Archives For purpose

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.

Peacefully Destabilizing

Erik Cooper —  December 2, 2009 — 2 Comments

“Jesus told them, ‘you’re all going to feel that your world is falling apart and that it’s my fault.'” (Mark 14:27 MSG)

Ever feel that way?  Like the closer you get to God, the more chaos it brings? Not exactly a great church-marketing strategy.  But the reality is our western, capitalistic church mindset wrongly equates God’s peace with ease, and His blessing with comfort, wealth, and the fulfillment of our personal, self-promoting dreams and desires.

The closer Jesus got to fulfilling his ultimate purpose, the less circumstances made sense to those around Him. And we see this reality unfold with uncomfortable clarity through Jesus’ disciples.

These men invested three years following this fascinating, controversial figure.  He added purpose to their normal, everyday lives, set them up with a new life trajectory, with meaning.  And then just as it seemed all their visions and desires were about to be fulfilled, He’s arrested, tried, and crucified. He died.

Chaos. And it almost seemed as if that’s what He wanted, like He willfully allowed it to happen (um, because He did).

Jesus rocks our worldview. He shakes our assumptions and perspectives to the core.  We like power, control, comfort, predictability. Yet we find following Jesus (really following Him, not just making Him part of your culture or weekly schedule or to-do list check-off) requires us to give all that away.  He replaces it with indescribable peace, joy, and purpose, but the cost is everything.  Everything.

And most days I’m just not willing to pay it. Just being honest.

Have I just brought Jesus into the dialog to make my love of self more palatable, justifiable, culturally acceptable, easier to swallow? Or am I really willing to give up control, power, perspectives, my way of seeing the world?

Following Jesus is the most peacefully destabilizing decision you will ever make. He will undoubtedly make you feel like your world is falling apart, and that it’s all His fault.  And although something in you is begging to run away, to keep control, to stay in power, there’s another part of you that longs for the adventure, that wants desperately to surrender to His game plan, that knows stepping into the uncontrollable chaos is actually the way to real life.

I’m a practical idealist.  A pragmatic dreamer.  It’s a blessing and a plague.  I’m full of passionate dreams, world-changing imagination, big vision – all combined with a sobering (and sometimes paralyzing) inoculation of reality.  Some days it feels like schizophrenia.

I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  I was a 2nd year music major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, laying in the upper bunk of my dorm room in Herron Hall, staring at the textured ceiling early one morning.  I was chasing my dream, to be in the Nashville music scene, and had the educational trajectory to prove it.  Only problem: my realism gene was kicking in.

So many of my older friends were graduating (with $50k+ in debt mind you) from this prestigious school that had successfully populated so much of the Nashville music industry.  And their highly respected diplomas were leading them to wait tables at the local Chili’sBig dreams (and big debt) wrapped in a soaking wet blanket of real life.

Heck, I didn’t need to spend $50k to wait tables.  I could do that for free.  So I left Nashville and my dreams of music biz stardom and got a degree in the absolutely most practical thing I could think of: accounting (yeah…I know).  Reality swallowed and digested my ambition.

So what’s the right answer?  Live as a pragmatic realist, squashing every dose of passion with the hammer of responsibility? My grandfather did that.  Forty years in a Chicago steel mill, consistent schedule, regular paycheck, good pension.  Hard work, but safe.  Consistent.  Responsible.  I often wonder what untapped vision he surrendered to the compelling call of responsible realism. What dreams were buried with him?

What I see in my generation is quite the opposite, but maybe even more disturbing.  Lots of dreams.  Lots of visions (usually of grandeur).  Lots of imagination.  Countless choices.  Zero realism.  And so influence goes unused and imagination stays stored in a little locked cupboard full of immobilized idealism.

The expressions of these two generational perspectives may look completely different, but the symptom is the same: control.

Pragmatists choose predictability over possibility.  Idealists choose imagination over action.  Practicality eliminates the possibility of failure.  But so does just dreaming.  In both cases, we keep control of our lives, our efforts, our destinies. We call the shots.  We make the rules.  We eliminate the risk.

We write our story.

And while we continue to furiously scribble with our ink-less pen, the Creator of the Universe patiently waits for us to simply surrender ourselves to His beautiful, dream-filled, action-packed narrative.

Risky.  Unpredictable.  Costly.  But very real.

Only In You

Erik Cooper —  February 2, 2009 — Leave a comment

“I have no interest in what you have – only in you.” (2 Cor. 12:15 MSG)

How do we get our lives to this point?  In a world of social networking where all relationships seem to be leveraged for some personal purpose, how do we build lives, how do we build churches, that are led void of self-gain?  We all need each other (it’s part of God’s design), but even in a place of spiritual leadership I notice how easy it is to become engulfed in what I need others to bring to the organization or movement I’m leading.  Musical talent.  Artistry.  Organizational skills.  Money (hey, let’s be honest).  People can easily become commodities, and if we’re not careful, we begin to lead out of what we need from people, rather than what we can do for people.

Leveraging people’s gifts, talents, and resources for God’s purposes is part of the reality and the beauty of the church.  But if we only build into relationships for what we will get in return, it doesn’t take long for that emptiness to show itself.  The apostle Paul (who penned the opening words of this post) wasn’t driven by what he needed from people.  He didn’t coddle them to keep them happy.  He didn’t use their gifts for his personal gain.  He led out of conviction, passion, and obedience, and the results have shown themselves in generation after generation for the last 2,000 years.

Just food for thought…how do you see people?

Managing the Past

Erik Cooper —  February 1, 2009 — Leave a comment

I’m noticing something interesting about the mindset of a builder:  everything is fresh and new, all paths are undiscovered, theories are untested, and risk is easy.  After all…there’s nothing to lose.  Literally.  When I’m working to create something that does not yet exist, risk is not difficult.  Really, what’s the other choice?

But what happens when time has created something worth holding onto?  That’s when we begin to manage, to protect the successes we’ve already achieved, the “assets” that have already been amassed.  Cue red flashing sirens and danger alerts.  When we stop dreaming of God’s future and start managing God’s past blessings, we’re on the doorstep of a catastrophe.

I’m writing this today as much as anything to hold myself accountable.  Human nature, no matter how well-intentioned, naturally reverts to protectionism.  And success may just be the worst culprit.  As we plant City Community Church today, it’s easy to risk.  Five years from now, will that risk be so easy?  Undoubtedly no.  That’s why today the question must be asked:  when current building begins to become future management, what are we going to force ourselves to risk?  God’s purposes are never found in only managing the past.