need to listen to the people who live here. I'm the director of a small nonprofit, I'm a friend, I'm a son, and I'm a follower of Jesus and I need to listen to God and the people in my life.

I'm equating listening with really and truly hearing. This means I don't just open my ears but I open my heart as well to show my audience, whoever that may be, that they matter.

Where does this tie in with social injustice and celebrity deaths?

Like I said, today everyone has a voice and all information is available to us. We see the brokenness, the deaths, the pain, the tragedy.

How do you engage with and receive these issues? Do you truly listen to and hear the people in your lives?

Perhaps if Robin Williams had felt better heard, listened to, and cared for in his battle with depression we would have seen a different outcome, I don't know.

Perhaps if we truly soaked in the various global crisis situations we would not merely shake our heads or throw up a quick prayer but discover new ways to be the change, be the solution, advocate, and simply care.

I'm not saying prayer is invalid, but within our prayer how do we engage?

If we really listened to those we deem as poor and needy how would that change the way we do charity and outreach? Would we find we aren't always the ones with the answers?

If we simply engaged with, listened to, and demonstrated a genuine care for those closest to us at home, work, school, etc how would communities change and flourish?

I'm tired of preventable tragedies, tired of the broken world, and I'm assuming you are too.

We take the time to listen and care because we know that death and decay and brokenness and hopelessness don't have the final say. We have a God who has conquered death, fought to reconcile himself to the humans he loves, and made a way for us to be In relationship with Him.

We are his agents of redemption, we are the hands and feet, we as Jesus followers can experience the peace of God in our hurt and give that to the world.

Pray for those affected by tragedy, pray for your loved ones and neighbors. Engage with the brokenness because you know a powerful God is on your side.

Don't hide. Don't run. Fight the war inside yourself and in the world with everything you got empowered by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Nothing can separate us from the love, hope, and redemption in Christ. May we listen to what Jesus is saying to us so that we can be better listeners and caregivers. We are comforted by God so that we may be a comfort, and the opportunities to do so are all around us. 

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:55-58 NIV)

Friday, June 20, 2014

I Did Nothing Today (Except Write This Blog).

I'm an engaged man! Woohoo!

I'm an engaged man! Who has so much in the realm of job/career stuff weighing on my mind! Woohoo!

I'm an engaged man! With everything relating to job/career/financial stuff on my mind! With a non-profit ministry to continue running! Woohoo!

I'm an engaged man! With job/career/money stuff on the brain! With a non-profit ministry! With friends to spend time with! With a wedding to plan! With simple daily tasks like cleaning my house to accomplish! With an old car that often needs work! With tons of family issues to always work through! Who is in counseling! Who is trying to follow Jesus and spend time with Him! Who needs to love my fiance well! Who needs to also take care of his physical health! Who has an inbox full of emails! Who needs to rest! Who wants to keep loving the poor and pursuing my passions to see under- resourced communities and people thrive! Who has hurts! Who is in pain! Who needs love! Woohoo!

You get the hint. When all of the things we juggle as people are written out, the list can start to get pretty long and heavy sometimes. Keep in mind, that doesn't even include being a married man or being a father yet, which are seasons of life yet to come. Right now I'm in a season where there is a ton on my plate, and yet I spent the majority of my free time today playing a video game and reading SportsCenter articles.

Are you mad?!!! Insane?!! That's what I thought to myself during my hours of sinking into the abyss today as I filled my head with mindless activities. The immediate next feelings were of guilt, anxiety, tension, fear, etc over the day that had already been laid to waste.

When I took the time to stop the madness of doing nothing and spend some time praying to God, I realized I have a major capacity issue.

What I mean by that is my capacity as a human being to take in and process all the relational, financial, spiritual, emotional, physical, and psychological stimuli I experience on a daily basis is not big enough for the season of life I am in. Consequently, things can just feel miserable and hard and make me want to shut down sometimes. That was today.

It's natural when we feel on overload to want to shut down. Simultaneously it comes with this overwhelming feeling of guilt because we know we aren't living up to expectations, whether they be others, our own, or God's. We are all desperately needy people, and when those needs aren't being met and we are giving out, or feeling like we are having more ripped away from us, than we take in and receive, it causes a meltdown.

Everybody copes differently, and to be honest this is where many addictions gain their power. We need something, it isn't being given to us, we are getting things taken out of us, and so we go to extremes to ease our neediness and fill in our own gaps.

The point is Jesus and his grace are the only things that can fill the very real gaps in our lives.

The start of this blog was not meant to be a point of bragging about how much I got going for me. To be real, as a teenager 90 percent of my time was spent lying around, watching tv, indulging in addictions, and giving nothing back to the world. Why? Because I felt like I was worthless, no one cared, and I had nothing going for me.

Over the years as I have followed Jesus I have seen Him do this crazy thing where in each season of life he stretches my ability to handle life more and more. I simply did not have the capacity to be where I am at in life currently a year ago, or two years ago, so on and so forth.

But this is the heart of the matter! In our walk with Christ his goal is to make us look more like Him and a giant part of that is in the way we let him grow us up in maturity and capacity!

Often we aren't willing to go into the depths of our soul or into the hard places where we need to go, and we certainly don't want Jesus going there with us. So we avoid, we slink back from maturity and growth. What this creates is a huge tension because our bodies are getting older but our maturity stays where it was as a kid, or worse, it regresses!

These are the people who are in their 40's and 50's that should be in a place where they are leading the next generation, but they lack the ability to even take care of themselves. The character and maturity just never happened. Usually its due to life circumstances and huge wounds we receive from other people that hurt us.

This is where the grace part comes in. The reality is that none of us in our fallen and broken human state should ever have the ability to take on anything. But in Gods grace and mercy He offers his hand to us and says "you see that incredibly painful place in your life that is holding you back? I want to go there with you and help you heal and grow back stronger."

It's our choice to take the hand of Christ and say, "Yes Lord, I'm willing to go there with you. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to grow and be able to love more like you. I'm willing to let you stretch me and help me mature."

My prayer is that God would continue to stretch my capacity to handle life in all seasons and circumstances, and that I would receive his grace when I'm simply unable to handle what is on my plate. The bottom line is it's His strength, and not ours, that truly helps us to thrive in this lifetime and not just survive.

May we be open with God and others about the places we are weak and vulnerable and don't quite get it yet, and may we be willing to go when Christ prompts us to walk into our places of hurt and need, holding his hand all the way.