Archives For perspective

All the Voices in My Head

Erik Cooper —  April 7, 2010 — 1 Comment

Never in all of human history have we had access to so much information. So many insights.  So many stories.  So many opinions.  So much good stuff (and some, well…) is there for the taking.

Even those of you reading this post right now are ingesting my perspective, my way of looking at the world.  No editor. No filter. No approval channels.  No publisher needed to grant access to our interaction.  My personal revelations directly delivered to your ears (or eyes…whatever).

Powerful possibilities.  Lots of voices.  In my world (of church leadership), the chatter may sound like this:

Real churches own their own buildings.

Your marketing plan is missing a major component.

The best small group formula is ___________.

You don’t care enough about social issues.

You talk too much about social issues.

Church music is trending edgier/louder/longer/less rock-oriented/introspective/shorter/more R&B/Gregorian chant (I’ve actually heard this one, no joke)

The early church was all about community, man (said in my best emerging church hippie-surfer voice)

What’s your church’s Facebook strategy?

All cool pastors have their own blog (this one, of course, is true)

The future of church growth is multi-site.

Are your services online?

Are you investing in Africa? Europe? Southern Asia? The penguin colonies of eastern Antarctica?

You get the picture.  And these voices can be good, even God-ordained. To grant me short-cuts.  Best practices.  Quicken the learning curve.  To challenge my hard-headedness.  Illuminate a blind spot.

In your world the conversation may be different, but the reality is the same:  we have easy and constant access to all the latest trends, concepts, experiments, opinions, and success stories we can put in our arsenal.

So many voices in fact, that we really don’t even need God’s anymore…

At least that’s where I can find myself.  And this little “people-pleasing” virus embedded deep in my soul drives me to respond.  To appear responsible.  Intelligent.  Cutting edge.  Socially conscious.  Technologically aware.  Whatever it is “they” (who are those people anyway?) think I should be.

And then I remember the Israelites.  You know, God’s chosen people who’s stories fill the pages of Scripture?  I’m reminded of a little detour they took – like 40 years of wilderness wandering (and you think you’re bad with directions) – all because they stopped listening. No, not to each other (there was plenty of that).  To the One Voice that had their real instructions:

“For who were the people who turned a deaf ear? Weren’t they the very ones Moses led out of Egypt? And who was God provoked with for forty years? Wasn’t it those who turned a deaf ear and ended up corpses in the wilderness? And when he swore that they’d never get where they were going, wasn’t he talking to the ones who turned a deaf ear? They never got there because they never listened, never believed.” (Hebrews 3:15-19 MSG)

Am I listening?  Am I really listening?  Not just to “the voices,” but to The Voice?

Are you?

I don’t think I was the only Christian to bristle at conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s strong statements this past week against churches that support, or even use the term, social justice.

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words [for Communism and Nazism]. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Glenn Beck

I’m a white, middle-class, suburban-raised, Evangelical christian, so you can quickly deduce toward which side of the political aisle I naturally lean.  And while I do understand what’s at the core of Mr. Beck’s concerns, I think he’s wrong.  Or at best misinformed. Although I’m sure I could never out-argue a pundit of his wit and verbal capacity, I at least want to share my own personal awakening as it pertains to the issue of social justice.

People are broken.  And spiritual leaders, unfortunately far too often, fall victim to using their influence to manipulate God-fearing people towards their own human, political perspectives. There’s no doubt that some pastors push social justice, and the ultimate “God-said” trump card, to promote liberal personal agendas.

But so do conservatives pastors.

And rather than digging for God’s truth, we use Him as as circumstantial support for our selfish motivations.  We form sides aimed at protecting our way of life, rather than submitting to The Way that is greater.

Here’s the (probably) overly-simplified way I see it:  Conservatives desire to preserve personal freedom.  Liberals wants to mandate universal fairness. And depending on which side of the equation benefits us most, we go to battle.  But what if there’s another way? A third option?

The Bible unfolds God’s perspective, His ideals, His Kingdom. The way I read it, God is all about freedom and all about fairness. The catch?  What happens when free people willfully choose to use their freedom to serve one another?

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” (Gal. 5:13-15 MSG)

Mandated justice never works. It spirals towards corruption. Even God Himself doesn’t mandate we follow Him (without choice there is no love).  That’s why I love America, because this freedom gives us unbridled opportunity to live out God’s Kingdom calling.  But only if we choose it.  When we willfully submit to serve, we truly become free. We willfully begin to make right the injustices that permeate the world.

Let’s be clear, the Kingdom of God is certainly not only about social justice (if it were, every secular Hollywood mogul and rock star would have achieved sainthood).  But to ignore the justice thread and call to serve the poor woven throughout Scripture is plain ignorance. Dangerous.  Incomplete.  A puzzle with missing pieces.  A stool with missing legs.

So here’s the ultimate question:  Are we building God’s Kingdom or just fighting to preserve a way of life? What are you willfully submitting to?

I don’t always like answering that one either, but it’s worth asking.

Disturbing

Erik Cooper —  January 13, 2010 — 1 Comment

Some days the Bible is like a warm blanket by a fire, wrapping me in its promise and assurance, comforting me in times of pain and confusion, pointing the way in the tension and unknown of everyday life.

And some days it’s just flat disturbing.

Hey, just keeping it real.  Try this one on for size:

“If you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)

I’d like to tell you that “in the original Greek,” or “according to historical context,” that what you read here isn’t really what Jesus meant.  But I can’t.  So I won’t.  It’s there.  It’s disturbing.

Even after all these years of serving God, pursuing His ways, leading His church, I have to confess something:  I still fall victim to thinking this is all about me. Admit it.  You do, too.  We “love me some me.” (thank you Terrell Owens for that amazing addition to the American pop-culture lexicon).

We long for a God who will strain out the ugly realities of our broken world and leave only the ease, comfort and pleasure we desire to consume.  We want a God committed to elevate the good and eliminate the bad in our little self-oriented kingdoms.

But God isn’t seeking to edit your story.  He wants to give you a whole new script.

Some days I can’t wait to embrace that reality.  And some days it’s just flat disturbing.

Compelled

Erik Cooper —  January 6, 2010 — Leave a comment

Responding to my desires is easy. What’s inside of me just naturally comes out.  It doesn’t take much thought, energy, or discipline to do what I want to do.  My essence just responds. It’s natural.  My desires are formed by my DNA, my culture, my socio-economic upbringing, my life experiences.  Lots of things.  Unfortunately, those “lots of things” also includes my fallen, broken, sinful nature.  In that way, living from what I want is incredibly dangerous.

I have other options, too.  I can live under the weight of obligation. Completely opposite of my desires, living by someone else’s expectations is outside-in, guilt-driven behavior modification. You know what I mean.  Maybe you’re 28 years old with 2 kids of your own, but you still hear the voice of your un-approving mother in the back of your head (or maybe in your actual ears).  Your actions still reflect your desire to please her, and you live under the intense scrutiny of her obligation on your life.

(Incidentally, that’s what religion does, too. It obligates.  Sets up impossible outward-focused expectations while simultaneously offering no hope for actually attaining them.  And I know there are lots of you out there that live under those very real and very guilt-filled religious chains. Some are just afraid to admit it because you’re heritage and your understanding of God are all wrapped up in the lie. It’s OK, you can be honest here.)

What if there’s a third option? A door number 3?

Mark 1:12 says “The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness…” (NLT)

At first glance, the word compel says force (in fact that’s in the actual definition).  But if you look closer, there is an element of compulsion that gives a different vibe.  To compel actually means to exert an “irresistible force.” Almost as if it causes me to drop my defenses and willfully subvert or push beyond what’s naturally in my DNA.

Being compelled is completely different than guilt-ridden obligation.  It’s also very different than surrendering to my natural, in-born desires.  It’s responding willfully, not from desire or obligation, but because I love, and trust, and believe in the One Who is compelling me. He’s an irresistible force.

I may not always want what He wants, but I do want Him.

Do you think Jesus desired to journey into the desert for 40 days with no food?  Doubtful.  But I don’t think He felt obligated either.  He was willfully responding to the irresistible force of the Father’s love. He was compelled.

How do you live? By what just feels natural?  From your in-born desires?  Out of obligation?  Guilty “hoop-jumping” to keep others happy with you (including God)?

What about door #3?

It’s so easy to gloss over messages we’ve heard over and over again. The Christmas story is no different. Even those outside the Christian faith can probably quote at least some of it, if from nothing else their fond memories of the old Charlie Brown Christmas special.  But have you ever thought beyond the pageantry we know and celebrate each December and really put yourself in the context of this overly-familiar story?

The second chapter of Luke is full of action: a road-trip to Bethlehem, virgins having babies, barns and farm animals, angels singing to shepherds (makes me want to pull out the porcelain nativity right now. They’re so life-like, aren’t they?).  But in the midst of all the celebration and lyrics of well-known Christmas carols, we lose a very real fact: it was 30 plus years from His birth in Bethlehem until Jesus completed the purpose for which He came.

Can you imagine getting a gift for Christmas this year and then waiting three decades to open it? Somehow I think it would lose its luster, it’s excitement, the anticipation.  But Jesus didn’t come to provide us a once-a-year emotional reaction.  He came to change the face of humanity, to give life to that which was dead.

In our world of instant acquisition, where we buy things today with money we’ll earn in the future (sometimes years and years in the future), Jesus–the ultimate Christmas gift–was the also the ultimate in delayed gratification. When the angels ascended back to heaven and the shepherds returned to their sheep and their fields, life must have seemed to return to “normal,” even though life would never be the same again.

Jesus was unlike any other gift ever given. Not like the mountains of plastic toys and video games gobbled up on Black Friday.  Exciting today, broken tomorrow, paid for at 21% interest over the next 6 years.  Jesus was a gift that unfolded slowly, methodically, under the radar of mainstream society.  And He’s still unfolding today if we’ll let Him.  Not as one-day-once-a-year event, but as a lifetime pursuit.

Keep unwrapping.

Merry Christmas everybody.