Slip Slidin’ Away…

This may not be an earth-shaking confession, but I’m a Paul Simon fan. In fact, “Live Rhymin'” was one of the first CDs I ever bought as a teenager. Not sure if that qualifies me as an “old soul” or not; that album was recorded the year I was born. There’s something about his style and eclectic approach to music and collaborations that I really enjoy. Songs like “Duncan”, “The Boxer”, “Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “American Tune”, are songs that always bring a smile. And don’t even get me started on “You Can Call Me Al” and “Kodachrome”. For me, those songs have pure lift.

Another Paul Simon great is “Slip Slidin’ Away”. I can’t help but think about how life works and how time really is slip slidin’ away. Mathematically speaking: the more I live life, the less life there is to live. If that’s true, then the less of life I have to live, the more living I ought to be doing. As far as I’m concerned, that demands a deep and honest assessment of what actually is real and true. Calibration is really the only right outcome.

So how do we do such a thing? How do we accurately assess and qualify what registers on the scale of important and what doesn’t? Then, how do we assure that our lives are continually calibrated to live accordingly?

Let’s start by entertaining this thought: Whatever lasts longest matters most.

What in your life are you investing in that will be around long after your life is over? This might include business endeavors; like if you’re wanting to establish a family business that can be passed down to your children and their children and then to their children–a generational impact. It might include a benevolent effort that impacts the community around you. Maybe you see a clear need in your community and you can’t rest until it is addressed. So you go through the channels (or go rogue) in order to meet the needs of the underprivileged, or the marginalized, or the overlooked, or the exploited, or the malnourished, or the victims of injustice. There are dozens of people groups surrounding you right now that could benefit from a benevolent effort that not merely hands them a fish, but hands them a fishing pole. Maybe your life’s goal is to usher in the eradication of the needs of a particular people group in your own community, and THAT continues long after you’re gone. Maybe you’d rather take this “generational” thing far more literally and you look to your own children and pour all your attention and effort into them, their future, and their well-being. What can you do for them today that will establish the greatest likelihood for their success in the future? What blessings/lessons can they see in you that they will pass on to their own children and grandchildren?

Whatever lasts longest matters most. I suppose its an arguable statement, but in a general and very real sense, it can also serve to calibrate thoughts in a helpful way. I don’t know of many people who have as their aim to daily waste as much time and as many opportunities as they possibly can.

There’s a great verse in the bible that says this:

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:18

I believe that no matter what your worldview or spiritual persuasion may be, these are words to consider seriously and deeply because the ramifications here are profound. If we only gauge our own sense of purpose and success on the results we see (especially immediately as we are prone to do), we will soon end up deflated, discouraged, and struggling to see the point in any of it.

So what would fixing our eyes on what is unseen look like? Here’s a crazy exercise: Examine and inventory what you can’t see as you go about your day. What if you saw yourself as a planter or a waterer in the growth process of others as opposed to seeing each day as merely a list of tasks you have to complete while other humans get in your way and slow you down? I believe that’s a great place to start seeing what is unseen and investing there. Why invest in what is unseen? Because what is unseen is what will last. And what will last is what is worth living for. For every person you see, there is a story you don’t see.

A wise sage once uttered these poignant words: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper: the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” My friends, THAT will preach.

So what will you do today to fix your eyes on what is unseen? And what changes might need to be made in order to bring your daily life into calibration with what is truly important rather than that is merely urgent?

I don’t think Paul Simon meant for me to take this song the way I’ve taken it. I suppose that’s the upside of art: we can all take it differently. At any rate, here’s the man himself reminding you that we’re “slip slidin’ away”…

The Interview.

“There’s a first for everything”, they say. Well, as far as I know this is the first time I’ve posted an audio file on my blog. If you’ve only ever been a reader of my blog, this is what I sound like. Riveting, I know. Here’s the story of why I felt it was worth posting and why I feel it’s worth you taking the time to listen…

Last week I sat down with a wonderful young woman named Megan. Megan is a senior in high school and has a Senior Thesis project that prompted her to ask me for an interview. The core of the interview is about what it is that causes people to leave the Church. Her questions were well-crafted and created for us what I felt was a wonderful conversation with some poignant moments. It’s unscripted, unrehearsed, and uncut. We said it, you get it.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing this interview and I hope that you can find something here that is either encouraging, challenging, helpful, or thought-provoking. The beginning and end of the recording are a bit abrupt (no intros/outros), but the content is solid.

As always, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts. Leave a comment below or reach out to me in some other way. Thank you for reading (and now listening to) jerrythinks!

Recipe For A Miracle

Can you honestly envision what 5,000 people looks like? Close your eyes (after reading this next line):

Imagine 10 men. Then 100. Can you imagine 200? What about 1,000?
Do you honestly know what a crowd of 5,000 men looks like?

I’ve been to convention centers, conferences, and in large crowds. It’s always impressive and the energy that size crowd brings is electric. You got it? Can you see it?

If you need help, here’s a photo. Its from 1973. That’s the year I was born, coincidentally. Its in New York and 5,000 Sabres fans gathered to say Thank You to the team. It looked like this:

Full disclosure: I didn’t count each face on this photo. I’m sure there’s an app for that, so if you’re so inclined then go for it. But the headline reads: “5,000 People Say ‘Thank You, Sabres’ in 1973”. So there you go. Hope that helps.

I want you to have a picture of the crowd because I honestly don’t think we are thinking clearly when it comes to Jesus. Let me be more specific. I think we tone down the magnanimous reality of scripture. I think we’re missing a lot of the WOW that should be hitting us but isn’t.

Here’s the story: Jesus had been talking/teaching/healing a large crowd, probably for hours now. But it was getting late in the day and his disciples very reasonable suggested to Jesus that they send the crowd away before they got hangry. If you want to read for yourself, mosey on over to Matthew 13, or Mark 6, or John 6.

Basically, Jesus seemingly put the responsibility of figuring out how to feed 5,000 men on His 12 men. The 12 disciples clearly didn’t have the resources or wherewithal to feed the masses, but they did find a kid who’s lunch was either absconded or volunteered; a veritable feast of 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Personally, I identify with this kid because he obviously is serious about his carb intake. Amen, kid.

But let’s take a quick look at the progression of what transpires with this boy and his lunch. It actually has everything to do with how you’re living your life right now.

In case you want to just grab the alliteration and run, here it is: Bring it, Bless it, Break it, Broadcast it.

Bring it. God has always used what is at hand to accomplish his divine, miraculous purposes. Remember Moses and God’s chat when Moses was doubting if God could really use him? God asked “What’s in your hand?” Moses offers his shepherd’s staff and watches God turn it into a snake. God is still asking you and me: “What’s in your hand?” What you offer to God will be used by God. No exceptions. Furthermore, God will do far more with what you have than you ever could. That lunch in the hands of that boy was a lunch for one, carbolicious as it was. But in the hands of God, that lunch for one became lunch for 5,000. Step 1 in triggering the miracle is to bring it. Whatever “it” is that’s in your hand: Bring it.

Bless it. We’re told that once Jesus took the fish and loaves, he blessed it. Kind of a lofty, churchy, spiritual term isn’t it? Jesus gave thanks for the fish and loaves. He recognized it might have come from a boy but it ultimately came from God. After all, who made the fish? Who made the wheat that would be ground into bread? So what we bring should also be blessed. Acknowledge God’s provision: Bless it.

Break it. Okay, let’s take this one in a couple different ways. Jesus obviously broke the bread literally; he split it, ripped it, cut it, whatever he did to make one piece into two pieces, into three pieces, four pieces, 57 pieces, 5,000+ pieces, etc. You get it. He broke it. But for us, it can also represent the “breaking” that needs to happen between ourselves and our own sense of ownership of that thing. I wonder if we would be so tight-fisted with our belongings, money, and even our time if we remembered that we actually own nothing more than the breath that is currently within our lungs? And even that breath (the Hebrew word “ruach”) is literally on loan from God Himself? What kind of breaking needs to happen in your attitude toward “your” stuff? Break it.

Broadcast it. In this scene Jesus gave the newly brought, blessed, and broken fish and loaves to the disciples to broadcast it to the crowded who had now been broken into groups of 50 and 100, seated and waiting to be fed. But for you and for me, how is love broadcast from my life and yours? Not everyone is called to take a stage and a mic, but everyone does have a platform to broadcast from. The call is not to preach, but to broadcast in the context of every conversation you have with every person you interact with. Broadcast it.

If we were to subtract any of these steps from the equation, I’d dare say the miracle would not have been what it was. What can I do and what can you do to internalize and contextualize the Bring it, Bless it, Break it, & Broadcast it way of living?

The One Central Truth

We’re only a few days away from Christmas Day. You can feel it in the air. People are more hurried, yet often more pleasant. People are excited for the advent of traditional scenes, giving of gifts, smelling and consuming of comfort foods, and all that comes along with the several days that surround the day we celebrate Christ’s birth.

Just 15 minutes ago on my short drive to work I passed what I would categorize as a little worse than a fender bender. One car was turned sideways across the two lanes and the other car involved was sitting in a side street. I slowed down as I approached; clearly this accident was only a few minutes old. One man was standing in the road, presumably the owner of the car in the middle of the road. He was on his cell phone when I rolled slowly to a stop, put my window down and asked, “You okay? You need anything?” With a remarkable smile on his face he replied, “No, I’m all good! Thank you!” I wonder if we were in the depths of February or the midst of May, would his response have been so chipper?

There’s a truth that permeates this season, whether it is acknowledged or not. Like a bike tire with a hundred thin spokes all connected to one hub that holds them all together, so are our activities, busyness, and traditions of the Christmas season when it relates to this one central truth. Without the hub, the rest of it would be utterly meaningless.

Here is the truth hub. I hope (but never assume) that through this blog you have caught glimpses of it if not been outright smacked in the face with it by way of things I’ve written in the past…

Because of God’s immeasurable love for humanity, and in light of our sinfulness that has created a separation between us and Him–a distance we could never do anything about on our own–He sent the Way for us to be reunited with Him: That Way is Jesus. Jesus was God among us; God with us. Jesus grew, lived, loved, healed, taught, served, died, and rose again to complete the very mission God the Father sent Him to accomplish. And because of Jesus’ birth and completed mission, you and I can have all that God desires to give us right here and right now. In this season of traditions, blurry hurriedness, pop songs that pay lip service to what its all about, and our insatiable appetite for our own comfort, we gaze into a stone trough that held a human baby that contained all of Divinity in fragile bone, soft skin, and the helplessness of a held child. Help came to us and through His birth and our faith placed in Who He is, we are made alive in Him. Apart from Him, though we may amass to ourselves the stuff of success as the world sees it, we are completely lost and empty.

In this Christmas season, I pray that beyond all the things to check off on your task list and on all the wish lists, that we may return to the center and embrace the person of Jesus. He is the Center, the Hope, the Healing, the Messiah promised to us in Genesis 3, and the One who holds all we need for all we face.

Start with a better towel.

I don’t know where we got the towel. All I know is that as I headed from my bed to the shower one morning, I was going to need a towel. So on my way, I stopped by the towel shelf. The one I grabbed was a vibrant blue color, like a blue jay blue. Beautiful blue. Start-your-day blue. Towel in hand, I headed to the shower.

After my shower, I reached for the blue towel on the towel rod outside the shower. I started using the towel to dry off. Blecht. This towel isn’t great. I mean it’s an okay towel but I feel like it’s moving water around more than absorbing it. I thought to myself, “Life’s too short to use okay towels.” So I after that one use, I swapped it out for a less-blue (okay, it wasn’t blue at all) but more effective, nicer feeling towel. And I haven’t looked back.

Things that look good aren’t always actually good. You probably already knew that.

But more than that, there are certain things that shouldn’t be chinsed on. I think towels should be on the list of things not to cut corners on. A few other things I’ve learned fall squarely into the “you get what you pay for” category: saran wrap, cheese, trash bags, and most electronics. What would you add to that list?

This whole towel situation got me thinking the other day. Are there more small tweaks I can and should make throughout my day in order to see a significant shift in overall quality and enjoyability of life?

*Let me note here: I am NOT a diva, a snob, or a jerk. I’m not advocating that you live a life “ensconced in velvet” like George Costanza. No, not that at all. But I do think simple adjustments make life better.

Here are a few things I think would improve most people’s lives, if put into practice regularly:

  1. Make your bed. You’ll start your day feeling on top of things.
  2. Cut your hair. As a bald man, this one’s easy. But I do think when we feel attractive and put together, we carry ourselves differently.
  3. Get dressed. My work has no expectation of “dressing up” but every so often I like to take it up a notch. Because I like to feel dressed up.
  4. Back your car into your driveway at night. You’ll start the day feeling like Batman zipping out of the Batcave, off to save the world.
  5. Make a smoothie. The vitamins and nutrients in there and the fact that you made that yourself will both give you a pep in your step as you head out the door.
  6. Listen to experts. Pick 2-3 podcasts that can serve as a kickstart to your day. I like Jon Acuff’s “All It Takes Is A Goal” podcast. I also like Carey Nieuwhof’s “Leadership Podcast”. Generally, Jon’s episodes fit nicely into my commute and Carey’s are a bit longer.
  7. Make lunch before bed. Or take anything you can from the morning routine and put it in the before-bed routine. This includes planning your outfit. You’ll start the day with less to decide/think about.
  8. Smile more. Force it. The very act of smiling releases endorphins into your system that will make you happier. Imagine that: smiling makes you happier. Isn’t science great?
  9. Compliment someone. “But no one compliments me!”, you say? Be the type of person you’d like to run into.
  10. Pray. There is unspeakable freedom and joy you’ll find by simply starting your day acknowledging that while you don’t know what the day holds, you know the One who does and you know He’s with you and He’s for you.

None of these things will cost you any more than you’re paying now. But each of them has potential to give your day a bump before it even really starts. What would/do you do in order to invest a little but reap a lot?

What’s that button do?

We’re a peculiar people that make little sense. We put our thoughts in weird places that don’t stand up to reason. When you really stop and think it through, there’s a nonsensical quality to us, isn’t there? I see contradictions of thought and logic in a variety of places. I hope you’re still with me, even though you may be teetering on being offended and moving on.

I recently had the honor of sharing my thoughts on a friend and co-pastor, Ally Weaver who finished her battle with cancer one week ago this morning. The imagery of this sweet friend crossing that finish line and falling into the waiting arms of Jesus is perhaps more poetic than it is anything else but its so helpful to me (and so many) at times like this when we feel the sense of loss. I’m incredibly comforted with the truth that just as I sit here at my keyboard forming the next thoughts that will spill out of my fingers and appear on this screen, my dear friend is staring at Jesus who is right in front of her. Like I said at her recent celebration service, I’m there by association. Someone I know is right now in the full presence of God, taking in His glory through all of her senses. If I knew that my friend right now was meeting a celebrity, or the President, or the Queen of England I’d be so excited for them and I’d probably even talk about it at the time the scheduled meeting was taking place. So, let’s just multiply that by…oh, I don’t know….a million, trillion, gajillion. That’s how I feel when I think of Ally right now.

As true and amazing as that is, there’s still a struggle to understand the “why” behind the facts. This remarkable young woman—a dearly loved wife to an extraordinary man and a mother to two sweet young children—is now not with us physically. Why in the world would God seemingly ignore our cries for help on her behalf? Why would God choose it best to take His precious daughter home to be with Him instead of leaving her here to be with us? What good can come of this? I just don’t understand it. And its sometimes in the non-understanding that we struggle most. Its in the myriad of unanswered questions that faith can find its biggest fight. Indeed, the very existence of God is argued by atheists worldwide through the argument of pain and suffering. According to research, there are between 450-500 million atheists and agnostics in the world. I’ve talked to a few. Their #1 evidence against the existence of God? The presence of pain and suffering.

So it’s no wonder why those who believe in God and even follow His Son Jesus get tripped up when deep pain comes along. We just don’t get it. We don’t get how an all-powerful God who claims to be all-loving would allow such a travesty like a sweet young woman facing, fighting, and falling to the monster of cancer. It’s maddening. Let me share a rough analogy that might help. It struck me yesterday and I’ve been rolling it around in my mind. It’s simple in nature so it may not suffice the deep pains we feel through loss. But maybe it will help a little.

I love to fly. Anytime I get to fly anywhere I get giddy. I try and play it cool when I’m standing in line at TSA, or walking the concourse on the way to my gate, or getting my ticket scanned by the ticket agent. But inwardly, I’m thrilled to be flying. I’m like a little kid inside. One thing I always do whenever possible as I step through the curved doorway onto the plane is to sneak a peek into the cockpit and catch a glimpse of the walls, floor, and ceiling that are virtually covered in knobs, levers, slides, gauges, and screens. For that brief moment I take it all in and am astounded at all that goes into flying this machine I’m in. Think about it. It’s a multi-ton (a 747 take-off weight is 735,000 lbs) hunk of metal that is about to use the sheer power of lift and wind to propel itself and its passengers to some far away land, under propulsion of jet engines which are essentially a controlled, consistent explosion.

As often as I have flown, I have never once stopped at the cockpit door and demanded a thorough explanation of every one of those knobs, levers, slides, gauges, and screens. Not once. I walk past that door, marvel at the equipment I see, and make my way to my seat. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline you’ve done the exact same thing.

Why don’t we stop at that door, hold up the line, and make our expectations clear to the pilot and co-pilot that we aren’t moving another inch until our questions are satisfied? After all, this three-quarters of a million pound metal bird is very soon all that will be standing between us and plummeting to our death. Why in the world are we not more adamant about receiving a full explanation of how it all works? We can’t possibly be expected to simply trust the pilot, can we?!? It can’t possibly be that while we know next to nothing about aviation there are those who do and who have dedicated hundreds of thousands of hours to understanding every knob, every lever, every slide, every gauge, and every screen–for the sole, express purpose of making sure that the passengers of their plane have a safe flight to their destination? Nah, we can’t be expected to believe that, can we?

I hope by now you’ve made the connection. There are things that are mysteries to us passengers. We might catch a glimpse of the cockpit, but we won’t ever fully understand how all that really works. I think Deuteronomy 29:29 says it well:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

There are always going to be things that happen that we just don’t understand. And there are even going to be things that happen in our lives that we CAN’T understand. They’re simply non-understandable by us passengers. But just like I glance that cockpit, take the right turn and find my seat while putting full trust in the pilot to know how to fly this plane safely while I simply enjoy my beverage and tiny pretzels, I can fully trust God to know far more than I do. I can rest in simply knowing that He sees more than I see, knows more than I know, and loves more than I love.

So here I am. Still hurting. Still not having all the answers. Still wondering how all this could possibly work for good. Still sad. But fully trusting the pilot.

Why I Love You

I love you. What comes to mind when you hear those words from someone? What about when you read them on a blog and they’re coming from a (maybe complete) stranger? Do you believe them? Are you more guarded than to simply take those words at face value? Is there even such a thing as face value when we’re speaking those words? I was recently talking about these words with my girlfriend (who I’ve been married to for 26 years) and she suggested I write about them. So I am.

Let me start by saying what I DON’T mean. I don’t mean that I feel a certain way about you (at least that’s not what I mean primarily, and especially if we’ve never met). I don’t mean that I see and know everything you do and have come to the conclusion that you’re worth love. I don’t mean those things. What I mean is that I love you.

Those 3 words pack a punch, don’t they? There are people in my life who can’t even receive them because of the impact they’ve made through negative events in their past. And I’m so sorry for that. I’ve actually had someone tell me to please not say those words to them because of the pain they trigger. Begrudgingly, I consent.

I share these words with people freely. My wife wasn’t brought up that way. My wife’s parents very wisely taught her from a young age to guard those words carefully and NOT to simply dole them out to anyone and everyone. I love that. I love that they taught her to guard those words because in teaching her that, they taught her they were not words to be taken lightly. Her parents knew and instilled in her a reverence for the power these three words wield. I completely respect that. I told my girlfriend (when she was just my girlfriend) the words “I love you.” LOOOONG before she uttered the words back to me. But when she did? Oh….my…..WOOOOOORD. Have you ever seen a video of the atomic bomb going off? (How did that camera survive, anyway?) That mushroom cloud? That was my heart at that moment. And I’m pretty sure that was the point. That’s why she waited. That’s why she guarded them so well. Because of the sheer magnitude of impact they carry.

Why then? Why would I toss them around so flippantly, seemingly without regard for where they land? Why would I tell my wife “I love you” and still tell a 15 year old guy in my student ministry “I love you”? Aren’t I just cheapening the value of the words by using them so haphazardly? Can’t I and shouldn’t I discriminate more than that?

Maybe. Maybe I should. But I don’t think so. Here’s why.

To those who hear those words from me, they more than very likely know that I’m not talking about butterflies, rainbows, and warm fuzzies. They know me enough to know I’m on a different level than that. I realize fully what those words mean. I know what they’ve done in my life and I know what they have the power to do in others’ lives. I’ve seen it firsthand.

I tell you I love you because I’m expressing my commitment to stick with you, no matter what. Love is work, and I’m willing to work.

I tell you I love you because I want to help create a world that is both loving AND unwavering in its standards. Love has standards, and I love that.

I tell you I love you because I agree with Burt Bacharach, they really are “What the world needs now” and saying those words fills the air with what we need most, next to oxygen.

I tell you I love you because I don’t want anyone to ever mistake me for someone who’s unloving.

I tell you I love you because I invite you to inspect my life, my motives, my actions, and scrutinize them. Hold me accountable to the very definition of love that I proport. If you find me falling short, I trust you’ll love me enough to speak the truth in love to me.

I tell you I love you because I don’t know who is or who isn’t telling you that you are loved. I’d rather err on the side of communicating it and risking being misunderstood than not communicating it and risking being perceived as unloving.

I tell you I love you because I don’t know what’s actually going on behind the curtain of your life and those words–simple as they are–just might be the life-saving floatation device you need right now.

I tell you that I love you because life is far too precious to keep powerful, deeply-understood, healing words to myself. It costs me nothing to say them but for you they might hold everything that’s vital to survival.

I tell you that I love you because when the dust settles and I’m the one in the casket being lowered into the ground, I want everyone present, and everyone who’s ever known me to agree on one thing: Jerry loved us.

But mostly, I tell you that I love you because I know how loved I am. And I know that I’ve been loved first. I know that because I know that I am loved I am also compelled to let others know how loved they are. In other words, “We love because He first loved us.” If that sounds familiar to you, its from 1 John 4:19. The apostle John is spelling it out succinctly and supremely. He’s identifying the very reason that love exists for us at all. Its because you and I have been loved with an everlasting love. Therefore, we in turn are invited to love as freely as we are loved.

That’s why I love you. During the several minutes I’ve been typing, I’ve gotten 3 texts from 3 different people and all 3 of them received from me the words “I love you.” And I do. I love them. I love you.

Not because you earned it. Not because I feel like it. Not because of some ill-placed karma-like philosophy of life. Simply because I know that I’m loved. So God helping me, I want you to know it too.