Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
Last night my wife cooked a big pot of rice as part of our dinner. We ate all the rice, and the empty pot sat sticky and unclean—clingy, crusty, thick particles of rice clung to the the interior of the pot.
Our boys, who do the dishes, asked if putting the dirty pot in the dishwasher or scrubbing the pot would clean it. We taught them to do neither, that a pot in this condition needs something more than a quick rinse or scrub, it needs to soak. We told them to put the pot in the sink, fill it with warm water and dish soap, and then leave it alone to soak.
You and I are like the crusty rice pot. Our interior is full of sticky, clingy, hard to remove residue—brokenness, sin, idolatry, hurt— that frustrates and that we can’t fix through scrubbing hard or a quick religious rinse. The counterintuitive remedy for our broken interiors is to simply soak in the warm water of God’s unconditional love. That’s it. We don’t have to do anything other than sit there, soak, float, and let the warmth of undeserved love exercise it’s profound power on our self and story, working its way into every hard to reach place. This is called grace. This is called faith. This is a called a relationship of total dependence upon the love of your Heavenly Father.
You can’t rush this. You can’t manufacture this. You just soak and, somewhere along the way, you notice (or, more likely, your friends notice and tell you) that you’re different—freed up, lighter, less heavy. This is what true love does, it moves toward the true condition of our messy interior and greets us with care. A care that frees.
This morning my boys discovered the power of soaking. After simply sitting there, the pot was different. The sweet, warm pressure of the water changed the pot. The inside was now soft and malleable, open to the cleansing and direction of an outside hand.
The great work of our lives is to rest in the great work of God. The great work of our lives is to learn to soak in the love of God, which was finished for you on a cross in Rome 2,000 years ago and which pours out with new supply every morning.
Our culture seduces us to push the limits, to become omnicompetent—able to do all things well. This path leads to frustration because it ignores who we really are and how life really works.
The better path is to face and embrace your limits. When you embrace who you really are, the the life you really have, and the world as it really is, the result is freedom, creativity, and peace. A painter paints a great work of art not on a limitless canvas, but on a piece of parchment with defined measurements, say 30 x 40 inches. The limits give birth to the art.
Here are 5 key limits (there are more) to face and embrace about yourself and others. Limits aren’t necessarily limiting. Knowing your limits can set you free. And limits change. All of the categories below can grow/change/adapt during the course of your lifetime. The key is to honor your current limits and pursue growth/change in a humble and realistic way, not in a way that chases our culture’s lie of a limitless life.
You can make physical changes to yourself such as the following: gain or lose weight, build more muscle, dye your hair, take better or worse care of your body, get a tattoo, or undergo some kind of a surgery (some surgeries are healthy, some are not). Over five years I experienced and pursued a dramatic physical change: I went from being a 6’1″ 120 lb. freshmen in high school who was the worst player on our football team to gaining a lot of muscle and playing some college football at 230 lbs. We can change some aspects of our physicality, but the body and genetics God gives us limit us. If you’re 5’1″, you’re never going to play center in the NBA. If you’re 6’6″, you’re never going to win the Kentucky Derby. If you have light, sensitive skin you’ll never be that deeply-tanned Italian guy with slicked back hair in a speedo in the cologne ads. The sooner you embrace your physical limits, the sooner you can fully enjoy your physicality.
Historical Limits (or, Story Limits)
You didn’t choose to be born. God chose to birth you, and some version of a mom and dad produced your birth. You come with a history. There’s a story, a generation, that came before your birth. And there’s the story of your early childhood, events that happened that you couldn’t really influence. All of this is your history. It’s part of your story. And the best path is to embrace your history and let God redeem it, rather than pretend the limits of your story aren’t there. If you grew up without a dad and come from a generational line of absent fathers, you can’t change this reality and you will have “issues” in your teens, in your twenties, in your marriage, etc. because you never knew the safety and intimacy of being in the arms of your dad. Embrace the limits of your story, bring it all before our Redeeming God, and watch the art he will make of your life.
You are a relational being because you are created in the image of a relational God. But you have relational limits. There’s a limit to your relational energy and how many relationships you can healthfully handle. I’m only just now starting to see this. I’m a pastor, which means my job is relationships. I have a lot of relational energy and I love people, I enjoy having a lot of relationships. This will always be true of me. But I’m bumping against my limits right now, discovering that I need to find a new way to be in relationship with God, my wife, my three sons, my local friends, my church, my friends in other cities, etc. I need to take a look at my relational limits, otherwise I will burn out and won’t be able to carry on in healthy relationship with those who matter most to me. We all have different capacities, different sized plates, when it comes to relationships. Take an honest look at your relational capacity and take some extended time to pray and think through your relationships, ask God (and a good friend) to give you wisdom on how to best approach your relational limits. Even Jesus had relational limits. He was intentional in how he gave time/energy to the crowds, to the 72-ish extended circle of disciples, to the 12, and to his inner circle of 3.
You can’t be good at everything. Unless you’re Leonardo Da Vinci, you can count on one or two hands the number of things you do especially well. God created you with unique talents, curiosities, and passions. The more you can embrace these limits and bring increased focus and energy to that handful of talents you do have, the better off you and our needy world will be. If you’re great at designing buildings, raising children, writing books, selling cars, or cooking food, do lots of that with your life. The best authors focus their writing on a few specific topics or genres where they have expertise, rather than attempting to writing 100 books about 100 different topics they know only a little about.
You make a certain amount of money each month, have a certain amount of money saved/invested, and have a certain amount of financial obligations you must meet each month. Work with these limits. A few weeks ago I looked at a home for rent and learned from the landlord that he charged a monthly rent I could not afford. I looked him in the eye and told him what I could afford, which was substantially under what he charged. It was freeing to know exactly what I could pay, to honor this limit in my conversation with the landlord, and to attempt to persuade him to pick me as a tenant based on other criteria, and to the leave the outcome in God’s hands. To my great surprise, the landlord accepted my limit! When you know you financial limits, you live life with great freedom, you know what decisions are financially responsible and so you move forward freely within your limits, and sometimes big surprises come your way that overflow your limits.
There are many more limits we could talk about (Time Limits, Emotional Limits, Geographical Limits, etc). This is enough for now. Here’s your question to explore: What will it look like for you to face and embrace these 5 key limits?
One of the most important discoveries you can make is this:
To encounter what is wrong and wounded with yourself, the blind spots you’ve been blind to all your life.
And to realize that God and your close friends already knew all of this about you.
And to discover that God and your close friends love you, are committed to you, and enjoy being in relationship with you.
This is called grace (undeserved love).
We enjoyed a celebratory Easter at Garden City. It was our biggest Sunday yet as a church.
Our favorite thing to celebrate as a church is baptism, people going public with their faith in Jesus. This Easter we heard powerful stories of lives changed by the love of God.
New connections were made at our 4pm and 5:30pm services. We’re grateful for the missional culture of our church, for how our people scatter out to love people in the city and bring new people into our church family both on Sundays and during the week to Neighborhood Groups.
On Easter we started offering ASL (American Sign Language) at our 4pm service. We have some women in our church dreaming big about how to reach the deaf community in Silicon Valley with the gospel. Here is my Easter sermon, “Believe.”
Some of the Garden City kids enjoyed an Easter egg hunt.
Like every Sunday, in-between services kids played and adults connected in our quad.
It has become a tradition for us to debut a new Garden City T-shirt on Easter.
This Sunday we begin a new three-week sermon series about sex. Join us!
The older you get, the more life beats you up. The betrayal, unmet dreams and expectations, painful surprises, loss, and death—it hurts. This pain is what causes many people to shut down their hearts. You are surrounded today by people who are not whole, people who have let large portions of their heart fall asleep and die in order to protect themselves from experiencing more pain and disappointment.
But wholeness matters. There’s a reason God constantly summons us in the Scriptures and in our experiences to love him and live life “with all of your heart.” You are designed to live before God and others as a whole person, with the complete mix and mess of your desires, joys, and sorrows.
I love how one wild man, beat up and blessed by life, expresses this theme. About 2,000 years ago a serial church planter named Paul wrote a letter to a mixed bag church in Corinth. Writing about himself and his partner in leadership, Timothy, Paul reveals his heart-whole leadership approach, “our heart is wide open” (2 Cor 6:11). And, Paul summons the struggling people in this city to also live full-hearted lives, “widen your hearts also” (2 Cor 6:12).
This is a life and leadership model of wholeness, of reclaiming the deadened chambers of the core of your being to live and lead with a wide open heart, come what may. It is risky. It is an adventure. It is how we come most alive. It is how God created us to live.
Fragmenting, compartmentalizing, locking up, and deadening your heart is a sneaky process. It often happens without noticing it. You go through some surprising pain, disappointment that knocks the wind out of you, and subtly you suppress some of what you once desired and unconsciously decide to feel less hurt in the future.
I’ve done this. Though I’d consider myself strong in being tuned into my heart and emotionally healthy, I’ve recently seen with fresh clarity the toll church planting has taken on my heart. The true story is that Jesus has vastly exceeded my dreams and prayers for our church these first 3.5 years of our existence. I’m amazed and full of thankfulness. And, the true story is that I’ve experienced significant loss and trauma over the course of these first few years, blows that have impacted my heart more than I knew. In some recent times of rest and prayer, my Father has been helping me see this and calling me to a fresh chapter of living and leading with a heart wide open. It’s been a call to quit numbing my pain and short-selling my hopes, a call out of self-protection and into full life.
2 WAYS: GRIEVE AND DREAM DAILY
Wholeness means you bring all of you, all of your story, before the presence of God (and the presence of those closest to you). In other words: honesty. The only way I know how to live and lead with a wide open heart is to daily do two things before God: grieve and dream.
Grief is a normal part of life in a fallen world. An honest heart expresses grief to God—grief over unmet desires, sin, personal failures, unanswered prayers, and the daily smog of living in a sinful world. God sees and cares about our grief, and a healthy heart freely communicates and emotes this grief.
Dreams are a normal part of life in a redeemed world. An honest heart expresses dreams to God—dreams, desires, and prayers for a better future for yourself and others in a world where the resurrection of Jesus has put death to death and is making all things new. A healthy heart freely communicates and emotes, often in a child-like way, outrageous dreams and prayers.
I recommend making grieving and dreaming a regular part of your prayer life. This is what’s modeled and taught for us in the Psalms. This is what’s modeled and taught for us by healthiest, wholehearted leaders who have gone before us (just think of some of your heroes in the faith, how their biographies or their lives revealed regularly laying out big dreams and big pain in front of God). And this is what you can model for others and the generations that come after you: a heart wide open, a heart fully alive.
6 Day Work Week
Since starting Garden City Church 3.5 years ago I’ve worked a 6 day work week, working Sunday-Friday and taking a restful sabbath every Saturday. When starting the church, my wife and I understood and committed to the reality that during the first 3 years of the church plant we would both work harder than we ever had before—I would put in long hours to get the church launched and healthy, and my wife would put in a lot of hours supporting me and caring for our 3 sons as a stay-at-home mom.
We’ve both worked really hard, but it’s also been sustainable for this season because of several key practices:
-Every night (except Sundays and Wednesdays) I stopped work at 6pm so I could spend the rest of the night eating dinner, playing, resting, and being fully present with my family.
-From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday we’ve kept a family sabbath full of rest, play, and adventure.
-We’ve taken extended vacation every summer, devoting the month of July to getting out of town and resting as a family.
-We’ve blocked off every Thursday night as date night.
-A year ago I tapered down my hours a bit and started ending my work week on Fridays at 2pm.
-I work a lot from home, so I’m physically present/able to engage with my sons at various moments throughout the day.
My wife and I viewed this 6 day work week as a season, we believed that after the first 3 years of the church plant things would stabilize to a level that would allow for less intensity and more rest. It is good to think seasonally. You can handle a very intense work load for a season, but eventually that season needs to end.
5 Day Work Week
I’ve been talking about this with the elders of our church. Our elders have seen my work load and, believing that I now have a great team around me and that making a change would be healthy for me and my family, they’ve asked me to transition to a 5 day work week. I felt so loved by this direction from them.
So, 3 weeks ago I started ending my work week on Thursday nights, now taking Fridays off in addition to Saturdays. It feels foreign, new, and refreshing. I’ve had to re-organize my week in order to make this happen. On some of the days (Sun-Th) I work slightly longer hours and I’ve had to change up some of my sermon prep routine. It’s a wonderful new experience to take two days off, both for me and my family. I’m too early into it to report on the benefits and results of this change, but I think it’s going to be good. I have struggled with thinking, “Do I really need 2 days of rest? I’ve already been off/resting for 24 hrs and I have energy to get back to work now, should I go back to 1 day off?” But, my belief is that this will probably pass and that what’s best for me, my family, and the church in this season is for me to take 2 days off.
I hope reading about this is helpful for you. The main points:
-You can work long, intense, extended hours for a season, but that season eventually needs to end.
-Pastors, have good elders around you who will make decisions that bless the long term health of you and your family.
-If, like me, you’ve been working a 6 day work week and feel it would be almost impossible to switch to a 5 day work week (this is what I used to think), consider giving it a try. It is possible and it is good.
On Tuesday we held our quarterly Garden City staff/elder/spouse bonding dinner. I collected everyone’s cell phones in a basket. The three life-giving hours we spent together flew by. We feasted, talked, laughed, and made memories. Not once did somebody check their phone and enter into the digital world. Our night together as friends/a team was so good, in part, because everyone was fully present, fully engaged with each other and the moment.
Next time you throw a party or enjoy a family dinner, consider setting up a basket for cell phones to help set people free to be fully present with each other.
This summer my family and I are taking a sabbatical. You could help me with my sabbatical in two ways, location and wisdom:
We aren’t yet sure where we’re going to go for this sabbatical. We have a bunch of exciting ideas we’re seeking to piece together, but I also wanted to see if some ideas get generated from this post. Does your church/ministry need someone to do a little bit of preaching/leading this summer in exchange for free housing (international possibilities are the most intriguing to us)? Do you know of a great location that provides discounted housing for pastors and their families in need of rest? If so, email me with what you’ve got. Right now we’re taking a look at all possibilities.
Have you taken a sabbatical before? Share in the comments (or email me, above) your wisdom on how to make the most of a sabbatical. What do I need to know? Any tips for how to best ease out and back in to work? Any book recommendations for taking a sabbatical?
February 7th. This date meant nothing to me, now it creates tears.
One year ago my mom died. Or, to put it another way: 365 blurry days ago I lost my mommy—the person on the planet I’ve never not known. I came from her. She taught me to pray and tie my shoes and talk to girls. She bandaged my wounds. Next to my wife, she understood me better than anyone else. She relentlessly fought and prayed for me. She called me on my crap, and she was aware of her mess and regularly said sorry to me (one of the most powerful ways a parent can parent). She created a relationship with me where I could talk to her about anything. She charged life with fun and laughs and songs, even though her home life was the opposite—she transformed her suffering into something beautiful. From boyhood, she gave me a huge vision for God, marriage, fatherhood, and friendship. She made me who I am today. I know what grace means, what it feels like even, because my mom embodied this foreign wonder.
How do you lose someone like this? How does a boy lose his mom?
I don’t know. This year has been a blur. As I was touching and saying goodbye to my mom’s dead body (a sight you’re never prepared for), a man in a uniform driving a long car came to take it. That day was filled with disorienting details—a casket to choose, an obituary to write, a funeral to plan, papers to fill out, tears to shed with my dad and brother, and trying to process the news with my three young sons. Two days after her death I was back at Garden City, preaching a sermon titled after her famous last words to me, “See you in heaven.” A week later we held the funeral. And I jumped back into life, leadership, fresh challenges, and hard things I can’t write about while feeling the ever-present absence of a voice, presence, person who was no longer there.
The older you get the more life beats you up. This presents a challenge. I think the great challenge in life is to keep your heart alive in the midst of loss and pain. The more we experience loss or the possibility of loss, we face the quite logical temptation to protect our hearts from further pain. And so we quit our vulnerability, quit our risks, quit our dreams, and quit loving with abandon. Follow that path and you’ll be “safe,” assured that nobody and nothing can get too close to you and hurt you, but you’ll also be less than alive—never chasing the dreams, loving the people, and feeling the joy and the loss and the adventure of a life well lived.
What I’m trying to communicate is that this blurry year has been a lesson in the life of my heart. How am I doing a year after losing my mom and in the thick of other sadnesses that have accompanied this story? I don’t know. On the one hand, I think I’m “healthy.” On the other hand, my heart feels messy, I’ve felt disoriented at times, and I don’t know if I can handle getting the wind knocked out of me one more time this year. I’ve felt the limits of my own strength and wisdom this year more than ever before. But, actually, I classify all of this under the banner of “healthy.”
What is spiritual and emotional health? To face reality. To feel reality. To be desperate and cry out to God and friends for help, comfort, wisdom. To be poor in spirit. To be alive—to refuse to deaden your heart and instead keep dreaming, risking, loving, feeling, befriending, and giving while simultaneously mourning our losses. Isn’t this the Psalms? A book that teaches us how to live. A book that teaches us the secret of life to the fullest: to both daily desire and grieve before the face of God. A healthy heart is not a safe heart. A healthy heart is an emotive explosion of longing/desire/joy and loss/grief/sadness.
It seems we have three options:
Option 1, The Superficial Optimist: The person who expects a great life of smooth sailing and hasn’t yet been colored by bruises in a fallen world.
Option 2, The Heart-Deadened Pessimist: The person who has felt the scars of life and sealed off their heart to protect themselves from bad news and loss.
Option 3, The Death/Resurrection Optimist: The person whose faith rests at the 2,000 year-old Jerusalem crossroads of death and resurrection, understanding that death and loss are real, but don’t have the last word. The Death/Resurrection Optimist has experienced his/her own death and resurrection through personal suffering, a personal encounter with Jesus and his resurrection power, and through the daily choice to advance their role in the story about a vulnerable God who faces and feels reality in order to redeem a happy ending.
Only option 3 requires courage.
February 7th. One year after a great loss my Father in heaven has me, I think, right where he wants me.