Saturday, February 22, 2014

Masculinity Restored

I was fearful for the longest time that not only would a woman never love me, but that I myself was incapable of truly loving a woman.

This fear carried with it an inherent need to achieve, a need to find significance in asserting my power and authority to create success in whatever I was doing. Since I was not secure in my identity as a real man, I did my best to act like one, and most often fell short.

My unhealthy ways of relating to the opposite sex were marked by a constant feeling of abandonment from God. My earthly father in his absence and eventual death had left a void of manhood seemingly too big to be filled. I found myself calling out into the darkness and hoping to hear back a voice of affirmation, a voice that could secure my identity, but was met with silence.

My greatest fears of absence from God, not knowing how to be a man, and never being in healthy relationship with the opposite sex have all been met with redemption from Christ and the people he has put in my life.

In Christ I have learned that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," (psalm 139:14) and "dead to sin (even generational sin) but alive in Christ" (Romans 6:11).

"For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14 NIV)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

The reality is that far too often I have leaned into the past I earlier described, and not into the new creation I am in Christ and who He is making me to be.

My relationship with the love of my life, Megan, has taught me so much over the last six months about how to love Megan in her wholeness, how to be a man who not only loves but loves well, and how to be worthy of her respect and the respect of others.

I fail a lot, but the awesome part is when I am able to take hold of the promise of Jesus in Matthew that he will never leave or forsake me.

Author Andy Comiskey says "Real masculine authority arises out of reliance on God. Strength emerges from surrender. Only in losing our lives to the Father's greater purposes will our masculinity be restored."

And that is where I find myself today. In process of being healed, redeemed, restored. Being met with grace daily by Jesus and Megan (she is a major sign of Gods grace to me). Learning how to throw off guilt, shame, and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12), and to walk as a new man, upright and strong.

The battle moving forward is to remember that I am not defined by my achievements, but by my ability to lean into Jesus and who he is making me. Only then can I be a true man who loves well and gains the respect of all those around me. Surrender and submission to Gods good, pleasing, and perfect will is the way moving forward.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Significant Change In The Way We See The World

"Corey, prayer is the most important thing. Without Jesus we wouldn't be doing any of this or even be here today."

Those were the words spoken to me at our Laundry Project today by one of my good friends and neighbors Bernard. Bernard has lived in Canton his whole life, and being older in age, may not decide to go somewhere else anytime soon.

Bernard is right. Without Jesus there would be no Laundry Project, without prayer our time together would be of no true power or value. Without inviting the Holy Spirit into the place where we are on mission, we would only be offering the best of ourselves, not Jesus, and the best of ourselves always falls short.

His words, while empowering and inspiring, also highlighted a bigger truth to me. Looking around the laundromat we have be paying for laundry at once a month off and on for the last 3 + years and seeing more volunteer badges on neighbors than outside groups highlighted the same truth.

Jesus is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus is already working in the lives of people where I live. In fact, He has been working in their lives long before I lived here and will be long after.

And if Jesus is Lord of all, and at work in people's lives with or without me through his Holy Spirit, that must mean my role isn't to fix someone. Perhaps my role is to be a catalyst for the kind of real change and development in people that can only be brought through relationship with Christ and His church. 

I hear so many well-meaning folks talk about the "needs" of our communities, in fact, I sometimes am one. We discuss the problems and issues that we perceive rather than talking about the good entrenched within the streets of even the toughest neighborhoods. And it's there, Praise Christ it is there.

Yet most of us don't know how to see it. We focus on the problems rather than the solutions, we focus on the needs rather than the assets. We do this with individuals, neighborhoods, cities, you name it. Perhaps part of it comes from our desire to fix, to save. Part of it probably comes from our lack of knowledge and understanding. Maybe part of it is a lack of belief in the bigness of God.

Whatever the case may be, we can no longer afford to approach communities through the lens of their needs, we must learn to see them through the lens of their assets, namely, the people.

Every neighborhood has leaders, people with value and worth, people with very real talents and gifts. More than likely in tougher areas such as my neighborhood, the value and worth in people has been buried under years of hardship, but it's there.

I have heard beautiful prayers come from the lowly and destitute, have witnessed beautiful acts of love from the poor. So why is it beyond reason that Jesus is already present in our cities, even in the darkest places?

I share stats and numbers from every laundry project. Only recently have I started asking myself why. 

Because it's easy to measure.

You know whats harder to measure? Growth in people. How do I write in 140 characters or less that I have seen people become less selfish, take significant steps with their money & family, or go out of their way to serve those around them?

I don't have the answer but we have to change the way we measure success in our ministries as the church and non profit world.

Plain and simple, it's about leading others to Jesus and understanding the power of God. He is big, we are not. He is Savior and Lord of all, we are not. If we start to view our life's purpose in terms of being attentive to what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing, and make it our goal to join with Jesus, we will feel a whole lot less pressure and see deeper, perhaps less measurable (with numbers at least), results.

It's not our job to fix, only to follow Jesus and lead others to do the same. We do this effectively through relationship and bringing out the best in people, all the while sticking with them even when their worst comes out. After all, are we out to see lives transformed and God glorified or our own kingdoms built? It's going to take a different perspective for the kingdom of God, and not that of our own or our churches, to be our primary focus.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We All Need An Extra Shovel - Choosing Relationship Over Isolation

"Anything I can do to help?"
"Sure you don't need an extra shovel?"

This was the conversation I just had with a neighbor after watching them struggle for 10 minutes to get their car out of a snow drift a few feet from my house. I extended the hand of friendship and was denied, more than that, I was responded to but not even glanced at, dismissed as a nuisance while the struggle continued.

A little dejected, I walked back to my house thinking, "what a reflection of how I interact with people sometimes. My preference is to do it by myself and just get it done, even if it means I struggle more in the process."

It's entirely possible that my attempt to be neighborly was justifiably unnecessary or that I had arrived on the scene too late, but my brief interaction gave light to a larger realization. For many, isolation is preferable and community is avoided at all costs.

I see it everyday at my work in a suburban culture, people who have consumed so many material things and surface relationships that they are buried under societal pressure. They seem to always be fighting against the tide of their own mortality and weakness. I see people in urban neighborhoods where I live who have been so damaged and discouraged that they bury themselves under pain, stress, and have given up fighting completely.

I see it in myself and the way I have a hard time letting people into the depths of the real Corey. I see it in the way I tend to be introspective, thinking only of myself, or in my arrogance, dismissing those around me as obstacles to my contentment and gain.

No matter how you slice it, or what factors you ascribe to it (culture, neighborhood, money, looks, success, woundedness, pain, arrogance) the pursuit of self and the disregard of others as good gifts in our lives is staggering.

We were created, man and woman alike, to be good gifts to each other. Our desire is for real relationship, to know and be known. The reality is that the people around us, both those of the same and opposite sex, have many strengths and experiences they bring to the table that we can learn from and be better for having accepted. It's highly important that we be seeking our primary identity in Christ, allowing Him to make us whole, and that we understand the good gift we are while simultaneously accepting the otherness of people around us.

Consider Galatians 5:13-16:

"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. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."

We desire so much, our flesh craves and cries out, taking us under it's control. It's the sinful nature we fight, not each other. Ephesians tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood but the spiritual powers that rule this world. We desire and do not receive, seeking other fallen humans to fill us to capacity, all the while lacking the capacity to fill anyone up ourselves.

It can feel like humanity is sentenced to always desire itself, yet never having the ability to make itself whole. It's what causes frustration and brokenness in relationships, the way we look to the other to meet all our needs. It's why neighborhoods don't thrive, and community institutions fall apart.

Perhaps my neighbor did not need my help, but what I perceived even in the way he denied it says it all. Not even a glance at me! When I act that way toward someone I am speaking and acting from all my relational pain, and while I can't say for certain, I suspect my neighbor was as well.

I spend so much time trying to bring people together in community, that the thought they might not even want it hadn't occurred to me. I spend so much time laboring, that the reality of my longing for respect and affirmation as a man didn't cross my mind.

Here is how we combat the need to isolate, both in ourselves and others.


"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." - Galatians 6:9-10.

And we gain the ability to do that by death to self:

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." - Matthew 16:24

And when we are faithful to do that:

"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." - Romans 6:5-11

I want to be alive in Jesus. I want to be made whole. I want to be a good neighbor, friend, boyfriend, son, etc and I want to have healthy relationship with those in my life. The way I overcome 25 years living in a fallen world, filled with all sorts of hurt, is by pressing on and not becoming weary. Instead I take up my cross, deny myself, and count myself dead to my sin nature but alive in Christ.

Then in my freedom from being made whole in Christ, I use it not to further indulge myself, but to serve those around me humbly in love. Letting community take it's rightful place in my life and giving up my feeble attempts to journey through life isolated from Jesus and other humans.

Because let's face it, we all need an extra shovel.