Archives For risk

Lonely is at Least Safe

Erik Cooper —  November 29, 2010 — 3 Comments

You must risk what you fear the most, to gain what you long for the most.

It’s a truth any entrepreneur understands. But it’s reality for all of us.  Risk to gain. I’m especially awakening to this in the area of relationships.  Even my closest ones.

We all long for deep connection.  To know and be known. It’s hard-wired into our DNA, evident since Adam and Eve walked naked in the Garden of Eden.  Man was created to be real, exposed, authentic (“I’m out there, Jerry, and I’m loving every minute of it!”).

With each other.

With God.


But sin created a gap, and like Adam and Eve we cover up.  The essence of our true selves still (somewhat) there, but shrouded to expose only the “acceptable” parts. The partial me.  The pieces I want you to see.

Because the rest brings shame. The rest becomes a target for judgment and ridicule. And who can blame us? We have a history of destroying one another through exposed weakness. So stay covered.  Stay hidden. Lonely is at least safe.

And therein lies the risk.

You long to be known as you really are. In all your weaknesses. All your insecurities. All your fears. That’s a risk, and risk means it may not work out like you planned.  In fact, it may not work out at all.

But are you willing to risk what you fear the most, to gain what you long for the most?

When I was a kid I was terrified to go to sleep at night. The blue-green light of my clock radio cast just enough eerie shadows on the walls to bring my vivid imagination to life.

(You remember that rash outbreak of Russian thugs that broke into the bedrooms of 10 year old suburban kids back in the mid-80’s, right? Stupid Cold War.)

So I developed a little habit.

Every night I situated the blankets and pillows on my bed in such a way that my face was securely insulated in its own private hideout. An impenetrable fortress of cotton sheets and down stuffing with just enough opening for my nostrils to suck in the cool night air. No malcontent Soviets were breaking through this blockade.

As irrational as it was, somehow it made me feel…

…safe.

Fast forward a quarter century.

Just last night, I awoke submerged in a hideout of bed linens like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Flashback to 1986! And even though I’m old enough to know KGB spies aren’t repelling down our aluminum siding to steal my Facebook login, it reawakened that childhood sense of covering and security I felt being buried beneath a layer of blankets and pillows.

Ridiculous right?

No one really believes that a few thin layers of bedding would act as valid protection from Kremlin assassins. But my little self-made fictional fortress helped me create the illusion (at least in my mind).

I’m still really good at building “hideouts.”

Controlling environments.

Avoiding conflicts.

Sidestepping uncomfortable conversations.

Pushing off the difficult decisions.

(FYI: “I’m praying about it” is always a good one if you’re looking for a “spiritual sounding” cover up).

And just like my pointless shelter of pillows and blankets, these “strongholds” are just false illusions of security.

Every time I hole up in my own man-made sentinel, I trade in the opportunity to be truly hidden away I choose self-protection over God’s protection. What an absurd exchange.  After all, do I really need protecting if I’m not even out there where it’s actually dangerous?

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

But getting there requires the courage to throw off the covers and risk the threat of those imaginary Russian spies. Let’s face it, sometimes it feels riskier to trade in our fake protection for the real thing. We run from harmless shadows instead of finding true refuge in the shadow of the Almighty.

Maybe it’s time to come out from under the covers?

Honduras Day 2

Erik Cooper —  June 14, 2010 — 6 Comments

Every great adventure needs an element of danger, right? Well today we got it (unless you’re the parent of one of our younger team members or someone who may want to travel with us here to La Ceiba at some point in the future. Then, uhhhh…I’m just making all this up).

The day started simply.  Sundays are slow in Honduras, so the plan was to use our free hours in preparation for the intensity of the rest of the week. We rehearsed for our programs with the kids, sorted all our supplies, and prepped the crafts.  Then we headed out for an early dinner and a trip to a Honduran church service at one of our partner locations.

The sun sets early here in Honduras, but as the warm rays disappeared over the mountains, we noticed it seemed even darker than usual.  The electricity was out.  And not just for our area of the city, but for the entire country of Honduras.

All of Honduras was pitch black.

This became clearer and clearer as we neared the church in a primitive, poverty stricken slum on the outskirts of the city.  Rick Mitchell, the Mission of Mercy VP travelling with us, expressed his growing concern.  It was too dangerous for us to stay very long in this darkness. A bus full of Americans in these conditions was simply asking for trouble.

We decided to exit briefly with a small number of the team to greet the pastor and packed house waiting for us in the blackness of this one room, dirt-floor church.  The faces of the children glowed brighter than flickering candles.  The singing, cheering, and clapping nearly drowned out the darkness. It was a moment.

Crash!

A rock from an angry neighbor crashed against the tin roof of the church reverberating like a shotgun.  The entire room jumped at the sound.  But the singing never stopped.  Almost as if they expected it.

We did not.  Time to go.

We quickly greeted the beautiful faces hidden in the dark, hot room and then headed for the bus.  Hasta martes.  Nos vemos en martes. (we’ll see you on Tuesday).

Then somehow, in the rush of people, two of our team members accidentally ran into their sponsored child! Little Anna Sanchez appeared out of the masses of people to shyly embrace the Browns.  As we grabbed for cameras to capture the moment, the pastor suddenly and emphatically insisted, “es hora de irse. (it’s time for you to go).  They quickly pushed us onto the bus and our driver, a native Honduran, hit the gas like the Dukes of Hazzard outrunning Rosco P. Coltrane.

We’re still not sure exactly what went down, but in these blackout conditions, poverty-stricken areas already more prone to crime, can become very dangerous.  Word spreads fast and there’s no doubt the pastor of this beautiful little church was feeling a spiritual darkness moving in among the physical.

We’re all back safely in our hotel and the power has returned to Honduras.  Thankful for the Mission of Mercy leaders who work so diligently for our safety.  But then again, who said the Kingdom of God was safe?

Bienvenidos a Honduras.

I find myself somewhat reflective today.  CityCom is one (as in years old).  This “grand experiment,” this “adventure in Indy” we call City Community Church officially came to life one year ago today: March 1, 2009.  It’s still so surreal in such a beautiful sort of way.

But today there is no cake, no gifts, no party. Some birthday, huh?

Maybe we’re overly-sensitive, but we’re cautious of celebrating existence. Existence, just being here, really doesn’t mean much in God’s Kingdom.  In fact, God doesn’t really look too kindly on just existing.

Check out Jesus’ words from Luke 13 (emphasis mine):

6-7Then he told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?

8-9“The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.‘”

To put CityCom’s birthday in Jesus’ terms: we don’t want to celebrate that the tree is still standing, we only want to celebrate if it’s actually producing good fruit.

So, no church growth statistics today (although a few of them might impress you). Just people. Beautiful people. That’s what I want to celebrate.

People taking “one step closer to becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

People accepted for who they are, but challenged to become all God created them to be.

People embracing a journey of risk, adventure, and transformation.

People longing to know what it means to be The Church, not just go to church.

This is the fruit. The fruit we long for.  The fruit that we celebrate.  The fruit we desperately hope is pleasing to God.  And we’re seeing signs of it.  Beginnings.  “Buds.”

I’m so grateful to all of you who, in one way or another, have made City Community Church come to life.  May we bear much fruit. One year down, and the adventure is just beginning.

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.