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:]

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 ( 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