“Self Marriage.” Nope, not kidding.

My wife was reading an article to me yesterday about a woman wbridewithsigncaketoppersho married herself.

“Wait a minute. What?” is what I think I thought.

My bride (you know, that one that’s not myself) continued to read the details of the elaborate pre-ceremony practices, guests lists, a formal ceremony, a reception, and yes a cake. What was on top of that cake? I have no idea. What was the first dance like? Who knows. How did the honeymoon go? I can guess.

Now, I know its only January 2nd but I just can’t let this pass by without pointing out the obvious. So if you’ll forgive me just going right for the deep end (and the jugular), we gotta unpack this at least a little bit. There are some serious dots here just screaming to be connected.

After my spouse (you know, the one that’s not me) finished reading the short article I think I said something to the effect of: “That [self marriage] is the epitome of self-absorption.”

Let me be quick to say that I don’t think marriage is for everyone. But let me be quicker to say that I also don’t think self marriage is for anyone. I’ll skip the obvious “Have-we-lost-our-silly-minds?” argument and get to something a bit more substantial. You ready?

While I do believe we need to understand our worth and that YOU need to understand YOUR worth, I do not believe that any of us have within ourselves the ability to ascribe that intrinsic value for ourselves. Here’s the logic: If I am the authority on my own worth, then I am by definition susceptible to the opposite. In other words, if I can on one day walk the aisle to meet myself at the altar, then I can the next day also be vulnerable to the such views of myself which would end in an acrimonious self divorce. Then what?!?

Here’s the problem that’s cleverly disguised as not a problem: we have become so good at affirming ourselves that we’ve become infatuated with us. We are so proficient at extoling our own virtues that we seek and need no other source of validation, acceptance, or care outside of ourselves. And if that’s our view, then we are light years away from any acknowledgement or confession that would hint at a brokenness that goes far beyond and far deeper than any human can remedy. In other words…Savior? What Savior? Why would we need a savior?

Here’s the freeing truth: Your worth isn’t your worth because of your declaration of your worth. Remember thbankruptcyat episode of “The Office” where Michael Scott was in such financial strain that when he learned about bankruptcy, he walked out into the office and shouted “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!!!!” only to be told by Oscar Martinez that simply saying “bankruptcy” doesn’t do anything.  His response: “I didn’t say it, I declared it.”

No, your worth isn’t real because you declare it. Your worth is real and unchangeable because of the One who is head over heels in love with you. And I’m NOT talking about the one in the mirror. Your worth is real and untouchable by circumstance or consensus because it goes far beyond your or anyone’s reach. You are adored…you…the one reading these words…by the One who created you in your mother’s womb. The One who–even before anything else you see existed–had you on His mind. And you know what you can do about this kind of love? Not a darn thing. It’s not fickle and flimsy, prone to the waves of your own opinion. Its rock solid and immovable. It doesn’t give a rat’s rear where you are, what you’ve been into, what you’ve done, what you think of you or what you think of Him. Your worth has already been declared.

 

 

*For those looking for the tax breaks that come with self marriage, there are none. It is not a legal transaction or process.

2017 is partially over.

Welcome to 2017. It seems its been a long time coming, based on the moaning of the collective online community. The last few days of 2016 seemed to be fraught with surprising celebrity deaths, bitter reflection on the year that most seem to want to forget, and an overall malaise and bemoaning of what we see in the rearview. Wherever you are in that, welcome to January 1st, 2017.

I want to share with you some random yet hopefully pointy thoughts as we begin a new year together. These aren’t in any particular order except the order in which I’m thinking them.

  1. You can’t forget until you forgive.

If you’re entering 2017 with some personal pain born of some relational conflict (and I know this is a really broad brush stroke), then you will not be able to move past it until you dole out the forgiveness necessary. Repeat after me: “I forgive him/her/them. I’m choosing to release the grip of anger I’ve been holding and in doing so I’m released from the grip of unforgiveness.”  There. Now let’s move on…forgetfully.

2. Know who(‘s) you are.

I know. I know. We’re all our own. We’re independent. We’re self-reliant. Except we’re not. You’re not. You’re a decision maker, but you’re not you’re own. And once you know who God is, you’ll know who you are and when that happens you’ll know who’s you are. And dear friends, once you know who’s you are the things you’ve perhaps spent so long chasing after will become insignificant in light of simply knowing that you’re known, accepted, loved, forgiven, redeemed, and set free.

3.  Set good goals, get good goals.

I like goals. Me sitting here typing is actually connected to one of my goals. But sometimes our goals stink. Let me rephrase that. Sometimes our goals aren’t good enough. Making a good goal includes equal parts reality, fantasy, practicality, and specificity. So as you set those goals, get a good grip on reality, dream (dare), write out tangible steps you can take in the next 24 hours and 7 days, and make it as nitty-gritty specific as you possibly can.

4.  Red blood.

At the risk of sounding completely cliché, we need desperately–more than ever–to rip down every wall that tells us you and I are different; different in a way that divides. I’m not that old but it seems to me that we are such a  dangerously divided people, even while being a hyper-connected people. 2016 has been instrumental in building some serious walls between political parties, genders, socioeconomic statuses, races, and a host of other labels we can slap on each other. But can we simply see other humans as fellow humans, loved by Jesus and worthy of Jesus-type love from one another? Can we live the truth that our red blood was purchased by His shed blood?

5.  Faith. Not religion. Not spirituality. Faith.

People hear faith and think religion. Some people hear faith and say, “Oh, I’m a spiritual person. Next question.” But stop and think before you blow past this whole faith thing. As a human, you’re a being of faith. Atheists, agnostics, Satanists, skeptics, and right on down the list. You right now are exercising faith. The critical question to answer is “In who?” Some of you might rather answer “In what?” because “In who?” is too close to making some kind of “religious” connection.  Okay, fine. Just answer the question. If you can’t, let me suggest Jesus. Not religion. Not rules. Not churchy activities. Jesus. And please don’t think “But I don’t want to be like one of those people.” Odds are, I don’t either and you might think I am one of those people. Let your 2017 start with, end with, and be all about Jesus.

 

I’d love to hear from you. Check my contact info and let me know what your plans are for 2017. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

Centerfield

As a kid, I loved baseball. As a kid growing up in South Jersey, I loved the Philadelphia Phillies. As a kid growing up in South Jersey who loved the Phillies, I loved Mike Schmidt. He was my hero and I watched him play every chance I got.

I remember being on a camping trip with a bunch of other boys and dads from our church. I was probably around 9 or 10 years old. I was playing with a friend near a shallow, slow-moving river where the occasional canoe would meander by. I recall a canoe and its paddlers paddling by when one of them–an lady probably in her 50s–called to me on the shore, “Hello!” “Hi!” I replied. She called out, “You look like a baseball player!”

She couldn’t have known it, but she had just gifted me with the greatest, most magnificent compliment a boy could receive. I was immediately dumbfounded and honestly don’t think I said anything else to the stranger in the canoe. My brain was spinning, trying to figure out how this women knew of my love for baseball and how its all I wanted to do, and how I dreamed of playing with my hero and idol, Michael Jack Schmidt in the major leagues someday. She must have just seen it in my eyes. I must’ve so powerfully oozed a love for baseball that she couldn’t help but see my future in it.

After she was gone around the next bend and out of sight, I stood there with mouth a-gape. Still reeling. Still reveling in those 6 glorious words, believing this woman was undoubtedly a prophetess, uttering the proclamation of my future glory on a major league diamond somewhere. Then I looked down at my left hand. And saw my baseball glove.

Oooooooooh.  So THAT’S how she knew I loved baseball. That lady wasn’t a prophetess. She just had functioning eyeballs and the ability to spout the obvious to little kids onshore.

I won’t say that my dreams of baseball stardom were dashed that day, but they were severely dented. Maybe I wasn’t headed for the majors after all.

This morning on my commute to work I was listening to the radio when the song “Centerfield” came on. If you haven’t heard it, John Fogerty basically created the defining song about baseball.

“Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.  Put me in, coach! I’m ready to play…today.
Look at me, I can be….centerfield!”

As a youth pastor I sometimes think about who I am, where I am, and what I do.  It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while someone will dare to ask me if I’d ever consider taking a “lead” or “senior” pastor role. I think to many it equates to a call to the major leagues.

But I don’t think so…at all.

I love student ministry and while I’m very realistic about my plummeting “hipness” factor, I still love every single day that I get to pray for, serve, speak to, disciple, laugh with, counsel, help, support, walk with, listen to, and influence the next generation. I just love it. It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, it’s not lucrative, it’s not glamorous, it’s not simple, it’s not always fun…but I just somehow love it. Will I do this for another 21 years? Who knows. But for now, “Put me in, Coach!”

So whether you’re in full time ministry or mopping floors (there’s often overlap there), my prayer for you is that you wake up tomorrow with an insatiable desire to play centerfield. Wherever you find yourself.

C’mon…sing along…

 

A Misspelled Reminder

I remember back in high school, while walking between classes I’d sometimes hear a distant voice from another hallway calling out, “Fight!“. Nothing got people going in the same direction quicker than the opportunity for public spectacle, even if it amounted to not much more than a couple girls pulling hair and feverishly slapping each other. If we were really lucky, it would be a couple of juiced up jocks going at it.

A simple truth about human nature: A crowd draws a crowd.

That’s why I don’t put much stock in a church or student ministry that has the ability to simply draw a crowd. If you’re a youth pastor and you’ve bragged over your big numbers I can honestly confess that I don’t get too fired up about that. Good marketing doesn’t always equal good ministry. After all, that fight in the next hall over drew a huge crowd and there was nothing good happening there.

I attended a one-day conference called the “Orange Tour” the other day. For the most part, it was very enjoyable and I got to see and hear from some well-known and very impactful communicators. Big shots like Carey Nieuwhof and Jon Acuff to name a couple. While sitting among a small sea of ministry leaders, I was careful to take copious notes. But I don’t take notes like normal people. I’m a note-doodler. So there I am doodling two words that were being discussed from the stage. Two words that, according to the speaker (and statistical reality) trump the attraction of spectacle via lasers and fog and up-to-the-minute trendy music when it comes to why people go to and stick with a particular church.

You ready for the two words?  “Relational warmth.”

In a nutshell, its relational warmth that makes a church sticky to people. Its relational warmth that draws people in, puts them at ease, and allows community to happen. Its relational warmth that far outweighs the lighting effect budget or lack thereof.

Now, take a look at mrelational-warmthy doodle I drew as I was listening to this truth being talked about…

I got nearly all the way through this doodle and realized I misspelled the word “Relational”.  In the very next moment it dawned on me that in that silly mistake is a powerful truth. If my relationships aren’t real…that is, if I keep my guard up, if I posture like I’ve got my whole act together all the time, if I’m not willing to be vulnerable and honest, if I keep up an affront that gives the vibe that I’m more than I am or less than I should be….well, that relationship won’t get much deeper than…you know…something shallow.

Sometimes I wonder how people view me as a pastor. (And pastors in general, for that matter.)  Am I approachable? Am I welcoming? Do I engage others in authentic conversation well? Or do I seem too busy to most people? Do I come across as unteachable or unreachable? When you get my attention do you feel like you have ALL of my attention?

In other words, am I REAL?  Gosh, I hope so.

Here’s what I want to do.  *Gulp*  If I’ve EVER made you feel unimportant, overlooked, or marginalized, I’m inviting you to contact me. I’d happily contact you but I honestly don’t know who you are (or if you are).  Use the menu at the top of this page to find my contact information. I mean it: Would you give me the opportunity of knowing how I’ve hurt you and allowing me the chance to apologize?

I want my relationships to be realationships. I want my ministry to be marked by authenticity, even when that means the light shines on my imperfections. Because I know that it’s in my brokenness that God’s ability to mend and restore is most clearly seen.

8 Little Boxes.

What is it about taking advice about leadership that people eat up with a spoon? Leadership and its gurus have grown exponentially over the past decade. It seems if you want to be noticed, tell people how to be a better whatever it is they want to be better at.

Good stuff, for sure.  Heck, I’m swimming in that pool too. I want to know how to be better, do better, accomplish better, see better, hear better, plan better, and write better (to name a few).

But its really not that complicated. Let me tell you what I mean through an experiment we’ll do together. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. I prefer lined paper, but its your life.

What do you want to do?  Write that down. Keep it to one line and measurable. Break big goals like “Get on the New York Times bestseller list” into chunks like “Write page 1” or “Lose 40 pounds” into chunks like “Walk the block every night”.  You get the idea.

To the left, draw a small box. This is where you’ll put your “check” when you’ve done it. To the right, draw seven small boxes. One for every day of the week. Sunday through Saturday. You know how a week works.  This is your list, so make it as long as you want, but I’d stick with 5 things or less. Keep it focused.

Now, for every day you don’t put a check in the “done” box to the left, put a check (or frown) in the “day” box to the right. If you fill up every “day” box, take that thing off your to-do list. But first, figure out why you didn’t get it to “done”. No, you don’t get to make an excuse and leave it on the list. Take it off.  Live at least one week with it off the list, then you can put it back, remembering why it didn’t get done the first time.

After trying this little experiment for a while, let me know how it’s going. Send me an email or something. Feel free to comment if you don’t mind the known universe knowing what you’re trying to get done.

Or feel free to share your best practices in getting stuff done. THAT  I would love to see in the comment section. You never know who besides me could benefit from it.

If you want to use the list tool I’m using, give me a shout and I’ll email it to you. But seriously, it took me 3 1/2 minutes to make mine. You got this.

#revive

revive

What is the evidence of spiritual revival? Where is the spiritual revival so many want to see in our country and in our world? Who decides when/if revival arrives? Who decides when its here?

I was visiting a very large, well known church and speaking with one of the members of that church. He was sharing with me all that God was doing in their church, the crazy numbers of people coming to faith in Christ, the miracles they were seeing, and the overall sense of God’s power being poured out there. But then he made a statement I couldn’t quite let go of. He said, “I don’t know why they don’t call it a revival.” 

Wait a second. Is there some Revival Criteria Committee I’m unaware of? Is there some backroom table where a certain group of people look over evidences of supernatural things happening in different places and decide if they get that “YEP, THAT’S REVIVAL!” rubber stamp? Can somebody clue me in if such a group exists, ‘cuz I’d like to picket outside where they’re meeting.

Here’s what I think of when I think of revival…

It’s unmistakable. The evidence is beyond argument. There’s no ambivalence.

It’s personal. It may involve a crowd, but it invades individuals.

It’s holy. The sweeping of God’s Spirit convicts us to remove sin from our lives.

It’s unexplainable. We don’t manufacture it with the right mix of musical crescendo and prayer claps. We can’t.

It’s attainable. God gave us a blueprint for revival in 2 Chronicles 7:14, among other places in Scripture.

It’s never egocentric. It isn’t based on any one individual, pastor, or communicator. It’s based on Jesus. Only Jesus. If you hear any pastor taking credit for revival, run.

It results in boldness. Read the Biblical accounts of what happens when God moves in a person or group of people. They could give a rip what anyone thinks of them. They’re emboldened. Not obnoxious, rude, or pushy. BOLD.

It’s so very near.  My personal revival is closer than I might think and is ignited by a relentless pursuit of daily nearness and intimacy with Jesus. It is inspired and stoked by others who are also seeking that nearness. It’s contagious among those who desire personal revival.

 

This one is quick and messy, but I’ll ask you this:

What is YOUR view of revival? Have I said anything that is incomplete or incorrect?

I didn’t title this one. Sorry.

We have a problem. And its a big one. But its not a new one, a complex one, or an insurmountable one.

And its not Trump.  Or Hilary.  Or the mainstream media.  Or Target.  Or ISIS.

Its our incomprehension, misunderstanding, and consequential dismissal of one word:

 

Repent.

It’s an old word. It’s a biblical word. And today most of us would be offended by it if we weren’t so busy ignoring it.

If we want to “Make America Great Again”, its not going to be through some orange-skinned, egotistical, anti-establishment millionaire.

If we want to see our nation rise from where its been, its not going to be through the romantic notion that we can collectively put a woman in the seat of Commander-In-Chief. It didn’t work with Obama and our romantic views of ending racism, and it won’t work with Clinton and our romantic views of ending sexism.

If we want to again own our responsibility for where our country is headed, its not going to be through making NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, or any other talking head the whipping boy for our collective ills. Of course they twist information to fit their agenda. But if a waiter walks up to your table with a plate full of poo, you say “I’m not eating that.” and then you don’t eat it.

If we as a people are going to live free, its not going to be through nonsensical “tolerance” of nonsensical policy. While we’re arguing over who should pee where, our last sense of dignity, honor, respect, and sacredness take its last gasps of air. You’re gonna boycott Target? Okay. Go ahead. I’ll be over there at the end of the aisle, checking out the clearance items. Target isn’t our enemy.

If we as a people are going to rise and defeat the religiously oppressive and murderous Muslim extremists known as ISIS, it sure as heck isn’t going to be by throwing all religious thought into one sack and tossing it off a bridge. ISIS is certainly a threat, but ISIS isn’t the end-all, be-all of evil in our world. (Bonus thought: For every Christian they behead, they fulfill more Biblical prophecy.)    (If I had a mic, this is the point at which I’d drop it.)

What IS going to heal, restore, and revive us as a people is our response to the invitation to repentance. People may cringe at the word “repent” but that only proves the validity and vitality of the need.

When I repent of something, I turn away from it. I go in a different, better direction. But here’s the kicker: You won’t (and can’t) repent until you acknowledge the dysfunction and destructiveness of the current situation. And that takes what few people are willing to exhibit: brokenness, pridelessness, and humility. It takes me saying:

“I see things as they really are; and I confess that I’m responsible. I have put myself as center and the god of my own life and I have systematically wrecked my heart with sinful decisions based on what I want, how I feel, what makes me most comfortable. And with God’s help…I’m done.”

The message of the gospels and epistles in the New Testament by and large boil down to eight words, starting with the one: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

I’m no doomsday prepper. I admit this post has a bit of a somber tone to it, but please don’t picture me wearing a sandwich board, holding a megaphone, walking the streets and shouting incoherently about some nondescript future calamity. Please don’t.

What I am saying is even if one or one hundred people were to read these words, entertain the thought that our humanistic philosophies have completely failed us, and turned away from our sin in repentance as we turn to God, the author of our only salvation, and began to live lives of others-first action…well….maybe our nation can live again.

 

 

If you’re ready to repent but you’re not sure what to do next, just reach out. Send me a message. I’m no perfect anything. Far from it actually. I’m just someone who has understood a bit of God’s grace and that’s only because of God’s grace. That grace is open to anyone and everyone.

And I do mean everyone.