My eyes watered a bit. I checked my nose to see if I was bleeding. Luckily I wasn’t, realizing that I had been hit directly on the left cheek which was now plagued by a numb throbbing as my assailant stood steadfast in front of me, still insistent that the playground swing was his and his alone. I have only been punched directly in the face once, but even though it was over 15 years ago, I still remember the shock.
Today I was again punched in the face.
I did not try to steal a playground swing from a ten-year-old, I know better than that now and all though I have grown in years, with my current muscular physique I feel as though I would still lose in a fight to that ten year old barbaric savage from all those years ago. No, today I went in search for inspiration. I am in the middle of a busy ministry season littered with teaching, events, and meetings in a repetitive exhausting cycle. Even though I have grown tired, I have also been energized by it. I love meeting new students and families taking a risk to explore who God is, if he indeed even is. I love watching young people take ownership and risks in shaping their worlds. But with all the energy I have gained, what I have felt lacking in is inspiration. If energy is fuel, I had my car all gassed but I had no where to take it. In the midst of my search, reading over a blog written by author Donald Miller, I was again, hit in the face. This time it hurt a bit less (no joke, that ten year old kid could swing).
Miller suggested that there was great influence of our culture on our theology, or more applicable, on the way we practice following God. This was no shock to me as it perhaps is not to you. It was however with a list of questions that his words struck:
“Here are some questions that might serve as a personal filter:
- If I die and nobody knows my name, but more people know about Jesus, am I truly okay with that?
- Do I believe God wants me to succeed, or does God want more people to know Jesus?
- How much effort do I spend planning a performance on a stage in front of strangers vs in smaller groups, contributing to a healthy community with Jesus at the head?
- Do those closest to me see the same person as those once or twice removed, those who I blog for, write for, lead worship for or preach sermons for?
- Am I truly willing to be vulnerable about my faults, even if it costs me a bit of my platform? ”
Honestly, I had to reflect that as sincere as I try to be sometimes, it is far to easy for me to pursue success than pursue God sometimes. If you are uncomfortable with using the word God, perhaps you might replace it with love, or humility. Although I feel that a relationship with and a pursuit of God is the single greatest thing you can give your life to, in your relationships, in your work, in your home, in everything you do, I wouldn’t dream of forcing my beliefs upon anyone nor would I so greatly overestimate my influence.
I would just challenge, for those who have committed to pursue God, how often do we substitute him for success, even success in his name? I would love to be a well-known pastor, write a ton of books, speak in front of thousands, etc. That’s all good because it’s all God right? Maybe, but could it be that my pursuit would be more about myself than what God might be wanting to do? And for those of you who aren’t there, is success in place of loving the unloved, humility in place of pride, wealth as opposed to generosity, all truly as a worthwhile pursuit?
When I watch movies or shows with my wife, one of the things she can’t stand is when I say things like, “Oh that guy is definitely getting arrested later,” or “Well that relationship is not going to work out,” or “that guy is really going to fall for her instead.” She hates when I ruin the story by saying what is likely going to happen later (I don’t blame her, I am terrible to watch movies and shows with). But I can’t help it, we all know when we have seen a story already, the geek ends up with the girl despite all odds, the football team overcomes adversity to bond as a group and win some games, the hero is miraculously spared in the plane crash. It’s not that I don’t want the geek to get the girl, or the team to bond, or the hero to be spared, but we have seen it all before. Perhaps we are craving a new story, one that no one can see coming and one that keeps us at the edge of our seats wondering how it will turn out.
In a letter written by a man named Paul, a first century religious scholar who traveled the Ancient Near east planting communities of people who would choose to pursue God over the culture, he wrote this, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Success is indeed a pattern of our culture, what would it look like to transform the common patterns? What if we used our lives to live stories that were not the patterned stock stories? What if our lives were the very stories that kept us on the edge of our seats? What if we lived the transformed stories, the ones people see and hear about and say, “I never saw that coming, that CEO giving up his wealth, I never expected that politician to be so honest, I never expected to value this over that.” Sometimes culture needs to be punched in the face. We need the sting and the shock. It’s the jolt that challenges us to act. Inspiration is not found in the common, it is in the uncommon, the undiscovered and the not yet. We need to find ways to live transformative stories, because as our life is transformed, it transforms the world around us. And with that I wish that I truly wish that we all might be punched in the face… just not over a playground swing… and not by a ten-year-old kid.