From time to time, it’s easy to get so settled-in to Christianese that you miss out on the meaning. In a sense, you begin to allow your mind to dull the sharpness of the Word. Or maybe it’s just me.

I listened to a message this morning that put me (rightfully) in my place. What knocked me on my butt was, like many things God’s been speaking to me lately, a concept I’ve “known” for a long time. This time, though, it goes beyond the forgetful factor C.S. Lewis so concisely put: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” This time, I just never really got it.

In fact, this time it was something I had discussed with a friend not six months ago, speaking as if I really understood. The problem is that I’ve known it intellectually, but the theory and the application are very different. Taking it a step further, I’ve even heard this message three times before today, but the truth never resonated until now.

So what is this powerful revelation? What is this life-changing awareness? What has shifted in my paradigm?

I suck.

No, seriously, I suck.

And it’s not a question of failures, though I’ve had plenty of them. It would be easy enough to embrace the defeat associated with the conscious decisions I’ve made that led me down unrighteous paths. After all, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And I’ve really taken the cake on that. I’m the lowest of the low, and lower. I can acknowledge that.

But here’s the lie I’ve believed: I still have something to offer. God can look past my past and love me because I still have merit. I can still be useful. I’ve got something good in me, even if it’s surrounded by this sinful exterior.

I’ve held a worldview wherein I’m not bad because I’m not “as bad as I could be.” I’ve still got some good stuff in there somewhere.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I frequently compared myself to others in the cliche way. “Well, at least I’m not like so-and-so.” I have made comparisons; I’m human. But that’s not my modus operandi. Instead, my error has been to say things like, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I…”

So I’m at least a decent person. But that’s false. I suck.

I said earlier that I believed that God could love me despite my sin because I have merit. But I don’t have merit. I have no redeeming qualities in and of myself. Sure, I’m made of God-material. After all, we’re made in His likeness. But that’s like saying that crap nugget and a planet-sized diamond are similar because they both have carbon in them.

I have lived in sin. I have reveled in sin. But even if I hadn’t, I’d still suck. I have nothing to offer God.

God doesn’t love me because I have merit that redeems me. God redeems me and gives me merit because He loves me. My perspective was backward, upside-down, and inside-out. Without Him, without His love, without His redemption, without His sacrifice… I suck.

In Pastor Jeff Little’s illustration from Week 5 of Encounters, he chipped a clay pot to symbolize how we acknowledge our sinful past to a degree, but he then explains that we stop short of an accurate measure. We believe we’re “just chipped” or “a little bit broken”. “I’m pretty well put together. I actually can add something to the discussion. I recognize I’m not perfect… I can still contain good stuff.”

But I can’t. That clay pot didn’t stay “just chipped” in his illustration. And I wasn’t even born “just chipped,” much less am I there now. I’m a hopeless case; I have no redeeming value. Sure, I can make a good decision, and I can find myself aligning to His will on occasion. But given enough guesses I can pick any random number you think of, no matter the range. Doesn’t make me psychic. One right guess doesn’t negate the thirty or three thousand wrong guesses that preceded it.

What I’m beginning to realize is that one right guess, even if it’s the first guess, still doesn’t make me psychic. I’m not a good person. No living human is. We’re all incapable, least of all me.

And yet God still chooses to love us. God still chooses to love me. There’s something significant there. Still digging into that side of things, but I’m definitely realizing just how much I suck.

I don’t think any honest, devoted Christian can deny how vital it is within our daily walk to trust in the Lord. Countless clichés have permeated Christian culture as a result of this nigh-universal awareness. “Let go and let God.” “Jesus, take the wheel.” “Is God your pilot or parachute?” There’s certainly plenty of examples of Scriptural precedence for such trust.

Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
Psalms 37:5 NASB

I will say to the Lord , “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!”
Psalm 91:2

Whether we’re talking about direction or protection, God is far more faithful to us than we are to Him. One of the most commonly referenced Scripture relating to trusting God is found in Proverbs.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 NASB

Sometimes it’s easy for me to trust God, particularly when I have no choice or no understanding. If something is so far beyond my capacity to fix (or even influence), it’s easy to say, “You know what, God? I’m gonna let you handle this one.” If it’s far too complicated for me to fully wrap my head around it, it’s almost natural to say, “Your ways are above my ways, Your thoughts are above my thoughts,” then hand it off. I’ve had issues in the past few weeks that met one or both of those qualifications.

Other times it’s not so easy. As a person who readily accepts personal responsibility out of an inherent nature (or perhaps nurture, as responsibility was [thankfully] a constant push from my father), many times it’s much more natural for me to say, “I got myself into this mess; I’ll dig myself out.” Sometimes, it’s even more subtle. There’s not even a conscious decision, but rather a built-in assumption that a particular thing falls under the jurisdiction of personal responsibility without any consideration to God whatsoever. This latter category is dangerous precisely because it is so subtle and it gives God no chance to be glorified.

A little more than 24 hours ago, I was presented with the question of whether I had ever entrusted God with my own emotional protection. The thought had, frankly (and surprisingly), never crossed my mind. My emotional well-being was my responsibility. I could choose to accept the joy of the Lord, sure, but the protection of my emotional state of mind was my job. Why would I surrender that to God?

So, on the surface, it seems like I’d just say, “Oh, wow. Never thought of that. Well, there You have it. It’s all Yours, God.” One submission and everything is peachy-keen. But instead, it starts making me ask questions about whether or not I trust God appropriately at all. I can say that I have, for a long time, intellectually trusted God. He’s never failed me, and since He is unchanging, why would He start failing me now? The friend who posed the question of trusting God with emotional protection then offered a shocking comparison that rattled me to the core. “That,” he said, “describes my relationship with my microwave. It’s very consistent, too.”

So the measure of trust in my relationship with God is appropriate for a common kitchen appliance. Wow. Just wow.
The bottom line is that Proverbs doesn’t say to trust in the Lord with all your analysis, experience, or lack of alternative. It says to trust with all your heart. I must learn to fully embed myself in that trust.

I should trust God enough to be genuinely vulnerable in my relationships, allowing people past the protective walls I’ve built up since childhood. If I get hurt, God will heal me, and it’s probably a hurt that I needed for some reason.

I should trust God enough to invest myself fully in the relationships He has placed in my life. If He placed someone there, then I owe it to Him, the someone, and myself to stick to it, be friendly, patient, loving, and everything else that particular relationship demands. Even if I don’t see why God would have arranged things as He did (or even agree with His choice), anything short of my full effort diminishes the relationship to something less than His best, as I’ve recently learned the hard way.

If I don’t get it, I should trust Him. If I think I have it figured out, I should trust Him. If I see something is way beyond my reach, I should trust Him. If I see something is practically already in my hands, I should trust Him. If it has a good chance of leaving me in pain, I should trust Him. If there is no risk at all, I should trust Him.

If I’m to walk by faith and not by sight, then I have to be willing to be blind and let Him lead the way.

Over a week ago, I wrote about a comparison between myself and the Old Testament Israel. In it, I quoted a Scripture that I thought summarized my adult life so far:

There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
Proverbs 14:12, NASB

The message here is so important that it bears repeating in Proverbs 16:25. The core truth here is that a man left to his own devices can sincerely believe he is doing right while being sincerely wrong. And the results are surely not what he intends. Consider the following bit of wisdom:

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
Proverbs 12:15, NASB

Here we find Solomon once again noting that a man alone can feel completely in the right, and his description of the individual as a fool as opposed to the wise man indicates that his feeling of “right” is likely incorrect. As with much of the wisdom literature, though, Solomon offers a practical countermeasure. Get around some people who know more than you, have more experience, or simply have the potential to have insight you do not. Even the first Psalm offers similar advice.

Proverbs isn’t done yet, though.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives.
Proverbs 16:2, NASB

As with the first verse, this is stated twice (albeit with slightly differently words) in Proverbs (Proverbs 21:2 to be specific). Once again, there’s the statement that a man believes his choices and actions are good. It’s noteworthy this time, though, that the language (particularly the “but” transition) indicates that the latter half of the verse is in opposition with the former. That is to say that a man can make decisions that seem to be right with the wrong motivation. It brings to mind 2 Corinthians 9:7, where Paul urges people to give because they want to rather than out of compulsion or with a grudge. After all, Paul affirmed, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

What’s in your heart matters. In fact, taking into consideration God’s words about David in 1 Samuel 16, Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 6 and 10, or even His interactions with the Pharisees in Luke 6, it becomes clear that the why is at least as important as the what. God sees into our souls, knowing us better than we know ourselves.

There is hope, though:

…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2, NASB

As creatures of free will, and as Christians under a sovereign Lord, we are not static. With an act of submission from us and an act of power on His part, we can change on the inside. So how do we do it? Once again, to reinforce the importance of this premise (I believe), the Bible repeats itself.

Commit your works to the LORD And your plans will be established.
Proverbs 16:3, NASB

Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
Psalms 37:5, NASB

By no means do I have it all figured out. I’ve got a long, long way to go. Thankfully, I won’t be walking alone. I’m continually praying for Godly wisdom per James 1:5, but I’m also praying for Godly counsel (not, mind you, just “good advice” from well-meaning friends).

Over the past several weeks, God has continually brought to light exactly how human I am, and exactly how beyond humanity He is. Over and over, He’s brought to mind Paul’s words…

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NASB)

Over and over, He brought this Scripture to mind. And over and over, I applied it to the fact that my failures are not beyond God’s capacity for restoration. And for a while now, I’ve felt that I had wrapped my head around that verse pretty well. And yet, I kept hearing, “Chris, My grace is sufficient.” So why does He keep telling me if I already had it figured out?

Of course, it’s because I didn’t. And, frankly, I still don’t, though I’m making progress.

The past two months have taught me a lot about myself, but more importantly it taught me about my relationship with God. It taught me that I’ve “gone through the motions” since day one. I’ve never fully given myself over to Him and intensely, actively, intentionally pursued intimacy with Him. I’ve just intellectually known how good He is and acknowledged His handiwork in the world around me. I’ve seen His forgiveness and mercy active in my life; I’ve always known I’m a screw-up. But I’ve never experienced the power of God that I know He’s capable of.

A combination of my incompetence, lack of character, naivety, and weakness has lead me down the path of destruction and death. Over and over, He’s saved me. I’ve stood up, dusted off, thanked Him, and kept going down the same path. I’ve destroyed my marriage, countless relationships, several jobs, and possibly even my freedom. And, as a good friend reminded me a couple days ago, I can do absolutely nothing to fix any of it.

So, why try?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any intention of going down without a fight. But what am I fighting? Am I fighting my circumstances? Am I fighting my employment situation? Am I fighting to make my marriage work? Am I fighting to regain lost friendships? No. I can try (and for my entire adult life have tried) to fix it all, but I will fail (just like I always have). So I’m giving up. I’m not going to try to fight any of that.

So what’s my fight?

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
–Matthew 6:33

It’s not my job to fix anything except for my own lack of intimacy with God. He’s ready already, and He’ll draw near to me at the same rate and degree that I draw near to Him. If I get on the right path with Him and make sure that I’m sticking to that, God will work out the rest of it. I’ll have a happy marriage that bring joy and life into my heart. I’ll have a fulfilling career in service to the Lord. And I’ll have the genuine friendships that I’ve always wanted but never seemed to find myself in.

So I’m not going to try anymore. I’m giving up on all the rest of it. It’s not my responsibility. My sole responsibility is intimacy with God, and I’ve made a promise (to myself, to God, and to others) to devote everything to making my relationship with Him what it always should have (and could have) been. That’s a much lighter load than trying to make up for all my mistakes and clean up my mess.

And that’s freedom.

For the duration of my adult life, I have never encountered an employer that actually did team building exercises. Before I started working for a ministry, my employer didn’t really care much about the cohesiveness of the team. When I had my own company, it didn’t have time to grow into a team to do much building anyway. Working at a ministry provided a different cause but the same result: we were all there because we believed in what we were doing. No one takes a job in ministry for the money, you know?

Now that I find myself working with my good friend Jon Simpson at Canonball Creative, I’ve found that there is indeed a value in these out-of-office experiences. Today, we played Whirlyball against another company we do a lot of work with. If you’re like me and the term is completely new to you, think of it as a peculiarly fun mix of polo, lacrosse, basketball, and bumper cars. Didn’t see that last one coming, eh? Me either. Gotta say, though, it’s a lot of fun.

And that’s important in the workplace.

When I had my own company, I was heavily invested in what I was doing (obviously). I never had any question about whether to go the extra mile or work hard because I lived work. Fast forward to working in a healthy ministry environment. It was easy to take for granted the fact that we were all bought in to a common vision, that we want to work through the inevitable difficulties because we were passionate about what God was doing through the practical, day-to-day work we did.

In the secular world, at least when you’re not personally invested in your job (that is to say, it’s just “a job”), there’s not much value in the cohesion and the team environment short of avoiding punishment and/or confrontation. I’m the type to throw myself into what I’m doing, but not everyone is made up of the same stuff as me. Enter the team building exercise.

Camaraderie produces efficiency; it’s not just about avoiding problems. And on some level, bonds develop between people working together anyway. However, there’s nothing quite like doing something for fun, something outside the office, something that calls on the same traits and natures as work but in a non-working environment.

For the team, it seemed to be a good bonding experience. For me, it was surely that. But it also gave me a chance to have a wholesome, healthy, fun distraction from the stuff of life. No profound spiritual insight was gained from it; no intense work of the Lord was witnessed through it; and no mighty wind swept through the place. But it was lighthearted fun. And I think that’s what I needed today.

Throughout my life, God has blessed me over and over again. He has proved countless times that His grace is sufficient, helping me out of tight spots, providing for my needs, and giving me gifts that I could never earn or deserve on my own. He has demonstrated a personal touch on my life, communicating His love in a manner that only He can.

Throughout my life, I have turned away from His direction, insisting that my own ideas and my own ways should work. It’s as if God puts me in the car to take me somewhere, then I hop over to the driver’s seat and shout, “I know the way.” And every time I end up in a classic “is God my pilot or parachute?” position.

So far, my adult life would be best summarized by Proverbs 14:12. “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (NASB)

He blesses me, I turn away and fall on my face. He helps me get back up on my feet, and the process starts over again. Each time, the situation escalates. Higher risks, bigger consequences. Seedtime and harvest becomes a spiritual principal that I see at work each and every day. As it escalates, I see it affecting the people around me like a cancer.

Two days ago, a good friend likened me to Israel. Over and over, they saw God perform miraculous signs and wonders, promoting them as His chosen people. And each and every time, they took to idolatry and distractions and sin. And they reaped the consequences, returned with tail tucked between their legs, and begged for forgiveness. And He was faithful to forgive.

It took the Babylonian Captivity to wake Israel up. They lost everything God had given them, including their own freedom. Again, God proved faithful, kept a remnant, returned them to freedom, and helped them rebuild from scratch. Entire tribes were lost, countless people died, and those that remained suffered. All because they wouldn’t properly steward His calling. They thought they had the answers, but they hadn’t even fully grasped the questions.

I don’t want to be Israel anymore. I want to be a better steward.

html5 logo in coffee cup

html5 logo in coffee cupI spent most of today at the Dallas TechFest on the glorious University of Texas Dallas campus. Like any other event like this, I learned a lot of information that was useful along with a fair amount that wasn’t useful.

The second session I went to was Todd Anglin‘s discussion on HTML5. In it, he expertly introduced a very mixed crowd to the real-world usefulness and applicability of the new functionalities being introduced in HTML5. Aside from the hardcore Flash and Silverlight fans in the crowd, most people were full of ooohs and aahs at some of the flashier elements such as video, canvases, and a couple interactive demos of local storage. Beyond the shiny, he also addressed some of the more functional facets, such as new form elements and geolocation.

That particular one found some irony later as I noticed that my Google Latitude and Twitter both seemed convinced that I was in New Orleans when I was connected to the Wi-Fi.

Moral of the story? Standards aren’t worth anything by themselves; implementation is everything.

photo by:

The other day, I was reflecting on the goodness of God during this season of my life, and I began to recognize a pattern of behavior that’s been present throughout my short time on this planet. And as I dug into it more, I realized that it’s a pattern that’s natural. It exists in the lives of half the human species.

When I was a boy, maturity wasn’t expected or demanded. I lived with a passion and a furor that any boy does. I played hard. I even dreamed hard.

By default, little boys want to be part of something grand. Some dream of making it as a professional athlete (I can’t tell you how many spectacular one-handed catches of self-thrown nerf footballs I made, diving into my mattress, err, the end zone). Some decide they’ll be a fireman or a police officer or a fighter pilot (anyone else enthralled by Top Gun as a kid?), as each contributes the hero factor to the world. Some hold their future literally higher than a pilot. Ever since I saw Space Camp, I was determined to be the first kid in space.

In any case, there’s a level of boldness that manifests in young boys. That boldness is eventually supposed to get tempered with maturity. For me to insist that I’m going to be a fighter pilot despite the fact that my uncorrected eyesight is too poor to even make it into the military (much less as a pilot) is immature. To insist that I’m going to be the first kid in space, at this point, is asinine. The point is that this boldness is part of who we are as males. God wired us this way. But the pattern should to rule the boldness, not have that boldness rule you.

It’s easy to recognize the boy-to-man difference, but this premise holds true through all phases of life. A healthy young man connects with young women as he seeks his wife with a degree of boldness that directly affects his effectiveness. A timid approach, at best, can have a chance of pity. A bold, confident (note I didn’t say douchey, as that’s different) approach is admirable and demonstrates a level of mental and emotional health, both of which are attractive qualities to a healthy woman. Maturity dictates that this young man who succeeds must now temper this boldness, keeping it within the confines of his new relationship.

A bold businessman can make a powerful impact on a company, but a mature father who prioritizes his family over his work can make a powerful impact on generations. A man can charge into a fire and save someone based on pure, bold adrenaline, but a man of God can fervently and effectively pray a hedge of protection around his family based on bold, mature righteousness.

The default pattern is boldness. It comes with being male. But being bold does not make you a man. In fact, a lot of times, being bold just makes you stupid (and in some cases makes you less of a man). What makes you a man is the introduction and embracing of the maturity required to gain control of that boldness. So often we associate “having cajones” or “being a man” with the boldness alone: death-defying stunts, moments of heroic bravery, and feats of pure strength. But I say that these things are just indicators of a Y chromosome. They’re just older versions of little boys wanting to be firemen. Did something bold? Congratulations; you’re male.

Progress, however, requires maturity rather than age or events.

Boy becoming adolescent? It’s not just age; it’s maturity.
Adolescent becoming young man? It’s not just independence; it’s maturity.
Young man becoming man? It’s not just a job; it’s maturity.
Man becoming husband? It’s not just finding a wife; it’s maturity.
Man becoming father? It’s not just having a child; it’s maturity.
Man becoming man of God? It’s not just going to church, saying a prayer, or reading a book (even the Bible); it’s maturity.

Ever met a “boy trapped in a man’s body”? Ever found a single mother whose boyfriend or husband ran out? Ever seen an adolescent throw a temper tantrum? The boldness is there, but there’s no maturity.

God, help me to grow in and embrace maturity. Help me to become the man of God You’ve called me to be.

Sarah and Chris

Sarah and ChrisIt took a little peer pressure, but Sarah agreed to have some pictures taken of us last night. Dana Heckler guided us through downtown Fort Worth in a night-time shoot. It was to be the first time Sarah and I had someone take a picture of us since we had a set of cheesy western-y photos (in full sepia, mind you) in the tourist haven Gatlinburg, Tennessee on our honeymoon. Almost 5 years ago.

It was about time.

We had a blast, too. Dana had some good vision for what she wanted us to do and the creativity just kinda flowed. Not only did we have a lot of fun just hanging out with the Hecklers (though Dana’s poor husband Brandon had to carry our Razzoo’s leftovers around all night), but we saw some interesting stuff.

We had music ranging from the acoustic worship group rocking out to some old-school praise and worship hits (Open the Eyes of my Heart, anyone?) to the Space Rockers cover band seamlessly transitioning from “Billy Jean” to “It’s Getting Hot in Here” to “Ice Ice Baby” and even a little dash of “Baby Got Back” (all while wearing what appeared to be Power Ranger costumes no less).

One moment that stuck out, though, was hearing a young man awkwardly pleading the message of Christ into a microphone and what sounded like a 1992 boombox (though I’m sure it was more than that). Not to deny the value of anyone’s ministry (and the Lord is certainly not limited by my perceptions of effectiveness), but I have a hard time seeing the long-term value in the clichéd street preaching.

Again, I’ll temper this with saying that God can use anything, and it’s up to Him to determine someone’s calling. Personally, though, I believe that building relationships within your circle of influence has a much greater return on investment than shouting at passerbys. To this guy’s credit, he was speaking of grace and forgiveness rather than hellfire and condemnation, but I just wonder if his effectiveness might improve were he to spend as much time engaging with his next-door neighbor as he does broadcasting to strangers. Then, as his influence grows and the presence of God in his life causes them to open up, he can disciple them rather than just saying a prayer with them and sending them on their way.

</rant> At any rate, we’ll see how these pictures turn out soon. I’m excited!

I’m so blessed to be a part of a team that values vision and unity.

Getting together periodically to discuss direction and strategy is critical in any organization. However, all too many focus so much on this practical element that they never address anything beyond the practical. Vision becomes a poster on a wall or a memo in our deleted items.

In ministry, it’s not so simple. A spouse of someone in ministry is also in ministry. There is an increased demand on the family that can be draining if it’s just work. The key is making sure everyone is on the same page. If people are bought in spiritually, relationally, and emotionally, the work and strategy come naturally out of a desire to fulfill the vision rather than an obligation to get a paycheck.

That’s one of the reasons I’m thankful that we have Family Staff Meetings at Milestone. Bring in the spouses. Get everyone on the same page. Cast vision. Give testimony. Encourage, exhort, engage.