Nobody Likes a Showoff

As a dad who coaches little kids on the baseball and soccer field, I hear parents say this a lot. “Nobody like a showoff!” We, as parents, teach this to our children because we want to develop a humility within them, right? Some people naturally have greater talents and skills than others; which we encourage, but no healthy parent wants his or her child to flaunt their ability over others not as naturally adept at the task at hand.

I have to wonder if this concept of “showing off” and being taught to display humility from a young age lead to a few mindsets that can keep us from sharing our stories and, more pointedly, sharing our faith in Jesus with others.

Could faith be a form of bragging?

Think about it for just a minute. We hear people say, “I don’t want to push my beliefs on others.” Yes, we’ve all certainly seen stories and faith shared in ways we hope no one would emulate, but is there a difference between pushing and simply sharing? Pushing could come across as if you are better than or have all the answers. We don’t want that. But just to share our experience of God? Is that pushing?

There is also the thought, “I don’t want people to think I’m better than them.” This is the goody-goody mindset. We don’t want to put in the goody-goody or Jesus freak category!

Quick story…

I remember visiting a family friend who had attended grad school with my father. I was probably around 8 or 9 years old at the time. As we arrived at their home, my father asked his friend about some of his neighbors who were milling around their yard across the street. “Jesus freaks,” was his response.


At that moment, I decided I never wanted that to be the answer when friends of a neighbor ask about me! And I can’t help but wonder what the response would have been had the Jesus freaks taken the time to actually develop a healthy, neighborly relationship with my dad’s friend and his family. Maybe his response would have been more like, “really nice people and good neighbors.”

Another mindset and way of thinking that keeps us from sharing our stories is that we (by we, I mean those of us who profess faith in Jesus as the Son of God and savior of the world) don’t have any joy or wonder or awe in our salvation. There is not a sense of amazement that God would save me from the life I lived previously apart from him… that He would allow me to experience the peace of heaven in the here and now.

All three of these mindsets can be addressed by a few sentences in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the gathered believers in Ephesus. Specifically, Paul writes, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that??

First of all, for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives, this big ol’ Bible but should leave us in awe and wonder! How could we not experience an immense joy at the great mystery of how while we were dead in our sin and transgressions, because God is rich in mercy, he raised us to life as a gift of grace… and by no means of our own merit?? This message, and the joy that accompanies it, should be enough to motivate us to share our story with those who have yet to receive this message.

Also though, if you catch the secondary purpose of why God has shown his great love to you and to me, you will see that God has sat you up to show you off! In the final part of this section, Paul even says that we are God’s workmanship. We are His masterpiece. What does an artist or craftsman do with his greatest work?? Does he or she hide it in a closet somewhere? Of course not! They put it up on a shelf for the whole world to see proclaiming, “Look at this beautiful creation I made!”

How often are we shimmying ourselves back off the shelf and into the closet by thinking we aren’t worthy of being shown off as His creation in Jesus??

It is not the piece of art that is showing off here. It is the artist who is showing off. God wants to show Himself off through you! So our faith and our story might be personal, but it is not, and cannot be, private.

Faith is not bragging. Sharing your faith is boasting in the Lord. “Look at what the Lord did.” Sharing your story is allowing God to be the show off… not you.

And sharing your story is not being a goody-goody. Sharing your story is the opportunity to tell others of the goodness of God and how you specifically have found that goodness.

Why does all of this matter?

Well, the mission of the Founder (i.e. Jesus Christ) is to make disciples and there is no way you will make disciples without sharing your faith. Just as prayer is vital in the process, so is sharing your own personal story of how Jesus has made you a new creation and has seated you in the heavenly realms currently, not in the distant future.

There is someone in your spheres of influence–a coworker who is struggling, a neighbor who is hurting… and you have an opportunity to be the person through whom Jesus can show off. And it might just change their circumstance.

So let Jesus show you off. He has sat you up for just this kind of opportunity… to show you off as his masterpiece, as his workmanship. Share your story. Share your faith. And watch what God does through you.

Finding Security Internally

Do you ever struggle with insecurity? Because I do! And I really have no reason to.

As someone who has had every need met from day one, I can’t believe that insecurity is something someone like me would deal with. The good news is that insecurity is becoming less and less of an issue for me; which is probably typical. I suppose that as you grow up and wise up, you give less space in your life to the thoughts that lead to insecurity. But it’s been a long time coming.

I can remember a social outing for my 5th grade class. It was at night, at an arcade, and I have a vivid memory of me staring at my reflection in the window of the arcade. I was wearing a turquoise print shirt and a pair of black overalls with only one strap connected (obviously!). My outfit was finished off with a pair of Jordans and a baseball hat I was wearing backwards (obviously!). As I stared at my reflection in that window, I thought,” Yep, this is it. I’m good.”

But I wasn’t.

The reason I wasn’t good is because I was looking for things externally to give me security internally. Again, this is probably a typical right of passage for most adolescents in our society, right? We crave people’s approval. And there are those rare anomalies who are naturally confident and secure apart from outside influence. I know this because I married one of these unicorns! Actually it’s one of the things  that most attracted me to her. But for the rest of us, we are always trying to find that right behavior or look or possession or talent that will finally bring real security.

I assume that many of you reading this are dealing with, or have dealt with, insecurity as a parent, in your workplace, or just as an individual within a larger community. Many of you have gone looking for security thinking you’ll find it in the right relationship, in the right lifestyle, in the right job, in the right home, in the right whatever. The problem is that whenever you go anywhere, you take yourself with you. Wherever you go, there you are… along with your insecurity.

This leads me to one conclusion…

Security can never come from outside of yourself. Instead, the way to find true security is through internal transformation. I am really talking about identity. Identity is the antidote to insecurity.

And this is how I found mine…

A couple thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to a group of people in the city of Ephesus and he began the letter with several sentences that address identity. Those of us in the traditional white evangelical church tend to skip over these opening words to get to the “meat of the message.” The problem with skipping over them is that the words are the message. We’d do well to stop treating them as flowery language for fancy filler, because there is incredible depth if we are willing to dig.

In just the first 14 verses of the letter, we learn that those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, claiming him as Savior and Lord, receive a new identity that can be summed up in four words:

Saint, Selected, Saved, and Sealed.

The problem is we rarely take these labels seriously and, therefore, we never come to embrace the internal security that comes from living into them. But when we do, it’s beautiful. And the best part is that no matter where we go, no matter how we perform, no matter who’s around, we have an unshakable security in our identity. It’s a security completely independent of our circumstance or surrounding.

When Paul writes that we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, the imagery that would have come to mind for his original audience is that of a king’s signet ring. The signet was used to seal declarations and mark territory, designating approval and ownership.

Those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives have been marked as approved and as the property of God, complete with full protection and provision.

And guess what!? Everywhere I go, there I am… now fully secure because of the identity from within… in every circumstance, every environment, every role. I especially remind myself of my new identity in those moments when I catch my reflection in the window and see that insecure 5th grader again… at the age of 37.

I now find security in a God who claims, “This is mine…mess with it and you must answer to the King.” The King of kings has declared a new family heritage for me as signified by the mark of the Holy Spirit on my life.

Is this not the kind of compassionate King under whose authority I would want to submit and I would want to obey? Absolutely!

It’s this innate security in my new identity that motivates and emboldens me to live life on mission everyday. I’m no longer on a mission to find security, but instead I get to join the King in his mission of reconciling and healing a broken world back to his Kingdom.

I encourage you to spend at least 10-15 minutes reading Paul’s words in the opening of his letter to the Ephesians. Open up your Bible or the YouVersion app on your phone and really allow the words to speak to you… sit with them and meditate over them. Then decide for yourself if it is even possible to find the kind of security this identity offers anywhere else!

Disqualified: Two Barriers Keeping You From Sharing Your Faith

The ordination process for the United Methodist Church is a long and tenuous journey. Given the trend of the denomination over the years, it’s easy to see how this slow, arduous process has developed. Essentially those who have made it in want to make sure those who are trying to get it are worthy of the designation of pastor. That’s understandable.

When I was nearing the end of the process, it was time for me to go before the board of ordination and defend my theology, my preaching, and my understanding of church doctrine…all of which they had read or viewed ahead of time. I can still picture pulling up to the old school church that morning over 10 years ago. The building itself was classic…lots of brick and stained glass, long white hallways…a very sterile environment.

I entered a white room and sat down at a white table in front of a dozen pastors I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. That morning was spent answering their questions and listening to them debate ideas among themselves. Then, after returning to the holding area, I was approached by one of those pastors who told me the bad news…

I did not pass and would not be ordained.

My preaching was not sufficient. I was not qualified to preach the story of Jesus and encourage others to put their faith in him after all.

I was disqualified.

I have a feeling that many of you feel disqualified as well. You don’t feel qualified to share the story of Jesus and your faith in him with others. This is not a problem…

until you feel like you’re supposed to.

You experience the tension when you are spending time with a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate or teammate…and there’s that moment while he or she is speaking when the thought hits you; “This person is struggling and I know what he needs. He needs hope and faith in Jesus. I should talk about God here.” The feeling to share could be a desire within you or even a conviction of God in that moment. But you don’t share…

And I think I know why…

The first reason is a mindset that has been perpetuated by the church. This line of thinking makes you reason your way out of sharing, because you don’t have the credentials to do so. Leave it to the professionals! After all, “I haven’t been to seminary,” you think to yourself. “I don’t even have any Bible verses memorized!”

Instead of sharing who Jesus is to you and what he has done, the best you can do is invite the person in front of you to church…where those who are qualified can take care of it. Again, this is something the church, mainly the paid professionals like me, have created, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.

Another reason you don’t share is because of a past behavior or lifestyle. You remember who you used to be and think, “Who am I to share my beliefs with anyone?” The shame and guilt that you still carry for what you did…to yourself or to others…keeps you quiet about your faith.

So we continue making faith a private thing.

The problem is that keeping quiet about the story of Jesus and how it impacts us is not something we see in the story of God following Jesus’ resurrection. Actually, it’s the opposite. Let’s take a look at Peter for example…

Following one of the most pivotal moments for the church–receiving the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection–Peter stands to explain everything to the thousands witnessing this moment. But here’s my question: Who is Peter to share all of this with others?? Don’t you know his past and his resume? As a matter of fact, just prior to this account, we read of Peter adamantly denying that he even knows Jesus. That’s not much of a resume to now be the proclaimer of Jesus’ story…and even telling others what to do in light of this news!

But there is one statement Peter makes in his speech to which we need pay close attention.

He says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Savior.” In one sentence, we see what qualifies Peter to share.

Peter’s profession of Jesus as Savior qualified Peter as proclaimer of Jesus’ story.

And the same is true for you and for me. Forget the credentials, the achievements, the permission giving bureaucracy, the past behavior… it’s your identity in Christ that gives you the right and ability and to tell others about him. If, like Peter, Jesus is both your Lord and your Savior, you have all you need to tell others of your faith in him.

And notice the instructions Peter gives to the crowd: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” To simplify the idea of repentance, it just means to turn around.

So let’s do that. Let’s turn around…

Turn from the mindset perpetuated by the church that you are not qualified to share the story of Jesus with others or your experience of him. In other words, for you repentance just means to change your mind. Don’t make it more spiritual or more complicated than it is.

For others, you need to turn from the guilt and the shame you carry because of who you used to be. Receive fully your new identity in Jesus and be confident of it. To fully surrender looks like giving Jesus every single part…even the shame and guilt. Lay it all down!

Then, after you repent, after you change your mind and lay down your shame and guilt, share.

Share who Jesus is (no memorized Bible verses required…after all, that’s why God gave us Google). Share what Jesus has done for you. And encourage the person you are sharing with…the neighbor, the coworker, the classmate…the one close to you, but far from God…encourage her to repent. Encourage her to change her mind about who Jesus is and who she is.

In this simple act of obedience, you become a co-laborer with God. You join Him in his mission to reconcile a broken and hearting world back to himself and to reconcile all of us to each other.

There is no greater experience than changing your mind and sharing the story of Jesus with someone you know…all because you decided that your profession of Jesus as Savior qualifies you as proclaimer of Jesus’ story…

and then seeing that person with whom you shared change his.

Centered Set Values: A Better Way

Are you a leader? Rarely do leaders actually feel like leaders. People think of someone as a leader when he or she starts leading, despite how he or she feels about leadership ability. The truth is all of you are leaders… or at least have the opportunity and even responsibility to lead.

If you’re married, it’s your spouse. If you have children, they are who you should be leading. If you’re a student, there are classmates you can lead. If you’re employed, there are coworkers you have the opportunity to lead. Leadership is vital in every environment!

Therefore, a lot rides on how we choose to lead the people and the organizations in our circles of influence.

The way I lead is heavily informed and influenced by the way Jesus led. Something that has recently occurred to me about the teachings of Jesus and the way he led people is that Jesus only drew hard lines against those who drew hard lines. With the broken and hurting people he encountered, I see him extending a lot of invitation. However, with the religious leaders who were drawing hard lines for Jesus and others, I see Jesus drawing hard (if not, harsh) lines.

So what can we learn from this, especially if you are attempting to follow Jesus?

Well, there is a bit of digging we have to do, but after we uncover some concepts and language around them, I think we’ll all be on better footing to lead people than we were before.

Check this out:

Back in the 1970’s a cultural anthropologist named Paul Hiebert wrote a book in which he discussed the concept of “Bounded Set” vs. “Centered Set”. His theory is that people tend to organize, or group, in one of two ways.

7Centered Set (left side): A flag representing a set of values is figuratively staked in the center. People then self-select (through their behavior) their proximity to center. People act in ways that reflect the stated values and move closer to center or their decisions demonstrate movement away from center. The key indicators of an individual’s relation to an organization are both proximity and direction.

You have probably experienced this in your own family, for example. If a child is not exhibiting a stated value of the family, such as forgiving a sibling who has hurt him or her, that child is not told to pack her bags every time she chooses not to forgive (in a healthy family). Rather, she is coached/disciplined in a way that encourages her to exhibit forgiveness; which moves her closer to center.

The determining factor is behavior. When it comes to the stated values at the center, a person can ascend mentally and acknowledge vocally, but unless acting in accordance with the values, there is no movement.

Bounded Set (right side): A list of behavioral patterns or criteria is created and you must meet all criteria to be in. If not, you’re out. The bounded set is well-defined and simple to delineate. A potential example of this is the job description. Many descriptions have a list of tasks that need to be completed. If a person in the role accomplishes these tasks within the timeframe and manner instructed, then he keeps his job. If he doesn’t, he is fired.

Another way the bounded set is applied is through labels, such as membership. If an individual does what is required to earn membership within an organization, then she is in, and she enjoys all the privileges that accompany her membership.

What does this have to do with leadership??

The other pastor at Multiply Church (Pastor Casey) and I have chosen to approach our leadership within the community of Multiply Church through Centered Set values vs. a Bounded Set. We have a stated set of values and behavioral patterns that are Biblical and healthy. At the same time, we have no membership to speak of. Therefore, there is no official IN or OUT.

This is messy stuff, but we think it’s what Jesus modeled so bear with us!

The dangers of this approach are numerous. If someone believes himself to be close to center, but his behavior demonstrates otherwise, there is a risk of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the community. Also, if someone is proving to be close to center, there is the danger that she might feel a sense of hierarchy or entitlement. And if center itself isn’t clearly understood, then NO ONE knows what’s going on or what’s expected!

You starting to pick up on the messiness?

Even with all the potential pitfalls, there are still some great and Godly things happening. First of all, entitlement has no place, because there is no “in or out”. Secondly, there is no opportunity for lack of ownership. If behavioral patterns alone indicate your proximity to center, then no one can rely on someone else’s behavior and claim it as their own. No longer can we say things like, “Our church does _____” or “I love how our church serves _____,” because if the individual is NOT doing it, it doesn’t really count for him or for her, does it?

How do the implications of this approach strike you? I hope you take the time to consider them as you lead in your…

  • local church
  • neighborhood
  • office
  • family
  • circle of friends

Do your behaviors and actions demonstrate close proximity to center? Are you moving closer or further away?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this leadership concept and if you would like to see more evidence for this being the method Jesus used, comment below!

Contending for Contentment


At Multiply Church, we have been putting the forgotten discipline of fasting into practice as a community through a 40 day fast beginning on January 1st. At the beginning of this effort, we began sensing a call to contend. A leader from within our community felt further confirmation as the Lord led him to the book of Jude during his fast; which reads, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

So what does it mean to contend?

This is not a word we use in our everyday vocabulary. Actually it means to struggle in opposition. Fasting is the current tactic we as Multiply Church are using to contend—to struggle in opposition against anything that would to come against us living into the life God has set before us. We are denying ourselves to seek God and fight for more of His Kingdom here on earth.

As we talk about all this struggling and hungering and thirsting and increasing our desperation for God, a new tension presents itself:

How do we balance all this longing with being content?

Contentment is always a struggle for me. There are times when I’m riding around the city and, more importantly, looking around at what others have, only to think to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Just look at all there is to acquire in this world and then, suddenly, what you have doesn’t feel like enough.

Do you struggle with contentment too, or is it just me? Do you ever wonder if your marriage, your spouse, your finances and material possessions, your fitness level, or your career path is enough? Have you ever had this thought: “I always thought I’d be further along than I am at this point in my life!”?

One of the greatest schemes of the enemy and one behavior that will surely keep us from ever being content is comparison. Never before has humanity had more opportunities to compare ourselves to others than we do now. Every advertisement, all 5,000 per day, is really just a comparison. Your life to the one being presented, or worse, sold. Of course social media is a huge opportunity for us to be discontent. We’re comparing everyone else’s highlights to our entire lives.

So what’s a brother to do??

Well, the apostle Paul has an idea and we find it in a passage that includes one of the most popular, and most taken out of context, Bible verses. Paul tells the believers in Philippi that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Then he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Notice that it is all this and not all things.

He did it! He figured it out. Paul knows how to find contentment. But how??

I think his contentment is found in his contending. What did Paul spending his life doing? He spent his life contending for the Kingdom of God.

So here’s how it works: Contending for our kingdom leads to comparison. Contending for the Kingdom leads to contentment.

When we are contending for our kingdom—striving for more until we have enough—we tend to be driven by greed, we operate out of fear, and we maintain a mindset of scarcity.

On the other side of the cross, when we contend for the Kingdom, we are driven by generosity, we operate out of faith, and, best of all, we experience freedom from greed, fear, and scarcity!

Greed says, “I don’t have enough” and fear says, “I might need this one day.”

Generosity says, “This isn’t mine anyway…I have it to share with those in need” and faith says, “Here you go.”

Could this be the reward and the abundant life of which Jesus speaks? I think so. We find life when we experience freedom, joy, and purpose.

When we shift from contending for our kingdom to contending for the Kingdom, we come alive like never before. Suddenly our marriages, our finances, our careers, and every other aspect of our existence is no longer something to be compared, but instead an opportunity to participate in “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

What is one shift you can make in order to contend for the Kingdom and, as a reward, find contentment?

Living Life on Mission

Each week, Multiply Church posts a recap of the message from The Gathering on Sunday mornings; which is posted to the Multiply website. I had the opportunity to deliver the message this past week and am reposting the recap here.

Are you living your life on mission? What are the other options? To live your life off mission? Sure, there are those floating through without much thought as to purpose and intent. The majority, however, are probably living on one mission or another.

So what is yours?

At Multiply Church, one of our vision statements is equipping believers to live life on mission.

But what does that mean? No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative! JK!! We’re learning what it means as we take big steps of faith.

Also, at Multiply Church, we define a disciple of Jesus as anyone who receives Jesus as Savior, worships Jesus as King, and obeys Jesus as Lord. As the church in America, we do okay with receiving and worshipping. But we have a big problem with obedience.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Casey did a fantastic job of connecting a life on mission with a life of obedience. He continued to put handles on a large theological concept when we know, grow, and go!

The words of Jesus are really important. Afterall, we have to know the words of Jesus before we can grow and go in the ways of Jesus. Some words of Jesus that Matthew recorded gives me great pause as a follower of Jesus. In a teaching to his apostles and a larger crowd that had gathered, he asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what I say?”

Ouch. Jesus…come on, bro! I thought we were boys!

But isn’t this what we do in the church all the time?? Attendance and participation in “church” certainly do not guarantee we are doing what Jesus told his followers (i.e. Christians) to do. Actually we as the church have created a framework and language we use to keep ourselves from doing what Jesus says.

Let me introduce you to three people:23Person 1 is all about “sharing his faith.” He uses the word “gospel” a lot. He also quotes Bible verses like “Jesus came to seek and save the lost” and “How will they know if we don’t tell them?” We have a big word that carries a lot of baggage to describe the efforts of Person 1: Evangelism. Person 1 thinks that evangelism should be priority #1 for the church!

Person 2 is all about “being the hands and feet of Christ.” She quotes Bible verses like “faith without works is dead.” The word we use to describe all the works of Person 2 is missions. She thinks that missions or outreach should be priority #1 for the church!

Finally, Person 3 is all about reading and studying the Bible. He goes around telling people how “God’s word is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path” and telling stories about how God met him through one particular Bible study this one time. What’s the word we use for the category in which Person 3 fits?? That’s right…discipleship! Therefore, he says Bible studies and small group curriculum should be priority #1 for the church, especially the prepackaged Bible study in which God met him!

So now we have three lanes into which people must choose to move. This model inevitably creates competition and confusion in the church. “Well, real Christians do ___________.” So which lane do we choose??

How about the one you’re called to?? And there’s the language to support the framework! Calling.

“I’m just not called to missions.”

“I’m just not called to share my faith.”

So instead, I stay in my lane to which I’ve conveniently been called.

Here’s the thing…you’re right! You are not called. You are commanded!

Yep, Jesus doesn’t call his followers to these individual baseline efforts. Instead, he commands us to do them. Sure, there are specific callings that must be discerned through means such as prayer, fasting, assessment, and community, but we need to look at what Jesus commands all those who take his name, make an adjective of it, and apply it to themselves.

We need to merge these lanes. We must marry these identities we’ve created in the local church. In fact, there is only one lane: discipleship. Discipleship is not a lane. It is the lane. As one believer pours the ways of Jesus into another, the output is a life on mission. There will be behavioral patterns that look like missions to some. There will be patterns that look like evangelism. There will be patterns that look like what the traditional local church model calls discipleship.26

As I consider how many days I have left on this earth, there are no guarantees, but I can look at the average age of a male in our society and get a general idea. Whatever that number ends up being – 1 or 14,965 – I want my days to be about encouraging people (and being encouraged by others) to do what Jesus says to do. In my experience, it is in obedience to Jesus’ commands where the greatest transformation occurs for the human heart. Lives are changed and people come to life as they know, grow, and go…not in one single lane, but in full obedience.

Who do you have in your life leading you to obey Jesus as Lord?

Is It Just Me Or Are You Overwhelmed (Too)?

IMG_2996Disclaimer: This post is probably more for my processing and therapy than any other purpose. But hopefully you’ll find some value in it for yourself as well!

I cry sometimes. And when I cry, I’m well aware of the reason for the tears. Two recent events have again brought me to tears…feeling overwhelmed by the lack of kindness in the world.

I know I should not be surprised and I guess I’m not really, but it’s just more than I can take at the moment.

Maybe you feel the same…

It could be the political climate in our country and the corresponding ads. Or the refugee crisis around the world as we watch thousands of migrants marching away from dehumanizing poverty and violence. Or seeing your children get made fun of at school, on the bus, or in the dugout. Or ___________…

And what can you do about it?

This past weekend my family was attending a birthday party at a local park. As soon as we arrived, my kids headed straight for the playground to swing and slide as usual. While being my typical helicopter-parent self—staying within arms’ reach on the play structures—I noticed a boy sitting on the steps. He was pouting while holding his Mountain Dew, wearing a bright red nascar shirt and jeans. His hair was dark and uncombed; which seemed to match his disposition. (My kids’ hair also goes uncombed, unless they get caught in the grasp of a grandmother, so no judgement on his appearance—just trying to put you in the scene.)

As I passed by, I heard him mumble something under his breath. “Who cares if I’m too tall to ride the train?” he whispered bitterly. I don’t know what led to his state of sadness. Maybe someone told him was too old or too big to be riding the “kiddie rides” in the park. Maybe he came to this conclusion on his own.

Honestly, my first thought was that this kid is probably on track to be a “troubled child.” And that’s as much thought as I gave it…in the moment.

About 20 minutes later, my oldest son and I were throwing baseball next to the playground when I missed a throw that rolled several yards behind me. On my way to retrieve the ball, a red flash flew by me and beat me to it. It was the boy who had been pouting earlier on the playground!

I have enough emotional intelligence to know how this was going to play out. He obviously wanted to participate in our game of catch and, because I try my best to teach my children to be inclusive, we were happy to include him. He didn’t have a mitt so I let him use mine and went without one.

I asked him his name and his age. I asked him where he lived and with whom he had come to the park. He was an open book. His name is Aiden. He’s 10 years old. He was at the park with his “Pop Pop.”

Then the sad news…

He has an 18 year old sister and a 17 year old brother, but

It’s the but that brought me to tears.

“But we don’t live together, because we’re separated, and we’re getting a divorce…again.” 

Again? Again?!

I know I’m projecting a lot onto his situation…making assumptions about his family life, but either way…it’s never healing and wholeness that leads to a divorce, right?? Heartbreak and hurt are typically the recipe for broken relationships. Aiden was so matter of fact as he described his family situation. It was like he was telling someone else’s story. But it was his story.

Then a second event the day after…

My wife and I had just dropped off our two oldest at school and were on our way to drop the princess off when we noticed a road was blocked off by several police officers. “I wonder what’s going on,” Emily said. I went to Twitter and typed “Butler High School” in the search bar and there it was…a student shot by another student. Again, heartbreaking. Tragic!

We still don’t know all the facts and may never know, but whether the cause was bullying or a fight over a girl or whatever, the reason is not what’s most important and most certainly does not justify the end.

Then, to make matters worse, this grief I’m experiencing is further compounded by these events stirring up memories of my own adolescent antics. There were many, many occasions when I was unkind; which led to bullying or fights. Hopefully moments of me being unkind are growing fewer and farther between, but just the memories still illicit remorse.

Why? Why does it have to be this way? 

Or does it?

What’s the real root cause of our lack of kindness? As easy and flippant as it sounds, the answer is sin. Unkindness is one way sin gets put on display. And I’m convinced that we all have a choice: will we put our sin on display or will we put love on display? Right now, in this moment, which will I put on display today?

The morning following these events I sent out the weekly email to my soccer team; which always includes a memory verse. Coincidentally (or not so much) this week’s verse was a word of advice from the apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica:

“Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”

Image what the world might look like if we were always obedient to Paul’s advice…if we were intentional to teach it and to put it on display for our children. Certainly we can all make a choice to make life a kinder experience and just the thought of a kinder world helps to curb my lament.

Neither you nor I can fix the lack of kindness in our world. But we can choose kindness and we can be intentional to teach our children to do the same. I’ve been praying for Aiden. I’ll probably never see him again and I have a feeling that he will experience a lot of unkindness. But for a brief time, in a random park, he experienced kindness.