3 Steps to Becoming the Most (un)Successful Person in the World

monastery2I spent yesterday morning at a local monastery seeking to create some space to not only clear my mind and heart, but to listen to the voice of the Creator. As life produces more and more “noise,” these times are hard to come by, but remarkably significant. I can’t imagine a better, yet more challenging way to begin a new week. 

Much of my time was spent reflecting on something a mentor of mine recently said, “God’s will is not success, but peace.” 

What does this mean? And if it means what I think it might, the implications seem pretty high.

What is “Success?”

In our culture, success has been defined primarily by how well we produce X that leads to wealth, power or reputation. Our identity is rooted far more in what we do (and how well we do it) than it is in who we are. And, to be honest, most of us don’t even know who we are. For me, it often feels like a daily struggle. 

How Do We Define God’s Will As Peace?

It is the restoration of all things back to Himself. It is wrong things being made right. It is a humanity that is reconciled to God and to one another. It is knowing that our identity is not informed by what we produce, but by who we are as sons and daughters of the Father.

What would my life look like if I spent my best energy towards peace rather than the building of “success?”

When I pursue culturally constructed versions of success, my image bearing neighbors (near and far) become means to my end rather than ends in and of themselves. Not only do I fail to acknowledge their humanity, I lose my own. If success is anything other than about the love of other, then it will be destructive. 

I don’t have to look far for examples of this. No, I simply have to look inward. This definition of success has infected my DNA as much as the next guy/girl. It is a daily reality that requires daily repentance and realignment. 

To trust that God’s will is peace changes everything about how I live, love and lead. Rather than seeking to climb every ladder to stand over people, I begin to choose to pick up my cross and lift other people up. I become more concerned about living into who I am as a son of the Father than who I am perceived to be by those I seek to impress. I am free to love God and others selflessly, because self no longer takes center stage.

I become fully human again.

I have so much to learn and so many areas to grow.

I finished the day by walking the way of the cross. It was profound. In fact, it reminded me that walking the way of the cross isn’t a once a month spiritual disciple, but an everyday choice to follow the one who suffered so we might find life.


Join Me In Offering A Community Blessing Over Janny For Her 30th!

JannyOne of the beautiful things about arriving at one of life’s significant markers is the opportunity it creates for loved ones to gather around and share a blessing over the life that has been lived and the life they see unfolding into the future.  

My wife, Jan (or Janny), turns 30 years old today and I want to create a space to offer her blessings, encouragement and/or prayers over her past, present and/or future.  

Will you join me?!?!

Post your note in the comments section below and I will be gathering them all to include in a physical book (thank you, Shutterfly!) to give her as a reminder of who she is and what she means to those who love her most.  

Thanks so much for jumping in!  I’ll start…

Janny, you turn 30 years old today and I’ve had the honor of walking alongside of you for almost half of it! Having been given a birds eye view of your remarkable life, I have been gifted with the honor of learning from your selflessness, guided by your wisdom and entertained by you humor.  You have taught me what it looks like to live fully into the person God has created me to be free of concerns around building reputation, appearance or success on any scale other than that of faithfulness, selfless love and Kingdom calling.  You teach me how the heck to be a decent parent and have grace on me as I learn to love you better.  It will be an honor to share the next 30 years of life walking hand in hand with you into whatever kind of crazy adventurous lay in front of us.  

Why Everyday Is A Cause For Celebration

Last night I had a few moments out on our patio to just sit under the stars and reflect on the things that matter most.  I had put Ruby to sleep, Janny was out at a meeting with our Nieucommunities tribe and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I have the honor of living each day.

As I sat and reflected I began to thank God for having a dream for my life and for all his people.  In the past week I have had the opportunity to share our heart with our family and friends at Salinas Valley Community Church, I have had the opportunity to write about stuff that I really care about and I have had the chance to live and dream among a community of Jesus followers that are committed to living life in the way of Jesus. 

Living in a society that is often consumed by what is ahead of us -- or what we need to do to achieve success -- I am stuck by the need to simply celebrate what God is already actively doing in and among his people.  In my travels I have consistently encountered people that are simply trying to survive to their next meal or next day.  There is so much pain and hurt in this world that God is ceaselessly pursuing with his dreams for reconciliation and restoration. 

Every once in a while it is important to simply stop and celebrate what God is doing in and through us.  Personally, I am thankful to more and more discern God’s heart for my life and begin to step into it.  There are so many distractions that can set us off track, but when we begin to taste and experience his dream for humanity, we must rejoice.

I rejoice. 

I have a beautiful family.  I’m using most every moment of everyday to pursue what I know I have been created for and I celebrate the opportunity I have to step into it. 

I don’t always faithfully step into this Dream God has for me, but largely I have been able to see and experience it.  I am thankful.

In a world where many don’t have the opportunity, time or capacity to dream and experiment, it would be a shame to squander these opportunities.  In fact, I think it would be unfaithful. 

May we more and more tap into the Dream God has for us, begin to faithfully step into it and celebrate what God is doing.  May we be a people that are marked by the hope of resurrection for the sake of extending that hope to the ends of the earth.  

Fatalities of Prejudice

(Pic: Our daughter Ruby with a Muslim family that recently fled Afghanistan as persecuted refugees)

Confession: I often fall victim to stereotype and blind prejudice against those outside of my cultural, religious or ethnic circle.

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

I believe many of us have allowed the polarizing and hateful rhetoric of media/politics to inform us on who we believe to be friend or enemy. There are endless numbers of religious and political pundits who have destroyed any remnant of generative discourse in order to make a name or an extra buck.  This is a tragedy that has severe consequences for masses of people outside of our relatively small population.

I’m not saying there isn’t evil in the world.  I believe there is.  There are daily acts of violence across the globe, but we must not assume that such violence is promoted by whole demographics.

What I am saying is that who we label as “evil” often aren’t evil at all.  In fact, they are often those that embody the fruits of the Spirit in more tangible ways than anyone else.

A few examples of people groups who have been labeled by false stereotypes, which have led to oppressive prejudice:

“The Muslim Terrorist” – Just a few weeks ago I (as a professing Christian and stranger) sat in “their” West Bank homes and experienced hospitality that will stay with me forever.

“The Jewish-Israeli Extremist” – I shook “their” hands while standing in sacred Jewish sites as “they” articulated the necessity to build bridges of equality between Israel and Palestine.

“The Agenda Pushing Homosexual” – Some of my closest friends have been put in this category and the daily prejudice (especially from the Christian community) they absorb breaks my heart…and theirs.

“The Illegal Mexican Immigrant” – I play soccer with “them” every week.  I had lunch in “their” home just yesterday. (Good article on this topic: The Gospel of Immigration.)

Obviously, my experiences are not comprehensive as there are isolated individuals that affirm the assigned labels, but not only were these labels untrue, the assumptions inherent in these labels were untrue. When the language of “they” turns to “my friend,” everything changes. And I would argue it changes in the direction Jesus would have it.

In each case, I had to unlearn previously believed stereotypes and labels.  People’s identities are not to be defined by an assigned label, but by the identity given to each by God.

As followers of Jesus, there is no room for such distinctions.  Our vocation is to love and serve ALL humanity.  If our assumptions about someone don’t allow us to objectively hear someone’s story, then we are serving an agenda other than that of Jesus.

I don’t say this to be a jerk, I say this because we are missing out.  Such prejudice is not only fatal to the humanity of those we judge, it is fatal to the humanity of each of us.  Prejudice is insidious and it turns us into people we were not designed to be. We become less human.  When we adopt a posture of defense and demonization in exchange for a posture of invitation and Christ-likeness, we fail to live out our vocation as disciples of Jesus.

As Christians, we live in the present reality and future hope of Resurrection, which gives us the eyes to see the restorative plan of God in all of humanity. We can’t lose our kingdom imagination at the hands of blind prejudice.

What are ways we can shake off this toxic addiction to prejudice that steals life from “them” and “us?”

Go: Intentionally find ways to interact with those whom we demonize.  When “enemies” move from somewhere “over there” to fellow human citizens, we can begin to see more clearly.

Listen: Hear their stories.  People aren’t near as irrational as we are told they are.  When we hear their stories, we experience the human side of issues that have been reduced to political or religious talking points.

New Eyes: We have to unlearn many of the stereotypes we have accepted as truth and turn (repent) to truths of equality and hope found in Jesus.  We have to train our eyes to see Jesus in everyone

I’m about to walk out door and cross the border into Tijuana, Mexico.  Due to a variety reasons, it has become one of the most violent cities in the world….but that DOES NOT mean that all or even the majority of Mexicans are violent.

I’m not promoting a social ignorance.  Instead, I’m proposing a return to the normative values and reality that were inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

“Jesus, forgive me.  May I take on new kingdom eyes that are able to identify your Image in each of your children”

Reach out those you fear.

Touch the heart of complexity.

Imagine beyond what is seen.

Risk vulnerability one step at a time.

-Poem found in John Paul Lederach’s Moral Imagination-

What would our relationships look like if we saw people first as image bearers of God rather than bearers of a socially conferred label?

What our ways we need to repent of blind prejudice?  From whom do we need to seek forgiveness?  What are ways we can develop a kingdom imagination that sees Jesus in those we have chosen to write off as “evil?”


Travel as Pilgrimage #6: Maybe Things Aren’t That Bad

Note: Sorry to miss last week’s post! If you are just jumping into the “Travel as Pilgrimage” series, here is a link to the intro blog.  Otherwise click the link on the right column for all the posts.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Tucked close to its neighboring countries of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and lining the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been.  When Jan and I arrived in Dubrovnik – Croatia’s most famous city – we knew very little about the country and its people.  It didn’t take long for our interests to peak and our worldview to expand as our pilgrimage had inspired so many times before.  We really wanted to make our way into Bosnia, which was just 8-10 miles away, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

After joining a guided tour we strolled around the city, which is completely surrounded by massive stone walls which bumps up against the ocean that stretches across to the east side of Italy.  The guide, a women in her late 20’s, shared the history of her city with pride.  When she got to the events of 1991, things became much more personal for her. In the 1970’s, Dubrovnik completely demilitarized in an attempt to remain at peace.  Unfortunately, after declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it became the target of violence.

Bomb holes in wall of Dubrovnik

Reflecting somberly on the experience, our guide explained that 56% of the buildings were hit by bombings over the course of 7 straight months of attack.  She pointed to a nearby hill (See Pic: Bosnia is on the other side) saying that she and her family were in hiding for a year and a half during the war.  This was no longer history, it was her reality. She was 12 years old at the start of the violence and said she would look out the window of her hiding place to see the smoke of bombs on a daily basis. (Pic: Walls still had holes from bombings)

At 12 years old, my suffering was not getting the name brand basketball shoes I wanted (I wanted the Reebok Pumps, but had to get the Voit knock-offs…poor me!).  Yes, I did have real issues, but none of them were life and death.

Listening to her, I realized there was no way for me to understand the terror of her childhood, but I could choose to grow from the new perspective.

It made me wonder how big my issues would be if I placed them in proper perspective.  My world can become so small and revolve around so few people that I begin to believe my issues are much worse than they really are. When put into the perspective of my new friend who had grown up in reality of daily violence, does being 15 minutes late to a “really important’ meeting deserve my frustration, anger and anxiety? Should I really get that bummed out when the Giants lose four straight?  How about when that car doesn’t start moving after the light turns green or when the check out line just doesn’t seem to move?

If I fail to look outside my own story, I fail to put my issues in the perspective of humanity.  So many of our brothers and sisters around the world haven’t known a day of peace in their lives.  May we be thankful for the peace that is offered to us today.  May that thankfulness be reflected in our ability to place our story inside the bigger story of humanity and realize things may not be as bad as we make them out to be.


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