I must confess, I occasionally click on those silly pop-culture posts dancing in my Facebook feed like the cyber-version of the supermarket tabloids (don’t judge me). The most recent “where are they now?” featured an actor from one of my favorite TV shows of all time. My wife and I rarely missed an episode of House, living vicariously through the filterless, brutal commentary of the cranky, yet brilliant, diagnostician.

This particular headline teased the post-show whereabouts of House’s closest friend, Robert Sean Leonard (affectionally known as Wilson). I was curious as to what he’s been up to, so I clicked (I said don’t judge me). While his dramatic resume is rather rich, I was surprised to hear Leonard talk so openly of his love for being the “second guy.”

“I like being the best friend,” he said. “I love my role the way it is.

Since House’s wrap, those are the exact kind of roles he’s continued to pursue. His skills are critically acclaimed, but you’ll still almost always find him with a minor part. While most of us would would clamor for the gold star on our dressing room door and the much bigger paycheck, here’s a guy who actually aspires to be a supporting actor.

Weird.

But it got me thinking. This is exactly the way we were designed to live. It’s true. Tim Keller calls it “the dance.”

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We were meant to center our lives around God and to serve other people. That’s not just a nice, moralistic suggestion. It’s where we find our meaning, it’s where we secure our identity, it’s where we encounter our deepest joy. It’s the way God created us.

Yet most of us instinctively view ourselves as the main character in our own story. We fight to put our stake in the ground, to pen the narrative from our own perspective, to negotiate for headliner wages. We spend our days wondering why the world (and even God Himself) doesn’t do a better job of playing a supporting role to our brilliant thespianism. And most of us are pretty unfulfilled and frustrated.

When we approach life as if we are playing the lead role, we completely whiff on life’s meaning. And we will struggle to find any rest or peace.

When Jesus summed up the entirety of God’s Word into two simple concepts – love God and love other people – he wasn’t just giving us a nice command we should try and obey if we can somehow muster the spiritual stamina. He was showing us where to find our true selves.

We find joy when we stop seeing ourselves as the central character of the story. We were designed as beloved members of the supporting cast.

I’m Tired of Being Thankful

Erik Cooper —  November 25, 2014 — 3 Comments

John Madden’s famous six legged turkey is being prepped for Thursday’s NFL postgame show.

Church signs are splashed with Thanksgiving themed bible verses (which, let’s admit, is a welcome change from most church sign content).

Facebook walls are awash in “thankfulness challenges” and clipart quotes about turkeys and pilgrims.

My kids Thanksgiving school crafts adorn the refrigerator door.

Charlie Brown is once again convincing himself that he can actually kick that football.

And retail stores are filled with….well, who are we kidding? They’ve been decorated for Christmas since Labor Day.

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Thanksgiving is here! It’s hard to ignore. It’s everywhere. But can I be honest with you? I’m sorta tired of being thankful. Yeah, I am. I’m just going to take a few minutes here and call it like it is.

Thankfulness is hard.

You know why? Because thankfulness forces me to accept that I’m not the source of things. That there is something bigger than me. That all my blessings, my relationships, my resources, my opportunities, my food and shelter, my creativity, my inspiration, my parents, my kids, my friends, my coworkers, my money, my successes, my joy, my purpose, my identity, my meaning, my very next breath…

All of it.

Every. Last. Bit.

Is a gift to me.

And I hate that. No, I mean I really do.

I. Hate. It.

I don’t want to be thankful. Thankfulness means I’m in need. I’m needy!? Who wants to be in need? I mean, come on, really?! I want to be the author, the creator, the origin, not the recipient! I want to be in control, to be strong, to be powerful and put together.

I don’t want to be thankful. I want to be thanked.

Yet with every passing year, I become more and more aware of my true makeup. I am weak. I am broken. I lack. I need help. Geez, doesn’t that sound empowering?

Or is it?

In some great gospel paradox, with every downward step I seem to find myself rising higher. With every admission of inadequacy, I find myself growing stronger. With every acknowledgement of brokenness, I find myself a little bit more whole. With the loss of self-made meaning, I find more of my true identity.

Such is the mystery of grace.

So perhaps I’m not actually tired of being thankful. Perhaps I’m just tired. Tired of pretending to be put together. Tired of acting like I’ve got it all figured out. Tired of trying to be the central character of my own story. Tired of striving to become my own savior.

The strength, and control, and peace, and connection, and wholeness, and power I so desperately long to construct can only be created when I stop looking for it inside of myself.

I was made to be thankful.

So let’s eagerly humble ourselves this Thanksgiving, and find our greatest joy in our need to give thanks.

Our SUV bounced mercilessly over the rugged ground. To call these dirt paths “roads” would’ve been a generous misnomer, as stretches of definable terrain quickly gave way to an obstacle course of potholes and extreme turns that pushed our vehicle’s suspension system to its limits. We had already been driving for close to two hours, and we had at least another two to go. We were literally heading into the middle of nowhere.

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To give you just a taste of exactly how far we were from civilization, a local villager, bitten by a black mamba snake just two weeks earlier, was unable to make it to medical help before the venom overtook him. He died in the backseat of the car still hours from the nearest community.

This was old-school Africa. Grass huts, stone spears, National Geographic Africa. We were on our way to visit the Datooga, a nomadic tribe that live in the Mara region of central Tanzania. Some amazing things are beginning to happen amongst these people, which leads me to the real point of this story.

About halfway to our destination, we stopped the cars at the top of a hill overlooking the Mara valley. It was a breathtaking. As we paused to take in the view and a few stories from our missionary friends, a woman suddenly appeared walking on the road. She was carrying a baby, probably less than a year old, on her back in a some kind of homemade cloth wrap. The baby was obviously sick, as the skin underneath his eyes and nose was caked with crusted mucus.

She was taking him to the witch doctor in the next village for some type of mystical potion or incantation that would hopefully cure his illness. We asked if we could pray for her and her child, and after we finished the Datooga pastor traveling with us began to share the Gospel message with her.

“We would like to introduce you to Jesus,” I heard him say through the translator.

“He sounds like an amazing man,” she responded. “I will be back later today. I will make some tea. Can you bring him to my house? I would love to meet him.”

98% of the Datooga have never heard the name Jesus. I’ve read about people like this, about places like this – we call them “unreached people groups,” or UPGs for short – but in that moment I was staring into the real life eyes of what I had previously only known as a christian statistic thrown around at missions conferences.

I’m lucky enough to be part of a business that wants to help engage with stories like these. Not to force feed them an additional religion. Not to export our christian culture. Not to try and make them like us.

To introduce them to the only One that can resurrect who God originally created them to be. 

To “bring Jesus by for tea.”

Last week, I sat in my car outside our neighborhood Walmart and wrote myself an email. Some people just talk to themselves, but I prefer to put my neurotic episodes in writing.

While I was obviously proving every stereotype about the crazy people who shop at Walmart, I was also sending myself a sane reminder. A much needed butt-kicking I needed to remember clearly when I got to the office the next morning.

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Here’s what I wrote to myself:

You don’t have to start the next big movement to make a difference. Sometimes, I think you get paralyzed because you want everything to scale or become so big that it’s mass-marketable and gets people talking. You don’t have to start something that becomes “known.” Just do something that makes a difference.

From your seat. With your experience. With your assets. It doesn’t have to be any bigger than that.

Anonymity is not lack of impact. In fact it might mean more impact (and less distraction). Remember, most people don’t want to change the world, they just want to be known for changing the world (Lencioni).

Don’t fall victim to that.

Do what you are called to do. Period. Seek to make a difference, not to build a reputation. That will take care of itself.

Now let’s get to it.

Sincerely,

Your Sane and Sober Self

There’s nothing wrong with accolades, book deals, speaking at conferences, or sharing and scaling your ideas. I’m all for it. But being known doesn’t mean that you matter. Being known doesn’t mean you’re making a difference. Being known isn’t the point.

Here’s a question worth pondering:

If you could make a major impact on the world but nobody ever knew it was you, would you still be satisfied?

What if your success is anonymous?

Don’t Waste Your Wounds

Erik Cooper —  October 21, 2014 — 2 Comments

Last week, I found myself in yet another pain-filled conversation with a former pastor transitioning from a dysfunctional church position. What he shared of his story wasn’t all that unique: big dreams morphed into misaligned expectations leading to an ugly ending at the hands of a controlling and insecure leader.

There are two sides to every story, but regardless of where fault actually lies on the blame-spectrum, the fact is that a very broken man and his family of 5 were sent reeling into the devastating spiral of joblessness, moving do a new city, and wrestling with their identity. And through this incredibly difficult season, a vital decision awaits.

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Wounds.

We’ve all got them. Some are obviously much deeper and more gut-wrenching than others, but if your life still feels relatively “wound-free” it’s probably because you just haven’t lived long enough yet.

Broken relationships.

Failed businesses.

Marriage infidelity.

Lost loved-ones.

Bankruptcy.

Rebellious children.

Life-threatening illness.

(Sin has undoubtedly broken God’s perfect world).

Suffering doesn’t’ have to make a good Dateline special to be a devastating reality. In it’s simplest form, suffering occurs when our desires and our circumstances have a gap. When our circumstances don’t match our desires, we suffer (Keller).

So if suffering is inevitable for us all (Jesus himself promised it), then what we do with this pain is by far the most important question.

Disclaimer: there are levels of grief and loss with which I am completely unacquainted. This is not to make light of those who have tragically lost a spouse or stared down a medical death sentence. The lasting ramifications of these experiences may never be fully overcome.

But let’s be honest, a lot of us gleefully ride our scars into a cesspool of distrust, skepticism, and apathy. We move away from relationships. We condemn institutions. We discard people. We become smug and self-righteous. And that’s a shame.

Cynicism and bitterness are a waste of life’s wounds. Suffering wants to birth much more beautiful things in our lives than that.

Every trouble carries with it the chance for change. It points at the arrogance in me, the self-worship, the things I’m looking to in life for security, identity, and happiness outside of Jesus Christ. And in that way, life’s difficulties can actually be quite a gift. Never enjoyable, desired, or sought after (those people are weird), yet eternally rich with potential beauty and goodness.

Are you wasting your wounds on cheap, cynical counterfeits? Bitterness is easy, but those scars are much too valuable to spend on junk.