Conga Line Evangelism

A Conga Line broke out during the last worship song of the night.  Students chased each other joyfully around the room, dancing and singing praise to God.

I was standing in the back, up the stairs, as usual.  And from that perspective, I could watch the Line form.

A train of students would move past and, one by one, people standing in the rows would get up the nerve to join in.  And when they did, it looked like a blast.

Not everyone joined the Conga Line.  No one explained, point by point, why the Conga Line would be a good experience or what you get out of a Conga Line.  The runners, the dancers, the Line people just enjoyed themselves and invited others to share in their joy.

What would happen if our evangelism was more like that?

Mentorship as Sponsorship

Troy Turley shared a bit this morning about the life of David, how God uses our experiences to prepare us for our part in his mission.

During his talk, Troy made a great observation about the story of David.  Over and over again throughout the story, this theme of sponsorship keeps popping up.

Sponsorship has an interesting connotation in the Latino community.  For some of us, our families came here because they were sponsored, someone vouched for them and took responsibility for them.

When my family came over from Cuba, their sponsors provided them with a live and active support network, with friends and guides.  With mentors.

Such a big part of our work is mentoring students, supporting and taking responsibility for them.  One student in our Track, who gave his life to the Lord this week, came to the conference because his Staffworker encouraged him to.  Another student, who's still trying to figure out if he wants to identify as Latino or follow Jesus, came because his Staffworker paid his way.

With Samuel anointing David, the new king's trajectory in life was deeply impacted.  For the rest of his life, David displays the truth that while "man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart."  His prayers for a clean heart reveal a leader who understands that God cares more about who we are than what we do.

What lessons do we pass along as sponsors?
Who has sponsored you?

Proclamation and Release

Sandra's second talk from the LaFe10 General Session created quite a stir.

Expositing Luke 4, Sandra challenged the students to wrestle with the fact that Jesus' ministry was about both proclamation and release.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus claims to be both a prophet (someone who spoke for God) and the Messiah (someone who would bring God's kingdom into existence).  In this way, his ministry included both proclamation (work of a prophet) and release (work of a Redeemer).

We, likewise, need to be about both proclamation and release as we follow Jesus and join him in the "something he's doing about this mess."

But this isn't what created a stir.

No, the stir was created by Sandra's endorsement of downward mobility: moving into an impoverished neighborhood, opening up your home, sharing the gospel and working for justice.  Some of our students have worked hard to get away from their impoverished neighborhoods and to have worked hard to gain the simple comfort of having a space that you don't have to share with others.

To them, Sandra's call was a redirection, a challenge.

But here's the crazy thing: Sandra didn't tell them to move into an impoverished neighborhood.  Although, in other contexts, she might encourage them to consider radical acts of discipleship like this, she didn't last night.

She just told her story.

And they were convicted.  And some responded.

I wonder if that isn't an image of this proclamation and release that Sandra had been talking about.  Sure, we wouldn't normally use the word "proclamation" to describe standing on stage and sharing how and why you made some pretty radical decisions.  And students responding with commitments to embrace God's heart, wherever it leads, wouldn't usually qualify as "release."

But I wonder...

Worth It

There was this great moment during the General Session for the LaFe10 Conference tonight.  Sandra van Opstal was inviting students to respond to God's call to do something about the mess in the world.  Some creative soul had scattered trash all over the room and, as a symbol of their commitment, students carried piles of trash up to the stage, cleaning the room and getting their hands dirty.

A lot of us on the Staff team were standing on a raised level behind the students...the old people's seats.  And some of us jumped down the stairs to pick up trash, to join students in their commitment.  We processed to the front of the room, to the stage, set the trash on the stage and wandered back to our seats.

Somehow, I ended up standing next to the other folks from the Conference Leadership Team: Rene, Natalia, Stacy. (Melyssa didn't make it to the conference, but did give birth to a healthy baby boy today ... Gabriel). 

As the students returned to their seats, the worship team started playing songs of praise to Jesus and students started joining in.  Hands went up.  Heads bowed.

And I thought to myself: this is worth it.

We've spent years planning this conference, prayed and fasted, studied and exhausted our creative energy ... all for these students, all for this conference, all for Jesus, that he would be praised.

This is so worth it.

We leaders need these Worth It Moments to keep going.  We need to remember them, talk about them, blog about them.  These Worth It Moments are a gift from God.

Has God ever given you a Worth It Moment?

Don't Overcompensate to Prove Yourself

For folks new to thinking about their ethnic identity, this is sage advice.

Ryan White spoke about the life of Moses in the Identity and Mission Track this morning at the LaFe10 Conference and this advice came up several times during his talk.

Moses grew up immersed in Egyptian culture, even though he was born into a Hebrew family.  He had all of the power and prestige of the royal family.  And, as Ryan insightfully pointed out this morning, there's no evidence that he ever identified as a Hebrew in his youth, ever "visited the barrio" so to speak.

But when Moses tried to connect with his Hebrew roots, he went way overboard, even to the point of killing an Egyptian.

Moses, in this, as in most things, is an extreme example.

But this plays out every day in Latino communities.  People who look like me - blond hair and blue eyes - overcompensate for the fact that they don't "look Latino."  In the struggle to belong, we go wrong.

Some default to anger, defending their roots with ferocity.
Others become fake, pretending to be something they're not.
Still others jettison facets of their identities, attempting to be pure.

But God doesn't ask us to prove ourselves.  To Moses, God didn't say "Prove to me that you're a real Hebrew and I'll include you in what I'm doing." No, instead, God said "You belong. Let's get to work."

There's no need to prove yourself in a world full of grace.  This goes for all things, including the development of our ethnic identities.

Don't overcompensate to prove yourself.

Jesus Didn't Care About the Crowds

Fitting in is a huge part of Latino culture.

As a community full of diversity - Latinos come in all shapes and colors, speak a wide range of dialects, and come from all over the place - most of us feel, at some point or another, like we don't belong.

I remember how, at a gathering for new Latino campus ministers, we went around the circle and, in the process of introducing ourselves, each gave a reason why we shouldn't be at the gathering.  No one asked us to do this.  It just came naturally.  We worry that we won't belong.

But we want to belong.  Thinkers about post-modern culture tell us that belonging is a high value for today's college students and 20somethings, but this is even more amplified in the Latino community. 

And this is one of the reasons Jesus is so stunning.

In Luke 4, we're told twice that crowds of people are buzzing with news about Jesus.  People want to hear him and see him in action.  The crowd gathers.  But the text makes no mention of Jesus caring.

Sandra pointed this out during her talk at LaFe10 tonight. 

If I had a gathered crowd, I'd be excited.  Or nervous.  I'd be so excited (or nervous) that it would so significantly impact my actions that a biographer would have to record it.  You're probably the same way.

But Jesus wasn't.

Sandra claimed that the minimal impact of the crowd on Jesus had to do with where he found his identity.  He didn't find his identity in the crowd.  He found his identity in God and God's Spirit - "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I'm well pleased" - and, as such, was free from the pressure to fit in.  Belonging in the Trinity, he didn't need affirmation from the crowd.

How I'd love to be like that!

Lord, help us to be so secure in you that we're free from the struggle to fit in.  Speak your words of ownership and acceptance over us.  We believe that you own and accept us because you have united us to your Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Essential Reading for Latino Student Ministry

As I got ready to hop on the airplane to head out to Dallas for LaFe10, I grabbed the essential books out of my LaFe library.  These are the books I refer back to time and time again.

Everything You Need to Know about Latino History
by Himilce Novas

History matters.  Novas' question and answer style of telling history helps you hone right in to the topics that are immediately relevant.  And his chapter on Hispanic roots manages to weave together Europe, Africa and the Americas.  Latino history is bigger than Spain's colonial expansion.

Harvest of Empire
by Juan Gonzalez

I call this book the cynical true story of the United States' interaction with Latin and South America. In Harvest of Empire, Gonzalez traces the story from Roots to Branches to Harvest, focusing on individual countries and the big picture and tying in current events. The story is hard. The story is depressing. And sadly, the story is true. And we need to know this story well as we move forward and help students grapple with the family in which God has placed them.

Santa Biblia
by Justo González

We all bring cultural lenses with us when we read Scripture, noticing some things that others would miss.  In this book, González shares five unique aspects of the Latino lens, aspects that help us see things in God's Word that would be passed over by non-Latino readers.  This is why it is so important to both read the Bible in diverse community and nourish the perspective granted to you by your own ethnic identity.

Mañana
by Justo González

What Santa Biblia is to Bible Study, Mañana is to Christian Theology.  In this book, González explores both the unique perspective gained from bringing a Latino cultural lens to theology and unique ways classical Christian theology speaks into the struggles and joys of the Latino community.  This is heavy lifting, but worth it.

Being Latino in Christ
by Orlando Crespo

This book is one of a kind.  What does it mean to be Latino? Why does it matter?  What is God up to in all of this?  So many students have started engaging with their ethnic identity because of this book.  Crespo manages to blend together insightful Bible study with deep personal reflection.  Being Latino in Christ is the starting place for Latino student ministry (assuming you're already reading the Bible).

What other books would you recommend for people involved in Latino student ministry?

Why Did God Place You in This Family?

God has a reason for placing people in families.

As families gather all over the world to celebrate Christmas and la Noche Buena, some struggle with this claim.  Family time can be a tense time, a hard time.

But God placed you in your family for a reason.

This truth is woven all through scripture.  Over and over again God claims to choose the place and time in which we enter the world.  He knows the families and ethnic communities in which he is placing us.  And he places us anyways.

In our track at LaFe10, we really want students to wrestle with this phrase:

"God placed you in our familia so that we can bless the crowd"
God's placement of people in families is connected with the bigger things he's doing in the world.  You were placed in your family so that you can be a blessing to others.

As we celebrate Jesus and his placement in the human family, we testify to this truth.  God placed Jesus into our family so that we all can be a blessing to others.

How has your family helped you be a blessing to others?

Cultural Brokenness

Every culture has been broken.

This is basic Christian teaching.  There is no perfect culture and no best culture.  Every culture has been impacted by the fall.  Every culture has been broken.

There is no perfect culture.  Not American culture.  Not Jewish culture.  Not church culture.  Every culture is broken because ever human being is broken, at least in some way.  It's one of the many things we share in common.

This cultural brokenness manifests itself in various ways.  I'll never forget the time I heard Enrique Melendez talk to a group of Latino men about entitlement in our culture (you can listen to his talk here).  I still struggle with the thought that washing the dishes is "woman's work" and "beneath me," but now I see this as a manifestation of my cultural brokenness, a brokenness that wants to keep us from being servants.

As we encourage ethnic diversity, we also need to challenge cultural brokenness.

This can be offensive, confusing, poorly done.  But it must be done.

Where have you seen cultural brokenness manifest itself?

Purpose vs. Pride (as relates to ethnicity)

We ride a fine line when teaching people history.

We want people to have enough context to intelligently ask why God placed them in a specific ethnic community (for more on this, see yesterday's post).  We don't want to provoke people to anger or arrogance.

This is especially true for us Latinos.

In our community, we have this popular philosophical concept called "la raza cósmica" or "the cosmic race."  As an already multi-ethnic community, we represent (in some ways) the inevitable drift of a global community.  In the future, everyone will be Latino (according to this philosophy).

This pride runs counter to the biblical message.

Throughout his writing, the Apostle Paul attacks ethnic exclusivity and ethnic pride.  While still acknowledging that God has a purpose for our ethnicity, Paul won't allow us to become proud.  We can celebrate what we do well, share it, but can never believe that we've cornered the market on specialness.

This is one of the reasons that it's so important for LaFe to stay connected with InterVarsity.  It's difficult being a part of a multi-ethnic community sometimes, but it's worth it.  We need our non-Latino friends to help us maintain our perspective: we have some, but not all, of the "special."  Their gifts to us bless and guard us.

What else can help us avoid pride as we learn about purpose?

Why Teach Latino History at a Christian Conference?

As LaFe10 approaches, I'm starting to realize that we're doing something pretty unique during our track time.

We have your standard InterVarsity conference elements, of course: sermons, small groups, booktable.  But we also have history lectures.

History lectures.

Seriously, I'm writing a 20 minute lecture on Latino history. 

Why, if we love the Bible, if we treasure God's Word, if we believe in the inspiration and trustworthiness and authority of the Sacred Scripture...why am I writing a history lecture?

1) We believe that all truth is God's truth

Embedded in the culture of InterVarsity is a deep valuing of the academic world.  We don't just pull fish from the pond...we love the pond.  And history, as a discipline exists in the pond. 

This is a small, very small part of our reason for the lecture.

2) God wants us to know where we came from

Reading through a lot of the Old Testament this Fall, I noticed that the biblical authors took care to trace the ancestry and origin of peoples.  And this isn't only for the Jewish people, but also for their neighbors.  Over and over and over again, the Bible shows that it matters where people come from.  And it matters if we know.

3) Our personal stories are connected larger stories

I can tell you about the history of my family: immigration from Cuba and Spain, moving to Florida, marrying a Southern belle / genius ... generations later, here I am.  But there's so much more going on.  Our individual histories are caught up in a larger story.

Why do Latinos look brown, white, black and sometimes Asian?  Where does our deep value of family come from?  Why have so many Latinos failed fully assimilate?  Answers to those questions are embedded in the larger story of our history.

And if we, wisely, seek to locate ourselves in God's meta-story (the biggest story), we need to be able to locate ourselves in the bigger stories around us.

Can you think of other reasons to teach history?

7 Reasons Students Avoid Christianity

I remember being a research nerd.

I read a great blog post from Patrick Madigan today, a non-nerdy InterVarsity intern up in Charleston.  As part of his internship, he's been listening to students and trying to discern the sources of their hesitations about Christianity. 

I did the same thing when I was an intern.  Here's a sample from my research paper:

In the fall of 2004 a small convenience sample (n=10) of students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University participated in short, semi-structured interviews on matters of belief and spirituality on campus and in their personal lives.  This paper contains their most frequent objections to Christianity or reasons for not participating in Christian life on campus.  This paper also outlines possible responses to the objections and reasons posed.
Painfully nerdy.  But here's what I found:

1) Jesus - Who was he, really, and why does he matter?
2) The Bible - Should I trust it?
3) Christians - Why would I want to be one of them?
4) Suffering - Why hasn't God done something?
5) Costly - Is it worth it?
6) Inappropriate - Can't I get to it later?
7) Culture - What's Christianity?

What other reasons have you heard?

Promote, Ramble or Connect

There are lots of ways for us to use social media, but these three are the three I find myself doing.

When I promote, I'm obnoxious.  "Look at me! Look. At. Me. Lookatme!" 

Promotions fill the world and marketers constantly attempt to get our attention.  We've become adept at escaping from their grip.  Why do I add to the mess?

Promotion isn't what I'm looking for.

But neither is rambling.

I can ramble with the best of them.  Get me tired and I'll gibber like a monkey.  And some of that trickles into my social media.  I'm sure you've had a day when you've done the same.

What I want is to connect.  At least, that's part of it.

Do you tend to promote, ramble or connect?

One Convincing Reason To Use Social Media

Social Media - Twitter, Facebook, Blogging - are not optional if you work with or lead 20somethings.

You don't have to use them all, but you have to use one.  You don't have to let it suck up all your time, but you need to invest some time.  You don't have to like social media, but you have to try.

And here's why:

20somethings deeply value connection.

They...we...want to know you, to know what's going on in your life.  We don't need to know everything, but we need to know something.  We postmoderns are deeply skeptical of faceless authority, but social media can give you a face, make you more transparent, accessible.

You don't have to look far to find a dismissive article about social narcissism and the endless navel-gazing of the emerging generation.  The use (and abuse) of social media fuel these conversations.

I'll admit my skepticism.  Facebook looked like stalking.  Blogging seemed random.  Twitter seemed inane.  Who cares about what you ate for breakfast?

But I've spent time with leaders who have struggled to lead 20somethings.  And the main reason they've struggled is because the failed to connect (yes, I love that word).

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul describes his ministry in this way: "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."

Facebook friends aren't necessarily real friends. Blogging about how you're engaging God is by no means an end.  A Twitter post every day isn't the end-all, be-all of life sharing. 
But social media can help you start.

That's one of the main reasons I use social media.  What about you?

Why do you use social media?

Evangelism and the "Like" Button

Evangelism is a touchy thing.

For so many people, evangelism conjures up images of manipulation, tension, awkwardness.  Most Americans think it inappropriate or unprofessional to tell people what to believe.  This is commonly accepted.

But it just isn't true.  At least, not completely.

The broader culture believes strongly in evangelism, but by a different name (starts with an "M"... I'll let you guess). In every except religion, evangelism abounds and receives acceptance.

Eight months or so ago, Facebook added the "Like" button. It's a great tool for evangelism. Not religious evangelism, particularly, but evangelism none-the-less.

Hitting the "Like" button identifies that there's something good out there, something worth checking out on the web. 

And the implication is that you should check it out.  I mean, if someone of my discerning taste "Likes" it, it must be worth checking out.  Right?

What would happen if we had the same confidence about sharing the gospel that we had about hitting the "Like" button?

You've Heard God's Voice

This is, of course, a statement of probability.

Most Christians have heard God's voice, but many don't realize it.

We think that hearing God's voice involves burning bushes, thunder, lightning.  We expect it to engage our ears.

Some try to spiritualize the experience.  They talk about hearts being "strangely warmed."  God's voice is an impression or a sense or an inner leading.  Heart engagement.

But both these means of engaging God's voice involve a great deal of subjectivity.  I remember years of longing for a subjective experience of God, to hear God in a special way, a way that was unique to me.

And while I don't deny that God's voice at times engages our ears and our hearts, that's not the main way God speaks.

The primary, clearest (and perhaps best) way God speaks is through the Bible.

John White, when talking about Daniel puts it this way:
Were we given a choice we would doubtless opt for visions and voices ... [But] a vision never stays. It goes away. You are left wondering, Did it really happen to me? The same is even more true of a voice - God's or anyone else's. With the passage of time, a man's confidence in his subjective experiences (hearing voices, seeing visions) diminishes.
So, have you heard God's voice today?

God Told Me to Take His Name in Vain

I know.  I was surprised as you.

But God told me to take his name in vain.  And I've just done it...twice.  No, not in the privacy of my home (my son might hear and repeat it to his mother and get me in trouble).  I did it here on my blog.  Right here.

Did you notice?

Once in the title, once in the body.  You've read both already.  In fact, if you utilize subvocalization while reading (and, let's face it, who doesn't?), you might be guilty yourself.

Taking God's name in vain extends way beyond cussing. 

Taking God's name in vain involves any misuse of the name of God.  And, as ubiquitous as usage of God's name is in the realm of cussing, vain-taking extends deeper.

Saying God told you to buy an airplane or build a building when he didn't is taking God's name in vain.  Saying God told you take a job or start a relationship when he didn't is taking God's name in vain.  Saying God told you ______ when he didn't ... that's taking God's name in vain.

I've really struggled with this lately.  When we made the move to South Florida, people kept asking us if God had called us to make the move.  I've really wanted to say "Yes" and leave it at that.  But it's more complicated than that and I'm not sure.

I don't want to take God's name in vain, to use God to justify my decisions.

And this raises a big question.  If we're supposed to avoid taking God's name in vain, we've got to be confident that we've heard from God.  And God's often pretty invisible.

How can we be sure we've heard from God?

I wonder if this is why God made this commandment the third commandment.  If we miss the first two (worship God and only God ... don't make an image of God) ... if we mess up the first two, we'll mess up the third.

**Notice: God didn't really tell me to take his name in vain.  You knew I was just making a point, right, Mom? :) ***

3 Things Seth Godin Taught Me About Ministry

Just to clarify, I've never met or stalked Seth Godin. He's a marketing guru and vocational genius. I've read as many of his books as I can find, listened to lectures he has circling the internet and, of course, read his blog.

And I feel like I've learned a lot from him.

1) Permission is more effective than interruption

Seth distinguishes in his work between interruption and permission marketing. Interruption marketing is what most of us think of when we think of marketing: commercials, ads, things that jump out and interrupt our day and our thoughts and scream for attention. Permission marketing is something different, a slow steady accumulation of relationship and trust that leads to increased engagement.

Quality ministry requires us to constantly build relationship and trust. Quality ministry relies more on networking than contact work. Quality ministry is more concerned about what happens over the course of years than what happens during this meeting.

From his miracles to his penetrating questions, Jesus constantly built permission with people.  He didn't always attract or please crowds.  And he wasn't content to just get attention and baptize.  He wanted something more, something steadier, a deeper level of engagement.  That's why he constantly gave people opportunities to opt-in, to come on board, to follow him.

We should do likewise.

2) Ministry is more effective when it's unique

One of Seth's core concepts is the idea that people and companies should strive to be remarkable. Remark-able. Worth talking about.  And this requires them to be distinctive in some way.  It's not enough to do what everyone else is doing but just do it a little cheaper and a little faster.  If you want to be remarkable, you have to be truly unique.

This revelation really freed me up to make some shifts in our ministry strategy and to take some creative risks in how we went about achieving our ministry goals (without sacrificing our faithful commitment to the gospel).  Because, in reality, there are things that IV does that RUF or Wesley can do better than us.  And God's kingdom's advance is slowed when we mimic each other and overlap.  And it's a lot less fun.

I love the thought that finding our unique niche in ministry should be one of my chief aims as a Staff.  I love working with students to figure out what we do well, remarkably, and to think about how we can do more of that.  I love the freedom that comes from valuing creative over cheap and fast.

3) Ministry takes time sometimes

This is an odd thing to walk away with from Seth's work, but I've found it really helpful.  As a blogger, Seth communicates thoughts a drip at a time.  Drip drip drip.  He doesn't empty the whole bucket at once.  And the slow drip drip drip of communication allows time for him to shape and craft his thoughts, time for me to process his ideas, and time for both of us to grow and change.

In ministry there's a push for people to grow and change overnight.  For some, there are life and death situations, life-defining circumstances they're looking at.  Time can feel like a luxury we don't have.  And all this is amplified with college students.  They'll be gone so soon!

But God works his change often over time.  Drip drip drip.  I wondered today why God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses rather than Abraham and all I've got is: drip drip drip.  A little at a time, over time, drip drip drip, and we're transformed. 

Seth has helped me be more patient, which makes me more kind, less prone to envy and proud boasting.  I'm grateful for him and his work.

Everyone's a Critic

Everyone's a critic, but I remember when I used to be a fan.

No matter how well I speak - whether as a man or as a monkey - as long as I have something critical to say, I can find an audience.

Even if it doesn't provide insight, criticism always fits into a conversation.  It may not move mountains, but it does move people.  And, on top of that, my devastating words make me somebody. 

There's nothing wrong in the world that can't be fixed with a well-timed critical word.  Justice.  Motivation.  Prosperity.  All can be achieved through criticism.

Criticism is necessary, criticism is helpful. It is not cruel, it is not cheap, it is not unnecessary.  It does not break relationship, it is not selfish, it doesn't have to be angry, it only keeps a record of wrongs that are funny, memorable, or useful.

Criticism does not delight in realism, but rejoices in exaggeration.

(Speaking of exaggeration) criticism always blesses, always encourages, always motivates, always honors God.

Criticism never fails.

This must be why I pay critics so much attention and aspire to be critical myself. Insight for the night.

Book Review: The Rise of Evangelicalism

I'm not usually a big fan of history books.  I read a book or two ever week and only reach for a history once or twice a year.  But I am so glad I picked up this The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark Noll.

Noll takes on the tough task of finding an origin for a movement that is diverse, global and (in many cases) insular.  Although he focuses on Edwards, Whitfield and the Wesley's, Noll includes research about women, slaves and evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

His prose is easy to read, running more like a narrative than a bald rehersal of historical data.  He gets bogged down sometimes, but I'll accept a few muddled pages if that's the cost of telling a complex story.

Three things were of special interest to me in this reading:

1) Relationships played a huge role in the rise of evangelicalism.  Whitfield and the Wesley's were friends.  They read and re-published Edwards.  Throw in Selena Hastings, the Moravians, McCulloch and the rest and you'll have a wild and tangled web of friends and frenemies who dramatically impacted the shape of modern Christianity.

2) Small Groups played a huge role in the rise of evangelicalism.  Even though I've been deeply influenced by Methodist piety, I don't think I ever realized how passionate the Wesley brothers were to establish lay-led Small Groups.  By the 1790's their Small Groups were scattered and multiplying all across Britain and the United States.  Lay-led Small Groups, as much as anything else, marked early evangelicalism.

3) The rise of evangelicalism was not without hypocrisy.  Whitfield owned slaves.  Reformers and lay-leadership advocates started ordaining without permission from their denominational sponsors.  Engagement with the world and political structures was inconsistent, confusing.  That this hypocrisy is present in our present community is not some recent development, but, rather, is further proof that the fruit comes from the root.

I'd highly recommend The Rise of Evangelicalism and would be happy to share my copy if you're interested (and get to me first).

What's Missing from the Ten Commandments?

George Carlin had this great bit about the Ten Commandments.  He narrows the 10 down to 2 ("Always be honest and faithful" and "Try really hard not to kill anybody"), then to 1 ("Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself").

Ten is a pretty arbitrary number.  It sounds very official.  But Jesus had a list of two ("Love God" and "Love your neighbor") and the Jewish people had 613 commandments.

I wonder if God left something out.

I mean, we Christian have long lists of things that you're supposed to do and not supposed to do, things we've elevated to the level of law.

For me, church attendance feels like it belongs in the Ten Commandments.  I feel like, if I sleep in on a Sunday, the God Squad will show up, armed to the teeth with Bibles and tracts.  I think I'd add "Thou shalt attend church" just so my guilt has some justification.

While I'm at it, I'd also add something about caring for the poor, sensitively inviting other people into relationship with God and not cheering for UNC Basketball. 

The 14 Commandments. 

Doesn't have the same ring to it, but it reflects something about reality.  I'm much more focused on making it to church and avoiding cheering for UNC than I am on Sabbath keeping and avoiding graven images.

What would you add, if you had to add one to the Big Ten?

Making it to the Promised Land

Moses arguably did more for God and his cause than anyone else in the Old Testament.  He suffered, stood up to Pharoah, led a rumbly and grumbly people and handed off leadership smoothly.  The Bible calls him "God's friend."

But Moses never made it to the Promised Land.  And he's not alone.

Many leaders get stuff rolling, but don't cross the finish line. 

And that's not so bad.  If we're leading people to promised lands, what we care most about is that they make it.  It's one of the biggest thrills to see something you set in motion stay in motion, accelerating by the grace of God, not just coasting on inertia.

Martin Luther King Jr. captured this feeling in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. Going to the mountaintop and seeing the promised land was enough.  It was enough for him to know that "we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

And I would expect friend-of-God Moses to abide by this selfless leadership principle.  Wouldn't you?

But he doesn't.

In Deuteronomy 3, Moses keeps pushing God, begging God to allow him to enter the Promised Land.  And, I've got to be honest, this stuns me.

Here I am, trying to ignore my desires and needs, to be selfless. And Moses keeps using his direct line to God to ask for personal favors. 

But his personal favor requests reveal a deep longing for God, a respect and valuing of God's work in the world.  I mean, Moses doesn't just want to go to the Promised Land.  He wants to go where God is. 

And this is kind of beautiful, right?  This is a man who knew and loved God, even though he didn't get what he asked for.

And now I'm wondering: what do our attempts at selfless leadership do to our relationships with God?

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

This question reveals something about the nature of a relationship.

I remember hearing Eddie Murphy do a bit on this, imagining a woman who got all of her social standing from his celebrity, yet had the selfishness to ask "What have you done for me lately, Eddie?"  We laugh at her shallowness, and his pain. 

"What have you done for me lately?" isn't a question that comes from love, from respect, from real relationship.

But, so often, this is how we interact with God. 

And I'm not alone.

I've been reading Deuteronomy recently and seeing over and over again God taking the time to answer this question of distrust.  God stretches our memory, reshaping our definition of "lately." 

I love that God doesn't force us to avoid the "What have you done for me" element of the question.  He knows our place and our nature and allows us to be dependent, pushes us to be needy but in relationship.

And I love that God doesn't turn this question on us, doesn't ask us to earn his favor with exciting "done for me's."  This doesn't stop us from trying, from frequent and futile attempts to earn grace.  But it does mean that, when our attempts fail, our friends can step in and remind us of grace.

Helping students wrestle with the "What have you done with me lately?" question makes up a huge part of the job of an InterVarsity Staff.  With God's word, we stretch the lately's and recall grace.

How has God stretched your "lately's"?

Can People Change? Three Thoughts

We want to believe that people can change, but, when confronted with the need to re-engage with someone who has broken our trust (or our hearts), we hesitate to believe that real change has happened.  Why?

1) We believe we can change.  We may doubt that other people can change, but we are confident that we can do it ourselves.  How many times have we said "I've changed"?  Every time we try to convince someone that we'll never do something again, we testify to our belief that we can change.

Why is it so difficult to believe that someone else can do what we believe we can do ourselves?

2) The most thorough change in people's lives comes from God.  The deepest, darkest, most awful parts of us can be changed, will be changed if we are in Christ.  That whole business about becoming "a new creation" is taken deadly seriously by the One who died for us.

Why do we struggle to trust God for people-change?

3) God changes people in his own time.  Sure, we participate, encourage, and all that.  But if God is the one who works the deepest change, he gets to set the schedule.  He may work the change quickly.  He may do it over time.

And this scares me.  I want people-change to be immediate or impossible.  Change taking years creates a tense gray season, forces blind leaps of faith.

How do we respond to God taking his time?

Thanks to Brad Mullinax for generating so much thought on this today.  Amherst and Oasis Church are lucky to have you, as are all of us who call you "Friend."

Two "Yes" Options

I learned a great strategy for negotiation from my brilliant wife a while back.

Try to give people two "Yes" options.

Most negotiations are friendly.  Meeting times.  Eating locations.  Those kinds of things.

Most people do much better when given specific, actionable options.  It's a lot easier to say "Let's meet at 10 or 6.  Which works better?" than to say "When would you like to meet?"

There's something respectful about Amy's "Two 'Yes' Options" strategy, something kind.  I respect her for using it.  It makes her a great boss and a great mom.

I wonder if God does this with us, gives us "Yes" options, says "Let's meet at 10 or 6.  Which works better?"

Maybe, for God's people, there aren't "Yes's" and "No's", but different "Yes's."

How has God given you multiple "Yes" options?
What would it look like for you to go and do likewise?

How Well Can You Really Know Someone?

I testified in court today.  I did it for a friend, for a couple of friends, actually.  Just as a character witness.

It shouldn't have been too big a deal, but it was really hard.

The prosecutor really went after me, went after whether or not I really knew the person I was testifying about.  And I'm rattled by it.

I mean, how well do I really know anyone?

We all have secrets.  I'm assuming I'm not the only one.  We all have things we hide from other people: fears, dreams, likes and dislikes...maybe even crimes.

And we all change.  Know me now and you know me now, that's it.  A year from now, my story may have taken a different turn and your knowledge of me may be irrelevant.

It is amazing that God knows us.  Knowing another person requires so much attention, so much time, so much insight.  And God knows us completely.  Or at least claims to.

What do you think?  Can you really know another person?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Advice on Advice)

My mentor, Bill Hunter, has some great advice on giving advice.  It's something he's been learning as a parent and a mentor.

Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated.

I chuckled today as I connected this with the much maligned slogan "don't ask, don't tell."  If someone doesn't ask you for advice, don't tell them what they should do.

Without getting into the whole political issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I wonder if this advice phenomena isn't at work in our national conversation.  The military (or at least a portion of it) feel like their getting unsolicited advice on how to achieve their goals, align their forces and win our wars.

I wonder how much of the opposition to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell has to do with actual philosophical objections to gay soldiers serving openly in the military and how much of it has to do with an innate human reaction to what appears to be unsolicited advice.

This plays out daily in the lives of our students.  Someone is always shooting advice in their direction, without permission.  The advice, even if it's wise, frequently gets rejected.

Those of us who love college students long to help them walk the path of wisdom.  But how do we help them if they don't want our help?  How do we tell if they don't ask?

One answer is to say nothing, leave them to their own devices, let them figure it out on their own, help them pick up the pieces when things fall apart.

Another answer is to share experience.  Your story matters.  Shared well, and without a passive-aggressive twist, this proves wildly effective with young people.  They still may never ask, but they do learn.

A last answer (for me, tonight...you may have more) is to "earn the right to be heard."  People throw this phrase around a lot and it makes me roll my eyes in most contexts, so I hesitate to even mention it here, but this is - in my experience - the only way to get young people to ask for advice. 

Live with character, integrity.  Do good work, extraordinary work.  Be approachable, open.  And jump gently on opportunities when they come, because they will.

So, what's my advice on advice?  Don't ask, don't tell.  But don't accept that as the final word.

What about you?  Do you have any advice on advice?

Taken Away

We had our car robbed this summer.

We didn't lose much - an iPod and a microphone - but it was disturbing.

The iPod and the microphone had made appearances at every GCF Large Group during that previous year, my last year on campus.  I had recorded (and podcasted) all of my talks.

In some strange way, the iPod and microphone (a great recording duo) symbolized my preaching ministry.  My Bible stayed with me even when I wasn't preaching, so did my journal.  No, the physical possessions that connected me most clearly with the 100 or so sermons I preached over the last year and a half...iPod and microphone.

It's hard when stuff gets taken away.  And I'm not really talking about an iPod and a microphone.

A lot of people have had jobs, whole industries taken away.  Stolen swiftly and without warning.

Some folks have had relationships taken away: death, divorce, moving.  None of it is easy.

It's hard because we were made for permanence.  We were made to live forever in a world without decay with the Everliving God.

It's hard because we cannot control the future, cannot create the opportunities moving forward, and can so easily imagine the swift approach of the dark clouds on the horizon.

It's hard when things are taken away.

But what we do in response matters.

What does it look like to move on?

Forgetting What I was Going to Say

I had some great, exciting ideas to blog about today.

But I forgot them.

I hate forgetting great ideas.  As my life moves faster and faster, I feel like more and more great ideas are rebounding off my brain, failing to stick and gain purchase.

Does this happen to you too?

There are two basic ways to improve the ability to remember great ideas.

1) Take care of the cause of your forgetting

For me, this means getting more sleep.  Ideas fail to stick in my brain because my brain's too tired to receive them.  I've been burning the candle at both ends and, as a result, have been burning up ideas left and right.

For you, the cause might be disorganization, too much noise (which leads to distraction), a relational tension.  Whatever it is, it impacts your "great idea remembering" capacity.

2) Use technology as a shortcut

I'm thinking about adopting a Hipster PDA (on Staffhacker's rec and Evan's example).  Or at least a notecard to keep in my car.  My journal's too bulky, laptop's too slow, iPad's...well...I can't afford an iPad.  So, I'll use a notecard.

Ideally, we'd do both (short and long-term fixes, right?).

What're you going to do to help you remember your great ideas?

Hedgehogging It

I had a talk with a friend about ministry strategy.  I love strategy, bask in it, overindulge in it.

On two of our campuses, we're trying to redo our strategy.  What's happening just isn't working.

Now, there's a place for perseverance.  Strategies don't usually work immediately.  And even if you have a good strategy, that doesn't mean that you won't struggle.

But there's something to be said for figuring out what it is that you do best.  And focusing on that, whatever it is.

Jim Collins calls this the Hedgehog Concept and applies it to businesses and non-profits.  I've found his writing so helpful.

For us, the Hedgehog Concept challenges us to tweak our strategy and offer something unique to our campuses.

A huge part of this semester for me has been scouting out our South Florida schools: FAU, two FIUs, three BCs, UM, Edison State, FGCU, Nova SE, Barry, Florida Memorial, and the ginormous Miami-Dade College. 

There are too many students and there's too much going on for us to be copying/repeating something someone else is doing.  We have to be unique.  We have to be remarkable.

What can you do that no one else can do?
What do you do best?
What do you do most passionately?
What is God currently doing through you?

These are the questions I'm asking of our chapters.  Are these the right questions?

Get Specific

I had a great conversation today with one of my friends at FIU.

We were talking about what it looks like to continue to connect with God when life rhythms are disrupted by wonderful things like Christmas break (or graduation).

I pushed him to get specific.

There's a big difference between "I'd like to read my Bible more" and "I'm going to study the Gospel of John every Thursday from 4-5 at a spot near the river (ie. not at my house)."

What. Where.  When.

If you can answer with a what, a where and a when...and get specific...you're much more likely to do it, whatever "it" is.

Where do you need to get specific?

Why Did Jesus Come?

Ask me this question on a random day and you might get any number of answers.

Jesus came to rescue us from our sin, to bring healing and comfort and new life.  He came to die on the cross and defeat death and the devil and the power of sin.  He came so we could know and love God.

I've got all of these true, pat, sales-man-y answers.  But sometimes, these answers seem narrow, seem to overly systematize something living.

Mark 1:38 challenges us for this very reason.

Jesus claims that the reason he came was to preach to Galilean villages.

What's that about?  Where does that fit my system?  How do I sell that?

When did we decide that the gospel had to be systematizable, had to be compressed into an elevator pitch, had to be able to be drawn on a napkin?  If Mark wrote his Gospel today, we'd say: "Too long, too rambly, too confusing, too repetitive, and...dare I even say this...theologically wrong."  If we didn't inherit it, we wouldn't keep Mark.

But we do keep Mark.  And we're challenged by Mark, precisely because Mark messes with our systems and our sales pitches.  Lines like "That is why I have come" catch us when we're running wild in a field of rye.

I love to imagine what it'd look like if I ever answered the above question with: "To preach to other villages."  I'm sure it'd create a confused look, but it might also create a conversation.

What do you think would happen if you answered "Why did Jesus come?" with "To preach to other villages"?

Meeting Yourself to Death

Meetings can drain the life out of a ministry. 

Like so many other things, meetings give us the illusion of productivity.  Bouncing from meeting to meeting, our people stay busy without doing anything that really matters.

For many college students, this problem manifests itself in frenetic participation in multiple spiritual communities.  Their theory is that, in the attendance of many meetings, there will be holiness. 

And we don't tell them differently, because...let's face it, we like it when they come to our meetings.  And, if we do try to warn them, we come off sounding like possessive, anti-kingdom, non-cooperative jerks.

Now, not all meetings are bad.  Some meetings help students, some meetings are necessary and productive.  Some are actually fun.

But "some" isn't good enough.  Every meeting needs to have a purpose.

What would life look like if you had fewer meetings?  What would your ministry look like if every meeting had a purpose?

Three Secrets for Making it From Thanksgiving to Christmas

There is something slightly cruel in our school schedules, planting Thanksgiving right before Christmas break. Students go home to rest but return to exams and stress.

So, what are some keys to thriving during this gap?

1) Don't try to study the whole time...have some fun
2) Plan your time wisely
3) Don't forget to connect with God and God's people

Now, I could come up with something less obvious (read poetry) or more radical (do something kind for your school's support staff...particularly the Registrar). But the reality is that the secrets that will carry you from Thanksgiving to Christmas are the same ones that'll get you from Freshman Year to Senior Citizenry.

1) Balance
2) Structure
3) Connection


Balance requires us to study, to work, but also to play, to rest. Read your textbooks, but also read poetry. Tend to the harvest but make sure you take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Structure involves scheduling, planning, rhythm, discipline. 

Connection, now this is my favorite principle.  We were made for connection.  ("Relationship" may be a better word, but it carries all kinds of connotations.)  We were made to connect with God and with other human beings.  We're most sane when we're best connected.

What would the next two weeks look like if you had healthy balance, good structure and strong connection?  What can you do to head in that direction?

Two Kinds of Magic

Amy and I went to see the latest installment in the Harry Potter series today. Fun Friday! But the magical Harry Potter series stirs up all kinds of stuff for my Christian friends.

A lot of people, especially Christians, are confused about magic.

I think there are basically two kinds of magic.

There's a magic that's satanic, that's anti-God, that's evil. It's focused on power, self-focused, attained through the worship of evil, or the comission of evil.

The second kind of magic is a lot harder to pin down.

This kind of magic is clearly imaginary, it exists in an imaginary world, a world with different rules. That's part of the beauty of fantasy fiction. Fantasy fiction allows you to inhabit a world with a different physics.

These new rules provide us with a unique vantage point on life. Plato's ring of invisibility allows us to examine the social motivation behind our ethical behavior. Aslan's song allows us to imagine Creation ex nihilo. Rowling's horcruxes allow us to wrestle with the fragility of both life and community.

These two kinds of magic wildly differ from each other.

Can you see the difference?

A Christ-like Response to the TSA Controversy

What would it look like for us to provide a Christ-like response to the TSA controversy?

As students travel over Thanksgiving break, I've been thinking a lot about this.  I don't want students groped, but I also don't want them blown up.

Most responses I've seen from Christians have been extremely disappointing. 

Today marked "Opt-Out Day," as heralded by Christian bloggers and tweeters across the nation. The vision of "Opt-Out Day" involved thousands of people refusing to submit to the body scan, demanding pat downs and gridlocking the TSA systems.

The protest fizzled, as you can imagine. We Americans flinch from self-sacrifice and, while a lot of people thought it was a great idea, most of us are always running late enough that we just couldn't participate.

In some ways, "Opt-Out Day" resembles a child launching himself to the ground, kicking and screaming, demanding candy or toys when their poor parent just can't afford it. There's a fine line between tantrum and protest.

And this is where we angle in toward the question of Christ-likeness.

Do you think it's Christ-like to make the job of the TSA employees even more miserable? Sure, you can hate Washington and the policies they produce. It's one thing to hate your enemies, it's another thing to hate on the dude who works for your enemy because they need to put food on the table...yeah, the dude who didn't make the new rule, can't change it, and probably doesn't want to do it either. You know, opt-outies, your enemy.

And didn't Christ call on us to love our enemies?

Christians should offer empathy and sympathy to TSA employees. We should pray for them. We should be kind to them. We should treat them with dignity, even when their patting us down.

I mean, how often do we really get the chance to turn the other cheek?

On The Persistence of Memory

Steve shared today at the Southeast's Regional Staff Conference, challenging us to wrestle with the reality that Jesus is Lord.

At one point during his talk, he shared a quote from a Jewish philosopher, who pointed out that God has given us the capacity to remember the past, but not the ability to change it.

This, said the philosopher (whose name, unfortunately, I failed to write down)...this is the place of human suffering.

We cannot change the past.

But I wonder if our memory of the immutable past, even the sad and painful parts, is not also part blessing.

Steve told a story from his mother's experience of Alzheimers, how she kept forgetting that her husband had died and, as a result, kept learning of his passing over and over again. Fresh pain, unblunted by memory.

As painful as losing a loved one is, I can't imagine enduring it fresh on a daily, hourly basis.

So, which is it, this memory of past pain: curse or blessing?

Is the Right the Enemy of the Good?

This year, I jumped from one job to another.

Whenever you jump from one organization, one job, one place to another, you rattle back and forth. I certainly am.

Some days, all you can see is how the new place is better. New strengths. New freedoms. New opportunities. Green grass.

Some days, all you can see is the downside. These days have doubt and fear and sad, sad sadness.

Maybe there's some wisdom in the adage to "take it one day at a time," but not right now. Not for me.

I need to be taking it one week at a time. Or one month. Or longer.

With the longer view, the Right and Wrong of vocational discernment becomes the Good and Bad, the Wise and Unwise. And that's what we organization-jumpers need going forward. We need to know if we made a good jump, a wise jump. Worrying about whether or not we made the right jump won't help us.

What would change if you gave up trying to make the "right" decisions and, instead, tried to make good decisions?

Sustainability

I deeply believe that it's important for us to maintain a sustainable pace of ministry.

Robert Murray M'Cheyne, shortly before collapsing from exhaustion, said: "God gave me a horse and a message. Alas, I have killed the horse and can no longer deliver the message."

That story has haunted me, in a good way, for years.

I've tried to live at a pace that is a little more sustainable.  But I'm not there.  At least, not yet.

Most people in campus ministry cluster around one of the poles: working too much or working too little.  We overestimate or underestimate our capacity.

Our students do the same thing.  Maybe everyone does?

A clear vision for a sustainable work life is elusive.

Why is that?

Wanting to Be Wanted

At a leadership meeting at UM tonight, we talked about some of the forces that create insular Christian communities.

One force that stood out was our wanting to be wanted.

So many Christian students fear that, because of their faith, the vast majority of campus won't want them.  They run around feeling looked down on, disrespected, uncomfortable.

So they surround themselves with other Christians.  People who want them.  Or at least are obliged by their ecclesiology to accept them.

The crazy thing is, if we actually took some steps outside of the Christian community, we'd find ourselves welcomed.

Why do we expect rejection?

Social Media and the Feeling of False Accomplishment

Paul initiated a great conversation at the Multifaith Council at FIU-S this morning. At some point, someone asked about the impact of social media on our work.

I don't know that any of the campus ministers in the room shared my Facebook, Twitter, blogging addictions/habits.  But they've seen the impact of social media.  And they, along with the vast majority of people in campus ministry, can testify that social media are not necessary to care for, challenge and connect with students.

Maybe, at some point, I'll explain why I love social media. (I do)

But social media present risks for us users.

Social media can create in us a false sense of accomplishment.  Posting a blog, tweeting, and facebooking aren't our primary work.  But they're a lot less scary than some of the things we are called to do.

Think about fundraising, conflict, recruitment. 

In his e-book, Brainwashed, Seth Godin talks about the temptation of social media.  They give us an excuse to avoid the things we're afraid to do. And, while we're avoiding the things we're afraid to do, social media allows us to still feel productive.  You do get stuff done.  And this is the big danger for me.

What's it for you? How do social media impact the way you work?

Rails

In talking with the the students at Broward College South today, the topic of Rails came up.

Life is full of ups and downs, joy and sorrows, feast and famine.

Our spiritual lives are no different.  We grow and we stall.  And although fluctuation is natural, it's often unexpected.  And, unexpected, it becomes frightening, unsettling, disturbing.  We expect steady growth, but experience waves.

That's why it's so important to establish Rails.

Guard-rails. Chair rails. Hand rails. Train rails.  They keep us on track, guard us, protect us.  We need Rails.

Some people journal.  Some have a rigid quiet time routine.  Recently, I blog.

What are your Rails?

Denominational Mutt

Although I've been going to church for as long as I can remember, I've never really settled on a denomination.  In fact, I've been to a lot of churches, but never settled into a denomination.  That would make things so much easier right about now.

But there are a lot of benefits to being a denominational mutt.  I've been exposed to strengths and possibilities that other people haven't seen.  I've experienced limits and weaknesses. 

Mutts are stronger, typically, and more healthy.  But we're often alone. 

I'd love for my son to grow up in one church, to have a denominational home.  I think it'd be wonderful to have roots.  But we have to find a home first.

In case you're curious, these are the churches I've been a part of (defined as at least 3 months of weekly participation)

Lutheran
Methodist
Methodist (Willow Creek Network) - my "home church"
Southern Baptist (school)
Catholic (school)
Charismatic Non-denom.
Vineyard
PCUSA
Charismatic Anglican
Evangelical Anglican
ARP
Evangelical Non-denom.
Foursquare Gospel
AG

I think that's all of them.

Church Search

"It's been a pleasure to take my talents to South Beach."  This Tweet from Celtic Paul Pierce represents the best Twitter trash talk the world has ever seen.  Poor LeBron.

As we've likewise taken our talents to South Beach, we're trying to find a church to plug into, to serve, to belong to.  Amy knows just about all there is to know about running a church.  She can do magic with children's ministries.  And I have a habit of pitching in here and there.

How should we pick a church?

One approach is consumeristic.  Who can serve us?  We're married, nerdy, communal, have a kid and at least one demanding ministry job.  We notice things: theology, strategy, execution.

If we explore the church scene as consumers, we'll never be happy.  Consumers become critics.  And criticism is easy, cheap.

There has to be another way.  But what is it?

Building Trust

We had an awesome young pastor recently offer to volunteer with one of our chapters on campus.  He sees the need and wants to help out.

He asked me what he could do.

And the Strategist in me rose to the surface.
(I hate that Strategist sometimes)

I told him to take a month or two to build trust with the students.

His face fell a little.  I felt like I had just told a rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor.  It's not a sexy first move, building trust.

But trust makes everything else happen.  Trust is currency, gasoline - helpful for fires, necessary in cars.  This is true everywhere, but doubly true when you're working with volunteers.  And we work with volunteers.

What's a better first step than building trust?

Ayn Rand and the Object of Objectivism

We had a great conversation before Large Group at FIU South this week.  Frank, Simon, David, Mariella...these are some of the smartest, sharpest students around.

Somehow, we ended up talking about Ayn Rand, a Russian-American novelist/philosopher.  It brought back memories.

When we were at Duke, Matthew joked that - if there were no God - we should all be objectivists. 

The duty-free life sounds appealing when you've got a lot of promise and a lot of responsibility.  Rational self-interest sounds appealing when you haven't made any confidence-breaking mistakes in life.  A community of the excellent sounds appealing when you consider yourself among the Excellent.

A lot's changed since that conversation at Duke.

I like my responsibilities.  Husband.  Father.  So much joy.

I've made some mistakes.  Confidence and heart-breaking mistakes.

I've met the Excellent.  I like the Excellent.  I'm not one of them.

The object of Objectivism is a life full of freedom, opportunity and social comfort.  This is what Ayn Rand offers.  Ironically, this is also what God offers.

Would it be fair to say that Ayn Rand is the object of Objectivism?

Lobbying for Hobbies

Everyone in ministry needs a hobby.

I'm hesitant to say this because "hobby" sounds belittling.  "Hobby" conjures up the image of sophisticated people doing ridiculous things.

But it doesn't have to be ridiculous.

I cook.

I actually need to cook (or blog or lift weights or play basketball or read series).  My sanity is at stake.

I need something to do that I can finish.
I need something to do that prompts feedback.
I need something I can master.
I need something that lets me work with my hands.
I need a creative outlet.

Cooking works.

If I don't cook, I go a little crazy.  I start treating people like projects.  I start fishing for feedback.  I start to spiral.

Show me a minister or a missionary or a pastor or a counselor without a hobby and I'll show you someone headed toward burnout.  It doesn't matter how much you love your job, you need a break.

What's your hobby?  How's it help?

Drifting toward Burnout

Attention drifts.  That's totally normal.

When you're working in ministry (or even just helping out), the attention drift can be pretty dangerous.

You see this happen all the time on campus.  When October turns to November, students start to burn out.  And, as hard as it is to watch, it's pretty easy to explain.

Our attention drifts toward things we can control.  Particularly, we become obsessed with attendance and behavior. 

But is this what we signed up for?

We didn't volunteer because we were upset that people weren't showing up at meetings.  We didn't volunteer because we want to control people.  We didn't sign up to do the million petty things we obsess over and focus on, the things that drain the life out of us and make us feel like we're wasting our time.

This drift burns us out.

The same drift problem pops up in other arenas.  Artists sell out.  Athletes obsess over records.  Politicians jump from election to election.  Then they burn out, blow up.

Those are control issues, reward issues, celebration issues.

If the only thing we measure is "records sold" or "games played" or "balance of power," we'll drift.  If all we measure is church attendance and religious performance, we'll drift.

And when we drift, we burn out.

Don't drift.

It's Not All On You

This is one of the most difficult things for people involved in ministry to accept.  People look to us for leadership.  They rely on us.  They trust us.
But so many of the things that we want to happen in ministry are beyond our control.  We know this theologically, but deny it in our practice and behavior.

That's why I'm reading Psalm 127 with our student-leaders this week.

In the midst of our temptation to take on all of the responsibility for the ministry, the Bible reminds us that God's work is what makes our work meaningful.

We participate.
God includes us.
But he doesn't check out.

Unless the Lord leads the Small Group...
Unless the Lord extends pastoral care...
Unless the Lord provides wisdom...
Unless the Lord comforts...
Unless the Lord raises up leaders...
Unless the Lord softens hearts...
Unless the Lord provides donors...
Unless the Lord ...

Does the way you work reflect the reality that God's at work?

Important but not Urgent

Have you ever heard of Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix?

He breaks tasks up along two scales: Urgent and Important.

Some things are Urgent and Important.
Some things are Urgent, but not Important.
Some things are not Urgent and not Important.
Some things are not Urgent, but are Important.

Picture a quadrant.  Or better yet, click on this link.

So much of leadership and ministry gets stuck responding to the Urgent, whether or not the tasks being pressed are Important or not.  Responding to the Urgent makes us feel like we're getting something done.  Responding to the Urgent silences most of our critics.

But Urgent is not always Important.

The infrastructure on which we build begins to crumble when we orient our lives around the Urgent, ignoring the nonUrgent Important.  Right? 

Some things never feel Urgent.  Developing the next generation of leaders.  Fundraising.  Prayer.

What Important things do we ignore because they are not Urgent?

Nahum and the Justice of God

I continue to be disturbed by the prophets.  Tonight was Nahum:

"Look at your troops - they are all weaklings"
"Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal"
"'Stop! Stop!' they cry, but no one turns back"
"The LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished."

I find this disturbing.

One reason might be because I love the story of Jonah, of God's great concern for the great city of Nineveh.  Compassion.  I've studied Jonah and Nineveh for years.

A huge part of the tension in Jonah is Jonah's hatred of Nineveh.  Ethnic hatred.  Nineveh posed a threat to Jonah's people and that's why Jonah wanted them taken out.  But God was merciful.

That's Jonah.

God's mercy to Nineveh sealed the fate of Israel.  A few decades later, the Ninevites dragged God's people off into exile.  So much death.  So much destruction.

What is God going to do about this evil?

In mercy, he gave them time to repent.
In mercy, he warned them.
In mercy, he showed compassion.
That's Jonah.

But God does do something about evil.

He opposes it.
He punishes it.
He ends it.
That's Nahum.

Nahum tells us that God brings justice.  Identify with the Israelites.  Isn't this what you're longing to hear?  God's swift justice is good news to the downtrodden, to the oppressed, to the victims.

We need to keep hearing this.  We need to keep sharing this.

Why do we flinch from it?

Currently Reading

Reading is one of the main ways I exercise my mind.  I love to read.  I need to read.  I read and read and read.

I'm currently reading:
I've got two books on the bedside table, one in the upstairs bathroom, one in the downstairs bathroom, and one in my campus bag.

I'm liking one of them, loving one of them, and hating one of them.

What are you reading?

Tweaking the Blog

I spent some introvert time this cold, Florida afternoon tweaking the blog.

Some of the changes will be easier to notice...
  • Lee Simmons over at The Simmons' Spot inspired me to pursue visual dynamism.  Over and over again, Lee teaches people that God values beauty.  She has this great, artistic flair (which I can't match) and changes the look of her blog with every post (which I won't be able to match).  On her blog, she manages to present good content in a good package.  I'd like to go and do likewise, hence the new look.

  • Alex Kirk over at Piebald Life inspired me to make the blog a little easier to share.  Alex writes these really insightful posts on the intersection between the gospel and daily life.  He gets me thinking.  And, naturally, I like to share Alex's work.  Making your work easy to share actually helps people like me process.  Hence, the new buttons.  Facebook.  E-mail.  Twitter.
New look.  New sharing capability.  A little new stuff under the hood.  Suggestions are, as always, welcome.

Exegetical Juggling: The Invisible Ya'll

We had a great time studying 1 John as a Regional Leadership Team this morning.

Over and over again, John writes that he has seen, heard, touched, experienced the Word of Life, Jesus.  He's sharing his story.

But who is he sharing his story to?

English fails us here.  The word "you" is too confusing.  "You" can refer to one person.  "You" can refer to a group of people.

Most of us veer toward a singular interpretation of "you."  We're individualistic as a society.  And that's okay.  Sometimes.

But often in the Bible there's an invisible ya'll.  It's in 1 John.  The text is written to a community.  The "you's" are plural.  And that's important.

A basic knowledge of another language comes in so handy for me here.  Flipping to Spanish or Greek surfaces the invisible ya'lls.  Except when I forget to look.

What about you?  How do you surface the invisible ya'lls?

Exegetical Juggling: Jehu

There's a crazy story in 2 Kings that came to mind today as I drove with Jamie Shields up to Orlando.

Jamie is the Advancement Officer for the Southeast Region of InterVarsity.  He's responsible for keeping track of the friends of InterVarsity around the Southeast and for asking people for huge financial gifts.  He's gentle, humble, insightful, loved and confident.  He believes that other people are generous and that being generous is a blessing in and of itself.

The same qualities that make him a great fundraiser make him a terrifying driver.

Do you want to drive through Florida with someone who believes that people are basically generous?  We swerved across the road, sped down the highway, created our own roads.  Despite the comment of that one driver, I don't believe Jamie's mother was a dog.  We had a wild and wonderful day.

But, back to 2 Kings.

In 2 Kings 9, God calls Jehu to overthrow a violent, oppressive dynasty.  It's an action packed chapter.  Arrows.  Chariot races.  Wild dogs.

At one point, a watchman spies a chariot advancing on the city.  They dispatch a series of messengers to see if the chariot is coming in peace or to bring more violence.  (Hint: the answer was "violence")  None of the messengers returned.

Eventually, they realize that Jehu is in the approaching chariot and say this:

The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.

They see him coming from a mile away.  His driving, like Jamie's, was distinct.  His manic driving was connected with his calling. 

The word "maniac" appeared earlier in the passage, in reference to the prophet Elisha.  In a way, they were saying that he drives like a prophet.  Prophets and those pulled into the mission of a prophet often appear manic in their distinctives.  John the Baptist ate locusts.  Paul was thought mad.  So was David, at one point.  They weren't crazy.  Just distinct.

What's distinct about you? about us?

Exegetical Juggling: Jonah

Why mention the cows at the end of Jonah 4?

Jamie Shields and I get into some crazy conversations while we're driving around, visiting donors.  We both love the Bible, so stuff like this naturally comes up.

Most folks don't get to the end of Jonah.  Once the whole situation with the whale is resolved, they lose interest.  But chapter 4 ends with a bang.

God asks Jonah a question:

Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

Why mention the cows? 

My guess is that it's a joke.

"Okay, Jonah. If 120,000 people won't make you feel compassion, how about the cows? You love cows. They're made of meat."

Could God tell a joke?

Exegetical Juggling: Stephen

Then I saw people, blazing with the fire of wrath, killing a youth with stones, and calling continually and loudly to each other: ‘Kill him, kill him! And I saw him sinking to the ground in death, which already weighed him down, but he made of his eyes, all the while, gateways to Heaven, praying to the Lord on high, in such torment, with that look, that unlocks pity, of forgiveness towards his persecutors.

- Bonus points for anyone who can identify where this comes from
(without resorting to Google)

I had an interesting conversation with Jamie Shields today while we were out meeting with potential donors and folks who love InterVarsity.

We were talking about Stephen and the book of Acts, about why Stephen was stoned to death.

I've always found it curious that the Jewish leaders who couldn't put Jesus to death, had no hesitation stoning Stephen.  What made Stephen's case different?

I jokingly suggested that maybe they stoned Stephen to ensure that he didn't "rise from the dead."

If they thought Jesus' resurrection was faked, maybe they worried something similar would happen with Stephen.

What do you think?  Does this theory hold water?

Why Wait?

During Small Group this week, I had an insight into one of those old, thorny theological questions that have been buried in the back of my mind over the years.

Why didn't Jesus come and save humanity right after the Fall?  Why wait so long?  Why come so late?

I still don't have an answer to the question.  But I saw something in Scripture that might help.

In John 2, Jesus turns some water into really great wine at a wedding feast in the town of Cana.  And he waits to do this miracle until the middle of the feast, when the wine has already run out and stress levels are starting to rise.

Why didn't Jesus turn some water into wine at the beginning of the feast?

I mean, he is God, right?  He must have known that they were going to run out of wine.  I mean, he had to make another 180 gallons.  That's a huge shortfall.

If he had turned the water into wine at the beginning of the feast, everyone could have enjoyed the good wine first (and broken out the cheap stuff later), as was the custom.

Why did he wait?

Maybe if we could answer that question in John 2, we could answer the same question when it comes up in Genesis 3.

What do you think?

Welcoming Brian

My friend, Scott, was surprised to find Brian hanging out with one of our Small Groups.  Scott has over a decade of experience in InterVarsity Small Groups and he saw something at FIU that he'd never seen.

The students at FIU warmly accepted Brian into their community.  Brian provides unique insights to their study of Scripture.  He's funny.  He somehow manages to show up every week with food to share.  But Brian's not a student.

Brian is homeless.

And Brian is a part of the university.  In an urban center, the university isn't just made up of faculty and students.  Our Small Groups won't be made up solely of single, child-less people aged 18-23 enrolled full-time.

Brian is one of many guys who use the computers in the computer lab on campus.  He spends more time on campus than some of our students.  And he loves Jesus.

Should we turn him away? 

No way!  He's respectful of the student leaders, contributes helpfully and did I mention that he loves Jesus?  He's one of us.

There's a mispalacement of the "Them" and "Us" mentality that runs devastatingly through the Bible.  And the Israelites are usually the ones sitting in the "Us" seat.  But in Obadiah, the story's different.  The Edomites grabbed the "Us" seat, to horrible effect.

So much of the push in Obadiah is a rebuke to the Edomites.  They stood by and watched...no, they lent a hand as Judah was pillaged.  They treated Judah as a "Them."

But from Obadiah's perspective, Judah was an "Us."  The Edomites were descended from Esau.  The people of Judah and the Israelites were descended from Jacob.  Jacob and Esau, they were brothers.

Again, there's the temptation to jump into an Arab, Israeli conversation.  Isaac and Ishmael were both children of Abraham.

But for my purposes, I'll let the political folks work for peace in the Middle East.

I'll hear Obadiah's echo and welcome Brian.  He's one of us.

Wait, Homelessness?

I realized as I was going to bed last night that I made a big, unexplained jump in yesterday's blog.

How did I jump from talking about just war and pacifism to talking about paying attention to the homeless folks standing in the medians in South Florida?

I've been wrestling with how to apply what I've been learning in Obadiah.  People in their 20s are always up for a good conversation about pacifism and just war, but not many of us are going to work for the DoD like Chris Tutor.

Some folks apply passages like the ones I've been studying as blanket endorsements of the nation of Israel.  Application becomes being anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian and doesn't really connect with real life.

But I think there's another vein of application to passages like the one I've been looking at in Obadiah.  The people of God had undergone a huge displacement.  The Exile had huge, disasterous implications.  People lost their lives.  People lost their homes.

I'm living today in a home that was sold in foreclosure last March.  Someone lost this home.  Hopefully, they moved on and found another, maybe even nicer place to live.  But I can't help but wonder.

What should the Edomites have done in the face of the Exile?

Does homelessness connect with Exile?

Bystanders Beware

Chris and I stayed up way too late talking about pacifism and just war.  Chris has this great character trait, where he refuses to sit on theory and is always trying to drill ideas into real life. 

Chris can't just talk ethics.  He lives it out.

We love that about Chris.

I wish I was more familiar with Obadiah back when Chris and I had our series of conversations about just war and pacifism.  I'm still on the fence between pacifism and just war.  And Obadiah doesn't take me off the fence.  But it is relevant.

In Obadiah, the nation of Edom is being taken down because they stood idly by when Judah / the Israelites were being sacked.  Sure, they did more than that, but their isolationism was a big part of the problem.

There's a bury-your-head-in-the-sand element in the pacifist camp, a keep-to-yourself-and-mind-your-own-business trend. 

But God doesn't absolve bystanders of responsibility when evil happens.  We are called to step in, to do something.

Now, whether that "something" involves violence or creativity is still debatable.  (Yes, that was a pacifist barb)  Pacifism and just war are still on the table.  But seeing evil and doing nothing is off.  That's part of the message of Obadiah.

And I wonder if this doesn't extend beyond issues of war and peace.  I wonder if this doesn't apply more generally to evil in the world.

Living in South Florida, we drive past homeless folks all the time.  I've become used to staring straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.  What's happening?

What Does This Say About Us?

When reading Obadiah we sometimes bump against values we don't value. 

This happens whenever we read, especially whenever we read ancient texts.

I remember reading Thucydides and coming face to face with the idea of a "good death" or a "noble death."  Throwing life away for the sake of honor, the notion "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (sweet and proper it is to die for one's country). 

Wilfred Owen, reflecting on WWI, called this "the Old Lie."  In the shell shocked fog of the world after the Great War, dying for one's country didn't smell particularly sweet.  That value wasn't valued.

This problem happens when we read ancient texts.  CS Lewis writes about the manifestation of chronological snobbery, the idea that we in modern times have advanced in all ways beyond the ancients.

Reading Obadiah, we run into this value of retributive justice.  Punishment.  And I really don't value it.

What does it say about me?  About us?

1) We ignore sin and evil more than the ancients.  Punishment seems strange, obscene if nothing evil's been done.  We move at a pace that keeps us from noticing the evil around us.  We fill our lives with distractions to occupy our minds, to blur the storm clouds on the horizon.  We compartmentalize and tribalize so that those problems are other people's problems. 

Who needs retributive justice in the world we've created?  Not us.  We're too busy, distracted and isolated to care.  Most of the time, at least.  But we live in the post 9-11 world, when, for a moment, our lives stopped, our distractions melted away and we held hands.  In that moment, retributive justice seemed like a good thing.  A hope.  Just.  Important.  Necessary.  Do you remember that moment?

2) Our sense of agency is dramatically inflated.  We believe that we can set the world to rights without any help.  A little technological advance, coupled with the right public policy and we'll be back in Eden.  God shouldn't be stepping in.  We have jails and most of the people them deserve to be in them.  We have electric chairs and most of the people in them deserve to be in them.  We legislate and patrol and market and think we can fix it.  But we can't.  We aren't that powerful.

News of retributive justice isn't good news for the Powerful.  When the Powerful are also the Guilty, the news is very bad news (and very rarely are the Weak the Guilty).  Even when the Powerful are innocent, God's coming to set the world to rights strips them of their power.  Our agency in the world pales in comparison to God's power to bring about justice. 

3) We pass off affection for love.  I have at times felt that modern people were more loving than the ancients.  We're certainly gentler, kinder, softer.  But much of what passes for love among us is actually just affection. 

The ancient world, with it's rigid hierarchies and honor tradition, had different, better access to a super-affection understanding of love. Love can't mean mere affection if divorce means death, if marriage is arranged, if your job isn't a choice, if your children aren't planned, if you eat what you grow.
Love is not always soft, not always accompanied by happiness.  When the Beloved is injured, abused, the Lover flies to defense.  If the Beloved is killed, the Lover seeks revenge or at least justice.  We wouldn't consider the Lover a loving lover if that didn't happen. 

We value mercy and that's beautiful.  The Bible teaches us about mercy, the great mercy of Christ.  But what is mercy when it comes at the expense of justice?  If love is just affection, just good feelings and warm fuzzies, then love and justice must be mutually exclusive.  God must either be loving or just.  But if we run the other way around the circle and ask God to teach us what love is, then we might find a way of looking at love that includes justice. 

And this is what we have.  We hear it, faintly and beautifully when Carton goes to that far, far better rest than any he has ever known.  We see it, shining and dramatic when Jesus says "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And then goes to the cross.

Love involves a deep commitment to people.  If we are to take seriously God's commitment to God's people, we should expect something to happen if the outlaws burn down the house but leave him alive.  Love.  Punishment.

But doesn't God love everyone?  Doesn't God so love the world?  Yes, of course.  And with real love, not mere affection.  That's what we see at work in the Exile.  That's what we see at Golgotha.  And that's what we see in Obadiah.

God's at Work (even when it doesn't look like it)

It's easy to find yourself doubting that God's at work.

So much bad stuff happens in our world.  So much bad stuff happens to us.  And, what's more, so much of life is so blah, so unexciting.

At church this Sunday, the pastor claimed that God's work is already great work, that God doesn't do mediocre work and doesn't call us to live mediocre lives.  I know what you're thinking, very "Rah! Rah!" but not realistic.  If you've ever stuffed prayer letter envelopes, you know that God's work isn't always exciting.

For most of us, the boredom outweighs the badness.

In Obadiah, God's people were overwhelmed with the badness.  Strangers carried off their wealth.  Misfortune.  Trouble. Destruction.  Disaster.  Disaster.  Disaster.  The descriptive language in Obadiah is devastating.  If ever dark clouds gathered on the horizon, it was then.

Where was God in the midst of their disaster, disaster, disaster?  Where is God in the midst of my boredom?

Even when it doesn't look like it, the continual claim of the Bible is that God is at work, setting the world to right.  In Obadiah, God is at work, righting past wrongs.  God ensures that the deeds of the Edomites would return upon their heads.

There are a lot of things I'd like to see God do in and around my life.  Paying back those who've done me wrong isn't high on the list.  What do we do with this?

We could ignore it, move on to something more "relevant."  We could write it off as a vengeful artifact and mock it.  We could wrestle with it.

In fact, what does it say about us that this passage doesn't resonate with us?

How Much Weight Should We Put On Tradition?

As I've been reading Obadiah, I got a little curious about the author.  There isn't a lot of autobiographical material in Obadiah to tell us about the author.

The book says that this was "The" vision, not "A" vision, so this could have been Obadiah's only vision.

In reference to the vision, there could be a debate over whether or not this vision was just Obadiah's or whether it was experienced communally.  Verse 1 contains the line "We have heard a message from the Lord" rather than "I have heard a message from the Lord."

But, really, that's about it.

There are traditions in the Jewish Talmud and the Catholic church that center around Obadiah.  Some of their claims include:
- Obadiah the prophet is the same person in 1 Kings 18
- Obadiah kept company with other prophets
- Obadiah was from Edom

How much weight should we put on these traditions?