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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tie Your (HV/AC) Boots Impeccably

This past weekend we had our 2-year-old baptism and birthday family extravaganza, with parents and in-laws coming in from all over the place. So of course, at 6:30 on Friday night, the air conditioner died.

Several people on both sides of our family have an intense dislike for over-heating--including the most important person, my wife. So after a brief discussion we decided that it would be worth it to pay someone overtime to come out.

Since our heat pump recreationally stops working every couple of months, we've had several different companies work on it. So we called the most recent people who serviced it, Artisan Heating and Cooling.

It was 9:00 by that point. And raining lightly. David, the guy on call, was in Knightdale, about half an hour away. He asked if he could come right away. The thought of a fully air-conditioned weekend gave both my wife and my dad great delight. So we told David, come on!

He called back twenty minutes later. He had stopped through Cary to pick up Justin, the lead tech. It wouldn't cost us any more, he said, and he wanted to make sure if we were paying the money for them to make the visit that we got it fixed.

When Justin and David arrived, my dad and I went out with them in the drizzle. They made the requisite jokes about having seen HV/AC units like this one in a museum. And then they proceeded to not only fix the problem but fix several other things that were developing problems.

They delighted in ragging on one another. And they took even greater joy in doing their work extremely thoroughly and well. Even on a Friday night, even in the rain, even at 10:30 at night.

"Tie your boots impeccably" was written on a Post-It note on my dad's desk growing up. It was a reminder to do even the small things in life with an eye towards excellence.

I have a growing love and appreciation for people in any industry or work who do that work well--especially excellence done in the face of inconvenience or personal cost. It inspires me on a Monday morning to do my own work with a joyful diligence.

There's so much about my work that I can't control. But I can tie my boots impeccably. Not a frantic grasping at every detail. We're talking about simple good work in the things that I know that I must do: prayer, study, being fully present to the people around me, laboring over talk preparations and Bible study preps and emails and organizational tasks.

I'm grateful for a couple guys who tied their HV/AC boots impeccably on a rainy Friday night in order to save the family celebration weekend--even if they did hate on my heat pump.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why We Must Speak

So there's two very different offerings on the table at UNC for how to deal with the basic problem of human brokenness, pain, and the resulting guilt and shame.

One offer of salvation comes from this secular, humanistic school of thought (including, alas, the extremely liberal "Christian" church). Their response to the basic problem of human brokenness and pain and guilt and shame is to try to remove as much stigma as possible.

Everything is okay. No decision is a bad decision--except the decision to feel bad about yourself or to judge someone else's decision to be a bad one. You needn't feel guilty about anything because you have nothing to feel guilty about.

The solution proposed here is to try to do away with the standards that might induce guilt or shame, to lower the bar, so to speak, so that everyone can clear it as easily as possible.

But the Christian response is quite different. Freedom from guilt and brokenness does not come by lowering the bar but by actually dealing with the problem. Left to ourselves, we are guilty. We do indeed make bad decisions, catastrophic ones sometimes.

And the solution is not a covering-up. It is a rooting-out. The solution is God who has come himself to deal with and abolish all the brokenness and rebellion and sin that destroys our humanity. And he does so at great cost to himself.

Our problem, it seems, is not that we have taken sin and guilt too seriously but that we have not taken the solution seriously enough.

My hope is that those of us who know what God has done to deal with this problem will be way more bold in offering the hope that is ours. Otherwise, what other option is there but to water it down or drown it in anger or escapism?

We weren't made to bear the guilt and brokenness that is innate to the human condition after the fall. And so we invent ways out--and the inventions of our own making just complicate and exacerbate the problem rather than actually addressing it and curing it.

And so we who are Christ-followers must speak. We must speak boldly, courageously, with integrity and gentleness and humility and conviction. God has dealt with our greatest problems in Christ. This is good news. It must be spoken.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Curse of Blessings Past

Sometimes we are so busy looking in the rear-view mirror that we miss what God has in store for us up ahead.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus, The Woman at the Well, and the Wizard of Oz

16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

17 "I have no husband," she replied.

Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

It struck me last week as I was reading this passage from John 4 last week, that I really like warm, fuzzy Jesus. And the culture likes warm, fuzzy Jesus.

But Jesus refuses to stay warm and fuzzy.

In this passage, he purposefully exposes this woman in a completely unnecessary way. If he wanted to tell her who he was, he could do so without having to bring all her baggage into the light. I would prefer to not have to have all my baggage dragged into the light.

But we are nothing if not experts at hiding. We hide from others, from one another, and we try to hide from God.

And our capacity for self-deception is seemingly limitless. We discover all kinds of creative ways to avoid dealing with our own brokenness.

But as long as we are hiding, Wizard-of-Oz like, behind the curtain, pulling levers and pretending to be larger or smarter or cooler or more intelligent or more powerful or more put together than we really are, we are stuck in our own neurosis and life cannot reach us.

Healing can only come to the exposed wound. This would seem to be a principle of the universe. And Jesus is a relentless healer. He will stop at nothing to expose us--not to shame us but to heal us.

We would rather be left alone. But Jesus will not allow us any charade of personhood. He would have us to be real people, not images. Thick, solid, real--not ghosts pretending to be fully human. And so he will stop at nothing to expose our ridiculous play-acting at whatever our own particular play-acting role tends to be. He is that good.

And so he forces our fears and anxieties and wounds to the surface that he might touch them and make us whole people.

And so he is not the warm-fuzzy Jesus that I or the people around me want him to be. Instead, he is exactly what we need: our rescuer, God come to turn orphans living in the Land of the Ruins into sons and daughters of the Most High Father.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Man, I Feel Like a Woman

I heard some bad news for us lactose-intolerants this weekend: soy milk has estrogen in it. So they're advising especially women to drink it in moderation. One or two times a week.

On the plus side, I have been more in touch with my feminine side recently.

Great start to New Student Welcome on campus. My wife gave me a great gift of a long nap yesterday afternoon to propel me into a night-time Krispy Kreme run with over 100 new students that lasted until about midnight last night.

Back at it in a couple hours. In the mean time, be on the lookout for other lactose-free alternatives. Rice milk, anyone?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Signs of My Times

Yesterday afternoon I found myself saying out-loud to my newly-purchased pen, "I love having new pens that I love!"

Must be the first day back to campus for me today. Year fourteen, game on!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heading North to Florida: How Direction Trumps Intentions

So when the same issue, topic, or question comes up within a few days of each other, I try to pay attention to what the Lord might be saying to me. Here's what's been rolling around in my head from this past week.

Friday night we had some great old friends over for dinner. One of them has been working in the corporate world for the past fifteen years and he's decided to go back to school on the fly and get his MBA.

He talked about where the breakdown happened in organizations, both in his experiences in the corporate world and as a multi-term elder and leader in his church.

"There's plenty of strategy out there," he said, "the problem is that there's this huge gap between the ideas being presented and the actual implementation of them. Executives think that if they stand up and say 'we're doing this next quarter' it actually happens. In reality, there's often a huge breakdown between the strategy and the tactics."

Hmmm, guilty as charged here. How many times have I had a vision or strategy that broke down at the level of implementation? More times than I care to remember.

Then just the other day I was listening to Andy Stanley's leadership podcast--something I commend to all you leader-types out there to download (it's free on Itunes).

He was talking about organizational break-down as well. And his pithy mantra for the week: intention is always trumped by direction.

Say you want to go to Florida. You tell all your neighbors, pack the car, and book the hotel room, but then you get on the highway from Chapel Hill and go due North. You're never going to get there. No matter how good your intentions, your processes aren't going to move you along to the desired destination.

In our marriages or finances or careers, we often have desired outcomes, intentions that we hope for. But we often have systems or ways of operating or machinations that push us in completely different directions.

So with our organizations, departments, classrooms or offices--wherever we have influence. It's important to know where you want to go, but then you have to be willing to do an honest assessment: is what I'm doing now going to help or hinder my progress towards my desired outcomes?

What path am I actually on? Does what we say we want to be about match up and align with how we conduct our business/ministry/marriage/parenting on a day-to-day basis, or are they totally separate things, completely out of alignment?

Good stuff for me to think about as we head into a new school year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Past the Fasting Grumpies into the Mystery of Mission

So it seems that there's no way around it: fasting is a common denominator of those who have been old and wise in the Lord. Ugh.

In general I would say that my over-active metabolism is a great gift. But when it comes to fasting, it works against me. Attempts at fasting often leave me grumpy, tired, and headached. I plow through a day, trying to get stuff done, trying to remember to pray, and wondering why I'm doing this.

But several weeks ago I was reading Eugene Peterson's introduction to Romans and he talks about how Paul talks about and embraces mystery.

This has been a touchstone of prayer for me over the past several weeks as I gear up for the fall. And it has prompted a question: how do I engage mystery rather than just shrug sort of nihilistic-ally and say that there's nothing I can do about anything, it's all just going to happen one way or the other?

How, in other words, can I actively engage with and enter into mystery and have it motivate me towards mission rather than having mystery be de-motivating?

Enter fasting. The answer, so far as I can tell, is that part of the mystery of God is that he invites us to enter in--into his beauty and character and power and grace as a part of his real-time work in the world.

Fasting is one important track to enter into all this. It's one place where we might get traction in entering into this mystery. It's an on-ramp into the mystery of God. It's submission and denial in order to embrace a larger life. It's a "no" in order that we might more fully enter into God's powerful "yes."

We fast in order that we might feast. We feast on the mystery of God, and to know that mystery more fully. It will never be fully understood, but it can be fully entered into.

This has given me new ways to enter into fasting over the past couple of weeks as I prepare for this fall. I'm embracing both mystery and strategy, both listening and speaking, both waiting and working. Fasting is helping me to do both at the same time.

I can still end up a little grumpy and glazed over at the end of a day of fasting. But at least now me and my hyped-up metabolism have a little better idea what we're doing all this for.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not Sure We Want Grace

One week from Thursday I'm giving our first large group talk: A Community of Forgiveness and Grace. I'm excited about the talk topic except for one thing: I'm not sure that we actually want grace.

Forgiveness is something that's easy for us to culturally get our minds around. We screw up, we need forgiveness.

Even if we don't think we're all that bad, the idea of a God who would forgive us if we hypothetically ever did anything wrong sounds very appealing. I read a quote somewhere recently, "Of course God will forgive me. That's his job."

And in our common usage, we tend to conflate forgiveness and grace. Grace, in our common discussion, is the disposition towards forgiveness.

But when Jesus offers us forgiveness and grace, he has a very different thing in mind. And we see that most clearly in the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

For those who might be unfamiliar: a woman is caught in adultery by religious leaders. She's dragged before Jesus: the law says we are to stone such women (and the men, too, by the way--not sure where he is), what do you say? All in an attempt to trip Jesus up.

Jesus' famous response: whoever's without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone. They all walk way (oldest first, a fun detail included in the story). Jesus finally says, "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."

"Neither do I condemn you." That's forgiveness. We get that.

"Go and sin no more." That's grace. We don't get that. Because we think that grace means access to further forgiveness. Which it is. But it's more than that.

Grace is the gift of living life as we were made to live it. Grace is the gift of God to walk in right-ness, in right relationship with God, with other people, with the created order. Grace is the calling to "go and sin no more."

Grace is the invitation to live life with God as Lord over your life rather than the tyrants of sin and death. God would not be a generous God if he simply covered up our mistakes while still allowing us to remain enslaved under a cruel master.

So he came, died, overthrew all our former masters that we might actually live "under new management." No longer are we stuck with our own flesh, the fallen world around us, or the evil one. We can actually learn to live free. He gives us His Spirit to do so.

Grace is not inconsistent obedience. My theology prof said that one day and it's always stuck with me. Inconsistent obedience is how we commonly talk about grace, but that's wrong. Grace is the gift of freedom from the old self to live to the new life in the Spirit, in Christ that we were actually made to live.

So I'm thinking about how to speak the good news of that grace next week to a room full of old and new students. You can pray that the Spirit gives us all a deep love for BOTH "neither do I condemn you" as well as the "go and sin no more."

That is, a real love for forgiveness and grace as it is offered to us in the Scriptures

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I Love My Work: The Pep Talk

I am sitting here in my office, less than one week away from the start of year number fourteen on campus. And so if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to give myself a little pep-talk today, a reminder of why I love my work with college students.

I love my work because in four years I get to watch people grow from wallflowers to leaders, from basically high-schoolers to adults, and sometimes from non-believer to leader in the Christian community. Four years, dramatic transformation.

I love my work because it's part theology, part sociology, part psychology, part business management, part organizational dynamics, part coaching, part pastoring, part training, part marketing, part event planning, part public speaking, and a heck of a lot of coffee.

I love my work because I spend most of my days with people talking about things that really matter.

I love my work because I love watching people change and grow and grow and grow and grow.

I love my work because after fourteen years I have alumni all over the globe serving, leading, teaching, drilling wells for clean water, working in cube world, teaching in elementary school classrooms, leading in churches, serving on the mission field, and on IV staff on other college campuses all in the name of Christ.

I love my work because Jesus loves to do amazing things with college students--most of the revivals in the United States have started with college students praying.

I love my work because locally, regionally and nationally I get to interact with some of the most gifted and creative and intelligent and thoughtful and dynamic people in the world who are all doing this same thing I am and often doing it better.

I love my work because I love college. It's the time in your life when you have the most discretionary time, the most margin to ask big questions and to wrestle through to get to the answers.

I love my work because right now I'm probably working with one or two or three or four or five students who will some day do what I do and do it much better.

Heck, yes, I love my job. The clock is ticking. Year fourteen kicks off officially in about six days. I have a heck of a lot to do. This little pep talk here, it reminds me why I'm doing it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drilling Down into Family

So maybe I over-play the importance of family background. Maybe it's because I work with college students who are often on the front-end of processing their family dynamic--both the good and the bad.

But I think that for most of us the best things about us and the places of our deepest brokenness can be traced back to some degree to the influence of our family.

So as our guys group is doing some reflection on the hand of God in our lives to this point, we thought it would be important that we take the time to drill-down into several important categories.

And to start with, we'll drill down into our family backgrounds and how that's influenced our own family experiences to this point.

The goal here is not to wallow or blame or death by analysis. The goal is to look clear-eyed at all the factors that shaped us and to allow the Lord to sift through those and help us to see what was good and what was bad.

And ultimately, of course, our goal is to look forward to what God might want to do in our own lives, in our own families.

So I sat down about a week ago and brainstormed a list of reflection questions for us to consider. Many of them were questions that I was glad someone asked me along the way.

Not every question is for every season. I'm not naively supposing that we're all going to engage all of these questions equally, or even engage all of them at all. The point is to get us into the ballpark of a conversation and to lead us into prayerful discovery.

Eventually I think that all of us need to know and be able to answer each of these questions. But for now, we're just putting a lot of stuff out there and seeing what strikes the deeper chords. Here's our "drill down" reflection questions for the category of family:

1. Are there family spiritual blessings/inheritances that you might more actively claim for yourself or for your wife/kids?

2. Are there family curses that need to be broken? Is there generational sin that Christ is inviting you to participate with him in absorbing rather than passing along?

3. As men, our fathers play a huge role in influencing our understanding of husbanding, fathering, worshipping, working and of God as "Father." How would you specifically summarize your dad's influence in these areas? Are there particular stories or conversations or experiences or images of your dad that epitomize or gather up something that he taught you--for good or for bad?

4. All families are a mixed bag of blessing and sin. How would you say that your family of origin is a blessing and a curse to your current marriage/parenting? Have you forgiven where forgiveness is required?

5. Anything else in your history that shapes how you engage with your wife/children? For example, significant extended family influences, other families that you interacted strongly with, or issues from childhood like abuse of some sort?

6. Given your interests, gifts, personality, and experiences, what do you think are the strengths of your husbanding? What are your weaknesses in husbanding? Where have you seen the most growth to this point? These might be good questions to ask your wife!

7. Given your interests, gifts, experiences and personality, what do you think are the strengths of your fathering? What are your weaknesses? Where have you seen growth? Again, asking your wife might be helpful here!

8. In chartingyour marriage to this point, what have been the most formative experiences you've shared? How have those impacted you positively or negatively?

9. How would you gather up and describe the season of your family right now--ages/stages of children and this season of your marriage?

10. How is it with your soul right now in terms of husbanding as first earthly priority and fathering as second? Glad? Weary? Expectant? Prayerful? Other?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Paul and Jesus meets Scrapple and the Guys

So I'm reading in Romans and one thing that strikes me is how much Paul quotes the Old Testament. What he's arguing is that what God has done in Jesus is surprising, but it's not out of line with his intent from the beginning.

In other words, there's some dis-continuity in what's happened with Jesus--it's not exactly what was expected--but there's also a strong degree of continuity: what God was about in calling Abraham and through the hopes of Isaiah and the Psalms and others, he has accomplished supremely in Christ.

So Paul's understanding of the present situation and his vision for the future is rooted in the history of God and his working with his people.

As I'm thinking about what it means for our group of guys to have vision for our lives, our careers, our families and our souls for the next ten years, I've come to the conclusion that any vision needs to be rooted firmly in our own histories and be in step with how we have already met Jesus along the way.

We have to know and begin to perceive God's work in our stories to this point if we have any hope of leaning into a God-ordained vision for our futures.

So here's how we're going to proceed for the next couple of months. I'm posting this in the hopes that it might help some of you think about your own community/relational context and that it might spark application in your relationships.

Four Stages:

1. Each of us draws up our own segmented life-line. This is from Bobby Clinton's book "The Making of a Leader."

The line is segmented at a boundary marker: going to college, getting married, a move, a birth, a death, a job change--any significant shift in your life that marks the end of one season and the beginning of another.

In between each of those markers, you list the significant 'process items' that happened during that season: people, roles or jobs, communities you were a part of, Scriptures that were important, crisis that happened, etc. When it's done, this should be a rough-sketch of the major movements, players, moments, moods, communities and roles in your life.

Each of us will share our lifelines. The goal here is to start to see patterns: what kinds of opportunities seem to come your way? What passions or gifts seem to emerge? What kinds of sins seem to regularly trip you up? Where are the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit?

2. I've come up with a list of questions for 5 main categories that we've all agreed are the major ones: relationship with God, family, work, self, and "scrapple."

Scrapple is a meal that's made up of whatever's leftover in the fridge. So scrapple is the other stuff of life that doesn't fit those categories--a hobby, for instance, or something that you've always sort of thought about or dreamed about but don't ever think it could happen.

In all five of these categories, one of the last questions is: How is it with your soul right now, during this season of your life, in this area of your life?

3. From there, we'll start to talk about vision for the future. Given what God has done and where you are now, what is your picture of your preferred future in each of these categories?

4. Once we've got some vision-stories in place, some images and words and ideas, we'll start to talk about strategies and tactics. What concrete steps do we need to take to get to that place of vision in our family, in our work, in our relationship with God, etc?

My hope is that we might be done by Christmas. This process, completed thoughtfully and prayerfully, would be a pretty cool Christmas present for ourselves...and (I hope) for the women who are stuck with us!

Real Men's Community: What Gets Proverbial Butts in Gear

So we talked last week about men's community--how dysfunctional we tend to be, and what it might look like to live beyond the crisis of the week.

This week, I have some fresh rants for the guys to think about (and you know who you are), along with those of you who care about us guys.

So when guys do get around to getting together in some sort of intentional, regular gathering for spiritual/real life conversations, there seems to be one of two roads it goes down.

The first is the check-in. This group is laid back, over coffee or breakfast or lunch. This is a great place for men to start. Most of us are pretty inept at talking about stuff like marriage or parenting or our spiritual lives, so this (again, especially for college guys) is a really helpful place to begin.

The second road in evangelical spirituality is a little more aggressive: it's the 'accountability group.' This is a group of guys who are regularly checking in on a pre-agreed-upon list of areas in their lives where there is an ongoing struggle to resist sin or an area where apathy has set in and there's a desire to get the proverbial rear in motion.

The problem with this meeting, as good as it is to be honest about where we need help, is that it's not actually helping to solve the problems that many of us guys have. Let me explain--and here I'm borrowing heavily (aka flat-out stealing) from my favorite ministry-type book that I've read in the past five years, How People Grow.

We learn internal disciplines/boundaries/motivations starting externally--from our parents in childhood. As kids, our parents are supposed to set regular, good, healhty limits on us. Those limits over time become internalized and if all goes well, we grow up to be healthy adults with a reasonable amount of self-control/motivation--mitigated, of course, by our own innate wiring (the "nature" part).

Of course, all doesn't always go well. And so sometimes, often in fact, we need a fresh run at someone helping us with boundaries from the outside in order that we might learn them internally in a particular area of our lives.

But the weekly accountability group doesn't do this as well as it might. Because all it is in many cases is just a fresh recitation of the law: did you or did you not measure up this week to these standards?

And if someone fails, we pat them on the head and tell them to do better next week. But if they could do better on their own next week, they wouldn't need the accountability group. The point is, they need more help than just a weekly check-in because they don't have the internalized discipline to do better on their own. That's why they're struggling.

What we need is community. Real-time, real-life, "I'm struggling today, can you remind me that I do/don't want to do this" conversations that overflow from the island of just a meeting into every day life.

What we need is guys who we can call on the way home from work when we're spent who can help us to remember that loving our kids matters. What we need is guys we can call when we're struggling, right then, right at that moment, who can talk us down off the ledge, call us to purity, to grace, to love, to life.

What we need is Christ-centered-community-in-real-time. Real relationships that really intersect our lives at the points of struggle, apathy, joylessness, and even and especially celebration.

Alas, that so few of us have it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Living Beyond the Crisis of the Week

So on Tuesday night, I gathered a handful of guys together to talk about what a guys group might look like. As I was thinking more about how to cast vision for the group, I thought about my impression of what most men's groups are about.

Most men's groups seem to spend most of their time talking about issues on the micro level: my marriage/dating relationship this week, my struggles with porn this week, my complaint about work/school/my fantasy football team this week.

This is all well and good. And particularly for college guys, I think this kind of honesty and accountability is crucial to healthy development of a fuller understanding of authentic community.

But the guys that were meeting on Tuesday night were all 29-37, all married, most of us with young kids. In our stage of life there's more that we can and need to deal with than just the micro-issue/crisis of this week.

We're at a point in our lives where we have enough life experience and understanding of ourselves and our marriages and our work and our kids that we need to start thinking on the macro level.

What kind of family culture do we want to create? What kind of relationships do we want to have with our kids when they get to be adults? What kind of marriages do we want to have 15 years from now when the last kid goes off to college? What passions and gifts have we uncovered in our work? How might those passions and gifts be better used and enjoyed?

No one is pressing us to ask these questions. They are the important but not urgent questions that easily get crushed by the crisis-of-the-week that often drives our lives.

But living by the crisis of the week is a terrible way to live. It's too small, too narrow. And we wake up at some point ten years later, twenty years later, and realize that we spent our whole lives just surviving and never really living.

And a men's group that simply helped us through the crisis of the week would be nice but not particularly compelling. If we have no vision for where we want to go, how do we know if our lives week to week are in or out of alignment?

Checking in on the micro of each week without a big picture of where I hope to go is like making sure I'm following the rules of the road without any of us having any clue where I'm going. Does that make any sense?

A micro-level weekly check in to make sure that I'm still on the treadmill isn't getting me anywhere. Spending dedicated time kicking around life goals and dreams and having some men help me take weekly, monthly, yearly steps to get there--that's worth meeting once a week for.

The guys were in. So now we've just gotta' do the easy stuff--you know, set a few whole life goals, gather up our entire lives in a couple quick and pithy vision statements. We should be able to knock that out in just a couple hours. I'll let you know what we decide to tackle after that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Brown and Green, & Death and Life Prayers at the Eno River

So when I take retreats in nature, I am often surprised by how God uses the stuff of nature to teach me. Perhaps this shouldn't come as quite such a shock, Jesus used whatever was around all the time to shape and build his messages.

Yesterday as I was walking the Eno River trails I was struck by not just how alive nature is, but also how very dead. There were felled trees everywhere, rotting logs, dead leaves and grass.

And, of course, there was life. Nature often goes from green to brown in North Carolina in August. But we've had a rather wet summer, and so there was still plenty of green to be had.

The dynamic of things dying and new things springing up brought me to this prayer: Lord, what in me needs to die so that something new might spring to life?

This, of course, is the Christian story. The hope that we proclaim is a messy hope. It is life that only comes on the other side of death.

Jesus goes to the cross, endures the shame, dies a brutal death, and then three days later is raised victoriously. The victory is the last and loudest word. But it only comes on the other side of the death.

As with Jesus, so it is with us. We live only as we die. We discover more and more life only as we willingly put things to death in us that are themselves death--the gangrenous, poisonous, corrosive activities and thoughts and beliefs that rob us of joy and life: pride, porn, greed, addictions, gossip, lying, mis-directed worship of career or success, and sexual brokenness all fit in this category.

We are often called to put things to death without any clear sense of what's on the other side. That is, we are called to die so that we might live, but we don't have any clear sense of what that life looks or feels like. That's called living by faith. It's what we're called to do.

And it's scary. Because putting something to death hurts like hell--it's a real death, not a surface fix. So we run away from the very path that would offer us life because at least we know what we have--even if it's a poor substitute for a real life, at least it's a known quantity.

But the economy of the kingdom is that life comes from death. That's how the exchange works. We have Jesus as our brother and king who has led the way--he is not calling us to do anything that he himself has not done already.

We, of course, would rather skip over the death and just get straight to the life part. But it is simply impossible. For life to genuinely take root, we must clear out the space, allow for this new thing to flourish. Otherwise, as in the parable, it gets choked out.

What needs to die so that something new might spring up? In my soul, in my work, in my family, in my friendships, in my hopes and dreams...I'm just asking. We'll see where it leads me.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Butt-Numbing at Starbucks and Staving off Fetal and Rocking

August and September for us campus minister types is akin to November and December for you retail types: you work ridiculous hours and it can sometimes make or break your entire year.

So every year around the beginning of the month, I try to take a day of retreat. I go to a lake or river or forest or Starbucks (all roughly the same thing) and bring a Bible and my journal and all my hopes, dreams, anxieties and fears for the coming year.

In doing this at the outset of my busy season, I'm trying to make a statement: I trust in Jesus more than I trust in my own plans. It's his work, not mine. It's more about what he's done and is doing and will do than anything that I do. All the most important things that I want to see happen are outside of my ability to make happen, it is really up to him.

In the beginning of my time on staff, days of retreat like this felt loaded with pressure: would God show up? Would I know it if he did? What did I need to do or say or feel or think in order to get God to meet me? What I wanted was something spectacular, something to show for my eight hours in the woods, by the river, or sitting on a rock-hard, butt-numbing Starbucks chair.

In some ways what I wanted was for God to be impressed with my willingness to spend a day with him (during the busiest season of the year, mind you) and for him to reward me.

But what I've realized is that it's not really all that spectacular to be desperate. And it's not all that holy to be needy. I just really need Jesus over the next eight weeks. Without him, all my work is just an impotent exercise. Without him, I'll end up around September 30 in a heap of mush, rocking and fetal.

But a new realization has hit me just this week as I've been thinking about my day tomorrow. I no longer demand epiphanies and angels dancing and an audible voice from God. But what I do want is for this one day to somehow carry me through this whole season in terms of my priorities.

What I'm beginning to see is that I've continued to load too much weight on this one day. I need a day of retreat for perspective and to commit this season to the Lord. But I also need to re-make this same decision to commit these days to the Lord each and every day.

Submitting my work to Jesus is a process, not a one-time event. Every day I am tempted to re-pick up what I left at the altar just the day before. Every hour I'm tempted to operate as a functional atheist, thinking it's really all about me and my work, with God as a distant non-actor.

I think the principle of the process of submitting ourselves to the Lord is true in most every area we care deeply about. A one-time offering is good, it starts the ball rolling. But submission is a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment decision that we have to make on a regular basis.

So hopefully tomorrow will be the start of a new season of me in August and September. But if you happen to see me in late-September and I'm in a puddle, fetal and rocking, just pat me on the head and remind me that it'll all be okay...and let my story be a cautionary tale of what happens when you forget that submission is a process, not a one-time event.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Men, Relational-Inept-ness, and the Anti-Vapid Question

Every so often over the past fourteen years of doing campus ministry I step back and realize that I'm expending a great deal of energy creating community for my students while I am participating in very little for myself.

The apostle Paul's life was marked by prayer, community and mission. Restoring right relationships was central to all that he did and all that he taught. My own life is too sparsely marked by community to have the quality and depth that I long for and that I was created for.

This dirth of real community is a reality for most of us. But I think that men are particularly inept at it. Women have their own challenges with community, but us guys seldom get to the point where we have the depth of relationships to get into the type of trouble that women can tend to get into. And as a man, I include myself with this sorry lot.

Men generally don't know how to engage at the places and depths where it matters: are you loving your wife? are you loving your kids? are you loving Jesus right now? how is it with your soul?

Work and fantasy football and golf/fishing/video game/whatever conversations all have a place within this larger context of more genuine engagement. When it's only about work, fantasy football, and golf, then it's vapid; "how is it with your soul" is the anti-vapid question.

On the other extreme, attempts at making relationships perpetually super-intense/spiritual/emotional/deep come up empty and hollow--most of us cannot live at the deep end of the ocean all the time.

So this week I'm taking a shot at gathering some men together for some sort of regular, committed-to-each-other community. My hope is that we might be able to forge soul-level friendships. My hope is that the question "how is it with your soul" might be met here not with blank stares but with welcome, thoughtful, honesty.

A friend once shared about the dream of having a "board of directors," a group of men who help to make and process life decisions like job changes and navigating family challenges. It would be glorious if we knew and trusted one another well enough to have this type of commitment to one another.

But all of this is pipe dreams right now. We'll see what happens on Tuesday night as we meet and begin to talk about what God might do in us together. I'm hoping we might take some good first steps--honesty with each other, and the space to encourage one another towards the Lord, towards our wives and kids, and towards the mission God has called each of us to be a part of.

And if that doesn't work out, I've got my fantasy football draft in a couple of weeks. Maybe the guys could help me to decide what to do with my first-round pick.