43 Things I Think

Several years, on my birthday, I’ve posted a series of quick, slightly filtered thoughts. Not a lot of explanation, not the usual amount of backstory, just quick jabs at some of the random thoughts that have been cramming my skull lately. So… here are 43.

  1. College is really crazy expensive these days!
  2. We do too many things culturally that pile on a lot of unnecessary stress and fear onto our kids. We should stop doing those things.
  3. We also do a lot of things to stop our kids from failing before they have a chance to learn from their failures. We should do better at building environments where they know it’s safe to fail.
  4. Cost of health insurance is even more insanely out of control than college. So much for the whole “if you like your policy, you can keep it” thing.
  5. My family has been forced to change policies every year since ACA was rolled out – usually because the policy we had was no longer offered by the company (once because the previous company failed entirely).
  6. I don’t understand how people can advocate for more government control of more areas of our daily lives. They must live in very different lives than I do.
  7. There are problems in our country and in the rest of the world for which there are no political solutions.
  8. Anyone who believes the Republican party or the Democrat party have their best interests at heart is ignoring a LOT of data suggesting otherwise. When every season is campaigning season, you know the train has been off the rails for a while now.
  9. Jesus is the hope of the world. There is no border problem, drug problem, war problem, poverty problem, or crime problem that cannot be solved by power of the resurrected King to remove our sin and restore us to the relationship we’re all made for.
  10. Too many people who consider themselves “His people” live lives that only dimly reflect His values.
  11. Too many days in my own life have been spent without fully illuminating those values, too.
  12. Selling a book I wrote has been more of a problem for me than writing it was. People that have bought it have loved it, though.
  13. I have ideas for follow up journals, excitement at potential impact, and doubts and discouragement about actually getting the books into the hands of people who need them. I’m conflicted like that often.
  14. One of my favorite reads of this year was The Last Arrow from Erwin McManus (so much that I’ve read it twice). You should read it, too!
  15. If you buy a book from the links I provide in my posts (like those last couple or the few at the end of this post), I get a small percentage from Amazon for referring you to them. Thanks!
  16. If you’re in any kind of church leadership, I highly recommend An Unstoppable Force (also from Erwin McManus).
  17. I like hypothetical situations. A LOT.
  18. “Why?” and “What if…” are usually attached somewhere to my favorite questions and discussions.
  19. My grandparents celebrated their 68th Anniversary yesterday! That’s awesome and I’m so glad I’ve been surrounded by older family members throughout my life who show me how to value my marriage enough to never give up.
  20. I’ve only been married 24 years, but feel like it’s been a pretty good start!
  21. If I live to be 86 (twice my current age) we’ll still be 1 year short of where my grandparents are at now.
  22. I will not be writing an “86 Things I Think” post on that day! 43 is already longer than most people will read anyway, right?
  23. One of my sons has memorized pi to almost 300 digits.
  24. I am not making that up.
  25. When he declared that he was at 288 last week, I wondered out loud, “How?” His big sister blurted out, “WHY?” Both questions are equally valid.
  26. He challenged me, and I could accurately recall 5 digits right away. “I have no valid reason to store that information anymore.”
  27. He just might.
  28. The last few Broncos games have been fun to watch. I don’t understand people that talk about them tanking the season for a better draft pick. I suspect those people just don’t understand the concept of competition.
  29. I replaced a hard drive for the first time this year. It’s not that difficult (when the old one is still semi-functional at least).
  30. Word count for this post just crossed 700. I should probably not do these posts anymore.
  31. I am very proud of my 4 kids. Each of them resonates to their own unique frequency that make quite a song out of our family.
  32. Despite the recent failure of the USMNT to qualify for the World Cup, I see a lot to look forward to in American soccer. Excited to see who they hire to coach – and a little bewildered at why it’s take SO LONG…
  33. Why do we fans think we can play better than the players, coach better than the coaches, and manage better than the managers? We’re not really that delusional are we?
  34. Are we?
  35. I love the church. Not just the church where I serve, but the church in general. There is nothing like it in all the world, existing throughout the world, extending over borders and beyond race and breaking down walls that keep us separated from each other and from God.
  36. It’s no use pretending that the church (or that I) always get everything right. But dang is it beautiful when we try!
  37. I’ve read a lot more fiction this year than I usually do. 7 out of 31 books so far (with #8 in progress). It’s been good to join someone else’s imagination and not just be stuck in my own!
  38. 3 biographies (Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Red Cloud if you’re asking) have made their way into my reading recently as well.
  39. Hitchens’ Mortality is pretty biographical as well, so maybe count that as 4.
  40. I don’t recommend every book that I read.
  41. I have a college student, 2 high schoolers, and a middle schooler… If I seem a little stretched and crazy from time to time, let’s chalk it up to that!
  42. In Acts 4, Luke quoted Peter (who was talking about Jesus) saying, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” He was talking to people who thought they already had all the answers, but were so very wrong. They were amazed at how the apostles spoke in their own defense – they thought these guys were a bunch of idiots.
  43. The world is still in need of such idiots – unschooled, ordinary people who are fully given to the cause of Christ, to rescue and redeem what has been taken from Him by the sin that has caused so much damage in our world. I won’t say this often, but… let’s go be idiots like that.

BONUS: Links to some books mentioned above:

See To It Yourself

“See to it yourself.”

What a liberating, empowering phrase! Except when it’s not…

This phrase jumped out at me the other day from two different places as I was reading through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final hours. From the mouths of the chief priests and elders and then later from Pilate, these words were not used to empower some young follower who was unsure of himself. They weren’t used to bolster someone’s confidence that they had what it takes to accomplish some task. They were used to shirk responsibility and pass the blame.

“Hey we don’t care if you’re feeling guilty now, Judas. That’s your problem…”

“I’m washing my hands of this whole thing. He’s your problem, now…”

“See to it yourself… that’s not our problem.”

This sentiment strikes me as way too common today. See if you’ve noticed any of these, lately:

Car stuck in the ditch? Glad it’s not mine…

Neighbors grass out of hand? They really should take care of that…

A family with too many mouths to feed? Should’ve thought of that before they had kids…

Problems at the border? Not my problem, I live far away…

There are a thousands of problem in the world today that we did not create. They’re really not our obligations, and maybe no one would fault us if we shrug our shoulders and leave it to someone else.

But what if we “see to it yourself”? What if we take responsibility to help, even though the problem is not our fault to begin with?  What if we stop washing our hands of the sticky situations our neighbors find themselves in and reach out to help them?

Maybe what Jesus meant when he said to love our neighbors was “Do what I did when I left my Father’s side to enter into (and get you out of) this mess that you created. The world needs a church that will do this – that will continue to incarnate the Word of God so that they can see the Heart of God. Let’s be that church.

Imminent Crash Update

When I first started blogging, it was a little awkward to even say I had this thing called a BLOG. Like I was trying to get internet famous or jumping on to some cool new bandwagon or something. But I had hopes of sharing some thoughts, helping people in their journey to find God and grow close to Him, and encouraging people to chase after Him in every way they could. While my blog hasn’t ever hung out with the other cool blogs in the top 10 worlds of words, it’s been an interesting way to launch some conversations with people I’d never have had contact with otherwise.

Over time, I wanted to focus on how the church could fully engage all of its potential in the mission of Christ, so I changed platforms, bought this address, and relaunched what I hoped would be a little more focused and effective site working to “unleash the potential of the church…” I love the name for a group of rhinos and the picture that paints for me of what the church could be, so I incorporated that thought into the blog. A CRASH. Rhinos are very large, deceptively fast, and their eyesight is pretty shabby. So when they move forward together, whatever is in the way better be on the move or it will get trampled.

We are called to overcome the gates of hell. We don’t always see how that’s going to happen very well, but we are called to chase after Jesus faithfully and let Him sort it out. Kind of like a bunch of charging rhinos. Just go where He says and watch Him move the gates of hell that threaten to keep people from Him.

There have been times when I was posting pretty much every day, and others (like recently) when posts were very infrequent. I’ve noticed recently that I can get into this introspective mode where I crawl into a shell and keep my pre-sorted thoughts to myself. It seems like a wise approach, keeping people safe from the rough edges (and keeping me from embarrassing myself?)… but I’m realizing that keeping all the thoughts inside my head until they’re tame enough to be safe is a great way to neuter them of their capacity to inspire and nudge your potential (and mine).

That has to change.

I’m not promising a post per day, but I’m attempting to ratchet down the filters and curb the buffers a little bit. It won’t really be safe… but who said it’s supposed to be?

The original banner at my first blog.

NOTE: After a recent discouraging hack that made a huge mess of this whole place, I still have some rebuilding to do. Some content has been corrupted or lost and I’m still digging through the rubble to see what else is salvageable. I’ll be re-packaging some older posts as well as new ones, so let me know which posts from the past have been your favorites in the comments section of this post, the form below, or via the contact page and they may be the first to get retrofitted! Also, please let me know if you see anything out of order, like missing pictures, broken links, etc. Thanks!

Enough Auto-Pilot

After driving home from work, I was greeted with the sight of chimichangas in process last night. I wasn’t feeling great, so my reaction was a little more subdued than it would normally be, but I was still more than happy to go back out the door for a quick drive to the store for 1 missing ingredient. I wasn’t terribly hungry, but they’re worth it!

So I drove to the store.

Well… I meant to drive to the store. But after a couple minutes daydreaming at a red light, I went straight when I should have turned right. The worst part of it was that I didn’t notice until 5 blocks later when I pulled into the church parking lot… which I had just left 5 minutes ago to go home!

Immediately, two thoughts flashed through my mind:

  • What the heck am I doing here?
  • Get yourself out of auto-pilot, Mike!

Somehow, I’d managed to drive 5 blocks completely out of my way, just because that’s the path I drive so often. Usually, that’s not a big deal. Every day, I drive that path. Every day, it gets me where I need to be. But last night, I didn’t need to go to my office, I needed to go get some green chile enchilada sauce! The well worn path that can be easily navigated on auto-pilot had become the wrong path.

I don’t want to push the metaphor too far, but I have a confession to make: I have lived on auto-pilot too often! My guess is, you have, too. But I’ve had enough auto-pilot. It’s boring – and it doesn’t always get you where you need to go. So let’s stop. Let’s shake off the rust of mindlessly going through the motions of the lives we’re in, so that we can thoughtfully and thoroughly pursue the lives He’s dreaming we’ll live.

And don’t forget the enchilada sauce!

What Have We Done?

Last week, my wife and I dropped off our oldest child at college. Actually, that’s not accurate… We dropped off her stuff. She took herself 450 miles away, and we drove a van load of her stuff to the school she’s been planning to attend since she was about 12.

Despite cheaper options…

Despite closer-to-me options…

We got everything set up in the dorm, met the suite-mates, attended a panel discussion meant to ease the minds of the parents of incoming students, gave her a hug & prayed, said goodbye… and she was off to orientation. After almost 19 years of feeding, loving, instructing, cajoling… and occasionally butting heads… as she walked away, I wondered, “What have we done? Was it enough? Did we get this whole parenting thing right?

I can easily slip into, “Oh, no, look at all the things I messed up!” mode, but I’ll keep that post in my head for now. (Actually, come to think of it, I’m probably better off just dumping that line of thought altogether!) Instead, I want to offer up a few things that I think we’ve done right, so far. Things that I think any parent can and should do in order to best prepare our kids for life…

  • We’re consistent. Our kids usually don’t have to guess where the boundaries are because we’re pretty clear about them. That doesn’t mean they like them all the time, but they’ve grown up knowing what we expect. The comfort of solid boundaries has been a huge blessing to them, I think.
  • We said “No.” when we needed to. There’s not enough time to do everything the world tells our kids they need to do. In our house, there’s not enough money to get all the things our kids want to get. More importantly, our kids have learned that the world will not (and should not) bow down to acquiesce to their every whim and fleeting desire. We’ve done our kids the greatest favor they hate by helping them understand that they don’t always get what they want.
  • We love each other deeply and give our marriage priority over just about everything else. My kids will never feel like they have to divide their loyalties between mom and dad. It’s a gift we decided to give them a terrifyingly long time ago, when we were about the age of our oldest two. We’re united and they have that unity to lean on whenever they need it. (They’re probably a little embarrassed by it from time to time as well, but… we make no apologies for that, and I can only hope that each of my kids finds someone they’ll still want to hold hands with 25 years after the first time – and counting.)
  • We love our kids and tell them so – even when they might not want to hear it. Our kids may wonder about a lot of things… but I hope they never have a doubt about whether they are loved.

Did we get this whole parenting thing right? Not entirely, I’m sure, but we’ve done what we could as faithfully as we could.

Was our parenting enough? Nope. Not even close. It would feel nice to say that we are enough for our kids, but the truth is, we fall short. Which is why I’m so grateful that God’s grace is enough when I am not.

What have we done? We’ve launched a beautiful, compassionate, Kingdom minded genius into a world that desperately needs to see God’s beauty, feel His compassion, and experience His Kingdom and the hope that He brings!

Honestly, she’s a pretty awesome kid and we’re so happy to have been entrusted with her. She was great raw material from the beginning (despite the dirty looks she gave people when she was a baby) – right out of the imagination of the Creator! She’s already jumping in with both feet in her new home (helped lead music at a new church yesterday and helps lead the first chapel at school tomorrow!) and we can’t wait to see what’s next…

Need Some Silence?

One final quote from Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World that I think reveals a hinge that supports a great transition in our personal lives:

“Few of us can truly appreciate the terrible conspiracy of noise there is about us, noise that denies us the silence and solitude we need…”

Think about your last hour. What have you heard? A fan blowing… Traffic… Garage door opener struggling to get the job done… Radio guy talking… Ads at the gas station pump… Conversations… Netflix from several different rooms in the house at the same time… Sirens… Music… Doors…

Our world is not a quiet one, is it? And so much of what we hear in an almost constant buzz is just noise, adding no shred of order to the clutter of our private world. (Do we really need ads while we stand outside and pump our gas?)

All that noise takes up some bandwidth in our lives. It often out-shouts the still small voice telling us who we really are.

I don’t want to add to the noise. I just want to echo His voice.

“Be still… and know that He is God.”

And, you are His.

You are loved.

Find some quiet. Ruthlessly carve out some space in your life for it. Then listen.

 

 

Dare to Presume

Sometimes, when I write, there are specific situations or people I have in mind to address. Other times, there’s more of a general idea that I’m trying to communicate. But I’ve often looked back over past journals or posts I’ve written and noticed that there was probably no one who needed to hear the words I wrote more than I did in those moments.

Gordon MacDonald has a great chapter on journaling in Ordering Your Private World that describes this same thing and offers this further explanation:

“I dare to presume that His Spirit is often operative in the things I am choosing to think about and record.”

MacDonald was thinking specifically about journal writing that’s not necessarily intended for anyone else to read, anyway, but I wonder to what extent those of us who write and teach and preach would dare that same presumption? I know I have… and I want to more… but I haven’t always. But what if we lived with greater expectation and anticipation that the Holy Spirit was at work in what we were sharing, planning, & explaining? What if our classes, our readers, & our friends don’t really need our interpretation of this week’s lesson as much as they need the breath of fresh air that only the Divine Wind of God can provide?

That’s not to excuse poor planning of lessons or poor delivery of an important message, but the real power for the transformation that we seek is His, and we need to depend on Him to do His work as we do ours. What do you have to do this week? Will you dare to presume that the Spirit of God is operative as you contemplate and execute your work?

Just a quick additional thought… Daring to presume that God has something to say through you (and to you) is not license to assume that everything you say is what He wants to say. The audacity to “dare to presume” that I’m advocating here has to be harbored by the attitude of humility that shapes the environment in which the Spirit most often works. Outside of that humility, this presumption can be very damaging to both self and those nearby.

My prayer is that each of us will humbly position our lives to be filled with His action.

Stop & Think

What was the last thing you really thought about? I don’t mean obsessively worrying about who’s getting the rose, and I don’t mean a couple minutes deciding which pants to wear, but when was the last time you deeply contemplated something of substance? Something that matters…

I love wrestling with ideas, but I have to admit there are some days when I just don’t really think much. Days when auto-pilot seems to be fully engaged… In a chapter called The Better Man Lost in Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald points out the dangerous consequences that develop when those days stack up.

“In our pressurized society, people who are out of shape mentally usually fall victim to ideas and systems that are destructive to the human spirit and to human relationships. They are victimized because they have not taught themselves how to think, nor have they set themselves to the lifelong pursuit of the growth of the mind. Not having the facility of a strong mind, they grow dependent on the thoughts and opinions of others.”

This is grossly evident in how most of us interact with news media today. Read a few headlines… Repost the ones that reinforce what we already think… Label as fake the ones that are contrary to what we already think… Unfollow the friends who disagree too much or too often… Repeat… Without ever understanding what the “news” really means. We can walk away feeling well informed about whatever the current topic is, but we’re really not. Headlines aren’t meant to inform, they’re meant to grab attention. When we give a little attention, but not enough to dig into the topic at hand and THINK about it… we remain worse than ignorant about what’s really going on.

This isn’t just about headline skimming and fake news, though. It’s about mental growth. We are called to love God with all our mind. Since God is infinitely more than my mind can fathom, this requires me to work to expand my mind if I’m to have any hope of loving Him as much as I think He deserves to be loved. Paul urged the early Christians in Rome to avoid getting stuck in the patterns of the world, but to instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” so that they would know how to figure out what God wants.

Want to know what God wants? Stop and think! Let Him transform you by filling your mind with His Word and thinking about it deeply. Seek out other healthy mental food to stretch your mind. Find some friends that you can discuss life with who don’t always see things the same way as you do and learn to disagree in healthy ways that bring life to both sides. Read books you might not agree with and think about why you don’t agree.

Let God transform you.

MacDonald ends the chapter with a quote from Oswald Chambers,

“I hate to meet a man whom I have met ten years ago and find that he is at precisely the same point…”

I have to confess that there have been a few periods of my life where I would have been that guy. Coasting. Getting by on natural talent or relational capital or whatever… (Hopefully not for 10 years running, though!)

I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t think you want to be that guy. So let’s stop and think… about everything.

———-

I’m digging through Ordering Your Private World over the next few weeks and sharing some thoughts. Would love to have you join me. How’s your private world? If your inner life is a little ‘out of order’, how is it going to get better? Maybe this can be a start…

Ordering Your Private World (Again!)

“Most of us have been taught to manage our public worlds well… Our public worlds are filled with a seeming infinity of demands on our time, our loyalties, our money, and our energies. And because these public worlds of ours are so visible, so real, we have to struggle to ignore all their seductions and demands. They scream for our attention and action.

But there is this private world in every one of us, a world that may be as infinite in size as we perceive our public worlds to be. But often the private world – like the depths of the ocean – remains unexplored, full of surprises, ambushes, emotions, and dreams.”

20-some years ago, as a freshman in Bible College, one of the books assigned for class was Ordering Your Private World from Gordon MacDonald. It seems that those in charge of training up young men and women for lives in very public service/ministry thought we needed to pay close attention to the very private workings of our inner lives before we got too drawn in to the buzz of activity they knew would be coming.

Over two decades within that buzz have lulled me into some patterns that have left little time for paying attention to the order within, so I’m revisiting the book and came across the quote above. With all the pressure of keeping up the social media appearances that we heap on ourselves today (not to mention the maintenance in the rest of our public lives) our culture leaves very little time for the private world. That needs to change for me, and I’m guessing there’s a good chance, for you, too.

I’ll be digging through the book over the next few weeks and sharing what I find, but I’d encourage you to dig a little deeper on your own, too. How’s your private world? If your inner life is a little ‘out of order’, how is it going to get better? Maybe this can be a start… Get a copy and start digging.

What Makes A Marriage Work?

WARNING: The individuals seen in the following photo were older than they appeared. Slightly.

This was not a staged, dress up photo – it was a real life picture taken moments after life-altering vows had been made. There were a lot of reasons conventional wisdom said this was not the greatest idea these two kids had ever had. They had no real source of income. An upwardly mobile career path was not even on the radar. No house… Vague hopes and dreams… No actual plans… An uncertain future… No life experience… No testing to see if any “better options” would surface… They hadn’t even had sex yet… How could they possibly know they would be compatible? And yet…

Today is our 24th Anniversary.

So what did we do right? How have we “made it” this far despite our inexperience and youth on our wedding day? (We were 17 & 18.) We’re both far from perfect and have not done everything right, but here are a few things that we’ve done that I believe have made all the difference in the world for us – and they can for you, too. I write this to say: if these two kids could do it, so can you. You have everything at your disposal to make your marriage work that we did/do.

We let God unite us. We weren’t hunting for someone to complete us. We weren’t desperately looking for a spouse before it was too late to find one. We were friends from church that God drew together as we chased after Him. I don’t want to over-spiritualize what happened – we were as wonderfully afflicted with puppy love and all the chemicals and hormones it induces as anybody else has ever been – but our relationship with each other grew out of our relationship with Christ. And as we stay connected to Him, He keeps us united with each other.

We left home and made a new one with each other. Both of us grew up in great, solid, Godly families that we continue to love to this day. But God intended us to grow out of those cultures in order to develop our own. The afternoon following our wedding, we drove a couple hours away, set up a tent, and began our honeymoon and our life together. After a couple weeks of cheap travel, we loaded everything up and headed to an on campus apartment 500 miles away from anyone we knew. We didn’t have much, so it was easy to learn to depend on God. We couldn’t go run to mommy and daddy to calm the sparks when frictions developed… we had to figure it out together. So we did. We listened to God and did what He said, and He made us one as nothing else can.

We talk about everything (and listen to each other). Communication is crucial to the success of any relationship. We go for walks just about every day and talk. About life, our future, the kids, work, friends, neighbors… pretty much everything. We keep each other informed about what we think God’s doing, and He keeps us on the same page.

We even talk about money. One of the issues that hurts so many marriages is how a couple handles money. When there’s “his” money and “her” money… there are going to be problems. When there is agreement on the fact that the money is God’s (all of it), and He has entrusted it to us to engage in His mission, there’s little reason to fight about money. We discuss how He wants us to use what He’s entrusted to us, then do what He says to do.

We don’t talk negatively about each other. You will never hear me even jokingly refer to my wife as my ball and chain, the old lady, a nag, a slave driver, or in any other derogatory way. She’s none of those, and it’s just not funny. I don’t ever want to get a laugh from my buddies at my wife’s expense. And when we do have a problem with each other, we talk about about it WITH EACH OTHER. God has created each of us uniquely and given us an inexpressible value for each other. That doesn’t mean we always have the same opinion on everything. It means we value each other more than we value our own opinion and work it out together. We value the gift that God has given us in each other, and He keeps increasing the value of what He’s given us in each other!

We forgive. We have not done any of the above perfectly. Our marriage has had the same difficulties as anyone else’s. We’ve had to kill our own egos time and time again. We’ve hurt each other deeply a time or two. But instead of walking away… instead of giving up… we’ve learned to forgive. There is no right to get even that I will ever hold against LuAnn (at least not for long). As Christ forgives us, He’s also enabled us to forgive each other.

————

There’s a risk in a post like this of coming across as more than a little prideful. I don’t hold myself up very often as the hero of the story or the model to be followed. But in a world where so many marriages are being abandoned and leaving kids shattered and broken shells of who God has crafted them to be, I’m going to humbly go out on a limb with the apostle, Paul, and say “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” You can do this, too.

The bottom line is this: We submit to Christ and to each other and place our own selfish desires and agendas aside for the sake of the mission God has given us together. If you think it can’t be that simple… try it and see what God does!

It’s been pretty productive for us for the first 24 years. I can’t wait to see what God produces in the next 24!