Remove the Suckers?

I mentioned in a recent prayer letter that I've gotten into growing citrus.  I don't have a green thumb and I know there's a high likelihood I'll kill the trees, but I'm pretty excited about them.  I'm sure, at times, I'm like Jonah ... disproportionally happy about the vine.

I recently noticed some suckers on my trees.  Suckers.  That's a real name.  Suckers are new branches growing beneath the graft line.  They grow quickly, look good, but produce no fruit.

Although we don't like to think it, the Bible claims that there are Suckers in the church.  There are people who will grow quickly, look good, but produce no fruit.

We don't like to think it.  We like to think we can turn Suckers into fruit-bearing branches.  We like to think the fruit is coming any day now.  We're hopeful.

And this is hope is a good thing.  But hope isn't change.  Our hopes for people won't change them, won't change the Suckers.  And we dodge this harsh reality.

Suckers have to be removed ... at least, on citrus trees.

What should we do with Suckers in the church? What if we're the Suckers?

Packet Negotiation

I've found myself negotiating all the time in my new job.  Hotels.  Salary.  Scholarships.  Finding food.  Partnerships.  The learning curve has risen exponentially but not smoothly.  Ministry training doesn't prepare you for this.

A few years ago, a genius friend introduced me to a concept called "Packet Negotiation."  Now, he was a Stanford MBA graduate and understood what he was talking about.  How often do you get to hang out with a Stanford MBA or a genius or a rabbi?  But I've pieced parts of it together.

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Negotiations tend to deadlock over one issue.  And though the issue can differ from case to case, the issue at first usually is money.  And money makes negotiation tough, frequently makes everyone unhappy.

What I love about this idea of Packet Negotiation is that it requires a great deal of creativity and often leaves everyone happy, wondering.  It's unusual and strange and, at times, kind.

Instead of getting jammed up over one thing (like money or water), a packet negotiation digs deeper, unearthing other value packets.  Everyone values something other than money.  And those other packets can often be stretched further than money.  Some of those packets are worth everything.

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People don't always know what to do when you attempt a packet negotiation.  They've been taught that the only thing that matters is the dividing line, the win-lose.  When you attempt to broaden the horizon, deepen the conversation, they thrash, changing the subject almost randomly.

This happened to me today.  It tries your patience.

But it's still worth it.

Asking good questions, creating more options, making more space for gratitude and compromise ... wonderful things.  Sometimes the benefit is an ideal financial allocation (our negotiation today landed a rental car at a discounted rate, rather than the same amount in scholarship money ... saving us several hundreds of dollars and a lot of time, costing the other party nothing).  Sometimes the benefit is a lot bigger ... a spring of water welling up to eternal life, life in Jesus' name.

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Can you think of a "negotiation" that would have benefitted from finding multiple packets?

ps. If you think this is a dry, business-like post, you're probably right.  It's also a reflection on John 4 and the Woman at the Well.

Christ Your Lord

Can you be a Christian if Christ is not your Lord?

One of our most brilliant students is writing his honors thesis on what is called "the Lordship debate," a debate centered on this question.  Have you ever heard of this debate?

As InterVarsity thinks more deeply about discipleship, I wonder if we'll get pulled into it.

On the one hand, God gives his grace freely, not holding back his great salvation until our obedience kicks into gear or reaches perfection.

On the other hand, Jesus called for repentance clearly and loudly and even to outsiders.

Hence, there ferocity of the debate.  Both sides have winning arguments.

Now, some would think that, if both sides have winning arguments, the battle lines have been drawn in the wrong locations.  You can make up your own mind.

What do you think?

Why can't we just let them look down on us because we're young?

In 1 Timothy, Paul tells a young pastor not to let anyone look down on him because he's young.  And I've always found this prescription a little strange.

You can't really control whether or not people look down on you.  I mean, you can avoid giving them ammunition (and this was probably what Paul had in mind), but control is beyond your reach.

Wouldn't it make more sense to ignore the down-lookers?

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There are as many reasons to go into campus ministry as there are campus ministers.

I loved college students, hated hospitals and felt I didn't have much to offer people who were older than me.  If I was going to step into ministry, campus ministry seemed like a good fit.

But over the last couple of years, I've experienced a shift.  I still love college students.  I still don't love hospitals.  But I'm starting to see that even a young man might have something to offer to folks a little further along life's path.

It started with Bill Hunter .  He showed me a tremendous amount of respect, listening to me and encouraging me.  Even though Bill stands twice as tall as me, he never looked down on me.  His wife, Wendy, was right behind him, inviting me to serve and lead and minister.

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It's a short jump from "don't let them look down on you because you are young" to "focus your ministry on your peers (or younger people)."  But it was a jump Paul didn't want Timothy to make.

Here are three reasons why:

1) Everyone, of every age, needs to hear the gospel of Jesus
2) Anyone, of any age, can share the gospel of Jesus
3) Timothy had been gifted to do the work

And letting people look down on you because you're young, just isn't an option.  The stakes are too high.  The people are too precious.  And God's gift and God's call ... well ... they're pretty tough to revoke.

Every Campus Minister's Temptation: Prove you belong in ministry

At our worship night the other night, we had a student speaker.  Inviting student speakers always creates some risk.  You never know what's going to happen.

Our student speaker was terrific.

But he did something interesting, something he learned somewhere.

At the end of his talk, he wanted to prove his "authority" as a speaker.  Now, since InterVarsity avoids authoritative preaching, embracing our interdenominational parachurch status, this was unusual.

He brought folks up to the front, spoke generally over them and asked their affirmation of his "word of knowledge."  Picture a psychic or a criminal profiler.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in the practice of spiritual gifts.  I'm okay with the possibility that a student might receive a "word of knowledge" from the Holy Spirit to share with another student.  But this wasn't that. 

Not a big deal.  We'll correct it and it won't happen again.  We teach and learn.

But there's something else to learn here.

This temptation strikes all of us in campus ministry: to prove we belong in ministry.

Now, we might not resort to "readings," but we have our own techniques.  We grasp metrics, hoping the numbers will prove that we belong in ministry.  We solicit feedback and performance appraisals, hoping our peers will agree that we belong in ministry.  We gather fans, hoping our people will demand that we stay in ministry.

But ironically, we still secretly wonder if we belong in ministry.

If ministry is done by the necessary, the ready, the producers ... even the spiritually powerful ... we don't qualify.  And we know it.  We know we're replacable.  We know we need to grow.  We know God's the one who makes it all happen.  We know our deep weakness.

Let's not deceive ourselves, attempting to prove we're here because we belong.  As Scott Dittman says, we serve at the pleasure of the King.  If we belong in ministry, it's a gift of God's grace.  And this means that if we don't belong in ministry, it's OKAY!

Have you seen someone trying to prove they belong in ministry? How'd it go?

The Resurrection is not a Receipt

What would happen if you left the resurrection out of your gospel presentation?

For most of us, everything would still make sense.

God created us, loved us.
But we have piled up an overwhelming debt of sin.
Jesus paid for our sins when he died on the cross.
How will you respond to your Savior?

Have you ever heard this gospel presentation? Creation Sin Christ Response

In this framework, the Resurrection of Jesus often falls to the back, tagged on as an epilogue.

This is one of the problems with the penal substitution model of the atonement.  If substitution is the only facet of the atonement on which you hang your theology, the Resurrection could drift to the background.

The substitution facet of the atonement is true, covers much of the biblical narrative, but can't stand alone.  God gives us more than debt and payment.

Substitution captures the Great Exchange, but what about the Great Win-Win?

We need to meditate on our union with Christ if we're going to appreciate the Resurrection.  He died in our place, true.  But we also died with him ... and will live with him.  The Resurrection matters to us because we have been united to Christ. 

What good is a clean ledger if our end-point is burial?
What good is an imputed righteousness to a corpse?
What good is all of it if Jesus is nothing more than an albatross?

If the Resurrection of Jesus is drifting to the epilogue of your theology, I've got great news.  There's a lot more to the gospel than you realize!  Explore the Union facet of the atonement here, if you're curious.

What if the Resurrection were more than a receipt?

Why can't Jesus just be a great teacher?

Every Easter, people ask why Christians persistently believe in Jesus' Resurrection (when they aren't asking if Jesus was a zombie).  Wouldn't it simplify things to set that bit of the Jesus-story aside and focus our energy on his moral teaching?

The Resurrection of Jesus has proven one of the hardest pieces of the Christian story for men and women throughout history to swallow.  For example, when Paul talked to the Athenians about the Resurrection, the Bible records that "some of them sneered." 

And sneering never goes out of fashion.

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A little Google searching could find a dozen reasons why Jesus had to be more than a teacher.  And the Resurrection will play deeply into many of them.  I would encourage you to check them out ... as well as 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, a stirring passage on this theme.

But for me, as I've been thinking about this connection between Jesus' teaching and resurrection, I've been moved by something else. 

Trust.

When people link Jesus' teaching and resurrection, they note that Jesus taught his return from the dead.  A good teacher wouldn't teach falsehoods.  So, Jesus was either a bad teacher (and still dead) or a great teacher (and very much alive today).

But there's another element to the story.

Someone believed Jesus when he taught his return from the dead.  Many someones.  And these men and women ... mostly uneducated, mostly poor, mostly desperate ... these men and women trusted Jesus.  They trusted him enough to leave jobs and families, to risk their lives and reputations.  His death crushed their hopes.  And they died, most of them violently, at the hands of mobs and emperors.

Trusting Jesus was either a very wise or a very foolish decision.

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A great teacher is someone you can trust.

You can learn a lot from liars and cheats, from abusers and swindlers and bozos.  I'm not saying that trustworthiness is a character trait of every teacher or that your best teacher was marked by trustworthiness.  Some of us have PhD's from Hard Knocks University and you may never have had a great teacher.

The world is full of good teachers. 

Great teachers are rare. 

They're rare because trustworthiness has more to do with who you are than what you know.  And most teachers become teachers because of what they know.

For Jesus to be a great teacher, he had to be trustworthy.  For him to be the greatest teacher, he had to be completely trustworthy.

I could never trust a teacher who took advantage of the uneducated, the poor or the weak.  I couldn't trust a teacher who set into motion - for no reason - a path that would lead his followers to death and disgrace.  I wouldn't trust a teacher so deeply misunderstood by those who knew him best, loved him most and suffered in his name.

No, Jesus was either a great teacher or is still dead and not worth trusting.

Would you consider someone a great teacher if you didn't trust them?

Zombie Jesus Day

Tomorrow, I plan to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

But today, we have a YoSteve tradition to maintain.  Every year, as Easter approaches, all over the world, people turn to each other and ask "Was Jesus a zombie?"

He died.  He's alive.  Was Jesus a zombie?

Last year, we looked at John's gospel.  Check it out here.

This year, we'll look at the Zombie Jesus evidence from Luke.

Died and came back to life --- Zombie +4
Moved a heavy stone --- Zombie -1
Left the tomb and wandered around --- Zombie +2
Had hype men / angels announce his resurrection --- Zombie -2
News of his return written off as nonsense --- Zombie +2
Discarded strips of linen (like a Mummy) --- Zombie -1
Walked with disciples as a fellow traveler to Emmaus --- Zombie -3
Disciples didn't recognize him --- Zombie ?
Talked about the entire Old Testament --- Zombie -3
Got invited to dinner --- Zombie -2
Took the bread (bread, not brains) --- Zombie -1
Gave thanks (those prayers usually get mumbled) --- Zombie +1
Broke the bread (violence) --- Zombie +1
Began to give the bread to the disciples (sharing) --- Zombie -1
Disappeared mysteriously --- Zombie -1
Broke into a home, startling and frightening --- Zombie +4
Proved he's not a ghost ... but is he a Zombie? --- Zombie ?

Total from Luke 24: + 14 vs. - 15 ... with 2 ?'s outstanding.

The jury's still out, but it looks like, from Luke, Jesus is not a zombie.

Although he endorses eating flesh and drinking blood, he offers his own in place of ours. Although Christians have been known to eat brains (see the book by Mark Noll), Jesus does nothing of the sort. And, as if this wasn't enough, he gives us a heads-up in advance of his apocalypse (although the Wal-Mart strategy won't work for it either).

No, his resurrection is something different, something unique, something worth understanding, something worth celebrating.

If he's not a zombie, what is he?

Props to those who caught that this was both a recycled post AND Earth Day

Fish out of water

We had 80 students at our worship night tonight.

All around the room, students lifted hands and voices in praise to Jesus.  The worship leader sounded like a blend of Israel Houghton and the Barenaked Ladies.  We had such a great time!

But I felt like a fish out of water.

Many of our students come from Haitian families.  Most of the rest are African, Caribbean, and African American.  And even though I'm bi-racial, I felt stunningly white tonight.

Once, that fish-out-of-water feeling would have overwhelmed me.  Being out-of-water is hard for white folks, but harder, I think, for bi-racial folks.  Displacement devalues ... at least, at first.

But there's something beautiful on display, powerful, when we cross ethnic boundaries, displace.  Tonight, I experienced worship in a way I can't in an all-white setting.  And, by my presence, I had the chance to show off a powerful element of the gospel: Jesus' death on the cross breaks down barriers between ethnic groups.

Our difference in ethnicity remains, but settles into a larger framework.  The gospel of Jesus creates a union that supercedes the dividing walls between ethnicities, giving us another identity without replacing the one we inherited from our families.

Our fish-out-of-water experiences have new, wonderful, redemptive meaning in the kingdom of God.  Nothing else can accomplish what the gospel can accomplish.

The whole world should see this!

What would happen if we were willing to be fish out of water for the gospel?

Reverse the tide of disrespect

Showing disrespect can be a way to build intimacy.  To someone's face, it can be funny.  I disrespect you because I like you.  Behind someone's back ... well ... there are other reasons for that.

But disrespect can also backfire.  The person you disrespect may have thin skin.  The person may have fans and friends, who don't appreciate the disrespect.

James 3:9-12 details the danger of disrespect ... true disrespect.

Cursing human beings, who have been made in God's likeness, is inconsistent for someone who praises our Lord and Father.  When true disrespect flows out of us it fractures us.

Recently, I've found myself feeling really comfortable talking disrespectfully to and about people and it bothers me.  It bothers me because I want to be someone who values community and relationships.  It bothers me because I hate it when someone disrespects a person I care about.  It bothers me because I know I can't control it ... it will spill out when I don't want it to.

So, how do we reverse the tide of disrespect?

What are you going to do with your life?

Friends and family want to know The Plan.  "What are you going to do with your life?"

As students approach graduation, this question looms large.  Maybe you remember the pressure.  Maybe you're feeling it right now.  Maybe your students are neck deep in it.

Maybe you have a plan, a job or school lined up.  You can answer the question ... kind of.

But knowing your next step isn't the same as knowing what you're going to do with your life.  A next step isn't a life plan.  A first job isn't a career. 

"What are you going to do with your life?" is actually two questions: "What are you going to do with your life?" and "What are you going to do next?"

We forget this so easily.  And this forgetting comes at a price.

1) We fail to enjoy the Now

Lumping the questions together and trying to load the weight of your whole life on your next step causes us to miss out on the Now.  For college students, the last weeks of school should be filled with celebration, with adventures, with friends ... not with nail-biting and navel-gazing and the pressure to make the perfect next step.

2) We fail to make wise next steps

When we devalue the next step, lumping it in with everything else, we find ourselves justifying taking foolish next steps.  "I'm taking this horrible job to get my foot in the door" or "I'm going to this school because it's a good career move, even though it's a bad fit for me personally."  Foolishness often disguises itself as delayed gratification.

3) We fail to continue learning

Learning doesn't end at graduation.  You don't throw your mortar-board into the air and find yourself fully formed.  Your job after graduation or job-search represent learning opportunities, not rails for your career.  Treat your first job like it also has to be your last job and you'll find yourself really frustrated.

4) We fail to focus on the main things

"What are you going to do with your life?" should be a bigger question than "Now that you've finished school, what's your next step?"  Your life is more than your next step, more than your career.

What are you going to do?  Start a family?  Be creative?  Love God?

What would happen if you separated "What are you going to do next?" from "What are you going to do with your life?"

And, really, doesn't that temptation to lump the two questions together continue past graduation

Courage, Confidence and Conviction

IT can be done.  Courage.
IT can be done by me.  Confidence.
IT should be done.  Conviction.

Many lack courage.
Most lack confidence.

That's why IT doesn't happen.

But just about everyone has conviction.

About something.
About IT.

IT should be done.

We all have conviction.

And guilt-shame-frustration-day-dreams.

We dream that
IT can be done and
IT can be done by me.

But IT won't until we grow in courage and confidence.

So, what would it take for you to grow in courage and confidence?

What would it take to get IT done?

Point Theology, Circle Theology

I am a fan of Circle Theology.

Circle Theology is one way of thinking about classical orthodoxy. We talk and think about theology in such a way that we create a big circle. The Truth is in the circle (we think).

Contrast this with another way of thinking about orthodoxy, a newer way, but by no means new. I call this alternative "Point Theology." Point Theology holds that Truth is on the point and that that anyone can find that point if they just think hard enough, read long enough and restrict their theological influences to the right sources.

Circle Theology doesn't deny Truth. Circle Theology just operates on the assumption that, as flawed and limited beings, perfect truth ... truth whittled down to a point ... will always elude us.

Circles lead to humility.
Points lead to pride.
Circles make us generous.
Points make us combative.
Circles protect us from heresy.
Points ... surprisingly ... leave us vulnerable.

So, what's this look like

The Trinity
Good Trinitarian theology spends a lot of time talking about what God is not. Not "One God in three disguises." Not three gods. Not hierarchical. Not absent. Not evil.

This theology-by-negation protects you from affirming a part of the truth and then running off into heresy.

This was the theological method of the church fathers.

And it fundamentally operates on circles

Reformed Theology

But what about the Five Points? Am I knocking Calvin? A lot of my friends have HUGE crushes on him.

Circle Theology does not prevent you from enjoying the Five Points (or Westminster or The Chalcedonian Creed). Classically, these creedal statements defined circles of belonging. Think about a yard (points as fences, boundary markers) rather than a Twister board (points as locking you in and down).

This theological method allows you to relate with people who don't agree with you on everything. And let's be honest, who agrees with you on everything?

This was a popular method ... though not the only method ... That showed up in the Reformation.

Circles

Evangelical Bloodsport

When evangelicals fight, we're tempted to write people who disagree with us on one point all the way outside the circle. These fights become violent, fueling both pride and arrogance. Even if the correction is accurate, the pride that comes with Point Theology, makes it nearly impossible for the other person to receive the correction.

In a culture skeptical of the motives of people who claim the Truth Point, Circle Theology really resonates. The open-handedness goes a long way.

I don't know many practitioners of Circle Theology today.

What difference do you think it'd make if we worked more in circles than points?

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a wild-haired journalist who loves the intersection of pop psychology, hard research and the non-intuitive but very real world we inhabit.

His book, Blink, examines the phenomena of rapid cognition.

Our minds move phenomenally quickly and with surprisingly positive outcomes, even on super-fast forward. Despite our valuing of deep thinking, research, and evaluation ... Sometimes, often, the best decisions are the decisions made quickly, subconsciously.

Why you should read this book
1) For fun ... knowing how your brain works is a blast
2) For license ... Blink will free you to make snap-decisions
3) For discernment ... know when and when not to snap-judge
4) For insight ... see the subterranean forces that influence your decisions (for better or for worse)

Have you ever seen a snap judgement beat out deep analysis?

The Bible Has Layers

One book to teach them all,
One book to lead them,
One book to form them all,
And in the light to read them.

Seriously, one book for everyone, for life?

This conversation keeps coming up with students.  They keep reaching for theology texts (which I love) and Christian living books (which I'm okay with).  But they reach for these books because they've finished the Bible.  These books aren't supplements.  They're replacements.

But the Bible ... and only the Bible ... is God's Word.

We need to dig deeper and deeper into it, tunneling.

This is one of the reasons "life passages" matter so much.  They allow you to drill down.  And they allow you to model deep study.

Alexis brought this up after Common Ground last week.  I preached on John 4 and the story of the Woman at the Well.  There was so much in the passage and I brought to the surface elements of the story the students hadn't noticed.  This wasn't an exegetical parlor trick.  This was the result of years of studying the passage, circling back to it, peeling back another layer, making another connection to the bigger story and the gospel.

Have you ever re-read a passage of Scripture and noticed something you hadn't seen before?

Greedy or Broke?

Think about the sermons on money you've ever heard.

A huge assumption runs through most money-sermons: People are greedy.

And some of us are greedy.  But is greed our biggest money-problem?

For many of us, we're not just greedy, we're broke. 

And being broke fuels our greed, eventually breaking us ...
  1. Being broke gives a fun excuse to covet (it's called 'dreaming')
  2. Being broke makes generosity harder (the soft bigotry of low expectations)
  3. Being broke masks greed (specific replaces bulk)
Now, being "broke" isn't the same as being poor.  At least, not necessarily.

Broke people live beyond their means, no matter their means.  If my standard of living is $50k and I'm making $38k, I'm broke.  If I'm in debt up to my ears, I'm broke.  If I'm paying today's bills with tomorrow's money, I'm broke.

But broke isn't that bad.  Broke is fixable.  Easily.

If you had to choose, would you rather teach someone to use their money wisely or bring conviction around greed?  I'd teach every time.  That conviction piece belongs to God and, when I try my hand at it, I end up manipulating and shaming.

What would happen if we helped people overcome their lack of wisdom around money?
  • They might experience more contentment
  • They might be more generous
  • They might come face to face with their hidden greed
It's worth trying, isn't it?

Have you ever heard a money-sermon that focused on "broke" rather than "greedy"?

Argument Ain't Dead

We inhabit a culture filled with argument.  It's in the air, in the water.

Avoiding argument altogether ... not an option.  Not really.

But what if we argued differently?

Imagine someone arguing with you, but showing you respect.  Imagine someone arguing with you, but listening.  Imagine someone arguing with you ... really arguing ... but smiling and laughing, not desperate to convince you.

My friend, former staffworker and former boss - the great Joe Ho - once compared college students arguing to little boys wrestling.  And sometimes, getting slammed has nothing to do with strength or skill or rightness but with the natural rhythm of the wrestling match. 

Use argument to show respect, to build trust, to play.  Use it for what works.

What would change if you argued, but argued differently?

Argument Ain't About Being Right

Argument clarifies belonging.

Argument used to be about winning and finding truth.  I wrote about this yesterday.

Now, no one wins.  But argument isn't an excercise in futility.

Argument serves to demonstrate which tribe you belong to.

Think about it.

In presenting your position, you communicate your side, where in the continuum you lie, which community you stand with.

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Try to find my house.  Good luck.

Head south on Davie Rd (not Davie Blvd) or north.  Unless you're coming from the East, in which case, if you hit Davie Rd, you've gone too far.

I live in a particular house.  It's not the biggest or nicest, but clean and organized and full of people I love. 

Knowing which house I live in has value.  A value for me.  A value for anyone coming to visit.  The folks at 6130 SW 42nd Place look friendly, but knock on their door and they may not serve you dinner.

Clarifying position.

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Now, you might think argument is a lousy way to clarify positions.  Argument used to be about convincing people to change positions, right?

But we can clarify by negation.  By pushing back against your position, I figure out where I stand.  Think landmarks.  Fences.

When you argue trying to convince with someone trying to clarify, you embrace futility.  Argument puts people in a place to resist convincing.

You've been there, right?  You find yourself losing an argument - maybe even thinking you're on the wrong side - but you hang on.  You hit a place where every point for the other side deepens your entrenchment.  Your self-awareness catches this, but you can't stop it.

Argument rarely moves people. 

Hospitality.  Friendship.  Tragedy.  God.  Sure. 

But not argument.

What, then, is argument good for?

Argument Ain't What It Used To Be

Argument used to be about winning.

You won by being right.  Or by making your case more convincingly.  Preferably both.

Both sides in the argument angled at truth.  You fired your best ideas back and forth and the true ideas floated to the surface.  Truth.

And both sides pushed for the best ideas.  Pragmatism fused with idealism in the minds and mouths and hearts of creative men and women.  Pushed.  Listened.

And, in the end, the winner wins.  The loser concedes.  And everyone agrees.

[I know this is a stereotype.  Anytime someone says something "ain't what it used to be," you know they're looking over their shoulder with glasses fogged over by the haze of time.]

But as time goes by, no one seems to be winning (insert Charlie Sheen joke here).

Both sides keep talking, but no one concedes.  No one agrees.  The sides are set, locked, frozen.  Imagine Red Rover, except everyone tightens their grip and no one charges the other side.

Politics.  Religion.  Choose a category.

No one loves argument more than an evangelical Christian.

Everyone presents their case, but no one listens anymore.  No one is open to convincing.  Truth exists, sure, but no one looks for truth in argument.  When you're wearing full armor and hiding behind your shield, you're not doing a lot of listening, a lot of learning, a lot of moving.

No, argument is about something else now. 

What could an argument be about if it wasn't about winning?

Short Series: On Argument

Arguments swirl all around us.  Politics.  Theology.  Family.

I love and hate argument.

I love the matching of minds, the adrenaline, the friendly violence.  I love the learning.  I love the rise and fall, circles, memory-work, challenge and rhythm of a good argument.

But I also hate argument.  I hate the faulty logic.  I hate the feeling of futility, the talking-past, the shouting, posturing, winning-losing-shaming.  I hate the brilliant point that comes to you just after the argument ends.

Some of you probably love argument.  Some probably hate it.  Some love-hate, just like me.

But what is argument, exactly? (See video below)

I think that argument has fundamentally changed in our generation, that argument has (for the most part) become unwinnable and that argument is as necessary as ever. 

And knowing this has made a big difference for me.  And it just might help you too.

What do you love/hate about argument?

You talkin' to me?

What happens when I start preaching about "eternal life" and "salvation"?

9 times out of 10 ... everyone checks out.  They think I'm not talking to them.

The Christians in our community

They think they already have "eternal life" and "salvation."  They already know about it.  They're ready to move on to "deeper things."  Predestination.  Eschatology.  Phrenology ... whatever.

But often our understanding of "eternal life" and "salvation" is confined to a future orientation.  "Eternal life" stays stuck as "life after death." "Salvation" remains "salvation from hell."  These are real understandings, but partial.  Half-truths.

Eternal life doesn't begin at death.  Eternal life begins now.  It's life now that goes on and grows forever.  And the same goes for salvation.  The salvation Jesus brings extends beyond hell.

And so, these conversations are relevant.

The folks in our community who are not Christians

We want to be open to the whole campus community.  At times, this means we'll have people in the room who assume that the conversation, especially when it involves religious sounding words, is meant for someone else.  They are our friends, so they'll hang in there with us, but they get bored.

And this is a big part of the problem with using words like "eternal life" and "salvation."  Few people in the secular world have the vanity to claim a pursuit of eternal life or the desperation to sling around words like 'salvation.'

But we're all looking to avoid joblessness, meaninglessness, loneliness.  Salvation, in another word.  And as awkward as it is to say it, we all want to live our best lives now.  We want full life and we want it to go on and on. 

These are nearly universal, human searchings.

So, why do people think we aren't talking to them?

Knee-Jerking Jerks

I have a knee-jerk reaction to bad theology.  When I hear it, I start talking.

Maybe it's my education. Maybe it's a first-born thing.  Who knows?

But in my knee-jerk reactions, I often forget the complex, interpersonal bigger picture.

Here's a scattershot of that bigger picture.

People matter more than ideas.  Sometimes people say things they don't believe, understand or mean.  No one likes to feel disrespected.  My own theology has blind spots, burrs and errors.  I'm in my 20's.  Not every fight need to be fought.  In every theological misstep, there's probably something you can affirm and admire.  Tone matters as much as content, perhaps more.

Whew.

It's tempting to focus the conversation on truth and accuracy, to attempt to ignore the human element, relationships, emotions.  But ideas don't exist in a vacuum.  And people can't survive in a vacuum.

Resist the knee-jerk.  Don't be a jerk.

Have you ever been hurt by someone's knee-jerk reaction to what they perceived as your bad theology?  What would have been a more helpful response?

What do you miss (or not miss)?

Last school year, I preached over 100 times.  This year ... no kidding ... once.

I'm preaching tonight, shaking the rust off, feeling excited.

And I kind of missed preaching.  Preaching feels like a privilege and a challenge.  Not everyone gets to preach.  And balancing the need to communicate creatively with the requirement to remain faithful to God's Word ... that takes hard work!

But I just "kind of" miss preaching.  Preaching was ... and is ... a means to another end.  I want people to love God passionately, follow him faithfully, serve him effectively.  My vision doesn't include them spending all their time listening to my preaching.  Preaching is just a tool.

And, in this stage of my ministry, preaching isn't a high priority.  I still have it as a tool in my belt.  And I'll gladly and joyfully preach tonight.  But it's not the only tool in the belt.  And that's a good thing.

Ministry and life runs on seasons.  There's a time for everything and not everything makes the jump with you from season to season.  Knowing this is essential for effective leadership.

What tools and behaviors have you left behind as you've changed seasons in life and ministry?

Give Up On Being Good

I really want to be a good parent.

But "good" isn't the standard to shoot for.

Jesus hinted at this: "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone."

That question - "Why do you call me good?" - stings.

We all want to determine the "good."  And nowhere is this desire to determine the "good" more present than in parenting.  We all want to be good parents.  But we're all different.  So we all want to define the "good" in ways that affirm our decisions.

Think about it.  Baby Wise.  On demand parenting.  Nursing.  Natural birth.  Spanking.  Naughty seat.  Public, private, charter, home school.  Organic, gluten-free or affordable. 

People will kill over these things.  Seriously.  Lord of the Flies meets Rain Man for parents.

We can't determine the "good."  And no one is good but God alone.

So, what should we shoot for?

Faithful.  Available.  Patient.  Wise.  Sensitive.  Shoot somewhere in here.

Good is too big a category.  And God reserves it for himself.  Give up.

What will you shoot for if you give up on being good?

Book Review: Difficult Conversations

Do you have a conversation you keep putting off?

What would need to happen for you to have that conversation?

For the past 30 years, the Harvard Negotiation Project has helped people navigate conversational minefields, ever since the publication of Getting to Yes in 1981.  Their method involves reframing conversations, looking for win-win situations and brainstorming for creative solutions.

Difficult Conversations applies this method to ... surprise ... difficult conversations.

Beneath every "difficult conversation" lies three complex conversations:
  1. A "What Happened" Conversation: Which story is true?
  2. A Feelings Conversation: What should we do with our emotions?
  3. An Identity Conversation: What does this say about us?
Having a high-quality "difficult conversation" involves reframing these three conversations.  "What happened" becomes an exercise in setting false attributions aside and listening.  Feelings go from being irrelevant to useful.  We find ourselves prepared for the things people might say that might shake us.
Some of my big take-aways:
  • Clarifying intention doesn't remove emotion.  When you clarify your intentions first-thing in a conversation, the other person may become frustrated, feeling unheard and uncared about.  Acknowledging and listening to their feelings first creates the relational space to allow them to better understand your intentions.
  • Although you can't avoid identity conversations, you can prepare for them.  And that preparation can make a world of difference.  It can help you open yourself to insight from others, avoid defensiveness, and maintain self-control.
  • Not having difficult conversations uses up more energy than actually having the conversation.  I definitely justify conflict avoidance through an appeal to efficiency.  "It'll just be easier to do it myself, to wait him out, to take all the blame, etc..."  But it isn't easier.  It's exhausting.
The book helped me.  Perhaps it will help you.

Do you have a "difficult conversation" on the horizon?  How are you preparing?

ps. The book involves a lot of repetition, so I wouldn't recommend reading it straight through.  It would make a great section-a-day read.

God Multiplies Small Things

Over and over again throughout the Scripture, God takes small things and multiplies them.

I've written about this observation here, just a few weeks ago, but this biblical truth appeared on my radar again this week.  In 2 Kings 4, a widow turns to the prophet Elisha when financial pressure threatens to tear her family apart.  She asks him for help and a miracle happens.

But I wonder if the miracle almost didn't happen.

Elisha asks her what she has in her house (perhaps fishing for a small thing), and she replies "Your servant has nothing there at all."  As an afterthought, she adds "except a small jar of olive oil."

What follows is a miracle.  She collects a bunch of empty jars from her neighbors, then fills them from the small jar.  Magic.  Miracle.  Something.  A small jar becomes a bunch of jars, full of olive oil.  She sells the oil and supports her family.

Multiplication.

Our ministry is full of small things.  A small number of staff (2).  A small number of Small Groups (11).  A small number of donors (>100).  A small number of students (200).

And we face huge need.  250,000 students.  12 unreached campuses. 

What if our job wasn't to figure out how to take those small things and apply them to our huge needs?  What if our job, our role, was to be faithful with our small things?

We bring our small things.  God multiplies them.

What are your small things?

Advance Work

Jon Acuff recently challenged bloggers to write posts in advance.

On this blog, I've typically written, edited, then posted ... all in the same sitting.

With little advance work.

We live in a world where the boundary between "I thought it" and "I said it" shrinks almost every day.  Social media connects us to each other in wonderful ways, but blurs this line.

For example, Facebook used to have a Comment button.  A comment button.  The comment button created a little space for you to think before you posted something, a beat before your thought goes out to the world.  Now, you just punch the return key and, without a beat ... the line gets thinner.

Our church and community group has been wrestling with what the Bible calls "taming the tongue." Controlling which words come out of your mouth.

I wonder how much "taming" would happen if we did a little advance work.

Advance work might look like pre-planning a conversation.

Advance work might look like having hard talks early.

Advance work might look like prayer.

This won't solve every problem, but it might help.

What would advance work look like for you?

Fully Present

During our time with the Stewarts, I asked them how they managed healthy work / life rhythms in the midst of full and busy ministry.  Doug traveled 1/3 of the year ... every year ... for 50 years.

I feel guilty travelling, leaving my family behind. So, I slid to the edge of my seat to hear their answer, opened my journal, uncapped my pen.

And, at first, I found myself disappointed.

"When I'm home, I'm fully present."

That sounds so easy.  Too easy.  Where's the secret?

But full presence in an age of technology, in a field of never-ending need, in a culture that leads to almost constant distraction ... that sounds like a significant achievement.

What would it take to be fully present when you're at home?