A dear friend once told me, "Jesus always did the unexpected. He constantly surprised people."
People expected a moral coach. He ate with the impious.
People expected a leader of the religious establishment. He sparred with the Pharisees.
People expected a line between "good people" and "bad people." He said, "Love your enemies."
People expected an easy way of spiritual improvement. He said, "Deny yourself and follow me."
People expected a dynamic rock star. He did miracles and then told them to keep it hush-hush.
People expected tidy sermons. He spoke confounding parables.
People expected a triumphant general. He died by execution.
500 years after Martin Luther boldly reasserted "Grace!" into the Christian church's vocabulary, we still struggle with it. Let me explain.
My six-year-old daughter and I went a St. Louis Cardinals game in September. We had tickets way up in the outfield. On the sidewalk, a guy comes up to us and asks if we have tickets. “Yes,” I say abruptly. He’s probably trying to sell me something.
“Where are they?”
“Section 340,” I say reluctantly.
“I’ve got some better tickets. You want 'em?”
Before I can say "no," he hands me two tickets. The price on each says $184. Third base line behind the dugout. “How much?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says. "I’ve got four tickets, but I’m only using two."
I sat next this generous gift-giver during the game feeling like I owed him. "I have to return the favor." I offered to buy him a beer, but he refused.
"Do you want to quit this job?" the supervisor asked her young employee.
"No," replied the young man. "It's just a lot. I'm so busy. I don't have any time."
"I understand," she stated. "It is a full time job. But let me ask you, do you watch Netflix?"
"How much time a day do you spend watching Netflix?"
"I suppose 2-3 hours."
"Do you keep up on social media?"
"How much time do you spend?"
"Uh, probably two hours a day."
The supervisor paused, and then stated plainly, "No, you do have time. You just need to know where to spend it."
It's a growing list of recent tragedy. Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Mexico City. Las Vegas . . . and on top of it all, Tom Petty died on Monday. There are tragedies of all kinds, and they all cause a piercing pain.
There are times in life when the compounded effect of tragedy leaves you helpless. "What's going on? What can I do?"
We all have our ways of responding: cry, pray, give, post, advocate, etc. I've been reflecting on my own response to overwhelming tragedy. Here are some thoughts.
The San Francisco Bay Area is trendy, techie, and cool.
New York is the impressive intersection of the world - business, media, arts, culture . . .
Nashville and Austin are hot and happening cities with booming populations.
I live in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis was hot at the turn of the century - the 20th century. We hosted the World's Fair in 1904 and were the fourth largest American city, the Gateway to the West. Today, we're a worn and tired city. We've lost our NFL team and a few Fortune 500 companies. We suffer from a history of racism, white flight, and social disparity.
We're anxious right now because of tension over the acquittal of a white police officer who shot and killed a black man. Over the weekend, we witnessed clashes between protesters and police that returned us to 2014 and the unrest that followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Twelve years ago, I resisted St. Louis residency. I did not choose to live here. It was chosen for me. Today, I claim this territory as my hometown.
What happens when God calls you to a place you don't want to be?
"Men have become tools of their tools."
In August, I'll celebrate 6 years of blogging at sixthgen.com. In that time, I've posted nearly every week. Now it's time to take a break. Today I begin a blogging sabbatical until September.
Tools, like the internet, are good things. This blog allows me to reach thousands of people around the country and world.
But as Thoreau noted, "Men have become tools of their tools." Even good things can enslave us. I'm checking my use of technology and assessing my workload. Taking a break from regular blogging is part of my re-calibration.
Fields need to lie fallow in order to be more fertile.
Calloused hands need time to soften.
Weary feet need to be lifted.
Thanks for following me. I'm grateful for the support.
This summer, find some time for rest, health, and leisure.
And if you're looking for summer reading, go here.
One year ago I was nearing the end of writing a book. I had invested 500 hours into it, and I was about to scrap the whole thing.
I took out a loan for $12,000 to self-publish. I was afraid of the debt.
I was weary after months of writing in the dark hours of the early morning.
I suffered from self-doubt. "It isn't really that good. No one will read it."
I felt naked with the choice to be transparent in my story-telling.
I had writer's block near the end. I couldn't find an effective conclusion.
It was like standing at the end of a dock on a lake. Should I jump in? The water is so cold. I was about to hit "delete" on the whole project. But first, I went for a walk. And the words on this note card came to me.
With these words, I was possessed. I had to keep going. This line became my prayer for the remainder of the process: "Lord, I'll just keep writing and trust that you will give the words."
So I jumped. Writing became an exercise of faith. To leap without knowing where I'd land. To walk without being certain of the path.
Today, I'm approaching 5,000 copies distributed. For a little self-published book, all expectations have been exceeded.
Every week, I hear from strangers around the country. Loved & Sent is being used in small groups and book clubs. For leadership development, new member classes, and sermon series. See a list of churches and organizations here.
The book has been used to raise thousands of dollars for causes. An immigrant and refugee agency. An urban after-school ministry. Christian Camps.
A pastor in Wisconsin wrote me, “I gave gave the book to a truck driver that kept coming to me with questions. I encouraged him to read it. After the chapter on grace, he asked me about baptism. He was baptized last Saturday night.”
What's your dock? Is it time to leap? Why aren't you jumping?
"Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."
"Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith's rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her great Guide." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Major props to these people for their love and encouragement.
"How are you?" they ask. "Busy," I reply.
You say it too. "My schedule is crazy!" "I'm super busy." "I've got too much to do."
In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson gives two reasons why pastors become busy. I believe they apply to all people. I reread Peterson's book annually, and these two statements continue to convict me. They are my yearly "check-up," and help me to refocus my time and energy.
This article was first posted on Mother's Day 2016.
Mother's Day is approaching. For some, it's anything but a sentimental Hallmark card or pleasant Sunday brunch. Motherhood is filled with surprises, and many of them are difficult.
As you prepare to celebrate Mother's Day, consider all the situations in which women find themselves. Be sensitive to the many circumstances that exist. Pray for those who are living through a variety of situations. Here are a few.
Our culture places a high value on winning. Picture the the New England Patriots after collecting another Super Bowl. Think of the North Carolina Tarheels winning their sixth college basketball championship last week. They are dynasties, storied programs, winning teams.
Americans are obsessed with being number one, on top, basking in the glory of victory. This preoccupation goes far beyond sports.
We are told that there are winners and losers. And all of life is about being a winner. Be wealthy. Be successful. Be the best at all costs. Make the most money. Be the biggest, fastest, and strongest. Have the best house with the perfect family.
In a society of winners, Jesus stands out for his propensity to lose.