Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Do You Know What Drives You? It's Totally Different Than You Think

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, has a new book out called The Map and the Territory. This cat is 87 years old and is dropping books on us now. That's amazing, especially after nearly 20 years in what has to be one of the hardest jobs in all of the world. How hard was it? Well, in the words of the famous Margot Tenenbaum, "I couldn't even begin to think about knowing how to answer that question."

While reading Time magazine (thanks to a free subscription using airline miles we were never going to actually use for flying), I came across a 10 Questions interview with him. In it, he comments on what happened to his outlook on economics back in 2008. The question asked to him was "what is the biggest change of mind you've had since 2008?" Here's his response:
It changed [when Legman Brothers collapsed] on Sept. 15. Most basic economics up to that point was was based on the presumption that human beings are rational in that they look after their long-term self-interest. My real shock was that what we now call animal spirits has a certain consistency about it -- in other words, you can demonstrate that fear is a far more potent emotion than euphoria or greed. That changed the whole way I look at the world. I started from scratch, going from equation to equation. I learned more in the last two years than I did in the previous 10.
This isn't a place to jump into the crash of 2008, or what "animal spirits" are. Quickly though: why are "we" just "now" calling them animal spirits? Who's "we"? Economists? How come it's just happening "now" in 2013? Aren't we advanced enough to have had a term like this back in the 1960s? Shouldn't it just be a name of a person, say Miley Cyrus, or a song like "Roar"? As to animal spirits though I have somewhat of an idea what they are when I'm hungry and delicious penne pasta with homemade meatballs are awaiting me this very moment. I digress.

If I get what Greenspan is saying, he means that in the range of emotions that drive the decisions of consumers - or if you're old school like me, human beings - the rush of making a ton of money or the pursuit at getting it at all costs are not nearly as strong as the overwhelming sense of doom at the loss of it. To gain clarity, the interview pushes on the notion of demonstrating how fear drives us. Greenspan provides an example, clarifying that fear, to him, is nonrationality:
You measure it indirectly by looking at spreads of interests rates, both by credit raiting and by the maturity of the bond. Today, 30-year U.S. Treasury bonds yield more than five-year notes by the greatest margin in history. Long-lived assets are very heavily discounted. It should be a normal recovery. But it is not, because of the high degree of uncertainty.
Basically, if you keep your investments as they are, they will yield great returns over time. But because of the volatility in the market, people are pulling out in fear of losing more money, which, as I understand it, perpetuates the problem. We can't see the big picture, only the short term, and for many it's scary.

I am not fascinated by his conclusion that fear is more powerful in this world than euphoria or greed. What I find fascinating is that Greenspan is just now coming to this conclusion. Philosophers have been expounding on this for millennia. Fear is so fundamental to our everyday lives we probably just see it as normal. I see it as another indication that we are not merely rational beings or thinking animals, as materialistic philosophies will tell us, but fallen image bearers of God. When God created us, there was no fear in this world and we had mad crazy access to the Living Creator of all things. After the Fall, what's the first thing Adam and Eve do? They hide. They were afraid. And what happens later? They die. This is speculation, but I submit that the greatest weapon the enemy has over us since death entered the world is fear. The author of Hebrews hints at this when he writes that the devil has the "power of death" and puts us in slavery through the "fear of death" (Hebrews 2:15). Slavery is driven by fear. That foundational fear permeates all other fears in our lives. It even permeates our rationality to the point where we make massive "nonrational" decisions. Perhaps I've seen this most clearly in abusive relationships, where one person won't leave for fear of being alone forever and dying alone.

What are you afraid of? After thinking about it, do you see it as something that drives your decisions, thoughts, and actions more than other feelings or even your rationality?

Yet the story of God is one of true joy and true hope with true redemption. It's where we see the presence of God come into our lives and while we are afraid because of his power and might, he comforts us with the command most given in Scripture, "Do not fear." It's the story of God coming into this world as the flesh and blood man, Jesus Christ, not merely to teach us nice things or tell us to stop being afraid because it's all going to be okay (which we know never works because fear screams "IT WON'T BE OKAY"), but providing freedom from fear through his death!!!
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. -Hebrews 2:14-15
It's the death of Jesus that conquers death itself, therefore, any power or fear found in it is caught up in the rubble of its destruction.

By His Grace.

5 Crucial Lessons Boiled Down to 1 Phrase Which I've Learned in 8 Short Days of Writing

It's 9:42 pm.

Stace and I just got home from what at Mars Hill is called a Community Group gathering. For those of you who are got the church stuff down, this is like a small group, but a little different. For those of you who don't know about the church stuff, just consider it like something where you get together with friends weekly for a specific thing, like watching a show or playing games. The gathering tonight was the regular rhythm we keep of grubbing, talking about the sermon, praying, and grubbing some more. However, we also function as a community outside of that night, getting together to grab drinks or help one another out in babysitting or serving the community or just whatever.
That's me in The Hobbit. I was Kili. This might be
the best part of this entire blog post.

It's a pretty fantastic thing to walk 6 minutes to a friend's house where 8-10 of us gather from all different places in life. In our group there is a widow, some young married couples, some folk with young kids, and some singles. We all take turns providing a main dish. Tonight was delicious chicken pot pie. We talked through Pastor Mark's sermon from this past Sunday, which was on adultery. We prayed, and then had ice cream cake for dessert, talking a bit more.

Why am I writing all of this out? Truth is for the three of you that will read this specific post, sometimes you just gotta write. This is the one big idea I'm learning through the challenge Stacy put before me about 10 days ago (though I've only been writing for 8). She said, "I challenge you to blog every day until Asher is born." That is a commitment I want to live up to, but today I am straight up struggling on a number of levels. So here are five quick lessons I've learned in fighting through that:

  1. Fight through with perseverance: The most important lesson is perseverance. As with anything you are committed to, some days are going to be better than others. My post yesterday received double the traffic of any of my other posts. This one I know what get as much. In basketball, it's like going 12-18 from the field for 30 points to 2-15 from the field with 8. Some games are like that, but you don't stop playing. You fight. 
  2. See the long, long, long term: Writing every day is helping me see the beginnings of the long, long, long term. The archive on this blog shows I have been writing for a while, but I've never considered myself a writer. I have many friends and acquaintances who write a ton more than I do and do so much more effectively, which has always hindered me (that could be a post right there). How I'm turning away from that is to write now and to write often. The long, long, long, term helps me see the current situation as a start and not the end. The long, long, long term has much to do with development over time, to look back and see the progress, to learn from mistakes, to grow, to improve.
  3. Know the purpose of why you're writing: What I am prepping for is what I've talked about for years - to be a writer. I'm doing this because I know God has gifted me to communicate, to teach, to write, to preach in order for people to know His grace through Jesus and glorify Him. I can't squander it any longer. Even if no one or just a few listen, the point is to keep writing. I write because I'm a writer.
  4. Be super honest with words & emotions: I didn't want to write tonight. I don't want to be writing now. I'm judging all I've just written. I hate it. I am lazy and want to quit all the time and I've only been doing this for 8 days consistently. I want to say, "well, what's missing one day going to do?" I convince myself that the great writers have their blogs of ineffable wisdom shot out in 30 seconds as if they have some kind of mind incubator.
  5. Plan better: I hate planning writing. I don't know how I made it through seminary. I would never outline a paper; I would write and see what happened. It was a horrible approach and I regretted it every time, but I kept doing it (sound familiar to anything in your life?). If you have any suggestions, I'm very open to them, but I'm also disgustingly stubborn so I probably won't listen. For me to say "I'm open" is to say I have control right now and I seem willing to learn. But, even with the nasty rejection that may await you, I encourage you to help me.

I've also learned a lot about "catchy headlines" like this one. And hyperlinks - I think there are too many hyperlinks people put in one blog post to lead to a ton of other ancillary things.

It's now 10:25. Good night.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Parable of the Gay Atheist

A family of dissheveled, unkempt individuals was stranded by the side of a major road on a Sunday morning. They were in obvious distress. The mother was sitting on a tattered suitcase, hair uncombed, all tattooed, clothes in disarray, with a glazed look to her eyes, holding a smelly, mostly naked, crying baby. The father was unshaved, dressed in coveralls, the look of despair as he tried to corral two other youngsters. Beside them was a run-down old car, steam coming out of it, obviously not getting them anywhere.

Down the road came a car driven by a prominent local pastor; he was on his way to church. And though the father of the family waved frantically, the pastor couldn't hold up all the people of his church, so he acted as if he didn't see them.

Soon came another car, and again the father waved furiously. But the car was driven by the president of the Kiwanis Club, and he was late for a statewide meeting of Kiwanis presidents in a nearby city. He too acted as if he didn't see them, and kept his eyes straight on the road ahead of him.

The next car that came by was driven by an outspoken local gay atheist, who had never been to church in his life. When he saw the family's distress, he took them into his own car. After inquiring as to their need, he took them to a local motel, where he paid for a week's lodging while the father found work. He also paid for the father to rent a car so that he could look for work and gave the mother cash for food and new clothes.

Ever heard this parable before? If you think you haven't, think again. It is a contemporary take of Jesus' parable of The Good Samaritan.

The original was written by professors Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (p. 147). I updated it even more in parts to mirror our times.

What's the point in me sharing it? I have three:

  1. Know the point of The Good Samaritan: Have you ever known the real point of Jesus telling this story to the lawyer? Let me ask in this way: what did you feel after you read this? 
  2. Know how to tell good stories: I was reminded in the retelling of this how important it is for us to tell really good stories that cut to the heart of our lives. By our lives I mean the lives we live today. We must exposit the text and bring readers back to the original context, but if we don't make the point relevant to today and the stories of today, no ear will be able to hear.
  3. Know your own heart: Jesus' parables are just as much for you and me today as they were for the original audience. If you're still checking your heart in this, Fee & Stuart help make it clear for you and me: 
The second great commandment is to love one's neighbor as oneself. The lawyer had neat little systems that allowed him to love within limits. What Jesus does is to expose the prejudice and hatred of his [the lawyer's] heart, and therefore his real lack of obedience to this commandment. 'Neighbor' can no longer be defined in limiting terms. His lack of love is not that he will not have helped the man in the ditch, but that he hates Samaritans  (and looks down on priests). In effect, the parable destroys the question rather than answering it.

Who is your Samaritan? May we always be searching our hearts, repenting of the hatred that resides, loving with a love that can only come from God Himself.

By His Grace.

Two Great Resources for Christians This Halloween
I have never thought much about Halloween. I remember one year waiting until the very last minute to go trick-or-treating. I decided to put on some old sweats, take unopened panty hose from my Auntie, and went around the neighborhood as a convenient store robber. Not a highlight of my past.

Now, with Asher, I am starting to rethink everything. I don't know much about Halloween, it's origins, and how the church can effectively engage with the community when this holiday rolls around. To change that, I found two super helpful resources. If you're in the same boat as me, you may find these helpful:

My friend, Justin Holcomb, wrote an excellent piece on the origins of Halloween, the history of it in the church, and how we can think through the holiday as Christians. It is important for us to consider what aspects, if any, Christians can embrace. How much of today's Halloween practices are rooted in the spiritual elements? How much of it all is just feeding into the commercialization of the holiday (Holcomb notes that 25% of all candy sold in the US for annually is for Halloween)? Do we reject the day as "the Devil's Day"? Can we wisely engage at all? If so, how? My favorite paragraph was the last one:
For those who are still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the devil: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.” Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.
Update: After tweeting this out, Justin shared with me another article he wrote on the connection between Halloween and Reformation Day, which is also October 31st. It commemorates that day where, in 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door.

If you're looking for a different way to approach Halloween, Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Communities provides some very easy ways for Christians to be "on mission" this Halloween. Some of you may balk at that phrase, but that is for another time. The point of the post is to think through how you can be considering others on that day in a loving, intentional way as a Christian. My favorite suggestion is the first one: Give out the best candy:
Please, don’t give out tracks or toothbrushes or pennies…kids are looking for the master loot of candy. Put yourself in their shoes.
There are plenty of other posts I can recommend, especially from Verge Network, but you can explore more for yourself. I just want to help you along my own journey of starting to think through many aspects of life and culture that I often have a highly uneducated opinion on.

Now, the question is, do you recommend costumes or casting out demons in my life after that post?

By His Grace.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Dilemma of Tolerance

"Why can't we all just get along?"

"Whatever you think is right, is right, and whatever I think is right, is right."

"To each his own."

"I know you think that's truth, but that's just what you think. There are plenty of other people out there who think truth is something else, and they are just as right."

"You people are so intolerant and unaccepting. Why can't you just love?

"There are so many religions and they basically believe the same thing."

This is what I'm calling the "philosophy of the streets." This is how much of everyday life is. I'm sure many of us have said something like these statements in some way. These are statements that are said as we are living in an increasingly pluralistic culture whose god is named Tolerance. What's fascinating is that most people I talk to believe they somehow arrived at these thoughts on their own. It's kind of like choosing a song for a wedding. Stacy has a friend who sings at at ton of weddings. The couple really wants to pick a song that's different than all the other weddings, something that stands out. So, to them, they do. Her friend, the singer says, "It's hilarious because that's the song all the couples that want to be 'different' choose." Unbeknownst to the couple, they are thinking the same way as everyone else. Rarely do we question how the growing populace comes to these beliefs that form firm convictions.

I'm reading a very helpful book by professor and philosopher, Luc Ferry, called A Brief History of Thought. His project is simple: Provide a sketch of the history of philosophy to people who don't really have any training. He uses the working framework of theoria, or "seeing the divine," ethics, and salvation as, according to Ferry, it is the method for pursuing what philosophy is all about, "the quest for salvation without God."

While I don't have space to sketch out how we got to where we are today, the point I'm making is that we don't come up with our thoughts in a vacuum, entirely on our own. We learn them. And there are an enormous number of existing forces of thought that impose themselves on the way we think. The quotes above represent, in a very basic, crude way, the project of deconstructionism led by Friedrich Nietszche leading to what is called materialism. It is a philosophy that sought to destroy all the "idols" of thought from philosophy past, that we are all products of nature and history, and that we are only left  to what is real in the here and now. This, for the most part won out. So at the street level, many of us are left with the thoughts and lifestyles represented by the quotes above.

Now I know I'm oversimplifying, but if the quotes above sound at all familiar, then there are at least hints of materialism in the way that you think. This then makes Ferry's critique valid.

Ferry doesn't believe we can live in a strictly materialist world (and, as far as I can tell, this guy is not a Christian nor advocating for any religion). This is why: materialism has no problem with looking at the beauty of this world for happiness, but when there are any problems whatsoever - catastrophes or sheer human injustice - it provides no answers.
Faced with imminent catastrophe - a sick child, the rise of fascism, an urgent political or military decision - I know of no materialist sage who does not instantly turn into a vulgar humanist, weighing up the alternatives, suddenly convinced that the course of events must in some sense depend on his free choices.
Ferry is saying that the materialist's philosophy is dependent on our lives being determined by outside forces (nature or history), but when problems come, the philosophy breaks down because the materialist has to make "free choices." So while the materialist wants to "embrace whatever happens and just be cool with life," what do we do with "life" at Auschwitz? Or, hitting closer to home, what happens when a woman finds out her husband has committed adultery? Or when a family member has cancer?

So here comes the problem with all of the language we use today and the attitudes we carry of "just be tolerant" or "let's all get along" and it's outlined beautifully by Ferry:
The materialist says, for example, we are not free, though he is convinced, of course, that he asserts this freely ... He says that we are wholly determined by our history, but he never stops urging us to free ourselves ... He says that we must love the world as it is, turning our backs on the past and future so as to live in the present, but he never stops trying, like you or me, when the present weights upon us, to change it in the hope of a better world. In brief, the materialist sets forth philosophical theses that are profound, but always for you and me, never for himself. (emphasis mine)
All along the way the materialist is forced outside of the philosophical framework he or she espouses into something greater, more transcendent. It sounds good for everyone else and the only exception to it is ourselves.

The point is that all of what is said today about tolerance may sound good, but nobody, absolutely nobody, actually lives that way.

We need a better way...

By His Grace.

God is Not Our Divine Landlord

We are renters.

"The faucet is leaking."
"The heater isn't working."
"The electricity is out."
"The house is flooding."
Call the landord. He'll have it fixed immediately.

We only call our landlord when there are problems or a crisis with the place he owns.

When do we not call our landlord? We never call him when things are normal. I don't call him to say, "Hey, just wanted to let you know the place is in just as good of shape as yesterday. You're welcome." We also never call with problems dealing with issues other than the place he owns. I never call him to say, "Hello good sir. I'm struggling with my finances right now. Any way you can help out with that right now?"

Many of us live as if we're renters in God's massive apartment complex called Earth.

"I can't find a job."
"The kids are getting sick."
"I'm not married and this sucks."
"I lost my job."
Pray to God. He can fix it immediately.

Many of us, both Christian and not, treat God as if he's our Divine Landlord. We only call on him when there's a problem or a major crisis. We only think that he can help in certain situations. When there aren't problems or a crisis, we live as if we don't need him because, hey, we're good tenants - he doesn't bother me and I won't bother him. We live as if his sole purpose of existence is to be there when proverbial heater doesn't work or the house is flooding and as long as I pay "rent" I'm good. But when there is that problem, that crisis, then, and only then, will I call and he is obligated to come. And not only come, but fix the problem immediately. If he doesn't, then he frankly isn't a good God because he's not doing his job as our Landlord.

Thankfully, he is not our Divine Landlord, but our Sovereign Lord. Though we may live as renters in all the Creation he owns, he shares it with us freely as his gift. Our lives are not ones in which we pay our rent, but where we are in massive debt to him - we can't afford a square inch of what he offers freely. In fact, we have no place at all. So the point is never merely to call on him when we are have problems or are in a crisis. Yes, he may help us with them, but that's not what he's after. The point is that he rules over every aspect of our lives and does what he sees fit. He wants our good, not to provide the quick fix. He wants us to call on him in every situation, in every circumstance, whether it's the problems we face in our lives or the joys we experience every day. Prayer is not a telephone to the Divine Landlord, but fellowship with the Sovereign Lord. The point is that he doesn't just show up when we need him, but he's there all the time in the midst of it all.

By His Grace.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Parable of My Wife Weeping Over the Forest & Earth (With Explanation)

Stace and I took a little vacation last month that many swanky folk have labeled a "babymoon." It's like a last hurrah of freedom, but also a way to celebrate the massive change that's going to come with a baby.

Perhaps the highlight of our babymoon was the meal we had at the Inn at Langley. It's one of those get dressed up, four hour ordeals that only has one seating for the night and 3,000,000 courses kind of meals. Stacy and I are quasi-foodies. That just means we like to eat good food and brag about what we've had (well I tend to brag), but I really have no idea what I'm talking about or how to create anything close to what we eat.

One of the courses of this meal was called "Forest & Earth." It was the most cryptic item on the entire menu, so we were intrigued. The chef came to our table and began talking about that course. As he did, he cut down two bulbs that were hanging right at our table. We had seen them all around the restaurant walking in and thought they terrariums. He set them down in front of us and explained that the "Forest & Earth" were right inside the bulb. I was jaw-drop stunned. Stacy had a different reaction. I looked at over her and she was weeping. Literally, like one of those dirty, messy cries that that seems to come out of every opening on the face and head kind of cries. Tears were streaming down her face because she was so blown away by the presentation. Yeah, being 32 weeks pregnant may have had something to do with it, but just maybe.
Forest & Earth Presented.
Isn't that bad boy amazing?

The presentation was amazing. But we didn't stop there. We so wanted to eat all the yummie goodness inside the magical glass ball of earthiness. Now it wasn't dirt and grass, but because I am only a quasi-foodie, I can't tell you what it was. All I can say is that I ate it. And it was out of this world. In fact, the entire meal for the entire time was mind-blowing - each course with a unique story and presentation, all following an order, a pattern to blast our pallets in just the right way, the proper wine pairings to bring out an entirely other realm of flavors as if opening our mouths to whole new worlds.

The presentation of the food was intentional, persuasive, and deeply compelling. For what reason? To eat!!! For us to taste and see how good it really is.

This to me is just a glimpse of who God is for us. The psalmist writes, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!" (Ps. 34:8). The apostle Peter writes of this taste as one of craving or longing: "Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation--if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." The Word of God is a tremendous story, presenting God and the good news of Jesus Christ in an intentional, persuasive, and deeply compelling way. For what reason? To taste and see that the Lord is good!

Too often our Christian lives are malnourished, dull, and boring because we stop at the presentation. God speaks and we listen, but we don't eat. And because we hear the presentation over and over again, we soon drown God out. The words become meaningless. The story is too distant. The food sits in front of us and just rots. And we wonder why we are disconnected from God.
My beautiful wife wiping away the last tear

But when we eat--oh, when we eat! That's when we enjoy. That's when we're swept away into what it really means to live. That's when it's all complete. That's when the presentation draws out tears of sheer bliss and the food makes us laugh in awe from the depth of our bellies. That's when we want it over and over again; it's new and fresh every time because we know what the food will taste like. The Lord is gooooooood. We want more and more and just can't get enough. And that's where we start telling all our friends and family about it, not because it's our duty, but because it's our delight. We want them to hear about it and give them through our words and story just a small taste of the taste we had. The hope is that they will rock out on that goodness too, but if they don't, then oh well, because you know they're missing out and you had such joy in telling the story.

Tasting and seeing that the Lord is good is like my pregnant, weeping wife over the Forest and Earth.

Have you every had one of these meals? What was it like? Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you know the difference between just seeing God's presentation and tasting the Lord? How would you describe it?

By His Grace.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Children & the Story of the Bible

One of the super fun things I get to do every night is read to Asher. Even though he isn't born yet, we have learned that he started hearing our voices months ago and can come to recognize them in time. Something else Stacy and I learned was that if we read him the same story over and over, he will actually respond to it more out of the womb.

So I began reading him the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I read him one, short, vignette each night. Now you might be saying to yourself, "that's not reading the same story over and over." Ahhh, but it is. I haven't looked at any other children's bibles (so if you have recommendations, I'm open), but what I love about the Jesus Storybook Bible is that it tells the one grand story of God through various stories we see in the Bible. Jones puts it best in the tagline under the title, "Every story whispers his name." Each of the stories in Scripture in some way bring out the major point of the big story of Scripture, God redeeming the whole world through Jesus Christ. The plot line, the narrative, the trajectory is always pointing to the gospel.

I just learned that Phil Vischer, the creator of the ever-popular Veggie Tales (which I admittedly never watched), has created something far better than what he accomplished with those stories. He has created a DVD series called What's in the Bible?, which is aimed at teaching children the entire story arc of the Bible rooted in the gospel. Matt Smethhurst over at The Gospel Coalition chatted with Vischer about the difference between the moralism of Veggie Tales and the difference with What's in the Bible? Vischer says,
I launched Bob and Larry back in 1993, and personally oversaw each video release and product until 2003, when a lawsuit forced the company into bankruptcy and out of my hands. God turned what seemed like a tremendous loss into a huge blessing, as I was given time and space to get off the VeggieTales "treadmill" and just focus on him. As my relationship with God grew deeper and my love of the Bible increased, a profound thought hit me: Had I just spent 10 years trying to get kids to behave "Christianly" without actually teaching them Christianity?
VeggieTales was (and is) a great format for retelling an individual Bible story or presenting a Christian value, but it wasn't such a good format for explaining the entire arc of Scripture or unpacking tricky concepts like redemption or sanctification. I found myself with a blank piece of paper and all the time in the world. So I decided it was time to go beyond teaching biblical values to actually teaching the Bible.
The big idea is the difference between, in his words, "teaching stories in the bible" and "teaching the story of the bible." This difference might seem subtle, but it's profound. It can be the difference between moralism/law and freedom/grace. The isolated stories may teach values, but if they aren't first rooted in the gospel of Jesus, they are Jesus-less values that can be mimicked by anyone in the world. Additionally, isolated stories often make us the hero: "Be awesome by having a heart like David" or something like that. Instead, the big story of the bible shows that David needed Jesus and waited for a "son" who would be greater than him (2 Sam 7). That is why I like the Jesus Storybook Bible and what I believe is something awesome coming out with What's in the Bible? It is massively important both for parents and their children. Why?

Because we are taught that we aren't the center of the story. Jesus is. And that changes everything.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What Omar Vizquel Taught Me About Discipleship

I played baseball growing up, shortstop for most of it, though I backed up my best friend at second base in high school. Yeah, that means I didn't play much at all in high school, but I really liked practice?

My favorite player to watch was the shortstop, Omar Vizquel. He is one of the top 10 shortstops of all-time and made some of the sickest plays I've ever seen in my life. The highlight video (with some sweet Spanish music as your guide) shows just how amazing he was.

I was reminded in these highlights of the aspect I admired most about him. He wasn't a power hitter by any means, though he was a great hitter. So he wasn't necessarily flashy when it came to offense. What made him great was his defense. He won the Gold Glove 11 times, nine of those being consecutive from 1993-2001 (his first was with the Mariners). This is awarded to the best player at that position, usually measured by fielding percentage. So, let's take 1995 for example. His fielding percentage was a ridiculous .985, meaning with every 1000 balls hit to him, 985 times he makes the play without committing an error. Sick.

He was quick and could get to the ball easily, but what made him so amazing to watch was his hands. His hands were vicious combination of sticky and slick. He could catch and hold on to the ball even if his hands seemed yards from the ball, as if he had some kind of vaccum attached to his wrist. But he was a shortstop and a shortstop's primary job is to get the ball in somebody else's hands. So while it was like he had sticky tape on his hands, like a flash the ball would be moving from him to wherever he had to throw it.

Tim Kurkjian over at ESPN tells it like this:
Fifty throws went to Vizquel, seemingly none of which entered his glove, then presto, the ball was in his throwing hand, and on its way back. The writer couldn't see the transfer, it was too quick, and demanded a slow-motion demonstration. Vizquel was deflecting the ball off the heel of his glove, into his hand, which was about a foot away from his glove. He had received 50 throws, none had entered the pocket of his glove, and he hadn't dropped one.
"Omar,'' the writer asked incredulously, "how are you able to do that?''
"It's magic,'' he said.
Vizquel's transfer is legendary.

So what does this have to do with discipleship? I see Vizquel and baseball as a helpful metaphor in thinking through what it means to teach others and make disciples as Jesus commands us in Matthew 28:18-20 and Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2. Three specific points come to mind.

  1. Teaching isn't meant to be kept: Think of the teaching we receive every day like a baseball. Just as the baseball is hit to Vizquel, teaching is "hit" to us all the time. There is no shortage of content in Scripture, sermons, books, blogs, conferences where we learn what it means to follow Jesus more closely and grow in Him each day. But as we catch this teaching, the first thing we must know is that we can't keep it to ourselves. It is meant to be in someone else's hands. I have learned and am learning that what I learn is also meant for others. I receive what I'm taught, wrestle with it, but I can't keep it to myself. Teaching always has an "other" focus. What you are taught, you are to teach. This is a huge aspect of discipleship. It can't be kept in your glove and then you just run off the field and say, "that was neat."
  2. Know who you're teaching and discipling: Once you have the teaching you not only know that it can't be kept to yourself, but you also have to know who it is that your throwing it to. Do you have specific people in your life that you are constantly throwing teaching to after you've learned it? Who are the players on your field you have to get the ball to in order to keep the game moving? This is helpful for me as it helps me focus on the handful of people in my life I want to keep throwing to on a regular basis. Right now that's my wife and the four men I disciple at Mars Hill. There are others who may be watching what we're doing and learn from that, but there are a handful of people I throw to directly.
  3. Make the transfer quickly: By this I mean throw what your taught to others quickly. Yes, as you learn, meditate and reflect on it, but get rid of it quickly enough to work through what your taught with those you're discipling or mentoring. I've never seen anything more effective in growing as a man of God than doing learning in community. Honestly, I am naturally not a big fan of that. I'd rather just read a book, journal, and perhaps blog about it at some point. But I see it most in my conversations with Stacy. Whatever we are reading or praying through we typically talk about the same day. She challenges me, I challenge her, and I learn something new just by hearing from her. 
Thoughts? Anything you would add to this? Too much of a stretch? I'd love to interact on this with you. Hit me up.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Back At It Yo!

Just like you can't hold me back from singing Don't Stop Believing or doing the robot, I won't stop blogging even if I try (I never noticed until today that the dude in the background has the exact same jacked-up Hawaiian shirt that I have on. That's like see two baby unicorns driving a Ford Pinto).

Stacy and I were talking this past weekend about writing. I have been talking for months about how I'd like to write more. I started signing up for e-mails and tips from writers who are more proficient and produce a bunch more than I do, always trying to figure out "how they do this?" You ever wonder that? How folk can have so many thoughts and just barf them out on paper in some constructive way that makes you appreciate the arrangement of their barf? I do it all the time.

Needless to say, I haven't read any of the e-mails or taken any of the tips. The "how" isn't as important to me at this point as the "now." The how of writing begins with the now of writing. I just need to write.

So Stacy challenged me to jump back in the game and write every day until Asher is born. A loving wife giving me an enormous challenge. I've never written every day on my blog ever, and I've kept one in some shape or form since the days of LiveJournal 10 years ago.

Today is the first of what are many consecutive posts in a row. But hopefully not too many in a row because that means Asher is overcooking and Stace won't be too thrilled.

By His Grace.