Tough Questions, Tough Answers

What has the power to break you?

What could sink you, or grind up your life?

For some of us, the answer (or answers) to those questions are easy: we point to addictions, to alcohol or drugs or sex or food.

But for others, it’s tempting to draw a blank; to shrug our shoulders and believe that all of the threats are “out there”, maybe in the form of job changes, or terrorist threats, or car accidents, or disease.

Although external threats can certainly be serious, I’m not so sure.

Lately, I’ve been blessed to be hanging around some people who have seen their lives almost destroyed by brokenness. They know the destructive power of sin, and are unafraid (and mostly uninterested) in beating around the bush, or wearing masks to pretend that everything is okay.

On the other hand, it pains me sometimes to see the masks that we wear in our communities of faith, and the lack of awareness (or lack of willingness) to acknowledge the threat that sin has for our lives.

We fail to see selfishness, arrogance, fear, pride or self-centeredness as real issues.

However, surely if we took a few minutes to think about how our lives would play out if they were governed by these qualities we could see what they would do to us:

How well would our marriages survive if we were governed by selfishness?

How well could we parent our children if they grew up in a house that was run by fear and pride?

How long would our friends stay around if they sensed that we are only in relationships for what we want?

I know it’s a heavy question, but how much sin are you willing to tolerate in your life? Not from a “holier-than-thou-I-don’t-drink-or-do-anything-“bad” perspective but from an acknowledgement simply that “sin”—in the form of selfishness, self-centeredness, pride, fear, and arrogance—is not interested in making your life better. From the acknowledge that sin wants to kill you. 

The question that follows is simply: what are you going to do about it?

Why not take off the mask and acknowledge your struggle?

(Because the thing is, once you take off the mask, you find that underneath it you’re only human, and what’s more is that you discover there’s a whole bunch of other human beings around you who are struggling in just the same way.)

Let’s be human together.

You Have to Know Your Story

Last week I was in Dallas to lead worship with some friends of mine. My in-laws also live in the area, so I spent the night with them, and ended up driving around Arlington, marveling at how the area had grown (and shaking my fist at Texas Stadium, but that’s another story). Driving through the warm Texas fall, I noticed something that I found utterly fascinating.

Arlington has mostly always been a place of strip malls and—to my eyes anyway—awful urban planning. It has been marked by the worst of our public space and architecture, of a lack of awareness of history and human scale. In some ways, this trip merely confirmed all of that: ugly buildings that were merely twenty years old had been destroyed to make way for new ugly buildings. Chain businesses that had been thriving years ago had been rebranded and become new chain businesses that were now (for the moment) thriving.

But then I noticed something else.

Astonishingly, in the midst of this urban/suburban renewal and sprawl, I found two unlikely establishments that had somehow weathered the storm, and were still open,—twenty-plus years later—and were still going strong.

photo-4Out to breakfast with my father-in-law, we were driving down Division street when I asked him to slow down. There, set back from the street about 50 yards, was  “The Gold Nugget”. This place was really special to me and my wife, since it was the place where we really began dating. Back in the day it had a stage, and a volleyball court out back, but here’s the deal: in 1992 this place was a bit dingy, and a throwback. How in the world is it still in business? 

As I left Arlington and drove to Garland, I drove up Collins Street, past Cowboys stadium. Almost immediately across from that monstrosity was a tiny restaurant called “The Pitt Grill”.

That’s right: that’s the name.

Image via rollbamaroll.com

Image via rollbamaroll.com

I don’t know how long the Pitt has been in business. I know that I used to go there and get greasy eggs and bacon (mmmmm bacon) twenty years ago, and as best I can tell, greasy eggs and bacon are still on the menu today.

The Pitt has no website; neither does the Gold Nugget. Yet these two businesses somehow have weathered the storm of development that has utterly remade (and erased) most of Arlington.

There is no sleek, modern design in their dining rooms…

They don’t serve sushi…

They don’t serve any form of fusion…

I’m pretty sure their bartenders don’t have ironic handlebar mustaches…

While I have no doubt that their bills are manageable (seriously, they’re really not the nicest of places), I think what struck me about The Gold Nugget and The Pitt is that ultimately they knew who they were. I’m sure that over the years they grew a little, and got really good at what they did, essentially these businesses are doing the same thing that they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. They’ve seen probably fifty businesses come and go around them, and they still plug on.

The Gold Nugget and The Pitt remind me that you have to know who you are.

The Pitt and the Gold Nugget know what they do, and I have no doubt that they do it consistently.

I have no doubt that they have great stories to tell.

I think of churches that I’ve talked to that have essentially a beautiful traditional service that suddenly feel called to create an awkward and sparsely attended rock and roll service, merely because “that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

I think of leaders who are trying to be something that they obviously are not, struggling with authenticity (by the way, the people you lead can see it) without questioning why they are trying embrace this.

Meanwhile, all that many people “out there” in the world are asking for is for churches, organizations, and leaders that

  • quietly and confidently live out who they are (sometimes in the face of a radically changed world)
  • tell stories about what they’ve seen and what they’ve done

How well do you know yourself? How well does your church or organization? Are you living out your story? Or someone else’s? 

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