35 years of discovering nuance

Yesterday I turned 35, and I’m answering the question my father-in-law asks, which is “What you have you learned in your 35 years”, and this year it’s the value of understanding nuance. With the loud arguing happening on public forums, with often black and white dualistic thinking being the standard approach, I more than ever hold the importance of nuance close to my thought process. I’m incredibly grateful for the circumstances which lead me to this understanding. You see I’m a problem solver by nature, professionally, and in ministry (discipleship, counseling). Originally my primary motivation was to please people, but over time I discovered this was not fulfilling. This also lead to times of being used by people, and putting little value into who I was. Through the school of hard knocks, and a lot of grace, I eventually learned that my value was not in what I did, and that I couldn’t do what I did to please others to feel accepted.

The great transformation of realizing and owning my value came when I began to see the world while commuting to and from downtown Portland by light rail (MAX) in 2008. I had just started a new job at Smarsh (where I still work as a consultant). I wanted to know how MAX worked (and why it broke down from time to time), so I “geeked” out by researching how public transportation systems around the world were developed, built, and operated. By researching the reasons behind why different transport system were built, I learned about the incredibly complex world of public discourse, input, how some public entities are good at communications, while others fail miserably.

Often I would naturally try to solve all the problems I saw, and naturally I’ve always paid attention to details. What I didn’t always do was realize that within humanity, within individual people, the nuances and problems we each face, and the problems and friction in society are incredibly nuanced as well. While geeking out and learning about the human element of public transportation I learned the value in being slow to judge and apply “solutions” from a black and white perspective. From property disputes, “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back-Yard – ism), and needing to solve transportation problems in densely populated and land-starved areas the nuances and problems were never solvable by black and white answers.

So while I began educating myself on the incredibly complex decision-making, public outreach, and processes that are needed to build a successful transportation system, I learned more than just what makes a good government process. I also learned to apply listening, understanding, and the viewpoints of many into my problem solving skills. Which proved to be invaluable to me professionally, personally, and in ministry. The other side effect of riding MAX was that I saw many kinds of people, under various kinds of stress, and in various situations of social and economic status. The world went from being black and white to many shades of gray.

During this time I also read the book “Blue like Jazz” by Donald Miller, this book really put into words some of the feelings I was having about the intersection of the Church and society. From what I had learned about various kinds of public processes, my observations of people and society riding MAX every day, and being part of a large, and demographically/characteristically “evangelical suburban” church – I began noticing the overly simple way people in the church sphere would propose solutions to incredibly complex social conflict and problems. I also noticed (thankfully) that those in leadership usually were more keen to address the nuances, yet the typical “church goer” often did not demonstrate the same skills.

At the same time while I was undergoing this realization, one of my best friends entered a season of incredible struggle, caused by incredibly nuanced and complex actions by others and at the same time requiring him to take ownership and responsibility. For years I stood by, along with my wife and his wife, through scary times, confusing times, and incredibly hurtful times. Nothing I knew from my own life could be used to solve this problem, only walking along side. Some people took a simple approach, either based on fear, misunderstanding, or their own unaddressed problems interfering with the ability to humbly just walk.

It was during this season that the intersection of what my faith in Jesus and the very real and complex problems of the world came to a head. I was more and more irritated by the political tones that some in the church would propose for societal conflicts, often in a black and white way that failed to recognize the underlying nuances that were multiple problems. I was also incredibly encouraged by the leaders in my life who were well aware of the underlying issues, and were slow to propose overly simplistic answers, and willing to walk alongside individuals, rather than propose systematic/governmental/legal “solutions”. Just as Jesus walked alongside people.

In 2010 the same friend I mentioned earlier entered a very dark time of his life and deeply broke my trust. I was deeply affected and hurt – at the same time I knew there was only one way to restoration. In spite of our human emotions in the situation, and with the peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit I knew the only way forward was with full forgiveness. Without the lessons on nuance I don’t know if I would have had the capacity to seek forgiveness and restoration. It could have easily blown up into a drama that would have hijacked everything in my life and in my future, which makes it obvious it was a plan of the enemy. Thankfully Jesus had been preparing me.

It is essential for me today to never jump to conclusions (and to apologize when I do, or when I’m corrected by someone) because often it isn’t something of God. God is in the details (and in many ways, the ignorance of the details is where the devil is). Every person has unique circumstances, unique things they struggle with, and simple answers almost never fix the root issue nor bring true understanding, nor build the bridge to God we want for people. We must apply the principle of “root cause analysis” to nearly every conflict and problem in life and society. Ultimately the value we place on ourselves becomes what God sees, and we see people with (hopefully) the value he has for all people. When we realize there are nuances the black and white turns to gray, when we analyze and walk closely with the people involved, the gray turns to color. We apply grace to everything, and know that it takes trust, it takes faith, it takes patience, and in this we find peace, joy, and love – we find God’s Kingdom.

And that is what I have learned for my 35th birthday.

The insecure security of resources and safety

I’m often confused by Christians who use the apparent threat of resources, safety, and security as a reason/platform for saying NO to things, especially issues for people and community. This fear is natural, but powerfully played by the enemy to stop us in our tracks so we remain in neutral, moved by the winds of life instead of the power of God.

Our communities, co-workers, and all of humanity need the resources of God’s kingdom to be activated, that means we need to be there looking for the solutions, not just saying no out of fear or lack of understanding the full picture. From personal relationships, local issues, all the way to national and worldwide problems; in Christ we can cooperate with the world to engage where resources, safety, and security are needed, rather than trying to protect just our own. We all have a mission, and we all share the same resources, which we have been given to take care.

We are not promised these things, in fact we are encouraged to risk them for people and our communities. The enemy plays the game well, using the lack of resources to strangle life, or the abundance to create apathy and false security. We have the power of God, the wisdom of God, and the commission to make disciples. He is the great caretaker and provider, and he asks us to go into the harvest, where often our resources, safety, and security will be threatened. However, He will take care of it all to expand His Kingdom, where these things are not in short supply.

Being interdependent on our brothers and sisters goes against the grain of our western independent mindset, yet this is the template shown to us by the early Church, and for good reason. Fellowship creates trust, resources, and faith. It can also be scary, hurtful, and messed up – but this is why Paul showed the example of holding people accountable, calling out the issues in their church communities, and calling them to cling to what is good and right, to adjust course and not abandon ship.

Let God fill your sails with bravery and courage in all things, engage the fear with the wisdom and love for all humanity that God has, letting him begin where you end. Which in my experience, means letting Him begin at just about the beginning.

It’s a journey, often with fear and lack of knowing all the details, but the rewards are unfathomable faith in situations that most would just give up on, and peace in times of great upheaval.

His Kingdom is near and far

Something that is not often discussed is the fact that people in God’s Kingdom are held to a different standard, order of operations, and transparency; while those who are yet to surrender to Jesus as King, are not held to the same. This is immensely important to understand the natural culture and societies we find ourselves in. Within the Kingdom we must mutually encourage one-another, hold ourselves accountable to others, and be transparent about our struggles.
It seems that our (at least from my American perspective) christian sub-culture tries to apply these values universally to all, to somehow affect culture without inviting people to know the King first. We’ve turned the Church into a club, when really Jesus “lived out Church” with the disciples and shows us the Church is for fellowship and gathering as a result of being salt and light in our communities.
Kingdom citizens have zero reason to expect anything of Kingdom values from non-citizens. The only way to address non-citizens is with compassion, an offer of friendship, authentically share our lives, which leads to why surrendering to Jesus is life changing. Ultimately it is about everlasting life, with the Father or not, and for here and now, it’s about the supernatural, the ability to do more than this broken nature allows.
Many struggle with the bad things in this world, with the horrific stories in the Bible, and with the horrific history where God didn’t seemingly intervene. Friends, this is the natural-state of our world, the one where we do not fight against flesh and blood, but can not see the true battle until we know the King. What we as Kingdom citizens know, is that with God we have supernatural abilities that point to the true creation that God originally intended and which still exists behind the veil.
Remember his Kingdom is near (we who have surrendered to Jesus) and far (not yet here for all).
Have hope, this is not the end, it is only the beginning. 10,000 reasons and more to come.

Christian altruism and a new start

I’ve had this blog since November of 2002, often it has fallen victim to the needs of life, expectations to be more than me, and simply being low priority. Today I hope to start anew… again… for the 1,000th time. Maybe it will stick this time… maybe.

I bought a new domain name (for $1) so I guess I have some motivation… I better post at least one new entry… is that worth $1?

So I figured I’d start by explaining the new name of this little place “Romans 12 us” – as you can imagine it comes from the book of Romans, chapter 12, in the Bible. I came across this idea because I was trying to think of something which would describe my values for this place, but not setup any expectations or box me in. I started with ideas like “restore.me”, “renew.me” and “thisis.me” – but they were all taken domain names.

I also have a strong idea that at the core, true, center of altruism is Christianity. Which is defined as:

Disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.
“some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism”
synonyms: unselfishness, selflessness, self-sacrifice, self-denial.

Sounds a bit like Christ, yes? However to become altruistic we need to understand the idea of “renewing the mind” and “becoming a new creature”. I decided to read all of Romans 12 again; the entire chapter speaks to every issue in life, the church, and the world. I was floored, re-inspired, and excited to rediscover the gold of knowledge that is in Romans 12, especially in light of today’s political, societal, and overall pessimism towards the world, both in and out of the Church. Go ahead and read it, this post isn’t going anywhere.

See what I mean? Every nugget in Romans 12 is a building block towards Christian altruism, from there we can focus on making disciples with these traits and characteristics as the aim.

Part two to come… how this is impossible except as an outflow of the faith we have in Jesus.


[Update: 9/27/16 A part two never came, and I changed the site domain and name back to “no small talk” – I look back at this name change as an ill-thought idea, back to our regularly scheduled programming]

Proverbs 20:28

Unfailing love and faithfulness protect the king; his throne is made secure through love. prv 20:28 nlt

Proverbs is full of interesting bits to chew on. This one verse sums up the entire viewpoint and operation of God. In a way I read this as a two-way idea, it’s not just us loving the King, but it is the King loving all of us. Love must flow from the king in order for there to be security, our unfailing love and faithfulness is out of the King’s abundance of love.

A king that does not love and is not faithful in his words will have little security, his own people will riot against him and the enemies will invade. Interestingly enough people will come against their “kings” quite often based on simply what they believe about him, what they perceive to be, or because of their own feelings and/or choices.

Because God has created humanity with full free will, we often see people coming against the King because of their own perceptions, rather than seeking to become closer and tasting His goodness, and feeling His love. Our King however has a security system unlike any other, once we enter into His kingdom we are fully secured by His love and we desire more because he wants to give more, and out of this we desire to serve Him, because we love Him, and because He loves us. It’s a throne that will never fall, never change hands, and will always welcome us. Now and forever may we sing our heaven song.

Our bodies and the law

Scripture: Numbers 3 & 4 | My highlights and notes (must be logged into bible.com): Numbers 3:2-4, Numbers 3:11-13, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Observation: The Lord required Israel, Aaron and his sons, and the Levites to pay great attention to detail when caring for the tabernacle. This great attention to detail can also be carried forward into today’s temple for the holy spirit, our bodies (and by default our spirit, mind, and soul) as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.

Application: This attention to detail, and the fact that if not followed correctly it resulted in possible death, is something which is not easily applied in today’s world of distractions and justifications. It can be easy to try and apply this universally to all of humanity, yet, what I see is this specifically applying to God’s people. This is key to how we interact with the world, we apply the things of God to ourselves, and we serve the world around us. In this service to the world we do not become part of it, but rather we elevate it, creating bridges for people to walk into the Kingdom and experience the grace of God through Jesus. Take care of our minds, spirit, and body in great detail, and we will experience God’s Holy Spirit.

And in regards to Jesus even in Numbers we see the LORD substituting requirements through chosen people for the greater good of all. Although we are never going to fulfill the law on our own, and the only man to do this was Jesus, we can see how the LORD started with a standard, and after many examples of Israel failing to meet the standard God sent Jesus, which tore the veil between God and all of humanity and offered grace to all people.

Simple, basic Christianity, yet everyday I fail to meet the standard and it is in Jesus alone that I am made righteous, not my behavior, my words, my actions, simply the fact that I allow Jesus to be my LORD and submit myself to Him, even if not all the time, I do come back because he makes it perfect with unconditional love.

Prayer: Father may you remain the one true holy authority in my life, may I recognize your standard and give you praise for the perfection you created, and will restore again in your Kingdom. I want your will to be done, for me to submit to it, praise it, and live it, may I repent of the things that are of me. May I be content with what you give to me, and forgive me for the sins which cut me from enjoying your will. Protect me, my family, and all of us from the evil one’s temptations.

The Leviathan, blessings, relying on God, and forgiveness.

Job 41 &42, and 2 Corinthians 1 & 2

Weather the Leviathan (described in Job 41) represents an actual animal, or is a metaphysical allegory (I bet it is both in some way), I continue to face my own personal leviathan(s) and take much comfort from God’s response to Job in chapter 42. The way in which God redeems Job’s friends by accepting Job’s prayers, and then also restoring Job’s fortunes because he prayed for his friends, shows God’s heart, how He values relationships, and that He loves to have people restored, to Him and between each other. Simply, and complexly beautiful.

Fast forward to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians in chapters 1 & 2, and we are hit dead on with a similar theme. Paul and his team have recently gone through tremendous troubles, even risking their lives, making the strong point that relying on God is the ultimate source of comfort and direction, not to mention rescuing them for the bigger message and mission. Additionally, Paul urges the Corinthians to hold strong through their struggle, confronting them to make amends with the man who hurt them, that now is the time to “forgive and comfort him” and he urges them “to reaffirm your love for him”.

In the natural world, both of these situations would not turn out as they did. People don’t let the ones that hurt them come back, nor do they love them more than the original pain or hurt. It is through God, and now through His ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, that we can live free and love more than humanly possible.

Father God, help me depend on you in the face of my giants and beasts, help me depend on your in the face of natural human thoughts and ideas, help me ultimately live out your will and not my own. May the rawness of reality, and the tragedy of my past be always the reminder of your amazing grace and love in my life and motivate me to live for you in full. May I see and hear you with every interaction, without judgement and without expectation.

Walking with you…

Day one in review.

Well our first day in Kraków has come and gone. We’re full of hope and love for the people of this city and although our days for the next few months will be mostly about making our home “ours” and doing administrative types of tasks, we will continue to be intentional about putting people first. I have a couple more weeks before I go back to work and we begin a regular schedule. The photos above are from our outings and we were greeted with a beautiful morning.

Right now Elena is on my lap, trying to stay awake after a 3 hour nap, Jet lag is in full swing here. Emma woke up after nearly 12 hours of sleeping, and is currently in a grumpy mood and not happy about the weather appropriate clothes Alexis is offering. More later!

Oh so sad.

This little place use to get so much attention, and now it’s just an archive to thoughts of yesteryear. With the death of Google Reader ahead, and people apparently only able to read 140 characters at a time, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing here. I plan on keeping it, and one day I think (LOL) I’ll have time again to write. We shall see.