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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Passing Out With Contacts Meets Walking Out on God

True story: when I first got contacts in junior high, I was so excited about it and yet so weirded out by this piece of plastic going into my eyes that I passed out in the eye place as soon as they were put in my eyes.

Once I recovered, I spent the whole next week blinking often and hard. My body took several weeks to get used to this uninvited guest intruding in my eye. My friends at school would mock me mercilessly by blinking hard back at me.

Since then I have often wondered who was the first person to ever try putting contacts in their eyes. Seems like a rather dicey proposition to me.

During my five years on campus at UNC, I had an inordinate number of students walk away from the faith. A few of them cited how "unnatural" the whole thing felt--like it was something that they were trying too hard to believe or do. It felt alien, constricting.

But I wonder if the correctives offered by Jesus and the rest of the Scriptures aren't rather like how my body responded to my contact lenses. In order to see correctly, something foreign had to be introduced. And it took my eyes a while to get used to it. But eventually I adjusted. I pop contacts in with aplomb each morning, no passing out.

The truth of the matter is that the words of Jesus and the Scriptures ARE alien. They ARE foreign. They aren't intuitive. If they were, we wouldn't need them so desperately. And what I find is that we often over-estimate our own ability to discern what is good and right.

So I suggest that we need to be brutally honest in prayer to God about the things that we find constricting, challenging, or just plain weird in the Scriptures.

But we also need a healthy dose of humility before the reality that what doesn't make sense to us now sometimes makes sense much later. And sometimes we're certain about something that later turns out to be the wrong decision.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hearing God Through the Piano on the Floor

Over the weekend my mom (who teaches music appreciation classes at the local community college) was telling me about Beethoven's struggles with deafness as he grew older. By the time he composed one of the greatest hymns of all time, Ode to Joy, he was nearly completely deaf.

In order to continue composing, he cut the legs off of his piano so that it lay flat on the floor. And he would lay his ear to the ground and hit the keys as hard as he could so that he might be able to hear the vibrations through the floor.

I don't know that Hollywood could invent a more stirring scene.

As I later considered Beethoven's commitment to his work, it struck me that I am not nearly as committed to hearing the voice of the Lord.

There are some seasons of life when I desperately need to know God's direction or command. But what I find is that when it's convenient, accidental, or he beats me over the head with a two-by-four, I hear him. And when it's not convenient, when it doesn't just sort of happen to me, or when it's much more subtle than the two-by-four method, I often miss it.

Obviously I have been given the Scriptures and most days I simply need to walk by faith in those and do not need another, more personal, word to me. I really need to trust and obey what I already have been given to trust and obey.

But there are some seasons when I need more specific guidance and a more personal word. And in those seasons, I'm wondering if I'm willing to do whatever it takes to hear him.

Perhaps cutting off piano legs and pressing my head down to the floor while pounding on the keys is roughly equivalent to a day or two of solitude, fasting, silence, Scripture, and more and more silence and solitude.

Whatever it might be, I'd like to eventually be the kind of person who is that intent on hearing from God as I need it. I just hope that I don't have to lose my hearing entirely in order to hunger for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

God is No Southern Gentlemen

One of the images I received about God from my Southern Baptist upbringing was God as (southern) gentleman. God is perfectly polite, I was told, and will not do anything untoward toward us. He is careful and debonair and respectful--holding chairs and doors and always careful to not offend.

This was part of the narrative underpinning of the free-will theology. It's the God who steps back and respects our wishes.

And while I'm less and less certain about what I think about the whole free-will/predestination debate (or even if it matters) I'm absolutely sure of one thing: God is no southern gentlemen.

God is a passionate, jealous lover. He is reckless in his pursuit of us. He absolutely hates, despises, abhors all injustice and the oppression of the poor, weak, marginalized. He hates even more the sin in our lives, the idols that we worship in his place.

God is no southern gentlemen. He is far from poised or polished in his relentless pursuit of all that is his. He sweats and bleeds and cries and dies a gruesome criminal's death to buy back what is his by virtue of creation. It becomes doubly-his after we hand it over to the reign of sin and death through the power of his death and resurrection.

God is no southern gentlemen. He is the great hound of heaven. He tracks after us. He chases us down and corners us into places of despair, emptiness, loneliness, isolation--anything and everything so that we might see that life without him is no life at all.

God is no southern gentlemen. He is too reckless, too playful, too improper for all that. And he will not stop being God in order to fit our neat categories. God is not safe. He is good.

That's something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Good News About our Father as Medication for Testing Hemorrhoids

A little over a week ago I posted about the idea of the Lord testing us. I've been in something of a season of testing over the past couple of months--nothing scandalous, just the kind of stuff that you wrestle with in your own head and would only make sense to the people who know you best.

I wrote last week that I thought I had come to the end of the season of testing. But, like a bad case of hemorrhoids, I've had an unexpected flare up.

All of this has driven me back to a passage I preached on last Sunday at my church, Mark 6, the feeding of the 5,000. I summarized the story itself like this:
Jesus leads his disciples into a place they would not have chosen themselves
He rejects their perfectly reasonable plan to deal with the situation
He instead gives them a command that they cannot possibly fulfill
In order that they might have to rely on him and give him all their resources
So that they might taste and see that He is super-abundantly generous and good.
Do you think Jesus might be doing the same thing in your life?
And as I continued to think and pray on the passage, I came to a place of seeing the gospel in all of this. Jesus is not asking us to do what he has not already done.

A couple of years after this event, Jesus will be led by the Father to Jerusalem. He will spend the night wrestling in a garden with his Father's impossible command. In the end, he will offer up to his Father all his resources.

And in the Father's hands, this one man's body is taken, multiplied, and blesses the entire cosmos: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the [whole! entire! for all time!] world!"

So Jesus offers himself and through him all peoples are blessed. But Jesus is not a victim of his Father's plan. Three days later, he is raised from the dead and exalted above every other name for all eternity. In the mystery of time and space and God who is over time, somehow an event within time changes the very identity of the Son.

So that at the end of all things, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

So Jesus is called to sacrifice. He obeys his Father. The many are blessed. And Jesus is not forgotten, steamrolled, or a victim of his Father's plan. He is taken care of.

So it is with us, my friends. Jesus, our great Older Brother has gone ahead of us and shown us that our Father and His Father is trustworthy and good not just to the people out there but to us if we will trust him. We can trust him with all our days, all our times, all our concerns, all our fears, all our desires, all our needs, all our passions.

Jesus has gone ahead and shown us that this bridge can carry all our weight. We can cross over. We can give up to the Father all of ourselves because he has already been proven to be faithful and true in our Older Brother, Jesus, who has gone ahead of us. He entrusted his Father with everything and he has been exalted as a result. And so shall we be if we follow in his steps.

All testing is about trust and belief. Who or what will I lean into for life? Jesus has shown us the way. The invitation is to follow him--even and especially when it costs us everything.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Jonah's a Southerner, Ya'll

After wrestling with the grumpiness of Jonah in Jonah 4 last week with my staff friends, I've decided that Jonah was probably a Southerner.

Quick Jonah re-cap: Jonah gets a call from God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah hates those people, so he runs in the opposite direction by means of a boat heading towards Tarshish.

God sends a storm, Jonah convinces the sailors to throw him overboard. God sends a big fish, swallows Jonah up whole. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah repents, the fish spits him out, he goes to Nineveh and preaches for three days.

And all the people of Nineveh demonstrate astounding repentance. From the king to the poorest, they repent.

God is pleased. He doesn't destroy the city as he threatened. But Jonah is ticked. He grumps at God:
“Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
So you see, Jonah knew God's character. He knew what God was like. But he didn't love God's character. In fact, God's character was in the way of his own preferences and plans. He would have liked to have seen Nineveh blown up. But God's compassionate and gracious and so he relents.

And so Jonah was like a good Southern kid. Raised in the church, knows who God is, knows all about God. But us good southerners don't always love who God is. We can recite the lines but that doesn't always train our hearts and shape the paths of our lives.

Jonah was a southerner, ya'll. He knew about God but he didn't worship and delight in him. Just like plenty of us.

And the hope we have for ourselves is the same hope we have for Jonah. The book of Jonah ends maddeningly incomplete. We don't know what happens to Jonah, if he relents of his grumps or not.

But the only way we could have the book of Jonah is if Jonah himself wrote it. And so our hope is that an older, more mature Jonah himself is writing this years later. He is showing us his mess, warts and all, that we might see ourselves and repent of knowing about God rather than delighting him.

So, my good southern-style friends, I've got an invitation for all ya'll: let's not fall into Jonah's trap of being able to recite truths about God without loving God himself.

And if we find ourselves in that place, let's repent as we think and hope that Jonah might have, and put ourselves fully in the faithful and good hands of the God who is, indeed, gracious and compassionate and rich in mercy...even to stubborn Southerners like us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fear and Faith: Two Responses to the Same Situation

Just got back from spending a couple days with several InterVarsity staff in Chicago. We were discussing what it meant to help our work on campus grow numerically and develop in faithful ways.

One of the coolest parts about my job is that I get to occasionally spend time with people from across the country who are deep, wise, innovative, and way more gracious than I will ever be.

And in spending a couple of days together, of course there's going to be gems of insight shared.

One such gem came out during a conversation about helping people through the fear of change. We were discussing how a proposal that we were making would generate fear in certain people.

"Fear," said one woman on the committee, "is the exact same thing as faith. Both of them are responses to something unknown."

Been thinking about that thoughtful insight for the past day or so. Fear and faith are both in operation in the same context: the unknown. I wonder if fear is the defensive movement, the self-protective, self-preserving response to what's unknown. And faith, then, is the proactive, engaging, even risky response to the unknown.

What's somewhat striking about all this is that "people of faith" aren't typically thought of as people who take risks or who are bold. Typically I think of "people of faith" as very nice, sedentary, predictable, orderly and civil.

But faith at work is seldom predictable or sedentary. In those rare moments in my own life when I've really lived out of a center of gravity of faith rather than fear, it's led me to do some things that I might not have done were I in my right mind.

Jesus at points throughout his ministry would comment on the faith (or lack thereof) of individuals or communities that he encountered. I shudder to think what he might have said about me had I bumped into him on a dusty road somewhere in Galilee.

But for today I think that my colleague's insight is enough to get me thinking and praying about how I might begin to take off fear as a response to the unknown--fear of failure, rejection, insufficient provision, insufficient emotional or physical stamina, and all the other host of fears that operate just below the surface--and replace those with faith.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Celtic Morning Prayer

Been at some staff meetings this week where we've prayed using a wonderful prayer guide from the Northumbria Community. Here's the liturgy that we've used for the morning prayer. Even if you're not a big fan of using someone else's script to pray, see if the Lord might use this to spark your own prayer life today:

Opening Sentences
One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in his temple

Call: Who is it that you seek?
We seek the Lord our God.
Call: Do you seek him with all your heart?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your soul?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your mind?
Amen. Lord have mercy.
Call: Do you seek him with all your strength?
Amen. Lord have mercy.

Declaration of Faith
To whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
And we have believed and come to know
That you are the Holy One of God.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
King of endless glory.

[Scripture: Psalm & Old and New Testament Readings; Meditation of the Day; Prayer]

Christ as a light,
illumine and guide me.
Christ as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me on my left and right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each
who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
On my left and right.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

God's Testing and Falling into Beautiful Deaths

I don't like to think about the fact that God tests us.

I like to think about God's redemption, the ways that he brings life and peace and joy...all those things that I fight to believe and want to believe about God and his ways with me. But I don't like to think about God testing us and I don't think that I experience it very often.

But recently I think I've been in a testing season of my life. The stuff that I'm being tested over is mostly about the battle for my heart and for what I'll give my allegiance to. They're the kind of issues that make sense inside your head and with a few close friends but wouldn't seem all that important in a vacuum.

And while I don't like to think about it, it's clear throughout Scripture that testing comes from the Lord. This is what many of the New Testament writers attribute persecution to--testing that is proving whether or not their faith is genuine.

Compared to being thrown in jail or being burned recreationally to light parties (thank you, Nero), the type of testing I've been through seems almost trivial. But I think the goal is the same regardless of how the testing comes about: it's a refinement process.

Our heart gets so muddled and our affections so easily diluted. It's easy to get lost and for our love for God to turn lukewarm. And so he tests us.

One reason why I don't like to think about God testing me is that I don't like to think that God is up "in the sky" playing games with us. But he's not.

This testing is a real testing. And this refining is mission-critical to the development of our character and commitment. If there was some other way to deal with the idols in our hearts, he would do it. But sometimes there's not. And so he tests us.

Recently a friend of mine reminded me of something that I posted a couple of years ago--I wonder if fall is God's way of reminding us that some of the deaths that he invites us to die can be beautiful.

Testing is one of the ways he invites us to die beautiful deaths.

In the past week I've made small steps towards staring down some old demons. It's been exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. And when this is all over, I'll be glad to take a rest.

But in the mean time I'm leaning into some promises from Scripture: on the other side of all the deaths God calls us to die (beautiful or not) is always, always, always more life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Plans Meet Eeye-Ore and the Christmas Carols

Periodically over the course of our lives, those of us who attempt to live out this following Jesus thing at all seriously bump up against the reality that God occasionally refuses to get on board with our reasonable plans.

We make what seem to us to be perfectly reasonable plans for relationships, career, what to do with our money, how to view sexuality and marriage and worship and raising our kids. And then we find either in the Scriptures or circumstantially that God says no to our plan.

And at this point many of us quit on God in order to do our own thing. Happens all the time. Some of you can identify the fork in the road where God said "no" to something you wanted and so you said "no" to God. Some of you are perhaps at that fork in the road right now.

Some of you said "no" to God's "no" several weeks, months or years ago and now you're on your way back to God. Your plan that sounded so very wise and reasonable back then doesn't look so wise and reasonable now.

As for me, I've certainly had times when I've chosen to say "no" to God's "no." But more often than not at this point in my life, I'm accepting it, but kind of passive-aggressively. I get angry. Then I pout and mope and get all Eeye-Ore-ish.

If it gets really bad, I start listening to Christmas carols. Don't ask me why, I'm not even sure why. It's just how I roll.

When we strip away the outer-wrappings of whatever it is we're wrestling with God about, the issue almost always comes down to this: who will you trust to decide your life and direct your future? Who am I, who are you, going to trust with the steps of our lives?

I've hit some Eeye-Ore patches over the past six months. I've dialed up a little Handel's Messiah a couple times this fall. I've been angry and wondered and pouted and struggled with God and with anyone who I can get to listen to me.

But I think on the other side of some of it, I'm coming out with roots pressed deeper into the love of God. I think that I'm weathering this storm still--not done yet--but it's starting to abate.

And I think I can already sense there's fruit from it. I think I'm more committed than I was a couple months ago to trusting God with my plans.

In a couple of weeks, I'll have the official green-light to start playing Christmas-type music without the prerequisite of being in a funk.

My prayer is that as I continue to press ahead towards the celebration of God coming to get us, I'll find myself not only glad to celebrate what he's done in the past, but more reckless than ever in trusting him with my future.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Faith and Food

Historically when the topic of being a vegetarian, vegan, or some other alternative food-source person comes up, my response is that me and my people have worked too hard to get to the top of the food chain to give it all up now.

But in this month's Christianity Today there's a really thoughtful article about food and how our relationship with how it's produced, distributed and consumed should be impacted by the fact that we know the one who is God over all of it.

It's call "A Feast Fit for the King." Check it out.

I'm probably still not ready to abdicate my place on the food chain. But I can respect someone who's thinking deeply about how faith and food might come together.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hard Times

This week I'm preaching one more time at Chapel Hill Bible Church. Last time they invited me to preach it was Labor Day weekend--which just happens to be one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. Which is what you do with a guy you've never heard speak before.

So here I am, a non-holiday weekend. I'm moving up in the world!

At any rate, I've been given free reign to speak on whatever I want. So I'm speaking out of the passage that I've probably taught out of more than any other passage over the past 15 years--Mark 6:30-44, commonly referred to as "The Feeding of the 5,000."

If you're not that familiar with the story, check it out real quick and then come back

Like I said, I've taught on this Scripture more than any other--at least a two dozen times. But this time around, God's kicking me in the butt with this summary of the point of the story:


Leads his disciples into a situation that they would rather not be in

Rejects their perfectly reasonable plan to manage the situation

Issues a command that they cannot possibly fulfill

In order that they might have to depend on him

And in so doing they experience the super-abundance of his grace, power, and blessing.

And so the question is: could God be doing the same thing in your hard times right now?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Paul's Pain, Tom Petty, and "Jesus Taught Me Customer Service Skills"

If you're ever in a leadership context where people are hacked off at you and you feel like it's unfair and unwarranted, I suggest two things. First, pray and talk with folks you trust to see if it might be true. Secondly, read 2 Corinthians.

The Corinthians were a pain in the butt. At least a loud minority of them didn't like/respect/trust Paul and they made life miserable for him.

Both 1 and 2 Corinthians have this dance of Paul now encouraging them, now scolding them, now having to prove himself and his authority to them. It's an interesting dance that makes for some of the most profoundly moving and some of the most awkward Scripture writing we have recorded.

But as Paul does this dance of trying to prove himself and his credentials to the Corinthians a couple of times he summarizes his position with statements like the one found in 2 Corinthians 10: 17-18:
"Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved but those whom the Lord commends.
This struck me as I was reading it over the weekend--we are a fame/shame based culture. There are countless talk shows built around different pop-celebrities and everyday people's 15 minutes of fame.

If fame is our goal, self-advancement and self-commendation is mission-central. To rely on someone else to commend you (particularly God, who we're not even sure is there) is utterly foolish.

But if we read the Scriptures, it seems pretty clear that advancement of God's people is God's work.

This is tricky--when you're looking for a job, you've obviously got to fill out the application. But in what spirit? How do you represent yourself? What does it mean to bear witness, even in a job application, to what God has done in you and through you?

This doesn't mean saying "Jesus taught me customer service skills." But it does mean that even filling out a job application is an opportunity to tell of what God has done with you and through you all along the way.

And then you submit the opportunity, who you've been, and where you're going to God. And then you leave it there. And then you wait.

And to quote the great philosopher Tom Petty, sometimes "the waiting is the hardest part." Because that means the center of gravity in terms of the control of your life is outside of yourself and on Him.

The fundamental question then becomes "do I trust that God is faithful or not?" It's not actually about the thing we want. It's about who we trust to get us to where we need to go. Most of the time I'm a functional atheist about such questions--I think that I know best where I need to go.

But the reality is that when I allow God to commend me, allow him to advance me, allow him to lead me--those are the times when I've experienced the deepest disappointments as I wrestle with a "no" received...and when I've been most blown away by his goodness to me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Puke Runs Like Rivers and The Importance of Seeking Forgiveness

Over the past five or so days, puke has run like rivers in our house. It started with Zoe, progressed to my wife Kelly (laid her out for a couple of days), and struck Davis and Emma Kate in an epic puke-duelling match in the middle of the night on Friday night.

I have been the lone healthy one through all of it. I'm faintly hopeful that my time might not come at all. I'll be sure to keep you posted.

At any rate, being the lone healthy one over the past five days has meant a lot of work. We've undergone a self-imposed quarantine over the past several days and we've all been up in the middle of the night with sick kids.

Yesterday, in the midst of my own sleep deprivation and tired and somewhat cranky kids, I lost it with my oldest son. He and Zoe were bickering for the millionth time in the previous ten minutes and I just yelled at him.

It's never pleasant to see the ugly sides of yourself. Mostly, I like to believe that my most pleasant sides are the "real" me and that those ugly sides are the aberration. I think if I'm honest, however, the unfortunate reality is that it's quite the opposite.

The episode occurred just before dinner. About five minutes later, I had cooled down. I knew what I needed to do.

"I'm sorry for yelling at you, Davis. Can you forgive me?"

"Yes, Daddy," my sweet boy said to me in his sweet little voice, "I forgive you."

It's never good and yet always good for my ego to apologize to my six, four and three year-olds.

I have spent so much time with so many students over the years who had zero capacity to own the ways they had blatantly sinned against and hurt someone else because in their family they never did it. They never saw an adult parent take responsibility for sinning relationally against them or anyone else.

And so they were completely crippled in their ability to live in reality where we sin against each other all the time. Not only were they disasters relationally in the present. Their future marriages and families were going to bear the burden of the pride of those parents. A train wreck was preparing to repeat itself with each successive generation.

Later that night, we were going around the dinner table and sharing what we're thankful for--sort of a Thanksgiving primer. "I'm thankful for my daddy," is what Davis said.

And I'm thankful for him and his willingness to forgive me. And I'm thankful for parents that taught me the value of owning up to mistakes and making things right. And I'm grateful for other mentors who taught me this value along the way.

Hopefully I'll avoid the bubonic plague that's been steamrolling the Kirk house over these past several days. But whether I'm also steamrolled later today or not, I'm hopeful that my kids will grow up with a daddy who's not going to steamroll over them...at least not without an apology, shortly thereafter.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Last Word on the Most Over-Rated Candy Ever: Tootsie Rolls

Earlier this week (as I was pillaging my children's Halloween candy) I posted on my Facebook status: "The most over-rated candy ever: Tootsie Rolls."

This, of course, drew the ire of some FB friends and the rabid support of others. My faithful sparring partner Michael Whitman commented thusly:
I thought it was a well known fact that Smarties were tied with Spree for the title of "most over-rated candy". Since when can anything with Chocolate (even bad chocolate) in it be over-rated?
Of course, given the gravity and seriousness of this conversation, and this comment in particular, I have been pondering the subject all week.

I believe that Smarties and Spree win out over Tootsie Rolls because they are one thing and they do not pretend to be very good at it. Smarties and Spree are simply tart artificially-flavored fruity things. And they deliver on that.

Tootsie Rolls, however, attempt to be chocolate-like blended with Now & Laters. And the result of this hideous combination is that it does neither well. It delivers neither the limited promise of a Now & Later nor on the near-infinite promise of good chocolate.

This, my friends, is the problem: to do something excellently requires disciplined focus and singular-ness of thought.

In this case, Tootsie Rolls fail due to the un-holy blending of very bad chocolate and Now & Later chewy-ness (I concur with my FB friend Ed Hoppe: "all that work chewing and no real pay-off"). Whereas Sprees and Smarties are simply Sprees and Smarties--no attempts at blending tarty-fruity-crunchy with, say, black licorice.

Of course, some might object that there are exceptions to this rule: Peanut Butter cups, for example, blend peanut butter and chocolate. Creme-filled donuts also seem to violate the sacredness of the "do one thing in order to do it well" principle.

But the exceptions do not overturn the rule. They are simply that--exceptions. By and large in life to be excellent at anything takes rabid focus.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book "Outliers" where he posits the 10,000 hours of practice rule for freakishly good "outliers" like Bill Gates or The Beatles.

Jim Collins also talks about this in his epic study of various companies in "Good to Great." The companies that made the jump from good to great had what he calls a "hedgehog" concept--a single, unifying vision or principle that guided them in making hard decisions. The "also rans" tried to do everything; ergo, they remained also-rans.

There are few people who are excellent at anything. I'm not sure that I have what it takes to get there, either. But at thirty-six, I'm beginning to get some inklings of what it could possibly look like to find my one thing and to develop it more deliberately. Maybe I could still squeeze in 10,000 hours of practice before my time runs out.

Bottom line: Tootsie Rolls are terrible and terribly over-rated. And that's because it tries too hard to do too many things and ends up doing neither of them well. I'd prefer they just changed the name to "Halloween bucket space-eater-upper" in keeping with truth in advertising.

But all of this has got me thinking that maybe I've got some things in my own life that are just taking up space. And I've got to go to God with this, but maybe it's time to focus and figure out if he's made me to be chocolate or a Now & Later.

Or maybe he'd prefer me to stay multi-focused and do his work through me in my weakness rather than becoming omni-competent at any one thing. That's his call--he made me and prepared good work in advance for me to do. I trust him. But I think it's good to at least be asking the question.

Either way, we've got tons of leftover Tootsie Rolls here at the Kirk house, if anyone wants them.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Job of the Spirit

"The job of the Holy Spirit is to convince us that Jesus really does love us."

Good word from a former student (thanks, Dacker) who was quoting a YWAM (or some other para-church) guy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Four Questions that Drive All of Our Lives

So the reality is that Americans aren't very generous. We don't give away much of our money. And two factors that we tend to think should move us more towards the generous end of things don't do so at all.

Rich people give away less money than non-rich people do, speaking in percentages. And generally speaking, religious people don't give away any more of their money than non-religious people.

There's lots of hand-wringing about this in conservative evangelical circles, even though we do a little better than the broader religious world in terms of our giving.

In that aforementioned evangelical-Christian world, coaching and training people in how to budget their money is big business. This is really good and helpful. We need to know how to handle our money so that we honor God with all of it--in what we give away and in what we do with the rest of it.

But every single one of us make decisions based ultimately on the four key questions of life. Our lives run on the rails of how we answer these four questions:

1. Who (or what) is God?

Does he/she/it even exist? Does he have a particular nature? Is he happy or perpetually ticked? Is he near or far? Is God in the earth or wind or trees or us or is God outside or over those things somehow?

2. What does God do?

If God exists, is he/she/it active or passive? Is he a judge? Ruler? Redeemer? Apathetic? Does he wind it all up and let it go or is he involved and moving around the furniture? The world is messed up (so we think) so what is God doing about it--or maybe he can't do anything about it even if he'd like to?

3. Who am I/are we?

Am I a god? Am I alone or watched over and provided for? Am I lost or found? Am I in need of a little improvement or death and resurrection? Am I basically good or basically bad? Am I guilty or innocent? Is my identity found in my geography, resume, family, social circle, number of Facebook friends, GPA, current title and/or office size?

4. What should I/we do?

Obey our thirst? Follow the rules? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? Get good grades? Work hard? Hoard whatever we can get or give to the poor? Vote Democrat, Republican, or abstain altogether? Does anything we do matter at all? Or on the other hand, does what we do get weighed on some cosmic scale at the end and dictate our fate--to be re-incarnated as a slug or welcomed into some kind of heaven?

Okay, so there's the Big Four questions. They are the most important questions we can ask and they matter in this order--God's character first, God's activity second, our identity third, our activity fourth.

It is worth noting that when we bother at all with these questions consciously we are generally obsessed with question number four. And that matters, but it matters the least. To get the answer to question four (what do I do?) without knowing the answers to questions one through three would leave us with simple, mindless activity.

The Scriptures are obsessed with question one--they are obsessed with the nature of God. We are obsessed with ourselves. Therefore, our lives are thin on joy and peace and are rife with anxiety and fear.

And while all of that sounds kind of theoretical, it has everything to do with everything--but let's circle back to the issue of our money.

If I get the best budgeting training that money can buy, but I fundamentally think that the character of God is distant and that it is up to me to make my way in the world, what will I do with my money? Am I going to be generous and give it away? Nyet. I will hoard it, just like everyone else.

Our lack of generosity is a theological problem as much or more so than it is a budgeting problem. Not hating on good budgeting, just saying that it's not the core issue for most of us.

These four questions plays out every day in thousands of ways. How do you study for your exams? How do you relate to your kids or your spouse or your annoying neighbors? What are the fears you carry? What are you anxious about? What are you hoping for? What are the dreams that you carry around? What bitterness and un-forgiveness or disappointment plagues you?

All of this can be traced back to how we answer those four key questions. And it all happens most often beneath the surface. So it might be worth starting to dig around down there--what are your answers to those four questions? And how does that impact your life...every day?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rice-A-Roni, Googolplex to Pluto, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Our children have an obsession with "googolplex." Something about it being the largest number we can say just makes it extremely handy. They are also fascinated with space, but a little fuzzy about what's in it.

So Emma Kate (age 3) and I have a sort of call-and-response liturgy. She'll say to me, "I love you from here to Pluto googolplex times, Daddy!" And I'll say back to her, "Oh, man, that's a lot! I love you from here to the nearest black hole googolplex times, Emma Kate!"

It makes for a whole lot of love around the Kirk house--on our good days, at least.

It seems to me that for many of us who didn't grow up in a more charismatic Christian tradition don't have any idea what to do with the Holy Spirit.

For those of us in more evangelical circles, we'd rather have Jesus. The Holy Spirit is like the consolation prize on a bad game show: a year supply of Rice-A-Roni and the Holy Spirit.

But the Holy Spirit is the love and power that occur between the Father and the Son. It's like they're going back and forth, telling each other how much they love each other--even more than from here to Pluto googolplex times---and it's so fierce it gives rise to this third member of the Godhead, the Spirit.

Ever visited a family that just loves each other so much you can feel it? Ever been to a family reunion or a a home that's centered, rich, joyful, loving, gracious? It's authentic, peaceful, enveloping. It makes you feel right at home.

This is the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the Spirit that invites us into the presence of a perfect and holy and loving God and empowers us to feel right at home--even when we have no business being there. The Holy Spirit is the power and peace of God, extended to us as we join his family.

Hopefully Emma Kate and I will continue to grow in our love for each other. We might even get a better concept of what "googolplex" really means.

But a far greater gift to us both would be to embrace this gift of the Holy Spirit offered to us by the Father and the Son. A "welcome home" gift that frees us from worry, fear, anxiety, doubt, sin. The Spirit that embraces us as sons and daughters of God.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Now Hear This: How to Handle Conflict

Conflict, wrongly handled, destroys communities. I wish that this only happened on the college campus with 18-22-year olds. It doesn't.

It's much, much worse when old people like me have never learned to handle conflict and then it blows up in a church. And then the church blows up. And the damage is much greater because there's more dynamics in a church community with zero-eighty year olds than when it's all 18-22 year olds.

All because people have no idea how to handle conflict. Or they do know, they're just too scared to handle it the right way.

So here it is. Take a deep breath and read this carefully. You will have conflict with someone at some point. Some of you are dealing with a conflict-type situation right now. Some of you are advising someone who's trying to figure out what to do with a potentially conflict-laden situation.

Whatever it is, please, please, please don't screw this up. It does damage. It's not convenient. It's just holy. Here's an opportunity to live with integrity rather than slouch towards what's easy because following Jesus isn't about making your life simple. It's about making you good.

This is all coming from Matthew 18. Check it out for yourself if it helps.

First, if someone sins against you or hurts you, you need to talk to them. To them. First. Not your mother. Not your girlfriend. Not your small group. Not your best friend. That's called gossip. That's called sin.

Now I recognize two things: sometimes you need help to do the right thing like to confront someone who's sinned against you. Sometimes it's not exactly clear if you've been wronged. And so yeah, there are times when you've just got to talk it through with someone.

But I also recognize that our capacity for self-deception in this area is spectacularly great. And so we've gotta' be ruthless. Unless you're really, really, really not sure about what needs to happen, you've got to go to that person first.

If and only if they do not listen to you, then and only then does Jesus invite you to talk to someone else. But the purpose of that conversation is not to malign. It's to invite one or two people with you to go together in the hopes of winning the other person over. You go back to the person with those friends. Not just talk about them behind their backs.

If they still won't listen, then you go to the authority in your church or fellowship. And they help out with the dispute.

What I find with both students and old people is that the break-down happens with step one. Because people don't have the courage to have the hard conversation with the offending person. It's always easier to gossip than to have holy and healthy conflict.

Sin is always easier at first than holiness. But the returns on sin are perpetually diminishing. And the returns on holiness are perpetually compounding into infinite goodness and joy. That's the choice set before us with these commands.

Brothers and sisters, what makes the church different is not that we don't have conflict. Of course we're going to have conflict. What's to make us different is how we handle the conflict. Jesus gives us clear instructions.

It's about time we started taking him seriously.