God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. (Romans 2:4, The Message)
And so here we are in the weeks leading up to Easter. If you grew up in a traditional church, you know this as the season of Lent – a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to the events of Holy Week where Jesus met with his disciples in an upper room, prayed with them in the garden, and then was betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, and crucified.
I know what you’re thinking – let’s bring back Christmas, only with warmer weather. But go with me here for just a moment.
We really do need all of the seasons. We need Christmas and Easter, times to mourn and times to dance, periods of thanksgiving and periods of repentance.
This season is the latter, and we need it. I need it.
I have laundry lists of frustrations – frustrations with the people around me who insist on sharing my immediate space but not cleaning up in the manner I prefer, frustrations with systems and cycles that seem broken beyond repair, frustrations with the actual laundry that never seems finished and intent on multiplying, frustrations with our government and all of the people on all of the sides who can’t seem to act like responsible adults, frustrations with mountains that won’t seem to move no matter how many times I insist they do so, and wouldn’t you know it, frustrations with me – because no matter how many times I decide I’m not going to do the same things I’ve done, and no matter how many times I set out to do better and be better, I just can’t seem to get it all right.
I need some time to repent. Only repentance isn’t the act of seeking out more ways to feel guilty and sit in shame, and beat myself up over my faults and failures. True repentance means acknowledging my weaknesses, and creating the space and time to make the most of the grace being offered to pursue radical life change from the inside out. God doesn’t want my fixed behavior. He wants me – all of me.
A season of repentance starts with a season of willingness to be seen – to take off some of the masks and let the one who loves us most sort through our mess and lead us with kindness toward a better way. It’s a season of dealing with the root sins and not simply improving the fruit sins.
For all of us, I want to invite us to a season of repentance. Don’t worry, laughter is still allowed (also, encouraged) and joy gets to be present, always. But don’t miss the opportunity to be still, to be seen, to be led in kindness toward life-changing, life-giving transformation.
Have mercy on me, O God,according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:1-12)
My recently minted 10-yr old believes himself to be a preteen. In his words, “10-year olds are preteens because 11 and 12-year olds are post-preteens.”
Bless. Just bless all the children.
Anyway, as a “preteen,” my son’s expectation is that he can now play some of the video games (exhibit a – Fortnite) we have heretofore prohibited on basis of age and stage – and also because we just didn’t want it. We’ve started the conversation about introducing it, but so far haven’t come to a decision.
So, when he ran into the house yesterday afternoon with a friend, begging to play, I told him he knew the answer to the question. His friend pointed out that he would have to download the game and sign-up, but he wouldn’t have to pay anything. (Oh yes, please tag-team the mom, a winning strategy approximately…never.) My son jumped on the train in his preteen enthusiasm and told me he had already downloaded it and signed up so he was ready to go. Upon seeing my face and grasping his error, he immediately added, “Dad knows.”
You can see where this is heading, right?
I texted the aforementioned Dad, who was still at work, to confirm the lie I knew was being told.
My 10-year old did not play Fortnite last night.
With friends gone and little brother off at baseball practice with Dad later in the night, I sat down with a tearful, repentant kid who desperately wanted to explain that he wasn’t actually lying. A year and a half ago when we got the Xbox, he had downloaded and signed up for the game before we realized it had happened. As soon as we did, we disconnected his ability to download and talked about what he could and couldn’t play. So, yes, in that sense, Dad knew the game was downloaded. But, my son also knew that wasn’t what he was leading me to believe in his earlier plea.
I asked him if he could tell me the difference between being right and doing right. Here’s what he said –
“Being right is when you are factually accurate. Doing right is when you do the right thing even if it’s not what you want to do.”
Parents, there just may be hope after all.
I’m picking on my kid with this story, but I also explained to him last night that adults mess this up all the time. We live in a world where we think we’re justified in our behavior if we can simply find a way to be factually accurate. Only, those things can always be distorted in our favor.
How many of us are committed to the idea of doing right above and beyond being right? I think the world would be a different place – in our governments, our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods, our homes – if we had the same passion for doing right as being right.
I don’t think it’s easy. In fact, I think it’s really difficult. When my husband got home from baseball and was able to join our conversation, he shared that simply going 24-hours with a commitment toward total and absolute honesty is a difficult task.
So, here’s the deal we made with our son that I will also make with all of you – let’s commit together to going a whole week practicing absolute honesty and prioritizing the work of doing right over simply being right.
And if we can do that, then we’ll sit down together and check out Fortnite to see if “preteens” in our house can start playing occasionally.
As always, in this thing called life together…because it’s better that way.
What are you reading?
What are you thinking about?
What are you doing?
Yesterday we ate the traditional New Year’s Day fare for luck and good fortune. (That meant pork and sauerkraut for my crew – and, yes, the house still stinks!) For many, we packed up the last of the Christmas decorations and cleaned our houses. And as we did those things, we dreamed and plotted for the new year we rung in with hope and celebration.
Today, the work begins.
I offer these three questions as both a guide and a challenge. I’ve learned that I can do a lot of things, but if I’m not reading and thinking, a lot of my efforts are in vain. And if I’m reading and thinking but not doing, well then, I’m stuck.
The world never became a better place because of something someone thought. It’s better because they translated their thoughts to action. And the great thinkers found ways to share their thoughts in a way that invited the whole community to act.
What are you reading?
We need the voices and experiences of others to remind us we are not an island. Our ideas and perspectives are formed by our own experiences and we limit ourselves to a very small world without seeking the experience and perspectives of others. I challenge you to read broadly this year.
The same goes for listening. What podcasts are you listening to? Whose voices are you inviting into your thought process?
I’m starting the year with a Pulitzer Prize winning novel called “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. I’m only a few chapters in and already the language is a little rough and the content a bit graphic, but I’m already finding myself drawn into the story of a young man born and raised in North Korea whose life and thought is radically different from my own. He grew up without a mother, and with a father who didn’t acknowledge him as his own. It’s making me wonder and marvel about people who have to raise themselves, without mentors and parents to guide their moral compass. I already have questions I’m kicking around in my mind. Reading always leads to thinking…
What are you thinking about?
No one will pay you to think. Nor should they. They will, however, fire you if you don’t. As they should.
A counselor has taught me in recent months that my M.O. in life is to actively not acknowledge nor process my own feelings. “I’m fine,” is my mantra. Without delving into the recesses of my psyche (we’ll save that for another day and another post), I think the same can be said for many of us when it comes to our thinking. We get so busy doing, we forget to stop and think. Or we think, but we don’t process our thinking so it gets acted on in its most basic and elementary formulation, which doesn’t always serve us – or anyone around us – well. (see Brene Brown’s work on the “SFD”)
What would it look like for you to think on purpose this year? How could you take the time to acknowledge what you’re thinking and how you got there – to ask the next question? Carey Nieuwhof says, “We are a culture of strongly-held and weakly-formed opinions.” I think he’s dead on.
I’ll be doing a lot more writing this year – some for the world to see, and much for my own active process of thinking. And speaking of doing…
What are you doing?
All of the reading and thinking in the world matters little if we don’t get out of bed every morning and do something with it.
I am a communicator. I speak and I write. Only, a lot of my time gets spent leading the organization I helped to start. That work is essential. However, it easily becomes my excuse for not doing the speaking and the writing when, in fact, the speaking and writing are my greatest contributions to the organization. This year I’m doing the things – all three of the things.
How about you? You can’t get unstuck without moving. And sometimes you don’t know which way to move without trying a direction and finding out it’s the wrong one. But you have to start somewhere.
Cheers to all of you and to a new year of reading, thinking, and doing!
Newborn days…the words “exhausting” and “black hole” come to mind.
Toddler years…can you say, “TANTRUM CITY, BABY?!?!”
Elementary years…I’d like to talk about who’s actually in school during these years because hello paperwork, projects, reading logs, oh my!
Teenage years…”you got to pray just to make it today” (so says MC Hammer, not sure if this is what he was referring to…)
Empty Nesting…Caring for Aging Parents…
We tell ourselves “It’s just a phase,” to remind ourselves that whatever we’re dealing with now won’t be forever. The sleepless nights that come with infancy, the tantrums of a 3-year old, the scary start-up phase of a new business, the sandwich years of caring for aging parents while still caring for young adult kids, and the list goes on and on…
More often than not, the phrase has a negative connotation. “It’s just a phase, it’s just a phase, it feels crazy now, but it can’t go on forever.” And it’s because whatever phase we’re in currently feels like the most difficult phase simply because it’s where we are right now.
I get it. In fact I think we need to make a societal pact that we’ll stop telling people who are struggling with the phase they’re in that they should just hold on because the next one is harder. Y’all, STOP IT! The tired parents of twin babies who haven’t showered in days do not need to hear about the trials and tribulations of teenagerdom waiting to trounce them.
Because here’s the thing about phases – they simply don’t last. So, what happens when we decide to not miss the phase we’re in? What if there are unique opportunities in every phase that we’ll forego if we’re simply waiting on what’s next, or surviving for what’s next? What if we could make the very idea of a passing phase the motivation to get back up today instead of waiting for tomorrow?
Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy introduced this idea in their 2015 book, “It’s Just a Phase–So Don’t Miss It” as they broke down the life stages of kids from birth through 12th grade. I highly recommend this resource for parents of kids in those ages/stages. In the book, they talk about how we think in each phase, and the questions we’re asking in each phase, but most importantly, they talk about the distinct opportunities we can leverage in each phase to impact someone’s life in significant ways. Check out this chart they created –
I won’t attempt to summarize the book and explain all of the phases, but if you’d like to dig deeper into the idea, you can check out the five-week message series I just finished at Ashley Ridge Church here.
For today, I simply want to encourage you – don’t miss the unique opportunities of where you are right now – challenges and all. God will use all of it, and He’s certainly with you in all of it.
This week I had one of those days that makes you want to quit – quit trying, quit hoping, quit working, quit showing up, quit putting yourself out there, just quit.
I’m probably not supposed to tell you I have those days. I’m a pastor. I’m a leader. I’m supposed to see truth, rise above, be good enough and holy enough and “enough enough” to lay down my selfish desires and my pride and my feelings. Surely Mother Theresa didn’t have bad days…
But I do. I’m so good at them that sometimes I have bad weeks just because I’m in the zone.
This particular day was so ugly that my husband looked at me with big eyes after hearing about some of it and said, “Babe, you just need to start over tomorrow.”
I’m tired of starting over. I’m tired of putting it all down and letting things go. I want to feel like the ladder to the finish line is getting closer and less like I’m taking the chute back down to square one. I’ve started over, and I’ve started over again – and, heck, I’m even a starter by nature. I like to start things. And yet, there has to be more than starting over and remembering His mercies are new every morning. (I mean, that’s good and all, but…)
And so, I got up at 4:45. I ran my four miles. I helped get my kids out the door and on their way to school. I drank my coffee. I read my Bible. I drank more coffee. I listened to a podcast driving into work. More coffee. I prepped for staff meeting. I answered a couple of emails.
I was starting over, only everything still felt the same. I knew I was still bracing for whatever hit may come next or first in the new day. And then it hit me (the other kind of hit) – it’s not simply the starting over, it’s also the place from which we start.
My inclination is to start over with more effort, greater grit, higher capacity, but that’s all starting with me, me, me – and Jesus says, “Come here.”
Start here. We don’t work out of our own capacity. We get to work out of His…because grace.
I’m still sorting through some of the crazy of this week and also moving on to what’s next, but some of you probably need this reminder too.
It’s almost never as bad as it seems in the moment. Whenever we’re stretched, we’re vulnerable to so many lies our brains want to write to help us explain what we can’t understand.
And so, we rest.
I think I know how Moses felt when he walked into the river bed before the waters parted. The seconds felt like hours. Actual heat from thousands of pairs of skeptical, fearful, expectant eyes behind him burned through his neck. The reality that he could drown seemed likely, if not certain, and he contemplated whether that wouldn’t be preferable to the shame of facing everyone if he was wrong about what God wanted them to do.
He passed the point of no return, but everything in front of him screamed impossible…literally, impassable.
Something’s gotta happen.
The last few steps were excruciating. He knew God told him to lead, to free the people from slavery, to escape the most powerful army in the world, but he had no idea, and certainly no guarantee, of how it was going to work. Nothing in history offered the hint that the waters would, or even could, actually part.
Something’s gotta happen.
If you’ve ever said “Yes” to God, you’ve been here. It’s not always as dramatic, and there’s not always so much at stake, but it feels like it to you because you’re the one in over your head. The options aren’t “sink or swim.” They are “drown or be rescued.” The outcome is not in your hands.
Something’s gotta happen.
Do you want to go deeper in your faith? Do you want to experience the power of God in ways you’ve only ever read about or heard about from someone else? Find yourself in the place were something’s gotta happen.
How do you get to that place? It’s not by accident. You need to ENGAGE. Here are five points of engagement that are consistent in Scripture:
I explain it more here.
Moses found out that it’s just at the point where something’s gotta happen that something always does. I can tell the same story, different sets of circumstances. So can many others.
How about you?
Are you ready? I’m about to rant. Here we go…
We do not go to church to check a box. We do not go to church to prove that we are holy, or to get our gold star for the week. We do not go to church, well, really at all, because we are the church so the verbiage is confusing. But, you know what I’m saying, and this is a rant, so just go with me.
We don’t go to church because it’s the only way to have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t go to church to get something from the message or the music, and we definitely don’t go to worship because we like the preacher or the music. And speaking of the preacher, we don’t go to church to make him/her feel better (although, Lord help a sister, I worry when y’all don’t show up). We don’t go to church for the free childcare (unless you do, in which case that’s cool sometimes, because sanity). We don’t even go to church because Jesus told us to. I’ve read the book a few times and it doesn’t really come up in his messages.
HOWEVER, I am absolutely convinced that going to worship (see how I fixed the verbiage issue?) is unequivocally the most important thing we do every single week as followers of Jesus. Let me say that again – Going to worship is unequivocally the most important thing we do every single week as followers of Jesus.
Before you start arguing with me and pushing back, and especially after I gave you all those reasons why not – here are a few of the reasons I believe it’s true:
- We go to
churchworship for what we give, not what we get. In worship, we set aside our need for value-add and efficiency, and do something for God. We make space to give Him our hearts, tell Him thank you – individually and collectively – for what He has done. Sure, we think we’ll make time to do that on our own, and hopefully we do, but showing up for worship – taking time, making space, prioritizing the glory of God – that’s a big deal. It’s a move of faith. It’s a profound statement to others, and to ourselves, about what matters most. And the crazy thing is, when we go for that reason, we always get something in return. (God is simply that good.)
- We go to worship for the next person(s), ideally the ones we have invited. As we grow in our faith, we get better and better at finding our way into the presence of God on our own. We get more comfortable praying and reading the Bible, and even singing our hearts out and raising our hands in the car – not caring what the people around us think. We discover that we can find God and grow in all sorts of places. In fact, all of the places. But very few of us start there in our relationship with God. Part of showing up is making space for the next person to find their voice and their pace with God. It’s knowing that our showing up makes it possible for someone else to dip their toe in the water.
- We go to worship because God told us He would be there – every time. “Where two or three are gathered…” Why wouldn’t we show up somewhere with a 100% guarantee that God would be there too?
- We go to worship to change our perspective. Both Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church, and James Galloway, the worship and creative arts director at Ashley Ridge Church, have told their stories of going on the London Eye and how it impacted their worship. You get in at street level and before you know it, you are high above the city with the perfect view of Big Ben, Parliament, BuckinghamPalace, the Tower of London, and more. You’re in the same city, but the perspective changed as your eyes were lifted by the experience. Worship lifts our eyes and shifts our perspective. We still don’t see everything God sees, but we see the obstacles and circumstances differently. As we tell and re-tell the stories of our faith in community, our perspective changes. It’s why God set a rhythm in place of stopping once every week to make room for the shift to happen.
- We go to worship to remember. Just before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land after escaping slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses sits everyone down for a little chat. In the midst of the conversation, he repeats the Ten Commandments God gave him on Mt. Sinai, only this time he adds some commentary. When he got to the one about keeping a sabbath day holy, he doesn’t focus on the part about not working. Instead, he focuses on the idea that we have to stop working so that we tell the stories and actively remember what God has done. Moses understood that if we didn’t set aside time to remember, we would most certainly forget – forget that God moves mountains, and splits rivers, and brings dead things back to life. And if He did it before, doesn’t it give us faith and confidence He will do it again? Remembering matters. A shared history and experience of faith matters.
School is about to start. Our lives are all CRAZY. But I want to challenge you as you set schedules and make commitments to make worship a priority. Say your best yes to the things that matters most. Don’t live your life on empty when the filling station is always open.
I’ve read/listened to Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” at least 2-3 times. If you haven’t read it yet, I definitely recommend it. If you don’t like to read or your current reading list is too long, then just read chapter nine – it’s only six pages. You can do it right now if you want…
Did you read it? It’s incredible, right? I’ve re-told the story from chapter nine so many times I’ve lost count. Some of you didn’t read it, so here’s the quick version: There’s a family with a teenage daughter whose making some bad choices (drugs, loser boyfriend, etc.). So the dad decides it’s time for their family to offer her a different story and he tells them they’re going to build an orphanage for $25k. It will involve risk, sacrifice, and a lot of work. At first, they think he’s crazy, but soon enough they all get excited and the daughter comes up with all sorts of ideas about how they can make it work. A few months later, the family is connecting in ways they haven’t in years and the daughter breaks up with the boyfriend after he tells her she’s too fat. As the dad says, “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”
She chose a better story.
What if we all got to choose a better story? What if we created families and communities where people had roles and knew they had value and potential to make a difference?
Is it time for you to start writing a better story with your life?
I love watching circles grow and write stories together – friend circles, family circles, neighborhood circles, all of the circles. I am convinced that if you want to grow relationships and write better stories, you should serve together. There’s nothing quite like shared experiences where you stretch and move outside of your comfort zones, and in the process learned to depend on each other.
Part of the heart behind our Expanding the Table food truck at Ashley Ridge Church is having a vehicle for families and circles to serve together. A lot of outreach opportunities aren’t available to kids, and with good reason, but we wanted a space where people of all ages could interact and share a meal together, a place where kids could learn they already have everything they need to make a difference and give back to their community. They can choose a better story than the one being offered via the smart-mouth television shows supposedly meant for them (any other parents feeling me here? Get it together tv-land!).
Life is hard and sometimes we end up writing and living the stories we never intended, but we get to choose a better story because Jesus wrote a different ending. If you need somewhere to start – call your circle and go do something that matters together.
In 2013, our church made its mantra “Life is Better Together,” which quickly adapted to hashtag status as #BetterTogether. In the years since, many others have adopted and used the same mantra, making us believe we really are on to something. (Also making us think we should have patented it – not because we wouldn’t have gladly shared, but because companies like Apple used it and we would have welcomed their financial support in our building process. I’m just sayin’.)
There’s a book I could write on everything we’ve learned in the last six years of living out this idea, but for now, I wanted to share just a few observations:
- . It’s true. Life really is better together. It’s not just a catchy phrase, or and idea that sounds like it should be true, but isn’t. Life is actually better together.
- . Better is not the same thing as easier. In fact, I’m pretty certain life is not easier together. People are complicated, and the more of them we have in our lives, the more complicated things become. We need each other, but we have to fight to stick with the process because, as with most things in life that are worth it, it ain’t easy…or obvious.
- It all starts with our need for God. Of the three core beliefs (i.e. We Need God, We Need Each Other, and The World Needs Us) that we place under the mantra, the easiest to shrug aside as either obvious or unnecessary is the first. Only the first is the most true thing I know to be true. Our lives are better together with God. We need Him. Every day and every hour we need Him. And even when we don’t acknowledge God’s presence, He is there, making life a reality. God could have done life without us, but instead He chose us. It was God who decided from the beginning that life was better together. And so, He created. And in the midst of creation, He decided that not only did He want man to share in the beauty of creation, but that the one “not good” thing in creation was for man to be alone. And so, God created the woman. It must have been omitted from the earliest manuscripts, but if there was a Genesis 2:18b it would probably read “because life is better together.”
Reason #3 is why worship matters so much. In worship, we get to remember who God is and what God does. We get to be intentional about not shrugging off God as obvious or unnecessary. We get to change our perspective over and over in order to see like God sees.
I worship everyday. I worship by myself in the car, in my office, and at the kitchen table because sometimes it needs to be just me and God. I worship with my kids and my husband at night because it matters that the common language and foundation of our home is our faith in God.
I worship every week in community with other people, also known as the Church. It matters that it happens every week because we get to set our lives in rhythm with God, and because God gave the Holy Spirit to us collectively so that when we are together we get the fullest sense of who He is.
When you’ve been in the presence of Jesus in a way that you know it, you can’t wait to get back and bring as many people as possible with you. You could say it lots of ways, but for me, it’s because life is better together!
There are two kinds of families: the ones that eat store-bought cookies, and the ones that stick to homemade cookies. My family, both the one I grew up with and the one I have now, falls decidedly in the homemade cookie category with one notable exception…OREOS!
We love Oreos. I love Oreos – double-stuff, mega-stuff, all of the stuff! I would eat them on a plane, on a train, and in the rain. I like them on their own, dipped in milk, and definitely in my homemade ice cream. Forget the green eggs and ham. I love Oreos, Sam I Am!
I also thrive on change, which means the parade of differently flavored Oreos over the last couple of years has been right up my alley. I’ve tried almost all of them – candy corn
Oreos, mocha Oreos, s’more Oreos, marshmallow krispy Oreos, peppermint Oreos, and more. I played the Mystery Oreo game (those were gross!). I even tried the recently released cherry cola Oreos – probs not the best idea you’ve had, Nabisco, but, let’s definitely talk about making the key lime Oreos a regular deal! (I know, you’re wondering how I’m not 500 pounds with all of this Oreo eating – Answer: I’m raising boys. If I’m lucky I get to eat one or two cookies out of a pack before they are all gone.)
Change is good. It can be fun, and it definitely creates momentum. But too much change can be confusing. There’s something to be said for consistency and constancy. We all want to know what and who we can count on.
To borrow another Andy Stanley-ism, we have to know which things are problems to solve and which are tensions to manage. I believe change and consistency represent a tension to manage. We need both – the new and the same, the willingness to try different things and the wisdom to keep going down the same road even when it gets bumpy.
Part of managing the tension is knowing which way you lean naturally.
As mentioned, I lean toward change, which means I need people in my life and guardrails in place to keep me from changing too readily and too quickly. Once I’m convinced a change is the right call, I’m ready yesterday and eager to move to implementation. I’ve learned through trial and error that those kinds of knee-jerk reactions (especially when you’re in the pilot seat) can create chaos and confusion. I’ve learned to slow down and ask questions like, “If we make this change, what does the timeline need to look like so others are ready and we’re all prepared? What are the potential side effects of this change that we need to mitigate or prepare for? Who needs to know about this change well before it happens?”
If you lean the other direction, toward consistency, you need to have people in your life who are willing to challenge your assumptions and ask questions like, “Is there anything you’re hanging onto for comfort that is actually holding you back? What is the possible gain from making a change that could outweigh the effort of getting there?”
We need both – change and consistency, regular Oreos and double stuff (although for the life of me, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want more filling!).
Which way do you lean? What questions would you add to help navigate the tension?