Archives For passion

The Problem with Dreaming

Erik Cooper —  February 17, 2010 — 10 Comments

I love to see people dream.  To use their imagination.  To create things that don’t yet exist.  To watch someone rise to their passion and purpose is exhilarating, and to play even a small role in releasing that potential is intoxicating.

But what if I’m drawing that stream out of a polluted well?

One of the dangers I personally face as a spiritual leader is creating and communicating via isogesis. Now there’s a fun theological word.  Isogesis refers to starting with a specific belief, and then searching (typically Scripture) for evidence to support my already pre-determined supposition.

This can be a dangerous way to approach God because it starts with me and then makes a vain attempt to bring Him into the equation.

A lot of us dream that way, too.  And as you can see from this passage of Scripture, I can be a dangerous origin.

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” (James 4:1-3 NLT)

I’m messed up. And while the things that naturally reside inside of me are undoubtedly part of my God-design, they’re also polluted with misguided motivation and selfish agendas.  With sin.  My dreams need redemption right along with the rest of me.

Jesus calls us to repentance, to realignment with Him. And not just as a one-time event, but a daily surrender.  Then my imagination begins to emerge from a healthy well.  My dreams naturally become sourced by God and I stop desperately seeking a “blessing” for things that originated with me.

So what about you?  Do you dreams emerge from The Source, or are you “isogeting?” Starting with you and desperately hoping God will come along for the ride?

Tough one for me.  But that’s the problem with dreaming.

I’m honored to participate in the “blog tour” for Mark Batterson’s new book, PRIMAL.  My review of his challenging new book is below.  Check it out (the post and the book).

As far as I know, there is no such thing as “C.A.” (Churchies Anonymous), but maybe there should be. There are undoubtedly a lot of you like me who were raised in the subculture of the Western Evangelical American Church.  You know, that subtle, religious dance, where Christianity is defined by a set of behavioral standards and consistent Sunday attendance.

And while I really do cherish the way I was raised, I often wonder how much of my understanding of God was shaped merely by a set of cultural norms rather than a true and personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Many days I feel like I’m still waking up.

Thatprimal‘s why I love Mark Batterson’s new book PRIMAL: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. This book takes dead aim at humanity’s uncanny ability to over-complicate God. To trade in the freedom of Christ for the layers of religiosity He actually came to unravel, all in our vain attempts to find Him in the first place.  In PRIMAL, Mark gets back to the simple essence of what it means to love God.

Mark is a “churchie” like me.  Raised in it, married into it, studied it, built it.  But he’s a church “insider” that’s not satisfied with simply preserving the status quo. Mark’s not afraid of the hard questions, yet he asks them with such dignity and class you feel like he’s giving you a high five while he’s really kicking your butt. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The temptation is to ask this question: what’s wrong with this generation? But that is the wrong question. The right question is this: what’s wrong with the church?

“As we grow in our love relationship with God, we begin to empathize with God.  We feel what He feels.

“It seems to me that we have spiritualized the American Dream or materialized the gospel.”

“When we lose our sense of wonder, what we really lose is our soul.  Our lack of wonder is really a lack of love.

“I’m afraid we’ve unintentionally fostered a subtle form of spiritual codependency in our churches.  It’ is easy to let others take responsibility for what should be our responsibility.”

“Too many of us try to understand truth in the static state.  We want to understand it without doing anything about it, but it doesn’t work that way. You want to understand it?  Then obey it.”

“The truth is that most of us are already educated way beyond the level of our obedience.  We learn more and do less, thinking all the while that we’re growing spiritually.

“Which do you love more: your dream or God?

“This book is an invitation to be part of something that is bigger than you, more important than you, and longer lasting than you.  It’s an invitation to be part of the next reformation.

PRIMAL reads quickly and is compiled in powerful, poignant, yet small, almost blog-like chunks. In fact, this book really seems to be further development of many of Mark’s posts from the last few years.  It reflects an honest passion for Christ beyond just being a church leader (as well as an obvious fascination for scientific thought and studies).

I highly recommend it as a first read for 2010. It’s a great book for anyone, but it found a special connection with me as a church “insider” constantly looking to escape the complicated layers that religious culture has quietly coated me with over the years.  If you want something real, search for something primal.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.

Painter or Artist?

Erik Cooper —  November 25, 2009 — Leave a comment

My friend Davy has really impressed me over the years. When I first met him, I knew him as a stellar, young guitarist who joined the music team I was leading.  A few months later, I found out he was an absolutely fabulous singer (think Adam Lambert’s range without all the, well…disturbing stuff).

About a year into our friendship, I learned he was into graphic design.  I thought, “awe that’s nice, this kid likes to draw.”  Then a few months later he took up photography (like, from scratch…never done it before).  I was impressed.

But the world was going the way of the internet (not sure if you heard that or not), and he didn’t really know how to do web programming or development.  Until he did.  Taught himself. Did this kid ever stop?

Watching Davy helped me realize something important.  He isn’t pencil sketcher.  A painter.  A computer designer.  He doesn’t just take pictures or write web code.  He is an artist.  And he’s willing to use whatever medium presents itself to bring to life what was is really inside of him.

I want to be the same way.  But how many of us get caught up in the expression of who we are instead of, well, who we actually, really are?

A lot of people have asked me if I miss doing music full-time.  In some ways I definitely do.  Music has been a life-long passion, and the piano a technical pursuit since I was just four years old.  I was just beginning to see my dreams of songwriting and record production come to life when we stepped away to start City Community Church.  Sounds crazy.  But I’ve tried hard to define myself by what’s inside of me, not by the way it comes out.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and my purpose is to bring God’s Kingdom alive in the world. Today that expresses itself, not through music, but in co-leading a brand new community of believers.  Through speaking and teaching.  By writing and blogging.  Through sitting across a table from real people as they process life, what it means to genuinely encounter Jesus, and if they really buy into all that or not.

I’m not a musician or songwriter, a teacher, a writer, a pastor. That’s just what I do.  And hopefully I can effectively use those expressions to accurately bring the redemption of Christ to life in this broken world.  I want to constantly work on who I am, and who God is becoming in me. The outflow always starts from there.

What’s driving your expression? Is there any substance behind what others see?  Are you nurturing what lies under the surface?  What’s at the source?  Are you an “artist” or just a “painter?”  What defines you?

A friend once gave me a great piece of advice: lose your naivete, but don’t become cynical.  And this guy knew what he was talking about.  He was a member of Ted Haggard’s New Life staff when the bottom dropped out, when the image of this seemingly unshakable leader disintegrated into tabloid gossip and endless material for late-night TV monologues (my friend is still on staff at New Life by the way, and this amazing community of believers has rebounded with the kind of grace and strength only God can provide).

I’ve been trying to heed this advice.  Naive was definitely a good descriptor for me.  I grew up in the American, Evangelical church-bubble and blindly trusted all its assertions, philosophies, and leaders with little or no questions.  In many ways, I had allowed my understanding of God and His Kingdom to be completely shaped by this sub-culture, assuming everyone had God’s and my best interest in mind.  It was all I knew.  I was naive.

“The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.” -Proverbs 14:15 (MSG)

But as I began to develop my own relationship with Christ and not just Midwestern church culture, His personal revelations began to unfold a bigger Kingdom understanding.  I began to change (and hopefully still am changing) from the inside out as my connection to God Himself began to overtake my cultural assumptions of who He is and what His Kingdom is all about.  That beautiful revelation is God’s deepest desire for all of us, but it comes with a warning label for our broken, human tendencies.

Awakening from a slumbering naivete brings new awareness to before-unseen truth dancing all around you.  At times, it seems almost too much to digest.  But unchecked, it’s so easy – even impulsive, to swing the pendulum from enlightenment to disdain, from healthy questioning to caustic hatred, from God-centered revelation to man-centered distrust.

Cynicism is not an end result of God’s revelation.  But I see the tendency to overshoot the mark in myself and many others who are sincerely trying to re-think church.  Challenging assumptions is healthy and wise.  Defining the whole by its abuses is foolish and destructive.  It’s the definition of cynicism.  And while disdain for the status quo can be the catalyst to release needed passion, cynics tend to only point out what’s wrong instead of endeavoring to create what’s right.

“Cynics look high and low for wisdom – and never find it…” -Proverbs 14:6 (MSG)

So what about you?  Are you naive?  Do you really have a revelatory relationship with the God of the universe, or just this thing we call the church and its American cultural expression?  Do you challenge assumptions?  Do you pursue the hard answers?  Do you intimately know the heart of God, or do you just settle for easy explanations and happy sound bytes that fit your cultural assumptions and who you need God to be inside your sheltered worldview? (Wow, that’s a mouthful).

Or have you attempted to treat that naivete by becoming an obnoxious cynic, defining everything by its worst perversion, assuming everything and everyone has an ulterior motive or self-centered ambition?  You’re not doing the Kingdom of God any favors either.  Take my friend’s advice:

“Lose your naivete, but don’t become a cynic.”

The authentic Kingdom of God is found in that tension.

Rock Stars

Erik Cooper —  October 7, 2009 — 5 Comments

Most of us are oblivious to what lives inside of us.  We live in slow motion, in monotonous routine, because somewhere deep in our souls we don’t believe we have influence, that we matter, that the world has any need for the things that we allow to lay dormant inside of us.

We’re in a culture inundated with inspiration, self-help books, mind-stimulating podcasts and messages, more self-esteem builders and delivery methods than any time in all of history.  Yet I’m convinced that most of us fight feelings of worthlessness and mediocrity more than we realize or are willing to admit.  We’re blind to our own potential.

We’ve ingested, perhaps even subliminally, our personality-driven culture (definitely prevalent here in America, but becoming a reality in all areas of the developed world).  We all want to be rock stars (yeah, I see you playing air guitar in your office to those old Journey tracks you just downloaded from iTunes).

Our approach to life proves our underlying belief that if we’re not gifted in something that gets noticed by the masses, then we’re really not gifted at all.  And in this new age of technology and a flattening globe, our self-defined value is becoming tied to things like blog subscriptions and Twitter followers.

And because we can’t determine how to influence thousands, we choose to influence…no one.

In risk of turning this into just another self-help post, you really do have something of value to add to the world. You were created to make a difference in someone else’s life.  You just may not believe it.  You may have to dig a little deeper to find it.

Don’t confuse creative capacity with artistry. Just because you’re not a singer, a painter, a writer, a front-of-the-room communicator doesn’t mean you don’t have amazing creative potential to offer to the world.  In fact, just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you’re creative.  I know plenty of artists who are just cheap copies and phony imitations of others.

So what has God placed inside of you that needs to come out? To be expressed?  To find life and breathe life?  You may never be globally known, play a stadium gig, or write a best-seller.  But will you cheat the world of the innovative capacity you were created to bring forth? What if the very thing you have to offer could drastically change one person’s life, but you never pursue it?  What if you choose to give in to your own insecurities?  To believe that only mass influence is real influence?

What do you need to risk?  To release?  To create?  To invest?  Will you live the adventure or just play it safe?  Don’t be blind to your own potential.  The possibilities are endless, but you have to realize what’s inside of you that just might need to come out.