Not Alone

I dont know how all this happens.  Influence is a funny thing.
Several weeks ago I met a guy at a meeting.  He has a cool name.  Oakley.  I wish I was named something cool like that.  Oakley has glasses.  Not just glasses, but cool, fashionable glasses.  He has curly hair too.  He glasses and hair would make nice for some kind of caricature.  Big head, Big glasses, Curly hair.  Thats him.
Oakley is the student ministries pastor at Northside (Northside is Andy Stanlys Northpoint in Columbia, one of the citys largest churches).  He just happened to be at the meeting that I was at.  He wasnt invited.  He just showed.  He can pull that kind of stuff off, I cant.  Some how, he noticed me there.  He called me the next day.  Someone gave him my number.  My cell, at that.  I hate it when people give out my cell number.
So, Oakley wanted to meet me.  I went to see him today.  We sat in his office, went through his youth building, and ate some Greek food at a little caf down the road.  It was nice.  But, what shocked me, I guess more than anything, was that Oakley wanted ME there.  He actually wanted to talk to me.  He was concerned with what I thought, about everything.
And whats really weird is what happened with Oakley, is what has happened a lot since Ive been here.
Over the last several months, my network has grown.  Quite frankly, Im really amazed that these guys even spend time with me.  I mean, I have like 20 kids in my youth group.  Oakley has like two hundred or something.  Everyones ministry has more kids than mine.  I mean, Im nothing as far as a significant minister.
I took an attitude when we got here that has taught me something about people: it was that I valued other Youth Pastors.  I mean, not as ministry partners, but as friends, as people to walk a similar journey with.  In a very basic form, I love them because we face similar struggles, challenges, and joys.
And you know what they love me back.  I mean they want me in their lives.  By invention last night we attended a surprise party with one of my other friends thats a Youth Pastor in our city.  Next Monday were having dinner with another Youth Pastor and his family.  And here is what Ive seen and learned when you love someone they normally give you a place of influence in their lives.
Let me just say this I didnt and do not want influence in all these guys lives.  I never sought that.  And honestly, its a little bit much for me to take on.  But, you know what, I see in them a desire that may be a tad bit repressed: a desire to be loved and appreciated.  And I do that.
So here is where it meets you.  You have people in your life.  People who are walking similar journeys.  People that share the same challenges, frustrations, and joys that you do.  Love them and walk the path together.  Let the beauty of your life give you a platform of influence in theirs.  And then use that platform to communicate the truth of Jesus.

Risk. Reward.

Tonight we watched the new show that is built off of the American Idol principle for inventors: aptly called American Inventor.  Theres one distinct difference, the people on this show have sold out to what they believe in.  A corrections officer and former soldier names Jerry Westley invented something called the Mobile X Gym, a set of bars and weights that are stored in a back-pack type container and are portable.
Tonight the show was dwindled down twice.  I think from 48 to 24 to 12.  James made it to the 24 and gave his pitch to the judges.  He has invested over 100,000 dollars over a 10 year period in his investment.  He started the pitch with this quote, which is not his: Its better to chaise a dream and experience failure than to have a dream and never know its possibility.  Im chasing a dream.  This dream is a lot bigger than where I am now and who I am now.
About two weeks about I met a man named Erwin McManus.  Erwin is a writer, speaker, and pastor (if you ask him, hes a cultural architect I love that term).  His message is what challenged Amanda and myself to reach for this.  I actually got to spend about 20 minutes with him, asking him questions and getting to know who he was.  The one thing that I walked away was hes 50.  Yep, that was the most significant thing.  Hes had about four years of significant influence.  Than means his influence started when he was 46 or so.  Thats twenty years away from me.  I have time.  I will need to continue to take initiative, create influence, and take risks, but in the end I am consumed with the fact that God has a profound calling on my life.  I will not be satisfied with anything less.
Tonight, the show showed that Jerry Westley made it to the round of 12 on American Inventor.  He received a check for 50,000.00, which half-way recoups the financial losses that he took in development of his product.  In that moment, he found out that there is no reward without risk.
In all moments that we face in life, there is a similar choice to make: to risk and reach for something great or to settle for what the moment is giving us.  For all believers this is decision that must be made constantly.  There is risk.  There is reward.

The Technical Pursuit of God (or 'why I like accidents')

Some people are technical.  They read manuals and learn from text books.  They hook up a home theater the right way the first time, because they looked at the diagram.  They think through things, and make lists of pros and cons.  They know procedures, the nine-steps to whatever, if you will.  Some people do that.  I dont.
I hate manuals.  I hook up first and ask questions later.
I have noticed a trend.  A dangerous one, I’m convinced.  A trend of the technical and the spiritual again combining forces.  It’s very dark-force-Star-Wars-ish.  I say again on purpose.  Again because the combination has reared its head in places and times before now, like the Pharisees during Jesus’ day.  We suppose we have killed the beast, but he keeps popping up in previously uncharted water.
I think equations are good for a lot of things.  I use the percent equation often. You know the one x over a hundred cross multiplied by whatever fraction and you have a percentage.  Thats very useful.  Especially if you play sports, which I dont but fantasize often about, so the equation comes in handy trying to figure out what my stats could have been.  “I could have shot 83 percent from the field tonight,” I might say.  Or theres the occasional “My pass percentage completion of 96 percent makes Peyton Manning look like a” (Ill end it there for decencys sake).  Of course these arent true.  Its just nice to apply the percent equation to life.
I dont think there are equations with our relationship with God.  Oh, I mean we try to come up with them, dont we?  A little sin + Jesus’ sacrifice + a repentant heart = forgiveness.  Simple.  Right?
I have a problem with equations like that.  Not so much because it takes something that is SO vastly significant and demotes it to a sequence of operations.  And its not so much that it over simplifies things.
My problem with equations and this technical pursuit of God is that it lacks beauty.
Have you ever looked at the cover of a manual?  I have.  I dont read them often, but I’ve noticed the covers.  They’re kind of boring.  Normally, the cover isnt even in color.  Its more of a: “Heres the necessary information, now you do your thing with it”.
Since when has the pursuit of God had anything to do with information?
The pursuit of God centers on beauty.  And beauty is not found in an equation.
Our little forgiveness equation doesnt show the deep enfolded texture of a heart that has broke to accept its futility and embraced the love that Christ showered down on the cross.
You dont see his eyes in that equation do you?
I think most of the really great strides in our pursuit of God happen on accident.
Those moments where truth shoots up out of no where and somehow you see greatness that wasnt there.  Those moments when you feel inspired to dance, and you know you cant dance, but you do it anyway and look like a total idiot who is apparently caged in by a distinct lack of talent but who is totally free on the inside.  Those moments when a strangers eye becomes more than a strangers eye and you realize that for an instant you looked into the soul of someone else and you deeply cared about them.
Those accidents.  That beauty.
Forever theorists have said that there is no equation for beauty.  It is an irrational, internal judgment that defies rules and restraints.
That sounds similar to something the bible calls faith.
Faith is beautiful.
Faith is beautiful because it doesnt make any sense.  There are no equations for faith either.
A guy named Kierkegaard wrote a long time ago about faith.  He looked at the fact that it doesnt make sense, and that he couldnt come up with an equation for faith so he somewhat coined the leap of faith approach to life.
The imagery of a leap of faith scares the poop out of me.  I get the picture of jumping into a well.  A bottomless well.  A well that is filled with rocks.  Its gonna hurt.
Kierkegaard is considered a heretic.  Mostly because smart Christian preachers want people to buy into the forgiveness equation, and not blindly jump.
Kierkegaard is a heretic.  Mostly because faith isnt about where youre jumping. Its who youre jumping to.
The beauty of the redemption story compels me to live centrally inside the message of Jesus.
In the end, its beauty, not equations that sustain that journey.
So, wherever you are, the beauty of redemption is all around.  Enjoy that beauty. Let it surprise you, and on accident, one day, you’ll notice that you are being compelled to something much greater than yourself.  Something so beautiful, that it has consumed your life.  In a way, its taken your life and offered you a new one. Which, really, is the most beautiful thing of all.

A Christmas Reflection (from the Christmas of 2005)

Stuff seems really important today. Like breath to lungs, we think. Months, or weeks, sometimes years, from now stuff becomes irrelevant. I’m not just talking about Starbucks or the new Rolling Stones CD; get bigger. Stuff is bad stuff, sometimes. I mean: bosses that don’t understand or care to understand, jobs you hate, towns you want to move away from, fights with your friends, fathers who aren’t speaking to you. Stuff will one day seem meaningless.

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Wading in the Mud

There is a funny looking bush that grows in the red clay forests of Georgia and Alabama. Literally, it looks like overnight someone to a pine tree and buried it, leaving only a small stem poking out of the ground.  I feel like this furry little bush a lot.  A small spectacle amidst a towering chorus of achievement.  A bit out of place.  Or small.  See, though its appearance is of a shrubbery, its merely a small tree.  A small “long-needle” pine tree to be exact.

God teaches us a lot about personal growth in this tree.  For its formative years, the tree injects its efforts into growing downward in a series of what are called tap roots. There is no growth apparent to the onlooker.  Really, it looks like a nice feather duster.  Something to for young boys to yank up and beat each other with.  I think roots are important to God.  I think this awkward little bush shows a way.

I think there are two directions that roots grow.  It’s true in trees; in trees, roots grow along the relief of the ground or down deep into the soil.  For us, I think our roots grow either into God or into ourselves.  I suppose this is not “stop the press” material, but today it became important to me.
I saw, in a brief moment, that there is a lot of hurt inflicted in this broken world. I’m in line with the murderers and thieves, because I, too, at times have led a life that bent in such a way that those who were wrapped up in me were hurt because of my declination.  The root of it, in the end, was selfishness.

I think there is no end viler than selfishness and nothing more difficult to balance within the will than the self.  Really, no man really cheats on his wife because he desires another woman.  A man enters an adulterous affair because he values himself more than his wife.  In the end, a woman laundering money a work doesn’t do so because she is desperately poor, but, instead, because she finds herself to be worthy of the money than the institution that earned it.

As a believer, I think there is nothing more difficult to balance upon the will of God than the self.  Practically, when you read this you may wonder “What in the WORLD is this guy talking about?” Well, this comes more from practical experience than direct teaching.  In the book of Acts, which I think is the definitive discourse (narratively speaking) on human interaction with the will of God, you find a very excited guy named Paul.  At times it appears that Paul is in direct control of where he is going (examples: Mars Hill, Ephesus) and then there are times that the Holy Spirit is directly involved in his decisions on where to go (forbiddance to go into Asia).

Here’s the practical problem: We, as believers, want to follow Jesus with all of our hearts (hearing his voice and responding).  And we, as believers and seekers of God, have dreams that resonate in our souls (chasing the desires of our heart that we believe Jesus placed there).  Sometimes, it’s very muddy where following Jesus and following dreams intersect.  Anyone who tells you different is a liar.

For example – suppose a young woman has a dream of becoming a singer.  This is a dream she feels very passionately that the Lord placed in her heart. However, she is working as a teacher and has a real chance to touch the lives of the kids in her class.  Baring direct communication from God, she is left with a muddy choice.  Where does the desire to fulfill the personal (or selfish) desires fit in?

I suppose I’m wading in the mud between the places that God and my will are coming together in my life.

In 1955, the late AW Tozer wrote a series of articles that were published as a volume under the title “The Root of the Righteous”. In his, he says of righteousness “many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right”.

I love the biblical concept of righteousness.  Literally, the Greek term means to be right in the eyes of God.  Westerners, like us, interpret “right” with behavioral specifics.  The term correctly applied does not mean that.  The term literally refers to being the right person.  The concept is the same as a coach that has trained a quarterback for a specific purpose.  They have practiced many hours together and put much work into developing the player.  The coach, sitting on the sideline, watches to athlete execute perfectly in a game and recognizes that he is the “right” quarterback.  Basically, being righteous means being the person that God created you to be.

Being righteous is all about roots.  If we, like that awkward little shrubbery, spend time developing roots that sink deep into the truth of God’s revelation to man, personally through the revelation of his Son, then we are indeed developing roots of righteousness.

However, if we are constantly thinking of ourselves, our image, our benefit, where we fit in, what we get out of it, then we are growing roots of selfishness.  The only way to face the mud of the intersection of our will and God’s will is with a bridge of righteousness.

Seeking God’s face about who we are and who we were created to be is important.  It’s paramount, actually.  Nothing in life is more important.  Once that concept has been fully developed, then, and only then, can one safely wade in the mud.

I Love The 80’s (a reflection)

My wife and I were perusing the items on the eBay site last night when I thought it might be nice to recover some nostalgia from my elementary school days. Yes. I have found two items that have escaped mainstream media attention as far as being meaningful to the 80s. These items were of GREAT importance to me, personally, though.

Here you go. First item:

The above picture features something that we must call nothing but what the tag so boisterously screams: “JAMS”. These were the shorts that I fell in love with in the 80s. You were not cool unless you had a pair of JAMS for every day of the week. I didn’t grow up in such an affluent family to afford the “original” jams. My mother, the wonder woman of all, would take me to a fabric store and allow me to choose a couple patterns of bright material. She would then take the material and craft a very good facsimile of the “original” jams. I did, later on, come to own my own stock of “original” JAMS. I remember one pair with fondness: they hung mid-calf (much like a good pair of capri pants). The pattern screamed intellectual giant: red and white checkerboard. Yes. You could have played tournament style board games on my pants.

Ok. Now to the second item. Real class awaits:

The said item above is a classic. Largely undiscovered. I remember it vividly though. The “coke” rugby shirt. Nothing like it. I mean, the look on the models face above speaks for itself. True happiness trapped inside cotton and nylon.

Now… A Reflection:

I remember now, and I guess part of the experience of growing up is that you learn such lessons, how badly these items seemed to be important to me. I wanted them like I wanted air to breathe. My parents, who didn’t at the time have a lot of money, ended up sacrificing to get me them (or make copies of them). Now, they just look like silly reminders of a time gone by.

You know, I rode the bus to school as a kid. I don’t suppose I’ve really talked about this as an adult, but the bus rides were traumatic. My family chose to spend money where they should, to buy a house and cars rather than nice clothes for their kids, so I ended up being dressed a little different than other kids. I remember very vividly being made fun of by kids over the two items listed above. I remember how I felt like nothing because I didn’t have them, that fragile 10-year-old ego crumbling under the weight of peer leveled scrutiny. I remember that. It hurt. It doesn’t hurt anymore.

I suppose it took me a long time to learn the lessons that God was offering me then. It would have been easier to learn them then, but I didn’t. I resented. I ran. I hid, at times. I suppose the biggest lesson is love who you are and believe in who you are.

God made you. You are enough. It’s pretty simple.

God loves you. We should love that which God loves. We should love ourselves.

It’s pretty simple.

It took me a LONG time, but I started getting it. I don’t know if I really have it now or maybe I’ve just started the journey.

I do know this – if I’m glad I’m not traveling on this journey (or just in an airplane) right now wearing a nice pair of “original” JAMS and a “coke” shirt.

Hopefully, God will continue to show me things that are as fleeting in importance like iPods, Rainbow Sandles, and even MySpace? — who knows?

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