Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Finding purpose.

One of our favorite subjects on the planet, and one I have written about here countless times, is figuring out our purpose. It's the goal that has launched a million backpacking trips across Europe and an equal number of mid-life crisises. But as complicated as we make it and as difficult as it often feels, Paul felt like it was pretty simple. Here is what he says in Galations 5:13:

"You, my brothers, were called to be free."

That's it. That is our purpose, to be free. Nothing fancy. Nothing complex or difficult or mystically spiritual. Freedom, that is our gift and our purpose. That is the word that is supposed to define our lives.

So are you living it? Would people describe you as free? Or are you embracing slavery in some way? Are there chains on you people might not see? Because you can go to Europe a thousand times and get the fastest sports car on the planet, but at the end of the day, if you're not free, you're not living your purpose and that's a tragedy.

Be free today.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Daddy broke the attic.

As I've mentioned a handful of times, during a recent squirrel rescue attempt in my attic, a friend put his foot through my bedroom ceiling. It was not me that technically broke the attic, but the blame is still largely mine.

So now, when my daughters spill something at dinner or break a cup, they have been instructed to instantly say, "Daddy broke the attic." It's a simple statement that kind of puts spilled juice in the right context. "No big deal," they say, "Juice is just juice, my dad knew I might spill and break things even though I am trying my hardest."

They enjoy the freedom of being able to say that and it made me think, do I ever do the same thing with God? That is, when I fail, do I ever instantly lean on the truth and grace of the cross? Why can't I in a moment of failure, call upon a much greater promise than just "daddy broke the attic" and say, "Christ died for me?"

Not that my sin or failure is not a big deal, but it has already been paid for. The cost has already been paid. And saying "Christ died for me" when I break something might help me remember that I too am a child at a very big table. I too have a father who loves me and cares for me. And I too have been provided an out from the sin I commit.

Christ died for me.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let's retire "unspoken prayer requests" please.

I think it's time we put the phrase "I have an unspoken prayer request" out to pasture. Seriously, let's just kill it.

It's one of those ideas that keeps us hidden from the people we're supposed to be visible to. When you say that to someone, you're hiding. You're putting a wall between you and the idea of prayer, which I think is meant to be vulnerable. You're hedging your bets in a way, asking for someone to give you something without giving them anything at all. It's a little hollow and a little empty and a little fake.

You can always go to James 5:16 to get a reminder of what God says about confession:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

It doesn't say, "sort of confess," it just says confess. So I think that's what we're supposed to do when it comes to asking someone to pray for you.

And here's the other thing, when you tell someone you have an "unspoken prayer request" people assume the worst. They might not admit it, but people automatically think, "wow, that dude is having an affair" or "yikes that guy is embezzling money" or something equally as big.

So do the simple thing. Ask for prayer with words that mean something and lets retire the phrase, "unspoken prayer request."

p.s. Be careful about James 5:16, it's one of those verses people often use as an excuse to employ honesty as a weapon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The danger of mydo.

My two year old daughter McRae has stumbled upon the concept of "Independence." I'm not sure who told her about it, probably her older sister, but it has made our lives a lot more difficult.

Suddenly when we try to help her with her shoes or pour the milk on her cereal she wails as if we were committing a horrible crime. It's led to many frustrating moments and a lot of her walking around with one arm rammed through the neckhole of a shirt because she refuses to let me fix it.

And when we arrive at this place together, there is one thing she yells, one hybrid kind of word that she says over and over and over again:


Mydo is simply her way of saying "My do" or "I want to do this for myself now dad. I'm not a baby anymore but an independent child with wants and needs that I need to express and fulfill myself. So please, give me some space."

I think her saying mydo, mydo over and over again is funny and a little annoying but to tell you the truth, it's not that far off from what I tell God sometimes. There are times in my life or situations I find myself in where I don't want to pray about it. I don't want to seek counsel or read the bible or trust in God to provide. I just want to do it my way in my timeframe.

So I tell God, "mydo."

I wonder what he thinks when I repeatedly make mistakes he is trying to prevent, when I constantly doubt and push against his gentle, helpful love. When I interrupt guidance as interference and concern as constriction.

I'm not sure, but I've started to say "mydo" outloud when I find myself trying to go in a different direction than God. It's an instant reminder of how childish I'm being. Of how silly it is to not want the creator of the universe's help in my life.

So next time you're there and you will be, don't get mad at God, just say "mydo." Chances are, it just might keep you from pouring blueberry yogurt down the front of your dress or taking a job you're not supposed to have.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Accountability is a trap.

I'm involved in a men's group that is focused on brokenness, accountability and healing. It's a really challenging group because in many ways it breaks down the walls that men typically put up between their feelings and their surface world. You don't get to keep secrets or shrug off things but in many cases have to deep dive into who you really are, which is rarely an easy thing to do.

One of the things I do within the group is sponsor new guys. For the first few weeks I call them on the phone and answer any questions they have. The reason I do that is that initially, walking into our room is really hard to do. When you come at first you don't have a name tag, so you write it on one of those generic "hello my name" is stickers. But you don't need to see the sticker to know who is new, you just have to look for "first night face." It's a mixture of terror and apprehension with a slight dose of hope.

The thing about this group is that it's honest and the truth is that accountability in many ways looks like a trap. You're going to be sharing feelings that you might have held for years. You're going to be letting go of secrets that have defined you internally for decades and that's a scary thing to do. But sometimes, if you want to live, you have to be willing to die.

That's the current state of affairs with the squirrel in my attic right now. I wrote about him the other day. When we nailed shut the hole he was using to get in, we accidentally entombed him in the attic. For the last 6 days he's been desperately trying to find a different way out, but he can't. There are no other holes. He has no food and no water. Last night though, I gave him one last hope.

I put a trap in the attic.

If he gives in, if he walks willingly into the trap, he'll live. I'll drive him to some field and set him free. But if he refuses, if he tries to find a different way out of the mess he's in, his own way, he is going to eventually run out of energy and die.

That's a situation we all face when we decide to enter into intimate, honest relationships with people. They often look like traps at first. They seem uncomfortable and foreign and dangerous. And they are, when you really share who you are, your life changes. For many people that's not initially something that feels good. But that's what we are called to do:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

I don't know if you're standing in an attic of your own making right now, afraid to go into a trap. I don't know if you've only just started to yearn to be known by other people or maybe you're still fighting it.

But if you want to live, if you want freedom and real relationships with God and others, you have to embrace the trap.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

why we cling

I have friends that say things like, "I wish I didn't lust" or "I wish I wanted to work harder at work" or "If I was a good husband I would love my wife more naturally."

And I appreciate that sentiment. I think they are sincere in wishing they were just wired to be motivated to do the right thing. To do what is good. But here's the thing about good, it is not easy.

It is not where our lives head by nature. It is not somewhere we arrive at without trying.

That's why I love Romans 12:9. Here's what it says:

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good

Do you see the freedom in that? You can stop pretending you love what is good just because you're a good person. You can start admitting how hard it is to do what is good. You can scratch and claw as you try to hold on to what is good. You can cling.

That might not mean anything to you, but to me it means that it's OK when I don't default to the Good option in any given situation. I can't trust my default. I have to push and pull and fight my way to good.

Because good is not easy. Good is not something we are magnetically drawn to.

So let's stop pretending it is.

And let's start clinging.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why I write and why you should sing.

In the past, I have been criticized for being over critical of things the church does. For not liking certain Christian radio stations or slogans like "Got Jesus" and writing about what I find disappointing about them.

And I confess, I do tend to be a critical person and am too sarcastic. But I read something last night in 1 Corinthians that made me feel like maybe being honest about where the church succeeds and where it fails is OK.

Here is what 1 Corinthians 14:12 says:

Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

The second half of that sentence is what I want to focus on. It doesn't say, "try to be average in gifts that build up the church." It says, "excel." That literally means "to surpass, to do extremely well." That's a challenging word and it's what I want to do for the church.

I write as hard as I can when I write my blog. I've been guilty of cutting corners in the past but reading this verse lets me know that I can't do anything less than my best for the church. Not everyone has that same idea though.

My friend was the music director at one of the most successful churches in the country and he said that he often heard people say something was "good enough for the church." That is, it wasn't top notch or the best, but it didn't have to be, it was "just for church."

That's bogus. That doesn't excel or make God look like the amazing God he really is. And that's why when someone doesn't try hard I don't feel bad about writing a blog to ask, "Hey, why didn't you try hard?"

At the same time however, notice what we are to excel at is building up the church. I am not called to be really talented at tearing down the church. I am not called to be an expert at what the church does incorrectly. I am called to build her up. To be the very best at building up.

So that's the call today.


Build up.

That's it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's the little things that kill.

One of the things that I am trying to do for the next month with my SWORD approach to life is read more. Not just the bible or devotionals, but all sorts of books.

While reading "The Power of Full Engagement" this weekend I came across something that struck me. Here is what I read:

"Remarkably, more women dies as a consequence of hip fractures than from breast cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer combined."

I'm not sure why that sentence stopped me in my tracks. It might be because my mom had a bone issue in the past and is actively trying to strengthen them. It might have just been a surprising sentence, but the more I looked at it, the more it felt like it related to sin.

It's easy to point out and maybe even foresee big loud sins in our lives. When someone hits on you when you're out of town on a business trip. When someone approaches you about a chance to skim some money at work. When you have an opportunity to cheat on your taxes. Those are all really obvious. They have attention focused on them. The issue is neon. Much like breast cancer awareness has a month dedicated to it, people are widely aware of the consequences of an affair.

But what about the "small" sins? What about those little things we do when no one is looking? What about those seemingly harmless white lies or small issues that don't seem to visibly hurt anyone? What about the tiny cracks in our bones that eventually lead to hip fractures?

I think it's important to focus on both. I think that sometimes we die deaths of a thousand cuts when it comes to sin. Because if you reread that sentence, you'll notice it's not hip fractures that kill people, it's the "consequence of hip fractures." They leave you vulnerable and weak and injured. They don't kill you, but they contribute to an eventual demise. Sin works the same way. You might not pay today, the check might not come in the mail this afternoon, but at some point, consequences always come to light.

I want to encourage you today to think about the potential hip fractures in your own life. Seek out and sort out the little things that might hurt you down the road. Because in this life, it's the little things that kill.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

who are we? Part 1

Discovering "who you are" is probably one of the most popular things to do on the planet. Seriously, people love to spend time doing that. If you google the phrase self help you get more than 79 million responses. We are a culture actively invested in finding out who we are and making ourselves better.

I'm no different, many of the things I write including the SWORD concept are about discovering who I am and more importantly who I can be. But recently I read something in 2 Corinthians that convicted me about my journey.

In verses 3-10, Paul lays out a really beautiful, really simple definition of who we are. For the next few days, I'm going to dissect it. I'll give you the original verse and then my thoughts on how we can apply the truth to our daily lives. It will probably be a 5 part series or so and will start right now:

3We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

This is probably the only rule I apply to any of the blogs I write. One of my biggest fears is that something I write will serve as a temptation or trigger for a reader. So I'm careful with what I say, but I think Paul's words go beyond that.

I think they reveal something about relationships that we might not realize unless we look a little deeper. The reality is that you can't prevent yourself from putting stumbling blocks in front of friends unless you are intimate with them. To some degree you must know their in's and out's. Now obviously, there are a handful of things that are obvious and visible and everyone struggles with, but who we are inside defines what our stumbling blocks are. And if we keep that a secret then we keep our blocks a secret too.

For instance, I don't chew tobacco. So if a friend wants to describe in intricate detail why he struggles with tobacco, that's OK. But if I did struggle with it, hearing his description could easily help trigger me to go buy some. Just hearing him talk about the buzz and the ritual and the taste and the feel could really be a temptation. If he didn't know I was a tobacco user, it would be easy for him to essentially create a "tobacco commercial" with his words.

So today, think about the obvious ways you might be creating stumbling blocks for others, but also be honest about the depth of your relationships. If they're all surface, it's going to be next to impossible for you to not create stumbling blocks.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lay down.

I spoke last night at a church in Atlanta and one of the topics I mentioned was the concept of rest. The source of information that initially inspired what I talked about was a book called "The Power of Full Engagement."

In the book, the authors discuss the critical need to rest. They write, "Because energy diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal."

Basically, the more you work, the more you need to rest. But society isn't structured that way. Busyness is seen as a sign of success. Being constantly available via a blackberry or cellphone is a sign of professionalism. Checking work emails at night and on the weekends is a sign of importance.

But what does the Bible have to say?

One of my favorite verses about rest is Psalm 23: 2-3

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

I think it's important to note that restoration of our soul does not occur until we are laying down. Did you notice that? Unless we are laying down we can not be restored.

And that makes sense. When a surgeon operates, you have to be laying down. If he tried to operate while you were running on a treadmill or driving in your car between meetings or frantically answering emails, it would be a messy failure. So instead, the surgeon puts you to sleep and operates while you are laying down.

I think God is the same way. He doesn't ask us to fall asleep, but he does ask us to be still. To lay down in green pastures while the great doctor, the healer of all hurts goes to work.

I've written about the Sabbath and rest in the past, and I will do it again in the future because it's one of those gifts from God that so many of us, myself included, have not learned to receive yet.

So today, lay down.

This post goes well with:
1. The missing nap.
2. Rest.