How You Connect With God Is Different

DSC_0886Every summer we go to Seaside Oregon for vacation. It’s become a tradition for Laura, the boys, and I. While there, I set aside some time to have a special “date” with each of the boys. They both have come to look forward to that time. Last year, Linc and I walked on the beach for hours while playing his favorite super hero guessing game. We eventually ended up at a quiet pub and shared a plate of fries. Sawyer just wanted to be held a bunch. I read him a bunch of books and we didn’t really go anywhere.

I always include in our time, some moment where I let Linc and Sawyer know how proud I am of them. I point out in them where I’ve seen them grow and share what I like most about them.

This year was different.

Linc and I started walking on the beach but he wasn’t interested in the super hero guessing game. Instead, he wanted to play a word game he had made up. So we took turns coming up with words that spell the same frontwards and backwards. (Our favorite is “racecar”) We also practiced running backwards while being chased by the incoming waves. Finally, we ended up at a different pub this time and he got to try his first onion ring.

Sawyer wasn’t interested in being held as much this year. Instead, we ended up building a sandcastle with a beer bottle we found on the beach. Then he found a little bone and made me keep it. It was a lil gross so I tried to get rid of it multiple times but he insisted. Eventually, we ended up at Pig n Pancake and we laughed a lot while he enjoyed a huge plate of pancakes with way too much syrup.

At the end of my time with both of them, we ended up on a park bench overlooking the ocean and setting sun. I took time, as usual, sharing what I like most of about them and how I’ve seen them grow.

They both still bring up our time together as one of their favorite moments of vacation. I think it may have even beaten out the bumper cars. I know it did for me.

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” -2 Peter 3:18

My point is simple this week.
Just as the way I connect with my boys has changed from year to year, could the way you connect with your Heavenly Father have changed as well? Could the way you connected with God last year be different this year? What if the reason your feeling dry in your faith is because you’ve actually grown and changed? Perhaps you journaled or tried a Bible reading plan last year. Maybe this year, meditation or fasting or a good long hike is what will work? You’re growing and changing so it makes sense how you connect with God will grow and change as well. As a loving Father, I’m not irritated by Linc no longer wanting to play the super hero guessing game. That was never the point. The point was, and always will be, to connect with him. To love him. To know him. However he’d like to do that is fine by me.

Comparison Kills
Furthermore, please stop comparing how you connect with God by how other’s do. You’ll only lose at that game, trust me. The guy up front mentions how he read the whole book of Genesis last weekend and you can’t get through more than a few verses without checking your phone. This cna leave us feeling defeated. The truth is, he may not be more spiritual than you, he may just be a better reader. It could have been a Harry Potter book instead of Genesis. See what I mean? When we compare our insides with another’s outsides, we lose and the Pharisees win.

I’ve never once been annoyed with Sawyer because he didn’t want to play a word game with me. I’ve never rolled by eyes because Linc wasn’t interested in building a sandcastle out of a beer bottle. My boys are different and therefore, how they interact with me is different. I celebrate these differences and uniquenesses.

“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” -Phil. 2:1 (emphasis mine)

How you connect with God will be different from how I connect with God. Take anyone’s well meaning suggestions on spiritual growth as descriptions, not prescriptions. Keep the main thing, the main thing. You are attempting to relate to a very loving God who knows you and made you uniquely. He’ll meet you on your turf and on your terms. He just flat out misses you and cannot wait for the next time you ask to spend time with Him. As John Ortberg puts it, “You were not mass produced, but custom made.”

Too Easy
Lastly, we tend to think of spiritual growth as something that should be difficult. Like, the harder it is, the more spiritual we are. This asceticism is the things of hermits sitting in the desert somewhere, and has nothing to do with a “burden that is not heavy”. (1) Furthermore, I think it would hurt my feelings if Sawyer came home and told Laura how difficult and frustrating his time was with me on the beach. I want our relationship to feel effortless to him. I want him to feel like he can just be himself around me. Do you get the point? Because we often don’t give ourselves credit for things that come easily. With God you should.

So how do you connect with God? Perhaps a better question is, what do you like to do? What brings you life? Where do you become your true self?(2) Go and do that and include God in the experience. Go for a jog, or curl up in a blanket with a good book, or buy yourself a plate of onion rings. When you allow yourself to be yourself, you’ll discover God was waiting there the whole time.

Oh, and listen for when he speaks. Because He does. His favorite moment will be after the facade and walls and distractions fade. He longs for the moment you both breathe a sigh and are finally able to just be. Then he’ll whisper. You may just sit on a bench overlooking the sunset and he may share what he likes most about you and how he’s seen you grow. It may be better than anything else we settle for. Even bumper cars.

This year is different from last year.
You are a unique child of a loving Father.
Stop making it so hard.

 

  1. Matthew 11:30
  2. For far more on this, I suggest Sacred Pathways by Gary L. Thomas. As I’ve taught on this throughout the years, I’ve seen so much freedom and hope spark in people trying to connect with God. We are so hard on ourselves.

Not Quite Compassion: Pity

 

xself-pity.jpg.pagespeed.ic.8Uj27AcD-EI remember one of the first churches I went to voluntarily was this pentecostal church in Kent. The preacher had curly grey hair and a stringy mustache. He’d walk up and down the stage extending the S’s on “Jesus’ and raising his voice with conviction. I was 18, a new Christian, and a lil bitter all my friends got to go to real college while I was stuck at the community college down the road.

I also remember a lot of guilt. The songs we sung would often include lines about how unworthy we are to God. How we are all sinners, and lost, and broken, and dark. While I sang, I’d watch people around me weeping for the mistakes they made that prior week.

The pastor’s messages had a similar tone. Regardless of what topic or part of the Bible he was talking about, he’d always bring it back to the cross. He’d let us know how we deserved the wrath of God and it was only because of Jesus’ blood on the cross that makes us acceptable to God. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ blood covering us, God could not even look at us. We were now tolerable to him. The pastor made it painfully clear there was nothing good in me except for Jesus.

Eventually, I joined a men’s small group in that church and after a few months I realized the format. We’d meet at 7:00pm. Eat donuts and talk about X-box until 7:15. Read a passage of scripture together until 7:30. Then until 9, people would take turns confessing how they looked at porn or masturbated or made out with their girlfriend, or thought about making out with someone else’s girlfriend. We’d always end with a sullen prayer about how unworthy we are but how God forgives us. Then we’d leave and come back the next week with more confessions.

Pity For The Pitiful 
All of these experiences started making me feel really spiritual. It was almost like, the more worthless I could get myself to feel, the more I felt in need of God. Looking back, it was a kind of spiritual masochism. An unhealthy co-dependance which took a psychological tole. Worst of all, I did not see God as compassionate, I saw pity.

Because I saw God as having pity on me, I started to view others this way as well. I’d have pity on the other’s in my small group who messed up more than I did that week. I had pity for the black babies with deformed stomaches on late night commercials. I had pity for the muslim family down the street going to hell. This pity made me feel good because along with it came a sense of superiority. The pity never once required any action on my behalf. I never felt compelled to have relationships with those I pitied. I kept them at arms distance, just like I assumed God kept me.

The First Word
Now, I need to be very clear at this point because I realize for some of you, this has rung uncomfortable true to your experience. I believe sin is real and there are real effects of this all over the world and in my own life. However, that is not the first word about who we are. The Bible does not start in Genesis 3 where sin enters the world. The Bible starts with a love poem about God creating us in his own image and he deemed that creation,

“Very good.” (1)

You see, we only save things worth saving. If you came across a wripped up, shredded, torn priceless piece of art covered in dirt, you would think, “Oh, what a shame, it was worth a lot of money.” You’d have pity.

If you came across a priceless piece of art covered in dirt, you would think, “Oh wow! Lets pick this up very carefully, bring it home, and gently restore it! This is worth so much money!” You’d have compassion.

Do you see the difference?

Pity is choosing.
Compassion is hoping.

Pity is condescending.
Compassion is caring.

Pity is an arms length concern.
Compassion is a reckless pursuit.

Now, you tell me which one sounds like a shepherd who would leave 99 sheep?
Which one reminds you of a king who would take the role of a servant to wash his friend’s feet?
What comes to mind when you think of one who created galaxies but insists on you calling him, friend?

Let his compassion sink in to your soul. Be loved so you can be love for those around you. Take notice of your houseless neighbor as you walk to work. Hope for the 1,000 women being bought and sold tonight. Take action for the vulnerable ones God directs you to. Don’t ignore the problems around us and the effects of evil in this world. However, Let the first word about others be good just as God’s first word about you is good. It could change everything. It has for me.

 

  1. Genesis 2:31

 

 

 

 

What we think about God is the most important thoughts we have.

Not Quite Compassion: Hero

I like to be the hero.

Whether it’s a pic on social media of a meal I just made Laura or some post about the work we’re doing at Serve Seattle. I always come out looking good. Even in my conversations with most friends, I tend to share only the wins and successes. The items that will make me look better.

Now, I think this is probably a byproduct of some insecurity and is fairly inconsequential. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good. However, what haunts me is how this hero mentality impacts my journey toward compassion and how I care for others.

This picture encapsulates what haunts me. We’ve all seen a thousand of these advertisements and they appeal to our desire to be the hero of the story. Seems innocent enough and just plain good marketing. Now look closer.(1) Are there possible16508392350_d51bcbab37_b consequences to this approach?

Did you notice the dirt on the girl’s face? The unbrushed hair? The dark shadows? Would you ever feel comfortable taking this kind of unflattering picture for an international ad? Notice how the girl is identified. She is defined purely by what she lacks. She is known only as “hungry” and you and I alone can solve this problem. I can’t help but wonder how I would feel being portrayed by what I lack.

Therein lies the problem with being the hero. I define myself by what I have while I define others by what they lack. I begin with what’s broken about another. Meanwhile, I want others to start with what I already have and build upon it. This is inconsistent and not quite compassion.

I do this in all kinds of subtle ways.
By referencing others as “homeless people”
By posting pictures of the mission trip I went on.
By sharing how I led some person to Jesus.
In all this, I’m the hero.
And it costs the other their dignity.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. -Matt. 6:2-4 (Jesus)

Heroes In Disguise 
Now, think about the people in your life you truly admire. The one’s you know well and have the utmost respect for. I’m willing to bet they are not interested in being the hero. Mine sure aren’t. I immediately think of my friend Ronny who has quietly served his community, family, and church for years. I had to wrestle out of him how he woke up every Saturday for years to knock on a hundred doors of a low income apartment complex in order to build relationship and find out ways he could help. Every time we hang out, I learn some new surprise of sacrifice, humility, and compassion. He has never once volunteered this information to me.

Another person is my mentor Tony. I’ve known him for several years, and it’s been this really slow roll out of admiration. He finally admitted to opening his house to complete strangers to live alongside his wife and young boys. I’ve had to work hard to learn how he makes sacrificial decisions to care for the environment and his neighborhood. I  look for excuses to spend time with him by driving him to the train station or buying lunch in order to have the chance of prying out of him these humble and costly ways he loves others.

Finally, I think of my friend Michelle. She is a single mom of two young ones. The way I have witnessed how she continually forgives her ex for his betrayal and continued hurt is remarkable. She carries herself with such grace and quiet strength as she works hard to provide for her kids. Laura and I have had to work hard at digging out of her this profound depth and insight of God and grace. While I’m sleeping in, she gets up early to help greet people at our church and she’d never let you know the amount of effort it took to get there.

One last person I think of is Jesus. He made it a habit trying to get people not to talk about the miracle they just witnessed. His common practice was to heal someone and then gently request they keep it to themselves. He was meek and humble. He was willing to be misunderstood and overlooked. Imagine the God of the universe walking by and being okay with going unnoticed. He was largely unknown and forgettable while he knew every hair on their heads and remembered each one while hanging on the cross.

A beautiful secret is better than boastful charity.
Tripping on the truth is more lovely than personal propaganda.
Hidden treasure is more transformational than a needy hero.

As I said in the beginning, I like to be the hero.
But I’d like a meaningful life more.
It’s what we all want, really.

So…
What would caring for another look like by starting with what they have rather than what they lack?
How can you make the one you’re serving the hero of the story rather than you?
How can you give, love, and serve in secret in order to uphold the sacred dignity of others?

Till next time, friend.
(To begin the “Not Quite Compassion” journey, go here)

 

  1. Many many of the ideas in this blog were taken from my dear friend, Mark Lamb. Someday, we’ll write a book together, if he’s got the time.