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.”

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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.

god's gifts

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!

3 Big Reasons to Bring Your Kids to Church this Christmas (Even if You’ve Never Been Yourself)

3 Big Reasons to Bring Your Kids to Church this Christmas (Even if You’ve Never Been Yourself)

1. Cultural experience that helps answer bigger questions for kids

While there has always been a multiplicity of world views from which to choose, modern communications technology (primarily social media) has brought a dramatic increase to our everyday awareness of the variety of perspectives. The relatively-recent phenomenon referred to as “decision fatigue” has contributed to a sense of societal apathy that says, “I’m so tired to trying to decide which one is right; I’m just going to stop deciding on anything!”

For some decisions, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to religion, I believe it’s tremendously dangerous (I’ll recognize my bias as a pastor here). In a time when more world views are shaping our children than we even recognize, we—as parents—need to set some sort of standard. Our religious worldview is one decision that we cannot afford to give up on.

More and more parents are beginning to realize this, even those who aren’t so sure they believe in God themselves. Involving our children in the cultural experience of a church family helps provide them with language to describe the many joys and pains of life. Particularly at Christmas time, we have the opportunity to communicate to our children the truth that there are things so much bigger, and so much more important, than the shopping, the food, and the holiday stress. By bringing them to a Christmas Eve candlelight service, for example, we open our kids to the experience of the Divine. As they grow older and begin to ponder the bigger questions of life, they—maybe like you—will recall their experience in the church, and have a source from which to grasp understanding and hope.

2. A time to instill traditions and values

Traditions shape community. Think about it—what makes your family a family? Sure, you may or may not be related by blood, but if blood is thicker than water, then even thicker than both are traditions. The experiences that are unique to you and your family help define who you are as a micro-community.

It’s the same with church. When you bring your child to church, you expose them to the traditions of not just a particular congregation, but of an entire history of people who have been asking the same questions and finding the same answers for generations. As discussed in the previous point (about the importance of cultural experiences), traditions help to articulate the foundation upon which a particular worldview is built.

For example, when a family makes church attendance a priority, their physical participation shapes the meaning and purpose of their lives. Beyond just providing a moral compass for their children, these families are helping to define why they exist in the world. By taking communion, singing songs of praise, serving others, regularly reading Scripture, and studying the way of Christ, children are taught that life has a purpose greater than soccer, academics, and financial success.

During Christmas, families have the opportunity to “test the waters” of tradition. If you and your family aren’t the “church-going-type” yet, Christmas provides the perfect bridge to just try something religious. Since it’s already a large part of our social vocabulary, reading the Christmas story or attending a Christmas Eve service doesn’t have to come as a shock. Giving church a “try” in this manner just might lead your family into a new series of traditions that could have a life-changing impact on your children.

3) Services have evolved to fit the needs of today’s families

One of the biggest anxieties of people who are less familiar with church is just that: the unfamiliarity and the apprehensions that accompany it. Will it be boring? Do I bring my children into the service? What if I don’t know the words to the songs? Won’t people know that I’ve never been to church just by looking at me?

This is another reason Christmas is the perfect time to gather the kids into the car and head to church! More than any other time of the year, people visit churches during Christmas. You are guaranteed to be in good company with other people just like you who are asking the same questions.

Many churches today take these questions into consideration, and do everything they can to make church a comfortable environment for the whole family. At Christ United Methodist Church, where I have the privilege of being a pastor, we provide two family services on Christmas Eve that are designed for people with these questions. We completely understand that children have short attention spans and enjoy yelling out random sounds at random times. That’s okay! We’ve created a participatory service where each child will get to hang an ornament on one of the trees at the front of the sanctuary. There will be fun music and the Christmas story will be acted out in a live nativity. I even get to preach the “sermon” which is usually about 3 minutes long because we know that’s about 3-minutes longer than kids want to sit still!

I know my church isn’t alone in this effort to create a church experience that is family-friendly this Christmas season. Between the significance of the message (the Christian worldview that provides hope in times of trouble), the shaping impact of traditions (those shared experiences that bring definition to our community) and the family-friendly environments that churches today are trying to create (those in which rambunctious children aren’t shooed), the upside of bringing your kids to church this Christmas far outweighs the alternative.

If you’re already a regular church member, keep making it a priority in your life. If you’ve never stepped foot in a church, it is never too late to do so. Either way, I pray that God gives you the courage to make this Christmas season a year to remember for you and your family.

Merry Christmas!

And Jesus Wept

And Jesus Wept

This is one of my favorite statues. It stands across the street from the memorial of the OKC bombing. Immanuel–God with us–means that God doesn’t just watch from a distance. The evil in this world breaks God’s heart as it does ours. In a time of confusion and pain, Jesus weeps with us. This statue doesn’t try to explain the questions away. It affirms the absurdity of the brokenness in this world, and yet points us to the hope that is found in the power of the One who joins us in our sorrow.

Check out more photos of this statue here.