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?

Outside

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
Outside.

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.