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.

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, 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?