December 29, 2010

My Top 10 Albums of the Decade

As the first decade of the century is winding down and I'm getting used to the idea of living in the 2000's, I thought I would reflect on the music that has made the greatest impression on me these last 10 years. There's no way I could list all the great music I've heard - or take time to blast all the lame, posing artificial substitutes either - so I'm going to simply focus on albums as a whole. Also keep in mind, I LOVE rock music! There's really not a thread or fiber of my being that's inclined to enjoy hip-hop, and you won't catch me listening to much country either. I say this to forewarn you that my list is obviously biased towards a certain and particular genre. I'm admitting that upfront. So without further ado, here are MY Top 10 albums (in no particular order) of 2000-2010:

Lifehouse, No Name Face (2000)
Of course, the first time I heard "Hanging By A Moment" I was hooked - and knew that this band would go far. But what was even greater for me was the depth with which Jason Wade explored and explained his faith. We spent 4 hours in a van on the way to youth camp one year engrossed in conversation about the meaning of each of the songs. I'm not sure (at that point) I had ever heard such a raw and honest look at faith. *And it wasn't even in the "Christian" category!

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001-2002)
Have you listened to this?! Much like Pet Sounds (from the brilliant mind of Brian Wilson), this album is beautiful melodic noise! And yes, there is such a thing. It makes statements - political, spiritual, musical statements. And the execs at Reprise Records (the morons who refused to release the album) are probably still consoling each other for their ignorance. You will most likely either love this album or wonder what planet I'm from for suggesting it be added to your collection. 

Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
I think of the first Coldplay album (Parachutes) much like I think of Jars of Clay's first release - many people loved it, it had their "hook" song on it ("Yellow" vs. "Flood"), and many people never realized they kept making music. And it kept getting better! What I loved with this 2nd effort was (like Jars) they didn't rest on their success - they kept inventing. It's more aggressive and electric than Parachutes. GREAT songs!

Tonic, Head on Straight (2003)
The album was Grammy-nominated for "Best Rock Album" of the year & "Take Me As I Am" was nominated for "Best Rock Song". For me, Tonic is a band that sustains the essence of rock music. Emerson Hart's voice is simply amazing! Guitars, vocals, overdrive - it's all about tone. When I saw the trio last fall (2009) in concert, they played for an hour and 45 minutes solid.  

Keane, Hopes and Fears (2004)
Another true 3-man band storm the planet (from the UK, no less). Tom Chaplin's voice is not like butter, it's like fire. It melts butter! The pounded rhythms and melodies - the way Tim Rice-Oxley makes the piano sing - is fresh and genius. And at the same time, it's just plain-flat, simple-minded piano music. Some would argue their 2nd release, Under The Iron Sea, is better. I disagree. 

The Fray, How to Save a Life (2005)
Here's one of those bands that took a LONG time to actually "make it". And once "Save a Life" hit the radio and the stores, the band's fame exploded. This is one of those albums that I can play - start to finish - any time for any reason.

Switchfoot, Nothing is Sound (2005)
While the band admits that the making of this album (and the scattered process of it's production) nearly drove them to quitting, I still love this collection of songs. Some bands put out a group of tunes, while others understand that the right songs, put together in the right way, create a story. This album tells several stories in my mind, many of which were very life-changing experiences for me. [The first 4 songs particularly]

U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2006)
While All That You Can't Leave Behind was U2's announcement, "We'll be sticking around (and ruling) another decade, there was something about How to Dismantle that connected with me. Maybe it was that it started with "Vertigo", one of the most in-your-face pop/rock songs in years. Or that the spiritual overtones on the album weren't overtones - they were overt! The music was new, but it was still U2. I still debate whether or not this has taken over top bill for me from The Joshua Tree. (That will remain in debate for awhile!)

Paul Baloche, A Greater Song (2006)
This is not an album of worship songs, it's a worship experience! Much of this is due to the fact that Baloche refuses to compromise a few simple principles: he records all his albums live AND he does it at his home church in Lindell, TX. I love these songs because I feel like I'm there, in the room, lifting them up for the very first time with that same roomful of people. But set all that aside, and these are still individually some of the best worship songs of the decade: "Hosanna", "Your Name", "What Can I Do"...all instant classics. And the funny thing is, most people don't realize that Paul Baloche has written as many worship songs as Tomlin, Redman, and Crowder put together. If you love to lift up Christ in song, buy this album!

Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (2007)
Again, the storytelling. While I do NOT think Dave Grohl and crew were attempting to serenade, this is one of those collections of songs that is diverse, while every song remains true foo material! Try to listen to "The Pretender" and not walk, run, drive faster. I dare you! This album is pure rock. My favorite since There Is Nothing Left to Lose.

It almost choked me to leave 2 of Jars of Clay's albums off my list (Good Monsters & The Long Fall Back to Earth), but that's the fun and difficulty of making a list like this. With that in mind, I thought I would list some of the others that could have (maybe should have) made MY list:

Snow Patrol, Final Straw & Eyes Open
Vertical Horizon, Everything You Want
Collective Soul, Youth
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
The Killers, Hot Fuss
Pete Yorn, Music for the Morning After
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Lifehouse, Who We Are
U2, No Line On the Horizon
Coldplay, Parachutes
Radiohead, In Rainbows

December 22, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words!

Several weeks ago we had a family photo shoot. Our great friend Savannah Silver is becoming an AMAZING photographer. Check out her STUFF! She just sent us a bit of a sneak peak of a few of the pics. I love all of them! The ones of my kids are priceless. Trust me - they will be in frames all over our house! I love the ones of me & my beautiful wife. When I see a picture of us, new or old, it always instantaneously reminds me of why I fell in love with her. Beautiful! But the picture that I cannot stop looking at - the one that cracks me up every time I think about it - is this gem of me & Nathan. The reason: It's truly worth a thousand words! It sums it up. This is the epitome of me & my son. Can't you hear him yelling at me: "Ninja kick, Dad!" And no facial expression goes without a sound: 
"Hiiiiiiiiiii-YAAAAH!" I love it. Thanks Savannah!

CSL: Christian as a Second Language [LESSON 2]

Hopefully you've had a chance to use the word "Church" properly this week. If somehow you missed Lesson #1, make sure you read that first. Click HERE. On to Lesson #2 in making sure you can walk in to any church next Sunday and fit right in. In fact, after this word study, you could even go grab lunch with any of your friends who are Christians. That's right. All you have to do is know how to say "The Blessing"! Let's get started.

Somewhere between the time the Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos and the first episode of Happy Days hit the air, a tradition was started. When Christians gather to eat a meal - whether with friends, family, or even on their own - they begin by saying "The Blessing". For much of my life I wondered (even while I was the one saying it), "What is it exactly that I'm blessing?" Have I really been given the supernatural power to bless the food I'm about to eat? And for that matter, do we really think that the hosts of Heaven would grant a blessing to half of the junk we consume? I think not. So again, back to the question: What the heck are we blessing?

The main argument or rebuttal here is easily predictable. "Brian, WE'RE not blessing the food...God is! WE'RE not supernaturally empowering the lasagna to energize us...HE is! It's GOD who blesses!" OK, let's say for a moment that I agree with you. If that's the case, then why am I asked, "Brian, will you SAY the blessing?" Wouldn't the proper question be, "Brian, would you be willing to ask God to bless the food?" [And let me once again acknowledge that for many I know this seems to be a matter of irritating semantics. But our WORDS create and transform the way we THINK.] But again, let me go back to my earlier point: Do we really think that when we sit down to eat a burger and fries and milkshake that the Lord of hosts - the Creator of the Universe (and of fruits and vegetables) - is going to take the time to "bless" a heart attack on a plate? "Dear Lord, Would you see kindly to bless this slab of hot wings and onion rings I'm about to woof down like a mad wolverine?" Seriously?

Where in the Christian language this all began, I don't know. But I would submit that it might be much more appropriate, a whole lot more accurate, and even take the focus off of US and solely place it on HIM, to come together for a meal and very intentionally "Give Thanks"! Isn't that what our intent is in the first place? No one sits down at Thanksgiving, swarmed around the turkey, ready to say "The Blessing". We're there to give THANKS! When I take those 45 seconds to bow my head and humbly and quietly acknowledge the Lord's provision, it's because I'm aware of the fact that there are TONS of people in this world who are scratching and clawing to figure out where there next meal is going to come from. How can I NOT give thanks? How could I possibly be ungrateful? How could I have the audacity - even if it's not what I really mean - to think that it needs to be "blessed"? It's already been blessed. YOU'VE already been blessed! Just the mere fact that the food is on the table or on your plate is the revelation that the Creator, Sustainer, and Great Provider has already done so. It's been blessed, already! So take a moment - choose your words carefully - humble yourself before your Father in Heaven - and GIVE THANKS.

As Christmas Day is approaching, and so is the time when you're more than likely to be gathering with some of your closest friends, family, and loved ones, I would encourage you to take some time to think about a simple choice in front of you: Is it a blessing you're after...or an opportunity to say, "Thank You, Lord". Let your words be a reflection of the intent of your heart.

Lesson #3 coming soon......

December 20, 2010

CSL: Christian as a Second Language

I remember the first time my brother was talking about teaching ESL - English as a Second Language - to immigrants. My first thought was, "Why don't you just call it English?" If I went to Germany would they ask me [in a German accent, of course], "Would you like to take German as a second language?" This was a new concept for me. I'm beginning to understand: "We're not asking you to quit speaking your own language, just wanting to help you understand how to speak ours as well". And so along these lines, recently I've come to the conclusion that there's a language out there that most of the population here in America probably need to learn. They have conversations with people every day and must wonder in confusion, "What the heck are you talking about?" And you don't have to migrate here from a foreign land to find yourself lost with the lingo. You just need to be an outsider - someone who hasn't grown up religiously religious. All you have to do is wander into a church on any given Sunday and you'll hear it being spoken. It's "Christian". And it's time everyone start speaking the language!

Let's start with the basics - begin with the first word you need to know in the Christian language: CHURCH. Let me use it in a series of sentences for you:
  • Where do you go to church?
  • Kids! Hurry up! We're going to be late for CHURCH!
  • Have you ever seen a church that beautiful? 
  • A fire started in the church kitchen and burned it to the ground.
Ever heard anything that resembles these statements or questions? Ever said anything like this before? Do you speak the language? I do. I've been speaking it from the time I learned English. Pretty sure the order of my words were: Momma - Dada - church. Or something like that. It was engrained and watered into the soil of my red-blooded Southern Baptist roots. We would go to "church" on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings (and yes, you call it "eve-nin", not night), Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night whatever, and so on and so on..... CHURCH! You know this word I speak of, don't you? Here's the only problem with it: the Christian language doesn't seem to be lining up with the Bible

The way we define, describe, and infer these things - the way we've totally jacked up the meaning of "church" and numerous other slightly important words in our faith - has actually begun to have a bearing on our theology. I know, it's crazy to think it. But what we SAY can actually begin to impact the way we THINK. When we misinterpret the language of the Bible it somehow starts to cause us to misunderstand the meaning and message it's conveying. Let's take our choice word CHURCH as an example. When the New Testament speaks of the "church", it's talking about the people who collectively make up a body of believers. The church is the people - followers of Jesus Christ. The church is a movement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ changing and impacting the lives of real people. It's not a building or a destination or an event on your weekly calendar. And so when you tell your kids (or yourself) that "We're going to be late for church", what you've actually said is, "We're going to be late for the body of Christ!" Or when someone asks you, "Where is your church?" and you tell them, "It's located on Highway 72", either you've unintentionally misled them...or everyone who's part of your church family has actually chosen the communal lifestyle and resides together under one roof. I don't see that happening.

I've had people argue with me - and yes, I seriously mean ARGUE - "You're just blowing this out of proportion. It's just semantics!" Well, interestingly enough, most of the people who want to debate this are what I would call "Somewhat-committed" to their church. When you begin to SPEAK it you begin to BELIEVE it - that the church is a building, a room with pews, a piece of land and property up on the main road across from the Walmart. But when you actually, intentionally, deliberately take the time to THINK about what you're saying, it starts to change you. When you begin to say, "On Sundays, we love being with our church family" or "Our church worships together on Highway 72" and "God loves the church because the church is the PEOPLE"...you begin speaking the truth. And I'm fairly certain that if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you probably want to speak the truth. You want your words to accurately represent your Savior and His Word. I know - you've had this religious rhetoric ground into your head for a long time now. It will take some time to detox from the brainwashing. That's OK. It will be worth it!

I dare you to spend an entire week listening for every single time you use the word CHURCH. Examine closely if you're talking about a building, a destination, an event....or a group - a family of people - that Christ gave His life to save and redeem. Change the way you speak. Change the way you THINK! 

CSL: Christian as a Second Language
Lesson 2: The Blessing

December 18, 2010

The Remedy to Burnout

I have had 2 conversations lately (1 via email, the other in person) with friends who've confessed they were going through some "burnout". I recently blogged on a similar topic having to do with a trend I'm sensing (and seeing) with some ministers these days who are swinging the opposite way toward laziness. You can read that post HERE. But this issue of burnout is in no way exclusive with pastors and ministers. Many Christians within the Church are beginning to feel the ramifications and consequences from years of being over-committed, excessively involved in one program after another, all "irons in the fire", and to put it simply, over-involved in everything! There is an army of people with the Body of Christ who are drowning in their overloaded Christians lives - consumed with what they're "doing" for God, and dangerously neglecting WHO they're becoming as a result. There's no room for margin. In fact, there's no room to breathe! Something has to be done. And I'd like to share what I believe can be the first step on the road to recovering your life and your faith.

This morning I had the opportunity to cook breakfast for the large team of servants at our church who monthly make Angel Food happen. All I did was scramble eggs. Most of these folks are there every single month, serving others in our church and our community. A month or so ago I was there all morning, taking part in what happens, taking pictures, and witnessing this incredible commitment and efficiency with my own eyes. I was blessed! But the thing that stood out to me above everything else wasn't tangible. It wasn't the teenagers I saw helping older adults to their cars with boxes of food or senior adults filling box after box with the exact items a single mom needed to keep things going at home. What impressed me more than anything wasn't something I could reach out and touch. But you could definitely see it. It was unmistakably visible. It was written on each face in a way that you couldn't ignore it. It was JOY. And it was the kind that you can't take away.

On the hand, one thing I couldn't find anywhere present on the faces or in the attitudes or hearts of the people serving there that morning was burnout. No one was walking around telling everybody else how overcommitted they've been and how they've "gotta start making room for margin in my life". There was just JOY! And I submit to you that the reason for this is that, when we serve others - especially those who are in NEED - we lose sight of all our "light and momentary troubles". (2 Cor. 4:16-18) And I'm not talking about showing up 30 minutes before everyone else on a Sunday to hand out bulletins or to point people to a good seat. I'm not knocking that - we have to have those people to make Sundays work. And there is great blessing and satisfaction in serving that way. But I'm talking about getting sweaty and dirty - getting deeply involved in the lives of people whose situations and circumstances make us feel like we're living the dream. When you put food in a box for someone who is actually counting on that food to feed their family this week, your perspective changes. You stop thinking about the fact that you're "overcommitted" and you start thanking the Lord that He's so overcommitted to you! Have you thought about that?

If you're experiencing burnout - if you've been leading and teaching and serving to the point that you have nothing left to give - then I say QUIT! Stop doing all of it! And do 1 simple thing. Serve. Find an opportunity to give of yourself to those in NEED. Stop handing out bulletins to your middle-class church friends on Sunday morning and start handing out food on Thursday nights to someone whose stomach is shrinking. If you're overcommitted, stretched thin, burned out - if your priorities are misaligned and messed up - if your family is beginning to forget what your face looks like - STOP! Stop the madness. And find 1 simple way to serve. I assure you, God will show up in the midst of your sacrifice.

Here's the irony in all of this: The only way things "burnout" is if they're on fire. When you begin to actually SERVE - give yourself for the sake of others - God doesn't put out the fire, he unleashes it! He won't pour water on it - He will fan the flames and cause it to burn for the things that His heart burns for. People. God loves people. Serve people. And watch your burnout...well, burnout.

December 14, 2010

The Big Christmas Gift Idea

While I would like to take credit for this, I would also like to take credit for the clothes & house being clean most of the time. Alas, with little investigation, you find my amazing wife responsible. Several weeks ago she shared with me an idea that had been brewing in her head. Maybe she saw it or read it somewhere, but she tossed it out to me. And after some conversation, the brand new "Christmas Gift Idea" was born in the Mayfield home. Allow me to share with you the purpose of this big, semi-wrapped box that's parked in front of our Christmas Tree.

Beginning yesterday, December 13th, there are 12 days left until that special day when we celebrate the greatest gift ever given - the Son of God becoming one of us so that He could redeem us and save us. Over the last few years (as most of our friends know well) we have made every attempt and effort in our family to make sure that Christmas is wholly and completely about Christ and giving to others. Don't worry - our kids still get presents. But they don't get 17 presents. We don't do overkill or excess. Our desire is that our children don't unwrap their last gift, fall over in exhaustion into the pile of "stuff" they've just received, only to muster the strength to inquire: "Is that it?" We're trying to teach them (and ourselves) to be more consumed with and excited about how we can bless someone else with a gift. And here we find the purpose for the box. For the "12 Days" leading up to Christmas, each day we will find 1 thing in our closet, our drawers, our toy cabinets that we're ready to part with. And I'm not talking about crap either - like when you take the Lima Beans to the can food drive or give that 13-year old sweater your Aunt Florence knitted you when you were in Junior High - I'm talking about a toy, a shirt, a pair of shoes, a stuffed animal, a coat (you get the point) that someone would actually want to wear, play with, or be seen in. The GOOD stuff! This is truly giving.

To give you an example of what this does for us, I spent 5 minutes this morning deciding to put a pair of shoes in the box that I REALLY like...but had to come to grips with the reality that a) I hadn't actually worn them in over a year and b) someone else could really use. Tonight my children will probably spend more than 5 minutes staring into their heaping pile of toys deliberating over the decision of what they're ready to part with. And they'll be OK with it. That hasn't always been the case, but they're learning. And if I'm being honest, I am too. 

This little idea of ours (which I'm sure we subconsciously stole from someone or somewhere else) is just one of a million you can use to very intentionally make Christmas in your home about giving, not getting. One of the greatest resources out there to not only find ideas like this, but to share them as well, is through the folks at Advent Conspiracy. Be a part of the great conversation that's going on at Rethinking Christmas. Check it out. Take back Christmas. Put some thought and sweat and time into your giving. Teach your family what this whole season is about. This Christmas, Give Presence!

Any ideas you want to share? Let's hear it!

December 13, 2010

Adoption :: Update 1

Today I had a physical. I hate physicals! The older you get the more places they seem to feel they need to prod, poke, and stick things. (Uh hum!) But this one was different - this was my "Adoption Physical". 3 months ago I had no idea that in order to even qualify for an adoption home study, every person in your home has to be examined. Even the dog! (We don't have any pets right now, so we got to skip that part.) Driving there this morning was a real twist of emotions and thoughts. The main thing that kept running through my head was: What if I don't pass? Crazy, I know. But this physical wasn't just for me, so that I could walk out and know that I'm moderately healthy and in decent shape - this was to QUALIFY to be a parent. Which is sort of weird. I thought I was already a parent. Right? In fact, many of my friends who I've shared this with have expressed to me (without reservation) how ridiculous it is that "you have to go through all of this" to make the grade or meet the standard. But if I'm being honest - at this point - I don't mind it a bit.

No, I don't like going to the doctor. Especially when I'm not sick! But I also thought Algebra was a completely unnecessary part of my sophomore year in college. I hated it. But it was part of a process that actually WAS necessary for me to see God's intended purpose for me to come to fruition: graduate. And while I'm not sure that the Lord is waiting on pins and needles to find out the results of my urinalysis, if this is a necessary part of the journey that gets me one step closer to that child the Lord has planned to be part of our family, then bring it on! 

There are going to be things you have to do in life - tests you have to take, side roads you have to go down, unexpected days you have to be on your back on the sofa - that, whether you like it or not, are part of the journey. You can be annoyed by them - hacked off, feeling like you're entitled to a FREE PASS - and buy into the lie that you're "wasting your time" when you should be hurrying on down the road. Or...you can keep your eyes on the calling and the mission and the goal...and breathe every moment of it in knowing that in just a little while, it will all make sense. It will all be worth it. Every bit of it! Every poke and prod, every 20-page detailed questionnaire, all the waiting, wondering, and praying. It will all be worth.

Stay focused. Enjoy and savor the moments. Even the ones that may not feel necessary. One day...they'll make sense.

December 10, 2010

My Running Playlist

The Playlist. This can be one of the greatest motivational weapons you carry in your arsenal as a runner or athlete. If I'm just going to the gym to get in a good workout, all I really need is some loud drums and guitars on overdrive to get me pumped up. But when it's time to get serious - when I'm looking at starting to pound out 8, 10, 12....18, 20 miles on a winter morning, I need more than that. I need...the soundtrack! 

Several people have asked me recently, "What do you listen to when you're running?" While this is a conversation that mainly takes place between runners, others have inquired as well. So I thought I'd share with you the songs that light a fire underneath my feet and help keep me going when my body's trying to tell me, "We'd rather be in the jacuzzi!" One word of preface: Most days I go running, I don't start my iPod until halfway into my distance. One reason for that is I simply enjoy letting my mind and heart have a chance to commune with God (which I'm aware many of you find unbelievable to do while your legs are moving). But also because my iPod shuffle only has 2 hours of music. My fastest marathon time (Memphis, 12/09) was 3:49:48. So when I run Cowtown this February - with a goal of 3:45:00 - I'll put the needle on the record at 1:45 into my run. Without further ado, here are the songs that give me the runs! I mean, here's my playlist:

Where the Streets Have No Name - U2
Do It For Me Now [Clean] - Angels & Airwaves
Chocolate - Snow Patrol
Is There a Ghost? - Band of Horses
No Chains on Me - Chris Tomlin
No Way Back - Foo Fighters
The Nerve - MuteMath
Between the Lines - Stone Temple Pilots
Dig - Collective Soul
All In - Lifehouse
Tick Tick Boom! - The Hives
Let the Earth Awake - Charlie Hall
Work - Jars of Clay
Gleaming Auction - Snow Patrol
Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson
Burn For You - TobyMac
Halfway Gone - Lifehouse
The Pretender - Foo Fighters
Nothingwrong - Jimmy Eat World
The Sound - Switchfoot
Heaven & Hot Rods - Stone Temple Pilots
Enough Space - Foo Fighters
Up in the Sky - Oasis
First Time - Lifehouse
Make Me Alive - Charlie Hall
These Hard Times - Needtobreathe
Heavy - Collective Soul
Alive - POD
All My Life - Foo Fighters
Bodysnatchers - Radiohead
You're All I Have - Snow Patrol
Stars - Switchfoot
My Hero - Foo Fighters
Vertigo - U2

Observations: I like Rock music. Sorry, no Hip-Hop or Country (although Keith Urban sometimes makes the list & I don't consider TobyMac as Hip-Hop). Foo Fighters came in with the most songs at 5. U2 started and finished the list (which is no surprise to anyone who knows me). Don't like my songs? Have some better ones you would suggest? Let's hear it! What's on your soundtrack?

December 8, 2010

Working Your BUTT Off!

Burnout. If you're in ministry, or even just remotely connected to a pastor, you've heard about this dreaded killer. Men and women - more of them every day - falling victim to drowning in the sea of ministry, being consumed by all of the work and drive and vision that comes along with it. More and more pastors all the time are neglecting their family, their health, their spouse, even their sanity - forgetting that their "being" is more important than their "doing". Burnout. It's officially declared war on all of those called to "equip the saints". But as this epidemic has been exposed and called out over these last few years, I believe we are seeing symptoms of a new and contrasting disease: Laziness. That's right. As we're so accustomed to, I see that the natural "preventive" reaction for some to avoid the consequences and ramifications of Burnout has been to completely swing in the opposite direction. So while some are lying on the side of the road in the ditch - dying to get their life back and gain a handle on leading and loving their families (and even themselves) - there are others who wouldn't notice their counterparts lying over in the ditch even if they were dressed in a pink bunny suit, screaming for help. Apathy. Laziness. It's the new Burnout. Are you going to be it's next victim?

In Colossians 3:23, the Apostle Paul (in addressing slaves) reminds them to "Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." Great exhortation for anyone. Work hard! Well...NEWSFLASH: If you're a pastor - or if you've been called by God to serve His church full-time - then there is no "as though" about it. You ARE working for God, not for people! Sure, we're called to train, equip, and serve others - this is part of being the church. But anyone who takes on the responsibility of surrendering to the calling of shepherding and pastoring the people of God - to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and taking it to a lost and dying world - best remember that you have agreed to an "honorable responsibility". And in surrendering to that calling, I don't think it's a bad thing - at least every once-in-awhile - to have someone accuse you of "working your butt off!" Is your butt still there? Is any of it gone?

I'll admit, I'm still fighting the battle of going home at the end of most Tuesdays and disconnecting - leaving "work" at work - and giving my family my full and undivided attention. It's hard for me to just pick up a book to enjoy or watch "The Closer" on DVR without feeling the urge to open my laptop and be productive. To make ourselves feel better, we call it multi-tasking. But I also have to admit that I have a tendency to live this way at times out of my own reaction to seeing and witnessing others who not only don't have much trouble leaving "work" at work, but appear to struggle even doing "work" at work. Laziness. Apathy. I refuse to allow them to be my excuse for Burnout or failing to put things in perspective and priority. But I also refuse to allow them to seduce me into thinking that I can just take it easy. It will all get done somehow. Sometime. Someday. By someone. Right? This reminds me of a story Jesus told.

While (once again) talking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells a parable about stewardship. And while the Parable of the Talents (or Loaned Money) is definitely a lesson about what we do with the material gifts the Lord has blessed us with, it goes WAY beyond that. Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 25:29: "To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who are unfaithful, even what little they have will be taken away." If you've had any occasion or reason lately to think, "It sure doesn't seem like the Lord is blessing this the way I had hoped or planned", is it possible that you haven't done all you can with what He's given you? Could it be you're not really working "hard and cheerfully...for the Lord"? Is it possible that no one on the face of the planet would ever accuse you of "working your butt off"? Or worse yet - and forgive me ahead of time - is your butt getting bigger?

I know, I know. We're supposed to be relying on God, asking Him to do things that we could never accomplish on our own. Absolutely! But do you think He's going to come through on that promise because I choose to sit by and do a half-a$* job? No. Absolutely not! God blesses a cheerful giver. He blesses a hard worker! And to those who lay it ALL on the line for the sake of the Kingdom - to those who work their butt off for the Lord - He grants rest. And peace. And satisfaction.

I'm learning to disconnect and unplug and focus. I'm learning the difference between multi-tasking and misaligning my priorities. I'm discovering what it means to actually go and BE on vacation. But I believe the learning and the discovery will come with greater joy knowing that I "worked at it with all my heart for the Lord". How about you? Are you working your butt off?

December 6, 2010

THE NEED

I love the Advent Season! It's this amazing time of anticipation and waiting and expectancy - longing for the coming of the King. We have the opportunity like Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:21-40) to see the fulfillment of a promise from long ago that God would redeem His creation by injecting Himself into it - by becoming one of us. He came. He lived. He loved. He selflessly bore the burden of the sin of all mankind...and He died. The King was killed. Dead. But that wasn't the end. He faced death, grabbed the sword out of it's hand, and like David with Goliath, He cut it's head off! He conquered sin and death! And He rose from the grave! Hallelujah! But again...that is NOT the end. Because for those who are trusting Him, pursuing Him, placing their hope in Him, and living for the sake of His glory and His Kingdom, He is coming AGAIN! And like Simeon and Anna, we have the opportunity to see the fulfillment of a promise from long ago. The question is, what do we do during the waiting? There is great news this Christmas! The King has given express orders (Matthew 25:31-46) to His people - to US - to open our hearts, our eyes, and our lives...to meet THE NEED. In our lives, God has met THE NEED. So in the lives of others, we will do the same.

This Christmas at The Brook, we are giving radically and generously to meet THE NEED in the lives of those who are waiting and hoping for the Lord to come and rescue and supply. While we faithfully pray that He would be the "Great Provider" in others lives, we are well aware that often the King chooses to use His people to meet THE NEED. He is calling us to give back! This coming Sunday, December 12th, we are giving to change the lives of others, to transform our hearts, and to change the world. Here are just a few of the things our gifts will go toward:
  • Putting new shoes & clothes on every child AND on every nurse at Amor del Nino Children's Home in Guatemala.
  • Meeting basic needs (shoes, clothes, food, rent) of children and their families right here in our very own city.
  • Helping the Alabama Baptist Children's Home make improvements as they selflessly love and care for the sweet children in their care.
  • Contributing to Inside-Out Ministries, an organization in Madison that exists solely to meet the basic needs of people in our city as they share the love of Christ with them. IOM does NOT just give handouts! They give counsel, get involved in the dirty and difficult parts of peoples' lives, knowing that often the greatest way to meet someone's needs is to teach them to be stewards of what the Lord has given them. IOM depends on the Lord to take care of their funding and expenses through local churches like The Brook.
Again, these are just some of the people and organizations that we will have the opportunity to bless. We hear the calling of our King to "feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit those who are alone, and tangibly love those we have never even met"...and we refuse to sit by believing that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is unacceptable! God is faithful, so we must be also.  In our lives God has met THE NEED. So in the lives of others, we will do the same. We are praying that the Lord is powerfully stirring your heart this week as your ask Him what and how He desires you to give. We encourage you to give radically - to give generously - to give like Christ has given to us! Will you join us?

December 2, 2010

CUT IT OFF!

RATED PG-13
I want to warn you that some of what I have to say here - and how I choose to say it - may very well offend you. You probably won't want to print this out and read it to your kids. On the other hand, maybe you will. All that to say, "You've been warned".

Well, here we are again. I'm not sure why I keep convincing myself, "Surely this will be the last time I have to rant and rave about this". But this morning, as I'm enjoying my bowl of Mini Wheats, here comes the breaking news that ONE MORE well-known pastor has come forward to confess infidelity. And WHY did he decide to make this news public? Because someone was trying to extort him. And to make matters worse (in my opinion), he sat there on TV (on their religious network program) and allowed his wife to be the one to share this news with the world. I have to be incredibly honest at this moment and tell you that I wanted to reach through my TV, grab this man by the scruff of his neck, and knock the pious smirk right off his face! I know - "Brian, how could you?" Right? Well, I don't claim this is prophecy, but I'm here to tell you: I think God is sick and tired and fed up with the very men who are supposed to be shepherding His people transforming into the very wolves that Christ warned us to watch out for. 

Watch the story HERE

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus speaks out about ADULTERY. Interestingly enough, He only spends a breath talking about infidelity and quickly narrows His directive to those who even allow their eyes and heart to wander into lust. And then He goes straight to the point: "...if your eye - even your good eye - causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand - even your stronger hand - causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." At this moment, standing on a hillside speaking to multitudes, there was probably no reason for Jesus to get any more explicit and detailed than this. I mean, He makes things pretty clear. But what seems apparent to me is that for some - for many men who have taken on the responsibility and calling of preaching and teaching this very truth - it just doesn't seem to be clear enough. So at the risk (or possibly the HOPE) of making this even more explicitly clear, indulge me for a moment.

For many men there doesn't seem to be the discipline or desire to train or purify their eyes - there's a lack of awareness or unwillingness to acknowledge that the "lust of the eyes" is leading their heart and mind down a path of destruction. Jesus said "gouge it out". No one actually, literally seems willing to gouge anything out, do they? And the debate has raged for centuries: Do you actually think Jesus literally meant to take an icepick, gouge your eye out, and toss it down the garbage disposal? Honestly, I really have no idea. But I believe the real reason we want to say, "No, no, Jesus wouldn't tell anyone to do something crazy like that", is because we're scared to death of the ramifications and consequences - of what it would actually mean for us - if He was being DEAD serious! And along those lines, believing that the Son of God was (and still is) just that serious about our sin and our holiness and our purity, I think for some it might be time to even take this a step further. 

It doesn't seem to be the eye or the hand - not even the "stronger hand" - that's ultimately landing men (and more specifically, pastors) on TV and spread across the headlines confessing, "I've cheated on my wife". At the end of the day, it's that male organ inside their pants. The thing the "hand" seems to be doing is unzipping the pants. So, here goes. PASTOR: If you can't seem to find the self-discipline and hunger for God and the accountability from other men to sharpen you to the point that you KNOW under no circumstance will you EVER take your pants off for any woman other than the one you made a covenant before the Lord to be faithful to, maybe it's time you get to the root of the problem and CUT IT OFF! And yes, as ridiculous as that sounds to 99.9% of the modern-day world, I'm just to the point where I have to say that I'm dead serious. Go back to the literal vs. figurative debate all you want to. But what I hear Jesus saying is plain and simple: "It's better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell!" Does that sound "figurative"?

What do we need to do? Do I need to cuss or yell and scream to make the point any stronger? Do we have to watch ten or twenty more "shepherds" be exposed for being a "wolf in sheep's clothing"? Do you think the Word of God is being figurative when it says that pastors "are accountable to God"? (Heb.13:17) What Gospel are you preaching, anyways? 

Many of you may read this and think, "Brian, where is your grace and mercy and forgiveness? What about restoration?" Let me be blunt. I'm sick & tired of having to see God's people being spent to forgive and restore the very men who should be the example of forgiveness and restoration. We're supposed to be modeling forgiveness and restoration, NOT the ones in constant need of it. Not for this! WAKE UP! Stop dragging the Gospel and the rest of those trying to live it and preach it into this hellhole with you. There are lives and souls and Eternity at stake! Do not allow 5 minutes of artificial passionate pleasure to be the death of you. Please! For the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of the Name of Jesus Christ, do whatever you have to do to ensure that you are NOT going to be the next statistic. And if that means you have to "CUT IT OFF", for your own sake, do it.

One of the men in my Life Group constantly challenges me and encourages us with the power of his prayer. One thing he prays often is this: "Jesus, we thank You for dying on the Cross for us, but we're so sorry that You had to." Pastor: Are you genuinely broken and devastated over the weight of what your sin cost our Savior? If so, I say this with all the love in my heart: Love your wife and keep your pants on.

November 30, 2010

My Thanksgiving Social Experiment

Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Darryll Dunwitty. I know, I know, there's a slight resemblance. Weird, huh? (Total coincidence) This Thanksgiving we were at my in-laws house. Their neighborhood has a yearly Thanksgiving Golf Cart Parade. While my family decorated the cart (and themselves) as Candyland - and it was quite good, I might add - I decided to send Darryll in my place. All I know to tell you is that sending a long-haired redneck headbanger to a family event at a beach resort was a social experiment that I hadn't prepared myself for. I've watched the videos of people who put on those fat suits or of a white guy made up to look like a black guy so they can attempt to get a glimpse of what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. While I don't know that my experience would compare, it was quite a shock. 

I remember in junior high that one way or another you were somehow stuck in a group - you were categorized, stereotyped. Do you remember? In 1985 some of the more popular and populated circles were as follows: freaks, ropers, preps, jocks, nerds - and yes, these were actually real-life groups of people. There was much more truth to The Breakfast Club than we all wanted to let on. Well, it's 25 years later and for the first time in a very long time...I felt like I was placed in a group - I was stereotyped. As I walked around with my camera, snapping pictures of families and their lovely, creatively adorned golf carts, I saw more than a couple of people almost break their necks trying to get a 2nd look - like I could hear their brain inquiring out loud, "Is that guy for real?" I'm pretty sure one lady pulled her daughter back as I walked past. (Maybe it was my Bon Jovi T-shirt?) As I stopped to talk to one guy (who in his defense was pretty friendly) he couldn't contain himself any longer. He finally broke down and asked me, "Is that your real hair?" For some reason I had to tell him the truth. You should have seen the relief on his face. And then there was the man that my mother-in-law introduced me to, telling him that I was her "preacher son-in-law". He turned 5 shades of white (which I didn't even know was possible). After 15 minutes, I was ready to go home. I was there for 2 hours.

[For those who know me, you can just picture Darryll driving the Candyland Mobile through the parade, giving everyone a thumbs up, honking the horn, and throwing candy. Good times!]

I'm not sharing this with you to turn around and judge any of my fellow paraders. Or to say that the same thing couldn't (and wouldn't) have happened if Darryll had walked into any number of churches on a Sunday morning. But this was MY experience and it was extremely real. I sent Darryll out there to entertain my kids and (possibly) to slightly annoy my mother-in-law. While I'm quite certain I accomplished both of those missions, I learned a lot more. I believe I'm a book - a non-fiction adventure novel, mind you. But I felt like I had been reduced to a cover. Judged. And all I could think about - what kept running through my mind through this entire experience - was, "Lord, if I ever make anyone else feel this way, please kick my butt!"

If you haven't met Darryll I'd be glad to introduce you. But don't be surprised if he walks into your church sometime soon. Will you be ready?


November 29, 2010

WAITING & TRUSTING

Waiting stinks. No one's arguing with that one. If anything, we could debate who hates it more - you or me. No one would win the argument. We'd get sick of waiting to come to a conclusion. As Christ-followers though, there is a clear biblical pattern between the TRUST that we have in God and our willingness to WAIT. To go a little further, I'll put it this way: Without TRUST, there is no HOPE. And TRUE TRUST always involves WAITING! With that I'll ask you the question we asked yesterday: What are you waiting on the Lord to do?

Lamentations was written by Jeremiah as he looked back and reflected with a broken heart over the sin of God's people. But one thing that begins to rise and surface through the brokenness is hope. Jeremiah says, "The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin new each day. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!' The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord." (Lam.3:22-26) Jeremiah doesn't stand alone making this declaration. Dig further:

Isaiah 9:1-7, 40:27-31, 49:8-23
Romans 8:17-25
Psalm 25
Hebrews 11:39-12:13

To quote an old hymn (that NEVER gets old), "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness." Isaiah proclaims, "My only hope is in him!" (8:17) And while many of these prophets and apostles were reaching and searching for the plans and directions the Lord had for their lives, the thing they wanted more than life itself was him. They wanted GOD. Paul wanted what only Christ could give him, but most importantly he wanted CHRIST! (He's pretty blunt about this in Philippians 3:8) So what does all this have to do with waiting? (You're probably sick of waiting on me to get to the point!) Don't miss the connect.

Without trust, there is no hope. And true trust always involves waiting. Therefore - put the pieces together - ANYTHING worth hoping for will always require waiting. And anything worth hoping for is worth the wait. God's will for your life or your situation - what He desires to do in and through you or your circumstances - are worth the wait. And if you truly wait as Paul describes in Romans and David proclaims in Psalms, the thing you will gain is Christ. In the waiting, we find him. And the part of Christ you discover as you "wait for him and seek him" cannot be found anywhere else. Not in lifting your hands and your voice, not in the counsel of others, and not in the busyness of serving. ONLY in the waiting.

Right now, I'm waiting on the Lord to draw my son's heart to Him. I'm praying diligently and constantly that he will come to know Christ and long to give Him his whole heart and life. I'm waiting. And I'm praying. And I'm discovering more of my Savior. 

What are you waiting for the Lord to do?

To listen to the sermon on HOPE from our new series, "The Search For Christmas", go HERE.

November 18, 2010

This Message Is NOT For You!?

This week I had someone approach me who was concerned about the nature of the messages I've preached lately. We've been in a series called Leadership, examining the calling and character of biblical elders. And while I'm aware of the fact that this series has not been as overtly practical as many that we do where we biblically tackle issues like divorce, bitterness, relationships, sex, or talking donkeys, I'm still trying to process what I think and how I feel about this "concern" that was shared with me. The issue brought to my attention was that, particularly on the Sunday when I preached on "Pastoral Leadership", this wasn't a topic that everyone could relate to - that there was no "And this is how this relates to your life" moment. If you know me, you know that I'm obsessed with practical application! I am devoted and determined to help people discover what scripture means and how to apply it in their lives. That said, there are moments and circumstances and issues that occasionally need to be addressed that just might not be wrapped up with a bow for every individual. And the bigger issue and question that all this has raised for me is this: Who is the sermon for, anyways?

Some folks are of the persuasion that every time the Word of God is preached that an evangelistic presentation should be made, which therefore would imply that (at least to some degree) the sermon is for the "lost, unbelieving" person. On another note, others will hold that as the Body of Christ - the church - gathers for teaching and fellowship and worship, that this is an occasion for the Body to be built up and equipped - for "iron to sharpen iron" - and for the Gospel to continue to transform those who have already been saved and redeemed. Of course, if you're rational and open-minded, you can conclude that there isn't a mandate regarding WHO the message is aimed at or HOW the Gospel is preached. But going back to the argument of "If there is such a person as a 'Seeker', then what is it that we think they're seeking?", I would contend that even though a person who hasn't placed their faith in Christ might not walk out "feeling" overwhelmed with conviction over a message on "Pastoral Leadership", does that person not need to know the character of those God has called to lead His church? Are there messages, due to their lack of evangelistic appeal, that shouldn't be preached? Does there need to be a disclaimer before every message: Don't invite your lost friends today. The sermon is not for them. Don't Know Jesus? This message is NOT for you! Isn't this a bit ridiculous?

The other related issue that was raised is, "I like to invite my lost friends on Sunday. What about them?" Again, while I understand that we need to take every opportunity to speak and preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to the lost, are there not days and messages that are going to be explicitly aimed at "equipping the saints"? Is there an "evangelism quota" that I missed? To lay it out there, what I believe is that there is a rhythm and balance and discernment that comes only from the Holy Spirit that anyone charged with the honor and privilege to preach the Word of God is responsible for seeking on a regular basis. It comes from communion - from a desperate dependence on God to not only lead us to know what to say, but how to say it, trusting that HE is going to bring it to life in the hearts of those who need to hear it. And that pastor or evangelist can't be scrutinized every time the sermon doesn't "speak to me". (I'm also fairly certain the prophets were scrutinized a bit, too.)

[I do find it perplexing that most people either want to walk out on a Sunday feeling like the Pastor - or, uh, the Holy Spirit, I mean - blew rays of sunshine straight through their key appendages and orifices...OR...feeling as though they have had their toes stomped and been punched in the face and gut. Some folks want to be coddled and affirmed. Others want to be wrecked. How do you accommodate all the pious preferences?] *You don't.

Let me be clear: the first and last thing I said to this person who came to me with these concerns was "Thank you"! As a pastor, it refreshes and renews my heart when someone has the courage and conviction to call me, come in and look me in the face, and say, "This is what's on my heart". I'm not writing all of this with a dogged stance of what I believe the right answer to be. For certain, I have an opinion. But I would love to hear your's as well. Do you go on Sundays with an agenda? Or are you open to what the Lord has to say...even if it's not aimed straight at you? 

November 15, 2010

Unequally Yoked

Yesterday my neighbor dropped by. We watched some football, shot the breeze, ordered some pizza, and just hung out. He's very aware that I'm a Christian (and even knows I'm a Pastor) and we've talked openly about our faith before. In fact, I would even say that we're pretty like-minded in what we believe. But there is one distinct area of life where I can't relate with him - and he knows this. And yesterday he began to talk openly with me about his struggle. With no prompting or prodding on my part, he began to share with me that his marriage is in serious trouble and that he has no idea what to do about it. There hasn't been any infidelity or unfaithfulness or adultery - no secret addictions or deceit going on. The very real and contentious war that is beginning to be waged has everything to do with two people who wanted to believe that "love" could (and would) overshadow and overpower their faith. And it's just not working out that way.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Paul says, "Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. (Do not be unequally yoked... ESV) How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the Devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?" Essentially Paul is sternly warning anyone who confesses to be a follower of Jesus Christ: "Do NOT partner with, date, fall in love with or marry someone who is not also a follower of Christ. Period!" My friend sat on my couch yesterday [football game rumbling on in the forefront] confessing to me, "Brian, I look back now and believe I see very clearly where I disobeyed and ignored God. I know He was warning me. But I kept telling Him, 'I can make this work!' I didn't understand. I didn't listen. And now...I'm suffering the consequences."

My friend's wife is a Seventh Day Adventist. Years ago the Christian Research Institute gave the Adventist a "clean bill of health" in regards to practice and theology. Not long after this the leader of CRI came out and said, "This is one of the worst mistakes we've ever made." On the surface, Seventh Day Adventists look very similar to Christians. They confess to worship and follow Christ and to believe the Bible. Where the fracture comes in and the distinct division takes place is that Sabbatarians strictly follow a Saturday-Sabbath law and believe that anyone who doesn't is lost. You won't hear this in a one-on-one conversation with an Adventist. But if you attend one of their services or listen to one of their "prophets or prophetesses", many times this belief will begin to rise to the surface. So when your spouse believes and practices that the Old Covenant Sabbath is still in effect and that as a family we will do nothing to dishonor that, and you begin to want your son to play soccer or basketball - even Upward Basketball, for that matter - it isn't going to work. Saturday is for church. Someone or something has to give. And my friend told me last night, "When something's got to give, it's always me."

I'm not writing this to give you a theological review or dissertation into the Seventh Day Adventist movement or ideology. But I hope you'll take some time to actually explore what they really believe and practice. (Learn more HERE.) Do not take ANYONE at face value. Especially any religious or spiritual organizations that adds to or takes anything away from the Word of God. Scripture is complete. It does not need the help of a new "prophet". Again, more on that another day. I feel burdened and compelled to warn you and encourage you that, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ and He has a partner planned for you to spend your life with, do NOT settle on any level. If someone's faith is not in the same things yours is, that is probably not going to change. Teenager or young adult: If you think you're going to date them, convert them, and change them, the kindest way I know how to say this is, you are playing the fool. You are being duped by your own ignorance and by the desires of your flesh, not the Spirit of God. It's time to wake up, get your mind right, and prayerfully weigh the decisions you are allowing your heart to make. There's a reason why Paul talks about the "renewing of your mind" and the Spirit of God transforming "the way you think". Your heart is misleading. Don't believe me? That's because right now you're wrapped up in the middle of this very battle, your flesh and emotions are waging war against the Spirit of God in your life, and pride won't let go. And your heart won't let go. 

I've been having this conversation for years. As a youth pastor, I don't know how many times I watched students allow themselves to get drawn into a relationship with someone thinking, "I'll bring them to church and show them how much I love Jesus and they'll eventually love Him too." I think in 20 years I've actually seen that happen twice. The other 187 times I saw broken hearts, wounded relationships and friendships, virginity and purity lost, and one more child of God become a statistic. Do NOT be unequally yoked! It won't work! "How can light live with darkness?" That's the main question here. 

I am praying for my friend. My heart is burdened and hurting for him. And I have no advice - nothing I can tell him to ease this. He chose this burden and this road. But I'm still praying, asking the Lord to do a miracle in the life of his spouse and show her that she is being deceived and manipulated. 

How can light live with darkness?
Dig Deeper:
Romans 14
Galatians 4:8-12
Matthew 12:1-14

November 11, 2010

Do You See What I'm Saying?

Ah, fresh contacts. I love how it feels to break open a brand new pair of tiny corrective lenses, set them free from their small packaged prison, and place them on my blinded eyeballs. There's no smudges, wear, germs...nothing. They're clean and clear. Good stuff. Weird thing is though, yesterday morning when I put my old pair in - which I had been wearing anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months - I didn't think much of it. I really didn't notice that they were dirty or smudged or torn or old. They're just contacts. Right? That's what I used to think. Until I ripped open a brand new pair this morning...and the world was a 64-pack of Crayola goodness! 

*Cue sunshine, rainbow, sparkledust, and harp music.

While I realize I've opened a door for this to be a serious lecture on eye health and sanitary hygiene, that's not really where I'm headed with this. [NOTE: You should not wear a pair of contacts any longer than the recommended length of time on the package. Obey the optometry rule-makers and all their commandments.] As I put my new lenses in this morning it occurred to me: almost every time you need to see things through fresh eyes, you don't realize it. The only reason I remembered to put new contacts in was because they finally came in the mail. My eyes weren't really bothering me. My eyesight wasn't being impaired (at least not that I'm aware of). I was totally fine and adjusted and comfortable seeing through the dirty, smudged, 3 month old lens. Are you?

A friend of mine recently had to take care of someone else's work. In a very short amount of time my friend discovered not only all sorts of errors and mistakes, but several outdated inefficiencies that needed to be corrected in the other person's method and productivity. Why were these mistakes even there? Is it because the person whose job they were covering is a slacker or a failure? Is it laziness? Or is it possible that the other person has stared at the same numbers on the same charts on the same screen for so long...that they can't really even "SEE" it anymore? When you look at something long enough - even a flaw or counterfeit - it can all start to appear like the real deal. You have to consciously hold it up to the light and put it next to the genuine article. You have to see it with fresh eyes. And if you and I are just being honest, there are times in life for all of us when and where that is very close to impossible. Rub your eyes all you want. It won't help. 

So what on earth do we do about it? I recommend 1 of 2 things:

Option 1: Walk Away. Yes, seriously. Get up and walk away. Sometimes this might mean you literally get up from your desk or your task, take a walk around the block or to the gym, come back a little later and begin again. But other times this can mean packing your bags, abandoning ship, running for the hills (or the beach), and letting your mind and heart and soul find new life and breathe in some fresh air. This can be like a mental EKG for your innovation and creativity. This is why when I sit down to play the drums now (which happens about once every 6 months or so for fun) I have this whole new perspective and ear for what I'm pounding out. When I'm done, I walk away. I don't really think about the drums anymore. No one depends on me to play them. Sometimes, as ridiculous as this sounds, you have to forget to truly remember.

Option 2: Borrow Someone's Eyes. I know, you're the greatest at what you do. There's no one else around there who can do it quite like you. (That sounds like that James Bond song.) But here's the thing: someone around you has fresh eyes and perspective to see something you don't. God has placed someone in or near your circle who's actually talented and gifted and experienced enough to SEE things clearly and objectively. You don't have objectivity. You've been staring at it for too long. Maybe it's a project you've been working on or that chapter of that book you're writing or that sermon you've been preparing or that huge event you've been planning. The list is endless. The question is: How long will you stare off into oblivion before you realize that your vision is impaired. No, not your eyesight. Your VISION. Do you see what I'm saying?

Stop squinting. Quit rubbing your eyes. Call out for help or walk away. Maybe then, you'll start seeing things a little more clearly. 

November 9, 2010

Don't Believe the Hype!

Several years ago I was suckered in by my curiosity over the copper and titanium magnet bracelets. There were enough people who told me that they could actually feel a difference with flexibility and arthritic pain that I had to give it a shot. All can I do is speak for myself, but after wearing one for a month....nothing. So why on earth I would allow myself to be suckered in again is beyond my capacity to understand or explain. Nevertheless, I am once again a sucker. 3 weeks ago I purchased my Power Balance wristband - endorsed and worn by an abundant list of well-known athletes who swear it has made a difference in their game, performance, and everything surrounding it. Just watch the videos on their website. Amazing! (Try and cut my sarcasm with a knife, if you dare.) Yet again, after my 21-day trial run, I can only speak for myself. But as far as I can tell, whether it's my flexibility, strength, balance, or whatever....nothing! There's more.

A recent in-depth study at the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse (which I have actually visited, thank you very much) showed absolutely zero change in the students they tested. Outside the Lines on ESPN reported on the study: Watch the episode HERE.
To fill you in, they took a Power Balance wristband and another run-of-the-mill silicone wristband (like that WWJD bracelet you used to wear when it's was cool and trendy) and covered them with a sweatband so the subjects wouldn't know which one they were wearing. Every person was tested twice - once with the Power Balance and once with the plain wristband. The difference of the tests: NONE. So, what's with all the hype and hoopla?

I would say that you have your answer right there: HYPE! Get enough athletes to believe something - endorse it (for big bucks, of course) - and tell the world that "it works", and you've got the right ingredients to make a whole bunch of suckers! This is an industry that went from struggling to stay afloat for their first 2 years to now pulling in over $17 million this past year. $17 MILLION! My little black silicone wristband cost me $29 (plus tax). The fancy necklaces (you may have seen many of the Texas Rangers wearing them during the World Series) actually cost anywhere from $49-$89. This company is cleaning house. And interestingly enough, as a person who very rarely gets sick at all, during my 3 week trial period I not only got the stomach virus, but also have had the worst sinus infection I've had in years. Now I know, they don't claim that this thing will make you healthy or that it's an immuno-booster or antioxidant provider. But the timing sure is squirrelly. Imagine the irony for me last Monday as I sat in the doctor's office for the first time in a year, feeling like I'd been hit by a bus, wearing my Power Balance wristband. Let's just say I probably wouldn't have been selling anyone on rushing out and grabbing one for themselves.

So if you're entertaining the idea of joining the Power Balance craze, my recommendation is to take that $29 and give it to your favorite charity or to purchase a very large supply of dark chocolate-covered almonds. That said, if you're looking for a really cool looking wristband that is sure to catch the eye of someone around you, and if you need a new psycho-brainwashing tactic to convince yourself that you can jump 3 inches higher than you actually can, this just might be the subtle fashion piece you're looking for.

Anyone else out there tried Power Balance?

November 4, 2010

Rules & Rewards

Let me begin by admitting this: I am still a recovering legalist. When you spend a great many years allowing much of your theology and worldview to be shaped - or even manipulated - by experiential and reactionary thinking, the road to recovery can be an uphill battle. I still feel like I'm in "Legalist Rehab" every time I listen to "A New Law" by Derek Webb. Still, I am grateful that in His good timing, God used His Word to begin knocking that wall down in my heart. He is still working. Still swinging. Still knocking it down. And sometimes...it hurts. While seeing this wall being torn down in your own life can be a painful but welcomed thing, seeing this blinding barrier going up in someone else's life may be even more paralyzing. Especially when it's your own child.

My son is a 6 year old ball of fire! In many regards I feel like I'm watching a movie of what my parents must have seen as they were giving it their best to raise me. At the same time, I know that this little man is totally his own person. We've had a few "episodes" in school already (which could be a bit disconcerting when you realize that he's only in Kindergarten), but for the most part he has actually done well. Most days when he leaves the classroom, it's still standing. But one thing we've seen that we believe actually helps him maintain his focus and contain his energy is STRUCTURE. Or let's put it another way: he lives by THE LAW! What works (at least at this point) for Nathan about school is that on the wall and in his folder are the rules. He knows, "If you do this and this and that and this and that...you'll get a GREEN CHECK! And GREEN CHECK'S are what we live for here in Kindergarten." Apparently he would just rather know in black and white - plain and simple - what he can and can't do. He would rather EARN privileges than have them taken away. He wants something to WORK for rather than the freedom to painfully learn and experience consequences. He's 6 years old and his worldview is being shaped like Play-Doh. 

This predicament was even more exposed at home this week. Let's just say Morgan & I have been praying diligently for the Lord to show us how to teach Nathan good judgment, sound thinking, and simple obedience. What we've been experiencing would be better described as ZERO judgment and deliberate defiance. And just to be clear, those are pretty much the opposite of the desired outcome. The other night, as Morgan is asking Nathan, "Why did you make this decision? Would you make this decision at school?", he follows up the inquiry by explaining to us that at school there's a CHART. And on that chart are all the rules. And as you earn different checks on the chart you gain certain privileges. And [to use his words], "Maybe what I need here at home is a chart." 

[Please do NOT miss the DEPTH of what your child is learning, thinking, and painting into the lens with which they look at the world, their life, and how it all fits together. It runs DEEP!]

As Morgan explained to Nathan, "You understand that this means things like TV and dessert and playing on the Wii will now have to be earned?", it was as if he found great satisfaction and comfort in the fact that the rules and rewards were now going to be clear. Forget the whole idea of living by grace and principle and discipline and consequence, just give me a new law! My son doesn't want to think, he just wants to be able to look at the board and say, "Nope. Can't do that." He would rather EARN his allowance than have it taken away. And please understand, for many years in my life, on a much bigger scale, not with my parents, but with the God of the Universe...this is how I lived.

Rules & Rewards are easy.
Grace, mercy, discipline, and consequence are painful. Very painful!
But they are the road to wisdom and discernment and good judgment.
And Jesus paid the way for us to be able to walk that road. 
What road are you walking? 

We're still praying about how to walk with Nathan through this and teach him that what he's asking for is not really what he wants. At the same time, you can't make someone believe that. They simply must come to understand it and accept it. You can't drag someone down the narrow road. You can only point and lead the way.