What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Quiet Juxtaposition in the Christmas Story

The part of the Christmas story that always gets me is Luke 1, the build-up towards the birth of Jesus that tells of Zechariah and Elizabeth (who eventually give birth to John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin).

It is Luke's glorious juxtaposition that captures me about these two lesser-known characters in the birth-narrative:
Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
They were both upright and blameless. But they had no children. And they were old. Many women had first children as teenagers In a culture where giving birth to children was the badge and sign of God's blessing, to be barren is to be considered cursed.

For Elizabeth (and to some extent Zechariah) it would be in today's culture like being un-employed your whole life. You would wonder what was wrong with the person.

How many years? How many tears? How much waiting? How many months of not being pregnant? How many friends who became pregnant along the way while she was left behind? How many years of no can one person stand? How many prayers go un-answered?

At some point, for most of us, we turn to other gods. At some point, we'd give up. At some point, I'd give up on this God. He's not doing what I want. What I want is a good thing. Ergo, this God's not working for me, let's try something else.

But these two, they're upright and blameless. Not just as teenagers. Not just through their twenties. Not just through their thirties. Not just through their forties. Perhaps through their fifties. Perhaps, even, into their sixties.

Upright and blameless. Even in the midst of feeling cursed. For decades.

These people, they bless me. And they point me to Jesus. He's the one who's finally perfect, upright, blameless even when I am not. I find myself pitifully falling short, even as I strive to imitate their faith in a much more materially blessed life.

But I'm glad in the one who came to get me, even when I fall short. My life will never be described with this same glorious juxtaposition. But in Jesus, I find myself on the end of blessing any way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Good News About Christmas in Funkland

About ten years ago, I hit a major funk. All fall I was struggling--emotionally, physically, spiritually. And few things are worse than Christmas-time in funkland.

When you're in funkland during Christmas, everyone seems happy. Everyone's telling you to be of good cheer. You just want to shout, "don your own stinkin' gay apparel!" and running and hiding in a quiet place away from away from everyone.

On top of that, I was (and am) a religious professional! Christmas is supposed to be my big day, my prime time!

I had tried everything I knew to do to re-connect with the Lord: reading new books, re-reading old books, Scripture, prayer, journaling, fasting, all of it. Nothing doing.

I remember my wife and I were visiting my parents and we were coming home from a Christmas Eve service where I was once again reminded of how spiritually vacuous I was. I was in the back seat of my parents car (feeling like I was nine all over again) once again disappointed in myself and God who seemed to be doing nothing to give a brother a break...not even at Christmas time.

I remember praying in the midst of my disappointment: "God, I've done everything I know to do to get out of this hard place. Nothing has worked. Do you think that you could come to get me?"

And then it hit me. A bright, piercing ray of light in a dark place. God did come to get me. That's what Christmas is all about. That's what this whole Christianity thing is all about. It's not about performance-management, crisis-management, doing more of some things, doing less of other things, it's not about warm-fuzzies or happy days or sad days. It's not about any of that stuff.

Christmas is the good news of a God who has come to get us when we could not "get" ourselves. We couldn't get ourselves out of the spiritual death that we were stuck in. So God himself has come. He has come to get us.

If you're experiencing Christmas in funkland this year, I'm praying for you, even as I write this note. There's just know way around it: it's harder to be struggling during the holidays...and the holidays can take a hard place and make it infinitely worse.

But know this: God coming to get us, to rescue us from permanent funkland is what Christmas is all about.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Good News of Our Un-Importance

Yesterday morning my son was throwing an epic tantrum. Something to do with who got to turn on the Christmas tree and a host of other (real and imagined) wrongs.

As his fit reached a fever pitch he screamed, "I'm going to knock over the tree and ruin everything!"

In a rare moment of clear-headed sanity I felt like I was able to speak something that blessed him: "No, son, you can't. You can't ruin everything. You don't have that much power. That's a good thing."

I think all but the most wounded of us and the most power-grasping of us don't actually want the power to ruin everything. And, even though we don't always feel like it (as Davis didn't that morning), it's a good thing that we don't have that kind of power.

God has come in Jesus to make sure that we don't have the last word on anything any more. We don't have the last word on culture, the economy, government, politics, on our marriages or our kids or even on ourselves...especially on ourselves.

You don't have the last word on you. God does. Congratulations, you can't even finally ruin your own life. God's arm is not too short to redeem anything. This is important for the "knowing God's will" conversation, among other things.

We can't ruin everything. And part of my job as a dad is to free my son from the burden of thinking that he can do so. To parent him in such a way that he feels that he could ruin everything would be to curse him with way too much power.

And it would set him up for a lifetime of too much pressure. If he can ruin everything, then the inverse could also be true: it's up to him to make sure that everything goes well. This lie could crush him--and actually probably crushes many of you.

This is the good news for all of us: you can't ruin everything. You are not as important as you think you are. Instead, you are loved far more than you ever hoped or imagined.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Moving Past Spiritual Plagiarism

My bro and his family are here from San Fransisco for some quality family Christmas time. When we first moved to Durham, they were just twenty minutes away, it's great to have them back for a couple of days.

Daniel teaches New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, a great place for any of you aspiring seminarians out there. Yesterday he was telling me yet another story about plagiarism in one of his classes.

"Seems like you've got at least one in every class you teach," I said. He paused. "Yep, it averages out to be just about one a class."

And this is at a seminary. I can only think that the average undergrad class has at least four or five students dabbling in or up-to-their-eyeballs in plagiarism. This is a pretty major epidemic in the academy.

To be fair, he only counts one or two of those as pernicious. The rest, he says, are just clueless about what it means to cite a web site, for example, or what constitutes plagiarism versus a summary of someone's ideas.

The irony, he was telling me, is that the students are required to do a fair amount of research. If they cited these sources rather than plagiarized them, they would actually get credit for their work. Instead, they try to pass someone else's ideas off as their own and they get in trouble for it.

I think all of us are tempted to plagiarize in our lives somewhere--to take credit for something that is not ours to be credited for. This is true in parenting (perhaps our kids good attributes are not as correlated to our great parenting as we would like). It's true in our work, in our relationships with one another, and I think it's true in our spiritual lives.

I think the core obstacle for most of us in our spiritual journey is that we would rather imagine ourselves as basically good and decent people who simply need a little boost occasionally than as desperately needy people who must cling to grace because we have no other lifeline.

There are few things in which most westerners are more self-deceived than in our self-assessment of our own goodness. We over-estimate our own goodness and under-credit God for his work of grace in our lives. This is true for those of us who claim to be Christians as well as it is for those who do not.

And the irony of all of it, like with the students in my brothers' classes, is that to live into reality bears life-giving fruit. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," says Proverbs. To enter into a rightly-relating place of understanding our need for grace begins to grow us up into wisdom, and "whoever finds wisdom, finds life" (also in Proverbs).

So here's a New Year's resolution suggestion: stop plagiarizing goodness from God. Instead, let's confess and embrace the reality of his goodness and his grace and love and joy poured out into our lives....and receive that with gladness.

Feel free to quote me on that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on Getting De-Friended on Facebook

When I was in college, I loved to d.j. dances and house parties. For a people-pleaser like me, it was like crack: you play a song and instantly you know if people love you. Completely neurotic and unhealthy. Ah, the glory days.

This week I got de-friended by someone on Facebook. Almost definitely not the first time, just the first time I noticed as I've been at the same number of friends for a while.

I have no idea who it was. Maybe it was someone who didn't like my take on Tiger. Or someone who got tired of all my shameless self-promotion. Most likely, it's a student who hung out with IV for a while, friended me after a freshmen retreat, then broke up with us along the way.

For a conflict-avoidant people-pleaser like me (healthier than in college, but still working through it), there's some ways that the ease and anonymity of adding friends on Facebook and being broken up with is nice. There's an understanding (at least in some circles) that Facebook is for a vast array of loose acquaintances.

If you get tired of seeing someone's face pop up in your News Feed, you hide them or de-friend them--and they never know about it.

But in the end I wonder if all this is healthy, at least fora conflict-avoidant, people-pleaser like me. The hardest part and the greatest gift of my four and a half years at Carolina has been dealing with a bunch more conflict and criticism than I would like or prefer. Put simply, I've had to grow up.

An anonymous de-friending on Facebook isn't the end of the world. But when my students ask one another out and break up in a Google-chat (which is how I would have rolled if it had been around during my college days), I can't help but wonder about the loss of inter-personal skills and the maturation that comes with having those necessarily hard interactions.

And then you've got all those annoying, think-they-know-it-all bloggers. Good grief, that's a whole different tirade for another day.

All technology has anticipated blessings and un-anticipated curses. I'm grateful for the ability to keep up with so many people who I would have lost track with throughout the years without social networking.

I just need to not allow it to unhealthily prop me up, as I would be tempted to do. Jesus still calls me to wade into conflict, have hard conversations, be okay with not everyone liking me all the time. He gives me a new name and invites that to be enough for me, no matter what else happens. I don't want to replace that great gift with the flimsy-ness of Facebook friends.

In the mean time, if anyone has a holiday party they need a d.j. for, let me know...as long as you're cool with the circa 1988-2005 musical window!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Cutlure Making by Andy Crouch

Many moons ago now, Andy Crouch's book "Culture Making" was released to much pomp and circumstance in my little corner of the world. I got a copy and put it in my "to read" stack, always vaguely aware that I'd probably really enjoy it but not sure if it would live up to the hype.

Upon completing the book last week, I thoroughly declare the hype realized.

It would be enough that Crouch manages to deftly weave Belinda Carlisle, Malcolm Gladwell, Karl Marx, Jimmy Rollins, Rembrandt, a discussion of the evolution of the omelet and a thorough-going summary of Genesis and Revelation all in the same book. That in and of itself would be worth the read.

But Crouch isn't simply putting on a show. He's inviting us to see how thoroughly culture shapes us...and he invites us to enter into the God-ordained call to be a part of shaping and making it.

Crouch does an exemplary job of laying out the history of different responses to culture (condemning, critiquing, copying, consuming) and offers a thoughtful alternative in "culture making." His deconstruction of the whole "worldview movement" alone is worth the price of admission.

All in all, a fantastic read for the person on your Christmas list who is interested in the intersection of Jesus-followers and the world around us. Two thumbs way up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Duplicitous Response to Tiger Woods Duplicity

So I'm a little amused by the media-world's reaction to the Tiger Woods saga.

Here's the deal: if we're going to worship sex as a god, it's going to have consequences. Give most any man the kind of temptations that Tiger Woods would receive on any given weekend and 95.9% of them would do what he did.

The thing that roots my commitment to my wife (perhaps strangely) is theology: what it means to be image-bearers of God, the God-ordained purpose of sexuality, a commitment to following Jesus no matter what the cost, and a growing understanding of what it means that marriage is supposed to mirror Christ's commitment to the church.

Mix in the power of God's Spirit. God's Spirit has worked in me over many years to shape my sexuality, my disciplines, my thoughts, my desires for marriage and to develop in me holy appetites for things more important and more eternal than sexual experiences. I pray that God will continue to develop and keep me. I'm not done battling for myself, my marriage, and my family. That battle will go on for most of my days.

But take all that away, and all you have is meager will-power contra raging hormones. Hormones will win that battle eventually in most cases. See Letterman, David, Clinton, Bill, and on and on and on and on.

I'm not saying that only Christians can be faithful to spouses. Obviously, some who do not hold to the same worldview that I do manage to honor their marriage vows. They would have to speak to their own motives for doing so. For myself, I can only see either the most will-powered, the most conscientious, or the least sought-after surviving apart from a commitment to something greater than themselves. .

Sadly, many who claim to (and some who indeed do) follow Jesus still fall into marital infidelity. For many, that point becomes a significant watershed place of repentance, awakening,and transformation co-mingled with the pain and brokenness.

Such is the power of the gospel, the power of the God who loves us and who offers forgiveness, that he can redeem even the most broken and willfully committed of acts.

I'm just saying that it's duplicitous for us as a culture to condemn a man who simply does what our culture has encouraged him to do for his entire life. It does not excuse what he's done. I believe what he's done is destructive and awful.

But I believe that because of a ton of other things that I believe that our culture en mass does not. On what grounds is the media throwing stones? And what's with all these glass houses everywhere?

Perhaps here, too, I am conflicted. Which symptom of cultural dis-ease would be worse: for the condemnation to rain down (in spite of the fact that there is no actual reason why most do so) or for no one to note or even care? Perhaps the latter would be far worse.

But both options would be indicative of cultural sickness. And perhaps that, in the end, is the point. Let's call it what it is: sickness. And let us, along with Tiger, repent and turn back to the God who made us (sexuality and all) that we might live the life we were made for.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Prostitutes, Dr. Phil, Loafs of Bread and Proverbs' Points

I love the book of Proverbs. It kicks me in the butt, reminds me of what matters, and teaches me more about leadership and daily living than anything Oprah or Dr. Phil might try to offer.

Plus, there's some of the best verses in the Bible. Consider: "the prostitute reduces a man to a loaf of bread." Does it get any better than that?

I last read through Proverbs two years ago, after a really hard year on campus. I blogged on it mid-summer, 2007, and what was good for me then is still good for me now:

*My life is about who I am becoming, not what I am doing. This is huge in Proverbs--the issues of character, of becoming a certain type of person, are dogmatically and adamantly asserted as first and foremost throughout the book.

This is radically counter-cultural in a world where the first question upon meeting just about anyone is, "and what is it that you do?" In America, doing is what sets your place in the cultural strata. But Proverbs commends a different way of thinking about life--a life of being a person of depth, integrity, understanding and discernment and of course wisdom. Wisdom is the centerpiece of this, which leads me to the next Proverbial lesson...

*Wisdom is worth whatever it may cost. "Though it cost you everything, get wisdom...she is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her." The wise person is the goal of this life of becoming. To be wise in how I relate to God, to the people and situations around me, towards money and other objects that I'm tempted to worship. This is what the goal of my life is. So I welcome whatever it takes to get me there.

*Discipline is good. Character that lasts can only come about by discipline and trial. Not all of the challenges that I faced this past year were disciplinary from the Lord, but all of them can serve the same purpose as discipline: to refine my soul.

*Delayed gratification. "An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end." The work of becoming a wise person is a slow process. So we must have a long-view of life's purposes. We must persevere through difficulties and trust in the long-term processes of redemption and transformation that are all serving to change and bless us.

*Character infuses our work with power. While "being" takes precedence over "doing" in the Proverbs, the doing part of our lives is not neglected. "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life" is a verse that I meditated on in the weeks leading up to my class last week. I want to become a certain type of person (wise) in part to infuse my work (teaching) with a power that cannot be acquired any other way.

*God knows my heart and holds my days in his hands. This is comforting and refining at the same time. Am I motivated to minister on campus simply out of fear--of failure, of what others might think? I'm supposed to be serving the Lord and serving students, but am I simply using these people and this ministry to prop myself up and to meet my own needs? Do I trust that God put me here both to bless me and to bless the campus? Do I trust his work in my life and in our fellowship to lead us to places of grace and power and peace or do I feel like it's up to me to make those things happen?

All of this has re-oriented me around the thing that Proverbs is most clear about: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Refreshingly clear, simple, true.

Watch out for that bread.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time for More Shameless Self-Promotion

It's been at least five days since my last shameless self-promoting buy-the-book-that-I-helped
-write plug (someone's already selling The Small Group Leader's Handbook used? How is this possible?).

So I figured it was time for a fresh one.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke for the second time at a local church...and afterwards I found out that they record and upload sermons as podcasts.

So if you're sick at home one Sunday and need a sermon fix, check it out: Raleigh Chinese Christian Church. If you click on my name, it links you to both sermons that I've given there (I promise they're both in English).

Or perhaps you're one of those "I don't do church people" but for whatever reason you occasionally check in on these posts...I'd encourage you to check take a listen and let me know what you think. I'm always interested in presenting what I believe to be true in a way that is engaging for people who are at all kinds of different places spiritually.

And for all the already-weary UNC students out there, best of luck as you head into exams!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cheap Christmas Rings and Living a Life on Loan

I remember one year when I was in elementary school, my mom took us to a craft/trinkets fair at school where kids could buy Christmas presents for family and friends. My mom gave my brother and I some cash and we went and bought her Christmas present.

In the same way, God has given us this thing called a "self" that we might have something to offer back up to him. It is nothing that we earned or created. It is pure gift. And it originates from him and was made to be given back to him.

This is not only true on the macro, hypothetical level of the "self." It's true about everything that we call our lives. Friends, family, money, resources, work, spouses, children, churches--these things have all been loaned to us that we might have something to give back to our good Father, who loves us very, very much.

"Lean not on your own understanding," so says Proverbs, "in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight."

Acknowledging him simply means living in the reality that this whole thing that we take so very seriously as "ourselves" and "our lives" and this drive that many of us feel to make a difference of make an impact or be important or whatever...it's all built on so much pomp and fluff and emptiness.

This whole life, every aspect, is on loan for just a short time. It's his, given to us briefly that we might have something to offer him.

I think I bought my mom a cheap, tacky, awful ring with her five dollars that she gave me. She lit up brighter than the Christmas tree--I remember it vividly.

That's how God is, even with our smallest and slightest attempts at living in the reality of his boundless provision and grace as we acknowledge him.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Growing Kids Satan's Way and Perpetual Self-Righteousness Tendencies

Yesterday's post drew quite a number of responses. One comment celebrated being out of college--to her there were a greater number of opportunities for self-righteousness while in school surrounded by Christians.

I've been thinking on this today and on the one hand, I agree. When you get a community full of eighteen to twenty-two-year-olds together, passion is high. That can often get mis-directed into self-righteousness. And Craig Fowler proposes in his 'stages of faith' that we all have to go through a black-and-white stage as a part of our development spiritually, and that's typically where college students are.

But I would argue that self-righteousness is one-hundred-percent a part of the human condition. No matter how old we are or what life stage we are in, we are always looking for something to be our righteousness apart from Christ.

We're incomplete creatures. In our clearest moments we know this. God offers to complete us in Christ. But we reject that (some of us aggressively and obviously, others of us in more subtle ways) and try to find other things to prop us up, to validate us or to give us a sense of worth.

When that gets externalized in clear and proud ways we call it being 'self-righteous' about something. That takes all sorts of forms, and it's particularly ugly when religion gets involved with it, as Jesus' interactions with the religious leaders shows.

When we had our first child six years ago, one question swirling around us was were we going to "grow our kids God's way" (also a title of a book for those of you who aren't a part of my little slice of the Christian world)?

We looked at it and decided no, we weren't--at least, not all the way. Did that mean we were growing kids Satan's way? To some people, it did. That was the way, the only way, to do it correctly.

But then we started looking into the complete polar-opposite approach to parenting: attachment parenting. It has a more hippie, less religious feel to it...but the people on that end of the spectrum were just as rabid, just as "self-righteous" about it as anyone on the more religious end who were growing kids God's way.

The point is that self-righteousness is always our temptation, at every age and every stage of our lives. In this parenting world, both attachment parenting and 'growing kids God's way' advocates were expressing the exact same distorted self-righteousness, just using different outlets or forms.

All of us are tempted to be 'justified,' propped up, validated by someone or something apart from what God has done for us in Jesus: our money, our friendships, our kids behavior, what we think we know about theology or cars or music or the economy or home repair.

For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, self-righteous arrogance should be the last thing that we express. This whole project is built on the fundamental presupposition that we have no such thing as righteousness that comes from ourselves. This whole thing starts with admitting that we're broken, sinful, needy people. That's where we meet grace. That's what this whole thing is about, start to finish.

And all of our self-righteousness must go if we are ever to become fully human. Not that we don't grow in knowledge or experience or have things to offer one another in terms of correction or information or helps. But we offer that humbly, acknowledging that none of it is the "righteousness" that we were actually made to inhabit. None of it actually ever heals our hearts.

Not even if you're growing kids God's way.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why I Kissed Uhealthily Guarding my Proverbial Heart Good-Bye

Among the many "glad-that's-over" Christian-youth-sub-cultur
e trends that I've had to endure during my time working with college students was the "I kissed dating good-bye" fad.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my quirky part of Americana, 'I kissed dating good-bye' was a book that had several basic tenants that I became very familiar with while boycotting the book itself: dating is not in the Bible (true). It is a product of our culture (also true) and it's loaded up with all kinds of questionable cultural baggage (also true).

Therefore, a more biblical way to approach relationships is through "courting"--here's where I start to question the veracity of the whole deal.

What exactly "courting" was always was a bit fuzzy for me (probably should have sucked it up and bought the book). When students described it to me, it mostly sounded like some healthy principles of dating with some extra stuff thrown in that made it sound like the only thing serious Christians should do.

The concepts themselves certainly weren't all bad. It was just the opportunity for more self-righteousness that concerned me.

Real Christian students didn't date--they courted. Which meant that the guys especially had more excuses to run from relationships rather than engage them. If people were "dating" rather than "courting" there were questions about their commitment to God. Silly, I know, but that's our hearts, isn't it? Always looking for some new way to be better than someone else around us?

The other day I came across an oft-quoted piece of Scripture used to prop up the whole courting idea when I was reading Proverbs (one of my favorite books of the Bible, so glad to be soaking in Proverbs for the next month or more).

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23.

This, of course is true. Jesus leans into this throughout his ministry as he calls people to move past superficial obedience to heart-level repentance.

But there's better and worse ways to guard our hearts.

If we're "guarding our hearts" out of fear, that's not the Holy Spirit. That's not faith, hope, and love. That's fear. Fear is not of God. Fear is our flesh, fear is our own anxiety, fear is a hijacking of our faculties rather than the freeing, glad obedience that we're invited to live into that then causes our hearts and indeed our whole lives to flower rather than be choked out and whither.

If we "court" because we're "guarding our hearts" and that's really just a smokescreen for "I'm scared of getting hurt" that's not holy. Or even worse, if we're courting because "I'm just trying real hard to be more spiritual and really intense all the time" then that's just spiritual arrogance and stupidity. Arrogance and stupidity aren't from the Spirit, either. Proverbs has plenty to say about that as well.

We must guard our hearts. But we must do so not out of fear or self-righteousness, but in a faithful certainty. Some of us are prone to giving our hearts away too easily, foolishly, recklessly. We must learn the discipline of not giving our hearts away in ways that are self-destructive.

But we must not fall prey in this to either fear or pride that would rob us of the real point: trusting God to be both our protector and our righteousness. That's the whole point of all our disciplines.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Putting Christ Back into My Christian Campus Ministry

So you'd think that as a Christian religious professional it'd be easy to keep Jesus in my work.

But it's actually much easier as I meet with students on a daily basis to slouch into giving good advice. After almost fourteen years in this business, I've got some good stuff to say about just about any college student problem.

Boyfriend giving you troubles? No problem! Roommate issues? Go it covered. Family woes? I'm ready to listen. Not sure what to do with your life? Let's talk. The cafeteria giving you some digestive tract issues? Here are some healthy alternatives!

But, as Tim Keller argues, the gospel is not good advice. It's good news. And if it's true that God has come in the form of a person to die for our sins and be raised back to life in order to offer us life, then this news changes everything.

The gospel changes everything. That's a core principle of my ministry and life that I've articulated throughout the years. But I forget it sometimes. And I can get away with it for a short period of time but after a while I find myself tired of the lack of genuine transformational power of good advice.

So I've been turning over a new leaf on campus as I'm meeting with students. I'm either thinking or asking the question: How does the gospel change or apply to this situation right now in real time? How does Jesus speak into this persons life? Or even better--Jesus is already here and at work in this persons life, how do I get on board with what he's already up to?

And of course it's also good medicine--physician, heal thyself. I need the gospel to be changing everything from how I change diapers to how I drive on my commute to how I relate to family, friends, co-workers and students.

The gospel is powerful. If I'm spouting off good advice but not good news, I'm offering people appetizers instead of the seven-course meal that has been prepared for them at great cost to the Lord of Hosts.

So while some Christians lobby to keep Christ in Christmas, for me this year I'm feeling like it's time to put the Christ back into Christian campus ministry....even how I think about digestive tract issues.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

An Open Letter to Baby Boomers

Dear Baby Boomers,

As I traverse the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, I cannot help but notice the rabid construction of retirement homes and communities in anticipation of your arrival.

Forgive me, but I cannot help but think that in thirty-five years when I'm ready for such a facility that the supply-demand curve will have fallen for me in a very pleasant place.

Thank you for yet another opportunity to thrive off of your largess.

Generation X

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What Stephen King is Teaching me About Hope

A number of years ago I read Stephen King's book on writing appropriately entitled "On Writing" (speaking of writing, Amazon just got the Small Group Leaders' Handbook in stock and ready to ship...just thought you should know).

In one part of King's book he talks about the dangers of falling in love with your own work--with each successive page you become more and more enamored with what's developing and your own brilliance at communicating.

Until finally the story comes to it's conclusion and you're intoxicated with this thing you have created. You read it over in a rush of self congratulatory emotion: "Bravo!" King writes in his typically genteel way, "You're f------ Shakespeare!"

King's advice to authors: write it. Then sit on it. In his typewriter days, he would plunk out a manuscript and put it in a drawer for six months. Six months! Then he'd look it over and see if it was any good.

Over the past couple of days I've recycled two talks/sermons that I've given in the past--one of them on hope, one of them on freedom from shame and guilt.

In the past, re-gifting talks was not my forte. I always gave it better the first time because it was fresher for me, I had more energy and more invested in it.

Now, however, I think I'm learning Stephen King's lesson. I'm giving them better as I work with them again. Content-wise, my presentations Sunday morning and Monday night were both more clear and more to the point than they were before.

Blogging does not encourage me to be a more thoughtful communicator--I plunk these posts out in about fifteen minutes usually. But working with a talk, coming back to it several months later, and then re-crafting it has begun to teach me something new about the art of communication.

Bravo, indeed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What if Cynics and Idealists are the Same Person?

What if the most naive idealist and the most jaded cynic are both operating under the same wrong assumption?

What if the cynic and the idealist both wrongly think that our internal hope mechanism is meant to be directed towards a somewhat arbitrary lining up of circumstances?

What if both are working under the same operating assumption that says that hope is all about events lining up in such a way that suits our preferences at any given moment but that might change in the next based on the weather, our mood, what was served in the cafeteria that day, or who happens to be around at the time?

What if the idealist and the cynic both wrongly think that hope is about circumstances turning up roses? What if it's just that the idealist thinks those events will happen and the cynic has given up on those things ever happening? But what if it's all based on the same faulty assumption?

What if our hope mechanism is too wonderful, powerful, and valuable a thing to be used for such a flimsy purpose? What if the One who implanted the hope mechanism inside of us wants our hopes to be built around a Who rather than a fragile alignment of a series of What's?

What if the disappointments that pock-mark so many of our lives are a gift? What if disappointment is a tutor, designed to wean us off putting the weight of our hopes in a "what?"

What if disappointment is meant to coax us, lead us, bless us into putting the weight of our hopes into the Who that we were made to put them in?

What if cynics and idealists are both wrong for the exact same reason? What if hope wins, but it's not a hope that looks according to our scripts, in our timing, in our ways?

What if it really is all about a "who" not a "what?"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Here! It's Here! Just in Time for Christmas!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the wait is over!

Almost two years in the making, the newly revised, re-written, new edition Small Group Leaders Handbook is out! I was privileged to help put the team together and lead the project...and write the lead-off chapter!

What is a small group leader's handbook you might ask? I'm glad you did!

Small groups are transformational communities that gather together regularly for spiritual encouragement, time in scripture, prayer and worship in order to be a transforming agent of blessing and mission in the world.

They are an integral part of a healthy spiritual-community experience because they allow us to be in one another's lives in ways that actually matter..in ways that Jesus calls us to be.

"But Alex," you might say, "there are lots of small group books out there, what makes this one any different?"

So glad you asked!

As I was getting this team together, I ordered a bunch of books about small groups to see what was already out there...and what (if any) holes there were in the world of books about small groups.

One thing that I noticed was that nearly every book that I ordered dealt exclusively with the relational aspect of small group life. Now I'm all about some serious relationships, don't get me wrong. But a small group should be much more than us hanging out and talking about our feelings all the time.

In this book we not only spend a couple chapters drilling into the relational aspect of small group life. We also spend a couple chapters talking about mission. What does it mean that a small group is not just to exist for itself but to be a blessing to others?

And secondly, we not only talk about the importance of Scripture, we also help you, the small group leader, with not just one, not just two, but three different, simple, clearly articulated ways that you (yes, even you!) can lead people in your small group into Scripture.

One the Bible study methods is something that I developed as a variation on some really creative re-thinking of Bible study methods that some friends in InterVarsity were doing in other parts of the country.

To my old VCU students, I tell the 1106 story and the amazing things God did through Joel, Steve, Emmanuel and Chris as the lead-off story. And UNC students, I tell the story of Will Kranz going down to Jamaica with Adam Salloum on a spring break trip during Adam's freshmen year/Kranz's sophomore year.

So "huzzah!" for the new edition of the Small Group Leader's Handbook available here for purchase at InterVarsity Press's web site--and you can read the entirety of chapter 1 (my chapter!) for free on the site!

And all this just in time for Christmas! It makes a great stocking stuffer for that hard-to-buy for person on your list...heck, for everyone on your list!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kelly on Emma Kate Meets Grandfather

Last weekend my wife Kelly went with our kids and my mother to visit my dad's dad, who is living in the alzheimer's unit of an assisted living facility. Our youngest, Emma Kate, was particularly engaged that day, and Kelly wrote up some sweet reflections:

I know that for many people, the onset of dementia changes their personalities drastically. A co-worker of mine described how her children could not believe that their angry grandmother had truly been a kind and patient mother until the confusion of Alzheimer's altered her.

My husband's grandfather, though, is a different case study. "Grandfather Kirk" was a missionary in Brazil for 40 years. He and his wife raised four children, all of whom continue in their faith and remain married to their original spouses.

Now, I don't think Grandfather was perfect in his early days. By most accounts, he was a bit hapless and depended heavily on the common sense of his wife to keep things rolling along. He was, however, steady and faithful in the things he believed and I don't think he's leaving his kids with any excessive emotional baggage. (Oh, if such an epitaph could be applied to me...)

Grandfather's dementia has progressed now to the point that he does not know his children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. He does remember his Portuguese, and his Bible, and his manners. He is unfailingly polite. He welcomes us kindly and hospitably when we visit, and is obviously delighted that these kind people have come to see him. The fact that he is not exactly sure who we are does not seem to bother him a bit. He hosts us with aplomb.

His connection is most clear and sweet, however, with Emma Kate. She turned "two in September" ( that's her age, if you ask her), and she, too, is not real clear about who Grandfather Kirk is or why we're visiting him, but she's delighted to see him nonetheless. He makes funny animal noises, and he has some stuffed animals in his room, and that's all the raw material they need to start a wonderful conversation. It is, to those of us on the outside of their world, hilariously stream-of-consciousness and non-sensical interaction.

But Grandfather is taken with her chubby, clear-eyed sweetness, those blond curls, her willingness to trust him, her approach, her chatter, her arms flung around his neck. She brings him books and they look at the pictures together, talking earnestly of the adventures of Corduroy. He asks her, repeatedly, how old she is, and she never tires of answering, with delight, even, that she is "two in September."

As her older siblings hover shyly nearby, more aware of the loss of Grandfather's faculties, Emma Kate is aware of no loss, only of the presence interesting and engaging person who seems to like her.

And in their interaction, two human beings are connecting in some essential way that often gets obscured by pesky considerations like remembering someone's name or what day of the week it is. She loves him, because he's there, and he loves her. And he loves her, because, even in the depths of dementia, her sweetness and openness and vulnerability call forth the love that still resides in him, which, by God's grace, has not been lost along with so many of his gifts and capacities and memories.

Those two are living their lives at opposite margins-- one at the beginnings of awareness and one at the end of it. There is some incredible clarity in those outer margins, some things they know that we wise and able and "with-it" people who are in the middle of the journey can't see.

For a few minutes in a small nursing home room today, the most powerful force on the planet was unleashed between two of the most unlikely people. By day's end, the conscious memory of that moment is likely erased from their minds. But I was there, and I remember, at least for now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Hummer of the Holiday Family

On Thanksgiving eve, been thinking about how Thanksgiving is the Hummer of holidays.

It's all so very American: family, football, and an over-abundance of food. And it's the food consumption, that prompts me to make the Hummer parallel. Why buy an eight pound turkey when you can get a sixteen or twenty pounder?

Like the Hummer, it's mostly about having something bigger simply because you can.

I'm not complaining, not even critiquing necessarily. I'll be eating as much turkey goodness as I can on Friday (adjusted for family work schedules) as anyboyd.

I'm just making the perhaps overly-obvious point that we Americans are all about bigger and better--frequently making the false assumption that bigger is always better. And that this has been woven into the fabric of our culture from the very beginning.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Running Far with Turkey with Friends

This from my friend Marshall last week in a talk he gave to my students about authentic community:

"There's an African proverb that says this: If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run with friends."

Good word for those of us who have gotten part-way through life mostly running ahead, mostly running alone.

This might also apply to turkey consumption on Thanksgiving day, but I have yet to really think through all of the possible applications.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Celebrating Chapter Retreat

This past weekend I rolled out with 140 of my closest friends/students to InterVarsity at UNC's annual Chapter Retreat. I've done fourteen years of chapter retreats--nine at VCU, now five with UNC. I think that this might have been the best of the fourteen.

Chapter retreat tradition is that the seniors give testimonies as the content for the weekend. This has served our chapter very well.

But this year, the seniors wanted to add talks as well--that is, they wanted to add teaching out of the Scriptures. I was anxious about this, to be honest. A bad testimony isn't but so bad--it's just someone's story. A bad talk can be flat-out awful.

I shouldn't have worried.

All the seniors who gave testimonies and gave talks prepared thoughtfully and delivered their messages with clarity and power. The rest of the senior class chipped in by leading worship, leading small groups, organizing free-time activities and generally just looking older and wiser than everyone else except us old staff workers.

But it wasn't just the seniors who made this weekend great. This community of around 300-plus is about as healthy and dynamic as I've ever seen it. Each class brings its' own flavor and energy and seems to be growing and maturing.

Even the sophomores who have two things going against them (sophomore slump and our abysmal fall last year) seem to be weathering things well and growing as a healthy community.

How things rise and fall in campus ministry is always a bit of a mystery made of many components: sometimes there's obvious reasons for things going well or poorly, sometimes it's just the cycle of student generations ebbing and flowing, sometimes God just decides to do something or mysteriously removes his presence for a season.

Whatever's happening right now, this past weekend was a great snapshot of a great season of life and ministry with IV at UNC-Chapel Hill....one of those times when I just feel privileged to be along for the ride.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Presuming more Recklessly on Grace

A couple weeks ago I was sitting down with a mentor that I'm just getting to know. He asked me about my spiritual disciplines.

I launched into my schpeal: I started reading the Scripture and praying nearly daily sometime during my sophomore year of high school. That time matured in college and post-college into a definitive and shaping component of my life as I added journaling to my daily ritual.

Then we had a kid. And the luxury of forty-five minutes to an hour all to myself every day over my Bible and in my journal got tanked.

At this point, he interrupted me: "So what did God do to make up for that?"

I was taken aback by the question. I spent at least two years looking in the rear-view mirror, frustrated by my inability to live up to what had to that point been a primary shaping instrument in my life.

But this mentor is older and wiser in the Lord than I am. He assumed that God is good. He assumed that if something was taken away from me, that God in his grace would act to replace it: "so what did God do to make up for that?"

And the thing is, God did make up for it, just as my mentor assumed he would.

My image of what my primary shaping influences post-college were is me over the Scriptures, in my journal, and reading books. This is not to discount the influence of many friends and in particular what I was learning about grace as I was formed and taught at West End Pres in Richmond, Va.

But my own perception of that time (and who knows what will happen at the end of all things to our own self-perceptions of any given season of our lives?) is very solitary, very focused, very much thinking and working things out on my own.

Post-my sons birth (six years ago on the 24th--happy early b-day Davis!), my primary shaping influences have become people and podcasts. Mentors have sprung up who have poured into me in specific and personal ways that I hadn't had since college. And some significant spiritual friendships have become crucial to my journey.

And podcasts have become critical, too, as I have lost the margin that was once filled with reading great books. Now I listen to sermons and leadership podcasts to and from work and as I run errands around town: Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Willow Creek Leadership Summits, Marcus Buckingham, and others.

I posted earlier in the week about a patient expectation. This is still certainly a skill that I need to develop. But the instinct to ask the immediately expectant question, "so what did God do to make up for that" is also something that I need to learn as well...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Angry Pit Preachers, The Real Us, and Admitting the Problem

Once in college I met a fellow student while we listened to a pit preacher standing in the middle of campus scream at everyone, telling them all that they were going to hell. The pit preacher said he hadn't sinned in several years, not since he became a Christian.

The student I happened to be standing next to also said that she hadn't sinned in several years. I was part intrigued, part annoyed.

We entered into a conversation about how this could be true. She had the Spirit, she said, she knew the Scriptures, she just didn't sin any more.

I got even more annoyed.

"What about the fact that pride taints just about everything that most of us do? Or other ways that our motives get all screwed up? Or what about sins of omission? How about the sick person you don't care about or the racism that's going on in our culture that we don't take on?"

"No, no, no," she said, "It doesn't work like that. You're making the standard too high. "

And that, of course, was the only way she could really do this: by lowering the bar as much as possible so that she could clear it. That is actually how it does "work." She just had been sold a bill of goods...and she bought it.

This is actually similar to what is left of pop-culture Christianity in our country. Just be nice to people and God will take care of you, not judge you too harshly for anything as long as you try to do good things.

Last week a student asked me if he thought we could go a day without sinning. No, no, and no again.

Not a day, not an hour, not a minute goes by that sin is not at work in our heart, mind, soul. We need grace, forgiveness, repentance, healing, the gospel to be actively at work in us every second of every hour of every day of our lives.

There is sin at work in me right now that I'm not even aware of because Jesus has not yet revealed it to me. I'll discover it five, ten years from now when Jesus is ready to show me and he knows that I'm ready to repent of it. In the mean time I trust in him, not my own performance, to make me whole and holy.

Of course there is growth, and yes there is transformation. God is committed to finishing that work in me every day of my life.

I will not enter into the kingdom of heaven until I am perfected. All of my sin must be burned off, once and for all. None of it will be allowed to take up residence with me in the new heaven and new earth. No little pet sins allowed, nothing gets winked at, no knowing nods. All of it must be burned off so that the real me might flower. One day, I will actually be perfect.

But the work will not ever be done this side of the final redemption of all things when God makes his grand and final pronouncement: "Behold, I am making all things new!" Only then will we be free of this sin-cancer that shreds our souls, minds, imaginations, relationships, motives, hopes, and dreams.

Until then, we have to take the first step that any addict has to take: admit the problem. Apart from that, there can be no healing

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stuck with DSL & Patient Expectation

One of the many benefits of being involved with campus ministry with InterVarsity is the opportunity to interact with other IV staff workers. The past several days I was in meetings with some of the most gifted and thoughtful people I know--the Eastern Carolina's area team, a.k.a, the Heavy Hitters.

One highlight for me of our quarterly-ish meetings is time together in Scripture. The other morning we were looking at Isaiah 61, one of the most poetically glorious passages in all of Scripture. Here's a small sample of it:
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called mighty oaks,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

And it just keeps going, rolling out promise after promise of replacing brokenness with wholeness, sadness with joy, defeat with victory, loss with hope.

As we read through this passage, sat in it and discussed it, our overwhelming sense was, "Yes! We need this! In our lives, on our campuses! Let's see this roll out now!"

But the context calls us up short. These are promises made to people in captivity. And these specific promises will take many, many years to come to their fulfillment.

In fact, it could be argued that the promises don't ever become fully realized until Jesus comes. This is the scroll he picks to read in Luke 4, his debut sermon. After he reads this, he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

So basically, this promise isn't fulfilled for many, many generations. And the question raised by one of my astute co-workers: what does patient expectation look like?

Does anything in our culture encourage this kind of a long obedience in the same, expectant, patient, hopeful, deliberate, eager waiting direction?

And the follow-up for us as campus ministers: does anything in our student's world help them to think in these terms?

In Jesus' time, the stuff the every-day person handled was soil, seeds, plants, harvest, wood, metal, and the like. Those things required patience over a long-haul in order to achieve hoped-for results. The crop to come in three months captured the daily imagination. Or the table that was forming out of the wood in the shop. Those were the daily imaginings of the average worker in Palestine.

The internet is what shapes our imagination today. Nothing waiting about it, unless you're stuck with a DSL connection which then takes all of two seconds instead of two tenths of a second to download something. Not exactly what the Scriptures are calling us to when it comes to a patient expectation.

All of this simply means that we must work all the more to root ourselves in the culture of the Land of the Trinity over and above the culture(s) of this world. We must learn how Life there works, how promises are made and actually kept there. What waiting looks like. What hoping looks like. What true loving looks like.

We must, in other words, soak ourselves in God. He is our good. And he promises us many things, few of which download as quickly as an internet site does. Where will we learn this foreign Land of the Trinity value of patient expectation?

Only by sitting with Jesus in prayer and in the Scriptures.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: How the Mighty Fall

Ten years ago Jim Collins wrote his definitive book on organization and management, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, And Others Don't."

Collins combines a researcher's brain and a story-tellers wit. And his principles could be heard far and wide--from college basketball coaches to corporate board rooms to church staff meetings.

In fact so many non-profits used the book that Collins wrote a companion book for non-profits called "Good to Great and the Social Sectors."

It was one of my first organizational books and it shaped my thinking about more than most anything else.

Collins has recently unleashed his gifts once again in studying companies--only this time, his focus is on companies going in the opposite direction: as they go down.

"How the Mighty Fall" chronicles the demise of several formerly great companies, including several that had been featured a decade earlier in "Good to Great."

The core insight gleaned from the research is that contrary to what would be expected, great companies didn't collapse due to apathy. They collapsed because they over-reached.

Specifically, these companies that fell from greatness (i.e. Circuit City, r.i.p.) attempted to expand beyond their ability to put the right people in place to sustain the pace of growth.

Collins suggests that these companies confused greatness with bigness. A problem that I have absolutely no experience with.

Overall, this book makes a fantastic companion to "Good to Great" and provides spectacular cautions to people who are prone to push too hard towards growth.

Check it out if you're in any place of influence or leadership in your work, church, or other ministry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gender, Humor, and Public Speaking

The last couple of weeks we've had a couple of fantastic speakers at large group. They've both been women.

This has sparked an ongoing conversation with my wife about the challenge for women to find good models for public speaking. This is especially true in evangelical-Christianity land, where I spend most of my time...and especially to find good models for speaking to mixed-gendered audiences versus women-only audiences.

This has gotten me thinking about who shapes and decides what makes for a good public speaker. Which of course has gotten me thinking about comedians.

And here the market is decidedly male-dominated. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, the Saturday Night Live crew past and present is largely male-dominated, "The Office" is, I believe, written by men and it's certainly a male-dominated culture that it's mocking.

There are certainly huge exceptions--Tina Fey, for example. But a couple of the more notable exceptions are Ellen Degeneress and Rosie O'Donnell.

Of course I'm not saying women can't be funny or that women can't be funny and be straight. I'm saying that humor is a huge part of how we communicate and connect and evaluate public speakers in our culture. And the men who dominate the humor market shape how we think about who's funny and who's not.

My guess is that as evangelicals in our country become more open to women teachers and pastors we'll see more and a wider variety of women who can serve as models for younger speakers.

And it'll be interesting to see how they use (or don't use--see John Piper for a guy who's not exactly bringing the house down with humor but who has a huge following) humor as a way to connect with their mixed-gendered-audience listeners.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Super-You Must Die

The other day I was talking with a student who quoted a great passage out of Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis."

In the book, Bell was talking about his early struggles as a pastor. One of them was that he felt the pressure to perform. He tried too hard to be super-pastor. "But super-pastor had to die."

Indeed, my friends. This is not just a problem for pastors. Many of us have super-us's in our imaginations. Those super-sized us's do not bless us. They are figments of our imaginations. They are "us" blown up exponentially beyond our ability to produce or perform.

Super-you must die. If she or he doesn't die, she or he will tyrannize you your whole life. And in the end, you're the one who dies. Cause of death? Suffocating under the ridiculous expectations of the super-sized you, a product of your own imagination.

Super-you must die. Otherwise, you play-act your way through life, trying to perform for that super-sized image, to live up to it. No genuine relating to anyone around you. No genuine relating to God.

Not a good way to spend your life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Parenting Does Not Equal Coddling

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend who had read a book about parenting. This author's axe to grind (all parenting books have at least one, sometimes multiple axes to grind) was that we're over-coddling our kids. They're not good at everything, why do we tell them that they are?

I'm inclined to agree.

Last weekend we wrapped up Zoe's under-four soccer league (go, Bullfrogs). We hosted a post-last-game brunch and Kelly picked up some little wooden frog picture frames for the kids and had their soccer picture in the frame. One dad commented that this hit the right note for a year-end celebration.

"I don't like it when all the kids get trophies," he said, "Growing up you got a trophy for actually winning something, not just for showing up."

I think that helping my kids come to terms with their limits and in-abilities is as important as encouraging them to discover their strengths and what they are good at. Embracing the inherent limitations of being human is a part of being a healthy human.

And it's crucial for the spiritual life. Apart from understanding the fundamental reality of our incompleteness, we will attempt to live in the illusion that we can be like God--the original lie spoken to our original parents.

My natural bent is towards super-encouragement. I'm not critical by nature--at least not in terms of what I vocalize. So perhaps this is simply about a healthy correction in my own temperament. And perhaps those of you who find it harder to express something positive need correction in the other direction.

But I think that calling us out as a culture on the cultural norm of lying to our kids about their super-human-ness might be needed. Learning to strike that right balance of affirmation and explaining "harsh realities" probably varies among your personality and what kind of kid you have...and is (like most things) a process.

So I'll be thinking on this during the winter as my soccer coach's whistle takes a rest for a few months. And I'm hoping that the Bullfrogs will re-gather next spring for another epic run at leap-frogging over the competition.

I'll just try not to talk it up too much.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rotting in Unforgiveness

In 2002 there was a string of sniper-shootings in the D.C. area. We were living in Richmond at the time, and the snipers furthest-south shooting occurred in Ashland, just about fifteen minutes north of where we were living.

Those of you who remember the case might remember that there was one false arrest a week or two before they caught them--that happened five minutes from the school where my wife Kelly taught fifth grade.

So I was moved today as I read about the execution of the sniper last night, seven years after his reign of terror ended with ten dead.

What was particularly striking was the quotes of the victims' families. One guy who's sister was killed said he felt no closure. His death was too quick and easy...and it didn't change anything. He was still bitter and reeling.

Another guy was talking about forgiveness. His brother had been gunned down. His quote was simple and profound:
"One is that God calls for me to do that in the Bible and the second thing is related to that. If I don't, it rots me from the inside out. It doesn't really hurt John Muhammad or anybody that I have bitterness against."
This, my friends is truth. Unforgiveness simply rots us from the inside out. What is this foolish illusion that we live under that unforgiveness, anger, nursing grudges does anything to anyone else except the corruption of our souls, the hardening of our hearts, and the closing off of our imaginations to the realities of love, grace, forgiveness and peace? It is worshiping at a god of our own self-destruction.

For those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers, the call is even more severe: we must forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven much. The only commentary that Jesus offers on his own model prayer in the gospels is about the forgiveness part: if we don't forgive others, God will not forgive us. Yikes.

If I had lost a family member to this guy, I have no idea how I would have responded to last night's execution. I pray to God that I might have the gift of grace to forgive.

But in the mean time, I've got my own, smaller ghosts that I've got to forgive and let go of. My un-forgiveness isn't affecting them one bit. I'm the one left rotting as a result of my un-forgiveness, not them.

And besides, if I don't practice with those smaller ghosts whose to say that I'd be able to forgive should something really serious come my way?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What To Do When We Don't Get What We Think God Would Want

So when the same concept, issue or Scripture comes up a couple times within a couple days, I try to pay attention. And I often try to post on it--being the external processor that I am, blogging helps me to roll up my sleeves and engage with something...and sometimes it's helpful for others.

In Acts 16, Paul and his buddies are trying to go to Asia to speak the gospel there. Only one problem: God won't let them. The Scriptures twice say that the Spirit of the Lord kept them from doing so, that God would not allow them to do so.

Then Paul gets a dream, a man in Macedonia begging him to come and help them. So they go to Macedonia.

They land in Phillipi, and on the Sabbath they go looking for a place to pray. They bump into Lydia, "a dealer in purple cloth." But there's another little detail that's important: she's not from Phillipi. She's from Thyatira.

Thyatira is in Asia. The exact place Paul was prohibited from speaking the gospel.

Lydia was no small player in her world. She was basically a rich fashion designer. She had a house in Thyatira and in Phillipi. She traveled, she was successful. So instead of a random Jewish guy showing up in Asia to preach the gospel to strangers in a strange culture, the gospel arrives to Asia delivered in a limousine, a woman of power and influence and significant means.

The point is this: sometimes what looks to us like a closed door, sometimes what looks like a "no" from God, sometimes the thing that just doesn't make any sense to us at the time, the thing that we say "if I were God, I would want this to happen"--sometimes those things are going to get done indirectly rather than directly.

Sometimes God calls us to go to Macedonia to get the gospel into Asia. Sometimes God says a short-term "no" in order to say a long-term "yes." Sometimes, rather than the direct route that we think makes the most sense, God calls us to do a "bank shot" to get the job done.

The work of the pilgrim trying to figure all of this out is to wait, trust, submit, and believe. We don't always meet Lydia from Thyatira immediately after our preferred-option door gets closed. Things don't always come together quite so neatly in our lives--there will always be loose ends on this side of heaven.

But sometimes God allows us to see his method behind the madness. And he calls us to walk by faith and believe him, even when it takes us places that surprise, madden or confuse us.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Keller on Work on a Monday Night

Over the past several days I've been listening to a podcast from Tim Keller, a pastor up in NYC who's got a sizable following in corners of my part of the Christian world. The podcast was a couple of years old on the subject of work. Some great stuff that has had me thinking as I've started this work week.

Here's some highlights from the sermon:

- Here's a working definition of work that he quoted from Dorothy Sayers: "work is the gracious expression of creative energies in the service of others."

- He goes on to quote Sayers' take on the problem with work in our culture: work is mostly seen as a way to make money or to achieve status.

That means that the actual work done is an appendage, an add-on. For example, doctors don't practice medicine for the joy of serving people. Doctors are doctors for the money and the social status. The patients are just the means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

This is counter to the Biblical picture of work, where the work in and of itself is prepared in advance for us to do...and the work itself matters, not just the money it provides for us or the status it affords us in our society.

3. Keller proposes that as long as money or status are the primary motivators for our work, we will always take work either way too seriously (as we strive for more and more) or we will not take it seriously enough (as we get cynical and realize that it can't actually deliver what we want it to).

4. The proper role of work is in relation to God--that is, we are to work in order to please God.

He differentiates here brilliantly between working to appease God (i.e. the idea that God is perpetually ticked and we're scurrying around to keep him happy) v. working to please God--which is the Biblical command. In the latter image, God is on the look-out for things to delight in us about. He is easy to please, and our good work brings him joy.

5. Lastly Keller asserts that there's a couple of places that work can spring out from. One place is anxious drivenness--the life that puts too much weight on work. The other place is one of apathy--a life that is cynical of work.

A third option that he offers is work that springs from God's rest, the sabbath rest of God for his people. Work that springs from deep places of rest in the gospel of Christ is work that is truly life-giving. It is work in its proper place, for the right purposes.

And it springs from the gospel of Jesus, the good news that we are no longer bound by our own works to find favor with God and purpose in life. It is given to us for free in Christ, at great cost to him.

Work springing from rest sounds awfully appealing, doesn't it?

Looking back over the past couple of months, I can see all three of these motivations at work in my soul. Lots of places where I miss the boat on the right perspective and place of work.

Keller on a Monday evening reminds me that it's all about the gospel of Jesus making a difference in how I do e-mail, meet with students, prepare for meetings, make phone calls, and write reports.

I'd love for all of these things, not to mention loving my family and writing blogs and doing dishes and all the rest of it, to spring from a deep place of rest that energizes me for the good work prepared in advance for me to do.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sound Byte Grab-Bag: Showing Up, Battling Dismemberment, and Drawing Dinosaurs

Sound bytes from conversations from this past week with friends, family, students and co-workers:

*Success in the world of spiritual disciplines is not what happens after we show up, it's simply showing up as open-handed and available as we can be. All we can do is make ourselves available, it is God's work to speak words of grace.

We can attempt to manufacture warm-fuzzy feelings and we can remind ourselves of grace we have received in the past. But only God can speak fresh words of grace into our lives. It is not up to us to do this. Our work is to simply show up--that is success. The rest is up to Him.

*Knowing God's will is not a mine-field--one false step and we are dismembered. God has given us our gifts. He has prepared work in advance for us to put them to use. If we are seeking God, submitting all of ourselves to him, he will not let us go wrong. He will either redeem the decision or ordain it.

And sometimes I believe there is no "one right answer." Sometimes I think God just says to us with great joy in his child: "Choose. And I will bless you either way."

*The work of discipleship is really the battle for the imagination. The things that capture our imaginations are the things that we will build our lives around: fame, fortune, cars, boats, fishing, Fortune 500, Olympic gold, sex, retreat, weddings, love, or God.

As ministers of the gospel, we must have eyes to see not only what God is doing currently in someone's life. We must have holy imagination to speak a word of what it would look like if they were actually to allow him to do it.

*"That's a good drawing of a dinosaur daddy."

"Thanks, Zoe. You know, daddy's not really good at drawing but I like drawing with you."

"Why aren't you good, daddy?"

"Well, everyone's got things that we're good at and that we're not as good at. That's okay, that's how God made us."

"Oh...well, I'm good at everything."

"So far, Zoe, so far..."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Will Smith, The Rock Cycle, and The Hope of the Futures

Every so often, I get a glimpse of the future of our country through an interaction with a student and it brings my heart great, great joy. This week, I had just such a moment.

Anna Herring, a sophomore who leads a small group Bible study on campus, told me about her geology professor's challenge: write a poem about the rock cycle and get five bonus points. In a moment of brilliance, she decided to write a rap.

To the tune of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire."

Given my love for all things Will Smith, I told her that I wanted to see it. It's brilliant. And tomorrow she gets another five bonus points if she'll perform it in front of the whole class of over a hundred people. She bought a hat to wear crooked and sideways.

Without further ado, so that all of you might also be as encouraged about the future of our country as I am, and with the permission of the author, here it is:

Rocks Don’t Just Form Thin Air
To the tune of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”

Now this is the story all about how
The rock cycle turns round and round
It takes more than a minute
Thousands of years to prepare
You know rocks don’t just form from thin air

Deep in the earth, formed and raised
In the mantle magma spends most of its days
Meltin’ out bubblin’ –temperatures’ are not too cool
Pressure is important, composition too
When a couple of plates that are up to no good
Start converging and diverging in the neighborhood
Pushing together, pulling apart.-tectonic forces are makin a fuss
Between the plate boundaries magma flows through the crust

Continental Riffs and hot spots also have a say
In the location as to where igneous rocks form today
For that hot, molten rock-crystalization is the ticket
Intrusive forms inside, but extrusive?- you can kick it’

Sedimentary rocks? Yo, they’re rad.
Based on how they form- they’re assigned to a different class:
Biochemical, chemical, organic, and clastic..
Hmmmm, that’s right. Sed rocks are fantastic.

Weathering starts the process and all that
Mechanical breaks rocks up with a snap!
Chemical, well…
It changes the rock’s material
Now our rock’s in pieces just like cereal

Now it’s time to put the sediment in motion
By running water and wind- we like to call it erosion.
And I’ll say because I need an A in this class,
That erosion puts us in a fine position
For sediment sorting, rounding and deposition

When the layers of sediment and organic matter are here
The process of lithification is very very near
If anything I can’t say that sed rocks are rare
And I am sure that this rap has made you really care!

Hey now, I’m not just some dumb jock
Add heat and pressure to that old preexistin’ rock
Whoa that’s metamorphism-
And thus, metamorphic rocks are formed. Do you dare?
I told you rocks don’t form from thin air!

To quote the great philosopher Whitney Houston: I believe the children are the future. Teach them well, and let them lead the way.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Overcoming the (Male-ish) Curse of Being Job's Friends

There seems to be a universal gene in men to attempt to fix people when they come to us with problems or concerns. Some women also have inherited this unfortunate gene, but with guys it seems to be almost hard-wired.

If you've never read the book of Job before, it's a maddening and gripping piece of Scripture. Calamity strikes Job. His friends show up. They spend most of the book telling him the calamity must all be his fault--he did something to deserve it.

Job refuses that explanation and demands that God answer him. God shows up at the end, doesn't ever answer his question, reminds him that God is God and he is not. Job submits to the mystery of God's sovereignty and his life is restored to an even greater degree of blessing.

But the point for today is this: his friends were idiots. They insisted on trying to fix Job and counsel him when their self-perceived insight and wisdom and advice was completely wrong.

The other day I was with a good friend of mine. He was sharing some challenges in his life. I found myself talking, and talking, and talking some more in response. I was trying to fix stuff. Last year I had students who complained that I too quickly and easily tried to offer them advice rather than really listening to them. I was trying too hard to fix them.

Men, as Larry Crabb contends in his epic book "The Silence of Adam," prefer to live by code rather than courage. Relational uncertainty and mystery causes many men to freeze up, remain silent rather engage. This is why many men pour their energies out at work (clear code, clear wins, we can figure out how to make this work) while neglecting wives and kids (no clear code, uncertainty, mystery, more demanding).

So when someone shares with us problems, we want to fix it. We like to think we can figure out "the code" and offer it to someone else.

But guys (and women who share this tendency) please hear me as I learn this myself--no one likes to be fixed. We are sorely tempted to be like Job's friends and offer stupid advice.

Instead, let us listen, come alongside, and pray (we are way, way too slow to recognize the power of this important gift that we can give to one another). And let us offer words of suggestion, advice, and recommendation only sparingly. They are often not nearly as helpful as we would like to think.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Leaning into Incompetency

So most of us spend most of our lives getting good at things. This is a good thing. Except when it's not.

I work on campus. The very nature of the college academic experience is to "major" in something--that is, to develop some core competencies in a field of study. All of this is well and good, except that competency can work counter to the flourishing of the Christian spiritual life.

Competency is the ability to do something on our own...or at least to know enough of what needs to be done to bring in the proper help if help is needed.

But the core message of the gospel cuts deeply against competency. No amount of competency could undo the sin nature. No amount of competency could restore us into fellowship with our Father.

And so the gospel is an offense to our culture that has been built on American ingenuity and competency. When it comes to the most important relationship in our lives, we all alike must confess our inability to do anything about making the most deeply wrong things right. We need mercy, grace, forgiveness, and the aid of Someone else to come and rescue us. Otherwise, we are stuck with a simple, shallow competency.

Of course for all of us our competencies have limits. And so when we get stuck at the outer limits of our abilities to fix something, we often find ourselves asking God for help. Only mostly what we're asking for is for more competency to be able to fix it on our own strength so that we might be even more independent.

God, in his mercy, is good to be slow to grant those requests. All of us must occasionally (some of us more often than others) hit the wall. We must find ourselves unable to fix something in our own strength.

And when we get there and then get mad at God for not giving us more competency to fix the situation, it would be good for us to step back and pause. Perhaps the thing that we're asking for is the very thing that would be the worst thing for us to receive--in fact, it would be death for us were God to give it to us.

God did not come in Christ to make us more competent. He came to call rebellious, needy, broken people to lay down their arms in surrender and lean into God's mercy and grace. That's offensive. It's also very, very good news.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Top 10 Signs You Might Be Too Old for Trick-or Treating

After last night's excursion with the kids into the land of trick-or-treating, I feel compelled this morning to offer this community service with the top ten signs that you might be too old for trick-or-treating:

10. If you have to shave your five o'clock shadow before you go trick-or-treating, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

9. If you own a fake i.d, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

8. If you remember the Clinton administration, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

7. If you remember the Reagan administration, you're DEFINITELY too old for trick-or-treating.

6. If while trick-or-treating you find yourself regularly distracted by worry about your A.P. exams, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

5. If you're driving yourself to the candy-jackpot neighborhood, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

4. If your idea of a good and/or current costume is Vanilla Ice, a Backstreet Boy, Monica Lewinsky, or no costume at all, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

3. If half-way through roller-blading your way through the jackpot neighborhood you realize you've forgotten to take off your high school class ring, you might be too old for trick-or-treating.

2. If upon hearing about daylight savings time your first thought is, "Sweet! I can squeeze in an extra cigarette if I can steal it from my dad" you're probably too old for trick-or-treating.

1. If you're trying to figure out what to wear to prom, you're probably too old for trick-or-treating.

Further signs that you might be too old for trick-or-treating are welcome.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Real Problem in Marriage...and Most Everything Else

Allow me to riff off of something that my former pastor, Steve Shelby, used to say. When marriages are struggling, conventional wisdom tends to point to one issue--communication.

But here's the deal: communication is not your main problem in your marriage. Your main problem is that your both sinners. You could communicate perfectly and it still wouldn't fix your marriage. You'd still be broken, messy people with messed up motives, hard-wired with the desire to manipulate the other, full of pride, anxiety, fear, and selfishness that wrecks marriage...and all the rest of our relationships.

Ergo, apart from repentance, there is no healing in marriage.

This mis-diagnosis plays out not only in marriage. "Mis-communication" gets blamed for all sorts of things in our culture as we gave done away with any cultural concept of sin. Sometimes with results that would be hilarious if it weren't all so tragic.

Last spring, for example, on campus at UNC one student group brought in an extremely conservative speaker who was speaking against immigration. Another group (made up of some students, some townies) protested and ended up disrupting the event--calling the speaker (and the sponsoring student organization) racist. A couple of folks got arrested.

In the paper the next day, one student leader was quoted as saying, "I think that we've got a good bit of mis-communication."

Uh, no we don't. I think we're communicating loud and clear.

But without a category for sin, we're stuck--with the only correct diagnosis not available to us ("sin" has been taken off the table by our own cultural volition), we're stuck with options that are weak and, put bluntly, wrong.

Incorrect diagnosis, of course, means that we can't cure the real problem--as anyone who plays a doctor on t.v. could tell you. Without recognition of sin, we cannot repent. No repentance, no peace.

So as Christians, we must not be shy of calling sin what it is--sin. This is a good gift for our culture. And we must be equally eager to invite people into the offer on the table for healing and right relationship. That is, we are to call sin sin, and we are to speak the good news: the invitation to everyone to repent, be reconciled to God and serve and love one another--even in the context of legitimate disagreement.

True, this diagnosis (calling something "sin") has been mis-handled at times--there is such a thing as mis-communication, for example, and it does cause problems. But the abuse of something should not therefore eliminate it's availability for proper use.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall on Purpose

I think the only thing more spectacular than Chapel Hill in spring is Chapel Hill in the fall.

I wonder if fall is God's way of inviting us to consider that the deaths he calls us to can be beautiful.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spiritual Lessons Learned by Sucking at Fantasy Football

So my fantasy football team sucks.

This in and of itself would not be interesting blog material (note to all fellow fantasy footballers out there: no one outside of your league cares to hear you grouse or cheer your fantasy team) except that I'm learning a significant spiritual lessons along the way.

For the un-initiated, fantasy football is building your own hypothetical team with actual football players. When they gain yards or score touchdowns in their games, your team gets points.

It's not just this year that my team sucks. I've been playing for over fifteen years and generally my teams year in and year out are mediocre.

I'm an above average fan in terms of general knowledge. But I've been playing in a league of really sharp guys for most of the past eight years. They're great guys, and they generally kick my butt.

I haven't always responded kindly to my mediocrity. Several years ago I realized that I was obsessing over my team all Sunday afternoon and smarting from my losses all day on Monday. I realized I was over-competitive and my team was bad--a bad combination. I quit the league mid-season and took a couple year hiatus to re-gain perspective.

This fall my team has descended into an even more radical form of mediocrity than is typical of my mid-season swoon. And I've been trying to figure out how to still enjoy it.

So I've been practicing a spiritual discipline in regards to my fantasy football team that those who are more deep in the life of the Spirit have always encouraged: detachment.

Detachment is a way of relating to the world not in an apathetic way but in a way that recognizes the things of the world for what they are: fleeting, transient. Situations, promotions, discouragements, wealth, poverty, status, stuff, power, and yes, even fantasy football glory or rancid-ness--all these things are shifting shadows, they pass.

God never changes. And so the practice of detachment focuses on the eternal God and allows that to inform and re-shape how we relate to things that so easily capture our imaginations that are, in fact, so very trivial.

In detachment we are invited to enter into and enjoy things for what they actually are, not as the world would hype them up to be, not as we would wish them to be, not as the various pressures and circumstances and situations around us would make them out to be. We handle them with love, with grace, and with freedom to let them go when the time comes.

This is so very, very, very, very not my nature. My nature is to dig in, to take whatever's in front of me and make it my whole world and try to make it great. And sometimes those instincts rob me of joy and cause me to overly-invest in things that aren't worth over-investing in.

So my fantasy football team sucks. And I'm trying to enjoy it anyway. It's not easy. This week I scored the lowest overall point total for anyone all season long. I still hate losing, and I hate losing embarrassingly badly even worse.

But if it helps me to live a little more freely, both with this game and in the rest of my life, maybe, just maybe, it's actually worth it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hitting the Other Extreme

Over the past fourteen years, I've talked with all kinds of people at various extremes. Some folks on one extreme are basically the "forget you, I'm doing whatever I want to with my life" types. Their faith doesn't much come into play when it comes to what they consider their "rights."

Those are the folks who need the passage from Romans 14 that I pulled from yesterday.

But there are other people at the other end of the extreme. They have little to no self-concept and get run over all the time. They enable others to continue to live in unhealthy/sinful patterns by not confronting wrong-doing. They say yes to everyone all the time to make everyone happy...often at great cost to themselves and others around them who love them.

Those people need to hear a different word: love your neighbor as yourself presupposes some healthy degree of self-love. That means healthy boundaries.

A healthy self love is rooted in a genuine humility that understands that we are worthy of being loved because God has created us and bought us back for himself at great cost to himself. That self must be redeemed, healed, cleansed, and transformed, but it is love-able.

The description of the people at either extremes are, of course, caricatures. But my guess is that most of us can, perhaps with a little help from our friends, identify ourselves as leaning towards one end or the other.

Several weeks ago I was talking about the burn-out of my students with an older, wiser man in the ministry. He commented that burn-out is the result of people not truly realizing that they were loved by God.

I responded by telling him that the unfortunate thing about living here in the South is that people already think that they know that...even though most of us remain as ignorant as the rest of the country about this fundamental, critical reality.

My hope is that people on both ends of the extreme might live in the awesome reality of the deep, deep love of God, and have it impact in real life the real people that we interact with on a daily basis. It always results in love, it just looks a little differently, depending on what end of the extreme you happen to find yourself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Panacea Wary, Meats and Veggies, and Being un-American

I am panacea wary.

Healthcare, organizational growth, the spiritual life. There isn't just one thing that has to happen that makes everything suddenly come into alignment. Growth in any sector, industry, or the spiritual life is a confluence of lots of factors, lots of small and big decisions.

It is a somewhat common cliche in Christian circles to argue that if we just do X (pray more, focus more on Jesus, worship more fully, read more Scripture) then everything else will come "naturally." We'll be more bold in sharing our faith, for example, or love our neighbors more freely or serve more selflessly if we just do this other, more important thing first.

In reading through the book of Romans, apparently Paul was panacea wary as well.

If any one portion of Scripture makes the main thing the main thing, it has to be Romans 8: forgiveness, worship, the final redemption of all things, help in suffering--it's all there, and it's gloriously epic.

But Paul, contrary to those of us who are tempted to think in terms of panaceas, doesn't stop there. He doesn't just say, "well, that's it, and the rest of your Christian life will naturally flow from there." He spends another seven chapters teasing out the specific implications of all that he unpacks in Romans 8.

And what's striking to me this time through Romans is how much ink Paul spills on applying the work of Christ to the life of the community. Paul word here is ruthless to our American individualism and sense of entitlement and "rights."

Bottom line: we have no "rights" apart from the right to submit to Christ and therefore to our neighbor for whom Christ died.

Paul says: One of you eats meat, the other one doesn't because their conscience won't allow it. So if you're with someone who doesn't eat meat--don't eat it. Why would you do something so stupid as to eat meat if it's going to destroy the faith of someone for whom Christ gave his life?

Put in today's language--why would you consume entertainment or drink alcohol, or do anything in the company of someone for whom doing so would cause them to struggle in their faith? Are you not willing to let go of your "rights" in this particular instance in order to honor someone? Did not Christ give up his "rights" in dying for that person?

Giving up our perceived rights is pretty un-American. I don't know if in the U.S. we'll ever have a wide-spread experience of this in the church.

Perhaps, however, a movement in this direction might be the beginnings of revival: the reckless submitting to one another because we start to believe that life in Christ and the loving our neighbor as ourselves truly matters, in real time, in real life, with real decisions.

Not a panacea, just hundreds, maybe thousands, of small and big decisions to live out the reality of God's work in the world with courage and patience and love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parental Grab-Bag: Saving the Toilet Paper, Dutch Pancakes, and Bulllfrog Brilliance

It's been many months since I've grab-bagged it. Today, some grab-bag thoughts for the parents out there.

The rest of you who might be pro-creating some day can feel free to read along and take some notes.

*Many of us in parent-land dread fall. Not because it pains us to see leaves dying on trees or because we have a deep-seated fear of carved pumpkins. We dread fall because colder weather and shorter days means kids indoors for longer.

So for those of you who are feeling the beginnings of colder weather driving your kids inside, and therefore driving you insane by destroying furniture, siblings, family heirlooms, and/or toilet paper rolls, allow me to encourage you to make the exquisitely wise and wonderful purchase my wife made a couple weeks ago: the indoor exercise trampoline.

She got it on Craig's list for cheap. I've made it a game of seeing how many consecutive jumps the kids can do--Davis did 700 the other day. Holy core-strengthening exercises, Batman. And of course the goal is to get them as physically exhausted as possible in order to save the furniture/toilet paper rolls/family heirlooms/siblings.

It's certainly not the panacea for all rowdy indoor behavior, but I shudder to think about what life might be over the past couple of weeks without it.

*Fun Saturday morning treat: Oma's Dutch Pancakes (a.k.a. crepes): 1 cup of flour per person, one egg per person, add milk until almost watery.

Ladle a small amount onto an egregiously-overly-buttered skillet and spin around until a thin layer of batter is spread out across the face of the pan. Cook, flip, finish cooking, and eat immediately.

Spread on your favorite topping (we grew up with sugar and lemon juice but you could also do a favorite jam or jelly or even syup) and roll them up and eat them up--yummy! The kids always love daddy, but they especially love me the moment I reveal to them the plan to make Dutch Pancakes that morning!

*I'm making my coaching debut this fall with Zoe's under-four team, the Green Bullfrogs.

We aren't much to look at on the soccer field (last weekend the kids were literally holding hands and walking in circle singing "Ring Around the Rosie" as the other team whizzed by them and scored for the umpteenth time that quarter).

But what coaching wisdom I have to offer I am glad to pass along to others out there who might also be in the position of coaching children who are less-than-interested in the game their parents signed them up to play.

Without further ado, here is the mighty Bullfrog cheer:

Coach Alex: "Does a bullfrog say 'moo-moo?'

Bullfrogs (each with one hand in; the other is likely holding the weed they picked during practice): "NO!"

Coach Alex: "Does a bullfrog say 'woof-woof?'"

Bullfrogs (with increasing indignation): "NO!"

Coach Alex: "Does a bullfrog say 'meeowwww?'"

Bullfrogs (at a fever-pitch of gleeful agitation): "NO!!!"

Coach Alex: "What does a bullfrog say?"

Bullfrogs (with deep, visceral joy): "RIBBIT-RIBBIT!"

Coach Alex: "Go bullfrogs on three: one, two, three.."

Bullfrogs: "GO BULLFROGS!"

That one's for free folks. You can thank me later.