Thursday, October 4, 2012

From Start to Finish

I ran my very first 5k a few weeks ago with Compass Church.  We put the race together to raise money for The A21 Campaign, an organization devoted to stamping out human trafficking and sex slavery while helping to rescue and rehabilitate it's victims.  The only problem with my race was that I didn't all.  Not even a little bit.

I had a decent excuse - my toe hurt (and before you make any snide remarks, smash your toe with a hammer and see how well you get around).  Okay, maybe it's not decent but it's still a working excuse; and I still ran the race with a time of 25:54 which I'm pretty pleased with.  Regardless of my time, running three miles cold with no training or preparation at all is not a good idea.  I had muscles that had long lain dormant awake and screaming at me after the race.  My lungs felt like stretched out, deflated balloons.  My body was very unhappy with me because I went into the race with nothing more than a faith in my ability to finish and the willpower to not come in last.

Faith is something we start a lot of things with.  We begin new diets and workout routines with the faith that this will be the one that changes our bodies and lives.  We start new businesses with no guarantees of success, just a belief in our ideas and ability to pull them off.  We send our kids to teachers at school that we casually know at best believing they will be both educated and well cared for.  We invest trust in new relationships on faith that our trust is well placed and will not be violated.  We go on our first date with someone believing that they might be the one.

The thing that is constant about our faith based endeavors is that ultimately they will require some real work on our part.  I can run one 5k without training, but discovering that I can do it only makes me realize that I have to start taking the practical steps of training seriously.  My willpower and faith in myself simply just isn't enough to make me a successful runner.  I have to put that faith aside and start doing the real, tangible work of becoming a runner.  I can open the doors of my new business very easily, but I have to begin putting together and working a strong strategy.  Extending trust to someone in a relationship has to be followed with verifying the strength and veracity of that relationship.  Faith is a great start, but like anything that we begin with excitement it will always require us to come back down to earth and do the real work of success.  You may ask someone to marry you because you know they are the one, but until you start to work out the real details of where dirty laundry goes, who does the dishes and whether we leave the bathroom door open or closed, you are in for a rough ride.

But there is one area of life where faith is at both the start and the finish...
This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”  -Romans 1:17 
When it comes to a real and transformative relationship with God, faith is everything.  We don't just start it by saying, "I don't know how you can do this in my life, God, but I'm going to take a step toward you because I'm going to believe you will."  We maintain it by saying, "I don't know how you can keep doing this in my life, God, but you have in the past and I'm going to take a step toward you because I'm going to believe you won't stop."

It all begins by putting our faith in Jesus, believing that he has a better way for us to live - that he has a plan for our lives.  But we don't just cross that starting line of faith and begin doing all the work of building our new lives in Christ on our own.  In Romans 1:17, the Bible tell us that it's through faith that a righteous person has life.  What is a righteous person?  Someone who does all the right things.  Someone who is good.  If anyone could earn God's love and favor, it's them.  But even a righteous person can't find true life by doing good - it only comes through faith.  And not just faith at the beginning of the race that God can do something, faith that finishes the race.  It's a faith that continually runs back to God everyday in innocent trust knowing that no matter how far we have come we can still never make ourselves right with God on our own.  It's a faith that frees us from the expectation that would even have to.

I've known God for a lot of years, but the same depth of life and relationship that he has blessed me with is available for you who may only be coming to him for the first time today, because it's the same faith that makes us right with him.  I may have been around the block a few times with Jesus but I could still never earn his love and favor.  It comes to me the same way it comes to you, by simply going to him every day and saying, "I know I can put my faith in you."  Should we work hard to honor God?  Of course.  Should we do our best to truly love other people?  Certainly.  Are either of those possible without faith?  Nope.  Real life starts and finishes with faith in Jesus.  No gimmicks, no sales pitches, no hidden fees, contracts or small print.  Just faith.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Prejudice and the Church

This weekend at Compass, we are going to be continuing our Bad Words series by talking about prejudice.  In studying and reading about it I came across a speech about prejudice in the church delivered by Frederick Douglass in November of 1841.  It is a very powerful message that speaks to our ability to lie to ourselves about our prejudices and even to justify them.

Delivered November 4, 1841, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. 
At the South I was a member of the Methodist Church. When I came north, I thought one Sunday I would attend communion, at one of the churches of my denomination, in the town I was staying. The white people gathered round the altar, the blacks clustered by the door. After the good minister had served out the bread and wine to one portion of those near him, he said, "These may withdraw, and others come forward;" thus he proceeded till all the white members had been served. Then he took a long breath, and looking out towards the door, exclaimed, "Come up, colored friends, come up! for you know God is no respecter of persons!" I haven't been there to see the sacraments taken since.  
At New Bedford, where I live, there was a great revival of religion not long ago—many were converted and "received" as they said, "into the kingdom of heaven." But it seems, the kingdom of heaven is like a net; at least so it was according to the practice of these pious Christians; and when the net was drawn ashore, they had to set down and cull out the fish. Well, it happened now that some of the fish had rather black scales; so these were sorted out and packed by themselves. But among those who experienced religion at this time was a colored girl; she was baptized in the same water as the rest; so she thought she might sit at the Lord's table and partake of the same sacramental elements with the others. The deacon handed round the cup, and when he came to the black girl, he could not pass her, for there was the minister looking right at him, and as he was a kind of abolitionist, the deacon was rather afraid of giving him offense; so he handed the girl the cup, and she tasted. Now it so happened that next to her sat a young lady who had been converted at the same time, baptized in the same water, and put her trust in the same blessed Saviour; yet when the cup containing the precious blood which had been shed for all, came to her, she rose in disdain, and walked out of the church. Such was the religion she had experienced!  
Another young lady fell into a trance. When she awoke, she declared she had been to heaven. Her friends were all anxious to know what and whom she had seen there; so she told the whole story. But there was one good old lady whose curiosity went beyond that of all the others—and she inquired of the girl that had the vision, if she saw any black folks in heaven? After some hesitation, the reply was, "Oh! I didn't go into the kitchen!"
Thus you see, my hearers, this prejudice goes even into the church of God. And there are those who carry it so far that it is disagreeable to them even to think of going to heaven, if colored people are going there too. And whence comes it? The grand cause is slavery; but there are others less prominent; one of them is the way in which children in this part of the country are instructed to regard the blacks.

"Yes!" exclaimed an old gentleman, interrupting him— "when they behave wrong, they are told, 'black man come catch you.'"  
Yet people in general will say they like colored men as well as any other, but in their proper place! They assign us that place; they don't let us do it for ourselves, nor will they allow us a voice in the decision. They will not allow that we have a head to think, and a heart to feel, and a soul to aspire. They treat us not as men, but as dogs—they cry "Stu-boy!" and expect us to run and do their bidding. That's the way we are liked. You degrade us, and then ask why we are degraded—you shut our mouths, and then ask why we don't speak—you close our colleges and seminaries against us, and then ask why we don't know more.  
But all this prejudice sinks into insignificance in my mind, when compared with the enormous iniquity of the system which is its cause—the system that sold my four sisters and my brothers into bondage—and which calls in its priests to defend it even from the Bible! The slaveholding ministers preach up the divine right of the slaveholders to property in their fellow- men. The southern preachers say to the poor slave, "Oh! if you wish to be happy in time, happy in eternity, you must be obedient to your masters; their interest is yours. God made one portion of men to do the working, and another to do the thinking; how good God is! Now, you have no trouble or anxiety; but ah! you can't imagine how perplexing it is to your masters and mistresses to have so much thinking to do in your behalf! You cannot appreciate your blessings; you know not how happy a thing it is for you, that you were born of that portion of the human family which has the working, instead of the thinking to do! Oh! how grateful and obedient you ought to be to your masters! How beautiful are the arrangements of Providence! Look at your hard, horny hands—see how nicely they are adapted to the labor you have to perform! Look at our delicate fingers, so exactly fitted for our station, and see how manifest it is that God designed us to be His thinkers, and you the workers—Oh! the wisdom of God!" —I used to attend a Methodist church, in which my master was a class leader; he would talk most sanctimoniously about the dear Redeemer, who was sent "to preach deliverance to the captives, and set at liberty them that are bruised" —he could pray at morning, pray at noon, and pray at night; yet he could lash up my poor cousin by his two thumbs, and inflict stripes and blows upon his bare back, till the blood streamed to the ground! all the time quoting scripture, for his authority, and appealing to that passage of the Holy Bible which says, "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes!" Such was the amount of this good Methodist's piety

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Impact of Being Small

Damian McCrink is a friend of mine and a church planter in Chicago who called me today.  He shared a crazy story of coincidence and divine intervention that encouraged me quite a bit...

A man (heretofore called "Jeff" because I can't write a whole blog post with just pronouns for the guy) contacted Damian through their church website ( saying that he wanted to get involved in what they are doing.  He told Damian that his family was looking for a new church in the area and had started Google searching for a place to connect.  Jeff found River City Church and liked everything he saw until he realized that River City hadn't even started yet.  Damian is still currently building support and meeting/developing a launch team for the church.  Their launch date is still months away.  Realizing this, Jeff quickly put the church out of his mind as a non-viable option.

A little while later he visited his brother for the weekend and went to his brother's church.  Jeff's brother went to church at a startup Saturday service that had only been around for four months and met in a space designed for a much larger congregation.  He helped his brother set up curtains, stage sections, chairs and tables because the Saturday service needed to retrofit their space to make it work for a much smaller group.  He hung out with the setup team after their work was done, chatted with some new people and sat through the rest of the service.  Afterwards, he helped his brother tear everything down and re-set the building for the next day's Sunday service.

Upon returning to Chicago, Jeff reached out to Damian to get plugged in.  After experiencing the vibrancy, energy and community of the startup that his brother attended, he decided that he wanted to be a part of something just like it.  Whether the church had launched services or not, whether it had a building or not, whether it required effort or not, Jeff was in.

The divine coincidence part of the story is that Jeff's brother goes to Compass, our hungry little startup. He didn't see the work it took to make Saturday nights happen or the mismatched space to people ratios.  He didn't see the hodgepodge of folks from different generations and backgrounds or the fact that there are almost no full time pastors doing any of the work.  He saw potential.
Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”
Matthew 13:31-32
God is all about small things because small things grow.  A mustard seed doesn't start it's life offering shade and nesting space.  It's just a tiny seed, but it has the potential to be a billion times greater than what it appears to be.  The beauty of Compass and River City Church is that they will grow - we may be united in humble beginnings, but the kingdom of God is designed to grow.

The best part of this story is that it highlights something even better than a growing church - it highlights a growing person.  The kingdom of God is alive and active in Jeff.  That's why he chose River City instead of a church with a congregation in the thousands that could handily meet all his family's ministry needs.  He heard and was sensitive to God's leading in his life and followed where God led.  At the end of the day God wants to grow Jeff and others like him.  River City will grow as a result of how God cultivates and grows his kingdom in the lives of those who call it home.

Are you a Jeff?  Willing to take a risk even when it is counter to what you think your best interests are? Are you willing to do something crazy to see the kingdom of God grow into something huge in your life?  You might find that it impacts people in places you never could have expected.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Times Book Reader

I am a two-times book reader.  If I really enjoy a book you can bet your bottom dollar that I am going to read it again at some point.  Right now I am re-reading a novel that I read last year because some worlds, when created in your mind, are irresistible to return to; and every time I go back to one of those worlds I feel more immersed and at home.

Some people can do that with movies.  In our community group, we recently asked the question, "If you could only watch two movies for the rest of your life, what would you pick?"  The Dark Knight and The Matrix.  Done.  But then I started thinking that maybe one of those should be a comedy so I have some variety for the rest of my life.  Tracy Rosenberger, our resident media guru, then suggested that our movie choices should have layers of depth so that we can continually get something new out of each watching; perhaps a movie like Inception.

Whether it's a great movie or a compelling book, I love going back because when I do the story becomes more real.  It's more "mine" than it was before, like a well worn pair of jeans that may be fraying but always fit perfectly.  A great story is my currency, and returning to it, thinking about it and processing it over and over make it so tangible it's as if I am an observing character. God designed us to be reflective, to be immersed in story, to process and incorporate things into our lives.  He says as much in the Bible.
I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.
Psalm 119:15
There is real power in reflection.  It's the difference between studying a subject for years to know it inside and out and cramming for a test to get a passing grade.  One has the power to change your life while the other simply gets you past a present hurdle.  The Bible operates on the same principle.  There are many people who have found comfort and guidance in circumstances that are immediate and pressing:  the death of a family member, the loss of a job, the loneliness of an isolated life.  God's word has the power to speak to us in those situations, to get us through and on to the next phase of life, but when God's word is just used as an occasional pain killer to dull the immediate hurts we all face we are missing out on the greater benefits it has for us.

The Bible is not a book that is simply meant to be read, but reflected on.  Just like a great novel, there are nuances and truths that can only come out when we continually return to the source and process what it means for us.  Understanding the Bible cannot happen when we approach it like a textbook that you have to muscle through, trying to digest as much content as we can as quickly as possible.   It comes when we reflect on what God is speaking to us out of his word, no matter how small a passage it may be.

Studying God's word to pass a test can never change your life.  But reflecting on it to be immersed in the world and purpose he has designed for you always will.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cracker barrel: The Title Bout

The bell rings and the title bout is on...

Round 1
I take the breakfast menu in hand and scroll through the items.  My eyes stop momentarily on the low calorie, low fat healthy choices to show that there might be a chance I will order one of them, but everyone knows that will never happen.  This is a heavyweight fight with the reigning champ: Momma's Pancake Breakfast.  I throw the first punch and order the three pancakes, two eggs over easy and two turkey sausage patties.

Round 2
I quickly season the eggs with salt and pepper before pounding them down.  They never stood a chance.  I take a few exploratory bites of the sausage to see how much of a fight it will give me.  I'm pacing myself and feel good about my odds of winning.

Round 3
Pancake time.  The one hundred percent maple syrup is my weakness because I need a lot of it.  But I know that going in and am mentally prepared.  The first pancake goes down swinging but never even lands a single punch.  I'm positive going into pancake number two.

Round 4
Somewhere in between pancake two and three, Momma landed a loaded punch to the gut.  It feels like I ate a bag of concrete with a whole milk chaser.  I'm punch drunk and can barely get the fork up to my mouth.  The waitress keeps refilling my coffee. Doesn't she know that I perfectly balanced the cream/sweetener/coffee ratio already!  I'm in a downward spiral.

Round 5
Momma takes a swift uppercut swing to my mouth with one of the last syrup soaked bites and the lights go out.  It's over...a total knock out.  I may leave the ring but Momma's delicious breakfast treats will be punishing me for the next few hours.

Post Fight Wrap-up
My eyes were bigger than my stomach, which put up a noble fight.  I am already thinking ahead to next time, but there is a nagging thought that keeps ringing in my ears like the bell that ended the bout:
It's not good to eat too much honey, and it's not good to seek honors for yourself.
Proverbs 25:27
I walk out of the locker room knowing two things - there is such a thing as too many pancakes, and picking fights for the glory of victory will only leave you disgraced with a stomach ache.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

After the Funeral

The wooden pew creaked loudly and often every time I shifted in my seat.  The church was old and had that smell that all old churches have - polished wood and ancient paper.  We were there for the funeral of a friend's father to show our love and support.  My friend got up to speak, reading a brief autobiography his dad wrote for a fifty year high school reunion and sharing his thoughts afterward.  As he spoke I was no longer in a rigid pew, but in his place up on the platform talking about my dad.  Instead of observing I imagined myself memorializing my father and ended up sending him a text on the spot to tell him how much I love him.

I have been to more funerals in the past six months than I have in the past six years combined, and it has begun to have a cumulative effect on me.  Over the last days, I have been lost in thoughts of mortality.  It's a hard and unchangeable fact of life that we will die.  For some people it is lights out, the end to the biological accident that is life.  For others, it is the doorway we will all walk through taking us from this life to the next.  For me, it is graduation.

As a student in elementary school and Jr. High I couldn't even imagine the idea of not being in school anymore.  Graduating was an incomprehensible event that had no shape or form at all.  In High School it became more of a reality, a goal even, but it wasn't until the final weeks of my senior year that the reality of graduation settled in.  I am going to take one last test and never sit through another class here again.  I will never put my jacket in my locker, eat a cafeteria lunch or put on my P.E. uniform again.  I will walk an aisle wearing a robe and cap, and that's it.  I was anxious and emotional.  I knew what was coming next for me, but leaving behind so much of what my life had been was both a little scary and sad.

But I walked the aisle.  I went to college.  I got married.  I played in a band.  I got a real job (for those of you who think playing in a band isn't a real job).  I had kids.  I lived that new, post-school life to the fullest, and it has been so much better than I could have imagined.  Even though I may still look back on my school days with nostalgia (braided leather belts, tight-rolled jeans, 90210 hair and sideburns), I would never give up what I have now to go back...ever.

When it comes to death, Jesus tells us this:
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.  If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.John 14:1-3
Jesus is getting a place ready for those of us who know him.  It's a home that is tailored and custom made for us.  My place will have an incredible entertainment center with a beautiful flat screen TV that has great movies (The Avengers?), shows (River Monsters!) and events (NFL football) on at all times.  It will have a hot tub, a big fenced in back yard (fences make good neighbors), a beachfront ocean view (Hawaii, not Maine), a FULLY stocked kitchen (Golden Oreos) and a landing pad on the roof because in heaven I will have the power of flight.  The place that Jesus is preparing for you in heaven is designed just for you, for no other reason than that he loves you and wants to shower his kindness on you.

The best thing about the home that God is preparing for me is that it has the exact same floor plan as my wife's.  God knows that the only way my eternal home would ever be complete is if Terri is there with me.  But that's cool too, because that way we will get twice the home!

Thinking intensely about mortality, mine and that of the people I love, has been exhausting and eye-opening all at the same time.  The grief of loss is a physical, tangible thing, but when we know Jesus we don't grieve as people who have no hope.  We grieve with our feet planted in the present, stretching toward eternity knowing that, through Jesus, one day we will look back on our graduation from this world with nostalgia, not regret.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Praying With a Pen

A few days ago a friend of mine sent me a Facebook message.  She was responding to an online conversation we had about praying out loud, and she commented on how she has taken that a step further, saying:
It's so easy to respond to a facebook request for prayer with "I'll pray". Recently I've taken the verbal prayer a step further, and type it while I'm praying. It really seems to center my thoughts on the request and the person I'm praying for. Surprisingly, I can do it with my eyes closed!
In 1 Samuel chapter 2, a woman named Hannah prays a ten verse prayer thanking God for moving on her behalf.  It's a great prayer in a great story, but the question that bothers me is how do we know exactly what she prayed?  Was there a dude standing there in the Jewish Tabernacle documenting people's prayers?  When someone sat down to write the book of 1 Samuel, did they know the gist of what was said and just attempt to recreate this prayer in writing?

The obvious answer the to question of how do we have some of the long prayers that are in the bible is that somebody wrote them down.  They wrote down what was on their hearts, what they were worried about and what they were celebrating.  They wrote down their deepest fear and darkest anger.  In print, they lifted these prayers to God asking him to move on their behalf. I have grabbed a pen and notebook and prayed in writing many times.  Sometimes it helps me to really clarify what I want to say to God.  Other times it's like barfing up the things that I just need to get out of my head onto a sheet of paper where I can deal with them.

I love going through the boxes of my kids' school stuff that I have saved over the years.  My favorite thing to look at is their school journal.  I love inspecting the crooked handwriting and crazy spelling and imagining them hunched over their desks writing away.   I love seeing what they value enough to write about.  Whether it's Super Mario, their favorite food or going to Disney World, seeing the things that are on their hearts expressed in print is moving.  But the best part is seeing what changes - their handwriting, the things they write about, the length of their entries.  It's remarkable to go back and see where they started and how much they have grown.

Writing down our prayers is very much the same, because one thing that never changes when I write down my prayers to God is that I can always look back at what I've written and see how God moved.  I can't tell you how many times I have looked at old journal entries addressed to God and immediately realized that he answered that prayer - he moved on my behalf.  How often to we ask God for something and lose track of the fact that he responded?

This week, whether it's a pen and paper or a note on your computer, pray in print.  Write down the prayer that you want God to answer most in your life.  Then look back on it several months from now and see what God can do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One Song, Three Listens

Some of you may not know that one of the things I enjoy is writing and playing music.  I've had the good fortune to do this for money at different times in my life, however small the amount (yes, $1.26 is still can buy things).  Today, I want to take you on a journey with me as we look at the evolution of a song in my life over the course of three crucial listens.  I'm the ghost of music past, so grab your pants and let's travel...

Listen #1 - 2008
I am sitting in a small room in Lewis and Stacey Lux's house in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It's been converted to a little recording studio with cables running out into their bedroom where vocals and instrument tracks can be captured.  We are hunched around a computer monitor in a space that is literally so small I can't get out without climbing over someone's chair.  We are writing a worship song.

Lewis created a cool little loop with to a couple of piano chords flowing over it that had a neat, atmospheric vibe, and we are working on making it into a full-fledged song.  Sometimes when I write a song, I have specific lyrics and themes I want to communicate based on what's going on in my mind and life.  Other times, the words just kind of fall out and fit the music...they may not make a lick of sense, but I can worry about that later.  This is one of those times.  For no other reason then the fact that they just seem to fit okay and sing right, the words "heal us" become the chorus of our new song.  There's nothing incredibly personal about this song to us, it just seems to work.  So we write it and demo it.

Listen #1 ends with us being pretty excited about coming up with a decent little song and a good sounding demo.  No deep meaning other than the satisfaction of having created something.

Listen #2 - 2010
I am sitting in the driver's seat of our mini-van on an interstate in Missouri.  Terri is sitting next to me with her giant dark sunglasses on.  She has been wearing them all the time because she keeps breaking down in tears at completely random times, whether we are in public or not.  The glasses keep the tears hidden to a degree so they won't freak out the kids.  They have seen mommy crying a lot lately, but we want to insulate them as much as possible.  Two before, I was let go from my job as a worship pastor at a church in Kansas City.  The details don't really matter, but the impact has been completely unexpected.  It feels like we have had a death in the family.  It seems to be the only appropriate way to describe the impact of what we are going through.  We are utterly and completely broken, grieving for the lost life we thought would be ours for years and years.

I put in the Goodbye Audio album that Lewis, Stacey and I have literally just finished recording three weeks before.  When we were putting songs together for it, we remembered that unfinished demo, Heal Us, and decided it would be the first song we would try to complete for the album.  The music plays loudly in the background, mostly unheard as Terri and I are completely lost in our thoughts, and our kids are watching dvd's.  Each of the songs cycle through from start to finish until the last song begins.  It's Heal Us.

As the song plays it engages both of us.  The neat little song written two years before that held no deep, personal meaning for us was transformed into the raw and pained cry of our hearts to God.  I listen and get lost in it.  My chest feels like it is being crushed under the weight of the desperation and lostness.

Terri looks at me and says, "It's almost as if God gave you this song two years ago for us to hear now."

Listen #2 ends with us holding on to the desperate plea of this song like a lifeline.  We are crying.

Listen #3 - 2012
I have just dropped Cameron and Trinity off at a pastor's kid retreat in Carlinville.  I have a solid two hour drive back home by myself in a fifteen passenger van with now CD player or aux input, so I grab Trinity's iPod and start shuffling.  She left it with me so she wouldn't forget it in Carlinville, wise beyond her years, and I am glad because I need something to listen to other than the dozens of country radio stations I can pick up.  I put in the earbuds and press play.

Songs are playing.  They are mostly background because I am thinking about other things, until I hear a piano strike a chord.  I haven't heard Heal Us in ages, so I turn it up.  As it plays I remember.  I remember writing it with Lewis and Stacey - the excitement of creating something new.  I remember trying to hide the tears from my children as it plays over and over again as we drive - the brokenness and despair of loss.      And I reflect on where we are now.

Listen #3 ends with us happy in our new home, living close to family, serving at a great church with an incredible leader, doing life with incredible new friends and looking ahead to starting a new church campus that we will lead.

The same song was three different things to me at three different points in my life.  First it was potential, second it was a lifeline, and third it was a reminder from God that he brought us through.  The thing is, the song really didn't do anything.  God did.  In 2008, he was planting in us exactly what we would need to face the heartbreak that was coming in 2010.  In 2010, he used what had been planted in us to carry us through a valley we couldn't see the end of.  In 2012, he let me see the big picture of how he had been at work in it from the beginning.  And he used one song for all of it.

Below is a link to the song, Heal Us.  Download it.  Enjoy it.  It's free.  Maybe it will just be a neat song for you.  Maybe it will help you through a situation you are facing.  For us, it will no longer be just a song.  It's a monument that has been planted in the road at three distinct points in our lives.  Once pointing forward, once pointing down, once pointing back and all pointing to God.  What you are building now in the time of peace and prosperity in your life may be the very thing that will get you through when a massive storm comes.  The life preserver you are tightly clinging to right now may be the thing that reminds you of God's faithfulness when the storm has passed.  It may be a song, a story, a person or an object, but it always God who will walk through it all with you from beginning to end.

(right click and select 'Download as...')

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Being With You

"What was your favorite part of Christmas?" I asked my kids, fully expecting to hear a rundown of their favorite presents.  They surprised me.

Cameron (age 9) looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, pursed her lips and rubbed her chin as she considered the question.  "My favorite part of Christmas was being with you," she said.

"That was your favorite part?  Not the Nook that Granny got you, or Just Dance 3?" I asked, unsure if she had missed the point of the question (and obviously giving her no credit).

She looked at me and responded without hesitation, "Yes.  I just really liked that we got to spend a lot of time with you."

That was both the most encouraging and condemning thing that she's ever said to me.  The fact that what my kids want to do more than anything is spend time with Terri and me is just astounding.  The fact that it was the best part of her Christmas holiday was even more so.  The reality that it seemed like such a special occasion to her rather than her normal experience punched me in the gut.

As parents, we do and do and do.  We run our kids to this practice and that performance, hoping that the more extracurriculars we can involve them in the more well rounded they will become.  We work long hours to provide the best for them, to take them on vacations and keep them in nice clothes.  We do their laundry, make their dinners and pack their lunches all because we love them and want to take care of them; and the irony is that they usually don't even notice any of it.  But, why would they if all they want is to just be with us?

Know this, your kids would rather sit and watch TV with you than have you clean their room.  They would rather you jump on the trampoline with them than go to dance class.  They would rather break your back by jumping on it than have it bent under the burden of long hours at the office.  Cameron will never remember anything I did at work, but she will always remember lying on her bed listening to the stupid voice I gave her squirrel puppet.

Time is the one thing you can spend but never earn, and our kids want us to invest it in them.  Not teaching, training or correcting.  Just being.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speak Up

Have you ever had an idea that was totally great in your mind, but then when you actually verbalized it out loud you realized it was completely dumb?  I was once in a creative team meeting to talk about interesting ways to illustrate the affects of anger in our lives.  We were focusing on the idea of a grill - how it's hot and burns all the time, how it's heat can either be used to cook a delicious burger or burn your face off.  I was trying to bridge the gap between the negative impact of our anger and the flames on a grill.

"I think I have it," I said to the pastor at the time.  "We have this grill that's got flames shooting up, and we can get video of you talking about how our anger is like flames that burn people, damaging our relationships with others.  Then you can talk about how our anger can also burn up our relationship with God, and when you say that you can burn a Bible on the grill to drive the point home.  Our anger is literally like burning the Bible in our lives!"

My pastor paused, tilted his head, looked at me with a puzzled expression and said.  "We can't burn a Bible."

In my mind, it was the best idea in the world.  Burn a Bible to show people how destructive their anger is to their relationship with God.  What I missed was the obvious fact that it's not good practice for the pastor of a church to burn Bibles, and especially not to document the act on film.  In my mind it was brilliant.  Once it passed my lips it was immediately evident what a stupid idea it was.

Our minds can be a cluttered mess of ideas, anxieties, memories, to-do lists and useless trivia.  Very rarely does a person have complete clarity in their thought processes because our brains can move so fast and process so much information.  It is estimated that the human brain can handle 10 quadrillion instructions per second.  That is massive amount of data flowing through the millions of cells in our heads, and sorting through them is not always easy, which is why it is difficult to always have a clear head.

For me this fact is played out best when I pray in my head.  You know, those silent prayers that we offer up to God...the ones where you are halfway through asking God to move on behalf of your sick aunt before you realize you are going through your grocery list.  The prayers where you are telling God how much you love him in your head only to realize a few minutes later that you are mentally reciting the lyrics to that Selena Gomez song you heard on the radio earlier.  Silent prayers are okay in a pinch, but they rarely keep me connected.  It's no surprise to find out that there are only two real mentions of silent prayer in the Bible (1 Samuel 1:13 and Nehemiah 2:4-5).  Those were both powerful prayers, but I think it's important to realize that they appear to be the exception rather than the rule.  Prayer in the Bible is typically understood to be out loud.
He said to them, “When you pray, say…Luke 11:2
The disciples have just asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he begins teaching them the Lord's Prayer with this statement, "When you pray, say..."  Say it.  Say it out loud.  Speak it.  Not when you pray, think to yourself, but say it out loud.  It's amazing how much this principle has changed my prayer life.  When I talk to God as if he is a person in the room rather than the imaginary friend in my mind, I am much more deliberate about what I'm saying.  My prayers go from being loose and free-flow, guided by whatever is going on in my mind (shopping lists, what I need to record on my DVR, does my hair look good, what if bigfoot really is real?), to thoughtful and rooted in my relationship with God.
The tongue has the power of life and death...Proverbs 18:21
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that there is power in the words we use.  Raise your hand if you have never hurt anyone's feelings by saying something one should have their hand down right now.  Now, raise your hand if you can remember something kind, encouraging or challenging that someone has said to should be tired of raising your hands at this point, because words have power!  They do not just fall to the ground.
And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.
Matthew 12:36-37
For some of us it's scary to pray out loud.  We are afraid we will look or sound stupid and worry that we will run out of things to say. The way that I love it when my kids talk to me is the same way God loves it when we talk to him.  More often than not, my kids talk about bodily functions in weird voices, but I'm cool with it because I love them, and I love hearing their sweet little voices.  God loves hearing your voice.  He loves it because he loves you!  Nothing you have to say is unimportant to him, and there's no way you could say anything in a way that sounds dumb to his ears.  The next time you pray, find a quite place all by yourself and say it.  It has the power to change your life.