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The Impostor of Guilt

Erik Cooper —  January 26, 2011 — 2 Comments

Sometimes following Jesus is like having the stomach flu. That internal rumbling in your digestive track. Uncomfortable. Disturbing. I thought Jesus lived in my heart, how did he find His way to my small intestine?

I’ve definitely been there. The summer of 2000, I was avoiding full time ministry like Jay Cutler and the second half of the NFC Championship game. And it was eating me for lunch. We Christians call it conviction. That gnawing feeling inside your gut that is spelling out in no uncertain terms:

God is compelling me to do something I don’t really want to do. Insert vomit here.

But honestly, I’ve learned to welcome this type of nausea.  When we have the courage to respond and obey, life becomes beautiful. The Kingdom of God comes alive in us and around us. We begin to live in the reality of doing things God’s way. Never painless. Never without a cost. But always full of life. Real life.

But I’ve also experienced an impostor.

Rather than wrestling with internal, God-initiated challenges, I far too often find myself embracing the sinister villain of guilt. I wear its heavy strands around my neck like a concrete necklace even Mr. T. would see as a bad fashion statement.

I compare myself to others.

She’s taking a missions trip to Kenya.

He volunteers at the homeless shelter.

They’re adopting a child from Eastern Europe.

He quit his job to start a non-profit.

And rather than allowing the challenge of those we admire to inspire our own obedience to the Father, we become overwhelmed by shameful comparisons. Why am I not doing what “that guy” is doing? Maybe some day I’ll have “that kind” of faith. When will I man up to “that kind” of courage?” When will God be “that proud” of me?

Let me both let you off and put you back on the hook, ok?

Jesus said:

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Matthew 11:29-30

Jesus isn’t asking you to be somebody you’re not.  He isn’t asking you to mimic someone else’s obedience. He’s not placing anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. You can’t sustain that.

But He is calling you to obey. To become who He created you to be. And He never said it wouldn’t be painful. He never said it wouldn’t be costly. He never said it wouldn’t rumble in your stomach at 2am like a bad piece of meat.

So be inspired by others. Be challenged by their actions. But don’t wear the guilt of comparison. The question for you is simple:

What is God asking of you? Are you responding?

Beautifully Disturbing

Erik Cooper —  January 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Sometimes beautiful and encouraging morphs into scary and disturbing. These two opposing forces strangely emanating from a single source.  Surprising. Confusing. Even disgusting.

A loving embrace from your favorite Aunt Sue: Beautiful
Aunt Sue’s jalapeno and cigarette breath:

Ben Affleck’s performance in Good Will Hunting: Beautiful
Ben Affleck in Gigli:

An aging Brett Favre playing football like a 16 year old boy: Beautiful
An aging Brett Favre text messaging like a 16 year old boy:

Get the picture? There’s a strange tension that emerges when two seemingly opposing expressions spring up from the same root. And in risk of sounding disrespectful, Jesus was no different. Thankfully, His take on disturbing was a substantial departure from the examples I listed above. But the Son of God definitely knew how to throw down some “did He really just say that?” moments.  For instance…

One minute He would say beautiful and encouraging things like this:

“The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live.” John 11:25-26

“You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” Luke 12:31-32

“I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:30

Warm. Delightful. Like a warm blanket next to the fire on a cold, snowy day.

Then a few paragraphs later He seems to shift directions like Sarah Palin voting democrat:

“Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor.  You will have riches in heaven.  Then come follow me.” Luke 18:22

[In response to a man who’s father just died] “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:22

“If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.” Matthew 10:37

Disturbing. Scary. Our fancy 21st century discussions and Bible study commentaries have become great at explaining these things away, but Jesus never did.  He just laid them out there. Left them for us to wrestle. Here you go. Chew on this.

Because He loves us.

Yep.  Because He loves us. Real love exists in the tension between unconditional encouragement and unyielding challenge. He takes us as we are, but He doesn’t leave us there.  His aim is our ultimate good.  And Jesus knows full well that journey has to be beautifully disturbing.  That’s real love.

What passages of Scripture do you find the most encouraging? The most disturbing?

How do you wrestle with them?

Top Posts of 2010

Erik Cooper —  December 27, 2010 — 1 Comment

According to Google, these were my most read posts of 2010 (and seriously, who argues with Google and lives?). Since this is the week of top 10’s and best of’s, I thought I’d join the end of year festivities. Hope you enjoy a little stroll down BeyondTheRisk memory lane.

10.  Memorabilia: What Do You Hold Onto?

Our lives are full of memorabilia. Some trigger beautiful memories.  Some conjure up nightmares. [Read more]

9. Should Churches Ever Go Out of Business?

A question I still question if I should have even asked. [Read more]

8.  Should the Church Really Be Promoting Social Justice?

Glenn Beck made some strong statements against churches who talk about social justice. I tried to engage the conversation [Read More]

7.  Saying Goodbye

After 32 years, my parents finally moved from my childhood home. These were my nostalgic thoughts as we closed those doors for one last time. [Read More]

6.  The Problem with the Church

With all the condescending finger pointing and pithy diagnosis, I thought it was time to talk about the real problem with the church. [Read More]

5.  You Can Keep Your Hymnal

How often am I guilty of trying to relive the past? What are the “hymnals” in your life? [Read More]

4.  Embracing Biblical Values and Completely Missing the Point

Is it possible to love Jesus without truly following Him?  [Read More]

3.  Goodbye Maddie

Directly or indirectly, relationships will hurt you (confession: cried again re-reading this one). [Read More]

2.  I Hate When People Tell Me About Their Missions Trips

A trip to Honduras once again messed with our normal. What you hear from these two guys sums it up perfectly. [Read More]

1.  Fifteen Years Ago

My wife and I crossed a major milestone this year. This is my tribute to her (to us). [Read More]

My Early Christmas Gift To You

Erik Cooper —  December 16, 2010 — 1 Comment

Christmas is a time for unbridled merriment and irrational joy, so today I thought I’d throw a little dose of sober in your eggnog.  Perhaps this post will earn me a visit from three spirits? We’ll see.

What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus?

As a lifelong “churchie,” that’s a question I’ve really wrestled with.  Is Christ truly leading my life, or am I just trying to get him to come along on my journey? (After all, He is a great travel partner. I hear He has status in all the airline lounges). If you’ve followed my blog even sporadically for any length of time, this is a question you know I’m not afraid to pose.

To follow simply means to go after. To willfully submit.  To listen and respond.  Which led me to write the following question in my journal this morning:

“Is there anything God has already said to me that I’m not listening to, obeying, or that I’m rationalizing away?”

I’m spending the day with this one.  Maybe you want to join me?  It’s my early Christmas gift to you.

(If you behave, I may even let you have another lump of coal for the fire, too).

For any of you out there contemplating the start of a new church, I have a bit of advice.  Listen to me now.  This is important.  Tuck it away somewhere where you can look back on it regularly.  This isn’t shared in any of the church planting books or boot camps, but I’m telling you, this little nugget will save you a massive migraine.

Building a church with people who really want to follow Jesus is a bad idea.

I know.  Sounds crazy.  But it’s true.

Jesus followers are bad church builders.  Well, at least the kind of “church” a lot of us immediately sketch in our minds when we hear the familiar word.

As a church leader, prefer those who are just looking for some friends.  Those longing for relational connections with a few God overtones.  Those who want to build their social hierarchy around a church culture.  They’re so much easier to deal with.

Look for people who are settled. In control.  Those who have painted a vivid, stable picture of their futures – their destinies, what they want for their lives – and then just want to sprinkle a little God into the sauce like oregano or thyme (seriously, isn’t thyme is such an under-appreciated seasoning?).

Passion is good.  Passion for you. For your sermons and preferred style of worship.  For your kids program or the layout of your building. This kind of passion stays put. On course.  And barring an unforeseen transfer or poorly calculated misstep on your part (i.e. changing the color of the carpet in the lobby), stays solidly attached to your congregation.

Stay far away from Jesus followers.

They’re the ones connected directly to Christ, not just your church organization. The ones that quit serving their own egos.  That derive life from Jesus as their internal source, and begin listening and responding to His leading.

They start dreaming.  Creating.  Taking action.  Following.  Jesus.

And that’s dangerous, because sometimes He will ask them to do things that don’t benefit you. That destabilize your organization.  That may throw off your church growth game plan.  For instance…

They might invest $18,000 to bring an Ethiopian orphan into their home instead of donating to the capital campaign fund.

They may spend an evening helping a single mom clean out her garage instead of attending the church prayer meeting.

Sometimes they’ll even do things like move to other cities or countries because Jesus tells them their presence is required there. Crazy!

Yep, Jesus followers are terrible church builders.  I suggest you stay away from them.  They’re just too unstable. Too radical.  Too Kingdom minded.  Too dead to their own agendas.  Too busy building The Church to always help you focus on building your church.  They’re far too enamored with following Jesus.