5 Ways to Kill Complaining

No matter where you live, it’s easy to find yourself complaining about it. The traffic is terrible, the weather is dreary, the economy is falling apart, the government is corrupt… The human heart is an expert at finding a reason to complain.

As we’ve discussed over the last two posts, such complaining puts our God-ordained mission at risk and violates our creation mandate to cultivate prosperity wherever we are. Today, we want to explore some ways to kill complaints aimed at where you live.

Before diving in, notice that a common thread through this post will be gratitude. Odds are, a thankful heart is one without complaint. Many of these practical steps will be marked by gratitude.

The Challenge: Choose at least one of the following action steps and put it into practice over the next week.

Five Ways to Kill Complaining

#1. Keep a Gratitude Journal: Taking time to reflect on what you have to be thankful for is a key step to killing complaints. A journal of gratitude also helps you see where God is working in and through your life and the life of your community. Once a day, or once a week, jot down something about your community that you’re thankful for.

#2. Thank Somebody: Whether it’s a local business, charity, government office, or church, write a note of thanks expressing your gratitude for their labor in your community.

#3. Write Positive Letters to Your Local Paper: We live in a time of cynicism, and a lot of our news outlets reflect this. Challenge this cultural motif by writing a positive letter to your local newspaper’s editorial section.

#4. Volunteer: Complaining about your community’s woes while sitting on your couch makes you part of the problem. Volunteering with a local organization, charity, or your church helps you become part of the solution. Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Find whatever it is that most frustrates you in your community and then volunteer to do something about it.

#5. Pray: God is in the business of redeeming and restoring our communities as we work to bring prosperity to them. God matches our prayer efforts with showers of grace and change. Warren, Ohio is undergoing some cosmic shifts because a group of local pastors put aside their differences and started praying. Jesus teaches us a specific way to pray in Matthew 9:37-38:

Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’

Pray for your community that God would mobilize His people and His governments to bring change to your community. Remember, too, that prayer is also an antidote to the complaining heart.

It’s Our Turn

Ultimately, God leaves the state of our communities in our hands. He looks at us to be the agents of change–the salt and light of the earth–and gladly partners with us when we choose mission and service. We can’t wait on the world to change; Jesus is waiting on us to change.

Identify which of the above five steps strikes you as particularly challenging? Why do you think so? Respond by posting a comment!

The Irony of Complaining

Yesterday’s post, “Stuck in Ohio… Or Not?” caused a stir on the blog–while people weren’t necessarily coming out of the woodwork, it was the most-viewed page on the blog to date. In light of this, I wanted to continue thinking about the ramifications of our complaints about where we live. 

Let me stress to you the ubiquity of such comments: I noted yesterday that my parents moved from northeast Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona. My parents, used to endless cloudy, dreary days, have delighted in the nearly year-round sunshine of Phoenix. To my parents’ great surprise, they have encountered dozens of local residents who complain about the constant sunshine.

This, by the way, is the final and ultimate proof that the grass is, after all, greener on the other side.

The Irony of Complaining

So, back to complaining. When we complain about where we live, grumble about our region, and belittle our community’s importance, we endanger our participation in God’s purposes in that place. Take another look Philippians 2:14-15, this time in the NIV:

Do everything without grumblingor arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of Godwithout fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

Look again how Paul connects mission and service to complaining: when we complain, we endanger being a part of the God-ordained solution to our community’s problem. In more contemporary lingo, we endanger living missionally. When we don’t complain, we’re blameless; flipping that on its head, complaining puts us in the position of being blame-worthy.

In short, the irony of complaining about where we live is that we become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Scriptures provide at least two images and commands for us as we consider where we live: Christians are called to be both a preservative to their community as well as a cultivator to their community.

The Salt of The Earth

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus teaches the crowds their role as cultural preservatives by likening Christians to salt. What we have all heard in at least one sermon is what I’m articulating here: that salt, which is used to preserve, is what we are to do as Christians in culture. We are to be the force of restraint in culture.

But when we complain, we forfeit our preservative power and instead become at best an impotent force, and at worst a polluting power. Take a look at Jesus’ words:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

In we maintain our saltiness, the text says, by letting our light shine before men; the metaphors get mixed, but the point is that when people see our good works, they’ll give glory to God.

In other words, the mission is accomplished.

Live Long and Prosper

Jesus teaches us in Matthew that we are to be a preservative power in the world; but way back when, God also gave humanity the command to prosper in the earth. Take a look at Genesis 1:26-28 via The Message:

   Reflecting God’s nature.
        He created them male and female.
    God blessed them:
        ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.’

While there are literally a few dozen dissertations and articles on the meaning of this text, it’s safe to say that we are to assist in the prosperity of wherever we live. We are to become cultivators of prosperity in whatever community the Lord asks us to be a part in.

Complaining is ultimately the opposite of cultivation; think of the old lady on your block who gardens all day and all night. She cultivates her garden as a labor of love, without complaint. In fact, she experiences great joy in cultivating her garden. Similarly, complaining robs us of the joy of cultivation.

This is not to say cultivation is not hard work–it is! But hard work and joy often go hand in hand: the harder the work, the greater the joy. Saying ‘no’ to complaining about where we live means we’ll cultivate with joy and truly participate in community there.

So Now What?

Am I making too big a deal about complaints about the weather, the traffic, and the local politics of your community? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I’ll invite you to check back in tomorrow for a list of practical steps for choosing not to complain and instead choosing to joyfully cultivate.

Stuck in Ohio… Or Not?

When I tell people that I’m moving to Ohio, I generally receive a response somewhere between disappointment and disgust. When I tell people that we’re moving to Warren, Ohio, the response is often more dismayed. These responses are found on the faces of non-residents as often as they are found on the faces of residents.

Take a drive through Ohio for more than an hour, and I’m sure you’ll see a bumper sticker that says something like, “Stuck in Ohio.” Tell someone you’re moving to Ohio, and they’ll say, “You’re moving where?” As it turns out, Ohio is not a popular place.

When it comes to moving and ministry, God invites to remember that we are, at once, both totally responsible for where we live, and totally victim to God’s discretion on the place we end up calling home.

You Get to Choose Where You Live

The raw fact of the matter is that you choose where you live; no one is “Stuck” anywhere. You’re there by your own choosing. Two years ago, my mom and step-dad and three brothers packed up and moved to Phoenix. They did it because they chose to do it.

The fact that you choose where to live is ultimately an invitation to cease all grumbling and complaining. Do you hear that Trumbull County? You’re living there by your own choice, so shape up or ship out. Paul, writing to the Philippians, frames our grumbling well:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world… [2:14-15]

Paul connects our grumbling with out witness: complaining about where we live adopts the attitude of escapism. We’re called instead to gratitude, because it is from the posture of gratitude that we can see where we live as a location for mission and the cultivation of human flourishing.

God’s invitation, then, is to cease grumbling and employ gratitude about where we live–to adopt a posture of servant and cultivator of a community.

But You Also Don’t Get to Choose Where You Live

While on the one hand, we have loads of freedom to exercise when it comes to where we live, on the other hand, God has divine purposes in play as to where we rest our heads. Again, Paul says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. [Acts 4:26-27a]

Catch this: there is divine purpose for your dwelling place. God has placed you where you are so that you would be placed in a loving community from which you can serve the world. God is not surprised by your dwelling; instead he is delighted in its delineation. Most importantly, God establishes the boundaries of dwelling places so that we might seek Him. Wherever you are in this present moment is divinely ordained so that you could commune with God.

God’s invitation, then, is to meet him in the everyday-ness of your dwelling place: its traffic patterns, economic climate, weather systems, and community problems. The mundane aspects of your dwelling places are opportunities for you to seek God.

Surely God is in This Place

Wherever you are, and however you feel about that, we have to choose to see the divine purpose behind our dwelling places. Paul finishes verse 27 with this idea: “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” You have been placed where you are so that you can say with Jacob, “Surely, God is in this place!” We are neither “Stuck” anywhere; neither awe we the masters of our own fate.

We are Children of God: placed precisely where He wants us for mission, service, and holiness. In that case, the only bumper sticker we need is “Stuck in God’s Plan.”

An Open Letter Regarding Our Next Move

Dear Friends and Family (and Those In-Between),

I’m excited to announce that in just a few short weeks, Steph and I will be returning to Warren, Ohio as I join the staff of First United Methodist Church of Warren. We’re excited to be moving close to family and friends, as well as once again joining a community we so dearly love.

That God was stirring our hearts and in the process of calling us to new ministry became clear in September of 2012. I was beginning my second year at Wheaton College, finishing my Master’s Degree, as well as entering into my second year of serving as Director of Student Ministries at the Village Church. It was an exciting time, yet Steph and I began praying in earnest that God would direct our steps. 

And so He did. We spent our week-long Thanksgiving vacation praying intentionally to discern God’s leading, and Steph especially felt impressed that I should call Rick Oaks, the pastor at First Church and my long-time mentor, to let him know that we were in the process of searching. I called Rick a few days after Thanksgiving and blatantly asked for a job, which began a series of conversations about the possibility of us working together.

This is something both Rick and I had prayed about a few years before, when I was serving as an intern at First Church. Over the past few months, God has been in the process of answering that prayer, and starting June 1, I’ll be serving as the Connections Pastor, overseeing discipleship and connections across all generations of the church. I’ll also be seeking to help the church make intentional connections to those under 40. I’m excited about this position as it employs our passions, our gifts, and our training in a challenging new context. 

So, over the next two weeks, we’ll be packing up our apartment and getting ready for our move, as well as saying goodbye to treasured relationships here. Just a few days ago, the Village Church threw us a farewell party (what a sweet time!) and yesterday marked my graduation from Wheaton (another sweet time!). 

We are gladly accepting prayers of all kinds over the next few weeks; if you think about us, please pray for strength, endurance, and a growing trust in the Lord’s plan as we make bittersweet farewells to friends and family here. 

In the Name of Jesus,

Kyle and Steph

The Day Friendship Made Someone Rich

In case you haven’t heard already, Facebook goes public today. For $38 a share.

(Check out this infographic to get a grip on how huge this is.)

Today, many people, and one man in particular, will become very, very rich because you and I (and hundreds of millions of people all across the world) have taken our friendships online.

There is a kind of irony here. We so often use financial language to talk about our friendships: “He really made a huge investment in me,” we say; or, “That friendship paid huge dividends for the rest of my life.” Today, this financial jargon, applied via metaphor to our friendships, becomes very real as Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues literally reap huge dividends (of literal money) from our friendships with each other.

I listen to a lot of public and talk radio, and Facebook’s IPO is the talk of the technological town; yet, it’s good to know that there are other people out there who doubt the virtues and use of Facebook. Amidst the flurry of praise for Facebook this week, General Motors announced that it would no longer be buying ads on Facebook because they aren’t sure it’s worth the money.

Ironic, no?

So what then shall we say? Will the money people across the globe invest into this social media giant secure its future? Or is time a respecter of no price tag? Will Facebook go the way of MySpace and slowly disappear? Who can say?

Here is what we can say: fifty years from now, when Mr. Zuckerberg and friends are still living off today’s ridiculous sum of money, will they care if our friendships are better because of what they created? Will they be disappointed to hear that, in the end, the relationships we experienced on Facebook were knock-offs at best, and that we have had to re-learn what it means to be a friend?

No, my “friends.” They won’t care.

TMI: Modesty is a Virtue

The funny thing about being a Christian is that we have a high value on honesty and authenticity. We know this is true because of the extremes that this value has birthed. For example, the girl in your small group who, upon being asked for prayer requests, gives a far-too detailed account of the ins and outs of her recent break-up.

For twenty minutes.

We all have stories like this, and if we don’t, we can all have one with just a few clicks. Log on to your Facebook, and I can almost guarantee that you have what I call a “TMI Friend.” TMI, if you don’t know, is a handy acronym for “Too Much Information.” This is the friend who posts, well, too much information–personal information–to their Facebook or Twitter account.

For all 1,372 “friends,” now forced to know something this person that we’d rather not know, thank you very much.

Sure, honesty is a virtue–heck, it’s biblical. Being authentic and “real” with your friends is key to healthy relationships, and being honest with God is absolutely vital for a biblical spirituality (read Psalm 22 and you’ll get what I mean). But I sometimes wonder if social media and authenticity have come together to birth an awkward, downright ugly child.

On social media, we shuffle off our mortal coils and leave our bodies behind, engaging in the blissful world of mediated communication. When we do this, we find ourselves surprisingly freed to be open, honest, and “real,” and in that moment, many of us say too much.

Our bodies are our first and most important barrier to modesty: they remind us that there are some things best kept hidden and unrevealed (or at least only revealed to a few). When we leave our bodies behind, we lose this barrier, and suddenly we find ourselves posting openly about our hidden feelings about something that, with better judgment, may not have been said aloud.

Here is a handy rule of thumb: just because it’s true doesn’t mean everyone needs to know about it. Modesty, of the verbal kind, is a valuable skill in a world filled with TMI Friends. The next time you want to post something–even if it’s true–ask yourself, “Would I walk through my high school (or office, or church, or…) and announce this information via bullhorn to all who can hear?”

If the answer is no, then don’t post, and enjoy the gratitude of the rest of us who didn’t really want to know. If the answer is yes, well, please don’t be offended when I unfriend you.

I wrote this post for the folks over at Thrive80, who helped me publish Unfriend Yourself. Have I ever told you how much I love them? Because I do. 

Sorrow: A Forbidden Emotion

In the book of Genesis, the verb “to weep” appears some fourteen times; the vast majority of the time that this verb is used, Joseph is its subject. While we all know the short verse, “And Jesus wept,” we might do well to remember that Joseph, as far as we know, wept a lot more.

A victim of his father’s favoritism, very nearly murdered by his brothers, sold into slavery by their hand, accused of rape, and wrongfully imprisoned–Joseph’s life was no cake walk. Somehow, at the end of his life, Joseph declares, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Gen. 50:20).

This verse preaches. Here is a man who, in the face of incredible suffering, embraces God’s sovereignty and submits Himself to His service. (It practically begs to be alliterated.)

But is it really so simple? Joseph, at the end of his suffering, comes to embrace God’s sovereign plan, yes. But this embrace came at the price of tears–many, many tears. The solace in God’s suffering that we preach and counsel and shepherd one another toward comes only after much sorrow. Thus, sorrow is something we must also embrace, if we are to embrace God’s sovereign purpose in our pain.

Yet, if this is the case, why have we forgotten the sorrow?

Why have we forbidden sadness? If there was ever a forbidden emotion in the church, it is sadness. Grief, sorrow, distress, depression, despair–you name it–we simply don’t talk about it. This is ironic, given that the Scriptures are laden with the accounts of men and women who, in the depths of despair, come to embrace God’s sovereignty on the other side of their sorrow.

The vast majority of the Psalms deal with sorrow and suffering; Job gets forty-odd chapters to his arguments about suffering before he comes to understand his pain; Habakkuk wrestles with God; Jeremiah writes a whole book of Lamentations; Paul frequently cites his suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Even our Lord is known as a “Man of Sorrows.”

So why the taboo on sorrow?

The reasons are many, but the most important is simple: we’re afraid of sorrow. We simply can’t handle it; we just don’t know what to do. When a friend finds their lives destroyed by cancer, grieved by the death of a child, or wrecked by a spouse’s adultery, we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Raised in a culture of Evangelicalism that has an answer for everything, we freeze when we don’t have an answer for the most personal and important of all questions: “Where is God when I hurt?” In the face of this question, we flee; as we run, we throw stock phrases and verses over our shoulders hoping to find an atheist, an agnostic, anyone that has questions we can actually answer.

This response is rather silly, because the Scriptures don’t need us to have answers for our friends who feel sad, Instead, the Scriptures tell us that our best response is remaining present, if silent, with our sad friend. When Job’s life bottoms out, his friends come to him and sit with him in compassionate, loving silence. (And it’s only when they start talking that things go wrong.)

Silence may be the best gift we have to offer our sad friends, but not a silence that turns a deaf ear to our friends’ pain. No, what our sad friends need is a robust silence, a sturdy quiet, and a hearty embrace that says, as Gandalf once did, “I will not say ‘Do not weep,’ for not all tears are an evil.”

I wrote this post for the folks over at Thrive80, who helped me publish Unfriend Yourself. This post is part of a series promoting Rhett Smith’s (@rhetter) new book The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? This blog is a compilation of some really fantastic Millennial writers (many are my friends) and I think you’d be silly not to spend the rest of your day reading some of their stuff.