Archives For life

My calendar wasn’t lying. The appointment was there. Mocking me. The standard ding of my iPhone alarm became an ominous melody of doom (or was that just Black Eyed Peas halftime highlights?).

It was time to visit the dentist.

Twice a year, every year, for the past three-plus decades, I’ve been the recipient of the same dental speech. The proper mixture of conjured sweetness and implied judgment must be a pre-requisite for every graduating hygienist. It’s not a long oration. Less words than a Bill Belichick press conference, but equally as intimidating.

“Floss.”

Come on lady! What kind of super hero do you think I am?

But every six months I make another empty promise that lasts for exactly 9 days. And then the night before my next dental shakedown, I find myself frantically rifling through the cosmetic cabinets looking for a strand of that dreaded nylon string. I’m not really a flosser, but give me 10 minutes and a bottle of mouthwash and I’ll convince those professionals I’ve been rehabilitated. Surely they’ll never notice my swollen, bleeding gums.

Don’t you think we can do the same thing to God?

Fake it.

Put on the show.

Cram in some frenetic religious-type activity that makes us feel spiritual again, even if it’s making no long-term difference.

But Jesus longs to be so much more than something we go digging through a cabinet for the night before we need it. His words more than just screen savers, Twitter posts, or something we hear the pastor quote every once in awhile on Sunday morning. Here’s one of the things He had to say:

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
Mathew 7:24-27 MSG

While I’m at it, maybe I’ll go ahead and start flossing, too (OK, let’s not get carried away).

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?

The Gift of Pain

Erik Cooper —  December 8, 2010 — 2 Comments

Last night my son learned a hard lesson. Pick on a kid who’s older than you and you may get a beat down.  Or as I like to think of it, act like Cortland Finnegan and someone may go all Andre Johnson on you.

Our friends and co-pastors the LaGranges were over for dinner, and my 5 year old was vying for attention the Jersey Shore way:  outrageous acts of annoyance. That is, until 9 year old Carter took matters into his own hands with a certified, WWE, off the top rope body slam that reverberated through the upstairs floor.

Boom!

(Tears).

And I, as a loving father, did what any responsible dad would do.

I laughed.

(Well OK, I made sure his neck wasn’t broken, then I laughed…hysterically).

Because my son got TKO’d?  Nope.  Because reality was teaching him a beautiful lesson. Act like a fool, and somebody may treat you like one.  Thanks Carter.

Lately, I’ve had some days when life seems to have me in a figure-four leg lock.  And while I’m getting my face smashed into the carpet, God seems to be relaxing at the dining room table sipping His coffee, maybe even getting a good chuckle at my wrestling ineptitude.

Doesn’t He care?

Sometimes God loves me best by allowing reality to do it’s work. By letting me struggle.  By not stepping in to stop the fight.  Because the transformation brought by pain can often be a gift. A cutting away of things I wouldn’t have given up on my own.

“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” John 15:2

Because God loves me, He won’t let me stay the way I am. Even if it hurts.

What You Don’t See

Erik Cooper —  November 30, 2010 — 1 Comment

We just received our stunning new family pictures. Not the Olan Mills tilt your head slightly to the left arms folded on the 70’s shag carpet with a fake forest on a vinyl pull-down studio photos.

Real pictures.

From our great friend and aspiring professional photographer Lois Solet.  We were absolutely blown away by what she captured.  The essence of our family completely visible in the millisecond click of a camera shutter.

Images courtesy of Lois Solet

As I scrolled through nearly 180 edited shots, I was overwhelmed by the sense of love. The joy. The potential. The life.

But then I had a momentary reality check. Like a 30 Rock Liz Lemon flashback, I remembered the totality of that two hour photoshoot in October.  I remembered what you don’t see.

My daughters arguing like Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin.  Me ignoring my wife’s staging request so I could update my Twitter status.  My five year old adamantly boycotting further poses like his Derek Zoolander modeling union concessions hadn’t been met. (Notice I didn’t throw my wife under the bus. She’s perfect).

All those imperfections edited out or never even captured at all. Or were they?

They more I looked, the more I realized…

These pictures aren’t beautiful because we successfully staged out all the flaws.  They’re beautiful because we’re willing (OK, at least some of the time) to admit we are flawed. Deeply flawed.

But how often do I fight the self-righteous temptation to manufacture an image that seems better than the truth? When all along, Jesus is waiting to do for us what we can never do for ourselves: Make us truly beautiful.

“God can’t stand pious poses, but he delights in genuine prayers.
-Proverbs 15:8

God, may the image of who we appear to be always reflect the true beauty of who You are in us.

PS: Thanks for the fabulous pictures and unending editing Lois. You’re a friend like very few others.

Everyone wants to be a Peyton Manning. A Bill Gates.  A (pre-Waterworld) Kevin Costner.  A Chris Daughtry.  A Jimmy Fallon. I would give anything to be a Tiger Woods (for the golf people…the golf).

An extreme talent with extraordinary gifts. All the opportunity. All the intangibles. The ability to emerge from anonymity because we own a skill very few others possess.

So we nobly work hard at doing something that that no one else can do. To differentiate ourselves.  To rise above the crowd and be noticed.  Sometimes that even includes complete stupidity (see: any cast member of MTV’s Jersey Shore or with the last name Kardashian).


But the older I get (and the longer I’m in leadership), the less impressed I am by people who can only do things nobody else can do. Sure, that’s one way to stand out. But what if there’s a more accessible way?

Here’s a little idea I’ve been throwing around (you can have this for free):

Instead of solely pursuing the difficult things that few can do.  Try being diligent with the easy things that few will do.

Anyone can set an alarm clock and get out of bed in the morning.

Anyone can be respectful of other people.

Anyone can show up when they said they’d be there.

Anyone can give their best effort every time they’re called upon.

Anyone can arrive on time (or maybe even a few minutes early).

Anyone can lay their ego down and serve someone else’s interests.

Anyone can tell the truth and keep a promise.

None of these things take any special talent. Any God-given prodigy.  Or 10,000 hours of practice.  Anyone can do them. But they will make you stand out like no one else (because very few people actually do).

So here’s a little secret to add to a repertoire of living a life that matters:  Do the easy stuff that everyone can do, but very few will do. Then you might actually still be around when that opportunity comes to change the world.

If you’re feeling a little paranoid, guilty, or that I’m talking directly to you, that’s OK.  I probably am.

Because I’m talking to me, too.