A Spiritual Insight from #NaNoWriMo

Last month was #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). All around the world, writers commit to starting new projects and to writing every day in the insane undertaking to write 50,000 words toward a novel in one month.

I've heard about it for years, but have never taken the plunge. I'm primarily a non-fiction writer. I blog regularly for InterVarsity and LaFe. I write the daily devotional (together with Alex) for Chatham Church. I craft Bible studies and sermons and trainings. I'm even working on a book on ethnicity in the Bible.

"Noveling" just isn't my style.

But I love fiction. I read and watch and talk about fiction stories every day, especially fantasy and science-fiction. On my sabbatical last year, half of my reading and more than half of the spiritual formation that happened came through fiction. And Dad and I did get about 30,000 words into writing a novel before we stumbled and lost our momentum.

So I went for it. I sat down on November 1st without an idea, without plot, without characters ... with nothing but a blank screen. And a story started to come out. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes a thousand words would come out in thirty minutes. At other times, I would only have 300 to show for an hour and a half. Characters took shape. A plot began to develop. Conflicts and tensions formed.

And I was having fun.

But something hung over the experience. For #NaNoWriMo, the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. That's 1,667 per day. And I swiftly fell behind.

I got sick: first with terrible sinusitis and then with the stomach flu. Amy experienced a minor pregnancy complication that required me to be a lot more engaged around the house. The church hit an important point in our strategic conversations about planting and building, which required a lot of me. And my novel-writing adventure kept getting pushed to the side.

I experienced tremendous joy while writing and, at the same time, sadness and shame about falling behind.

One week, late in the month, I met with Joe Moore for some spiritual direction. He's incredibly wise and I benefit tremendously from spending time with him. Joe checks up on me on Facebook in advance of our meetings and saw my #NaNoWriMo updates. And he pointed something significant out to me.

In my life, I have this sense of a timeline that runs alongside me. I'm supposed to be at Point X by Time Y. I graduated from grad school 2-3 years earlier than the timeline expected, so I could experiment with joining InterVarsity Staff. In my mid-twenties, it was time to start having kids (which made the infertility experience so difficult). In my thirties and forties and fifties there's a script that tells me where I'm supposed to be.

A lot of immigrant families resort to tools like these to guide our footsteps. For me, I felt pressure to meet the timeline so that I wouldn't let the family down. And this has produced significant spiritual tension for me.

The last decade has been full of God calling me to set my timeline aside in order to follow him into the joyous life he has for me. And I have. And I've experienced tremendous joy and, at the same time, sadness and shame about falling behind.

My #NaNoWriMo adventure helped to uncover this dynamic in my spiritual life. Sadness and shame stalk me as I feel I'm falling behind. But the joy of the path God has set before me makes it worth abandoning the timeline.

Art provides a tremendous lens through which we can see the interior of our souls ... but, then, that's probably another post.

What comes after intense spiritual output?

Last weekend was pretty intense for me. We had a youth group retreat for Chatham Community Church, our first ever (I think). I wanted our adult leaders to be free to focus on the students, so I took a lot of the up-front leading onto myself. Here's what that looked like: four sermons, emceeing, leading a small group and an extended Q&A. I worked hard to prepare, but still left feeling drained.

So, what comes next?

I found myself feeling unusually joyful and unusually upbeat, the tremendous joy that comes from talking about God and his love for us. I wondered if I shouldn't just roll into my next week like it was a normal week.

But then the wheels started to wobble and threaten to come off.

It started with my body. Aches and pains. Hunger. Difficulty focusing. Difficulty staying awake. If I wouldn't slow down voluntarily, I would slow down involuntarily.

Right behind the physical consequences came spiritual consequences. I found myself tempted to dishonesty, rage, gossip and gluttony. Temptations crashed on me like waves on the seashore.

What could I do?

This wasn't the first time I've encountered this physical and spiritual hangover after a retreat. I can't think of a single retreat when I haven't had some sort of physical and spiritual crunch on the other side of it. What I can remember are countless retreats and conferences when I didn't plan for recovery time on the other side.

I've learned over the years to recover on the other side of intense spiritual output.
  • I took the week off from walking and weightlifting. Instead I focused on stretching and sleeping. I wanted my body to recover.
  • I read The Martian by Andy Weir. I wanted to unplug from the working side of ministry.
  • I took a morning off to reconnect with my family. I know that my healthy, authentic self is my "self in community."
  • I took a personal retreat day which involved silence, Chicago-style pizza, reading, prayer, journaling, Bible Study, and serving others. I wanted to refill my spiritual tank and give space for my soul to stretch and run.
  • I kept my Saturday introvert morning. I know there's a difference between rest for recovery and rest for preparation.
How do you recover on the other side of intense spiritual output?

Book Review: Sacred Rhythms


http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Rhythms-Arranging-Spiritual-Transformation/dp/0830833331

I recently noticed that I haven't been reading as many books by women as I'd like. I try to make sure I'm reading a broad swath of authors: men and women, across ethnic groups, from various points in history. Missing out on women's voices always comes at a huge cost.

Ruth Haley Barton is one of the most insightful leaders in the arena of spiritual leadership. Sacred Rhythms represents some of her best work to mentor leaders in the art of spiritual transformation.

She walks us through 7 spiritual disciplines that God uses in our lives to produce spiritual transformation: solitude, lectio divina, prayer, bodily awareness, self-examination, discernment, and sabbath. She also provides a framework for spiritual transformation and practical guidance for arranging your life.

At the core of her framework is this idea:
"I cannot transform myself ... What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God."
The chapter on bodily awareness - titled Honoring the Body: Flesh-and-Blood Spirituality - was the newest and most challenging for me. Barton challenges us to walk the line between denigration and objectification and shows how God will meet us in the midst of it.

This is a great book ... worth a slow read and intentional application.

Two models of leadership

I'm sure there are more than two models of leadership. But in the past week or so, two models keep coming up around me in conversations. And I find myself being drawn to each of them.

The Genius with a Thousand Helpers


Jim Collins describes this model of leadership in his book Good to Great. And the title gives you a pretty good picture of what leadership looks like in this model.

The Genius knows exactly what needs to be done and issues orders to the Helpers. The Helpers do tasks and execute the Genius' plans. This model of leadership works to free "the leader" from menial tasks to focus on what's most important for the organization/mission/vision.

The Genius with a Thousand Helpers is remarkable in its efficiency. Everything comes from one mind and, if the Genius is actually a genius, everything runs smoothly. This sounds so attractive.

But it's hard to picture the Genius washing the feet of those Helpers.

The Servant Leader


Robert Greenleaf wrote about this model of leadership in his essay "The Servant as Leader." The core identity of the leader is that of a servant. The Servant Leader is a servant before he or she is a leader. Leadership emerges as a means of service.

In this model, the leader looks for opportunities to serve. The menial work, the dirty work, the grinding work gets done by the leader to free up the rest of the organization to pursue their shared mission.

This model of leadership is particularly meaningful in organizations where most of the folks who are engaged in the work are volunteers (for ex. churches and campus ministries). Leaders who only leave grunt work for volunteers often struggle to motivate and retain volunteers. Taking care of admin, purchasing and the like can free up volunteers to do life-giving work that attracted them to the mission in the first place.

Choosing a style


I'm so frequently tempted to throw the Genius with a Thousand Helpers model into the trash can. But there are times when this model is best for the mission and organization. As I've been thinking about it recently, I think that it would be fair to say that the default model of the Christian leader is The Servant Leader and that the Genius with a Thousand Helpers model occasionally comes into play on the short-term in order to serve the people you've been called to serve.

What do you think about these models?

Book Review: The Apostles' Creed for Today


http://www.amazon.com/Apostles-Creed-Today-Justo-Gonz%C3%A1lez/dp/0664229336

Justo González has done more than just about any other scholar to shape my big picture approach to thinking about theology and church history.

In The Apostles' Creed for Today, he combines both his gift for explaining theology clearly and his gift for providing historical context. He focuses all of that energy on the Apostles' Creed in this short, practical book.

The book is organized as a phrase-by-phrase exposition of the Creed, with wonderful asides to provide insight into the historical situation of the early church and explanations of key words, phrases and ideas.

Ancient creeds can be difficult to understand. Reciting these creeds without understanding them can cause people to think of the Christian faith as irrelevant, stodgy and obscure. A lot of the folks I've worked with who have drifted away from the Christian faith have done so because of this disconnect they felt between what Christianity taught and their lives in the real world.

González has written a book that anyone can read and that would help just about anyone to get a better handle on the core of what Christians believe. I highly recommend it.

100,000 Words

I did the math and think I've written over 100,000 words this year.

No, they weren't all (or even mostly) on this blog. I've been so busy writing in other places that I haven't made much time to write here. And, to be honest, I'm feeling totally fine with that.

I've written half a dozen pieces for InterVarsity's national blog, half a dozen pieces for InterVarsity's multiethnic ministries blog, ten letters to our LaFe Staff and volunteers, a few posts here at YoSteve and ... this is where most of the writing has been ... over 250 posts via Chatham Church's Connect Devotional. All that is writing that has shipped, gone live, been posted, made its way out into the world.

Last night I re-read the book chapters that I wrote during my sabbatical back in 2014. If I didn't know I had written them, I would say that those chapters represent some of the best material on ethnicity and the Bible that I've ever read. But they're trapped on my computer. And that's not where words are meant to live.

I think God has been using these past 100,000 words and this year's worth of writing to return me to an emotional and spiritual place where I can confidently put my words out into the world.

I say "confidently," but perhaps that's just how I'm feeling today.

Book Review: How God Became King by NT Wright

Over the last year or so, I've been steadily working my way through NT Wright's shelf on my bookcase. I still have two of his books that I haven't yet read, one that I haven't finished and several more that I'd like to read. Wright is a New Testament scholar who communicates both to his colleagues in the academy and to a popular audience.

How God Became King is Wright's popular work on the Gospels. In this book, he draws our attention to what we would miss if we based our faith just on the Creeds and on the letters of Paul. And he points out what we miss in the Creeds and in the Pauline epistles themselves if we ignore the Gospels.

Wright argues that the Gospels tell the story about how God became King (hence the title). The Gospels pick up the story of Israel and carry it to it's dramatic next stage. They make political and creational claims. They carry the concept of God's rule and reign all the way to the cross, and beyond it. The Gospels, according to Wright, contain much more than proofs that Jesus is God, ethical teachings and a pathway to get to heaven when you die.

How God Became King is the most easily accessible book that I've read by Wright so far. He explains his ideas with clarity, repeats himself to add nuance, and lands on some concrete and practical implications of his ideas.

This book can give you a richer appreciation of what we have in the Gospels and, ultimately, of our God who became King.

Nuanced Politics

My friend Mike is fond of saying: "Christians make bad political allies."

Our allegiance, as Christians, is ultimately to Christ. If we hold fast to our faith, we'll side with him in every battle. We see the world through his lenses, not through the distorted political either-or's that populate political discourse today. And this means that when followers of Christ participate in political discourse, they present an extremely nuanced politics ... or should.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Today, one set of conservative, evangelical Christian leaders published a piece in a conservative newspaper saying that anti-immigrant politicians would lose the "evangelical vote." And another evangelical Christian with a huge media platform called for restricting immigration from the Middle East, coming right up to the point of calling for WWII-style internment camps. Both of these groups have lots of people who look to them for leadership, wisdom and guidance when engaging with political discourse. And both of these groups seem so confident that their political views represent faithful Christian thinking. What both of these groups lack in much of their political discourse is nuance. And they're not alone.

Why is nuance so often lacking in Christian political discourse?

1) Nuance gets missed. People read quickly, listen distractedly and jump to conclusions. This has always been the case, but it's heightened by the amount of noise in our modern lives and the number of demands on our attention. Communicate with nuance in the Wall Street Journal or on Facebook and the vast majority of your audience will miss your most important, subtle points. They'll quickly lump you into one category or another. This is - and has always been - the human way. (Remember the debates over Jesus? "Is he a prophet or the Messiah or Elijah or a demon or a good teacher?")
 
2) Nuance gets ignored. CS Lewis once famously said that "God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts in our pain." Sometimes I think that only the pain of a no-nuance politics can make itself heard in our noisy national political discourse. Nuanced pieces don't get shared, boosted and retweeted. They're too long, too confusing. There is a perceived weakness that comes from a nuanced point of view. And we want our political and religious leaders to be strong, not weak. "I wish you were stronger on ________," the people say as they voice frustration with the political communication of their Christian leaders who are grappling honestly with the divide-breaking, spin-destroying, bad-ally-making politics that follow on following Jesus. Faithfulness is weakness, for we who follow Jesus follow one who climbed on the cross to become king.

The Lost Value of Orthodoxy

There is - in every corner of our society - an assault on the old value of orthodoxy. Disagreements get people thrown out of their tribes with snarky "farewells." And the tossed-out dust themselves off and form new tribes. The walls of the echo chambers get taller and the chambers themselves grow smaller and smaller. The air grows stale. And we become afraid.

Orthodoxy allows us to have relationship on the basis of common agreement about fixed principles, to have relationship across boundaries and barriers and political lines, to have relationship that values nuance. Every tension isn't resolved. Every circle isn't collapsed into a point.

Jesus pulled together revolutionary Zealots and Iscarii with a tax collector and some folks who probably paid their taxes. What's more, he pulled together men and women in an era when women would not commonly have been invited to sit at a rabbi's feet. His followers disagreed and fought. What held them together was Jesus. Take Jesus out of the picture and the coalition would break. And it almost did when he died.

I struggle to maintain that sense of clarity and focus, to keep my allegiance to Jesus at the forefront ... before all of my political allegiances. In Christ, I'm called to love and embrace even my brothers and sisters in Christ whose political comments I find offensive, cruel and stupid. I'm called to love even when everything in me seems to want to shout them down into the ground with all the force and strength I can muster. In the arena of politics I consistently discover areas where my love lacks maturity.

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King said this: "In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action." I wonder if this season for me and for many who are trying to follow Christ faithfully in thinking about politics isn't a season of purification. Perhaps God must do something in us in order to do something through us. I think that will look like rediscovering the lost value of orthodoxy. If we're honest, it's just humble love by another name.


Book Review: The Hyperion Cantos

Imagine The Canterbury Tales meets The Matrix ... that's The Hyperion Cantos (by Dan Simmons).

At some point in the far future, a group of seven pilgrims travel to the plant Hyperion to meet with a monster named "The Shrike." Over the course of their journey, they agree to share the stories behind their pilgrimages. That's The Canterbury Tales connection.

The stories build on each other and each develop particular philosophical and science fictional themes. The decline of humanity, the nature of consciousness, eternal life, forgiveness, love, duty, vengeance, artistic inspiration, and artificial intelligence ... Simmons covers a lot of ground in this narrative frame.

Without giving away spoilers, the books also take a fascinating spin on the future of technology. Reading them, I'm reminded of The Matrix, but Simmons' books have far more complexity and nuance.

The most fascinating story - to me - was the story about an ethical philosopher whose daughter caught a disease that causes her to age backward. His search for a cure leads him to the Shrike and to a tough choice: will he offer his daughter to the Shrike? This launches the narrative thread into an exploration of the Akedah and the biblical choice Abraham faced in Genesis when God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The first two books in the series are definitely worth reading if you're into science fiction. Click here to check them out: The Hyperion Cantos.

Reflecting on the past year

One of the benefits of having a June birthday is that you grow up with a pattern of your birthday falling on or just after the last day of school. Even after I exited school-age, I worked in a non-profit that ran on a July-June fiscal year. For 30 years, June has been my end of the year. And that makes birthdays - for me - convenient times to reflect back over the past year.

This past year marked significant changes for me and for my family.

We moved from South Florida to North Carolina.
Will started preschool and Jack started speech therapy.
I transitioned from ...
working part-time with a church and full-time with InterVarsity to
working part-time with InterVarsity and full-time with a church.

Change in location, change in family-season and change in work-life.

I've been trying to put my thumb on a way to sum up this past year. What's been the highlight of this season?

Here's what I've come up with:
When I'm alone with my sons now, I feel like I'm a father and not a babysitter.
That sounds silly as I write it.

But I feel very aware that - during our season in South Florida - I had found a great groove as a leader of a team of missionaries and as a pastor. I had even figured out how to be a halfway decent husband to Amy. I hit a rhythm writing and blogging and preaching. I found myself surrounded by a great group of friends. Heck, even my funding as a missionary was starting to take a positive turn.

But my boys were getting what was left of me at the end of the day. And it wasn't much.

There were a dozen different things that drove us to move to North Carolina and make the job changes we made. None of them reflect negatively on South Florida (which is an amazing place to live and do ministry) or on InterVarsity and Crossway (which are both doing phenomenal, life-transforming work ... shoot ... I still made a point to keep working for InterVarsity, even if it is part-time). We weren't sure, when we made this change, if it would have much influence on our family life. But it has.

Here are three differences I've noticed in this season that have made it possible for me to develop healthier work-family rhythms:

The travel difference

Traveling with InterVarsity always felt exciting. I'd visit Madison and St. Louis frequently for conferences and trainings. With LaFe, I'd have trips to Texas and Chicago and California. I took a team of students on missions trips to the Caribbean and to DC. I developed a national network of meaningful friendships with people doing ground-breaking ministry.

But this work/location change has allowed me to focus more locally, to form deeper connections with my neighborhood and my community here. When your world gets smaller, your world also gets bigger.

This past year, I had 60 fewer travel nights. That's two months more at home. And that doesn't count the evenings I'd spend on campus, where I'd get home at 10 or 11 ... long after the boys would be asleep. All of that extra time with the boys has made a significant impact on my relationship with them in this season.

This more local focus and increased availability has allowed for a deeper integration of work and family. And I'm really enjoying being able to include my family in my new big work-world.  The folks I work with know my family and my family knows them. The boys love coming to my office and I love having them stop by and interrupt me. Amy can count on me being home for dinner 6.5 nights per week and being available for parent-teacher conference and for "donuts with Dad" days at school and being willing to ask her for help when I need an extra creative mind at the church. And I think this means a lot to her.

The flex difference

The transition to a role in the church that's more focused on systems development and a role in InterVarsity that's more focused on communications/resource development has created a schedule that's much, much more flexible for me. In a 50 hour work week, I literally have 12 hours that are locked-in week-to-week (including Sunday mornings!). This gives me lots of space to put my most important "rocks" in place first and then wrap the rest around it.

Some weeks, the things that go in first are meeting with elders and church leaders. Some weeks, it's discipling appointments. Some weeks, it's projects that require extra focus. Some weeks, it's stuff with the kids or giving Amy a break or taking care of my spiritual and emotional health. This work-flexibility has allowed me to create significant margin in my schedule. And that margin has allowed me to make sure that I'm being faithful in each of my life-roles: child of God, husband, father, son-grandson-uncle-brother, friend, Pastor, missionary, writer.

Looking back, I realize that in my past seasons of life and ministry, I made decisions to create concrete, margin-less, inflexible systems. I did it because I was excited and overwhelmed by the work I was doing. Those systems allowed me to accomplish a tremendous amount (to do the work of 3 Area Directors and a full-time Pastor of Spiritual Formation).

By the time I realized I was in over my head and missing the flexibility I needed to be healthy, the cost to the ministry of resetting the systems to fit my personal needs would be too great. And, I'm proud to say, neither InterVarsity South Florida nor Crossway missed a beat when I transitioned out. They missed me, sure, but the systems held and the new leaders have been able to jump in a do even more than I was able to do when I was there. Reflecting on the lessons I learned from that past experience have set me up for a healthier next season. And my relationship with my boys is being blessed because of it.

The drivers-seat difference

In South Florida, I was the point person InterVarsity. I intentionally created a short-term bottleneck in order to shift our ministry focus and culture away from a "flagship model" and into a "distributed model". That meant that I carried point responsibility for 8 paid Staff, 30+ volunteers, 250+ students and 12 chapters (in various stages of planting, replanting and building) ... all in a ministry environment that challenged InterVarsity's ministry model in practically every way. On the horizon for me were the almost 300,000 college students in our area who had very little access to campus ministry resources. I felt that responsibility tremendously.

Every night, I answered email and viewed financial reports in bed, falling asleep praying that the Lord would open doors for us to plant thriving witnessing communities on every campus. Every morning, I'd wake up and plug back in, responding to email before leaving bed. I felt responsible. I felt accountable.

Now, I'm in a position vocationally where I really do come alongside others and serve and bless them. I'm not the point person. The Leadership Team is (for Chatham Church) ... or the Servant Leaders Team is (for InterVarsity). I help where I'm needed. I contribute a tremendous amount of energy and talent. But, at the end of the day, there's a community in the drivers' seat.

In ministry it's tempting to hide behind the "Jesus leads" idea, as if Jesus' headship of his church or ownership of his own mission absolves us of responsibility. But you don't see Paul doing that. Or Peter. Or any of the people who were sent out on mission by Jesus. They form communities that carry the leadership of their mission forward into the future and those communities feel responsible for the mission. I still carry a tremendous sense of responsibility for Chatham County and for Latino college students, but I don't feel as lonely in it now that I'm not in the drivers' seat.

The communities of leadership that I'm a part of now make it possible for me to go on vacation with my family or go to the hospital when a kid is really sick (both of which I've done in the past year). This is a much healthier way to do ministry, and much more sustainable. And the fruit of this is that I'm free to be a Dad, in addition to all of my other roles and responsibilities.

If you were to reflect back over the last season of your life, what sort of lessons are you learning?

The Effect of a Small Change

Every week, Alex and I write 5 posts for our daily "Connect Devotional" that we put out through Chatham Church (you can sign up for it here: http://chathamchurch.us9.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=9a87a1def430704074142eb1f&id=d3b12cc7d8). The posts are 300 or so words long and have a little bit of formatting (bold at the top, italics at the bottom, paragraph breaks throughout).

Every week, I need to load the posts onto our church website and into Mailchimp (a site that sends the posts as emails every day). It usually takes me about an hour to post everything.

But then I made a small change.

I switched something in the order of my workflow and ... like magic ... cut the hour in half.

I won't bore you with the technical details. What's important to know is that that half-hour's savings has held. And it's had a small but noticeable impact on my work.

First, the small change has given me additional flexibility. I have many more 30 minute gaps in my day than hour-long gaps. This means I can get the task done earlier in the week.

Secondly, the small change has made me more willing to do the task. For some reason, an hour of rote computer work seems more than twice as miserable as 30 minutes. I'd have to fight that procrastination urge to get it done. Now, that urge is much weaker.

Thirdly, knocking the task out earlier in the week frees up mental space and energy for all of my other work.

Take a look around you, around your workplace or around your house. Is there some place where you can tighten a process and shave off 20-30 minutes? Give it a try. See if it makes a difference in your week.

Father, Creator or Rule-Maker ... Which comes first?

At the core of God's identity, we discover that God is the Father-Son-Spirit God. This is the God that Jesus revealed to us. This is the God in whose name we get baptized. This is the God we worship and serve and follow.

But I've recently found myself wondering why the Bible doesn't start with stories that highlight this identity of God. If all you had was Genesis 1 and you wanted to describe God, you'd call him Creator or Rule-Maker. And although both of those are facets of Fatherhood, I don't know that you'd get to "Father" very easily or naturally.

I wrestled with this as I prepared to teach my Systematic Theology class this month. If God is the Creator and the Rule-Maker primarily, how much room is left for him to be Father? Why doesn't the Genesis put the Father stuff up front?

My answer came from a strange direction. This winter, Alex and I preached and wrote devotionals and small group questions out of Exodus. We dug into the story of God's rescue of his people and reflected on how this story was told. And this helped me untangle my Father-Creator-Rule-Maker puzzle.

Moses and his scribes sat down and recorded the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) while the people of Israel wandered in the desert on the other side of the great exodus. Day-by-day God fed them with manna from heaven. Mile-by-mile God kept their shoes and clothes from wearing out. To their left and to their right, God kept them safe from armies and tribes that would destroy them.

When Moses and his scribes sat down and wrote about the Creator and Rule-Maker, they were writing to folks who already knew God as Father. Creator and Rule-Maker shaped the way these folks understood what it meant for God to be Father. He's not just a doting Father who gives us everything we want ... he's a Rule-Maker who gives us boundaries for our good. He's not just our Father ... he's a Creator who made all and who's involved with people of every ethnicity and culture. Our Father is the Creator and Rule-Maker.

This is my biggest, most recent theological insight. What's yours?

The First Theological Question

A decade ago, Gary Deddo taught our Systematic Theology class what he called "The First Theological Question" ... "Who is God?"

This questions shows up over and over again in Scripture. Moses movingly asks the question as he contemplates his calling and Pharaoh asks it sardonically before his kingdom crumbles. David's answer to the question launches him at Goliath. And, most significantly, Jesus asks his disciples to answer the question for themselves.

Who is God?

Answer that question wrongly and a lot of things will fly off the rails.

Many of the people who don't believe in God would answer the "Who is God?" Question in ways that would be unrecognizable to those of us who love Jesus. They see him as an absentee landlord or an angry warmonger. When they tell us about the God they don't believe in, we say "We don't believe in that God either!"

How do you answer the "Who is God?" Question? Where would you even start?

Slow and Steady

I'm participating in a health-care challenge for the next 10 weeks. I'll probably write more about it later because I'm learning a lot through the process. But today ...

One thing I'm learning is the value of "slow and steady."

I'm counting calories, eating within my limits, and exercising more often. But this isn't some kind of crash diet. It's just building healthy rhythms and practices into my life and schedule.

And this means the "results" are slow.

Over the last 3 weeks, I've lost 4 pounds. That's a lot for some people, but not for me. I could lose 20 times that and still get scolded by my doctor for being over the healthy range for my height.

I'm tempted every day to get frustrated and give up.
I'm tempted every day to take an unhealthy, quicker route to weight-loss.

But "slow and steady" has several perks ...

1) It's sustainable

I did a lot of crash-diet things when I was trying to be an athlete in high school and had to make weight for a team. I'd lose weight and gain it right back. I couldn't live the rest of my life on bacon and grapefruit, so I couldn't keep my weight loss.

For long-term objectives that you want to hang on to, the slow and steady approach moves you toward your destination with the resources to keep you there.

2) It's healthy

Rapid weight-loss taxes my body. My body doesn't understand what's going on. It thinks there's a famine. It kicks and screams and fights, thinking it's protecting my life.

Slow and steady - whether in something like weight loss or organizational growth - gives the rest of the system time to catch up with the changes that are being made. If the overall goal is health, slow and steady has to occasionally be the route.
 
3) It's humble 

A few days ago I found my summer weight-loss plan. It was super-ambitious and went down in flames. It over-estimated both my willpower and my physical/emotional resources. Some schedule challenges and some injuries and the whole thing collapsed.

Humility is - at it's core - a willingness to be honest about ourselves. Who am I really? What am I really capable of? What can I do and what is beyond me? Honest answers to these questions often place us on the "slow and steady" route. We just lack the resources to sprint the distance.

And that's okay.


Aaron was a disaster

This post is the fifth post in a five-part series on Exodus 1-4.

God eventually gave Moses exactly what he asked for. Moses asked God to send someone else and God sent Aaron, Moses' brother. But God sent Moses too.

Everything that God called Moses to do, Moses ended up doing. Moses went to Pharaoh. Moses spoke to the Israelite elders. Moses performed miracles. God's sending of Aaron didn't actually let Moses off the hook one whit.

But Aaron was a disaster. Every single one of Moses' objections to God's call, the fears behind each of them, came through in Aaron.

Aaron caved in to the people, incapable of leading them in Moses' absence. He helped them worship the golden calf, fueling their confusion about who God actually was. He grumbled against Moses and tried to undermine his leadership. And at the end of his life, he didn't intervene when Moses made the disastrous decision to strike the rock, the decision that kept Moses from entering the Promised Land with the people.

Aaron had wonderful moments throughout the story. But his presence as a co-leader with Moses proved harmful time and time again.

I wonder sometimes whether or not my insecurities will lead me to share leadership with people who aren't ready for it. Or, worse, whether I'm that person, standing by Moses' side at great cost.

One of the big things that God is doing in me in this season is to hammer away at my insecurities: transforming some into true confidence and others into humility and dependence. I hope that as God calls me throughout my life, I'll find that he's given me confidence to receive his call (see Moses) and maturity to handle it well (see Aaron).

In what ways is the Lord growing your confidence and maturity in this season?

Here I am, send me

This post is the fourth post in a five-part series on Exodus 1-4.

When God calls Isaiah to be a prophet (wait, I thought this was about Moses), Isaiah draws on Exodus for his response.

Moses responded to the Lord's call "Moses, Moses" with an available "Here I am." When God detailed his plan to save the Hebrew people from slavery, Moses probably felt a sense of relief: the very thing he thought needed to happen was now going to happen. But when the Lord said "Go, I am sending you," Moses resisted, launching objection after objection at God until he couldn't argue anymore.

Isaiah, generations later, knew this story. When he called out to God, he quoted Moses: "Here I am." But he went one further: "Send me."

Did Isaiah just have more confidence than Moses? Moses had been rocked by failure and rejection. Perhaps that's why Isaiah didn't reject God's call (or resist it).

But I wonder if there isn't something more. Maybe Isaiah knew both the beginning and the whole of Moses' story. Maybe Isaiah knew that on the other side of Moses' resistance, he saw God move in mighty ways, in ways that would mark God's people forever. Maybe Isaiah knew that being used by God, even if you're not feeling fully adequate, is still wonderful.

Moses' story is in here for us to learn from him. There's too much detail here for someone to just be telling a history. The back and forth. The comments about God's motivation and emotions. The nuance. These all pile up for us, if we will learn.

How do you learn from examples in the Bible? What do you do differently today because you've spent time with Moses' story and Isaiah's story?

Fellow Hebrew, Fellow Egyptian

This post is the third part in a five part series on Exodus 1-4.

 At some point in his late 30s or early 40s, Moses turned a corner and decided to engage with his Hebrew heritage. He went out to see the Hebrews working and laboring away as slaves.

He saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite. Looking this way and that, Moses saw that he was alone and could act without getting caught. He killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Was this impulsive? Was this the beginning of his attempt to lead a slave revolt? We don't know.

But we know that it led to a tremendous rejection in Moses' life.

Shortly after this scene, Moses saw two Hebrews fighting. He lectured the one in the wrong: "Why are you beating your fellow Egyptian?" Pay attention to that word "fellow."

Moses tried to point to the common ground these two men shared. Why fight each other when you have a bigger enemy? Minority groups always struggle with this, infighting at their own expense. Moses was trying to get them to focus on the real bad guys. But it didn't work.

The man Moses lectured pushed back with a sharp barb. The gist of this barb was: Who are you to lecture me about fighting with my fellow Hebrew when you killed a fellow Egyptian. Did they know that Moses was born into a Hebrew family? Was this maliciously cruel? Was this just ignorant?

Moses went away. Ostensibly he ran from Pharaoh. But I find myself wondering, as I spend time in the passage, if the whole story would have taken a different, Spartacus turn if those men had received Moses as a fellow Hebrew. Remember, things didn't end well with Spartacus.

Moses' rejection - and all the pain that came with it - sets the stage for a different kind of story. This is not going to be the story where a mighty hero leverages a powerful position to create a radical revolution. It's the story of a quiet man, a failure, who leans heavily on the Lord and succeeds in liberating God's people only because God was with him.

Where have you experienced rejection? How has that shaped you? How can God use that experience of rejection in your life?

Naming Moses

This post is the second post in a five-part series on Exodus 1-4.

Who got to name Moses?

He was born into an established family. His mother loved him. But neither his family nor his mother gave him his name.

Have you ever noticed this detail in the passage?

Moses gets his name from Pharaoh's daughter. Whatever he was called before his adoption, from that point on he's Moses.

Scholars debate the meaning of Moses' name. Traditionally, it's been taken to come from the Hebrew phrase for "to pull out or to draw out of water." And that may be where his name comes from. But he was named by an Egyptian woman. Maybe she knew how to speak some Hebrew, but it's far more likely that Moses' name comes from the Egyptian word for son ("mose").

Moses would experience alienation from his Hebrew roots in his very name. This was the name given to him by his adoptive community. This was the name that marked him as an Egyptian.

Later in Moses' life, God would call to him: "Moses, Moses." His wife and children would call him "Moses." The people he led would know him as "Moses."

That name would follow him for his whole life.

Where does your name come from? What does it mean to you?

Saved by Women

This is the first post in a five-part series on Exodus 1-4, sharing short snippets of things that have stood out to me.

You don't get Moses' story without the intervention of strong, courageous, savvy women. Four times in the first four chapters of Exodus, Moses' life is saved by women.

The first story has to do with Shiprah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who resist Pharaoh's command to kill the baby Israelite boys. They fear God more than Pharaoh, use what little power they have at their disposal, and then play on Pharaoh's racism to escape the consequences. We don't know where they fall historically (when in time they stand in relation to Moses' birth), but we do see that the first resistance to Pharaoh's brutality did not come from Moses, it comes from these women.

The second story is the story of Moses' mother. She defies Pharaoh's command to throw her child into the Nile and hides Moses for months, a difficult feat to accomplish with an infant and several other children (Moses had at least two other siblings). The passage does not mention Moses' father. In the end, Moses' mother obeys the letter of Pharaoh's command - child into the river - but not it's spirit: "He never said we couldn't give the baby a boat!" Moses' mother showed both courage and wisdom. We wouldn't have Moses without her.

The third story is the story of Pharaoh's daughter. She knows immediately that the baby she pulled out of the river is a Hebrew baby. He bears the marks of circumcision. She would know that there was an edict throughout the land that boys like this were to be cast into the river. And yet she defies her father. We don't know why. We don't know what it cost her. We do know that she did it publicly, deliberately, indirectly. And again, Moses' life is saved.

The last story comes 80 years later. Two-thirds of Moses' life passes in these first four chapters. He's married and has a child. He's received God's call to confront Pharaoh and is turning to obey. Moses will go back to Egypt. But then we see this wild story. The Lord prepares to kill Moses, right after calling him. Moses' wife, Zipporah, realizes what is happening and acts swiftly. She circumcises their son, an important religious ritual that Moses had avoided, possibly because giving that mark of Hebrew belonging to his son would bring back to him memories of his own experience of rejection. At the last minute, Zipporah saved Moses' life.

Before Moses confronts Pharaoh, his life is saved 4 times by women.

It's easy, when jumping into the epic stories of Scripture, to skip over details like these and characters like these. Spending large chunks of time in these passages gives our eyes time to adjust to the new light, to see with more clarity the amazing things that are happening.

Why do you think Exodus starts with 4 stories of women's bravery and wisdom?

Long-Time Passages

Throughout my life, I've had Scripture passages that have just seemed to stick with me and follow me for years. Ephesians. Jonah. Stories in Luke's gospel. They pop up over and over again, whether I'm looking to study them or not.

Recently, I've been getting the feeling like I'm being stalked by Exodus 1-4. I spent a year or so studying it in preparation for the LaFe13 Conference and it's popped back up several times in the 13 months since. In conversations. In references. At work.

Over the next few days, I'll post some snippets of thoughts or insights into that passage. Just a few.

They're meaningful to me and I don't want to forget them, which is a great excuse to write about them.

Do you ever have passages that stick with you - follow you - over the years?

Book Review: The Power of Habit (Part 2)

One of the things I found most fascinating about Duhigg's The Power of Habit was his insight into how to create habit-change.

He maps out our habitual patters as:
CUE --- ROUTINE --- REWARD
And it's all driven by CRAVING.

Here's an example of one of my bad habits (and Duhigg uses a similar example in his book).

On days when I'm in the office by myself, I often find myself wandering into the kitchen around 3pm for cookies or candy or soda. Those extra calories add up in unhealthy ways over time. If I want to be healthier, I need to change that habit.

How do we normally attempt to change habits?

Option A: We try to cut off the reward.

Here's how this would work in the above example: I could force myself to give away a book every time I go get my snack. This replaces the boost from the snack with a punishment.

But this has been proven to be a poor method for habit transformation. People continue their bad habits despite the consequences. We aren't making rational choices - weighing the pros and cons - before we do the habitual things that aren't healthy for us. We will regret our actions when the consequences hit, but the threat of consequence isn't a guarantee that we'll break free.

Option B: We try to break the cue-routine link.

My cue in the above example is that blah feeling that hits me in the mid-afternoon. That feeling can be caused by a dip in blood sugar, an exhaustion of environmental stimulus, or even loneliness. That's what sends me to the kitchen. But what if the kitchen is empty? There's nothing to say that I have to keep snacks at the office. I'm certainly not going to eat the youth group's snacks and replace them later (umm ... well ... ok).

We try to break bad habits by making the routines unavailable. We throw out the junk food, trash our cigarettes, cut up our credit cards, delete his phone number ... but the habits keep coming back. That's where Duhigg's insight into craving comes in. Our underlying cravings drive our habitual behaviors. If we cut off food in the kitchen, we'll find some in the car or at the gas station or we'll feel miserable. There has to be another way to break bad habits.

Option C: We try to create totally new habits.

What if I decided that I was going to develop new, healthier habits to replace my bad habit? Instead of going to the kitchen when that blah feeling hits in the afternoon, I could set an alarm for 3pm and take a 15 minute bike ride around the office. That would certainly be healthier than eating a handful of Rolos. But what's to keep me from eating the Rolos when I get back to the office?

This approach to habit-change comes closest to what Duhigg recommends, but fails because it doesn't address the underlying craving.

How to change a habit

Duhigg's advice - based on his research - is so insightful and counterintuitive. He says to fulfill the core of the craving by leaving the cue intact and replacing the routine with something that delivers the same reward. So, in the above example, I could replace my Rolos for honeycrisp apples (the world's most perfect apple). When that blah feeling hits and I need a sugar boost, a change of scenery and a chance of human contact, going to the kitchen for an apple would be a healthy move.
SAME CUE --- NEW ROUTINE --- SAME REWARD
I'm going to try this this week, replacing Rolos with Honeycrisps.

What's a habit you'd like to change?

Take a few minutes to identify the cues, rewards and cravings that drive your routines. Can you find a new routine that would deliver the same reward? That give you the highest likelihood of habit change.

In my next (and final) post on this book: I'll share about Duhigg's insight into organization habits and what he calls the "keystone habit."

Afraid to look racist

In Matthew 15, Jesus said several things that sound deeply racist to us.
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
And just a moment later:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
I recently preached on this passage to an InterVarsity student group at Duke University, my alma mater. One of the worst things you can be accused of at Duke is being a racist. In fact, you can make the case that overt racism is the most unacceptable sin in American culture. Accusation of racism derails political campaigns, careers and friendships.

Why would Jesus say something that sounds racist?

Some have argued that Jesus said one thing (the racist stuff) and did something else (welcoming body language / ironic tone). Others have argued that Jesus was just being a good, liberal pluralist (refusing to call the Canaanite woman to Jewish conversion). Neither of these explanations hold water.

Instead, what we see in the passage is something else.

Jesus has an ethnic identity. He is a Jewish man. He remains a Jewish man throughout the interaction with this Canaanite woman. Nothing he said in this interaction would sound strange coming from a Jewish man (at least, not until he gives the woman what she wants, heals her daughter and praises her faith).

Jesus' way of interacting with the woman gave her space to remain a Canaanite. He acknowledged the distance between their communities. He didn't hide from the tension. He didn't pretend she was just like him. He wasn't color blind. He accepted her.

And then, with the stage thus set, Jesus moved toward healing this woman's daughter. He didn't transcend ethnic tension. Instead, Jesus transformed ethnic tension. He leaned into it and moved through it. He made a meaningful connection. And this connection was memorable enough for Matthew to remember it years later.

Jesus wasn't willing to let the fear of appearing racist drive him away from his ethnic identity, push him to ignore others' particularities, or keep him from making connections across ethnic lines.

What are we missing out on when we're afraid to appear racist?


Book Review: The Power for Habit (Part 1)

I've been fascinated with pop psychology since high school. Amazing things happen when the power of psychology is released from the research lab and the counselor's couch.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a great example of what happens when psychology touches down in the real world.

Duhigg plows through a mountain of research to describe what he calls "The Habit Loop."

The Habit Loop starts with a cue (a sound, a smell, a time of day ... anything that will kick the loop into motion). The cue prompts a routine (go get a cookie, smoke a cigarette, write a blog post ... anything that has been associated with the cue and, more importantly, what comes next). At the end of the routine there's a reward (that clean-house smell, the high-five from Mailchimp, the flood of endorphins ... anything pleasurable that follows the routine and can be associated with it).

Cue --- Routine --- Reward

That's The Habit Loop.

Now, by itself, it's not a loop. You need something to connect "Reward" back to "Cue." That's actually where the magic happens, though it doesn't get a ton of attention in the book. If I see McDonalds on my drive to work this morning (cue) and stop for breakfast (routine), I'll get a reward (McMuffin + Frappe). But if I want to develop a McDonalds habit, I'll need something to cultivate a craving.

The world is full of pleasurable experiences. We receive cues signaling the availability of pleasure all of the time. And we turn most of those cues down. We don't text and drive, steal from people or skip work. Even though the pleasures of connection, acquisition and leisure are enormous, they're outweighed by wisdom, moral sense and delayed gratification ... at least, most of the time.

One of my big take-aways from this book was to see the immense power that cravings have in our lives and organizations.

One exercise Duhigg recommends is breaking down some of your bad habits into these four parts: craving, cue, routine, and reward. Most of us are aware of the routine of our bad habits. Some of us pay attention to the cue and reward. But the craving piece is where it really gets interesting.

In my next post, I'll take a look at one of my bad habits, break it down according to the book and show how Duhigg recommends habit transformation.

Dr. King's Measured Mountain of Arguments

Every year, I set aside an afternoon to read and reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

Dr. King acknowledges that the letter is a long letter, but makes this great observation: "What else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?"

In this year's reading, several things jumped out to me, but I'd like to share one of them here.

For those who have read the Letter, have you noticed the strength of Dr. King's level-headed, reasoned arguments? He makes the case for his involvement in Birmingham, for direct action, for breaking unjust laws, and for the church's involvement in desegregation and the racial conversation.

In the midst of such a difficult environment and such an emotionally charged situation, Dr. King's measured mountain of arguments demonstrated his remarkable desire to connect with his readers, rather than to shame them. I wish I had his discipline.

All too often, I - and people in my generation - get so wound up and wounded that we're unable to have real conversations or make meaningful arguments. We're dismissed. And though our causes are just, our voices are not truly heard.

It's not enough for our generation to speak more loudly. We must also make our case well if change is going to happen.

And, of course, this presents a challenge. The loudest voices get the attention, even if they aren't truly heard. Quiet, gentle, reasoned arguments don't get retweeted.

We need to make an effort to seek out those voices, listen to them and share them as we can.

3 Challenges to Starting the Writing Process

On any given week I'll write thousands of words and send them to live on the internet. And, on any given week, I'll experience an almost crippling paralysis in my writing process.

It's tempting to call these periods of paralysis "writer's block." And, maybe, sometimes that might be what it is. But not most days. Most days, it's one of the three challenges ...

  1. I have other work that offers a different kind of reward. Cleaning my desk, emptying my inbox, checking Facebook ... all of these things offer small, immediate rewards for very, very little effort. The pieces I write may take weeks or months to get published and may be published in places where feedback doesn't come immediately (or ever). I'll write more about this when I write my reviews on The Power of Habit, which I finished last week and highly recommend.
  2. I'm trying to write it in my head first. I'll find myself rolling sentences around in my brain, rearranging them and fiddling with them, anticipating responses they might receive. There's something in me that wants to sit and write without editing, to just see perfect words flow onto the screen. But, inevitably, this paralysis will combine with the first - distraction - and the words will never make it out of my head.
  3. I'm afraid of being misunderstood. We live in a world that doesn't value nuance. And a lot of my writing plays in those nuanced spaces, thoughtfully engaged, finding third and fourth positions in polarized conversations. When I fail to express myself well (or people choose not to listen), tempers flare and feelings get hurt, reputations are damaged and truth is misbelieved.
Last night I stayed up late working on a piece for LaFe. I loved the concept, said it clearly and think it will be helpful. It took 30 minutes to write. But I had been putting off writing it for a week.

One night last week - Friday - I had a sleepless night. I went to bed around 9, but didn't fall asleep until 3. It was bad enough that I read 1500 lines of Heany's Beowulf without even feeling drowsy. Why didn't I write then?

Just about everybody has ideas worth writing down and recording. What we lack are strategies for overcoming the challenges that keep us from getting started. Identifying some of my challenges has helped me overcome them.

If you want to journal more or write a memoir or do some blogging or write that newsletter, take some time to identify your getting-started challenges. You might be surprised by how easy they are to conquer when they're brought to light.

I think, I hope

I had an opportunity to have a long conversation about faith with someone this week. He had lots of questions and lots of concerns about Christianity. Even after our conversation, I'm sure he still does.

At one point he asked me: "God loves you, right?"

He said this as an on-ramp to a series of comments about suffering. He paused to let me say the obligatory "Yes" or "Of course" or "He loves every Duke fan." After I answered, he'd turn the question to something like "Well, then, why does he ..." or "why doesn't he ...". I've had this conversation a dozen times. And not only as the one who's being asked the questions. I remember peppering Tommy Frank with questions like these almost 20 years ago.

But I've learned to do something over the years.

Instead of answering with "Yes" or "Of course" or "He'd better," I answer with "I think so. I hope so."

That's a very strange answer for a pastor or missionary to give to the question "God loves you, right?"

And the guy I was talking with picked up on the strangeness. "You don't know? You're not certain?"

This pushed the conversation into a different vein. Instead of positioning myself as God's defender and the guy with answers to all the questions (a role that's so tempting to play because it flatters my ego), my comment positioned me as a fellow seeker. And that's how I view myself.

I believe that God loves me. I have lots of evidence: evidence from Scripture, from experience, from my community. I live my life as if God loves me. But I know I'm playing the odds. 999,999 to 1,000,000 that he loves me. One and a million that I'm mistaken.

I'm not sold on the postmodern idea that says "You can never be certain." It's too easy to deflate that balloon: "Are you certain that you can never be certain?" My comment isn't about philosophy. Instead, it's about posture.

The world needs more people who will hold on to the posture of a seeker - that eagerness and humility and charity - in order to give others space to ask their questions and explore the faith.

That said, there are times when the certainty will wash over me, like a wave sweeping across the beach. I had a moment like this in prayer last week. The wave covers over all the doubt and all the questions, but only for a moment. If asked in that moment if God loved me, I would reply "Right now, I feel like he does, yes."

Perhaps this is why Jesus insisted that his followers would need to rely on the Spirit when giving testimony to him. If the person I'm talking to needs assurance of God's love, God's Spirit can wash over us both like a wave and give us the confidence to claim that we're loved. If the person I'm talking to needs space to explore the Christian faith, God's Spirit can give us the courage to wander the doubt-scattered shore, awaiting the rising of the tide.

What posture do you need to take today?

Book Review: Justification by NT Wright



NT Wright's Justification is a book that I've picked up and put down over and over again for the past several years. Having just finished some of Wright's other books, I thought I'd give Justification another try.

At the core of the book is a conflict between NT Wright and John Piper over several key theological words, concepts and methods. This kind of writing can be tedious to read, but Wright finds ways to make the conversation entertaining. One of the best was a analogy he used of a person who is convinced that the sun revolves around the earth. Can you imagine trying to convince someone that the earth revolves around the sun? They have plain "evidence" on their side every morning and are supported by hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition. What a comparison!

I found Wright's argument utterly convincing. Though, as usual, I think he runs the risk of overplaying his hand, I think he's essentially correct on the following:

- We have to follow Scripture even if it goes against our traditions
- Paul wrote with God's covenant with Abraham in mind
- Paul saw Jesus as fulfilling God's covenant
- Paul was concerned about the Jew/Gentile divide
- Paul uses "justification" and "righteousness" in very specific ways to address his particular concerns (ie. not necessarily ours)

I found that this book challenged me in the same way Barth's Romans challenged me ... how deeply is my reading of Paul influenced by Luther and the controversies of his age? This, at first, may not look like a big deal. But fighting and refighting Martin Luther's battles may leave me ill-equipped for the particular conversations and conflicts that are swirling around me in the present day ... and to which God's word might even now be speaking.

One conversation and conflict that comes to mind is the conversation around a multiethnic church. If all I hear in Paul is the "faith vs. works" conversation, I may miss out on what he has to say about God's multiethnic family, where people of all ethnicities are included in the family because of Christ.

Theological reading isn't for everyone and I wouldn't recommend this book to folks who haven't already spent some time reading Wright or Piper. But I found the book helpful and entertaining (on this reading).

Writing up a storm

I've taken a break for the last several months on this blog in order to do some other writing. Many of you have followed those posts and have commented and given me great feedback. Thanks so much!

I intend to pick back up with this blog this year, shifting the focus a little and writing in some ways that I can't in the other environments where I'm currently writing (InterVarsity blogs, Chatham Church devotionals, etc ...).

Here are some links to some of the other places I'm writing, if you want to check them out as well.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship 
(InterVarsity's national blog, monthly contributor)
How to Help Friends Who Are Hurting
Tips for Kicking the Gratitude Killers
The Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath

Multiethnic Matters: The intersection of race, ethnicity and the Christians faith
(blog for InterVarsity's Multiethnic Ministries, 2x monthly contributor)
A Biblical Perspective on Immigration (Free eBook)
A Quick and Dirty Theological Rationale for Ethnic Specific Ministry
One Surprising Reason We Value Ethnic Specific Ministry

The Connect Devotional
(from Chatham Community Church, emailed M-F, I'm a writer and the editor)
The Creative Image of God
The Fall of Work
God's Work and Ours
click here to subscribe to the Connect Devotional

In addition to all this writing, I've gotten to contribute Reader Reports for two wonderful IVP books that will be released in 2015. I've also done some extensive work on the manuscript I'm working on with my Dad. And, if that wasn't enough, I've produced hundreds of posts and tweets for Chatham Community Church and for LaFe (InterVarsity's Latino Fellowship).

So, if I'm writing 5 blog posts every week, editing one or two more, and producing 50 unique social media posts ... what's left to write?
  • Book reviews: I love reading. Writing reviews helps me process books as I finish them. I'll be writing in less of a "thumbs up, thumbs down" style and more of an "engaging with the ideas" style. We'll see how it goes.
  • Biblical insights: I love reading Scripture and digging into it. I'm finding, however, that I don't have many outlets to share the things I'm learning. The rest of my writing is organizationally driven and, in my church community, I'm hesitant to share what I'm learning due to how that affects group dynamics ("Why isn't the pastor leading the small group?"). But, hey, I figure that I ought to be able to be myself on my personal blog (except when it comes to politics ... I learned my lesson there).
  • Life wrestling-learning-hacks: I love to share what I'm learning about life: leadership, parenting, how to do things. Taking a few minutes to pass along what I'm learning fits my value of generosity. I believe that great things need to be shared. And the world will be a better place if we share ... right?
We'll see what sort of writing 2015 brings!