The Comparison Trap

Okay… confession time:  I love the game of basketball.  I’ve been playing ever since I was like 6.  I was the kid who would watch the first half of the NBA all star game and then go “play it out” on my pseudo-court in my back yard.  I was Michael Jordan going in for the massive dunk with my tongue hanging out.  I was Larry Bird hitting the three from the corner.  I was Magic Johnson with the behind the back pass to myself.  I love basketball.

This morning I was watching the recap of yesterday’s Lakers’ game and I found myself watching a certain #24 and saying “man… he sure plays a whole like like a certain #23 from the 90’s.”  So I went on youtube and looked up that certain #23 to watch how he played again.  My conclusion… #24 was a good second rate comparison to #23.  That’s when it hit me:  “What if #24 doesn’t want to be compared to #23?  What if he wants to be #24?  What if every time someone compares him to MJ he cringes a little because he doesn’t want to be known as a second rate Jordan?  How would I like it if someone said of me, “He’s a good impersonation of someone else?”  I don’t think it matters how awesome that person is that you are compared to… you are still a mediocre version of them.  This is the danger of comparison.  We do it all the time.  We compare athletes, we compare girlfriends/boyfriends, we compare employers/employees, we compare churches, we compare our kids, we even compare experiences.  But the most dangerous of all is the fact that we compare ourselves to others.  And there are ramifications to this.  We will either conclude:  1) I am the superstar here, or 2) I am the second rate version of them.

I used to do this in my youth ministry experience.  I would try to compare myself to guys like Doug Fields, my mentor Dwight Peterson, etc…  As a communicator I was comparing myself to guys like Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Ed Young…  What I figured out is that by trying to “BE LIKE” those guys and comparing myself to them, I became less and less of who God made ME to be.  I asked myself one day, “What if God doesn’t want me to be like these guys?  What if God wants me to be me?”  That was powerful for me.  I try, as much as I can now, to avoid the comparison trap.  It’s difficult, but I have to constantly tell myself, “God made me a first rate Sam Burke, not a second rate someone else.”

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Leadership quotes

So for a couple of years I have been writing down in my journal some quotes to live/lead by.  I’ll be reading a book, hanging out with a friend, listening to a podcast or sermon… and all of a sudden I’ll read something or hear something and think…”I have got to put that one down in my journal.”  I have around 50 or so that I go back to over and over again.  One that I go back to frequently is this:

“People will believe what they perceive.”

Perception is reality 9 times out of ten for people.  As the old saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… it must be a duck.”  Knowing this is actually HUGE for leadership.  As a leader, it is only to my benefit to know how people perceive me.  Now, I shouldn’t make decisions based on people’s perceptions (that’s leadership suicide), but rather learn to weigh if what people perceive of me is accurate or not.  If people have an off-base perception of me or my organization, it affects how I can lead.  I also know that if people’s perception of me is not accurate, then it is always MY fault and I need to take a long look in the mirror to find out exactly WHO I am putting out there.  The only way to change someone’s perception of me or my organization is to speak to it truthfully… something like: “I’m not entirely sure where you got your information, but, in my opinion, it is far from accurate.  May I share with you my perspective?”

the “noise” of clutter

So we had our realtor come to our house Tuesday and assess what we needed to fix up/improve/clean out in order to make our house more “sell-able” to perspective buyers.  One of the main things that she basically said was, “less clutter will help people see more possibilities.”  It’s hard to see past a pile of clutter.  So Sarah and I have been scouring our house, finding clutter, and asking ourselves, “How can we get rid of all this?”  The truth is that over 1/2 of the stuff that is cluttering our house hasn’t been touched in the past 2 years.  It’s not like our house is messy… we just have a lot of stuff.  I’ve been asking myself, “do I really need that pair of shoes that I haven’t worn in over a year but keep around just for the possibility that I might wear them?”  The answer is NO.  In this whole process I have started to figure out that clutter adds unwanted noise to my life.  And how cluttered I am with stuff is a direct reflection of how cluttered I am spiritually.  So as I start to de-clutter my house… my goal is also to de-clutter my life.  Jesus said to Martha one time about her sister Mary (who wasn’t helping with all the chores and “ministry” opportunities that were available at the moment) “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details (clutter)!  There is only ONE THING worth being concerned about (sitting and learning at the feet of Jesus).  Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

Simplifying our lives from clutter… both physically and spiritually, helps us be able to do the ONE THING that is the most necessary in life:  spending time with Jesus.  My guess is that the more cluttered our lives become, the less time or focus we have for Jesus.

I am de-cluttering.  Want to join?

Trust & Obey

A while back I did a message about a lie that Satan tells Christians “God will never put more on you than you can handle.”  My premise was that it is never about what we can handle, but about what HE can handle.  I recently revisited this message for my own sake.  Have you ever had a time where you said something to someone else, and then had to revisit it because YOU needed to hear it?  The main point of my message was this “God gives us the IMPOSSIBLE to TRUST HIM for the INCREDIBLE.”  That is where I am right now.  That is where our family is right now.  We’re not quite sure of the future or where it will lead us but we know this… God is faithful, and He CAN BE TRUSTED!

I have been leaning into this scripture lately:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”   Philippians 4:11-13

The question I have been asking myself is this:  am I content with Christ?  If we have little or a lot, if we have a job or no job…  are we content?  can we do all of this through Christ who gives us the strength to do it?  That is my prayer.

my final words to the students of OSM

Last night was the last OSM (Oakbrook Student Ministries) that my wife and I will be at.  We have been in this ministry for 4 years… so how do you sum all of that up in 5-10 minutes?  The answer: you can’t.  So I just thought of a few things that I wanted to leave them with.  Here is a transcript of what I said if you are interested.

As most of you know or have found out, I was let go from my job last week due to financial reasons here at the church.  So I wanted to take a few minutes tonight and just talk one last time to you as your youth pastor.

So as I am trying to sum up 4 years into just a few minutes, there are several things that I want to say to you all.  First, Sarah and I have loved serving you guys.  We have loved teaching you about who God is and how you can live the way He wants you to live.  We have loved all of the fun and obnoxious times as well as the deep and meaningful ones.  For some of you in this room… that has been over 4 years, and for some of you it has only been like 4 months, but it doesn’t matter how long because we have deeply cared about each one of you.

One of the verses that comes to mind when I think about all of you is 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”

We want all of you to know that we love you, that we are going to miss you all, and that we are very grateful for the time that we had to spend with you.

We also wanted all of you to know that there is no problem or personal issue between me or the Leadership of Oakbrook.  This decision was strictly a financial one.  Sometimes very difficult decisions have to be made and we are not going to like the outcome… especially if it affects us directly.  That is just the way life is sometimes.  And we all have a choice to make when this kind of stuff happens… we can either get upset and run away from it, or we can realize that God is bigger than all of this, He is still in control, He has a plan, and we need to lean into it. Through this entire process, I have personally seen how God is working and moving in it, so I am leaning on the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 every day, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I also want you to lean into your leaders.  look around the room at the adults in here.  Each one of these adults cares deeply about you.  Now is a time to lean on them and trust their leadership BIG-TIME in your life.  From the very beginning we set out with a goal to have a team of the best leaders possible and we have that.  So as OSM moves forward and as you move forward, I am confident that there are some great things ahead because of the people in this room who deeply care about all of you.

I have also said over and over again in my 4 years here to never make your spiritual growth dependent upon who is on the stage and up front.  It has been our goal and will continue to be OSM’s goal to help you learn to grow on your own spiritually.

As for Sarah and I, we are waiting on what God has for us next… but we know that He will supply our needs and we are trusting Him for our future.  We are going to be around on sunday mornings while we are here.  We love you all… and can’t wait to hear and see what God does with your lives in the future.”

My prayer through all of this is 2 things: “Lead well… Leave well.” I have seen too many of these types of situations go down and be negative and divisive.  That is not me.  That is not what I am about.  My other prayer is that God would do something AWESOME with OSM in the future.  Can’t wait to hear what happens for the kingdom in Kokomo, Indiana.

“It’s the Path you’re on…”

Something that I have taught my students over and over again for the past 2-3 years is the idea that “the path you take is more important than the destination you desire.”  No matter how much you want to travel north… if you start heading south, you’re not going where you want to go.  Andy Stanley said it this way “Direction, not Intention, Determines Destination.”  I am seeing this play out in my life this very second.  The words I chose to say… they are a path.  The thoughts I think… they are a path.  The decisions I make… they are a path.  They all lead somewhere.  In the past 2 weeks I have been living with two questions about everything in my life: 1) where does the path of this choice, this decision, or these words lead? & 2) Is that a place I want to be?

“It’s the Path you’re on…”