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, June 30, 2010


"The best part of a trip, by car or by train
Is when the trip is over, and you're home again." -Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelman

Just got back after five days away in Madison, Wisconsin, site of InterVarsity's training for all of us new Area Directors, along with training for all our new IV staff.

There's been a number of things rolling around in my head to blog about. But for now the sweet hugs and kisses from my little (but getting bigger every day) boy and my two little (but getting bigger every day) girls on top of the joy of being back with my wife reminds me of how deeply we all long for this thing called "home."

Home. It's a funny thing. Some of us didn't grow up with much of one. For others of us, the word "home" is resonant with rich tones and happy memories. For most of us, it's a mixed bag, some good, some bad.

But it seems no matter what our experience, something about the word "home" feels safe, peaceful, a place where you can be yourself without pretense.

I hope that our home can somehow approach that idealized picture. It's a challenging thing, being on the parental side of shaping home.

But the thoughts all day of coming home tonight to sweet kids and my hero of a wife awakens in me this hard-wired longing for home. Some day, I'll come to my true home.

In the mean time, today's homecoming brings joys and gladness to my hotel-weary heart.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hooray for Curing, Boo for Brittney, and The Good News About Race and Ethnicity Part 2

Editor's Note: This is the second post dealing with issues of race and ethnicity and how Christians should relate to it all. If you missed the first post, you'll want to check that out in my notes so that you can revel in the glorious wisdom.[note: sarcasm].

The Question:

I know that every culture has values that are to be celebrated. But is it the culture that we should celebrate or the values?

For example, the book pinpoints a couple of positive cultural values of white Americans. I guess the way I look at it is that these positives are not the result of one culture, but merely positive values that this culture adopted.

I tend to find many more cases where I'm conditioned by my culture towards ungodliness than conditioned by my culture towards godliness-- and the reflections of godliness in my culture can not be claimed by that culture. I realize that different cultures have different, equally valuable approaches to good things (such as worship) but isn't it the thing itself and not the approach that is to be admired?

AK Responds:

Good distinction between culture and the values, but I wonder if it's possible to be consistent in doing this--in fact, we hardly ever do this in any other context.

Your best friend is a great guy! Do you love him or do you love "great guy-ness?" Maybe both: you love him and you love great guy-ness. But there are specific ways that "great-guy-ness" is demonstrated by your best friend that are particularly glorious and there are other guys you know that demonstrate great-guy-ness in different ways that you can still appreciate...but at the end of the day, it's the person we love, not the dis-embodied value.

So, too, with cultures' values. Here's an example: during the Enlightenment in an EXTREMELY short period of time historically speaking, Europeans developed drugs that eliminated diseases and sicknesses that plagued humans for thousands and thousands of years and destroyed billions of lives.

Do we celebrate an abstract thing (hurray for curing diseases in general!) or can we look at that and say "there's a great example of a specific culture developing a specific good for the entirety of the world?" Obviously we like curing diseases whenever/wherever that happens, but I think it's the latter.

God does not delight in abstract values. He delights in His values becoming embodied: first in Christ, then in you and me. The values themselves are good, but the embodiment of those things (worship, disease-curing, UNC basketball) are the things that really matter!

Obviously, there's bad stuff in culture. In your mind, "culture" is largely short-hand for "bad stuff that points you away from God." This is largely how it's used in sermons or talks--even mine! Forgive me! If you listen, you'll find that most of us speaker/preacher types find culture a really convenient whipping-boy for all the problems of the Christian in the world.

But it's not that simple. People aren't that simple and cultures are more complex than people! Culture is a mixture of good (curing diseases! Hurray!) and bad (Brittney Spears--boo, vile temptress!). It is too narrow a thing to attempt to dismiss culture altogether. We can't do that with people, we can't do it with culture.

All culture is in need of redeeming. My job as a white guy following Christ in white culture is the exact same as it was when I sat across the table and discipled you: where is God at work here to bring about redemption and his glory, and how do I participate in that? That includes elements of rebuke and encouragement and lots of prayer.

But culture just isn't all bad. I think you've got that as a category/definition in your head and I think that your ascribing ONLY bad things to culture while trying to "peel off" the good things from culture and celebrate those apart from their cultural expression is simply incorrect. That's a mistake that Christians have made throughout the centuries and it's not the way that Paul or Jesus related to culture.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Race, Part 1

One regular issue that I touch on here in blogger-land is race, ethnicity, culture, and how being a Christian relates to all of it.

A couple of weeks ago I got a great and thoughtful email from a student who had just read "Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World." He had some excellent questions that I attempted to respond to. He's graciously agreed to allow me to share those here.


I've heard many people reference the scripture about people from every tongue and every nation worshiping God in heaven [that's Revelation 7].

Does this necessarily have to be literal? Couldn't it be referring to the fact that the gospel will reach every tribe and every nation and that we may not carry those IDs with us into eternity?

When I think about this, I can't help but think of the tower of Babel which seems to suggest that different languages are more of a barrier than something to celebrate.

My response:

Good question! Like with all your questions, there's several layers of answers.

Part of what you're responding out of is an evangelical tradition that has historically downplayed the role of "stuff" like bodies or the value of the earth and over-emphasized a purely spiritual vision of the future that frankly just isn't biblical.

"Amazing Grace" classically summarizes this in one verse where it talks about the earth dissolving like snow and the last with us being in heaven 10,000 years. Uh, not happening. Read Revelation. We don't stay in heaven. God comes to earth.

God didn't create the world and people and then die for it simply to burn it all off (stinking bad dispensationalist/"Left Behind series end-times theology!). He created and died for it so that it would be his, and we would be his people. We don't end up in heaven, we end up back on earth, with God here among us, with resurrected bodies--not just spirits floating in the sky!

The Revelation picture of worship around the throne in heaven is temporary until everything is completed. Which leads us to...

Bodies and our ethnicity going with us when we die. I understand your impulse here to downplay the physicality of that description and simply say "that's just John saying everyone's up there in heaven" because that's how we've been raised up to think about heaven.

But I believe that it's not merely symbolic. And the primary reason why I believe that is Jesus.

When Jesus is raised back to life, he is raised a recognizably Jewish man. Don't blow over that. Scripture is adamant that Jesus' experience of resurrection is a first-fruit of what is to come (see Col. 1). He is our pattern. If Jesus was raised back to life as a recognizably Jewish man and actually remains that for all eternity, what makes us think that we'll have any different experience?

Back to the my first part of the response: God loves matter. He loves creation. He loves flesh. He loves skin tones. He's not just going to decimate it recreationally. Jesus takes on flesh in order to redeem it--really and fully. Part of your glory in heaven will be the different ethnicities you have as a part of you, just as a part of Jesus' glory in heaven is his ethnicity, his flesh, glorified.

You mentioned Babel--God's ticked at people, so he scatters them via...culture! Which is in the form of language! There it is--culture is punishment and difference is bad!

But don’t miss what happens immediately afterwards in the Genesis story: God calls Abram and tells him that his family will bless ALL THE NATIONS of the Earth! God has scattered the marbles at Babel, but his plan is to re-gather them in his way, in his time, for his glory--not the glory of man but the glory of God.

And so you have Acts 1 and 2--the promise fulfilled! There, God uses all these languages that once scattered the people to re-gather them under one name, Jesus. Everyone's gathered, and the disciples speak in all these languages--a divine affirmation of difference, a glorious "meeting them where they are" move by God to re-gather the marbles scattered at Babel but immediately planned by God for the re-gathering through Abram through Jesus.

And so the Revelation picture is simply the consummation of that promise--every tribe, nation and tongue IS there, visibly so, as the final celebration and affirmation and indeed final redemption and rolling-back of the curse of sin.

There, all the people's can gather and partake of an activity together NOT for their own glory ala Babel but for the glory of God--what they were designed to do! And God delights to affirm ethnicity and race as the good thing in the continuation of our ethnicity and race in heaven--and finally once and for all back here on earth when he comes back to rule and reign.

Babel has been un-done. The promise to Abram is complete. Not just "kind-of" but really, truly, nothing is left un-redeemed, including even our race and ethnicity! That's how thorough Jesus is buying back his creation. He refuses to allow any of it be lost!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jesus: Not Just Nice, Brilliant (At Asking Questions Among Other Things)

One of the things that I've argued here many times is that the best leaders are the ones that ask the best questions, not the ones who have all the right answers--be that real or imaginary.

Something that I often challenge students to do during small group leader training is to spend their summers looking through the gospels looking at the questions that Jesus asked, how he led with questions, how he taught with questions.

Boundless wisdom, of course! Except I'd never done it.

But coming into my new job as an Area Director supervising campus staff in the Central Carolinas, I've had a deep conviction that I need to re-dedicate myself to asking questions more than giving answers. I started asking questions out of necessity 14 years ago. I want to get back to that.

So I'm taking my own advice: this summer I'm working through the gospels and each day I camp out on one or two questions that Jesus asks.

I'm part-way through Matthew and the thing that stands out so far is how perfectly Jesus used questions in the context of his teaching. It re-confirms one of Dallas Willard's favorite statements: Jesus isn't just nice. He's brilliant.

Take the Sermon on the Mount--one of the longest recorded sermons in all the Bible. It's no surprise that some of the phrases, images and teaching points that are most remembered have questions at the center of them.


"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" (5:13)

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" (7:3-4)

Asking a question in the midst of a long sermon is exquisite: it changes tempo, tone, pace and the type of imaginative engagement required by the listener.

That these images and phrases still have a place in our cultural lexicons and have stuck after 20 centuries is further proof--Jesus, not just nice but brilliant.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Re-Thinking Christian Creation Care Through the Lens of the Main Thing

So I've been listening to this class from Itunes U taught by Tim Keller and the late Ed Clowney about preaching. Their main beef: most stuff on Sunday mornings is all about moralism. It's all about trying harder, will-power religion, which has nothing to do with Jesus or the gospel.

So their corrective for this is to take all our good moral teaching and run it through the lens of Jesus, his perfect life, his death and resurrection. This is what takes our good moral concerns and anchors them in something much greater.

So take, for example, my posts from the past couple of days. In one, I'm talking about Christian and creation care, in the other I'm talking about over-working. Both of them are convictions about what Christians ought to do without any reference to what Christ has already done and how that frees us to live differently.

So let's "Keller-ize" one of these: Christians and creation care. Let's run the (I think) good points through the central truth of Jesus and how his life, death and resurrection color and shape how Christians need to live today in relation to caring for God's earth:

Christians should care about the environment because we know and love the one who made it. If we don't, we sin against God, just as someone who took my Jeep and ran it into a telephone poll on purpose would be sinning against me.

But here's the problem: most of us just don't care about the environment--at least not that much. All but a very few of us will make choices out of convenience and/or job security and/or fashion and/or, and/or, and/or rather than make hard decisions to live caring for God's world as we should.

But there is one man who did handle the Father's creation perfectly. He was tempted to manipulate creation to meet his own needs in making stones into bread. He resisted. He enjoyed the harvest without raping the earth. He ate and drank but did so in moderation. He fed those who were hungry.

He walked on water and calmed storms--he had dominion over all the earth but he handled that power with humility, restraint, and acted only in order to bless others rather than to serve himself.

He re-ordered disordered cells, healed broken bodies, and ultimately he overcame the grossest disordering of all things in the overcoming of his own death.

This is Jesus. He is the only one to relate to his Father's creation without malice, selfishness, exploitation, self-righteousness, pride, or wrong-headed self-abasement that misses out on the fullness of the blessings of creation.

And our work is to relate to the Father's world in Christ, through Christ, by his power, in his same Spirit, with his heart as he gives it to us. We do not act out of our own strength. We look to him and ask him for his strength, his heart, his passion and his energy to love the Earth the Father has made with the heart of the Son who knew it and loved it perfectly when he was here.

That's Christ-centered Creation Care, Tim Keller style--with a little Alex Kirk thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Curing What Ails Us

Yesterday I was talking with an old friend about our joint work-aholic tendencies. There's lots of reasons why this is bad and lots of approaches to how to get healthy about it.

But the bottom line is this: work-aholism at it's core is un-belief in Christ. Jesus won't provide for me, won't advance me, won't take care of me, so I must do everything myself. I worship my own ability to get things done rather than trust in him.

Work is a good thing. Hard work is a good thing. But at some point it tips over from hard work as a result or overflow of a deeper trust in Christ into scrapping and clawing and pressing in out of my flesh in order to take care of myself.

To put it another way: work-aholism is a worship of work to be the thing that provides us what we think we need. All of our sin is a mis-spending of our worship. We were made to worship. Everyone worships something(s). Sin is the giving over of our worship to things that cannot satisfy us.

The call of God is to repent of all of our mis-spent worship in order to direct it towards the only thing that is going to meet those needs and fulfill the true purpose of our hard-wired need to worship.

That's what I'm thinking about this morning as I try to get my work done in faith, hope and love springing from a worship of Jesus rather than just me trying to muscle my way through my day to accomplish a bunch of things in my own strength or ability.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Caring for My Jeep and Why Christians Should Lead In (Not Wrangle Over) Creation Care

In college I drove a cool red soft-top Jeep. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had declared to her dad at some point in her life that she was going to marry the first cute guy she met with a red Jeep. I covered the "red Jeep" part, anyway.

At any rate, I loved this little red Jeep. But I loved my friends even more. If someone needed to drive it somewhere, I was glad to lend out the keys.

My friends were welcome to drive it and even take the top off. But the people who knew me, knew that I loved my Jeep. And what I found was that the ones who knew me best were the most generous--refilling the tank with gas, for example. The ones who knew me best took the best care of my stuff--they did so because they knew me and knew that I loved my Jeep.

So it is with those of us who call ourselves Christians and this whole eye-roll inducing conversation in some circles about how involved we should be in issues of creation care.

We know the One who owns the place. He has lent it to us, granted us temporary and bounded power over all that he has created. And he commands us to care for it, to tend to it.

There is no question where Christians should be in issues of creation care if we read our Bibles. We should be out front. We know the Owner. We know that he loves people more than animals and plants, but not at the final expense of animals and plants. As people who know the Owner and who have been given a sacred trust, we respect what is his and we care for it even at great cost to ourselves.

Obviously we are to do so in keeping with what is actually true and happening. And this gets admittedly squirrely as there is much pressure on scientists to "spin" research to make things look about as bad as they possibly can. There are also those who would prefer to ignore even common-sense calls to conservation and caution for reasons that mostly have to do with money.

But those who object on the grounds of jobs lost are forgetting their history: necessity drives invention, invention often (though admittedly not always) drives employment. The growth of the automobile industry spelled the end of the horse-and-buggy industry. Some people lost jobs. But many more were invented.

Bottom line: honoring and loving Christ means honoring and loving his stuff. If we don't do that, we sin against him and our vision of what it means to be Christians is too narrow. My prayer is that Christians as a global community will wake up and take seriously what it means to honor God by caring for the earth he gave us.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hummer as the Clue to Why Futbol Will Never Surpass Football in the USA

So I've delighted in World Cup soccer as much or more than the average American over the past several days. But one moment crystallized for me why soccer will never get traction in the average American heart.

I was tuning in to a late-afternoon game. The horns were blowing happily (you either love those things or you hate them, I personally find them delightful). The commentator had a cool British accent. And he was preparing us for the game to come.

As he did so, he referenced the game that had just concluded: "If you missed the earlier game, it was a thrilling 1-1 tie."

Stop it right there. In American English the words "thrilling" and "tie" do not belong in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence. An American football coach once said that getting a tie is like kissing your sister. He spoke on behalf of Americans everywhere.

Americans hate ties. It's why hockey ratings are just below the QVC Home Shopping Network.

Americans need clarity: one winner, one loser. It's why we invented the Hummer.

Before the Hummer, it was unclear which road vehicle would crush the other in a WWF-style cage-match. Hummer invented, case closed. Ninety-percent of Americans slept much better once the Hummer was safely on the road--the rest of them were worried about small things like fossil-fuel consumption and ozone depletion. Silly tree-huggers.

And so, until soccer can figure out a way to move beyond "thrilling ties" it will remain a quaint after-thought....no amount of horn-blowing or cool British accents can overcome that feeling of kissing one's sister.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweet InterVarsity Propaganda

Glad to see this article about InterVarsity's commitment to multi-ethnicity.

Multi-ethnicity is one of those in-glorious and really, really messy biblical values that I most likely wouldn't have learned in any other context--church or para-church. Even when the process is maddening, I'm grateful for what I've learned as a part of this organization...and for the people who have been patient with this clueless white guy as I learn what all the fuss is about.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Keller Geeking Me Out on the Point of History

Given the fact that I'm a big nerd, summer time is when I kick my brain into high-gear. I read more books and listen to more podcasts over the summer because the demands on my time aren't quite so great.

This summer, I'm recreationally listening to a week-long intensive seminary course from Reformed Theological Seminary on Itunes U featuring Tim Keller and the late Ed Clowney. It must be at least ten years old--at one point Keller talks about the Lord of the Rings movies being in production.

But it's an excellent class on preaching and teaching with Christ as the center and goal of the sermon.

At one point Keller picks up on something extremely insightful that he had heard Clowney say years before that I'll try to summarize as best as I can.

When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have ended all of the creation experiment right there. Just wiped everyone out, hit the reset button and start over.

But he didn't. And the reason why he didn't was because of Jesus Christ. Jesus was going to come and redeem all the brokenness at one point in history and at a further point he would come and make it all new.

The point is this: Jesus Christ is the point of all of history.

Therefore, he's the point of all the Biblical texts, even and especially in the Old Testament. Jesus is the true David, the true Jonah, the true Abraham, the true Prophet who gathers up the lives of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekial in his life.

Thus, he should be "the point" of all teaching and preaching. Otherwise we're just slipping into vague moralism (try-harder religion) rather than speaking the fullness of the gospel.

Jesus Christ has come not just so that we have more rules (or even, alas, a new "model") to follow but that we might have new hearts. Those new hearts are given to us and we are empowered towards new life as we see Jesus, understand his grace and love for us, embrace him as the source of our lives, and follow him with gladness--even when that costs us everything else that we have.

I'm still making my way through the 30-plus sessions of the class. But my inner-nerd is delighting in some pretty rich fare as I travel in the car these days and take in some excellent teaching.

If you're at all interested in joining me in my nerdiness but aren't sure how it all works, the Itunes player is free (click here) and Itunes U has all kinds of free classes--you can just search through the Itunes library for Tim Keller.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Correction of the Parental Protection Instinct

Talking with a friend over the weekend about our kids--and our worries about the different challenges that they face whether they be physically, socially, academically, emotionally or otherwise.

It seems that as parents we're hard-wired to want to protect our kids from having to face hard things in life. This is a good instinct--it's part of what it means to be a good parent.

But given how unafraid God seems to be to allow challenges and obstacles to come our way, it would seem that this instinct might be in need of some serious regulation. Apparently (at least on this side of the Great and Terrible Exchange in the Garden) obstacles and challenges are the keys to character and spiritual formation.

Apparently, the redemption/correction of the parental-guardian instinct is yet another area where we need God's grace and mercy to do its work in our souls.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rattlesnake-Anxious, Missing Disney, and The Boogie Blesses Davis

Last night some friends and I escorted our good friend Brian Wilcox to the world's most insane marathon: the boogie.

Given that I'm not anything remotely resembling a runner, I categorically think marathons are insane. But this one takes the cake.

It's in the middle of no where (Ellerbe, NC, anyone?). There's no police blocking traffic. It starts at 6 p.m, gets dark around 9 p.m. and there are no street lights. Temperature is generally over 85-degrees. Last night it was hovering right at 90. The ideal race conditions would probably be right around 40 degrees cooler. The release form warns that there have been sitings of bobcats, polecats, rattlesnakes, and loose dogs.

There were 87 people signed up to run the marathon. Concurrent with the marathon is a 50-mile run, 78 people were signed up to run that last night. I overheard someone say that if you can finish the 50-miler in 12 hours, you're doing well. That's 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. of running.

Apparently there were a few no-shows, proof that not all runners are completely insane.

At the pre-race briefing under the old oak tree outside the church where the boogie is hosted, the race coordinator started by announcing: "This ain't Disney World!" He proceeded to remind runners about all possible hazards (no lights, some cars, only one aid station, six houses total on the course with some roaming dogs). He also informed us that rattlesnakes are not endangered in that county--good to know.

So while I was a couple hours away cheering on my friend Brian and hoping that the rattlesnakes didn't make their way into our card game, Kelly was putting the kids to bed. She graciously blessed this rare opportunity to get away together with some old friends, most of whom do not live locally.

As she was putting Davis to bed, she was explaining that Daddy was away on an adventure with some other daddies. Davis responded, "I hope when I get to be a daddy I can go away on adventures, too!"

This is a significant lesson for my little guy to take home, and my wife delivered it perfectly. I hope that Davis sees that I love God, my wife and my kids recklessly.

But I also want him to see that daddies need friends. So many dads don't. And I'm blessed to have some rich relationships that I pray will bless my son, as well as both my daughters. One of my most frequent prayers for my kids is that they will have friends in Christ at every life stage. They'll need them.

Brian finished the marathon around 11:30. He had hoped for a sub-4 hour time, but the conditions simply wouldn't allow it. As I rolled back home around 2:30 this morning, I was grateful for my wife and kids.

And I'm also grateful for friends who are crazy enough to run the boogie and invite us to come along with him. It was a gift to me...and to my little boy as he figures out what it means to be a daddy himself some day.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Three Not-Buts To Avoid Leading Like DMV Employees

Most of us at some points in our lives will acquire some modicum of power or authority. It can happen in any number of contexts: arriving at middle management in cube world, teaching third-graders, leading a Sunday school class, having kids.

What's amazing is how many of us have been in situations where the leadership was terrible. We're good at complaining (the cheap currency of quick and convenient social interaction that creates shallow and temporary bonds) but we do precious little to do much better ourselves when we are in the places of influence, leadership, or authority.

And as history has shown, it doesn't take much more than a few drops of power for us to creatively find ways to abuse it. Power goes quickly to our heads and makes us insufferable bores and boars. This basically sums up much of your local DMV experiences.

Fortunately, the Scriptures have some helps for us. 1 Peter 5 has a series of 3 "not-buts" that we would all do well to consider as we all wade into the world of power at various levels.

The specific context is to leaders in the church, as you'll see. And that's clearly the first place these principles should be and need to be applied. But the principles can work out in almost any context of leadership, authority or power.

Not-But Number One:

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be." (1 Peter 5:2)

Growing up, did you ever have a teacher who didn't want to be there? It was pretty obvious, wasn't it? They're just punching the clock, looking ahead to retirement or having to fill in on a subject or a class they'd rather not be teaching.

Leaders who serve solely out of obligation over the long haul do damage to the people under their leadership. It's a joyless task for leader and those under their leadership alike.

Now clearly in just about any situation, there are seasons where you stick with it just because you know it's what's needed. Parenting is one example--there are seasons where you serve because that's just what you have to do.

But on the whole, when the arc of our leadership or authority is exercised in a spirit that is joyful, glad, willing, it makes all the difference. My wife is a tremendous mother in large part because our kids know that she delights in them. There's a willingness to be with them that blesses them more than they will ever be able to express.

Not-But Number Two:

"not greedy for money, but eager to serve" (1 Peter 5:2)

Peter is eager to keep the young church's leadership from entering into questionable financial practices. And certainly the church over the centuries would have been better off if people in leadership had heeded this command.

But there's other things we can be greedy for: more power, approval, applause, influence, fame. These things are often at work in our hearts and are sometimes harder to prove.

I find it interesting that Peter couples "not greedy for money" with "eager to serve." Greed is all about me: my needs, my desires, my interests. Serving is always about the other. Not being greedy for money, power, approval, fame or whatever is graciously and violently corrected by an eagerness to serve the other.

Not-But Number Three:

"not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:3)

Like I mentioned earlier: a little power for many of us goes a long way to inflating our heads. We delight to wield our little tridents, flex our muscles, and exert our little wills in whatever little tributary is ours to open or close or re-direct.

Alas, church committees are full of people such as these.

Peter was well aware that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. He knew it, because he lived it. The Roman empire that so dominated the entire geo-political landscape and terrorized this tiny Jewish-splinter group who followed the teachings of a man named "Jesus" was littered with self-aggrandizing governors and emperors who "lorded it over."

Not so with you, Peter says. This was to be an essential part of the church's witness to the watching world. The kingdom of God will be different from Rome's kingdom. Watch and see how we lead.

Of course, there is One who lived all three of these "not-buts" perfectly. Jesus, the True Leader who handles power by giving it over to his Father, by serving his friends, by laying his life down for his enemies.

And we desperately need to pray that he'd raise up many who will lead as he did. We need it in his church and in the world for the sake of the world and the healing and redemption of all it--even of your local DMV.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Question of the Day

Why is it that sitting around a table in meetings, doing absolutely nothing other than sitting, talking, and occasionally thinking, make one so very, very tired?

Fear of Chinchillas, Becoming Chinese in a Corn Field, & Propositioning In a Non-Sketchy Way

Proposition #1: most of the time most of us have no idea why we really behave that we do. Few of us are in touch with what genuinely drives or motivates our actions or activities, big or small.

Proposition #2: if/when we actually do this soul-searching work, most of us find that at the root of it all is fear. We're afraid of being rejected, disrespected, being overlooked, being insignificant, being disliked, and any number of other things, sometimes in dizzying combination.

Proposition #3: What comes across as pride or arrogance to those around us is just the opposite side of this same fear-driven coin. For example, we grasp for a promotion because at the root of it we're afraid that we're insignificant if we don't get it. That's fear, presenting itself as annoying arrogance. For some of you, fear drives you to withdraw, for others, it drives you to scrap and claw. But it's the same energy fueling the different responses.

Proposition #4: Fear is a basic survival instinct that serves us when being attacked by rabid chinchillas. But otherwise, it makes for a terrible life-guide. Most every decision that is run by fear bears only the fruit of fear: anxiety, worry, doubt, insecurity only increase in power the more we allow fear to run the show.

Proposition #5: The only way to live a life that is genuinely flourishing is to uproot fear from its place of power in our lives and deliberately replace it with something else.

Proposition #6: The Christian response to this problem is the love of God expressed to us in Christ. The apostle John writes that "perfect love casts out fear."

Proposition #7: This is much easier said than done. Living with a greater sense of the reality of the Perfect Love of God than the default operating system of fear in our souls is like learning a completely new culture while remaining in your original one. It would be like a white guy trying to become Chinese while living in an all-white corn farm community in Nebraska.

Proposition #8: This is why community and spiritual disciplines matter. These are the means of grace to teach us this new culture--this "kingdom of God" that Jesus invites us into. Without these things shaping and re-shaping us, we will default into a life poorly lived under the functional lordship of fear rather than the life well-lived under the gracious rule of Christ.

But this is getting way ahead of ourselves. First I'd suggest you see if proposition one and two fit. Then we can talk about the rest of it.

And as a public service, I'd suggest that you get your pet chinchillas their rabies shots.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Faith: The Ingredient to Certainty About Anything (Not Just the God Thing)

Let's say that you're looking to hire someone to work for your organization, "Me, Incorporated." There's lots of things that you would do: look at someone's resume, do an interview, do some background checks, maybe interview some friends or family members or former colleagues if you're really ambitious.

But bottom line, all this objective fact-finding can only get you to a place of probability. The only way that you can genuinely *know* if the person is a good fit is by hiring someone. That is, the only path to true knowing is through personal commitment.

And so, argues chemist, economist, and philosopher Michael Polanyi, the argument that the only way to arrive at logically sound conclusions is through a purely objective, "scientific" search is an illusion. All true knowledge only comes about through a personal commitment, an engagement with the subject matter at hand that goes beyond the careful, removed examination of the thing being studied at a distance.

This call for a purely "objective" study is no where more pronounced than in the field of religion--it comes up all the time in my discussions with people who are asking questions about the validity of faith. How can you be sure that what you're talking about is true? Isn't faith just a blind, mindless leap? I couldn't believe anything that I couldn't first see, handle, touch and prove to be true.

But these objections are missing the point: all our most certain knowledge comes from taking steps of personal faith commitments. I can't prove my wife's love to anyone. I can only express to you that I've experienced it over the past nearly-twelve years of marriage together.

There's some tangible signs of this love (sacrifices made, for example) but again all this gets us to is probability, not certainty. There's always the possibility of deception. But the only real way for me to "prove" my wife's love is to live into it, to trust it to some degree, to risk the possibility of being wrong--this is a very real and concrete "faith commitment." In this case, it's a daily one.

This is the only way we achieve certainty about anything--God included. All knowledge requires some faith-commitment to get there. Those faith commitments range from a marriage, to faith in the scientific method to yield predictably accurate results, to faith in a blog to be personally, spiritually and intellectually enriching, to faith in a job being a good fit. In all cases, you don't actually know for certain until/unless you participate in the marriage, scientific method, blog, or job in question.

I just got Polanyi's book "The Tacit Dimension" where (I'm told) he spells out his ideas in something of an accessible way for us non-philosophy-major types--I'll let you know if it's actually read-able or not. The Wiki link above lists his other works.

Could make for some scintillating beach reading for those of you who (like me) just can't resist tapping into the inner-nerd over vacation.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Why Wedding Vows are Ridiculous--And Why That's A Good Thing

Working with college students for fourteen years, I have participated and/or attended a disproportionate number of weddings. Long-term consumption of wedding cake is an occupational hazard of my work, but one that my metabolism has set me up well to deal with.

When it comes to the vows, it would seem that there's two equal and opposite realities that are worth considering.

The first is that vow-making is a good thing. "Make your vows to the Lord and keep them" enjoins the Psalmist.

Vow and promise making runs everything from family life to commerce to politics. And as cynical as we might get about the whole enterprise, we have very little choice but to proceed wisely into relationships built upon vows and promises made--both by us and by the other party.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the reality that drives some of us to cynicism: vows are broken. And the reality is, no vows are more useless than wedding vows in terms of dictating our behavior.

The truth is that every one of us on our respective wedding days lied. We made promises that we were entirely incapable of keeping and that we were destined to fail at.

Of course, this reality has driven many in our culture to give up on the institution of marriage altogether. And I grant that this is one option, but certainly not the preferable one.

We will fail on our wedding vows, to varying degrees (and certainly some degrees have more catastrophic consequences than others). But the point is that our lives are not primarily about our performance. Our lives are about learning to live in radical and reckless dependence on Christ.

One of my former pastors in Richmond, Kevin Greene, used to give the same homily that I must have heard at least a half-dozen times--and each time it was like water to a thirsty and weary soul.

We make wedding vows that we will fail to execute on. And what this reminds us is that we need a very big Savior. We cannot save or redeem ourselves in any area of our lives, our marriages least of all. We need the gospel in real-time in our marriages as we make glorious but ridiculous vows--an act celebrated in Scripture not in the least because it reminds us that we need something outside ourselves to actually fulfill them.

The point of marriage, as Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians, is that it is a picture of Christ's love for his church. And nothing is more true than the base-line reality of our struggles to live up to our own standards, let alone God's, and yet his immeasurable delight in extending forgiveness, offering healing, and bringing redemption to broken and messy people.

So as we head into wedding season--celebrate the glory of love and delight in the vows of those getting married! But let's not kid ourselves: the hope for all of us in any of our marriages is that Jesus delights to take messy people and redeem them.

As for me, I'm just looking forward to more good wedding cake.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Sippy-Cup Assembly Lessons and Leading like Gates & Jobs

I was just sitting down to write this post when one of my kids (who I had just put to bed) started calling out. This is one of their favorite games--immediately upon exiting their rooms, the kids concoct various reasons why they need a return visit from a parent.

This, as you might imagine, gets rather tiresome to the parents who are ready for a breather.

So as Zoe called out to me, I initially ignored her. When it became clear that she wasn't going to stop on her own, I started to storm up the stairs, dialing up my best "I'm tired of this nonsense" lecture, complete with stern tone.

When I got to her, she was standing up in her room crying. The top to the sippy cup had popped off. She was all wet. I was the one who hadn't put the top on right. Daddy's fault. And to make it worse, I had diagnosed the problem and declared the solution before I had asked any questions and done any listening.

I've been thinking that something like this has occurred somewhere along the way in my work.

I came in with tons of questions about how to do my job. How do you give a good talk? How do you run good meetings? What do you say when a student comes to you with an eating disorder? What do you do if they mention suicidal thoughts? What do you say when a student says to you, "I think I'm gay" for the first time out-loud to anyone?

Somewhere along the way, I began to get some answers to my questions.

Naturally this is a good thing, but as I began to get answers, I began to stop asking questions. Not entirely, but there was a definite, if subtle, shift. I was making statements now. I was the one people were asking those questions to. And I was glad to share what I'd learned.

But the problem is that answers only get us so far. The best leaders in any industry are the ones asking the best questions, not offering the best answers.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are leaders in computing not because they know all the right answers (they have plenty of people smarter than them who work for them) but because they (and their staff) ask the right questions.

And then they listen for the answers. Hard listening. Listening that doesn't assume that they already had the answers before they asked the questions. Real listening that doesn't make a joke out of the fact that a question was asked in the first place. Asking good questions and genuinely listening is hard work.

It's what I want to get back to as I take on a new job. I want to ask more questions. I want to re-learn how to listen. I'm convinced that most people have no one in their lives who takes the time to actually listen to them. I want to grow into the kind of husband, father, friend, co-worker, and yeah, even "supervisor" who listens. It's the kind of leader I want to grow up to be.

But first I gotta' get back to the basics of sippy-cup assembly. My poor kids won't get any sleep otherwise.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Marriage, Money, and Making Real Change

So the top two things that most couples fight about are sex and money. I'm not sure if it's in that order (perhaps it depends on the couple) but for today's purposes, let's talk about money.

Typically in a marriage you've got one person who's the "spender" and one person who's the "saver." Let's say that a couple that's been struggling with money issues comes to seek your wisdom: the spender has over-spent a couple times the past couple of months, feels terrible about it, and the saver is frustrated and angry.

Depending on your "bent" you're most likely to counsel in one of two ways.

The first way you might counsel would be the pragmatic, systems-analyst approach. What's your budget? Is it clear who's paying which bills? Does the spender have clear guidelines as to what they're allowed to spend each month? How is that tracked? Is there enough money ear-marked each month to be saved for the saver to feel good about the progress?

This approach has tons going for it. It's about creating a clear "path" towards financial goals and wisdom.

An alternate way you might approach this (particularly if you're steeped in a gospel-centered approach to addressing issues in people's lives) is asking questions of the heart. This, after all, is where Jesus said the actions of our lives spring from.

What's the real issue for the spender? Are they seeking comfort in having more and more things as a way to prop themselves up? Are there issues here of control or power that are being expressed in un-healthy ways through the spending habits of the spender?

What's the real issue wrapped up in the saver's frustration? Are they really about saving in order to serve the marriage and the person they're married to or are they actually just seeking comfort, security, or identity in digits associated with their bank account?

This approach has lots going for it as well. There's opportunities for genuine repentance and deeper change. It's an opportunity to see our need for Christ, the cross, and power outside of ourselves to bring genuine, core change and freedom to our lives.

Both of these solutions have good things going for them but in my not-so-humble opinion, both are severely lacking without the other. Genuine change is about working both "the heart" and "the path."

Heart change without practical helps is not going to benefit the bottom line. Sometimes us more "spiritual" people believe the panacea myth that if we simply lead people to heart transformation behavior will follow. This is a myth. Heart transformation is crucial, but people need specific behavioral helps as well. This is why Romans does not end after chapter 8. It's not just "here's the gospel." But: "here's the gospel and these are the practical outworkings of what that means for our lives." We need both.

Bottom line change without the heart change means that sin patterns left un-dealt with are simply going to rear their ugly heads in some other place. Perhaps the money issue is solved, but the marriage might be headed for even worse times ahead because issues of fear, insecurity, trust, and mutual submission have not been dealt with.

I think what I've seen in my different contexts is that most people lean overly-much one direction or the other, thinking that they've cornered the "real solution" to the problem. Neither one of these is the "real solution." They're both necessary.

Of course, I'm sure none of you have any marital (or personal) problems at all that need this kind of change. This is for the next time one of your super-needy friends comes to you asking for you sage advice. If at all possible, look to both the heart issues and the practical ways that you can make a path towards new habits and health.

Your friends will thank you later.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Book Review: How to Make Your Ideas Sticky

You've been there: you have to try to communicate something that you know is important. Maybe it's a presentation to a class or to a boss. Maybe you're trying to talk with your kids. Maybe you're trying to make a sale.

But you feel it, even as you're talking: no one's listening. Or maybe they're listening politely but no one's actually going to remember anything that you talked about five minutes after you've sat down.

When I'm invited to give someone feedback on a talk or sermon, the vast majority of the time I find that they have solid to exceptional content buried under poor presentation skills. And so people nod politely, but none of it stays with them.

And yet, some presentations DO stick--even (gasp!) sermons. They stay with us for a disproportionate amount of time. Why is that?

In their book "Made to Stick" Chip and Dan Heath tackle this issue: why some ideas stick and others don't.

The Heaths propose that sticky ideas all have a few key overlapping characteristics that (coincidentally) spell out SUCCESs. Sticky ideas are:
  • Simple. Not simplistic, but boiled down to their core, their essence, without fluff.
  • Unexpected. The facial expression of "surprise" reflects increased alertness and an eagerness to gather more information. Unexpected-ness engages our attention.
  • Concrete. The more esoteric, the less memorable. Using sensory language helps here.
  • Credible. There are authorities ("9 out of 10 doctors recommend Facebook over MySpace")or anti-authorities (think James Dean if you're my parents age, early-stage Eminem if you're my age, maybe Lady Gaga if you're in college?) that can lend credibility to your message.
  • Emotional. People care about people, not numbers
  • Stories. Stories take a concept and make it concrete, real, give it punch.
This book is a fantastic resource for anyone who finds themselves having to do lots of communicating--whether that be preachers, teachers, office space-types, or parents. You can buy "Made to Stick" at lots of fine retailers.

Or you can go to the HeathBrothers.com and get lots of free resources that will give you the basic gist for free!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Why I Didn't Make the Cut as a Psalmist

As I continue to saunter through the Psalms, I find that the small window immediately following some sort of tribulation or personal attack is generally spent celebrating the Lord's deliverance.

Upon consideration of my own patterns, I find that the exact same window of time is generally spent complaining to God that I experienced the tribulation or trial to begin with.