3 Lessons for a Better Vacation

Will with a mermaid on vacation
From our vacation we just returned
And this is what I learned

1) Expect what is in you to come out

All of my life I've heard it: "You need to balance" and "Strive toward the Golden Mean" and "Look for synthesis." And I stink at all of it. I work too had and eat too much and exercise too little. And vacation is no escape from this trend.

What tends to happen for me is that vacation time levels things out. A few years ago, I spend a lot of our vacation sleeping. I had been cutting corners on sleep and my body needed it. When I slowed down for vacation, my body took what it needed ... and I crashed.

This year, I noticed this trend again. All year, I've been spending more and more time on the computer, reading blogs and writing. All year, I've been spending more time on social media. All year, I've been reading books at a breakneck pace. When I slowed down for vacation - we were in a place with poor internet reception for 9 days - I felt as if a huge gap opened up in my life. Input. Input. Input. Emptiness. Could this be healthy?

If you want to have a better vacation, expect what is in you to come out. If you know you've been moving at a million miles an hour, plan time to rest. If you know you've been spending too little time at the gym, give yourself room to exercise. If you know you've been spending too little time with your family, make sure you plan in such a way that you get lots of time with them. Compensate. Re-balance.

Wherever you go, there you are. You can't escape yourself. Don't pretend that you can.

2) Think about the one-sentence summary

This is great advice that Andy Stanley gives people. It also shows up in Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. Here it is:
How will you describe this vacation 10 years from now?
Having that in mind makes a big difference when trying to pull together a vacation. It doesn't have to be perfect and no one is going to remember every little detail. From our vacation last year, we remember that we stayed on a horse farm near the beach, rode a golf cart and spent time with some of our best friends in the world. A year out, I also remember that the house we were in was a double-wide and that the beach was a long way from the house and that I pitched a fit when we found out these two facts upon arrival. But 10 years from now I won't remember any of that. All I'll remember are the horses and the golf cart and our friends.

You've heard it said: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Well, I think we can also say: "The perfect is the enemy of the vacation." Don't try to hit perfect. And don't try to cram too much into a vacation. The truth is, 10 years from now, that whole vacation will be summed up in one-sentence.

We stayed at a hotel and had room service and Dad was with us when he wasn't working.
We went on a houseboat trip with a bunch of people from Dad's work.
We spent a week at the lake with our friends.
We swam and drove the golf cart looking for bunny rabbits.
We stayed with horses and drove a golf cart with our friends.

The thing all those vacations have in common: "We."

3) Learn from your vacation experience

Take some time after your vacation to debrief.

What was memorable?
What was restorative?
What was fun?
What was difficult?
What do you wish you would have done differently?
What are you glad you did?

Try new things. Hone in on what works for you. It's so easy to be unthinking about vacation, to slide into a rut, to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again.

Amy and I learned something over the last few years of vacations. Leaving for vacation stresses me out. You can attribute it to childhood vacation trauma or my generalized fear of taking a vacation, but I hate the moment when we get out the door. I hate to be rushed when we're leaving for vacation. Amy, on the other hand, is ready to get out the door early and get moving. This has led to lots of conflict. But we learned. And somehow, this year, we had a smooth start.

What have you learned about taking vacations?

Honoring the Text in Genesis 1

What do you do with Genesis 1?

Genesis 1 seems to reveals a lot more about us than it does about God's creation of the cosmos.

On the one hand, the Hebrew word for "day" that is used throughout the chapter - "yom" - calls to mind a 24 hour period. The author of Genesis pushes us even further toward this interpretation by talking about "the evening and the morning." So, maybe God created the cosmos in 6 days.

But the entire chapter is written in poetic form with poetic rhythms and a mythic tone. And the "yom" days that drive the passage are quite unusual in the Hebrew. One would expect the author to use "hayyom harison" to say "the first day," but instead we read "yom ehad," which means "Day One." This lack of a "heh" definite article signals loudly "THIS IS POETRY." So, maybe this chapter isn't meant to be read literally.

People who want to honor the text of Genesis 1 can slide to either side. The question isn't "Who honors the text?" Instead, we find ourselves discovering "What are you hoping to find in this text?"

So, what do you do with Genesis 1?

HT my mom (HT means "hat tip" or "heard through" in twitterspeak)

Book Review: Leading Kingdom Movements by Mike Breen

My latest read is a book by Mike Breen. He's a church strategy consultant, experienced missionary and the guy who insightfully shared: "If you build a church you might get disciples. If you build disciples you will always get a church."

A few summers ago, I picked up Building a Discipling Culture and was challenged by the simplicity of Breen's system for mentoring people. Over the years, I've struggled to help students disciple other students. So much of my discipling technique is craft, honed over years and difficult to imitate. Breen's material feels simplistic and arbitrary at times, but the choices he makes show a great deal of wisdom.

More recently, I read Multiplying Missional Leaders. You can read my review here: Multiplying Missional Leaders. In it, he gives a helpful framework, but left me wanting more specifics.

In Leading Kingdom Movements, Breen zooms out to 10,000 feet and shows how missional communities fit into a broad kingdom movement. This was the most helpful aspect of the book for me.

Structure-wise, Breen starts the book with his own story, drawing principles from his learning process as a pastor in England. From there, he traces the ministry and methods of the Apostle Paul before moving on to a framework for Missional Communities.

Two ideas worth taking careful note of in Leading Kingdom Movements:

1) Orbits: Breen talks about developing leaders by expanding their orbits. Imagine two objects in space: one a mature object and the other a younger object. The younger object orbits around the more mature object, learning along the way. Over time, the younger object begins to broaden it's orbit, moving farther and farther from the mature object, but still circling back for input and guidance. This is an image of discipleship.

When I think about my discipling ministry, I realize that I stumbled onto this concept on campus. Meeting with students every week kept them in close orbit to me. I was able to provide regular and frequent input. They would meet with me, then go out and try something, then we'd come back and debrief it. I saw them grow tremendously.

But I always struggled to expand the orbit. Student rhythms are tuned to a week-to-week. I never managed to have a student go from weekly meetings with me to monthly meetings with me and expand their impact on campus. And I never really threw myself into continuing the orbital idea after they graduated. I felt that keeping them in my orbit, even a loose orbit, would hinder their growth. Breen's book has convinced me (and I was already beginning to wonder) that this false humility led to missed opportunities.

On a side note, I think this orbits idea also has a significant application to parenting. I'm going to have to think more about this.

2) Oikos: Breen introduced this concept in the last book of his I read, but I didn't connect as much with it there as I should have. The oikos is an extended family, the network of 20-50 people who made up a Greek household. In Breen's ministry model, the oikos is a significant place of ministry and vehicle for mission. He calls it the "social space." This is a space that is mostly missing from the ministry models I've experienced.

Think about the environments you see in ministries. "Public space" shows up on Sunday morning services or Large Group meetings. "Personal space" shows up in Small Groups, 6-12 people. "Intimate space" shows up in Discipling as we meet with one or two people for accountability and coaching. Think of these as family reunions, nuclear families and (to put it awkwardly) marriages. What's missing is the extended family, something that's often missing in the Western culture from which we often derive our ministry models (note: this is one of the reasons LaFe is so important ... Latino students understand extended family).

It would take a radical culture shift for most churches to be willing to focus on the oikos, but I think it would pay off. For one, everyone has an oikos: extended family, workplace, neighborhood, network of friends, teammates. This means that if we're on a mission to reach our oikos, we can each participate in God's mission. Secondly, for most of us, we can think of an oikos we're connected to that has yet to commit itself fully to Jesus. Lastly, since every oikos is different, this creates a need for high innovation (which can lead to high ownership).

In InterVarsity, we're already thinking along these lines. "Who is God calling you to reach?" we ask students. "Which corner of campus is God calling you to go to?" I'm excited to apply some of Breen's ideas and see if they bear fruit with out students.

When did you know she was your wife?

There's something mysterious about love.

A few weeks ago, I got a message from one of my students. He is thinking about relationships and was wondering about my relationship with Amy. "When did you know she was your wife?" he asked.

There's this idea about romantic relationships, this idea of the One. That's what this student was searching for: "How do you know that the person you're with is the One for you?"

I'm not sure where the idea of the One came from. It shows up in some of Plato's writings, particularly The Symposium. He shares a myth that human beings originally had four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. They were powerful and threatened the gods. Not wanting to kill the humans, Zeus split them in half, creating male and female. Ever since, men and women have been looking for their "better half," "their soulmate," "the One for them."

So, for thousands of years people have been wrestling with this question.

But I found the student's framing fascinating. Instead of asking "how" he asked "when." And this puts him on biblical ground.

The Bible has little patience for myths around love. Love is a choice. Marriages are arranged. Romance is there, but it's not on the main stage. And faithfulness is prized above all.

The Bible doesn't assume that there is "the One" for you out there. The Bible paints diverse portraits of love lives. Some marry. Some never marry. Some marry and get widowed and remarry. Some will marry and regret their decision and know in their guts that there's someone more compatible out there. The idea of the One doesn't resonate with the stories that fill the Scriptures.

So, when did I know Amy was my wife? I knew when we got married.

7 years ago today.

Book Review: Decisive

Making big decisions can often prove difficult. Right answers don't always show themselves. We agonize. We act irrationally. We have way more confidence than we should.

In their previous books, Chip and Dan Heath tackled communications theory (Made to Stick) and habits (Switch). In Decisive, they tackle decision-making.

They start with the things that derail good decision-making. Carefully and insightfully, they frame the problem in a way that makes sense. I found myself saying "I do that" and "I totally do that too" as I was reading. When the time came to read their model to help us make better decisions, I was on the hook. 

The model is simple:
  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong
WRAP. (Those Heath brothers love their acronyms)

The Heath brothers do a wonderful job presenting their model in a way that makes it easy to apply to real life. They sift through tons and tons of research and boil it down to four very important nuggets. In that way, this book is remarkable.

They illustrate the book with examples drawn from business and from their consulting work. The illustrations do their work. They make the concepts clear. But they also reveal that the Heath brothers are researchers rather than storytellers. Compared to Malcolm Gladwell, their material is more helpful but slightly less engaging.

The book is definitely worth checking out.

You Can't Do Ministry without Partners

There's this great story in the Old Testament that our team studied this Spring.

Moses has this terrible weight on him. The Israelite soldiers are fighting a big battle. Moses is too old to fight with them. All he can do is pray.

And when he prays, the Israelites find themselves winning the battle. Moses stands on the mountainside with the staff of God in his hands. His hands stretch to the sky in prayer. And the Israelites surge forward.

But Moses can't keep his hands up. His strength falters. His hands go down. And the Israelites begin to lose. It's a battle. Losing means that people Moses cares about are getting hurt, maybe even dying.

It's a hard thing for leaders to hit their limits. When we hit our limits, there are consequences. We see our teams lose. We lose. People we care about get hurt. And this hurts us.

But leaders are rarely alone.

That's the great part of Moses' story. When Moses falters, Aaron and Hur step in to help him. They rest him on a rock and hold his hands in the air. And something happens.

The Israelites begin to win again.

Where would Moses be without his partners?

I know where I'd be without mine.

I have partners all over the world who pray for me.
Without them, I'd wonder if prayer mattered.
I have partners who provide funding for the ministry.
Without them, I'd have to take another job.
I have partners who work alongside me on campus.
Without them, the burden of students' needs would break me.

It's a wonderful thing to have partners in ministry. Over the long haul, you can't do ministry without them.

If you have them, be grateful.
If you don't, start looking for them.

Photo courtesy of Paul Barlow