Right conviction, Wrong character

What happens if you have the right convictions ...
  • convictions that come from God, 
  • convictions about justice and holiness, 
  • convictions that will make the world better
...but don't have the right character?

Stacy Rafferty opened the LaFe13 Conference up tonight teaching out of Exodus 1-2 and helping us to dig into the story of Moses.

Moses was moved by the injustice his people faced daily, laboring as slaves for Pharaoh day in and day out. Moses wanted to do something about it. But Moses lacked the character.

Lacking character doesn't prevent you from acting. But it might prevent your actions from making a difference.

What would happen if everyone who wanted to change the world stepped back and said "God, change me first!"?

Near-life Experience

People come near to life all of the time.

Speeding down the highway, a truck throws a tire. Swerve. Brake. Screech. A rush of adrenaline. A burst of gratitude, but no one to thank. That's a near-life experience.

Driving across the Everglades. Mile markers zip by. Zip. Zip. Zip. Speed makes the fence between the road and the swamp invisible. A bird looks like he's standing on the water. Alligator island. Sun rays filter through the clouds. Someone made this, but that Someone is unknown. That's a near-life experience.

A conversation takes a turn for the spiritual. Chairs tip forward as sitters lean in. Questions fly back and forth. Answers given. Experiences shared. A simple misstep. Emotional landmine. Argument. Agree to disagree. The chairs rest on all four legs now. That's a near-life experience.

Have you ever had a near-life experience?
Have you ever seen someone have a near-life experience?

Draft for opening to my talk for LaFe13 [SPOILER ALERT]

[SPOILER ALERT --- This is going to be the introduction to my talk on 12/28 at LaFe13, InterVarsity's national conference for Latino students]

What is a guy like me doing speaking at a conference like this?

I have pale skin. (If I go to the beach without sunscreen, I come home looking like bacon … mmm … bacon)

I have blonde hair. (In pictures with my Latino friends, I’m almost always the “One of these is not like the other ones.”)

But I’m Latino. My mother’s father’s family came from Spain. My father’s family comes from Cuba, from Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey. Now, my mother’s mother’s family comes from South Carolina. That’s where I get my pale skin and light hair. But this … [rubs belly] … this is palomilla and platanos, arroz con pollo and flan.

The same God who gave me my pale skin and my blonde hair, the same God who made me white also made me Latino. He did this on purpose. What will I do with what God has given me?

I have two kids: Will and Jack. They’re named after my father and my grandfather. Here’s a picture of them.

My kids have my pale skin. (They glow in the dark … just a little bit)

My kids have my light hair. (People stop us on the street and say “Your children have such beautiful hair.” And my wife and I reply “Thanks. We styled it this morning with mashed bananas and gogurt ... But you can’t tell because they’re so blonde!”)

My kids have a wonderful, white mother. She is a gift to them. Children have never had a more wonderful mother: she has fun with them and she’s firm with them, she pays attention to them and gives them space when they need it, she even manages to rinse the banana and gogurt out of their hair. My kids have a wonderful mother.

But my kids also have me.

The same God who gave them a white mother and pale skin also gave them me as a father. And when God gave them me as a father, he gave them my whole family history … the rejections I faced for not speaking Spanish, the discrimination my father experienced because he spoke Spanish, the dreams and fears my family carried with them when they crossed the ocean and passed through Ellis Island. God has given all of this – and more – to my sons. What will they do with what God has given them?

You are here at this conference because God has given you something. After the last 24 hours, perhaps you are beginning to see with greater clarity what that something is. It might be written on your skin or buried in your family’s history, but it’s there.

God has a calling and a purpose for you, for you, for someone with your exact identity, your exact physical features, your exact family history. God has a calling and a purpose for you, a gift.

What will you do with what God has given you, his calling, his purpose? What will you do when God calls you?

Will you say “I’m not qualified”?

“I’m not qualified to claim that I’m Latino … I’m too 2nd generation, too American, too pale”

“I’m not qualified to be a follower of Jesus … I’m too sinful, too doubtful, too busy.”

“I’m not qualified to serve God with my life … I’m too shy, too weak, too unprepared”

Will you say “I’m not qualified”?

That’s what Moses said when God met Moses in the desert, after his disastrous attempts to serve God and identify as a Hebrew blew up in his face, after he fled Egypt.

But Moses’ story didn’t end with the story we heard last night. In the passage we’re going to look at tonight, we see God confronting Moses, Moses objecting “I’m not qualified” and God refusing to give up on Moses.

God is the one who gets to decide who’s qualified.

Margin for the marginal

If you want to reach students on the margins, you need to maintain margin in your schedule.

This holds true with all of our efforts to minister to people who live on the edges of our communities. Whether they live under an overpass or on the other end of the cul-de-sac, our capacity to reach out to them cannot be disconnected from the fullness of our schedules.

Ministry to people on the margins is difficult to plan, tough to schedule and impossible to do on your own timetable. You may have a willing heart. But a willing heart is not enough. The problem is not that you're not willing, it's that you're not available.

I've missed dozen, hundreds, perhaps thousands of opportunities to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who live on the edge of my field of vision. I've missed these people because I've been too busy. I worry that I'll waste time if I maintain too much margin. And I do waste time when I sustain margin-filled seasons. But when those small windows of opportunity swing open, I'm ready to jump through. And that's the way I want to be all the time.

What keeps us from maintaining margin in our schedules?

Relevant and fake

How do you balance being relevant with being yourself?

Maybe that's the wrong question. That question assumes that there's a zero-sum tension between these two ideas: the more "yourself" you are, then the less "relevant" you are. According to this idea, you have to attempt to cash in authenticity to gain acceptance.

But really, the you that comes through, the you that desperately wants to be liked, that's the real you. You can wear a mask to hide your identity, but you will still be known as an actor or a bandit. Who else wears masks?

What if there was a different way to be relevant? Hack your way into the jungle of your own story. Search for a clearing large enough to accommodate the people with whom you're longing to connect. Where is there space for them in your story? What experiences do you share? Fears? Dreams? Struggles? Questions? Hopes? Joys?

Throw down a blanket and send out the invitations. Each of us have clearings in the jumbled jungle of our life-story. If you can invite people into those clear spaces, you can be relevant without being fake.

I don't know of any other way.

3 Exercises to Help You Grow in Gratitude

Would you like to be more grateful?

Here are three things I've been doing to help my grow in gratitude at the start of this holiday season. They've been helping me. Maybe they'll help you.

1) Look back

Reflect back on the last day, week, month, year, lifetime. Where have you experienced goodness, beauty, kindness, generosity, growth, life, love, joy? Pay attention to those little pinpricks of light. They try to bury themselves in the sands of time. Digging them up requires discipline. But if you can do it, you'll grow in gratitude.

2) Look around

Life generously offers you opportunities to stretch your gratitude muscles. But you have to pay attention. You have to lean in. Keep a list. Share on Facebook. Whatever. The hardest part is to slow down enough to pay attention.

Imagine walking through your neighborhood for the first time. You could drive through a neighborhood a million times and still be surprised, delighted the first time you walk. A slower pace allows for more attention. More attention flooded into a soul that desires to be grateful will produce more gratitude. If that's what you want.

3) Look forward

Search the horizon. Strain your eyes. Dawn is coming. Call it what you will: eschatological hope, optimism, faith. This is a difficult source to mine for gratitude. The future seems so uncertain. We can't predict it or control it. And we know it will contain plenty of pain running alongside its scarce beauty. But the difficulty and scarcity only add to its value. That makes gratitude drawn out of the future precious and worth seeking, if you can find it.

What are you doing to grow in gratitude?

Wonder vs. Narcissism

When Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, he had no idea that this had anything to do with him. He was just curious. Imagine his surprise.

We live in a narcissistic age. Our curiosity has been consumed by our self-absorption. We assume that every burning bush has to do with us. We rarely feel surprised to be invited into God's presence and work. We assume that we stand at the center of it all.

We live in a wonderful age. Our highways are filled with burning hedges, calling and inviting each and every one of us to set foot on holy ground and join God in what he's doing in the world. Our ears perk up when we hear God's great invitations. Has anyone every had more opportunity to turn aside and meet God than we have every day?

But will our wonder win out against our narcissism?

Book Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Who you are effects what you see when you read.
Who you are effects what you mean when you write.
These effects often operate beneath the surface.

In Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Randolph Richards and Brandon O'Brien bring these effects to the surface. They show how a Western worldview can differ from the worldview of biblical writers and readers from other places around the world. Their hope, according to the subtitle of the book, is to be about "removing cultural blinders to better understand the Bible."

Here's one example of their work in action. A Western individualistic perspective assumes that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem alone, gave birth to Jesus alone and marveled alone as shepherds and wise men came to pay homage. But the Bible doesn't say that they were alone. That's an assumption. What if they travelled with family, the way they travelled to the Temple later in the same chapter of the Bible? It doesn't dramatically change our theology, but it shifts our reading of the passage.

A deeper example has to do with our thinking about rules. Richards and O'Brien point out that the Western understanding of fairness means that rules apply to everyone or else they're unjust. But that pattern doesn't seem to hold in Scripture. Over and over again, God seems to make exceptions. We may, at times, call this "grace," but sometimes it's pretty confusing to us. In other parts of the world, this dynamic isn't super-confusing, since relationships trump rules all the time. And why shouldn't they?

As with all books of this type, Richards and O'Brien paint with a broad brush. They know they're playing in stereotypes and running the risk of talking down about Western culture. For the most part, they do this well. That said, there were several points at which their description of Western worldview felt exaggerated for effect. And I did find myself wondering if it isn't some for of cultural snobbery/romanticism to equate a modern non-Western worldview with the worldview(s) of the biblical authors.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is definitely worth checking out.

Legacy and Jealousy

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of CS Lewis. No one has shaped my thinking and imagination as deeply and richly as Lewis. I'm grateful for his legacy in my life.

Lewis has sold millions of books and influenced millions of readers. But his death was almost completely overshadowed. On the same day Lewis died, the world shook with the news that the American president had been assassinated. Even today, stories about JFK outstrip remembrances of Lewis.

I wonder if Lewis would have wrestled with jealousy over not being in the limelight.

His book, Til We Have Faces, deals with the ugly face of jealousy. The main character wrestles with jealousy throughout the book, to devastating effect. Lewis captured how jealousy twists the way we tell our own stories and how the hunger for attention consumes us.

Lewis seemed to understand the experience of jealousy. I'd like to imagine that that depth of understanding would give him the ability to overcome any jealousy that would try to attach itself to him.

But, of course, understanding a thing doesn't give you power over it.

Jealousy of all sins is one of the slipperiest to pin down. Just when you think you've put a stop to it, it emerges in a different corner of your life. It goes on vacation but never moves out.

I wonder how Lewis would have dealt with being in the annual shadow of JFK. Or of having his stories overshadowed by Tolkien. Loved, sure, he's loved. But he's often being attached and compared to others. That's part of his legacy.

Maybe I don't wonder as much about Lewis as I wonder about myself. Jealousy is not a vice confined to the famous. Maybe I push Lewis into my place on stage and hope that, in watching him play my part, I'll learn how to perform it the way it was meant to be performed. Lewis is good for that.

Book Review: Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Tullian Tchividjian is a pastor here in South Florida. He's well known in our neck of the woods for his famous grandfather, his casual clothes and his controversial preaching about grace.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything is, at its core, a book about grace. Tchividjian's main point is that everything we have with God we receive because of Jesus. Salvation is a free gift, but so is sanctification. And the grace we receive through Jesus is what molds our lives and propels us into his mission.

The book contains some close exegesis of sections from Colossians, as well as glimpses behind the curtain of the turmoil that rages in a pastor's heart when he isn't getting approval from his congregation. Jesus + Nothing = Everything started out as a sermon series and didn't make the transition to book-form smoothly (frequent repetition, scant illustration, frequent repetition). It would be helpful to read it at a pace of a chapter per week, like a sermon series.

The most helpful piece of the book for me was Tchividjian's reflection on the "nowness" of the gospel. It's easy to see how Jesus work for me on the cross affected my past (ransomed) and how it will impact my future (heaven). But how the gospel shapes my today proves much more difficult to pin down. Jesus + Nothing = Everything helps with that. From gifts of courage to holiness to service, the good news about Jesus has a hand in shaping the way we live in the here and now, if we let it.

Innocent Bullies

There are bullies who don't know that they're bullies.

They don't realize that they have more resources, that they have more power, that they have more resources, more options, more prestige. They don't know the effect they have on people around them. They just don't understand.

The advice we often give for handling bullies is to punch them in the nose. Punch a bully once and they'll leave you alone. But that doesn't work for these bullies. They have no idea why they're getting punched.

They may not have given you a second thought. They may not even know you exist. They may not have meant to do the harm they did. But that innocence doesn't remove the damage they do.

I'm not sure what to do with these kinds of bullies.

But I know I don't want to be one of them.

Maybe that's an okay place to start.

Being Helpful

Will has hit a stage where he wants to be helpful.

For him, at this age, "being helpful" looks like carrying something for me. He'll carry a box in from the car. He'll carry something in the grocery store. He'll carry a shirt or a towel downstairs.

"Being helpful" for a 3 year old isn't really about getting a task accomplished. Child-helpers introduce risk (Don't drop it!) and inefficiencies (Sure, I can take the heavy stuff out of the bag so you can carry it). But we let them help because it gives us something to do together.

Being helpful is about the relationship.

A lot of us go through seasons where we just don't feel super-helpful to anyone. Those seasons tend to be filled with a surprising and profound loneliness. We don't expect loneliness and helpfulness to walk hand in hand, but they do. Helping other people connects us with them.

Are you feeling lonely?

Ask someone you care about if there's anything you can do to help them. Sure, your help might not be "needed." But there's more to being helpful than getting stuff done.

That's true even if you're older than three.

Gathered for prayer

Tonight, five churches from the South Florida suburbs gathered for Pray South Florida.

It was a rare and beautiful thing.

Churches tend to be a little isolationistic. At best, they just have too much going on to make time to do stuff with other churches. At worst, they're possessive and combative.

But God is doing something special in South Florida. Churches are working together across denominational lines. And they're doing this in meaningful ways.

I noticed this first with the folks over at City Church. They're four different churches from four different denominations who share resources and liturgy.

Then I noticed RENEW South Florida. This is a community of church planters from different denominations who gather regularly to share ideas and support each other in their efforts.

Then The Collective happened. 3 churches. 1 student ministry. My church is a part of this, along with two other church plants. Instead of each of us starting our own youth ministry, we built one together. And it's pretty incredible. [I wrote more about it here: Collective Effort]

Pray South Florida is another step in this direction. Each of these church had the capacity to host a prayer and worship gathering of their own. Heck, at Crossway we do this on our own once or twice a year anyways. But instead we chose to do this together.

What do you think is next?


Somehow I ended up outside
And there I stayed because my pride
Refused to knock knock on the door
And ask the few who live within
To open up and let my poor
And tired, huddled mass come in
And find a seat somewhere beside
Those blessed to spend each day inside.

I tell myself this common tale
To blame my pride for ways I fail
For if the fault should not be mine
And should instead somewhere reside
Beyond the reach of my design
Where immutable powers bide
Their time and cast my hopes upon
The wheel and spin until they're gone
And all that's left is me,
Standing uncertainly
Cornered by destiny,
For some must always be

What does Latino loyalty look like?

I have a theory about Latino loyalty.

When Latinos deeply commit, we express this loyalty with a specific flavor of honesty. 

When all's going well, we celebrate and compliment. When there are problems, we don't run away. But we do speak up. We raise objections and ask questions, leaning deeper into relationship. That's how we express loyalty.

Now, this gets tricky in cross-cultural situations. Our expressions of loyalty can sound like disloyalty. 

In some cultural communities, you express loyalty by not asking questions. "I trust you enough that I don't have to ask" the line goes. And this is fine and good. But this isn't what I've experienced in the Latino community or in my own experience as a Latino leader.

Instead of saying "I trust you enough that I don't have to ask," I hear "I trust you enough that I don't have to hold back." That's what Latino loyalty looks like ... at least ... according to my theory.

What do you think?

Would Lady Wisdom be allowed to preach in your church?

Our pastor pointed out last week that - throughout the Book of Proverbs - wisdom is personified as a woman. Throughout Proverbs, Lady Wisdom teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains readers in righteousness. Readers are encouraged to listen to her.

What would happen if Lady Wisdom preached at your church this week? Would you listen to her?

Her teaching may sound too common-sensical.
Her teaching may feel disjointed or sharply illustrated.
Her teaching may not be "gospel-centered."
Her teaching may not fit a gendered norm.
Her teaching may seem too application-focused.
Her teaching may remind you of "seeker sensitive" stuff.
Her teaching may change your life.

Will you listen?

From Religion to Science

I used to be able to heal Will's hurts with strategically applied kisses. When he would stub a knee or bonk an elbow, he'd run to me with tear-filled eyes and ask me to kiss his "boo boo" or his "ouchie." One kiss and everything is better. He had faith and that religion healed him.

But not anymore.

Now, Will wants band-aids. The same knocks that would have sent him running to me for kisses now send him running to me for the application of inexpensive medical devices. The instant the band-aid touches him, he feels better. He trusts medical science.

A lot of people who make the jump from religion to science do it in just this way ... swapping one faith for another. Faith in science may be a great faith. But that doesn't necessarily make it any more true than faith in parental kisses.

Area Vision

Thriving witnessing communities
On every campus
In every corner of every campus

I shared it again tonight at our Area Team Meetings.

We've had the same Area Vision for the last 3 years. More exciting leaders have a new vision every year. But this is what I've got. And I love it.

A Greedy Dog

The other day I had two pieces of food, one bigger than the other.

I also have two dogs, one bigger than the other.

I intended to give the bigger piece of food to the bigger dog.

But that didn't happen.

Seeing that I intended to give them some of our leftover smoked pork barbecue, the dogs got very excited. They scampered and play bowed. They pushed and they shoved. And ... before I knew it ... the bigger dog pushed his way to the front and grabbed the piece of meat closest to him ... the smaller piece of meat. (Poor Jiffy!)

There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Words can't capture

Jack turned one today.

He's already walking. He chases Will around and loves to go after our phones and our glasses. He likes to have both of his hands full of food. His favorite toy is his stuffed pug "Pup."

How do you even begin to capture a child's growth with words? Snapshots, sure. Growth charts, okay. But words?

Words can't capture the red wisps of hair that fly away beside his ears.
Words can't capture the glow from his eyes.
Words can't capture the hitch-step walk slap and slap slap and slap of his feet on the tile as he makes his way toward you.

Words can't capture a child.

But words also can't capture a father's delight
Or a mother's happiness
Or a family's joy
Over a child.

Words can't capture ... but ... then, maybe that's not what they're meant for.

Into the lion's pen

The other day, Will and I ran over to a tiny iguana sunning himself on the sidewalk at the zoo. We stopped a few feet away. But the little green iguana got spooked. He ran away from us ... and straight into the lion's pen.

Don't be like the iguana.

Two ways to take a punch

There are two ways to take a punch.

You can brace yourself. Tense your muscles. Lean in.

Or ...

You can roll with the punch. Minimize the damage. Survive.

A good fighter knows when to brace and when to roll.

[This principle applies to relational conflicts too]

Should you say what you really think?

On the one hand, it feels authentic to really speak your mind. It takes courage to share your emotions and makes you vulnerable to share your controversial thoughts. We admire courage and appreciate people who are strong enough to make themselves vulnerable.

And yet, on the other hand, saying what you really think may not be helpful. It can do more harm than good. It can stir up division and fuel conflict. It can wound and create misunderstandings.

Our world doesn't have a lot of room for nuance.
Our world doesn't have a lot of patience to hear people out.

This week, I've found myself stuffing and stuffing and stuffing comments, holding myself in check, knowing that the fight over a specific and small disagreement would overshadow more significant and important areas of agreement. I've checked myself in conversations about politics, theology, strategy and decision-making already this week. And it's only Tuesday.

Do you think it's wise to hold back what you really think from time to time?

Behind every quarrel

What if you were able to uncover - beneath every quarrel - an unmet desire, an unmet desire that fuels and drives the quarrel?

James talks about this in his letter to Christians scattered all over the world. And we talked about it in our Grow Group tonight.

What causes quarrels and fights?

The desire to be respected and to have that respect expressed in a certain way
The desire to be heard and understood
The desire to be appreciated for being transparent
The desire to have things go according to plan
The desire to see things through to the end

There's nothing wrong with these desires. They're good. Even healthy. Except when they serve as fuel for quarrels and fights, when they fuel our selfishness, when they serve as substitutes for God.

Pick a fight. Examine it. What's behind it?

Reflection from a week away

I took a week off of writing.

Not just the blog ... the writing that you see.

I took a week off of writing. No posts for the national blog. No writing for my book projects. Not even any journaling.

I wanted to see if I missed it.
I wanted to see if I had anything I really wanted to say.
I wanted to see if I could pick it back up if I took a break.

I learned that I missed it.
I learned that I have lots I want to say.

I don't know whether or not writing is something I can put down and pick back up. What's the line between a discipline and a compulsion? I want writing to be something that's healthy for me, life-giving. Taking breaks seems like an important guardrail.

What role do you think taking breaks has to do with developing healthy disciplines?

Because no one has told them

A student asked me today:
Why doesn't everyone know that God loves them?
Now, I had a hunch that he was wondering why everyone doesn't just innately know that God loves them and cares for them. I guessed he was wondering why God's love isn't assumed, why so many people fear God or doubt his affection. I thought I knew what he wanted to talk about.

But I took a stab in a different direction:
I guess because no one's ever told them.
He laughed and then clarified his question. But my smart-alecky answer created space for humor. And that laugh created a connection for a great conversation.

I call this the Dumb Guy technique. And it's great for building bridges.

[For Dumb Guy humor, check out this Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/the_dumb_guy]

Book Review: Jesus Asked by Conrad Gempf

Few books have shaped the way I interact with the gospels more than Jesus Asked by Conrad Gempf.

I decided to re-read it again this month. And, again, I was delighted.

Gempf provides a survey of the many, many questions that Jesus asked people (and the way Jesus responded to people's questions). He digs into a great deal of background and context around Jesus' conversations with people without getting overly bogged down. And he's funny.

At the core of Jesus Asked, Conrad Gempf shares this thought:
Perhaps we get to the heart of spiritual reality not by asking things, but by allowing ourselves to be questioned.
This idea pushes us to receive the questions Jesus asks, and to hold our own questions with humility. And it runs right against my instinct. I want to be the question-asker, not the answer-giver. But then, Jesus' questions focus more on loyalty than on information. And perhaps that's why his questions are so difficult to answer.

I would highly recommend this book. It's a quick read, funny and insightful.

[As a bonus, you can listen to Gempf read his book for FREE here: Jesus Asked]

The need for good data

Your data influences your decisions.

Pick a category: finances, health, ministry strategy, relationships. Every day, you'll make decisions that shape each of these categories. And you'll make those decisions based on data. And the quality of that data will influence the quality of your decisions.

You don't need perfect data to make good decisions.

You need good data.

And if you start to discover that you're making poor decisions, check your data.

Take your finances as an example. Do you know how much things cost? How much you're spending? How much you're bringing in? What your options are? What sort of risks you're facing? If you find yourself making poor financial decisions, you probably have some poor data. You might think you're bringing home more money than you actually are. You might not realize how much you're spending. Data. Data. Data.

How good is your data?

Out of control

Your children teach you how out of control you are.

When Will was a newborn, he was pretty sick. He had to be placed in a special plastic box under light in order to help with his jaundice. He wore a blindfold to protect his eyes from the light. And he had no idea I was there.

I couldn't make him healthy on my own.
I couldn't speed up the healing process. 
I couldn't even let him know I was there.

I was out of control.

The best I could do was to be present and to pray.

I have a friend whose newborn son is in the hospital tonight, in a similar situation. 

And again, I feel out of control. 

I can't fix things.
I can't speed things up.
I can't even get through to let them know I'm praying.

But I can pray.

What do you do when you reach the limits of your ability to control your world?

Game Theory in Action

Here's the scenario:

You're on a flight with your screaming 3-year-old son. You're in the window and center seat in a 6 seat row. Though he loves you, he wants his mother. And he's letting the whole plane know it.

Unfortunately, his mother is sitting in a middle seat on the other side of the aisle. Airlines hate you.

The entire airplane is watching you. They are either disappointed in your lack of parenting control, grumpy about the noise or hopeful that some benevolent stranger will sweep in and rescue you by offering to switch seats with your child's mother so she can sit next to your screaming 3-year-old.

The stranger with the coveted seat-ticket comes down the aisle and lands gently in the coveted aisle-stop-the-crying seat. You can tell by his briefcase that he travels often.

You ask him if he would be willing to switch seats.

And he stares at you like you spoke to him in Elvish. "Trade my aisle seat for a middle seat?" he asks, finally making sense of your Elvish. "That's not going to happen," he says.

What do you do?

This morning, in this scenario, I closed my eyes and prayed and sighed. I then started planning how I was going to make this guy's life a living hell (switching seats with the 3-year-old so he's screaming in the guy's ear, giving the 3-year-old a lollipop without supervision, asking the 3-year-old to use his outside voice to tell his momma "I'm teaching this man next to me about negative externalities"). Fortunately, the adults on the plane (I wasn't acting like an adult at this moment) found a solution, saved the jerk and probably saved my soul in the process.

A familiar place

Have you ever visited a familiar place?

You may pick up on small and big changes, small and big consistencies. Being in a familiar place brings back a flood of memories and, depending on the place, a wave of emotion. When you go back to a place, you also have the opportunity to go back to another time.

We were made to resonate with places. Our minds and hearts dig down roots beneath the surface, locking us in and grounding us. We may not be aware of the effect places have on us, but that doesn't remove the effect.

Look around you. The place you're in is having an effect on you right now. Can you see it?

Scraps from a funeral

"A full life ..."

"Because she meant a lot to us, we're sad to see her go."

"She was my best friend."

"That reminds me of a time she ..."

"I know you don't know me, but she meant the world to me."

"She was progressive because she thought it was right, not because she thought it was cool."

"I think she's probably looking on and listening."

"Thank you."

Covering for you

Who covers for you?

We had to head out of town today on short notice for a family funeral. I found myself tossing things out of my schedule, throwing them overboard like a crew trying to keep a ship afloat in a storm. And, fortunately, I had people around me who could catch the things that needed catching.

Life throws things at us. We need to adapt and adjust. But we don't need to do it alone.

Blessed is the person who has someone to cover for them when life throws a curveball.

Actually Innocent

Have you ever been criticized when you're actually innocent?

Often, when we're criticized, there's a nugget of truth in the critique. That nugget of truth makes the critique easier to handle. You may not agree with everything that person has to say, but you've got a piece of common ground to start a dialogue.

But what do you do when the critique is all the way off?

Make an effort to listen. Even if the person is mistaken or wrong, it does your soul good to show people respect.

Resist the temptation to pretend like the critique is justified. Nodding and smiling may make the criticism end earlier, but it won't do your soul any good. At best, you'll become a little more fake in a world that tries to make us more and more fake every day.

Defend yourself. We so rarely find ourselves innocent. If you are, push back gracefully and forcefully.

Be careful. There's a chance you're not as innocent as you think you are.

Sometimes poetry says best what can't really be said

There are some things that can't really be said. You've probably experienced emotions that can't be pinned to a page, or stuff you can see but can't quite describe. Life is too complex, too rich, too painful to be comprehensively captured.

Poetry sits beside us in our silence and offers us her hands and feet. She lets us choreograph a dance for her when we can't express ourselves. Images and metaphors, rhythm and structure ... all these allow us to express ourselves beyond our capacity.

Throughout the Bible, people experiencing strong emotions break out into poetry:
- Adam at his first glance of another human being
- God in his anger over human sin and brokenness
- David in his fear and his joy and his Tuesdays.

When you're struggling to express yourself, consider using poetry. When you have an emotion or an experience that 10,000 words can't capture, try using 7 or 10 or 20. The form of poetry allows you to set aside the pressure to be comprehensive and instead to be true and faithful and honest and real.

How often do you find yourself resorting to poetry?

That Good Night

We all go gentle into that good night, eventually.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light we might,
But when the rage is done,
Another fight is won
And we go, victorious, into that night
Which we can only hope
Is made better by the company
Of those who have gone peacefully before
And whom we long to join.

On Daily Bread

How will you feel if God gives you just enough to get by?

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he teaches them to pray "Give us this day our daily bread." This notion of daily bread appears, at first, like "just enough to get by." God, give us enough to make it through today: enough money, enough support, enough strength.

And, if you look around, you may see evidence of God doing just this.

We have a big conference this weekend (www.sonburst.org). We'll have 500 or so students from around the state of Florida gathered to worship God and learn how to serve him on their campuses and in the world. It's always a struggle to get students from South Florida to the conference. Few students have drivers licenses and even fewer have cars. Every year we scrap and make calls and dig into our own pockets to cobble together scholarships and transportation. And every year it just works out. Just. Just barely.

God gave us enough.

But God did more than that.

And "daily bread" means more than that. Daily bread is more than the minimum. Daily bread is an image of faithfulness. Every day, day in and day out, God gives us bread. We don't need bread every day. We could make it days without a fresh loaf. No, God is generous to us. Abundant.

If you focus on the "just enough" you might miss the "abundant."

What good is it?

What good is it if
you get a good job and
you build a good career and
you grow a good organization and
you make a difference in the world
but you lose your soul in the process?

What good is it if
you marry well and
you raise good kids and
you create a healthy home and
you leave a legacy for generations
but you lose your soul in the process?

What good is it if
you're right and
you're good and
you're successful and
you're everything you want to be
but you lose your soul in the process?

"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"- Jesus

God's Twitter Feed

I just finished reading Proverbs.

Every year or so I'll circle back and read the book through in a month. At a chapter every day, it's easy to remember where you're supposed to read.

On this reading, I incorporated social media into my experience. I read each chapter slowly, asking the Lord to help me lock in on something and then posted a key verse or thought on Twitter. I used the hashtag: #lectiotweeto. I found it helpful.

[For more on social media and spiritual life, check out this post from Eric Robinson: How Social Media Can Enhance Your Time With God]

Proverbs is kind of like God's Twitter feed. Short, pithy statements shared with the world.

The God of the Bible rarely speaks in 140 character bursts (and he never uses hashtags ... that's for you,  ... you know who you are). He prefers conversations and images, questions and incarnation. His means of communication stands in stark contrast to our fast-paced social media landscape. He has more to offer us than tweets.

But I wonder if a book like Proverbs isn't the perfect place for people like us to start. A chapter a day. Scanning ... the way you skip down a Twitter feed. You may not understand everything you see. Some of it may not interest you. But when something catches your attention, you can re-read it more carefully and dig around to see if there's something in there you should be paying attention to. It may be a verse or a phrase, but reading it will enrich your life.

When's the last time you read Proverbs? Would you consider giving it a try?

Photo courtesy of jurgenappelo

Don't be afraid

Twice in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people: "Don't be afraid." 

The first time is when a father has just learned that his daughter has died. Jesus turns to him in that moment and says "Don't be afraid; just believe." Jesus then goes and raises the little girl from the dead, giving her new life and breakfast.

The second time Jesus says "Don't be afraid" in Mark's Gospel is when his disciples think they've seen a ghost on a dangerous, stormy sea. Jesus is walking on the water, about to pass their boat by as they row for their lives. When he sees their panic, he shouts "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

In life's most tumultuous seasons, when facing the death of a loved one or a physical danger, he says "Don't be afraid."

Fear is a major reality you will face if you try to follow Jesus. 

In fact, Mark's gospel originally ended with this line: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." Fear sparked silence. At least ... for a while. Eventually the word got out. We know that because we've heard about Jesus and his resurrection.

Don't let fear drive you to silence.
Don't let fear drive you to unbelief.
Don't let fear drive you to cowardice.

Jesus is with us.
Jesus can help.
Nothing can conquer Jesus.

Don't be afraid.

Book Review: Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan

Spiritual Rhythm
Mark Buchanan is a Canadian author and pastor. His book, Spiritual Rhythm, was written in the aftermath of the death of a close friend and ministry partner, which sent Buchanan and his wife into what he calls “a winter season.”

The book is broken into two sections: a section on seasons of the soul and a section on spiritual disciplines. Spiritual Rhythm is shot throughout with vivid imagery, fresh poetry and lush prose. The guy seriously uses the phrase "lusty singing" multiple times.

The core idea of the book – that spiritual life is full of seasons – resonated deeply with me. I appreciated Buchanan’s insight into the various seasons and his willingness to talk about how the seasons affect our spiritual practice.

Reflecting on the seasonal concept, I feel like I’m shifting from a fall season to a winter season. Work is harder and less rewarding. And I’m tired. Buchanan has helped me figure out what to do with myself during this season and has given me language to describe what’s happening in me, which has been helpful.

I also connected with an idea that Buchanan mentions several times by asking “Where else is constant growth an unequivocal sign of health? In human bodies, it’s a sign of obesity or cancer. Yet we’ve applied the standard of constant growth to our churches and to our spiritual lives.”

The idea that healthy growth in spirituality follows a rhythm echoes Lewis’ idea of “The Law of Undulation,” which I wrote about here: 3 Laws for Spiritual Growth. The idea is familiar, but I’ve never heard it applied to ministry. Ministry is supposed to have ups and downs? When I say it it sounds so obvious. But my tendency is to treat every down as an indicator that something is wrong or unhealthy. A more rhythmic perspective feels very freeing.

Spiritual Rhythm was a great book. Totally worth checking out.

Letting yourself bomb

Stand-up comedians use violent imagery to describe their successes. Jokes kill. On a good night, you slay the crowd. And sometimes you bomb.

You know you're bombing when your jokes are falling flat, when no one is laughing, when "stage fright" becomes "stage I want to crawl under a table and die."

Comedians aren't the only ones who bomb. You might have bombed while giving a presentation. Or on a date. Or while preaching.

There's a lot you can do to avoid bombing (rapport-building, structure, etc ...). But sometimes, the situation calls for you to let yourself bomb.

I had the mike at an event tonight and bombed. Specifically, I was running a raffle at a friends adoption fundraising event. I had a dozen or so small items to raffle off in two big sets ... while everyone is eating. My jokes fell flat. I didn't make a connection with the crowd. But it wasn't a big deal.

The things I would have needed to have done to avoid bombing would have distracted from the main point: my friends who are adopting and raising money for them. Me bombing wasn't a big deal.

Here's when you need to let yourself bomb: when killing would be a distraction. That's comedian speak. The rest of us would say it this way: it's okay to not get laughs if the only way to get them would be to sacrifice something more important.

There are worse things than bombing.

Good problem to have

This is a phrase you need to adopt: "This is a good problem to have."

Just because it's a problem, doesn't mean that it isn't good.
Just because it's good, doesn't mean that it isn't a problem.

Problems tax your resources, challenge your plans, force you to adapt. Good problems may make it so you can face your problems with a light step, but that doesn't make them not problems. Pretending that a good problem isn't a problem at all prevents you from taking advantage of the opportunity that the problem presents.

Imagine you have a dozen students who want to go to a conference. The conference will be a great experience for them. But none of the students can drive. This is a good problem to have: a dozen students who want to go to a conference, even though they can't drive. Pretending like this isn't a problem prevents us from actually figuring out how to get the students to the conference.

But you see the other side of the coin too, right?

You'll miss something if you don't see the problem as a good problem. To be grateful for the students, even if you don't know how you're going to get them to where they need to go ... that's important too. Calling something "a problem" should not necessarily mean that you're calling it "bad." The best opportunities often present themselves as problems at first glance.

Now, not every problem is a good problem to have. I know that. But quite a few of them are. And you need to be able to fit those two pieces together: good and problem. If you do, you'll miss out.

God often sends us his blessings in the form of "good problems." They draw us out of our safe spaces, into places where we can encounter and lean on him.

Have you run into any "good problems" lately?

Do you have something to say?

If you had to speak at a moment's notice, would you have something to say?

We all have a "Something-to-say Tank."

It gets filled by the wild combination of our experience and our processing. We experience things all the time: life events, meals, books, television, podcasts, sermons, conversations. And we have the option to process the things we experience: reflecting, mulling over, meditating, Group sharing, journaling.

And if we do both - experience and process - our "Something-to-say Tank" won't be empty when we're put on the spot.

If you don't have something to say right now - if your "Something-to-say Tank" is empty - then you either need to have broader experiences or to spend more energy processing.

Check yourself. Do you have something to say right now?