We Are Not Excused

I’m a pretty slow eater at this point and am usually picking at the food on my plate well after everyone else at the table is done, but when I was younger, it seems that I engaged a more Hoover-like mode of mastication-free dining. I remember being a lot more hasty with meal times than my parents would have preferred, and being shot down with a simple phrase when I tried to fly away from the table too quickly…

“You’re not excused.”

Despite what I’m sure must have been more urgent and exciting things to do, I was not allowed to leave the table just quite yet. There was something to accomplish there that was evidently still undone… conversations to be had… dishes to be wash… leftovers to be put away.

I want to say this to my Christian friends today as we wrestle with canceled activities and “services”: We’re not excused. Being unable to meet together does not excuse us from continuing to be the church together. As we sit around frantically trying to adjust to a new (if temporary) normal, we still have work to do. Conversations to be had… relationships to deepen… seeds to be planted… lives to be built. Don’t forget you’re here for a reason.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.

-Paul, in a letter to Roman Christians

It’s easy for us to get a little confused about what worship really is. Take this virus imposed quarantine as a reminder: We were never called to hang out and sing songs while our friends and family and neighbors sleep in at home wondering why we’re so weird. It’s a good practice we’ve developed, but we have been called to more. We have been called to take light to dark places so people can see the way out, to take truth to people who’ve been deceived about what life’s really for, and to take life where death seeps in seeking to drown and destroy and ruin everything good that God has made.

That hasn’t changed.

We are called to give all of ourselves to Him, to put our very lives at His disposal for whatever purpose He decides. We are called to live lives that are so filled with faith and hope and love that our neighbors can see the Spirit of Jesus living through us. You have a great opportunity ahead of you. You may not be able to gather in the building you’re used to on Sunday mornings for a while – but don’t let that stop you from worshiping together.

The church that Jesus has drawn together cannot be stopped even by the gates of hell. Go and love your family and love your neighbors. We still have that work to do – even if we have to do it from at least 6 ft. away! The church has always been most productive when it’s dispersed. Let’s go worship by giving all of ourselves everywhere we are.

What’s On Your Mind?

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me – everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

–Paul to the early church in Philippi

Recently, probably like you, my thoughts have been consumed with the never ending stream of information regarding COVID-19 and the overwhelming wave of novel coronavirus data that’s flooding us all right now. I’ve found myself wading through pages of CDC and WHO websites and articles linked by friends and media all focused on how bad it is, how bad it’s going to be, and whether or not anything we do will be of use in reversing the tide.

The maps tell me that COVID hasn’t quite made it to our neck of the woods yet, but the grocery shelves tell me there are a lot of people afraid that it’s coming soon. I’m still not quite sure why that means there’s no toilet paper available, but who needs to take logical action when a good dose of panic will do, right? We are letting this coronavirus take up an awful lot of our mental bandwidth right now!

I realized I needed to turn my attention elsewhere. Maybe you do as well. I’m not saying we bury our heads in the stockpiled TP and pretend COVID’s not making its way across the planet… But how much more data do we need? As the situation changes, there will be new information, but what are we doing with the information we already have? The contagion that is threatening us right now more than any other is not COVID… it’s FEAR.

Can I make a couple suggestions? (I’m going to anyway…)

  • Avert your eyes. Detox your mind from the COVID juices for a while and stew on something else.
  • Read a good book.
  • Meditate on a passage of Scripture.
  • Find a virtual tour of an art gallery or something online and think about something beautiful for a while.
  • Call or message someone to see how they’re doing. Share with them what God’s showing you when you’re not burying yourself in your new virology hobby.
  • Go for a walk and notice the birds and squirrels (or bigger critters if you’re in the right place). They just keep doing their thing. Maybe we should, too.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Don’t forget you still have a mission – your life means something, so don’t stop living while you wait to see what COVID will do.

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Paul, to Timothy (who probably needed a reminder)

Maybe your conversation with God has been drowned out a little lately… Here’s a great deal on my journal “PRAY” that can help you cut through the noise and stay connected to our Maker and Sustainer (who is not surprised at all by any of this corona business)…

Quick “Younique” Thoughts/Review

I recently read through a new book from Will Mancini called Younique: Desiging the Life that God Dreamed for You. It was a good look at some practical tools to help someone live intentionally engaged in the specific mission God has for them to live.

Mancini is great at helping people and churches gain clarity. A previous book called Church Unique was a great treatment of how God has shaped every congregation uniquely and I expected something similar from Younique only aimed at the individual instead of a whole church.

Expectations were met, and Younique could be an incredibly helpful book. It is full of tools and practical thought exercises that can help you determine your unique mix of personality, skills, interests, passions, etc. and how that all works together to reveal the specific work for which God has crafted you.

If you’re tired of living on auto-pilot, this is a helpful resource. The only caveat I would offer is that at times, the deluge of inventories and exercises can be overwhelming. This is not a friend you sit down with for a casual read at your favorite coffee shop. This is a counselor that will help you unpack years of unexamined living to make order out of the chaos your life may resemble from time to time. This is a pastor that can help you find clarity through the tears and a coach that will bark at you when you’ve been running the wrong route.

I don’t know a lot of people who have put the kind of intentional effort into living that Younique calls for. We all have blindspots that keep us traveling familiar routes, but I could see this book being incredibly useful to a small fellowship of people who are committed to helping each other live on God’s mission. I think maximum benefit from this book would require some extended time with a good counselor, discussing the various exercises.

Not coincidentally, Mancini has developed a company designed to do just that as they walk people through the tools in the book to develop their “Younique Life Plan” through various weekend and 4 day events and 6-month cohorts. It looks like a great way to get the most out of the book if you’ve got the funds to join in. Even if you don’t, there are a number of free resources available to help you as well.

44 Things I Think

I like to give a lot of backstory to help provide clarity to some of the crazy things in my head before I let them out… usually. It’s safer that way. For me… for you… really for everyone in general. But today, as I’ve done a few times on previous birthdays, I’m forgoing the safety net and sharing a bunch of scattered thoughts – some safe, some not. Enjoy and take it all with a grain of salt, I’m ok… mostly.

  1. If I ever forget the indescribable grandeur of the coastal redwoods… Someone drag me back there as soon as possible!
  2. 25 year Anniversaries don’t happen very often.
  3. They also don’t happen on accident. Want to have one? Commit to your spouse and work to reveal Christ in your marriage to them and the people around you.
  4. Sometimes, you should just climb stuff. It may help you prevent crotchetiness in your old age. (As long as you don’t fall!)
  5. It was truly surreal getting to camp and hike among these giants. I wish I could explain…
  6. Lots of times, you should cross bridges when you get there… even if you don’t know what’s on the other side.
  7. Don’t burn them behind you though… You might need to go back.
  8. I feel like I’m on one side of a whole bunch of bridges right now and not doing a great job choosing which to cross. They all lead to where I can’t see.
  9. One last thing about bridges… Don’t try to cross one until you get to it.
  10. I have written over 950 posts on this blog, but only 9 of them have been this year (including this one). I’m not sure if that discourages me more than the discouragement that’s led to this recent lack of productivity or vice versa, but I have to get better and back into a writing rhythm.
  11. I’m pretty sure I do not own a single set of footwear with actual bootstraps.
  12. I do own a lot of other shoes, though!
  13. I have great hopes and high expectations for Millenials and Gen Z. I have seen what they are capable of when fully given over to God and chasing after his mission with their lives! It is nothing short of spectacular.
  14. This has been a year of car problems for the Andrews family. The glitchy doors and windows are one thing, but the transmission failure(s), valve jobs, two cars that won’t go backwards, etc. are on my last nerve.
  15. My kids are incredible! I know that I am absolutely biased, but they continue to amaze me. Leading worship, solving math problems that cause normal people to seize up, tinkering with stuff, and leading their peers as truly good and dependable friends… I am grateful for the people who will carry my genes across bridges I will never even see.
  16. Good and dependable friends are of more value than we often realize. Be one for somebody.
  17. Friends, I am sorry for how I’ve tended to climb into a hole and lose touch a lot more lately. I don’t know why I am so uneasy letting people into the mess of process in my life. I know I’m not a finished product and you don’t expect me to be.
  18. Some years are messier than others. Grab a mop when it’s needed, get help where you can, and make something awesome out of the mess.
  19. I wear black socks now. But not with shorts – and definitely not with sandals! Come on now; I’m not that old.
  20. Ever notice how trends change? In our meme saturated culture, don’t expect that too slow down. The good side of that is… the trends that are most annoying will be gone soon. Just shake your head and wait.
  21. I haven’t actually seen many Boomers upset about “Ok, Boomer…” But mention it around a Gen X and all the neon and jelly shoes in the 80’s won’t brighten the cloud that’s about to descend. Watch out for lightning!
  22. We got a really good deal switching our internet to another company. We were happy with the old one, but half price for faster speeds was too much to pass up. I think it is the second time I’ve ever purchased anything from door to door sales.
  23. A bonus to the deal was free cable for 3 months. We haven’t had cable or satellite tv for years, but I’ve been able to watch more soccer in the last few months than I have for a really long time and I’m loving it.
  24. “Why don’t you have cable, weirdo?” It’s an expense that just doesn’t make sense in our budget, and I find plenty of other garbage on Netflix and free Roku channels.
  25. Christian Pulisic is not overrated, and it’s been a lot of fun watching him play for Chelsea. I can’t wait to see how he continues to develop and what that will mean for the USMNT. (Some of you have no idea what this means, and I am sorry you are missing out on the beautiful game.)
  26. I’m also excited that Omaha is getting a USL team next year. (Check out Union Omaha!) The crest and name are exciting and seem to fit. Our state is too wide for me to justify season tickets, but I hope I can get out there for a game once in a while.
  27. I don’t get fans calling for the firing of new coaches. Over the last year (or a few years) several teams that I’ve followed have named new head coaches. It amazes me how so many fans can be so self-deluded that they think they are qualified after as few as 4 or 5 games to declare the coach a bust and call for his head on a platter. At every level from college football to NFL to MLS to national team soccer this has been grossly visible. What makes us think we know how to hire a coach or that we actually know who would definitely be a better option?
  28. I have enjoyed coaching soccer for my kids and others. This year was a rough one for Lizzy’s team, but they got better as the season went on, they had fun and built relationships with their team, and gained some skills. They’re 12 year olds… that’s the point.
  29. I’m still not convinced getting rid of Jürgen Klinsmann was a good idea for the national team. Then again… what do I know?
  30. Learning is important. When I cut myself off from the inspiration that comes from connecting with God and connecting with people, I don’t learn much. And consequently I don’t have much to say. You’re probably like that too. Let’s learn some things this year.
  31. Not having much to say doesn’t always stop people from talking. Loudly. And without ceasing.
  32. I did learn a little about the stock market this year by using an app called Robinhood. If you use that link to sign up, we’ll each get a free stock. It lets you buy and sell stocks commission free. Fair warning, though…. there is risk involved. Do not invest money this way that you cannot afford to lose completely – because you could.
  33. Some stocks that I thought would do great have slowly fizzled despite a stream of great news and profits. Other companies that seem like they’re bleeding cash have stock prices on the rise. Do a lot of research and don’t take things at face value.
  34. Commission free stock purchasing used to be impossible. Now it’s not. This is great if you want to buy stocks without paying a stockbroker. It’s terrible (or at least risky) if you’re not good at choosing companies that will increase in value.
  35. You’re probably not as good at choosing companies as you think you’d be. I know I’m not. I had a stock go up 11% today. Last year the same stock lost about 30% in one day, too.
  36. This method of investing has taken up an embarrassing amount of headspace for a modest return. I will be liquidating that account soon to pay for car repairs.
  37. The Solomon Foundation is a much more appealing way to invest. While their returns are pretty good, and their stability is great, it’s not really about the money. It’s about investing in the Kingdom as they use the funds deposited to help build, re-build, and plant churches!
  38. Building the Kingdom is worth everything. All my time. All my attention. All my resources. You can see what they’ve been doing with these churches’ stories.
  39. There is nothing else like the church on the planet. I know we don’t always get things right, but as far as we reflect Jesus and live out our lives with His community in mind, we make a difference in this world no one else can make.
  40. Not everything that calls itself “church” is doing a great job reflecting Jesus. I don’t always either. But I’m thankful for the grace God gives us to get up and do better.
  41. I have so much to be thankful for that I’ll never be able to express all the gratitude I should. I should try anyway.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Seek Understanding

Our student ministry is going to use a book called CORE 52 from Mark Moore this year as a roadmap for our teaching times. I’m excited to see our students not just get a better understanding of the big picture of the Bible, but to actually get a handle on how to understand the Bible when they read it for themselves.

Too many times, we settle for a spoon fed version of God’s Word. “The preacher says…” But I don’t think that’s enough. I say that as someone who’s spent a lot of my life teaching people what’s in the Bible. I don’t want my students to settle for what I say ~ they need to discover Scripture for themselves as well.

If there’s one thing that I’ve consistently desired for my students over the years, it’s that they go beyond just scratching the surface of the Bible with an occasional Bible story or memory verse. I want them to dig into it regularly and seek understanding. Ironically, one of the obstacles to that is a lack of understanding.

A kid might crack open the Bible and read a passage and think about it a little bit, until they come to something that doesn’t quite make sense. It’s easy to start to glaze over a section or two and lose the plot, but then it becomes that much more difficult to catch back on to what’s going on in that Scripture. So they close the book and set it aside until next time. It’s a sad cycle that leaves us ignorant of many truths that God wants us to know.

It’s ok to be ignorant of some things for some time. It’s not ok to stay that way. I’m looking forward to helping our students get some handles that they can grab hold of to help them understand all of the Bible better.

If you want to follow along, hit up the links here and enjoy the journey. You can also learn more about the book and additional resources at www.core52.org.

A Minimal Plan and Less of an Agenda

My wife and I just don’t do things NORMAL, I guess. The expected way… The tried and tested…

When you go on vacation, it’s a pretty good idea to know where you’ll be staying, right? You should probably have a travel plan and reservations and all that. But you could just drop the kids off at Grandma’s house and drive.

Months ago, we decided to mark our 25th Anniversary with a trip to the redwoods of the northern California coast. The normal thing would have been to map out the route, make reservations, and develop some kind of itinerary. We started looking at places to stay and things to do in the area, but stopped short of anything resembling a plan. We would head west, toward the Redwood National Parks and see what happens. That was the extent of the plan.

Walking along the Avenue of the Giants

We’d drive however far we decided and do whatever we saw to do along the way and stay wherever we ended up. We were camping in our van, so theoretically, we could park about anywhere for the night, right? After doing a little research, it turns out there are even a handful of businesses that typically welcome overnight parking lot guests. I will confess, however, that after the first night parked at a Cabela’s in Reno, I limited our camping nights to actual, established campgrounds. That was much better and felt a lot less weird.

I suppose this flexible approach wouldn’t work for most normal people, but it worked great for us. We enjoyed the flexibility of being able to move slowly through the days, not having to reach a certain place just because that’s where a room was reserved. We had a minimal plan and less of an agenda. Our vacation wasn’t built around a plan or agenda, but around the time we’d be spending together. We were literally within a few feet of each other for just about every minute of 14 days. That’s what mattered and that’s what made the experience so great. We genuinely like each other and enjoyed sharing the experience with each other.

As I think about it, we’ve pretty much lived our whole marriage that way, in some respects. We were barely out of high school when we got married. And when I say barely, I mean like… 10 days or so, maybe two weeks. I had no career, no established source of income, or life experience, and I was quitting the part-time job I did have to move 500 miles away to go to Bible college. We’d go together. That was the extent of the plan. That doesn’t work for normal people.

But it’s exactly what’s worked for us, and I think there’s a reason… Our lives are not built around a plan, but around a person. We’ve built our marriage around Jesus and that has made all the difference in the world. We’re able to be responsive to him, while working toward his mission to show people what God’s love looks like. Maybe that sounds a little hokey to you or even pretentious, but the truth is our marriage works not because we’re two good people deeply in love and committed to each other. It works because God is good and has transformed our lives together. (Not incidentally, part of that transformation has been to grow us deeply in love and commitment to each other.)

He has made something new out of us. Something to display His love to the people around us. That’s the only agenda, and it’s been an adventure for these past 25 years. I still can’t say I have what most would call a plan for the next 25, but I do know I have a great partner for the journey and a great God who’s already working to prepare us for the road ahead.

Where will the journey take you?

The Inadequacy of My Words

“I have a lot of words… but none of them are adequate.”

In the face of one of the most impressive and inspiring places I’ve been, this was all I could say – other than such erudite expressions as “Whoah…” “That’s insane/unreal/crazy…” & “Holy Crap!” (Sorry moms.)

This doesn’t even begin to reveal what we saw.

To celebrate our 25th Anniversary, LuAnn and I headed to the coast of Northern California to spend some time in the redwood forests there. With a minimal plan, and even less of an agenda, we packed the van and hit the road. It was awesome, in every sense of the word.

There is no way a post on my blog can capture and explain either the 25 years of marriage, or the experience of the coastal redwoods, but it was a great trip. Inspiration was everywhere, and for me, that means… words. (And even the lack thereof!)

There was so much going on in my heart and mind over the 2 weeks of this trip, not to mention what the miles on the road and on hiking trails and van camping were doing to my body, that I feel at risk of dumping so much information that no one will want to wade through with me. To be honest, I’m still processing some of the experience and I don’t have the nice, tidy finished product to present yet, but this post will serve as a “fair warning” post. Over the next couple weeks if time allows, I’m hoping to post much more frequently than has been normal here lately as I unpack some of the incredible moments and thoughts.

Hope you’re up for the trip. I’ll try not to overshare (haha!), but you’re probably going to want to buckle up…

Foreground: 6 foot wide fallen tree that was cut to clear the path.
Center: My best friend, who was crazy enough to marry some little boy with “a minimal plan and even less of an agenda” 25 years ago!
Background: Not a cliff. That is another FALLEN TREE, people. Seriously… these things were amazing!

“This is insane!”

Identify the Real Problem

Recently, a student at our local HS got hit by a car on the street in front of the school. In the quickest knee jerk reaction I’ve seen a municipality muster, the city dropped the speed limit to 20 mph (like a typical school zone but not restricted to school hours) on the street where the accident occurred. The street is 4 lanes wide with the HS on one side and residences on the other for this 3 block stretch, with parks on either side for the next 2 blocks. The road is straight with extra wide sidewalks. Visibility is great (except at sunset) and there are 4 crosswalks on the 3 block stretch between the school and neighborhood.

There are a lot of factors involved anytime there’s an accident like this and lots of conclusions to jump to, as well. I want to avoid that oversimplifying pitfall, but I’m wondering… does the difference between 30 mph and 20 mph actually make this stretch of the street any safer for pedestrians? Or is that just the most easily controlled variable?

The reaction makes perfect sense, but as I drive this street several times every day (a little more slowly now), I’m not sure anyone is more safe today than they were a few weeks ago. In fact, I’m guessing we’ll have a few more fender benders as there is a larger difference between the speeds of the speed-limit obeying drivers and the I’ll drive as fast as I want anyway drivers. Drivers are more agitated because the extra 23 seconds it will now take really messes up their well planned commute.

In this case, I suspect the enacted plan won’t do a lot to help because it doesn’t address the real problem. The real problem is not that extra 10 mph. The problem is people not paying attention to the world around them. Most of the accidents I’ve seen here have been because someone didn’t notice something that was right in front of them the whole time. It’s easy to do. Sometimes it only takes a split second of distraction.

It seems that every time there is an accident, we are quick to place blame and call for more restrictions of some kind or another. But does adding more “rules of the road” make anyone more safe from people who already don’t pay attention to the existing rules? Probably not.

But we can always add more rules.

So we do.

Even though painting cross walks and putting up flashing lights and lowering speed limits and parking police cruisers in the area doesn’t actually focus a driver’s attention on the road. We, as a society, feel like we have to do something to mitigate the risks caused by irresponsible people, so we do… something. Because it makes us feel like we’ve done… something.

But what do we do when “something” doesn’t really help?

I’ve Got Some Bad News…

Most people don’t like to be the one to bring bad news. That’s because no one likes to hear bad news! As I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah lately, I can’t help but hurt for the guy.

In a culture where the prevailing message was basically “Peace, peace. Give God His token dues and do whatever else you want…” Jeremiah was called to warn of impending conquerors. After generations of their treachery and neglect, God was about to work a painful move (for Him and His people) to re-engage His people in the relationship He intended. The end would be incredible, but it would be a painful process.

Has anything really changed?

I know, I know… Everything has changed… Jesus changed it… We are not Israel…

But I wonder if we’ve replaced the faithless-ness of ancient Israel with our own? Have we replayed the same games that they did? We may not carve our statues and bow before them, but we make our own idols, don’t we? And we chase after them with the same wanton abandon that Israel did. (Jeremiah said they were like a bunch of camels in heat!)

Check your screen time and see if I’m wrong. Count the hours you’ve given in pursuit of paychecks… or trophies… or anything else we think is what will satisfy our thirst for “just a little bit more.” Are we pursuing God with the same passion as we’re following NASCAR or Tiger (what an incredible comeback, right!?) or our favorite team? Are we as adamantly pro-Jesus as we are our favorite political issue of the day?

I bet there were days when Jeremiah felt like it sucked to be Jeremiah. And yet… the counter cultural message that he was called to carry and deliver was no more offensive than the one we are called to bring. Offensive to God’s own people! We are supposed to be sounding a message that will invite people to surrender and to walk in relationship with Jesus. Our culture is going to hate that. Our church culture will buck at the suggestion that the American dream is NOT the same things as living in right relationship with our Father. It won’t be an easy message to carry.

But if we’re going to be the church He’s called us to be, we’ve got to wade into the calming waters in which we collectively drown to help people understand that “we are not ok.” before it’s too late. The comforts we enjoy in our sliver of time and place cannot rescue us from the storm that sin has brought with it. That’s the bad news.

Thank God we are not without an update to the bad news. The tomb is empty! The “Word made flesh” has poured out His Spirit to teach us and enable us to bear the weight of the work He wants to do through us! So “Stand by the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16) He is what satisfies. Chase after nothing less. Give your self to nothing else.

Review for Wise Guy

Several years ago, I heard Guy Kawasaki speak at a conference. He was engaging and told great stories, so I bought one of his books. Later, I had some interaction with his AllTop team and was invited into a pre-release review of another couple of his books. Guy is entertaining and enlightening – enchanting even? This past month I received a copy of Wise Guy, his current release (as of today) and was not surprised to find more of the same.

This book has less of an overarching topic than his others, but is more like a series of stories you might overhear your dad and an out of town uncle talking about at a Christmas visit. “Hey do you remember when…” After each episode, Guy puts down the eggnog and pulls you aside to tell you what he learned in each set of circumstances.

The stories reveal a bit of Guy’s character and quirks, but the valuable lessons apply widely. He talks about growing up in Hawaii with Japanese parents, attending college in southern CA, working at Apple, quitting at Apple, learning to play hockey and surf when most of his peers would have been hanging up their blades and boards for good, and a whole lot more. He’s had a life full of unique opportunities and challenges and talks about how he’s tried to make the best of them all. He tells his stories (even the difficult ones) with a jovial outlook and does a great job distilling the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Wise Guy is an enjoyable read due to the light-hearted and conversational tone. Guy shares some good life lessons without being too heavy handed. Some of the best moments were his descriptions of lessons learned as a loving father. (All except the “Live off your parents as long as you can lesson” – What’s up with that!?)

I’ll end where the preface begins, with a quote from Terry Pratchett: “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

How are your stories shaping you?