You Aren’t Extraordinary

Standard

My generation is inundated with living an extraordinary life. Books, blogs, and films are based on the premise of how to get an individual to live a life that defies normalcy. I’ve read and seen many of these things. I operated under the belief that if I follow these certain steps, then I could, too, live an extraordinary life.

But I think it is all a lie.

Recently, I have been reflecting upon how many of us want to live someone else’s life. Or how many of us want to live a life that is worthy of a film adaptation. There is an imaginary set of standards that we must meet in order to live that kind of life. Be innovative. Be creative. Be a risk-taker. Be spontaneous. Be more.

We are obsessed with this idea and believe that unless we live this kind of life, then life is meaningless. Everyone wants to make their mark in the world. I wanted to make my mark in the world. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.

But I’ve stopped wanting that.

pippin_615x400This past weekend, I went and watched the musical Pippin. I knew nothing of the show going into it. Part of me thought it was a show about what happened to Pippin after Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. Instead, it was this beautiful and yet depressing look at an existential crisis. The show is set up as if we are watching a group of players tell a story. They do amazing acrobatics and all play a role in helping Pippin find his meaning. He goes to war, he fills his life with sexual pleasures, he becomes a revolutionist, he becomes powerful, and he seeks love. Each thing he does still leaves him feeling empty or trapped. [Spoiler — as if I need to do this…most of you probably don’t want to watch it] It ends with the lead player coming out and telling Pippin that if he wants to live an extraordinary life, then he needs to have an extraordinary death. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The group of players mentioned at the beginning that they needed a new protagonist for their production. You realize that this group of players isn’t a group that puts on a show. It is a group that lives in each of us, urging us to live an extraordinary life. Pippin contemplates life and almost kills himself but decides to spend the rest of his days with a love interest and her son. The lead player asks Pippin how he feels about his decision and his response is, “Trapped…but happy.”

It gets more depressing after that, but I’ll spare you the heartache I endured (don’t get me wrong — it was a great show). Pippin wanted anything but an ordinary life; but when faced with death, an ordinary life is all he wanted.

For me, the ordinary isn’t extraordinary so I constantly long for something more. I look to people who are living extraordinary lives and try to figure out what I can imitate so I can achieve the same level of happiness. Our search for extraordinary is rooted in our desire for happiness.

More and more, I am learning that God does work through the ordinary. The ordinary isn’t something to be looked down upon. God does His work through the ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like. Many of us are trying to live extraordinary lives and God is calling us to let Him work through our ordinary lives.

I will admit that sometimes I feel life is bland because I’m not living my best story or whatever else is trendy right now. I live in a suburb…not in Chicago. I travel periodically…but not a lot because I’m frugal. I haven’t written a best-seller (although, I have one on parenting that I’m certain will become a runaway hit). I am not the leading innovator in youth ministry…I’m probably not even an innovator in youth ministry. I look around and I wonder, “Is this it? What happened to my best life? What happened to accomplishing great things? What happened to being amazing at living?”

I’m not extraordinary. I’m ordinary. And I have to be okay with that. You aren’t extraordinary. You’re ordinary. And you have to be okay with that.

Everyone is not going to become president. Everyone is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone is not going to end world hunger. Everyone is not going to be a NYT best-seller. Everyone is not going to be an Academy Award winner. Everyone is not going to be an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL star. Everyone is not going to win a Tony.

But those things don’t make them extraordinary. We do not have to achieve this to live a deep and meaningful life. God works through the ordinary and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It seems like He could accomplish more if He worked through those who are in the public spotlight or who have accomplished a lot. But He works through the ordinary.

Our search for an extraordinary life may be one of the most prime example of our selfish attempts at happiness. What we have isn’t good enough. The community around us isn’t good enough. Our families aren’t good enough. The people God has placed in our lives aren’t good enough. The job that God has given us isn’t good enough. In reality, many of us think that God hasn’t given us a good enough life.

I don’t know how to make sense with all of that. But I am learning to be content in the ordinary. I may never be extraordinary but I  am learning that I can live a pretty fulfilling life letting God use my ordinary.

Advertisements

Changing the Conversation on Abortion

Standard

Abortion_debate_20121010115149_640_480The Church has been involved quite a bit in regards to the conversation on abortion. It is a controversial topic on which everyone has an opinion. Unfortunately, the pro-life and pro-choice sides are having two completely different conversations. One advocates the sanctity of life while the other advocates the importance of choice. One is trying to protect the rights of the unborn while the other is trying to protect the rights of those already living. The conversation is obviously a deeper one than just “yes” or “no.”

But sometimes the Church treats the conversation as a “yes” or “no” conversation…myself included.

Most of the conversation, for Christians, surrounding abortion has been, “when does life begin?” We propose that life begins at conception. I am not going to argue with that. Therefore, we consider it murder to abort a life. We debate this with people who are pro-choice and we never back down from our stance. I’m not proposing we do.

I am proposing that we change the conversation on abortion.

I think that much of our conversation on abortion has been so centered on protecting the life in the womb, that we have neglected the life when it is born. I remember John Perkins once saying that he was more pro-life than most Christians…because he was pro-life after the baby was born. My observation is that many of us, like Perkins proposes, are pro-life…until birth. Even the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are misleading because they don’t really paint an accurate portrait of either side. This opens up a conversation on labels that I don’t want to get into during this post.

What if instead of having debates about when life begins, Christians began having conversations about preserving life? I am not saying that Christians should back down from their stance that life begins at conception. Instead of focusing on that, what would happen if we added to the conversation aspects of preservation?

Conversations on adoption reform?

Conversations on quality of life for underprivileged children?

Conversations on parental upbringing?

Conversations on equality for all children, despite what they are born into?

I honestly believe that we, as Christ-followers, believe in these tenants. I just don’t think that we are talking about them as much as we should be.

We have seen how far arguments get us. It just gets everyone disgruntled and frustrated at the other side. We paint each other as enemies — when, as Christ-followers, we are told that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Could our fight against abortion have become more of a struggle against flesh and blood? Are we fighting against something or for something.

I believe there is an extreme difference. If we believe we are pro-life, then let us begin fighting for life…even once that life leaves the womb. It’s easy to say, “it’s a sin to kill an unborn child.” It’s more difficult to say, “I believe it is such a travesty that I will be willing to care for your child if you are willing to give life to him/her.”

Remember, where death was once seen, Christ brought life. Where hopelessness was once a grim reality, Christ brought the beauty of hope.

Instead of picket signs, let’s hold up letters to our senators advocating a restructuring of the adoption process.

Instead of yelling, let’s encourage parents in the upbringing of their children — both born and unborn.

Instead of proclaiming that people are killing an innocent life, let’s advocate for the underprivileged children that receive less-than-adequate care.

Instead of complaining about the government rulings on this being unfair, let’s fight for the equal treatment of children, no matter what they are born into.

Where there once was death, let us bring life.

I don’t advocate we back down from our beliefs; although I am certain that many will believe that I do. I advocate we change our message to one that promotes life to its fullest — life as Christ intended it. I advocate we shift our language to one that provides opportunities.

Will it change anything? The optimistic side of me would like to believe that it will. The more realistic side of me says it may not. However, I do believe that it will move the church away from being seen as something that’s anti-abortion and something that is truly pro-life. One that protects life. One that preserves life. One that fights for life. One that moves mountains so that life may take root.

We show how serious we are about this issue by what we are doing to protect and fight for the life of the children once they are born. Where some see how death is the only option, may we show them how beautiful life can be. Because in all reality, some of these women are in dire situations where death seems like the humane thing to do. True, some aren’t in that situation. However, let us fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Truth be told, my heart breaks for those who believe abortion is the only option. Perhaps it is because I do believe there is much work that we, as a Church, should be doing to make life the only option. Inequality, poverty, injustice, and abuse will only fully end when Christ establishes His Kingdom on this earth. But we can begin to make that Kingdom evident in our fight for life…and life that exists far after the child is born.

We have fought for so long. I don’t think we are done. I don’t think we should be done. But I do believe that we need to be fighting for life instead of against abortion. For in the fight for life, we show how much we are really against abortion.

God Doesn’t Deserve Us

Standard

So many times I hear people saying, “I don’t deserve you, God.” I’ve never understood that. It seems to be a bit of a pity party. It’s like you look at your life and say, “You’re too good for me. I don’t know why you haven’t abandoned me.” What does that do for self-worth? What does that do for motivation for mission?

I’d like to propose the exact opposite of this mindset. God doesn’t deserve us. I mean, look at us. We’ve got it all together. We’ve put out hundreds of thousands of books on ministry. God has one. We’ve written several blogs about the Church. God doesn’t have a blog. We’ve created innovative worship. God has the Psalms.

We’ve formulated messages to where you can reach people wherever they are in relation to God.

We’ve translated the Bible into almost every language and are working toward having it available in every language.

We’ve written several commentaries about what the Scriptures are really saying.

We’ve built huge churches to bring in thousands of people.

We have denominations for every single taste. Much like that of Baskin Robbins.

We’ve simplified church to an hour long so that it can fit in our busy schedules.

We’ve put out one-page devotionals so we can have accessible spiritual growth.

We’ve made church available online so that you do not have to leave your home.

We’ve done a lot if you look at it. What makes God think that He actually deserves us? When looking at it, we run a pretty tight ship. These are accomplishments of which we should be proud. Look at all that we have done to advance the Kingdom (I mean, we can give praise to God, but we played a pretty key role in all of it).

I fear that we sometimes move toward this mindset. We move toward the mindset that God doesn’t deserve us. But in reality, it’s true.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she can fix the Church.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is going to be the next leader of the Church.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is the greatest worship leader.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is the best preacher.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she knows the best direction for the Church.

God doesn’t deserve us. He deserves better.

He deserves the woman who gave all of her money to the synagogue.

He deserves the fishermen who left their occupation.

He deserves the prostitute who begs for forgiveness.

He deserves the repentant disciple who previously disowned Him.

He deserves the thief who recognizes His sovereignty.

He deserves much better than us. Many times, He deserves the exact opposite of who we are. So why is it that we are scared to try and become what He deserves? Why is it that we are scared to become “perfect as I am perfect?” Why is it that we are scared to admit we don’t have it all together? To admit that we are sinful? To admit that we are not in a position to lead a church (but that for some reason He still desires to use us)? To admit that we sometimes try to steal His fame? To admit that sometimes we are in the wrong?

Perhaps instead of saying, “God, I don’t deserve you,” we should say, “God, you don’t deserve me.” Because when we understand that concept, I think we begin to understand grace and mercy a little more.

Life: Just a Bunch of Perhaps and What Ifs

Standard

Sometimes I wish that I lived a different life.

That thought makes me feel like a horrible person. Even writing it out makes me cringe a bit.

I would say that many of us think this. It creeps into our minds when we are in a dark place. It whispers to us that there is a better life than the one we are living. It convinces us to stay discontent with our life.

So then you question yourself: What would’ve happened if I chose differently? What would’ve happened if I was raised in a different home? What would’ve happened if I went to this college instead of the other? What would’ve happened if I chose a different internship? What would’ve happened if I hung around this group of friends rather than that group of friends? We give ourself all of these “what if” questions — and deep down we know that they cannot be answered. But they keep gnawing at us. They keep tearing away at any self-confidence we might have had.

I have thought about these things quite a bit the past year. I do not say this so you’ll comment something sympathetic or say something kind to me. In fact, I do not want that at all. I say this because it’s true. I have wrestled with these questions several times. I have thought about what would be different if I didn’t do ministry.

I joked about that once to someone and that person said to me, “But what you’re doing is meaningful. What I’m doing isn’t.” Interesting, isn’t’ it? There is a mindset that we have that says: “I could be more meaningful elsewhere.” It says a lot about human nature. We desire to have meaning somewhere. But, at the same time, we do not feel like we have enough meaning in our current situation. We always think we could be more meaningful elsewhere.

If I had planted a church there…
If I had worked at that church…
If I would have went to that college…
If I would have married that person…
If I was a teacher, doctor, lawyer, musician, actor, manager, etc….

We live our lives longing for something else. We live our lives wishing we would have chosen differently. Yet all the while, we are too afraid to take “that leap of faith.” Perhaps we are living the wrong life. Perhaps we would have more meaning doing something else.

But instead of doing something, we sit there and allow those “what if” questions to gnaw at us. We sit there and regret the life we never lived. We sit there and refuse to live the life we have.

Sometimes I wish I lived a different life. I really do. Sometimes I think that my life could have more meaning. Sometimes I think that the reason I haven’t found a job yet is because God does not want me to do ministry. Sometimes I fear that I made the wrong choice. And if you’re honest with yourself, sometimes you do, too.

I wish there was an easy answer to this. I wish that I could say something sentimental that would tie everything up and leaving you feeling confirmed in your occupational choice. But I can’t.

Here is what I can say: In my life, I have felt affirmed in ministry and at times I haven’t felt affirmed. There are times I wish that I did something else and there are times that I’m happy that I will never do anything else. Perhaps I’m bipolar. Or perhaps I realize that humanity seeks meaning. And humanity always thinks that there is more meaning elsewhere. And by always looking elsewhere rather than where you are now, you miss your life. In longing for a different life, you lose your life.

Don’t get so caught up in longing for a different life that you miss your own life. If you want to do something different, either do it or stop daydreaming about it. Make a change or live your life. But don’t waste it.