Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Embracing Weakness

I mentioned a few weeks ago my break away from blogging was unintentional, but needed. What God was doing in me is spoken of in a message I shared with my church last Sunday. The post below summarizes the sermon, but if you’d like to listen to or download the message, it’s right here for you to dig into.

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9

The first half of this verse is words spoken to Paul by Jesus, as Paul had repeatedly asked for what he calls a “thorn” in his flesh to be removed. Jesus’ ultimately responds by saying no, why? Because the power of God is made perfect as Paul embraces this weakness in his life.

Embracing weakness is not exactly a hallmark of life in the 21st century. Kayne sells millions of albums by declaring himself to be the greatest. The hashtag #GOAT (Greatest of All Time) gets thrown around constantly as we look for people to define greatness.

Even when weakness is shown, it’s usually a bait and switch tactic to gain notoriety and influence. “Look at how weak and broken I am,” mixed with a selfie always sells on social media. But Christ isn’t encouraging fake weakness, he’s talking about a broken, contrite, and humble spirit.

Paul writes on this in his first letter: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate” (1 Cor 4:12). And then he adds, “We have become like the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” Not exactly the kind of weakness that builds a following.

In other words, this kind of lifestyle, this kind of response to abuse, suffering, and brokenness, looks feeble and inept to society today. Well, at least it looks that way to those who thrive on pride and power.

But the Christ follower is not called to live like the world. No, we are called to glorify God in all that we do, and Jesus tells us that the greatest way to do this is through weakness. The Bible is full of men and women who embraced this:

Moses had a speech impediment.

Jeremiah struggled with depression.

Jonah ran away from God.

Abraham was a liar. So was his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob.

Every single one of the disciples abandoned Jesus in the hour of his greatest need.

Rather than putting off weakness as some sort of negative character trait, Christians should embrace their faults, knowing God’s power will shine through all the more brightly.

John Newton once said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Embrace this today!

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13 Reasons Why Didn’t Go Far Enough

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Over the course of a week and a half, my wife Rose and I watched the recently released Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. For us, with two small kids, that was binge watching, even though I realize many will watch the entire 13 episode season in a couple days. Here’s a few adjectives I’d use to describe the show: horrifying, painful, illuminating, raw. It took me right back to my own difficult days in high school, while simultaneously showing the different difficulty students are faced with today.

I should mention at the outset, I found the show extremely difficult to watch. I couldn’t help but think of my own children, friends who had similar struggles in high school, and students I’ve had the joy of caring for over the past decade. Knowing some of what the show portrayed is what they face every day in school is enough to bring me to my knees in prayer.

While it portrayed the lives of high school students, I do not recommend that high school students watch the show. In fact, plenty of adults who could be triggered by the content would do well to avoid watching. The graphic portrayals of drinking, drugs, rape, and suicide, along with excessive language, could clearly do immense harm to those who watch it. The show (for me) was not entertaining, but it was educational in a dark way.

In conversation with others, I’ve had a few people tell me they thought the show was “great” or “entertaining.” If this is your response to the show I think you TOTALLY missed the point of it.

A brief background on the show for those who haven’t seen (no spoilers in here): Hannah Baker (the main character) has committed suicide, but before her death she recorded 13 tapes for 13 separate people (hence why the show has 13 episodes) describing the reasons why her life no longer felt worth living. The show moves back and forth between the present day and stories she recounts on the tapes.

My Short Take on the Show Itself

As a work of art, the show is okay. It has moments where it stands on its own, but more so the difficulty of subject matter carries through rather than great acting and production.

While on the surface it has the same high school over-generalizations from movies I grew up on like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring It On, instead it sheds light on reality rather than trying to provide comedic relief from it. On this alone it should be commended.

The show does not avoid any of what led to the suicide of its main character, Hannah Baker. None of the hardest scenes ever seem truncated. In fact, the hardest scenes were the most honest. It was the interactions less connected to the weight of the action that seemed unnatural.

There are plenty of moments of terrible acting. Too many scenes repeated the same points, and most of these were drawn out to the point where I felt myself disconnecting. Oh, and the ending was horrible.

But I’m not sure we can critique this show like a typical television show. Despite not being a student myself, I felt like I was engaging a cultural moment—when the veil of student life in America is pulled back and many are forced to grapple with the scene. Any criticisms I might have of the show feel unnecessary because of this.

Addressing the Pushback

I’ve heard plenty of criticisms of the show, both in person and online. I thought these two (HERE and HERE) were especially helpful.

  • Some have said the show makes light of suicide and rape, even to the point of glorifying it. Can anything be portrayed in cinematic form without being glorified? Seems to me this criticism is part of a larger one, beyond just one show. My concern is more that the show might allow a person to see suicide as a possibility to help rectify their pain.
  • The show hits “trigger points” for those who have a history with the various issues approached. Yes, I think this is absolutely true. One of the points made in the show is that the 13 tapes recorded by Hannah were “her truth,” as one of the characters said. If someone else’s truth is that the show is hurtful, they should not watch it. The producers could have done a better job of warning people.
  • I’ve heard that Hannah’s 13 reasons are her passing blame onto others for her own death, while in reality only she was responsible for her death. To this I would say I don’t think we should be evaluating the rationale of someone who took their own life, even if it was fiction.
  • Lastly many have said the show is over the top, portraying an overly dramatic picture of high school life. Many students don’t face the issues presented to the level of the show, some have it even worse. What’s true for some may not be true for others. This doesn’t make it false.

But, the Show Didn’t Go Far Enough

After we finished the last episode I told my wife that while I thought the show had notably raised awareness around often ignored issues, I thought their “solution” wasn’t enough. In watching a follow-up show the producers mentioned their desire for acceptance of people rather than judgment and bullying, and for increased dialogue around the pressures students feel.

While this may prevent suicide, does it lead to flourishing?

Seems to me we’re settling for something less than what’s best. What the show missed is that no person or group of people can ever show those around them enough love and acceptance. Eventually, their love and acceptance will fall short.

While some of what the show is pushing for might be helpful for students, it will never be enough to help them find the kind of flourishing life they desire deep down.

There is only one person whose unconditional love can fill the void students feel and his name is Jesus.

You might say, “well, Tyler you’re a Christian pastor, of course you think Jesus is the answer.” To that I would reply by saying the show did a great job of showing how broken everyone is. Every character in the show, no matter how perfect on the outside, displayed varying levels of brokenness, but none of them felt comfortable exposing it.

The Christian faith provides the only answer to liberating people through their brokenness. Not avoiding it. Not going around it. Christ takes on the shame of your brokenness, sees you for who you are, redeems your life from the pit, creating a new life. John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace understood this as well as anyone, saying:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

A Final Thought

For those who have watched, if you are not getting more involved with youth at your church or in your community after watching, I think you totally missed the point.

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Navigating Leadership

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I haven’t written on this blog in two months, the longest break I’ve ever taken during my decade of blogging. Why aren’t the words flowing? Why aren’t I motivated to come up with something new to write about? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself throughout those two months.

This is my attempt to walk myself through the jumbled mess of my life, in a way that may illuminate truths for you as well.

The stereotype of my generation is that we want to make an impact more than we want to make money. I tend to abhor and ignore generational stereotypes because they’re rarely true universally, but for me, this stereotype rings true—I entered into pastoral ministry because I tried the money route and burned out in three months.

The more I poured myself into church ministry the more I felt God was preparing me for leadership within a local church body. Through personal gift assessments, validation of respected people and co-workers, and through the encouragement of people I served with, I finished a degree and decided my life was meant to serve the church.

I started a blog to process through the many difficult tensions to navigate within churches, and more broadly for Christians within society today. Ultimately this provided the opportunity to write a book. Incredible! On the surface, the influence of my leadership was sky high.

Vulnerable to Exploitation

Every Sunday I was on stage, helping lead over a thousand people in various spaces. I wrote a book with a mid-sized nationally known publisher. My leadership trajectory was up and to the right. But I left the big church and haven’t written another book since the first. What I came to realize is that I was in a position of exploitation, where I could use my influence to lead people without ever being touched.

Now, this doesn’t mean I actually exploited people, it just means I was vulnerable to that becoming a reality because I risked very little in pushing the book, in leading the songs, in taking on various leadership responsibilities.

We tend to see vulnerability as personal exposure, but we often turn vulnerability into a commodity that can be used as a selling point (look at how authentic that person is!) to gain attention. I was good at learning how to expose myself authentically in a way that allowed me to gain notoriety, but I had never risked the thing I really cared about: influence. I wanted the chance to influence people.

Over the past 5 years I’ve become a dad to two, I’ve navigated pastoring at a smaller church in a smaller city, and in the process I’ve learned a different kind of vulnerability that involved me risking and then largely giving up the thing I had prized so heavily before: influencing more and more people. Why was I willing to give that up?

True vulnerability assumes personal risk for the sake of the other. Simply put, I knew I could not care for the people nearest me if I also placed a higher priority on growing my so-called influence. But to say I embraced this would be false.

crouch chartI was reminded of this perspective on leadership while listening to the Cultivated Podcast (a podcast I highly recommend to you). In the episode, Andy Crouch discusses the two keys of leadership being authority and vulnerability—this is something he develops fully in his book Playing God. This idea is summarized in the chart on the right –>

Dreams for Reality

I’ve written before about the danger of visionary dreaming, so I won’t rehash that again, but I’ve been embracing big dreams for the reality of my life—what are the best things God could do with the people and circumstances right in front of me?

In previous years I’ve given a lot of my focus toward online writing, blogging, platform building, whatever the latest buzz word is, and in this much of my focus has been on growth in influence. If your personal platform is reaching 20 people, why not 200? Why not 2,000? Why not quit your job so you can grow this influence? While I’m sure that’s worked for some, I’ve found that endless pursuit of growing influence to be a zero-sum game, not actually bettering the lives of the influencer (they’re more focused on the mythical “people” out there still needing their help) or the influenced (they’re another cog in a growing machine built on economics, involving little actual vulnerability from the influencer).

So I stopped all my growing influence stuff to start 2017. It started by accident, but it felt right so I went with it. The gap has given me a helpful perspective to jump back into writing, and the public processing of various topics like I’ve done in the past. My goal in re-entry is to influence the reality of my current connections and circumstances, and hopefully helping each of you who have supported me throughout this past decade of online writing. I can only pray that my influence might lead to flourishing instead of self-exalting exploitation.

Blessings friends.

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An Overflowing Life

Reflections on #Oscars Sunday, smartphones, and Lent. 

This past Sunday Moonlight won the Academy Awards’ Best Picture for 2016, in rather dramatic fashion. But what is most dramatic about its victory is that fewer people have seen this year’s best picture film than nearly all best picture winners, ever.

casey affleck amazon oscarsCouple that with this year’s best actor award going to a film produced by a video streaming service (Amazon video) and you can quickly see the shift taking place in film and audience viewership. It rarely pays the bills for a Hollywood studio to try to win an award. But producing another summer superhero blockbuster? That’s another story. The movies that sell in theaters are in large part, thrill rides.

So actors and directors and film houses are slowly pushing their energy to creating content for these streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a few other small ones). For example, Will Smith is starring in a movie to be released by Netflix later this year. If it sees the big screen of local cinemas that’s only because Netflix is looking for it to be award season eligible. Netflix wants to add to their library to motivate users to sign up for monthly access.

Yesterday I got onto Netflix and starting scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling. I ended up watching a running documentary. It was decent. I scrolled for 7 minutes looking for something to watch and I barely even scratched the surface of all I could watch on Netflix.

If the main producers of content have a goal of creating more content, instead of creating art that matters, what have we lost? If your goal (like mine) for having Netflix is because there’s always something to watch, what affect does that have on us?

Last year a study released said the average American checks their smartphone over 200 times a day. I read that and I thought the number was low, because, well, it’s low for me.

Yesterday I got on Facebook. Then I closed out of Facebook and without realizing it I opened Facebook again, because I thought, “hey I should check Facebook. Great idea!” The same idea I had a few minutes prior.

There’s a reason people in the tech industry are creating things like the distraction-free iPhone” and why Nokia is bringing back it’s “dumbphone.” It’s more than a nostalgia thing, it’s because people are realizing the unrelenting pace of smartphones is crippling their lives. Here’s The Atlantic discussing the re-release of the Nokia 3310:

For years, internet-driven, mobile computing technology was heralded as either angel or devil. Only recently has it become possible to admit that it might be both. Cigarettes, after all, produce pleasure even as they slowly kill.

We tell ourselves we want to be connected and informed, but have we considered the side-effects of never-ending vibrations and notification dings that sit in our pockets and purses all day long?

(and if you think that question is too exaggerated, why not look at the 5 new brain disorders developed in our digital age)

Today is the beginning of a season in the church calendar known as Lent, a season of preparation leading up to Easter. Traditionally Christian believers have abstained from something in order to rely more heavily on God’s presence in their lives.

Lent is a reminder that less is more.

Is it possible to have abundance when our lives are overflowing with chaos?

Certainly, I’m not asking you to cancel Netflix or sell your smartphone.

But shouldn’t you at least consider it?

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The Gospel of 2017

As Lady Gaga took the stage for 2017’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, I could think of no other more fitting artist for the times we live in. While she certainly had the attention of fans previously, her song “Born This Way” became an anthem for generations who felt overlooked, misunderstood, and unvalued by those around them (if you haven’t seen the music video to “Born this Way” it’s fascinating, in a troubling way).

Underlying this cry from many—given voice through the lyrics of Lady Gaga—there’s a desire to be free to do what makes someone happy. It’s a cry for liberation. Gaga taking the Super Bowl stage is just a reminder to everyone this is mainstream thought throughout much of the world, not an isolated principle only a few people believe.

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While most dictionaries understand “gospel” to be a word associated with the life and teachings of Jesus as understood in the Christian faith tradition, “gospel” can also be understood as something accepted or promoted as infallible, bulletproof truth.

In a sense “gospel” could be more easily understood as “good news.” When extracted beyond the Christian faith tradition, we can begin to see how there are all sorts of “gospels” in our world, so which ones are gaining traction?

In 2017, when Lady Gaga can take the world’s biggest stage proclaiming, “Don’t hide yourself in regret. Just love yourself and you’re set,” I think it’s fair to say that the biggest gospel is the personal autonomy to be happy. Meaning you are given full control of your life, no constraints, and the largest goal for having this control is personal happiness.

Lady Gaga and Kevin Durant: Cut from the Same Cloth

Last week Bill Simmons interviewed Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant for his podcast. I loved the interview. Durant is historically a soft-spoken, out of the spotlight guy, and he’s one of the great basketball players to ever play.

Last summer Kevin Durant was a free agent, essentially able to sign with any team in the NBA he wanted. He chose to leave his previous team Oklahoma City, in order to play with the Golden State Warriors. We could evaluate the move on a number of levels, but when Simmons and Durant discussed this decision now over half a year old, he continued to talk about his desire to do what would make him happiest.

Durant scoffed at the notion that his decision should have included how it would effect former teammates. He also defended several players who switched teams in previous years, each time saying they had to make a decision that is best for them.

Kevin Durant is connected to Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz and has spoken of the importance of his Christian faith. Lady Gaga was raised Catholic and has said she still believes much of what she was raised in.

I share those two examples to point out that this gospel of personal autonomy toward happiness is not something beyond Christians today, is it firmly entrenched within.

How else do we get to the point where a Christian pastor can write something titled “Your Best Life Now” and people will make it into a best-seller?

Death to the Gospel of Self

Yes, today we live in a world fixated on self-expression, and anyone opposed to this freedom of individual expression is deemed to be bigoted. But I do believe the question must be asked: does pursuing life through the lens of seeking individual happiness actually result in true happiness?

Let’s consider how Jesus went about valuing himself, his life, and those around him:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7)

Considering moving or taking a different job? Have a big life decision to make? Certainly, you should not eliminate yourself from the equation entirely, but you must also consider what serving those around you looks like. You must consider what dying to self looks like. Part of considering others as better than yourself is to actually consider them and their well-being over and beyond your own.

If Jesus made himself nothing for our sake, we must put to death the gospel of self, because true happiness cannot be found there.

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Ten

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To be honest, I was still surprised she said yes as I stood there.

Ten years feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago, at the same time. Where did the time go? Yet everything has changed. Well, everything other than us still looking like we’re 18 years old.

She’s walked with me through a drastic career change, just 5 months into our brand new marriage.

She’s worked 3 separate jobs to help us make ends meet when I was between jobs.

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All throughout dating and engagement, I promised her a lavish life, a large home, world travels—all the things I knew would come in my desired line of work. But I gave it up, knowing it would be the end of me if I kept with it. Not once has she ever complained that she went from my promised lifestyle of grandeur, to the life of a pastor’s wife.

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Just as soon as she had established herself at a great job, using her advanced degree, I moved her to one of two places I told her I’d never live. While we didn’t have to say goodbye in totality, she had to leave behind everything she had known for our entire marriage, to go where I wanted to go.

From her I’ve learned how to put people first. I’ve learned that sometimes you throw away the plan. I’ve learned to “live a little” as she told me over and over while we were dating. There is no question, she’s the best thing that has ever happened to me—God’s grace in human form.

To be honest, I’m still surprised she said yes.

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1/6/07-1/6/17

Here’s to 10 more.

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