I’m a 9

I’m a 9

I’ve recently become fascinated with the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a tool for understanding yourself and others, based on nine different personality typologies.  The Enneagram is not scientific.  Rather, it seems to have evolved from the wisdom of several ancient traditions.

One place to learn more about the Enneagram, and which of the nine types you are, is iancron.com.  There are many such sites, but I particularly like this one.

Admittedly, I am a junky when it comes to personality assessments.  I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs.  I am an S on the DISC.  I’m a “quick start” on the Kolby.  I’m a blue on the True Colors.  I’m in the house of Ravenclaw on Pottermore – but, that’s totally different.

What I like about the Enneagram, is that it helps you understand your personality when you’re healthy and when you’re unhealthy.  The Enneagram reveals how you likely react to stress, and who you can become when you’re healthy and growing.  And, the Enneagram provides a path for personal growth and development.

If you know me, and are wondering, I’m a Nine on the Enneagram, which means I’m a “Peacemaker,” and my primary weakness is “sloth.”  According to the website integrative9.com, “Enneagram Nines are motivated by a need to be settled and in harmony with the world and, as a result, being accommodating and accepting will be important to them. They strive for a peaceful existence and appreciate stability, preferring to avoid conflict. At their best, Nines are experienced as self-aware and vibrant. They offer the gift of right, sustainable action to themselves and the world around them. Less-healthy Nines may be experienced as procrastinating, stubborn and self-denying. This stems from a pattern of going along to get along with others and the eventual discomfort that arises when this strategy is not satisfying.”

As a nine, when I’m unhealthy, I tend to withdraw, avoid conflict, suppress anger, and may become passive-agressive (though, I really hope not!).  When I’m healthy, I’m able to to see the strengths of multiple perspectives, and may be able to build bridges.  My primary growth opportunity is to set goals, to communicate my passions, and to act.

The Enneagram isn’t the Bible.  It doesn’t say everything about every variation of every personality type.  It doesn’t explain why I enjoy riding a motorcycle, or perusing antique shops, or growing bonsai trees, or watching super-hero movies.  It can’t explain, fully, how or why I’m the person I am, with the complicated assortment of strengths and struggles I possess.  But, it is a helpful tool.

Just like a hammer can’t fix every home repair, the Enneagram has its limits.  But, just like a hammer is great for hammering, I’m finding the Enneagram to be very helpful in gaining a deep understanding into myself, and how I can work on growing and becoming a healthier version of me.  I encourage you to explore the Enneagram for yourself.

For those who are interested, two excellent books on the Enneagram are…

Richard Rohr’s, The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective


Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s, The Road Back to you; An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery

Who is My Enemy?

Who is My Enemy?

My day began, preparing for my Friday morning Bible Study.  We’re currently studying the Sermon on the Mount, and our passage today was the end of Matthew 5, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…”

Included in that group of teachings is the instruction to love our enemies, which raised the question, “Who is my enemy?”

I’ve been chewing on that question all day.  The Greek word for enemy, used in the New Testament, is “echthros,” which means someone who is openly hostile, hateful and actively seeking to do me harm.  With that definition in mind, “Who is my enemy?”

A few moments ago, I had an unexpected visit from a family from New York, who are members of a Bruderhof community.  Members of Bruderhof communities are Christians, living in community, sharing all things in common.  Their purpose is to live as close to the values and ways of the New Testament Church as possible.  Bruderhof communities began in Germany, but now exist all over the world.

This particular family is here, in Coral Springs, to serve our community in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.  Their primary message is the need for love and forgiveness.  Can you imagine traveling across the country, giving more than a week of your life, to share about forgiveness?

So, my day has been bookended by two common themes – “Who is my enemy?” and forgiveness.

I know I’m not everyone’s favorite person, and that some may not like me at all.  But, I sincerely hope no one thinks of me as an enemy.  Though I’m the target of an unfriendly word from time to time, I know that comes with being a pastor and a leader… and being an imperfect human.  But, the messenger, no matter how harsh the message, is not my enemy.  As the New Testament defines “enemy,” I’m grateful to say I don’t have any that I’m aware of.

You’re not my enemy if you disagree with me.  Your’e not my enemy if you yell at me.  You’re not my enemy if we vote for different candidates.  You’re not my enemy if we have different theologies, or interpretations of Scripture.  You’re not my enemy if you leave an angry reply to this post, or any other.  You’re not my enemy if you leave something distasteful on my social media (though, I’ll likely delete it).  You’re not my enemy if you cut me off in traffic… well, maybe…

Jesus, undeniably had enemies.  They crucified him.  The earlier Church had enemies.  They were persecuted.  Though I’m not always popular, I’m thankful I’ve never experienced having an enemy, actively seeking to do me harm.  At least, not yet.

But, forgiveness, is a different matter.  I need to be forgiven, for a lot.  There are lots of people I need to forgive, that aren’t necessarily my enemy.  I need to forgive family, friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ.  I need to forgive people I love.  I need to forgive some people I don’t particularly like.  I need to forgive myself.  I may even need to forgive God.

And, I wonder if the longer we don’t forgive someone, the more likely we may begin to see them as an enemy?  I wonder.

Whose your enemy?  Who do you need to forgive?



Getting Out of the Echo Chamber

Getting Out of the Echo Chamber

About a year ago, I heard a Korean-American, female pastor challenge white, male, North American pastors to stop reading white, male theologians for the next year.  Her point was, we need to broaden our theologies and perspectives by adding new voices into our learning.  And, I think, her point was, white men reading white men was a bit like reading in an echo chamber – just hearing the same voices repeated over and over and over, reinforcing firmly-established belief-systems.

I didn’t obey her challenge perfectly.  I’ve still read a few white, male authors.  But, I respectfully took her point, and have expanded my reading by intentionally selecting a broader range of authors, than I  have in the past.  And, I’m so glad that I did!

Over the last year, or so, my reading has included, in no particular order…

  • Desmund Tutu – male, South-African
  • Pope Francis – male, Argentinian
  • Dorothy Day – female, Anglo-American
  • Makoto Fujimura – male, Japanese-American
  • Renita Weems – female, African-American
  • Ta-nehisi Coates – male, African-American
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – male, African-American
  • Deidra Riggs – female, African-American
  • Lisa Sharon Harper – female, African-American
  • Elizabeth Gilbert – female, Anglo-American
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – female, Nigerian
  • Bryan Stevenson – male, African-American
  • Oscar Romero – male, El Salvadoran

This is a challenge I’m glad I accepted, and intend to continue.  The truth is, my shelves are covered with books authored by white men.  While many of them are brilliant and deeply spiritual, they do tend to speak from a vernacular of common life, education, and experience.

By adding new and varied influences, my perspective is being broadened and deepened.  I’m increasingly, painfully aware of the inherent advantages I have as a white, Southern, college-educated, man – advantages I’ve taken for granted, perhaps even assuming I have “earned.”  I’m increasingly aware of the disadvantages others have, simply because of their gender, skin-color, ethnicity, or country-of-origin.  I’m increasingly aware of injustice and unfairness, ways that I’m complicit, and ways that I’m called to live and lead differently.  I’m increasingly aware of my wrong assumptions, attitudes, and biases.

My eyes, and my mind are being opened.  And, while that’s not always easy, I am thankful.

While white, male authors are not permanently banned  from my bookshelves, I plan to continue reading an increasingly diverse group of authors.  I plan to continue being challenged, stretched, and deepened.  I encourage you to do the same.

I wonder, any non-white, male authors you might suggest I read next?


God “Bless?” America

God “Bless?” America

I led a new Bible study, this morning, on the Sermon on the Mount.  I intended to start last week, but delayed due to the swirl of activity in the immediate aftermath of the  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.  Today’s class focused on the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-16…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  

What does it mean to be blessed?  What does it mean when we say, “God bless America?” Health?  Wealth?  Prosperity?  Protection?  Favor?

The Greek word, used in the New Testament, for “blessed” is “makarios,” which means something akin to, “being in an enviable position,” particularly in our relationship with God.  Being “blessed, spiritually-speaking, is a good, desirable, godly place to be.

Jesus says we’re in an inviable position with God when we are poor in spirit, when we are mourning, when we are meek, when we are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and when we are persecuted, when we face opposition for our faith.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds VERY different than the way most of us typically use the word “blessed!”

Is it possible we understand the word “blessed” correctly, but expect the wrong outcome? After all, we live in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation on earth.  But, what’s all of our wealth and welfare doing for us?

Being close to God does NOT automatically lead to health, prosperity, protection and favor.  Instead, being close to God may mean the opposite.  Being close to God will break your heart for the sins of the world.  Being close to God will reveal your insufficiencies, and need for God.  Being close to God means working for justice and peace, even when it brings opposition.  Being close to God requires seeing the impurities in our own lives, and our desperate need for refinement.  Being close to God requires personal sacrifice.  Being close to God can be difficult… and blessed.

Being close to God is undeniably an inviable position.  It’s where we want to be, whether we get that or not.  But, God blesses us to bless others, not to bask in the blessing ourselves.  Being close to God is joining in God’s work of healing and redeeming this broken world.  Being blessed is less about the temporal blessings we may or may not receive, and more about the blessing we can be for those less blessed than us.

This world needs a lot of blessing!

Though I’ve read the Beatitudes countless times, I’m hearing them differently this time.  I can’t help but read them through the lens of our recent tragedy.  I hear the call to mourn and show mercy – Christians are good at that.  But, I’m also hearing God’s call to work for justice and peace, even if it means facing painful opposition.

In fact, just a few verses after the Beatitudes, Jesus adds, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)  

The “blessed” do.  The “blessed” put blessing into action.  Friends, there’s a lot of blessing for us to do.

Yes, God, please bless America.  Bless us with the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the workers for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-makers, and those who are persecuted for doing what is right.  Bless us with your Kingdom.  Bless us, please.

I am Judas

I am Judas

I have to confess, I’ve always felt sorry for Judas.

Early in my relationship with Jesus, I recall watching a movie that depicted monologues of each of Jesus’ disciples, of what they were thinking and feeling the night of his arrest.  The monologues were fiction, of course, based on what the Disciples might have said.  Whether, or not, they were accurate, I don’t know.  But, they made an impression on me.

At the end of the film, a pastor asked us which of the Disciple’s  we most identified with.

I said Judas.

I once took part in a reenactment of the Last Supper.  I played Judas.

The FSU Wesley Foundation, where I was the pastor for eleven years, has a long-held Maundy Thursday tradition, observing the Last Supper in total silence, each person taking turns sitting at the table to receive communion.  Every year, for eleven years, I waited for Judas’ spot to open.  (I’ve never told anyone that I did that – before now)

On the Wednesday, before Jesus’ crucifixion,  Judas agreed to betray Jesus.  Though we don’t know why, Judas made a deal with the Sanhedrin to help them find and arrest Jesus, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.

Why did he do it?  Luke says that Satan entered him.  How does that happen?  He apparently loved money.  So do I.  Maybe he acted impulsively.  I do.  Some scholars suggest that Judas had become impatient, and was simply pushing Jesus into a situation where he would have to act.  I get impatient with Jesus too.

I know what Judas did was terrible.  Never having met him, I certainly can’t defend Judas’ decision.  I don’t know why he did what he did.

I guess I have a hard time believing that Judas could have spent three years in Jesus’ inner circle and not have been deeply and profoundly impacted by him.  Though he may have betrayed Jesus, at a critical moment, does that mean that he was evil to the core?  Does that mean he didn’t love Jesus?  Does that mean he didn’t regret it?

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”  Matthew 27:3-4

Is that not repentance?

Judas betrayed Jesus.  That is undeniably true.

So have I.  I betray Jesus everyday.

When I don’t give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, welcome the stranger, etc., I betray him.

When I don’t speak out against injustice, I betray him.

When I don’t love my neighbor, or my enemy, I betray him.

When I bow down to idols, I betray him.

When I am disobedient, I betray him.

When I think evil thoughts, I betray him.

When I become impatient, demanding, self-pitying, and childish, I betray him.

When I ignore or defy the Spirit’s promptings, I betray him.

When I am more of a reflection of the World, than I am of him, I betray him.

No, I have not received thirty pieces of silver for betraying him – I’ve received much more!  No, I didn’t actively participate in a scheme leading to his arrest and crucifixion.  But, Jesus was crucified because of me – for me – every bit as much as Judas.

I’m not suggesting that Judas was any better than Scripture portrays him.  I’m just reminded that I’m not so great either.  I am, truly, in every way, a sinner saved by grace.

Judas betrayed Jesus.  So do I.

Lord, have mercy.

Relationship Restoration (Part 3 of a sermon series called “Restoration” at First Church Coral Spring on March 19, 2017)

Relationship Restoration (Part 3 of a sermon series called “Restoration” at First Church Coral Spring on March 19, 2017)

Let me tell you about a relationship in my life that’s been broken for some time, but has recently been restored…

We had been very close – enjoying lots of time together, traveling together.  We’d had highs and lows before, but we’d always managed to fix them – or at least put a Band-Aid over the problem.  But, last November, our relationship just stalled out.  It wasn’t working.  It was going nowhere.  And, frankly, I just walked away.

In January, we decided to get help.  But after weeks and weeks without any progress, things had literally fallen to pieces. I’ll admit I was frustrated, and about ready to walk away – forever.  A friend encouraged me to try again, and recommended a different professional who was more qualified to help us.  So, we tried again.

I’m very happy to report that, after our long 4-month separation, and a lot of investment, a lot of patience, and some big changes, as of last Tuesday, we’re back together and back on the road!   We’ve been fully restored!  We’re so happy, we even took a selfie together!  (Imagine of a picture of me with my motorcycle, with the song “reunited” playing in the background – “reunited, and it feels so good…”)  Yes – I’m talking about my bike, which has been broken down since November.

As much as I love my bike, today I’m talking about something far more valuable.  Today, I’m talking about human relationships, and how to restore them when their broken.

One of my most treasured possessions is an old book I found at a used book store, called, Spiritual Friendship, by a 12th century monk name St. Aelred.  It doesn’t have great monetary value.  But, what makes it special to me is a note that’s written inside, from one nun to another, following the death of that nun’s best friend.  The nun who gave the book actually underlined the passages she thought would be meaningful to her friend, and she wrote, “I pray you will find healing in Aelred’s words.”  What a beautiful act of friendship – one friend praying for the restoration of another, during a time of loss and grief.

Aelred writes, “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share happiness in time of joy.” 

 Made for Relationship

            The Bible says, over and over, that we’re made for relationship.  After God made Adam, he said, It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18).  God took a rib from Adam’s side and made Eve – someone for Adam to share his life with.

Though Jesus spent time with the multitudes, he had a smaller group of friends, including the 12 disciples.  He was particularly close to 3 of the 12 – Peter, James, and John – and maybe closest to John, who called himself the “One who Jesus loved.”  Jesus was also close to Mary Magdalene, and to the family of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  As Jesus demonstrates, we were made for relationship.

For a moment – think about the most important relationships in your life, and the gift they are to you.

Now, think about the relationships that are broken, and need attention.

 Broken Relationships

Relationships get injured. Even the closest relationships get wounded.  Relationships can be damaged by neglect, abuse, or betrayal.  Sometimes, relationships can be broken beyond repair.  But, today I am talking primarily about relationships that get wounded and just need restoration.

If you spend enough time with anyone – no matter how much you love them – wounds happen.  Careless words, stepped-on-toes, selfishness, confidences betrayed, birthdays forgotten, immaturity, neglect, annoyances, impatience, competition, insecurity, envy, jealousy, insensitivity, etc., etc. all do damage to valued relationships.

 Loving God and Loving People:

            Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-38).  That’s one command in two parts.

            There’s a direct and corresponding relationship between how we love God and how we love people.  In fact, they are directly interrelated.  As we love God, we will love people.  As we love people, we are closer to loving God.  Conversely, when we feel distant, bitter and resentful toward God or people, we are more than likely to feel the same about the other.

One of the most important ways for us to grow spiritually is in relationship.  In fact, one of the ways we become most godly, potentially, is in the ways we relate to each other – growing in love, kindness, and grace.

I would even say that you will only become as close to God as you are to some other person.  I would also say it is very difficult to be close to God when any of your human relationships are broken.  The two are interrelated.  In some mysterious way, the deep love and intimacy I have with my wife, my children, and my close friends makes me closer to God – and vice-a-versa.  As long as I allow anger, bitterness, resentment or forgiveness to exist in my heart, toward people I am called to love, I will be handicapped in my pursuit of God.

 Relationship Repair

            For Lent, we are talking about how God can take what is damaged, broken, worn out, and trashed, and restore the broken parts into something new and beautiful.  So, let’s talk about how, with God’s help, broken relationships can be restored.  Of all of the messages in this series, I think this one might be the most applicable.

To repair, rebuild, and maintain healthy relationships, there are three things that we must learn how to do.  Let me warn you – they are simple, but they are NOT easy.

 Say you’re sorry

First – we learned by Kindergarten to say we’re sorry.  When you do something wrong, admit it.  Don’t defend it.  Don’t rationalize.  Don’t make excuses.  Own your mistakes.  Acknowledge that you did something wrong.  Feel the sorrow for the pain you’ve caused.  And, say that you are sorry.

Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24)

Isn’t that interesting?!?  Before God wants our offering, he wants us to be reconciled in our human relationships.  And, Jesus puts the burden on us.  If someone has something against you, YOU take the initiative to apologize and try to make it right.

Frederick Buechner writes, “To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.” 

“Unspeakable” sounds a bit extreme.  But, in most relationship conflicts, both parties have something to apologize for.  As a Christian, for the sake of the relationship, we are called to take the first step toward making things right, by making the first apology.  That means setting aside our pride, admitting we were wrong – even if the other person was too – and saying, “I’m sorry,” even if the other person hasn’t or won’t.   And, of course, saying “I’m sorry” implies “I will try to do better from now on.”

 Let it go

The second thing that we have to do to repair a broken relationship is to learn how to “let it go.”  In other words, we have to let go of the annoyance, the anger, the resentment, the grudges, the hurt feelings, and the desire to get even, etc.

Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22.)  The Apostle Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

            Letting go is learning how to forgive.

The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  (Matthew 18:21).  Jesus said, “seventy-seven times!”  Seventy-seven times!  Let that sink in!

Frederick Buechner writes, To forgive somebody is to say… “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us… However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.” 

Forgiveness is NOT saying that the wound doesn’t matter – like we are letting the wounder off the hook.  Forgiveness is NOT saying that what was done didn’t matter.  Forgiveness IS the decision to let it go, and not allow it to damage the relationship further.  And, it is a decision – not a feeling.  It is a choice – to let it go, seventy-seven times, or more, if we have to – to act into forgiveness, whether we feel it yet or not.

And, forgiveness not only heals the person forgiven and the relationship. Forgiveness also heals the forgiver.  Carrying around anger, hurt, and bitterness in our hearts is toxic for us.  We hold a grudge, thinking we are punishing the person who hurt us.  But, in truth, the un-forgiveness in our hearts is harming us. Unforgiveness is like intentionally keeping the wound open, and reliving the injury over and over.   Anne Lamott says that un-forgiveness is like, drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

Love Anyway

Finally, love anyway.  When Jesus died on the cross, weighed down by human sin, he still loved us.  We call that kind of love agape.  Agape is a Greek word that means a love that is not based on any kind of personal gain.  Agape is entirely based on self-giving, and even self-sacrificing – like Jesus did on the cross.  It’s unconditional.

When you get hurt – love anyway.  When you feel betrayed – love anyway.  When you feel let down – love anyway.  When you don’t feel loved in return – love anyway.  And, when you feel annoyed, selfish, resentful, petty, vengeful, prideful, etc. – especially then! – love anyway!

As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, love – the kind of love that Jesus demonstrates – “keeps no record of wrongs” and always, “perseveres.”

I don’t want to mislead you.  While I am sure these three things – saying you’re sorry, forgiveness, and loving unconditionally – are absolutely essential in restoring a relationship, I’m not saying it’s easy.   It requires an amazing amount of courage, humility, and love.  And, I’m not saying that if you do these three things, you can automatically fix any relationship.  Unfortunately, some relationships are too broken to be fixed and some people are too broken to have a healthy relationship with.

But, regardless of the result, it’s the right thing to do.  It’s the Jesus thing to do.  Value people.  Seek relationships.  Protect your relationships.  But, when your relationships get wounded – and they will – do all you can to heal them!