Safe and Sound… or something else?

“I’d rather sail around the world than get my driver’s license.”

Abby Sunderland is 16 now and could be standing in line waiting to take her driver’s exam and get her license… but she’s not. Instead, she’s about 500 miles west of Cape Horn; alone in a boat, two months into a 6 month solo attempt at sailing around the world! (Which may be safer than learning to drive in California anyway.) She even took her homework with her to avoid having to stay in high school an extra year (she’s a Jr.).

I know some people will balk at the notion of letting a 16 year old circumnavigate “this terrestrial ball,” but I admire parents who can trust that they’ve prepared their kids to really live. Too often, we teach so much risk avoidance that the mere survival that ensues hardly seems like living. The Sunderland’s sail. Abby’s been sailing for years, and apparently hounding her parents to let her sail around the world since she was 13 (even before her big brother Zac sailed around the world last year). So they’ve prepared her to live her dreams. They’ve equipped her to do what most people would be too afraid to even try.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity…” -from Paul to Timothy

Abby’s Website
Abby’s Blog
Check out this video from the Los Angeles Times:

No one ever makes it alone.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes a strong case for examining the way we think about success. He weaves together  wide ranging episodes from plane crashes to academic failure to Asian rice fields, & highlighting successful technological juggernauts, child prodigies, corporate takeover lawyers, inner city Middle school students, Junior National hockey teams and even the Beatles (yes, those Beatles). The common thread in these otherwise disparate stories is Gladwell’s tip of the hat to the support players and circumstances that made success possible for those people who seem to stand above the crowd.

No one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.” This is the recurrent thought of Outliers. No one makes it alone. The “self-made man” is a myth. For every individual that has seemingly risen above the rubble to achieve success, there is a litany of opportunities that made the hard work even possible. Bill Gates became “Bill Gates” because he was afforded a series of opportunities not offered to everyone, and he seized those opportunities in order to make the most of the exceptional intellect he’d been born with. The Beatles became great through a series of very fortunate events that allowed them to hone their craft in a way that wasn’t possible for most young Liverpool musicians.

The question for me, then becomes: What am I doing to build a culture of success in which my students can thrive? Am I offering blank pages upon which they can paint the dreams God has planted in them, or merely teaching them to stay inside the lines? Will my students be able to one day look back and see a door I held open for them, or will they wish someone had given them the opportunity they needed?

What are you doing to prepare the young generation to succeed? How are you building an environment that builds them up and offers opportunity? Who’s standing on your shoulders?

Feverishly Planning or Asking for Help?

“But all your feverish plans are to no avail because you never ask God for help.” (in Isaiah 20)

Isaiah had been shown how deeply Jerusalem was in trouble. Beaten down and defenseless… destroyed with little hope of repair… But the people seemed to be resourceful: tearing down their own houses to get stone to fortify the city walls…  building a new reservoir in a more secure location…

But Isaiah knew these plans would ultimately do little to stave off the judgement of God. Their plans may have seemed wise, but they hadn’t asked God what He wanted. They certainly had some strong thinking behind their decisions. But it wasn’t God’s thinking. As God called for remorse, the people celebrated mere survival.

God desires more for His people (still today) than just scraping by. He doesn’t want to see His church just limping along happy to have kept the doors open one more day. I wonder if we need to be a little less like Jerusalem… Less confident in our strategies and more trusting in His power to accomplish His mission? I’m not suggesting we don’t need to be smart and creative in how we serve, but only that our creative solutions are utterly useless unless they are rooted in Him…

This plays out on many levels:

As graduation approaches, I wonder if my students are making feverish plans without asking for God’s help? What am I doing to lead them to ask? Are they connected with people like you who can do the same?

In the life of the church, is our first response to trouble prayer or strategy? Are we working on anything big enough to require us to ask God for His help? Do we rely too heavily on our own strategic thinking? What will we do if His help comes in a form that doesn’t fit our plan?

In my own life, have I planned my way out of what God wanted in the first place? Do I need to be backtracking to rediscover what He really wants? When faced with problems, am I consistently seeking God’s solutions or just coming up with my own?

May we seek His help. It’s His mission in the first place and only His power and love can accomplish it. If we aren’t desperately in need of His help, we’re probably not on His mission.

Not Called to Normal

In Isaiah 20, a scene unfolds that must have been shocking – it certainly would cause a commotion today! Isaiah decided to walk around for 3 years “stripped and barefoot.” Some commentaries give a little dignity back to Isaiah with the suggestion that the Hebrew term meant that he was in his underwear. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, and there’s really no need to debate this here, so I’ll have to admit he may have been naked, or he may have been walking around in his underoos… but either way, it’s a little weird. Why on Earth would a prophet of God, tasked with delivering a message to the people of God, be out in public in either condition?

Simple answer: He obeyed. God specifically told Isaiah to strip down, ditch the Teva’s, and prepare for the scorn of pretty much everyone he’d encounter in the next 3 years.

It sort of reminds me of God’s request to Hosea: “Go and marry a prostitute…”

“Umm… Did I hear that right, God? Did you just say ‘prostitute’? You do know what those are, right? “

“Yeah, I know, Hosea, but I need to tell my people something and I want your help. Oh, and by the way, some of her children will be born to you from other men.”

“So Hosea married Gomer…” He actually obeyed! A completely unreasonable request by any man’s standards – to choose a woman who you KNOW will not be faithful to you. Yet, Hosea did exactly as God requested. We need to remember, this was the beginning of Hosea’s news delivery job for God – “When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea…” There was no precedent for this. Prophecy 101 at Jerusalem U. didn’t cover this kind of thing! There was no leadership model that showed Hosea how this was going to work out. Just a seemingly insane command!
I wonder when we began to think that all that God would ever request of us would make sense? We want to obey God when He tells us to “go to church” and show up for Sunday school… Even when He tells us to “love our neighbor” and be nice to the people in class. We like to obey when He asks us to give as much as we can comfortably give and to play fair. That stuff all makes sense to us.

But what about when He asks for it all? What about when Jesus tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood? (Don’t worry, that sounded crazy in the first century, too.) What do we do when He asks us to give a car to a neighbor without one? When He asks us to fast in a way that means something more than ‘fish on Fridays’?

Why do we think every request God makes of us will make sense? I wonder what we miss (or the people we should be sharing light with miss) when rationality is a condition of our obedience – if we only obey God when it makes sense?

Prepare to be surprised! God has not called you to normal.

Let’s (Not) Play Twister…

I just read this article from about the importance of teaching our kids to know what the Bible actually says – not what we would like it to say. It’s tempting to sometimes soften the message for younger groups. We may rationalize that they’re too young to handle the sharp edges of Scripture… The article offers the examples of John and David as a couple exhibits of the danger this presents. I wonder, what is the damage being done? Are they subtly learning to twist Scripture to make it say what they want it to say?

If you teach – teach the truth.
If you teach kids – teach them how to handle the truth even when it’s uncomfortable.

A Bandwagon Worth Riding?

I’ve always hated bandwagons. “America’s Team” has never been my thing (sorry, Dallas). I grew up sitting on my grandma’s lap while she cussed out a young John Elway on the TV and have liked the Broncos as long as I can remember. I will never be sporting the most purchased jersey of any sport, and when the masses start telling me how great something is, I become predisposed to not like it (sorry, Avatar). Something I learned well at Jr. High dances was “don’t believe the hype”. Maybe it’s a character flaw, I don’t know… but when something becomes so popular that it’s everywhere I turn, I just want to go out to the hills and hit rocks with sticks (sorry, rocks). I guess I’m just not a fan of being a fan…

That is especially true when it comes to people. Now… I AM a fan of people in general, just not a fan of joining the various cults of personality that seem to crop up around everyone with a little charisma. This invariably leads to great loss and consternation when the idol topples (they always do). So, at the risk of sounding like a fan-boy, I thought I’d share a list of some speakers that I’ve really been challenged by lately. I listen and read these guys a lot and really appreciate different aspects of their teaching & personalities:

Erwin McManus – watch/listenSearch for Erwin McManus
Mark Batterson – watch/listen, blogSearch for Mark Batterson
Francis Chan –watch/listenSearch for Francis Chan
Perry Noble – watch/listen, blog
Mark Driscoll – watch/listenSearch for Mark Driscoll
Andy Stanley – watch/listenSearch for Andy Stanley

God has been teaching me a ton through these servants. Check them out, maybe we can learn something together. Who else is God using to grow you?

Help Wanted

I read Psalm 108 yesterday and the end of the psalm is stuck in my head: “Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. With God’s help we will do mighty things, for He will trample down our foes.

Just a great reminder of where our help comes from. People have issues. Since churches are made up of people, churches have issues. Too often, our enemy uses those issues to drive a wedge between us, leaving us as something less than the unstoppable force that Jesus said He would build: His church that would prevail over even the gates of hell. When things aren’t going well, we can tend to snipe and blame and forget whose church we really are. We can lean into our own human help and forget that it’s God’s help that will get us through. Don’t forget. Be reminded today that the church is His and He knows what He’s doing with it.

We’ve been called by God.
We’ve been given His Spirit.
We are on a mission that will not fail.
We have a message that will not be stopped.

Some Roots of Confidence

As Paul was writing what we have preserved as the book of 2 Timothy, he was suffering. He was in chains; locked up like a criminal though he’d committed no real crime. And He was ok with that. He was willing to go through anything if it meant people would understand the truth of who Jesus is and what only He can do in our lives. That sort of willingness to suffer is a mark of confidence in Christ, but where does that kind of confidence come from?

1.1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will. Paul recognized his calling. He wasn’t an apostle by his own choice, but by the will of God. How often do we settle for an occupation/career that is less about what God wants and more about paying the bills? That’s not to say that one job is Godly and another is not – only that whatever your job is, you are called to make disciples. Whether you’re a straight C student or a Rhodes scholar, a plumber, a pastor, or a number cruncher, by God’s will you are a disciple maker. How’s that going for you?

1.7 God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Paul could withstand anything for the sake of Jesus because He knew He’d been given the Spirit of Jesus! The same Spirit promised to us. When I rely on myself, I can become timid and afraid. Chains scare me. But when I remember to rely on the Spirit of God living within me, what is there to fear?

1.12 I know the one in whom I trust, and am sure that He is able… Paul knew He was doing what God wanted done and that the results were up to Him. Even though he was stuck under arrest, even though most of his companions had walked away from him, Paul had confidence because he was trusting in Someone who is unshakable. He was simply doing his part in God’s mission.

2.9 But the word of God cannot be chained. The message of Jesus’ resurrection and His power to rescue humanity from death is an unstoppable message. Paul knew this. He knew He was a part of something much larger than some little upstart cult – this message He was preaching was the very word of God, a Word that cannot be tied down. (Perhaps, this is why it is so important for us to do everything we can to get to know Jesus as He’s revealed to us in Scripture.)

Paul’s confidence was rooted in an undeniable calling, a powerful and loving Spirit within Him, a sense of playing his role in a mission for which God is responsible, and an eternal message that cannot be stopped. In a day when economic and political realities offer little solid footing, may we lean back into these roots that served Paul so well. May we echo Paul:

I’ve been called by God.
I’ve been given His Spirit.
I am on a mission that will not fail.
I have a message that will not be stopped.