Friday, October 29, 2004

Would Anyone Even Notice?

In all the excitement of the Red Sox winning their first World Series since 1918, I never even noticed that we're missing hockey season. Did you know that? I had no idea that hockey is normally being played professionally this time of year.

What does that say about the sport of hockey? What if you decided to strike, and no one even knew you were gone?

Okay, the theologian in me wants really badly to make some kind of spiritual point here. The gist of my thought is this: What if Christians decided to stop meeting together on Sunday mornings. I mean, there's all this fighting going on about what we can and can't do -- what we should and should not do. What if we just said, "To heck with it" and stopped meeting altogether?

Would anyone even notice we were gone?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I Was So Ready

For one brief moment last night, I was ready. I made my peace and sat with expectant surrender.

But it didn't happen.

I had taught a Bible class last night, so it would have been good timing. I was all prayed up, too. All my kids are secure (I'm pretty sure), and I was in the proper frame of mind.

But it didn't happen.

It occurred to me that Jesus might not want the Red Sox to win a World Series. In fact, I actually thought it would be just like him to show up in the bottom of the ninth and say, "Hey, guys. Game over, okay? Come on home now."

But it didn't happen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Nothing But Sincerity...As Far As the Eye Can See

We watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown tonight. Anabel remembers it from last year. Eliza says she does, but I have my doubts. It's amazing to see that Charlie Brown still holds kids absolutely spellbound. I think the girls enjoyed it almost as much as Jill and I did.

The best part is when the kids are going trick or treating.

Kid #1: "I got a popcorn ball."

Kid #2: "I got a pack of gum."

Charlie Brown: "I got a rock."

Anabel laughed every single time.

But the most touching part to me -- and the part I'd forgotten about to be honest -- was Linus in the pumpkin patch pleading his case for the existence of the Great Pumpkin. Linus is the smart one -- the well-read one. It's uncharacteristic of him to be duped by this.

The most heartbreaking part is when he has a brief moment of doubt. At least, he thinks he does. He says, "If the Great Pumpkin comes, I'll still put in a good word for you. Oh, no! I said, 'If....' One slip like that could make the Great Pumpkin pass you by!"

It's a good thing Christians know the difference between God and the Great Pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Answering Luke

In the comments section of my last entry, Luke wrote this: "So, who is responsible for this? Is it the parents, is it the childrens workers, is it the kid, is it the pastor for not having good enough leaders? I don't really know either, I am just wondering what you think."

It's everyone's fault. And it's no one's fault. I'll try to unpack that for you now.

It's the parents' fault for not training their child to respect others. But it may not be their fault after all. They may have never been given the tools they need to train their child. They may not even understand that it's their job to do so. They may have bought into the idea that society pushes (and churches do, too) about outsourcing your kids training to the experts.

It's the children's workers fault for not understanding how the curriculum is designed to work. At 252Basics, we don't teach kids the Bible. We teach them Christlike virtues. We use the Bible to illustrate these virtues, but Bible instruction is not an end in and of itself; it must be a means to a greater end. That end is having kids grow up and become more like Jesus. But it may not be the Children's workers fault after all. They're doing children's ministry the only way they know how -- the only way they've ever seen it done.

It's the kid's fault for not behaving himself. As my friend Hal Runkel says, adults are not responsible for our children; we're responsible to them. If our kid decides to act like an animal, that's his choice. But it may not be his fault after all. He's learned how Sunday morning works and is working within that system pretty well. His "Children's Church" rewards one thing and one thing only: recitation of the memory verse. He met the standards and was rewarded accordingly. As far as he knows, this is the only goal he needs to concern himself with.

It's the preacher's fault for going 25 minutes over his scheduled time. It's no wonder the kids were climbing the walls -- they'd been there for what felt like an eternity. He may say he fully supports the children's ministry, but if he goes 25 minutes over, he communicates to everyone that what he's doing is more important than anything else on that campus. It shows how little he really values the children and the children's workers. But it may not be his fault after all. Kids don't give much money, parents do. As long as their contribution meets budget, that feels like a win to most pastors. Attendance, buildings and contribution -- these are the ABCs of church health. At least, that's what most pastors think.

Actually, it's the system's fault. There's a saying in systems management circles: Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you're getting. In other words, that kid isn't behaving that way in spite of what we're doing; he's behaving that way precisely because of what we're doing. If your church isn't producing disciples (whether among children or among adults), you probably don't need to try harder -- you need to try something else.

So, Luke, whose fault is it? It's everyone's. It's those workers and that kid and his parents and the pastor and yours and mine. Until we're courageous enough to re-think and re-boot our churches, we will continue to produce the same results we've been getting for the past generation -- namely, a 65-80% drop-out rate and consumers who sit and soak and aren't really interested in becoming more like Jesus.

That's what I think.

Monday, October 25, 2004

How to Know When the System is Broken

I watched without him knowing. He was probably eight or nine years old, the loudest of a loud group of kids his own age. Maybe 20 minutes ago he went up on the platform at "children's church" and recited the memory verse: "Show proper respect to everyone" (1 Peter 2:17). For his effort, he received a candy bar.

The visiting child seated next to him had not memorized the memory verse -- did not even know there was a memory verse -- so that kid didn't get anything.

Now, I watched as the candy bar wielding boy stole someone else's candy bar, told a lie to cover it up and kicked another boy in an area that should never be kicked. I called him over and asked, "How did you manage to get two candy bars?"

"I won them," he lied.

"You won both of them?"

"Well, I won this one."

"What about that one?"

"Oh," he said slowly -- thinking. "This one belongs to my friend over there. I'm playing a joke on him."

"I see. And what did you have to do to win the first one?"

"I had to say the memory verse."

"Which memory verse?"

"Today's memory verse."

"Oh, yeah. Help me remember. What's today's memory verse?"

"Ummm...I can't remember."

"It's hanging around your neck," I reminded him of the craft he had just spent 20 minutes making.

He looked sideways, conspiratorially, and whispered, "I didn't even memorize it before. It was up on the screens, and they didn't know it. I just went up there and read it."

"Can you read it to me now?"

"Sure, 'Show proper respect to everyone' (1 Peter 2:17)."

"Great job. Say, what's the word respect mean?"

"I don't know. Probably something like worship or good manners or something. Wait! Does it mean obey?"

"Congratulations on your candy bar."

Friday, October 22, 2004

"In the Sweet By and By"

I'm in St. Louis today. Much of the town is still hungover from last night's baseball game. It's a beautiful autumn day here -- cool without being chilly. I'm doing some storytelling tonight, then I have tomorrow to myself and I'll finish the weekend by training about 100 people at a church here how to help parents take responsibility for the spiritual development of their children.

On the plane this morning they were playing Appalachian folk music while we were boarding. The last song before take off was, "In the Sweet By and By." I have to admit, rest on that beautiful shore sounds nice, but that didn't exactly inspire confidence in me.

As good as God is, as much as he's given me...if this ain't the sweet by and by, I cannot imagine what it'll be like. And I'm not in any hurry to get there.

Not that I'm lobbying for the other place, mind you. But God made all this stuff -- baseball, autumn, Italian food, music -- and I plan on enjoying them all as good gifts from a good God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Legalism Sucks

I'm sitting in Starbucks trying not to listen to the conversation happening behind me. It's legalism run wild, and I'm internally debating whether or not it's appropriate to speak up.

I'm hearing all the old standards, "Hey, I've got a problem with it, and the Bible says if your brother's got a problem with it, don't do it."

Is that really what the Bible says?

"Scripture says, 'Avoid even the appearance of evil'." Again, is that really what the Bible says?

Someone's apparently been caught in something -- someone in leadership has crossed a line. And that's bad. I'm not minimizing that.

But where does all the venom come from? Why is it such a positively vindicating thing? Why has whatever this event is triggered this landslide of judgment, this laundry list of everything the guy has done wrong over the last couple of years? And why is this being talked about in Starbucks?

Here's the truth: Legalism sucks. It sucks the life right out of people. It sucks the joy out of life. It sucks the Christ out of Christianity.

And it keeps sucking me into the conversation behind me.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

I'm So Vain

I probably think this blog is about me.

But life isn't about me. Sure, I play a role -- sometimes a really large role -- but life itself isn't about me. Life existed before me and will outlast me. My life has meaning as it finds its role in the grand, unfolding story that is about God.

I'm not talking about some kind of weird absorption -- "None of self and all of Thee" we used to sing when I was a kid. That's dumb. There's always going to be a difference between me and God, so my existence is always going to have to do with me. But if I ever start to think that I'm the center of the universe -- the star attraction -- well, that's delusional.

The most wonderful, crazy thought imaginable is this one: The God of the universe, the one who spoke all this stuff into existence, the one who hung the stars like he was hanging curtains, That One -- he has invited me to play a part in his story. He actually wants to take my story and weave it into the grand tapestry that he is unfolding for all the universe to see.

This blog's not about me...not really. It's about how I fit into God's blog.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Father Abraham Had Many Flaws

I think Abraham may have been trying to help us out by lowering the bar so much. He lied, doubted, fornicated, laughed at God and pretty much stumbled his way into the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

But he kept going. That's one thing I've got to give the old geezer: he never stopped.

He picked up and left everything familiar. He kept trying to get his wife pregnant. He actually took his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, up the mountain. He walked all that way -- that entire three-day journey -- and still had enough faith to figure that God would raise his son from the dead if it came down to it.

Mostly what Abraham says in Genesis 22 is, "Here I am." It's a simple statement, not meant to clarify his location as much as to share the condition of his heart. He says it in response to God at the beginning of the story. He says it in response to his son in the middle of the story. He says it to the Angel of the Lord at the end of the story: "Here I am."

I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. No running or hiding or evading. I'm ready for this. I've spent 30 years preparing for this. You tell me what to do, and I'll do it. I may or may not understand it, but I'll keep walking down this road until you tell me to stop.

Faith isn't some kind of doubt-free certainty. Sometimes faith is just tenaciously holding on and refusing to walk away.

In the end, Abraham realizes that he has nothing left to withhold from God. And nothing -- not his laughter, not his destiny, not even the promise of God -- can replace God himself. God himself, the presence of God, is more than enough. If I get nothing out of this covenant other than the opportunity to spend time with God, that's enough.

Father Abraham had many flaws; lack of faith wasn't one of them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Wildly Unproductive in Areas that Matter the Least

Today I feel like I've accomplished absolutely nothing. And that's a problem because I have a ton of stuff to do. I'm four chapters away from putting a huge project to bed. I should be able to crank out a chapter today, but it's already 4:45, and it doesn't look like it's going to happen.

I spent about two hours looking for a quote that I'm not sure really exists.

I think the problem stems from the way my day got started. I promised my daughter Eliza a trip to Krispy Kreme as a reward for being brave recently. Please note, I did not use this as a bribe; I offered it after the fact.

Anyway, we got a late start, and I felt like I spent my entire morning waiting, driving, sitting -- everything except writing.

Now, I'm thinking about my day -- realizing just how little I've done today. But is that accurate?

I spent time with my little girl this morning -- an event which I confess is all too rare. We enjoyed one of the true joys in life: hot Krispy Kreme with coffee (me) and milk (her).

So, let me be wildly unproductive in areas that matter the long as I can spend some time with one of my kids and share a simple joy with her.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Everywhere I Go

I'm sitting in the hotel lobby in Warrenville, Illinois, waiting for a car to pick me up and take me to the airport. I spoke at a church this morning that meets in a movie theatre. The children attending this church outnumber the adults easily, and the grown-ups working in KidZone look and sound tired. Energetic, passionate, committed and tired.

It seems everywhere I go, I see this. People who love what they're doing, love to spend time with kids in a small group or love telling stories or love leading children in worship. But they're also tired. They suspect that what they do matters, but they sometimes feel overwhelmed and undernourished themselves.

And then there's church politics. Don't even get me started....

I am so burdened for people who work on the front lines of ministry. I know what you're doing, the revolution you want so badly to participate in but feel handcuffed by know-it-all pastors who think they could do your job better than you do. Or hands-off parents who want you to raise their kids for them.

And all the while you have your own kids who are clamoring for your attention and spouses who may have just given up on the idea that you might have a quiet dinner alone one Saturday night.

Everywhere I go I see the signs -- slumped shoulders, knit brows, heavy sighs.

But I also see other signs -- glimmers of hope, eager eyes, hungry hearts. The joy you feel when the light bulb goes on for someone. The tears you shed when you get the note that says you've made a real difference in the way some parent deals with their kid.

This is the kingdom of God breaking into our day. It comes in patches and spurts, but one day it will come in a flood -- an avalanche of grace falling on families, grandparents, children, single dads and working moms.

I see these signs everywhere I go.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Greetings from the heartland. I'm in Chicago today. Of course, the first thing I did once I got settled into my hotel was order lunch from a local Italian place. Baked, stuffed shells smothered in marinara sauce.

The trees here are futher along than in Atlanta. Gold everywhere with just a dash of red. It's sunny but a little bit cool.

It's still hard to believe that I get to do this. I get to travel, see the country, tell people about Jesus and about how their church can help parents take responsibility for the spiritual formation of their children.

And they pay me to do this!

Friday, October 08, 2004

Sounds Like Psalms

I just went back and read some of my blogs. I sound bi-polar. One day, I'm lamenting the fact that I'm alone and angry (thanks for all the nice comments and email, btw); the next day, the sky is blue and birds are singing, I'm loved by my wife and daughters -- life couldn't be sweeter.

Up one day; down the next.

This law of undulation keeps on undulating, and I'm just along for the ride. But I think there's something of the psalmist in these musings. In one passage, he's shouting at God for abandoning him; the next paragraph, he's bragging on God for never leaving him alone.

I suppose I'm in pretty good company, then.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Eyes to See

I am surrounded by beautiful things. A home that sparkles at night like a Thomas Kinkade painting. Autumn leaves. A wife who knows how to make homemade chicken burritos with tomatillo salsa. Three little girls who think their Daddy hung the moon. Gabrial Faure's "Pavane" playing on the stereo.

"So much beauty around us, but just two eyes to see," Rich sang years ago.

Colors. Sounds. Smells. Feelings.

Sure, this world has more than its share of ugly and evil, but that's not all this world has. It has beauty and grace -- little flickers of it sometimes -- giant, blinding flashes of it other times.

So much depends on whether or not I have eyes to see.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


I spent the weekend in Nashville at the Zoe Conference. The theme for this year was "Desperate." I got to spend time with friends -- old and new: Christopher, David, Jefferson, Randy, Brian, Eddie, Gary, Tammy. Faces from the past. Conversations about life and struggle and joy. We change so much, but it's often so subtle that we don't realize it until we run into someone from our past.

I keep forgetting just how many desperate people there are -- particularly people who do church for a living. They walk around with emotion so close to the surface that it doesn't take much to start the avalanche. I spent time with people who are just dry. They've been beaten and abused so's almost as if they've come to expect it and live as if that's normal.

I presented a workshop yesterday. One woman actually started to cry during my presentation. She wasn't disruptive; she just sat there with tears streaming down her face. Afterwards, all she could say was, "Thank you. You have no idea.... Thank you." These people seemed to seek me out. They seemed so desperate and wanted so badly to know that someone understands.

When I got there Thursday morning, I didn't think I was desperate. Not me. I was just angry. Angry about a lot of things that some of you know about, some of you don't. This isn't the forum for that. Suffice to say, I was angry...and...frustrated. So, all the talk about being desperate -- I just let it touch all the other folks. They were the ones who needed all that talk. Not me.

But while I was sitting there listening to Mike Cope yesterday, it dawned on me: my anger is a form of desperation. I am angry because I am afraid. That's a level of honesty I don't muster very often.

Deep breath.

I struggle with imposter syndrome. I am so afraid that if people really knew me -- really knew the real me -- the one who says terrible things to other my people right after I hang up the phone -- the one who does the wrong thing about as often as he does the right thing -- if people knew that guy...well...they wouldn't like me very much. And they might leave me.

And here's something else: I can't stand the thought of being cut off and excluded -- not invited into the inner ring. I am afraid that people will not value me or respect me. Any hint of that, and BOOM the anger explodes out of me.

I am desperate to be accepted and valued and loved! To be completely known and still completely embraced -- that's what I am desperate for.

I am not desperate for God. I have come to trust him in a way I cannot put into words. I am desperate for two things: someone(s) who will love, accept, champion and value me like God does; and the bravery to say this out loud to others.