To My Dearest America, on Valentine’s Day

To My Dearest America, on Valentine’s Day

To my dearest America,

It’s Valentine’s Day and I feel the need to express my feelings for you, even though our relationship has been rocky as of late.

Let me begin by simply acknowledging the fact that I am extremely lucky to call you mine. I realize my blessing, and this is why I’m writing this Valentine’s letter to you.

We have had wonderful days and months and years together. We have created memories to last a lifetime. We have dreamed dreams and seen many of them come to fruition.

On Valentine’s Days past we have felt head-over-heels in love with each other. But as with all relationships, ours ebbs and flows. This just happens to be an off-year, I guess.

In order for us to move forward, I need to get something off of my chest:

For several months I have been passive-aggressively waiting for you to admit that you have wronged me, that you messed up, that it’s been your fault. For far too long I’ve bottled up my bitterness toward you without even trying to articulate it. I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve just been sitting on the sidelines, waiting.

But now I realize that the key to any relationship moving forward is for one person to humbly suck it up, apologize, and take proactive steps toward reconciliation. That is exactly what I intend to do.

This Valentine’s Day I am making a commitment to you, to step up my game. I no longer want to wallow in self-pity. I want to return to what we once had, and I can’t pretend that we’ll become great again if I just wait for it to happen.

I also know that words and ideas can fall on deaf ears without practical steps of action to back them. I can’t fix everything at once, so here are some baby steps that I intend to pursue in the coming days:

  • I will meet my neighbors. Whether they have a different color skin, worship a different god, cheer for different team or have a family that looks drastically different from mine, our neighborhood will only be as strong as the friendships between our homes (even if all I do is learn their names!).
  • I will volunteer. There are so many nonprofit organizations doing good work in our communities. I’m done sitting back and complaining. I want to contribute to the betterment of my community using my own hands.
  • I will listen first and talk second. Both of these aspects are important. For too long I’ve been pretending to listen without engaging. OR, I’ve been talking over you without pausing to consider that I could be wrong. I intend to actively and humbly listen first, and then respectfully engage in the conversation in ways that I feel will actually help.
  • I will brag about you to my friends. Again, I fully recognize the blessing of calling you mine. Even if we don’t feel close at the moment, I am proud of who you are and I want the world to know that I love you.

Yes, this is a list of just four baby steps, but I think they have the potential to make a significant impact on our relationship.

At this point I suppose it would be customary to ask you to be my Valentine, but I’m not going to, because quite frankly, your answer doesn’t matter to me. Don’t get me wrong! I would be elated if you said, “Yes!”

What I mean is that your answer won’t change mine; I’m going to be YOUR Valentine either way.

I’m done waiting. It’s time to make up and move forward, even if I have to pull you with me, because that’s what love is. It’s not a feeling. It’s not an experience. Love is a commitment, an intentional decision to seek the best for each other on a daily basis, even at the expense of one’s own comfort and preference. That’s the commitment I am renewing with you today.

Happy Valentine’s Day, America.

Love,

Me

 

[If you live in the city of Bakersfield, CA (as I do) and you desire to step up YOUR game by volunteering with a local nonprofit, visit the index of volunteer opportunities at www.betterbako.com]

 

The Savannah House: Missional Living in a Luxury Setting

The Savannah House: Missional Living in a Luxury Setting

“A luxury apartment complex?  You can’t practice missional living there.  They don’t need help.”

That was the challenge.  That was the question and assumption running through my mind every time I drove past the apartment complex that now includes our Savannah House.

I had experienced and seen examples of missional living on college campuses, in impoverished neighborhoods, in middle-class suburbia and in many different contexts, but never in an upscale apartment setting.

“What would it look like for us to house urban missionaries in this setting in our own backyard?” I continually asked.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Young Clergy Initiative (given by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church), and a partnership with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, we, at Christ United Methodist Church, have embarked on a journey to find out.

For the past year we have housed three young women in what we’ve named The Savannah House.  Each of these residents is discerning the call of God on their life to pursue vocational ministry in some form or fashion.  Click here to read more about the goals of The Savannah House from a post I wrote when we were initially moving our residents in.

What we’ve come to learn is that injustice exists in a variety of forms, in a variety of contexts.  While the residents of this particular apartment complex may not be struggling financially, there is plenty of loneliness and relational injustice that expresses itself in the form of closed doors and skeptical stares.  By embodying the neighborly love of Christ, our Savannah House residents are living an alternative narrative of hospitality in a world that says, “I’m okay by myself.”

I invite you to watch this 7:23 video to grasp the impact of what God is doing through this missional experiment:

It’s my prayer that our experiment might inspire yours.  When you find yourself asking, “I wonder if this could ever work?” pertaining to the Kingdom of God, what’s the harm in trying?  Go for it!  And get ready to see what God has in store.

6 Ways Loving God is Like Dating

6 Ways Loving God is Like Dating

The last thing you want in any relationship is to experience a moment of sudden realization that causes you to say, “Who are you?  I feel like I don’t even know you!”

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about people who try to do all the right things, but they miss the essence of a relationship with Christ.  As they ask to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus looks at them and says these haunting words: “I never knew you.”

How do we avoid reaching this point in our relationship with God?  The same way we avoid reaching this point in a healthy dating relationship.  Allow me to explain:

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1) Communication

Good communication is a vital element of a healthy relationship.  You cannot possibly have a good relationship with someone without talking honestly and often with that person.  Although you will have times when you don’t feel like talking with your significant other, you cannot hope to make progress until you do.

This is just like prayer.  Communication with God is a vital element of a healthy relationship with our Creator.  Just like a dating relationship, if you want to stay in love with God, you have to keep that line of communication open and engaged.  Will there be times you don’t feel like talking to God?  Sure!  But just like dating, your relationship won’t make progress until you start talking again.

And don’t forget—when you’re on a date, you can’t be the only on doing all the talking.  This is even more significant when it comes to God!  You must listen more than you talk.

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2) Story

Do you remember when you started dating someone and you couldn’t wait to hear more about that person?  You’d ask all about their family, where they were born, how they got to where they are today, what their passions and interests in life are.  You wanted to know everything there was about this person’s story, so you continued to ask and learn and ask and learn some more.

It’s the same with Scripture.  You want to know God well?  Spend time with God’s story.  Ask and learn, and then ask some more and learn some more.  Find out about where God’s people came from.  Find out about God’s passions and interests.  Find out what has led God’s story to where it is today.

Just like you can’t have an intimate knowledge of someone without knowing their story, you have to know God’s story in order to know God and to open yourself up to being known by God in return.  You have to spend time in Scripture learning and appreciating God’s story.

Think about the result: the more you learn someone’s story, and the longer you’re together with that person, the more it becomes your story as well, doesn’t it?  In the same way, the more time you spend with Scripture, the more familiar you become with God’s story, the more if becomes your story as well.

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3) Community

Think about the first time you met your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s best friends.  You can learn a lot about someone you’re dating by getting to know the circle of people with whom they surround themselves and spend the most time!

This is just like the Church.  We can learn a lot about God by spending time with the people God calls his children.  Will we like them all?  Probably not, but that just goes to show us even more about God’s grace and love for all humanity.

And just like a rocky time in your dating relationship when you go to your significant other’s best friend and beg, “Please help me understand this!” we have the Church around us to turn to in those rocky times of life when we can’t understand God.

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4) Affirmation

A staple in any healthy relationship should be words of affirmation.  The obvious go-to is “I love you.”  Simply telling someone you love them affirms their role in your life.  But even more than those three words, healthy relationships involve constant affirmation and encouragement, telling your significant other how amazing they are, how proud you are of them, how much you want to be like them because they inspire you.

And the cool thing is, as much as our partner receives from our words of affirmation, they also serve to remind us of that person’s value in our life.  It is nearly impossible to pay someone a compliment without reminding yourself how incredible they really are.

This is what we experience when we gather to worship.  When we worship God together through music and song we are lifting our words of affirmation toward our Creator—and it’s not for God’s benefit, but it’s for ours!  It serves as a reminder to us just how incredible God is.

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5) Reminiscing

Any good marriage counselor will tell you that reminiscing is a great strategy toward reconciliation between two spouses.  It’s really difficult to remember the good times of a relationship without re-experiencing at least a sliver of those original feelings.

When Megan and I were in college we had the privilege of studying abroad in Florence, Italy.  One evening, we ate at this phenomenal little restaurant called Aqua al Due.  As we were leaving, we were surprised to see a sign that said, “Please visit our other location in San Diego, CA!”

Following our return to San Diego—where we were living at the time—we celebrated our anniversary at the San Diego location of Aqua al Due.  I’ll never forget how fun it was to reminisce about our time in Italy while we were not only enjoying a great meal together, but we were enjoying the same meal that brought us straight back to those memories.

This is exactly what happens with communion.  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminiscing over a meal that brings us straight back to the memories of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  That habit of participating in this meal of remembrance keeps us intimately tied to God.  Through communion we receive God’s grace and any brokenness in our relationship can experience God’s healing and forgiveness.

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6) Sacrifice

The last way that loving God is like dating is through sacrifice.  A healthy relationship is built on the idea that the other person’s needs are more important than my own.  Without losing our own individuality, identity and value, good relationships thrive when each partner is constantly seeking ways to out-serve the other.

This is like fasting.  When we fast, we give something up; we sacrifice something to spend more time listening to God.  We fast so that we can spend selfless time with our Creator because we recognize that God’s desires for our life are so much more important than our own.  And when we do, our relationship with God is strengthened.

Communication like prayer.

Story like Scripture.

Community like the Church.

Affirmation like worship.

Reminiscing like communion.

Sacrifice like fasting.

John Wesley called these means of grace.  They are “acts of piety” (as Wesley said) that keep us in love with God.  The minute we begin to neglect the intentionality it takes to stay in love with God, the minute our love begins to feel stale… just like it does in any relationship.

Doing Good Well

Doing Good Well

We live in a “watch me” world, don’t we?

I mean, really… that Whip, Nae Nae song? It has a whole section where the words “watch me, watch me” are sung over and over and over.

Particularly with the rise of social media, we want the world to know what we’re doing. Is that always bad? No, not always, but I do think it makes it significantly more difficult to “do good” well.

Matthew 6:1-4 says this:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There are times when it is good for the world to know what we’re doing. I think the world can be inspired by what we do. All throughout Scripture the People of God embody their Creator to the nations of around them, to their neighbors who are watching. The world knows who God is by watching the People of God and what they do differently.

And I truly think there is a place for this on social media. Social media is a new vehicle for Christian witness.

But the trick is the motivation. As we all know, there’s a fine line between wanting to share something that we think our friends will want to see, and wanting to share something because we want our friends to see it.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone! When you have a three-year-old daughter who is constantly doing cute things, it’s really difficult to not share photos from the wrong motivation. It’s easy to think, “I don’t care if people want to see this or not.  I want them to see it, so I’m going show it off!”

We get so caught up with this need to share everything we do that sometimes when we’re doing something amazing all we can think is, “How can I take a photo of this to share with the world?”

Or if you’ve ever missed an opportunity to share something great you say, “Oh man, I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture to share on Facebook!”

But when was the last time you experienced something amazing or did something good, anonymously?

When was the last time you helped someone, or volunteered with a local nonprofit organization, or made a donation, or collected clothes around your neighborhood to give to the homeless, or treated someone to a meal, or took an underprivileged friend to a baseball game, or whatever it is…

…and you didn’t tell anyone about it?

In this Matthew passage, Jesus isn’t saying that everything we do needs to be done in complete secret, but he is saying that our motivation needs to be pure—so pure, that it doesn’t matter to us if anyone knows about what we’re doing or not.

That’s a great test, really. The next time you “do good” ask yourself, “Do I care who knows about this? Will I be content when I’m finished with this and no one finds out?”

If you’re able to genuinely answer “yes” to that, then you know your motivation is in the right place. You know that what you’re doing is for the glory of God and not for your own attention.

Then if people do find out what you did, it’s not bad! Again, it might inspire them to do good as well, but at least you can know that you started from the right spot: from a pure heart that was not motivated to bring attention to yourself, but to the One who is the source of all good in the first place.

 

 

The Fallacy of Freedom

The Fallacy of Freedom

One of the most common hesitancies I hear from people who are not yet ready to become a Christian is, “I don’t want to lose my freedom. I can’t imagine giving up everything I like to do in order to submit to some sort of higher power with a bunch of rules.”

The problem is, this assumption about Christianity is based on a fallacy of freedom.

Throughout Scripture—particularly in the writings of Paul—we read a lot about the freedom that is provided through Christ.

For example, in Galatians 5:13 Paul writes, “You were called to be free, but don’t use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature.”

In fact, the entire fifth chapter leading up to this verse is about freedom.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

The reality is this: when we live our lives as God has designed us to live our lives, we don’t lose freedom. We actually become freer than we have ever been before.

Think about it: You really like to drink? You go out every night and party? Or you have a casual drink before bed every single night? You think you’re just exercising your freedom until one day you realize, “I don’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink.” And we call that freedom?

What about shopping? The way of the world says, “You need everything you see.” If it’s new, you need it. If it’s beautiful, buy it. If it’s on sale, you can’t afford not to get it. And why not? You’re an adult. You can make adult decisions to buy whatever you want. You make your own money. It’s your freedom… until it’s not. Until one day you realize, “I don’t remember the last time I didn’t give in to my impulse to buy something.”

I could go on and on and on. We all have our vices, those things we struggle with and yet we justify by saying, “It’s not that big a deal. I’ve got the freedom to do it, so why not?”

And yes, you do have the freedom to do it… for a while… until you realize that what the world has defined as “freedom” has gradually become something that is keeping you captive. We tell ourselves this lie that we aren’t harming anyone, not realizing the real harm these things are doing to our true freedom in Christ.

That’s why Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom to indulge in sinful nature.” Because when we do, we are actually losing what we call freedom without even knowing it.

However, when we do decide to commit our lives to Jesus Christ, and to live by God’s set of rules, we don’t lose freedom, we gain it! When we decide to live by God’s rules, we open ourselves to the possibilities of living the fullest life possible—the life that God has designed for us to live from the beginning.

When you say, “Ok, God, I’m going to start living my life like you want me to, and not like I want me to…” then you actually might start seeing more money in your bank account—NOT because God directly blesses you with finances for being good—but because you cut yourself loose from your addiction to buying everything, or you cut yourself loose from drinking so much, or you cut yourself loose from the pressure to always look better than your neighbor!

Living life as God intends actually gives you more freedom to be YOU.

To those who are still hesitant to give up their “freedom” I say, “Just try it. Give God’s way of life a ‘test run,’ even if it’s just to see the pragmatic results it will have on your life. Just try it out and let me know what you think afterward.”

I guarantee you will feel freer than you have ever felt before.

Welcome to the Future

Welcome to the Future

A couple years ago when Megan and I moved from an apartment into a house, we needed to have our satellite TV hooked up. The guy who installed the system was an older gentleman who I could tell just really loved his job. As I watched him putting it all together, he kept talking and telling stories the entire time.

When he finished configuring it he said, “All right. You ready for this? Now I’m going to show you how to use it.”

He was so excited and passionate about it that I didn’t dare tell him that it was the same exact system I had been using for the past five years. I was caught in a tension between two choices: “Do I waste this man’s time and let him tell me about all the features? Or do I just stop him and tell him I already know everything he’s about to show me?”

I didn’t have the heart to stop him, so I just let him start showing me everything. He had the whole script memorized. He was making jokes as he showed me how to access the menu, how to change the channels, how to turn the volume up and down.

But then, out of the blue, he pointed up across my room and he said, “Wait, what’s that?”

When I looked toward the ceiling where he was pointing, he said, “Oh I guess it was nothing.” But he had this really giddy smile on his face like a kid who can’t wait to spill the beans about something.

I looked back at the TV and noticed that he had it paused. Then in a very serious and dramatic voice he said, “Josh–welcome to the future. You can now pause live TV!”

He said it with such confidence that he could have just dropped the controller right there like a mic drop and walked away victorious.

It took everything within me to keep a straight face and pretend that my excitement matched his, as I said, “That is unbelievable!”

Again, I had been using that same system for the previous five years, so pausing live TV wasn’t anything new to me. But in that moment, it was as if this gentleman had just paused life; he was so excited! And I… well, I just had to pretend that I thought it was exciting as well.

The reason I wasn’t excited about pausing live TV was because it was old news to me. It had been a part of my reality for several years at that point.

However, if I were to bring myself back to the first day that I did witness the new technology that allows us to pause TV, I would have to admit that it really is a fascinating technology! It just didn’t seem as “futuristic” as it once did.

Here’s the deal:

We do this type of thing ALL. THE. TIME. We live in a fast-paced world where yesterday’s news might as well be last year’s news. The last person to become aware of a news story that has been circulating on social media for a matter of hours is deemed “out of the loop.”

Now think about how that affects the way we view stories of Scripture. If hour-old news is “old news,” then stories of Scripture become seen as so ancient they’re obsolete.

I think about the Easter story, in particular. When Jesus walked out of the grave, it was as if God paused all of life and said, “Welcome to the future.” As NT Wright likes to put it, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect future came crashing into our present reality.

But to many of us, this story is either so familiar that it becomes a fairy-tale, or so old that it loses its factual integrity.

The truth is, it is a true story. Is it hard to believe? Yes. That’s what makes it so powerful! But we can’t lose sight of its power to transform our lives here, today.

Just like my experience pausing live TV, sometimes I wish I could return to the first time I really grasped the significance of the Gospel. Maybe then I could avoid my human tendency to allow the good news of Jesus Christ to become “old news” that has lost its impact.

And at that point of retrieving its original impact on my own life I would have no other choice but to tell the world about this thing called the Gospel, the good news of a God whose experience as a human and subsequent resurrection from the dead allowed God to essentially tell the world, “Welcome to the future.”

And then I might be able to say, “All right. You ready for this? Now I’m going to show you how to use it.”

The World is Watching

The World is Watching

God is in the business of reconciliation, bringing things together that might naturally tend toward division.

We need to remember this. Particularly in the United States of America in 2016 we need to remember this.

God’s reconciliation is highlighted throughout Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. In the first chapter, we read about God’s uniting of heaven and earth. In chapters two and three we read about God’s uniting of the Gentiles and the Jews. In chapter four we read about the unity of the Church in Ephesus. In chapter five, Paul writes about God’s desire to unite husband and wife.

In Ephesians 5:1 Paul urges the church to “be imitators of God” and to “live lives of love.” Why? Not for our glory (though there are obvious personal benefits to choosing to live lives of love), but for God’s!

Over and over, throughout the Book of Ephesians, we are reminded that when we pursue God in all of our relationships, God brings reconciliation. When we allow God to unite us through mutual submission and selfless love, the actual love of God is experienced by those who are participating and witnessed by those who are watching.

The world is watching.

We have the opportunity, right now, to represent, to “be imitators of God” and to “live lives of love.”

The Church in America in 2016 is uniquely positioned to embody an alternative narrative to the messages with which we bombarded 24/7.

We are told, “You HAVE to choose sides.”

“You CAN’T give in.”

“THOSE people always do this, and THOSE people always think that.”

“We’re being attacked and we need a call to arms to defend our way of life!”

You can fill any “issue” in the blank here, with any particular subset of people.

But what if…?

What IF the Church was able to offer another way?

What IF the Church was able to imitate God’s reconciliation and love in such a way that those watching were inspired to do the same?

What IF we were able to unite despite our differences, allowing the love of Christ to bring us together in ways that—quite frankly—seem unimaginable in the current social climate?

Ideal? Yes.

Too ideal? Maybe so, but if the Church isn’t shooting for what could be and what should be, then who will?

Be reminded today that God is in the business of reconciliation.

Be an imitator of God.

Live a life of love.

The world is watching.

 

 

 

 

A Thank You Letter to No One

A Thank You Letter to No One

 

Every day seems like a new “National Day of Recognition for….”  But what about the days in between?  Or what about those who don’t have a national holiday?  This letter is for the forgotten ones, those unnamed heroes in our lives who we so often fail to thank for their selfless service to this world:

 

Dear No One,

Thank you.

You know who you are. Others do not.

You work behind the scenes. Your work ethic far surpasses those around you, but we fail to notice how amazing you are because you never look for recognition.

You remain silent when others are unnecessarily loud. In a world of arguments and debates you are not without opinion; you simply choose not to participate. Instead, you watch and listen, looking for practical ways to make a concrete difference.

You are loyal and dedicated.

You are humble.

There may or may not be an annual national day of recognition that celebrates your work and service. If there isn’t, there should be. If there is, we apologize that it takes a “special day” to remind us how incredible you are everyday.

You clean up our messes, often without our knowledge.

You protect us from harm, often without our knowledge.

You defend our reputation, often without our knowledge.

You are the “Anonymous” behind the donation, the unnamed “Friend” behind the encouraging gift, the “Unexplainable Miracle” that makes things happen without caring if people know how.

You are among a hidden list of saints, heroes, standout employees, and recipients of honor whose names are never read or written, even though you deserve more accolades than those whose are.

You live in the furthest corners of the world, the quietest corners of the building, the forgotten corners of the nursing home, the most demanding corners of the hospital, the scariest corners of society. You spend most of your time in places we only remember when a photo from that invisible realm of life appears in our newsfeed.

Chances are, you’ll never even see this thank you note. As we read this on our computers, tablets and phones, you’re currently out there working to make this world a better place.

The truth is, the fact that you don’t get recognized bothers those of us sending this Thank You Letter more than it bothers you.

Our ability to be “anyone” is made possible by your openness to being “no one,” which really makes you more “someone” than we could ever dream of being.

So thank you for being you.

You know who you are.

 

Sincerely,

Those of us who should

 

Who does this describe for you?  Don’t wait to tell them.  Use this as your reminder to call that person right now and let them know how much you appreciate them!

 

Open Your Eyes; God’s Miracles are All Around You

Open Your Eyes; God’s Miracles are All Around You

Apparently, in the city of the San Diego, if your car is parked in the same spot for three days—even in a residential neighborhood—it can get towed.

There I was, with a guy who couldn’t speak a lick of English in the passenger seat of my new-to-me car, and the car that I was going to sell him was missing.

So to this man, fresh from Italy, who had responded to my ad on Craigslist, I had to explain with made-up-on-the-spot sign language that I would try to find the car that I was trying to sell to him, I would pick him up again tomorrow, and we could try this transaction once again.

$900 for a used car might not seem like a lot of cash… unless you’re a part-time youth pastor at a tiny little church like I was at the time. But what seems even less than $900 for a used car, is $900 minus the $350 it costs to get that car out of the impound–$350 that I didn’t have to get that car out of the impound to sell to that guy for $900 minus the $350 I didn’t have!

This all took place on a Saturday. The reason I remember it was a Saturday was because the next day was Sunday, and I had to go to church with a smile on my face that was hiding the stress and anxiety within me.

Megan and I will never forget what happened at that service. It wasn’t any special day—my birthday, pastor appreciation day, or anything—but at the end of that “ordinary” Sunday service the senior pastor invited someone from the congregation to come forward and present Megan and me with a little money tree with leaves made from neatly tied cash that had been collected over the course of the previous couple weeks from members of this tiny little congregation.

And would you know how much money was given to us on that “ordinary” Sunday morning on that little money tree? Right around $350.

I won’t pretend that it was the exact amount to the penny that I needed to get my car out of the impound, but I remember it being so close that Megan and I were just shocked.

We knew we had just been the recipients of a miracle of God’s provision in our lives.

Did God whisper in someone’s ear that we were going to need money in a couple weeks? I don’t think so.

Did the amount of cash on that tree somehow change supernaturally to match the amount that we needed? I don’t think so.

I can find a thousand ways to justify and explain-away the coincidence of this experience.

But on that day, in that moment of anxiety and stress, whether it occurred by some supernatural intervention, or simply by the miracle of being surrounded by a family that we call the church, Megan and I experienced the miracle of God’s provision for us.

The truth is, when our natural tendency is to explain away experiences like this as mere coincidences, I think we miss the point. This tendency is based on a definition of “miracle” as something grand and unique that breaks the laws of nature.

I believe that this perspective hinders us from seeing the countless miracles all around us that are simply disguised in elements that we deem rational, scientific, or understandable. Does that make these things any less miraculous? I don’t think so.

God is constantly at work in our world and in our lives. It’s up to us to open our eyes. When we stop and recognize God’s gifts in our lives, we find ourselves looking at the world through a new lens.

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So whether we receive a money tree to get our car out of the impound, or we simply find ourselves blessed to breathe another breath, may we be people who never take the miracles of God’s provision for granted.

 

The 3:1 Suggestion Ratio

The 3:1 Suggestion Ratio

Peer critique. Positive criticism. Productive suggestions.

In most contexts, these terms describe something that is always easier said than done. Depending on who is giving and receiving, it is rare to find a relational dynamic with enough trust and vulnerability to enable absolute freedom in the act of offering any sort of corrective statement.

We can’t help it! Our human nature is to take offense at criticism. Even if I love you with every ounce of my soul, any suggestion that differs from my opinion forces me to make the uncomfortable decision to stay the course or to give in to a different way of doing or thinking or being.

We frequently ease the tension of peer critique by starting with a compliment. The problem is that one compliment is often followed by three negative statements or suggestions. It sounds something like this:

“Jill, I love your passion about this aspect of our company.

BUT

I’m not a fan of the way you did x,y,z.

I think it would work better if we redefined our goals from a different perspective.

Why don’t you try this approach instead?”

Even said in the most respectful tone with the most pure motivations, this 1:3 ratio almost always comes across pejoratively.

The challenge for the “suggester” is that it’s way easier to see the problems in another person’s approach to something than the assets.

Imagine the difference that would be made if we were to swap this ratio from 1:3 to 3:1. Instead of thinking that one compliment gives you enough relational capital to make three suggestions, try giving three compliments for every one suggestion.

“Jill, I love your passion about this aspect of our company.

You’ve really put a lot of extra hours into researching how this might benefit our team.

No one has a better understanding about all of this than you do.

AND

What would happen if we were to redefine our goals from a different perspective?”

I guarantee that the suggestion has three times the chance of being heard and appreciated with this 3:1 suggestion ratio than the original 1:3 ratio by which most of us operate.

The trick is that it makes you stop and think about compliments that might not come quickly to mind. By the time you’ve thought about three unique compliments, even you might think to yourself, “Is this suggestion even worth raising?”

Imagine what this could do to political conversations on social media!

Jill: “I support more gun control!”

1:3 Jack: “Jill, I appreciate that you’re my friend, but you could not be more wrong. More gun control will simply make this country more dangerous.   We will simply be making it harder for the good guys to get guns to protect us from the bad guys who will get them anyway. You really need to rethink your position on this.”

3:1 Jack: “Jill, I appreciate that you’re my friend. You have a way of thinking through things analytically more than most people I know. I also think it’s great that you have such a conviction about your beliefs. You may have already thought about this angle, but it seems to me that more gun control will simply limit the good guys from buying the guns they need to protect us from the bad guys who will get them anyway.”

Whether or not Jill ever agrees with Jack is completely up to Jill. But if there were ever a chance of Jack’s suggestion being heard by Jill, it certainly seems more plausible in the second scenario.

Think about what the 3:1 suggestion ratio would look like in your setting: your workplace, your marriage, your mentoring relationship, or your family. Try it out and see what happens!