The Suffering Olympiad

no

Have seen this meme making the rounds the past few years.  Man, I am NOT with this cold, compassion-less cliche that does nothing but amp up the pain and suffering of other people a thousand times worse than it already is.

While we can certainly draw inspiration from one another and the various ways we suffer, the Suffering Olympics and the comparison shopping people regularly do when it comes to pain is a cancer in dire need of eradication.

Seriously.  We don’t have to continue regurgitating this same old wore-out script.  We can think differently.  We can approach suffering in brave new ways that actually move towards the pain.

Like Jesus does.

FApqk3D

If we’re going to do it like that, then what about the kid in Malawi whose a 26 pound starving skeleton and has HIV?  By that logic, the woman whose mother just died needs to just forget her “problems,” put on a plastic smile and pretend like everything is  perfect!!!!!!!!!!

…Even though it’s NOT.

…..What about the kid in the village down the street who weighs twenty-FOUR pounds who has HIV AND is blind?  Does this mean the other kid who weighs twenty-SIX pounds should just sweep his pain under the rug and think about how fortunate he is to be two pounds heavier with merely AIDS and 20/20/ vision and pretend his suffering and disease doesn’t really exist?

Uhhhh….no? lol

Pain and suffering is to be embraced with every fiber of our being and submitted to the lordship of Christ.  Not swept under the rug or to be in denial of.  This is where the realest, deepest transformation comes from whether it’s a woman with a stuttering disorder or a man whose entire family was just murdered.

suffering

Human pain is human pain.  It’s not a competition.  And we have no right to tell someone else that their pain is illegitimate or fake.

As followers of Christ, we are to mourn with those who mourn.  Not shame them or call their manhood or Christianity into question for doing what Jesus says we’re blessed if we do: mourn.

Thankfully, there are better ways to respond to mourning than “Just get over it,” and “Everyone has problems (and theirs are so much worse than yours).”

What a Jewish Rabbi Taught me About Embracing Suffering from Claren Consulting on Vimeo.

 

Mr. Amanda Smith

So many people come and go in our life’s.

Some befriend you today only to replace you tomorrow.  Some never belonged in your circle in the first place.  Others hate you “just because they ain’t you.”

But then there are those rare, extraordinary souls who actually dare to love you – and who somehow love you even more, after they’ve seen your humanity and its litany of grotesque imperfections in the absolute worst form.

This girl is the rarest, most extraordinary kind of beauty there is.

10428487_10203998898315166_5167942867031462525_n564977_3779145119546_1146913030_n

No one placed in my life will ever have as seismic of an influence in making me a better person, a better man and a better imitator of Jesus than her.

In so many ways, I am Mr. Amanda Smith so much more than she is Mrs. David Creek.

And that’s all I have to say about that! ☺️

stop trying to climb mt. everest

It feels good to grow, to positively change, to learn by way of faux paus.

Case in point: A decade ago, I remember being an absolute nervous wreck every single week leading up to the sermon that was to be given.

All it takes is one armchair quarterback-cynic who wasn’t hugged as a little boy or girl (whose incapable of being pleased) to start showing you their daily list of 101 reasons why everything you do is wrong and how you could never possibly measure up to their impossible expectations of you.

If you allow them to, your purpose can drastically shift from doing it for God to doing it so you can try to please Edward the Pessimist, who will always have that list all ready to go to beat you over the head with no matter what.

Like, Jesus Christ could come bursting through that door on a golden unicorn, wearing a t-shirt that says He’s Jesus Christ.  And He wouldn’t be good enough for them.  He wasn’t two thousand years ago…  So how could I or anyone else who isn’t Jesus Christ be good enough for them?

Like many, I fell into that trap as a young minister.  So as a result, there I sat every single week.  Staring at a flashing dot on the word processor, 11 P.M. Saturday night.

I’d type a killer line.  “…No….  So and So will object and say this….”

I’d type a few more ideas when they hit me.  “…………………NO….  So and So will say that…”

What in the world am I going to teach tomorrow?  What am I going to say?

I was so paranoid and self-conscious about what someone else might say, I’d type every single word out.  12 pages stacked up on top of my Bible.  Often, I’d sit there until the sun came up typing away.

Every single week, I thought I had to write and deliver the greatest sermon to ever be preached.  I felt like I had to be the greatest minister, orator and theologian to ever live.

Ha!  No pressure.  No pressure at all!?  lol

IMG_8389

So imagine how good it feels ten years later as I sit here calmly looking over tomorrow’s message as a Johnny Hodges record pops in the backdrop, understanding that I don’t have to climb Mt. Everest and replicate the Sistine Chapel on top of it tomorrow morning.

I prayed and read and studied and researched and brainstormed and contemplated and edited to the point of spiritual exhaustion.  There are four dozen wads of notes overflowing the waste basket and spilling out onto the floor.  I prepared for this message down to the last drop.

But my reliance is no longer on me and how I can say everything in just the right way to where it’s perfect.  That reliance rests serenely in the Spirit.

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER HAS ALREADY BEEN GIVEN.  THE GREATEST MINISTER, ORATOR, TEACHER, THEOLOGIAN, ANYTHING, EVERYTHING (!), ALREADY WALKED THE EARTH TWO MILLENNIA AGO.   ALL OF THAT PRESSURE IS OFF. 

ALL I’VE GOT TO DO IS SHOW UP, BRAG ABOUT JESUS AND LOVE THE PEOPLE I’M SPEAKING TO.  AND THEN PREACH THAT SERMON LOUDER WITH MY HANDS AND FEET THAN I DID WITH MY MOUTH WHEN I WALK OUT THE DOOR.  

Whether you’re a minister or a barista or you sell insurance, stop trying to climb Mt. Everest.  Stop living to satisfy Edward the Pessimist.  Love him like Jesus.  But don’t be his psychological slave.  Don’t be the piñata he goes to take his childhood out on.

Good things happen when we seek to please no one but God.

Of everyone out there, it seems He’s the only one whose actually capable of being pleased.

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?  Or am I striving to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  – Paul to Galatia 

 

Guidance to 17-Year Old Me (Part Two)

One of the only true friends I have in this world died last night. 45 years old.

The fact that he was a fiercely introverted nonconformist with a cartoonish wit, who had known the darkest throes of trauma and depression at various points in life; who knew what it was like to be misunderstood and ostracized because of his outward appearance…it made us instant friends – and at a time in my life when I had absolutely zero desire to have friends.

We had such a strange and delightful friendship.

IMG_4358
Most people get upset if you text them after such and such a time.  This guy would happily shoot the breeze with you whether it was 1 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning.   We’d talk about anything and everything imaginable – from deep, theological discourse to nuanced 20-minute conversations about Francis from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure; from zany ideas we had for movies or methods that were helping us overcome anxiety and low self-esteem to the latest instance we had fallen under somebody’s grievance for inadvertently breaking some ridiculous unwritten rule of American church convention.

After being misunderstood or replaced by so many “friends” whose judgement never let me be my uniquely real self, it was one of the greatest blessings in this world having a friend who I could be real with and never have to worry about losing him because I wasn’t just like everyone else.

When I ministered at a church in Florida, I put him to use, making him my personal Consigliere.   Whenever I had a casual appointment with someone, he would contact them at my behest a day in advance and send them the wackiest emails that made me sound as important and regal as the King of England.  We did it as a gag about how I don’t take myself as serious as others might.

 

We laughed together until we cried.  But the majority of our friendship was spent hurting together until we cried.

Can’t tell you how many times we prayed together in the park with tears falling down on the bench.  He agonized every single hour of his life in every imaginable way.  He was in such relentless bodily and psychological torment, he told me on a weekly basis that he wanted so badly to leave his earthly tent and to go to his true home with Jesus.

IMG_4331

I believe with all my heart that one of the main reasons God wanted me in Florida those years was to connect with that dude and to impart the strategies I’ve learned in triumphing over anxiety and depression to him in the December of his life.  But as usually the case is in ministry, the people one ministers to almost universally become the very ones who minister even more so to you.

The last time I had a true conversation with him nearly two weeks ago, he said he finally sensed his value and how special he really was in the eyes of God.

He had an 8th grade education.  But he was one of the deepest, most potent thinkers and theologians I’ll ever know.  So much so that I referred to him in a recent sermon as a prominent theologian.  But it wasn’t a joke.  His insight into so many of the Scriptures was unspeakably rich and will resonate in me for the rest of my life.  Many of my sermons and blog posts were birthed from conversations I had with him.

He often predicted that nobody would shed a single tear for him on the day he would die. But I’ve been crying my heart out all day long.

Ultimately, I’m ecstatic for him, finally having been set free from his suffering and now resting in Jesus.

But as for now, my heart is utterly punctured with sorrow at the passing of such a young man.

Aside from Amanda, this guy was my best friend. And my life is irrevocably better because of it.

Your Inner Circle is not a come-one-come-all for just anyone.  This is sacred ground.

Don’t let the people who think they’re above you in.  Let the Troy Niedfelt’s in.  As rare as they are and though they come once in a lifetime, it’s more than worth the wait.

IMG_4334
Troy Niedfelt
1973-2018

Guidance To 17-Year Old Me (Part One)

IMG_3505Stumbled upon this picture from 2001.  I was a sophomore in high school and giving my third ever sermon at one of my hometown churches in Peoria, Arizona.

This was the time when an increasing number of people began coming up to me to acknowledge that this is what I was put on the planet to do.  It was the time when I began filling notebooks with sermon ideas at Ironwood High School during class (instead of paying attention to the teacher) and dreaming for the first time – “What if this wasn’t just me filling in for the minister once every other year anymore?  What if someday, I was the minister?  What if I spent my life doing this every single day?”

And seemingly in the blink of an eye, here we are 17 years later in Philly, ministering to the 7th church in 4 states on 2 continents we’ve labored with long-term.

Plenty of people feel compelled to throw in their “two cents,” either helpfully or not so helpfully.  But sometimes, the greatest of mentors is the modern day version of us blowing the dust off an old Kodak in a shoe box and grasping just how far God has brought us ever since.

As I peer into the face of that terrified 17-year old boy reading from his 13-page manuscript sermon, there’s so much guidance I want to give him.

Image-1

Here is what I would say if I could sit down with him over juice and cookies…

Part 1: BE A JESUS.  NOT A PAUL

Paul is the gold standard of those of us who aren’t God.  He was the conduit that the Spirit used to compose half the New Testament.  He’s the one who told struggling churches “Mimic me as I mimic Christ.”   His fearless and relentless fervor to make Christ intensely known anywhere and everywhere is an inferno that needs to blaze in every Christian soul.  He’s the greatest missionary who ever lived.

But like 999,999 out of a million other ministers, I wasted a lot of time subconsciously trying to be Paul-like.  When ultimately, what I needed to do was aspire to be Christ-like.

There are virtues of Paul we need to emulate.  But every single person on the face of the earth is not mentally/psychologically/temperamentally a Paul.  Paul was a freakishly left-brained, methodical, analytical soul.  He was an intellectual black belt and a scientist of theology.

left brain right brain

There are many whose personalities fall under the “A-Type” and left-brained categories.  And for all of those who are, seize the day!

But for the rest of us Barnabas’ who are abnormally “B-Type” right-brained-empath-creatives who specialize in tender-hearted mercy showing, it’s an exhausting process being made to feel as if “Uber A-Type Left-Brain Intellectual” is the only personality type that’s allowed.

Often, Paul wanna-beism morphs into something Paul never actually was, inadvertently leaving in its wake a horde of staid, robotic “professional” preachers across the landscape of the church.  Ones with the facial exuberance of a man driving to his vasectomy.  Who obsess over filling their brain with lofty academia but who scarcely permit those academics to connect to the heart.  Ones who spend their lives using big, elaborate words that cruise over the heads of even the educated, debating in upwards to three hours at a time on the derivation of the conjugative form of the word “the” in a biblical passage.

I don’t believe that’s what I was created to be.  I don’t believe that’s what anyone was destined to be.

When Jesus taught, He didn’t jump into a white lab coat and wax like a religious rocket scientist.  When He spoke, it wasn’t a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of sanctimonious jargon.  Much of the time, when Jesus taught, it was a plain-language teaching, one that dripped with kaleidoscopic creativity.

He sat down in boats, on hilltops, at tables and said “Once upon a time…”

He unmasked the self-righteousness of His listeners by making them characters in the theatre of the mind.

He pointed at objects, at seeds, at water basins and towels; at sparrows and sack lunches and coins, and before their very eyes, suddenly, heaven was so apparent in those everyday things, His audience could taste it.

It’s true that for a time, He spoke exclusively in parables for very unique reasons.  It’s true that several of the things He taught were temporarily veiled and grotesquely misunderstood.

But Jesus seems so much more interested in showing His audience what the kingdom feels like and looks like (when we dare to embody it like a child) so much more than simply knowing some facts about it.

It’s not a matter of Jesus being left-brained.  Or right-brained.  He’s Jesus.  He can’t be labeled or boxed.  Neither does aspiring to be Christ-like call for us to turn water to wine, never sin or become the greatest teacher who ever lived.

But as exemplary and as helpful as Paul’s life is to our own spiritual journey, the reason we exist is for a broken, unbelieving world to see the resurrected Jesus reigning in our hearts and for Him to be so brilliantly alive inside of us, that they see glimpses of heaven so chill-inducingly vivid in the way we live, they can taste it.

Don’t waste one second of your life trying to act like the smartest, loudest, most educated, most important person in the room.  Be the most soft-spoken.  Be the gentlest, the most caring, the most loving, the most child-like.  Be who God uniquely created you to be.

And that is 17-year old flawed, introverted, tender-hearted David Creek doing a Jesus Christ impersonation.

Sincerely,
Flawed, Introverted, Tender-Hearted 34 Year Old You Doing A Jesus Christ Impersonation

Manhattan on 10 Bucks

Just before we went to New York for the workshop of one of Amanda’s colleagues last week, we had an unexpected expenditure that set us back a little.  Suddenly, all we really could afford was the $2.25 subway ride each way from Hoboken to 33rd Street in Manhattan.

It was the greatest possible blessing for our day.

The picnic I shared with my wife in Central Park on a perfect New York afternoon was a vastly happier and more endearing experience than what the most expensive plate at the most decorated 5-Star restaurant in the entire city could have offered.

Often, less is so much more.

Usually, true richness is discovered in what is small.

weary

I’m weary tonight.

I’m weary of empathy and compassion so often being refused access within the evangelical heart.  It’s a DISEASE.  It’s an epidemic.  It’s a cancer of the soul.

How a brother in Christ goes to his fellow brother, pours his heart out to him; confides that he is being tormented by clinical depression – one that has driven him to the precipice of suicide.

And the response is, “Man up,” “Do some push ups,” or even worse, “You don’t love God.”

church2

How the social media landscape is crawling with memes and content of people who seem strangely delighted when people fleeing oppressions and tyranny we cannot fathom; horrors that we have had the silverspooned privilege of never having to experience ourselves, are called “animals.”  When victims of horrifying injustices who are peacefully making their voices heard are colluded against and kicked in the teeth ten times harder and their commentary to them is, “Well, if you won’t take it laying down then get on the ship and go back to Africa.  Or Cuba.  Or wherever.”

This is the Christian voice we want the world to hear?  This is a light flashing upon a dark sea?  In what world?

church

I’m weary of the elegance of patriotism and the American flag being concocted into a golden calf and a bronze serpent and becoming the god the evangelical unconsciously genuflects before as LORD and MASTER.

I’m weary of the politics of this temporary, corrupt and dying world taking on a more passionate and zealous precedence within the evangelical spirit than the gospel, the great commission and the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40).

I am so unspeakably weary.

Weary of the dividing delusions of political-dyed-in-the-wool-gang-mentality-tribalism of “Trump can do no right and Obama could do no wrong;” of “Trump can do no wrong and Obama could do no right.”

I’m weary more than anything of the cowardice and the fear that still somehow exists within my heart at times. I’m weary of the gurgling disgust that festers and lurks within me at this moment where there ought to be peace and overflowing Spirit.

I’m weary of the societal antidotes of empathy and compassion being rejected and dismissed as being too “girly” too “sissy” and too “soft.”

Jesus did not hang His head and breath His last on a Roman cross in order to raise up an army of headstrong, machismo Americans who are too tough to enter into the pain of others or to weep at the plight of those who don’t look like us. He desires an army of compassionate, tender-hearted, grace-loving CHRISTIANS, commissioned and possessed by His Spirit to love everyone in their sight with the same amazing grace that saved a bunch of wretches like us.

repdem

All I know is, when Jesus comes, He won’t care who embraced the Elephant and who embraced the Donkey.

The only thing that will matter when the world is on fire will be who embraced the Lamb.

And who loved his fellow human being as much as he loved himself.

passion