Christmas on a School Bus

Delbert is a school bus driver.  He has been for over 20 years.  He’s also my dad.

Every year at this time, he receives presents from several students on his bus.  Cookies.  Candy.  Cards.  A big hug.

This year is a first.  He unwrapped the present to find a t-shirt.  Taking it out of the box and holding it up, he reads the design on the front, “World’s Greatest Bus Driver.”  On the back, his last name is printed with the number 1 below it like a sports jersey.

A t-shirt doesn’t seem like much, I know.  Most of us would put it in a drawer and forget about it by the New Year.  But, it’s not about the t-shirt.  It’s about a little girl with a huge smile on her face and joy in her heart.  It’s about a student feeling recognized and valued enough to be compelled to return the feeling.

This is Christmas.  God with us.  Jesus alive and among us.  And it happened on my dad’s school bus.

It’s called incarnational living.  It means letting Jesus live in and through you.  It is embodying the way of Jesus in the way you live at home, at work, and at play.

School Bus Driver is not a coveted career.  It’s a blue collar job.  It’s for the less educated.  But, it’s also my dad’s opportunity to live the story of Christmas every day.  He does.  He did.  And a little girl recognized the Jesus in him with a gift.

Whoever you are.  Wherever you live.  Whatever you do.  You can live the story of Christmas every day, too.  God is with us.  There’s no need to wait for December 25th.   Christmas can happen anywhere, anytime.  Even on a school bus.

What examples of “incarnational living” can you share?

 

What 24 hours in a Parking Lot Taught Me

30,000 people + 7,000 cars + 6 nights = 24 hours parking cars.

Every year our church hosts a Christmas event for our community.  It draws close to 30,000 attenders, which is about one-third of our city’s population.  It takes place on 6 nights for two consecutive weekends, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Brooklyn and my responsibility is parking.  We recruit, train, equip, and set to action 30 volunteers each night.  As a team, we serve over 720 volunteer hours.  It’s leadership 101 on steroids.  Each year, I feel like organizing the parking team helps me take giant strides in my understanding and ability to lead.  So, I thought I would share with you what I learned this year.

Here’s what 24 hours in a Parking lot taught me:

  • People will rise to the challenge.   Parking cars is not easy.  It is physically taxing, not to mention inglorious.  We had several volunteers work all 6 nights.  Some of them are 60 and older.  If you ask, some will rise to the challenge.
  • People want to be a part of something bigger.  Our volunteers believe in the event.  They understand why we do it.  They don’t park cars because they like standing in a parking lot with obstinate drivers.  They do it because they want to be a part of something bigger.
  • People will let you down.  Not everyone who signs-up, shows up.  Some will ask for your direction and do the opposite.  Others will disappear halfway to completing the task or goal.  Not everyone will be an asset.  It’s okay as long as they don’t become an obstacle.
  • People grow together as they work together.  At the beginning of the event, most of the team is meeting each other for the first time.  By the end of the 6 nights, many are making plans to hang out.  Working together for a single purpose takes individuals and forms a community.

Everyone leads.  It may be as a parent, a teacher, a spouse, a coach, or a boss.    Every experience is a moment to learn what it takes to lead better.

Who are you leading?  What experiences have led to exponential growth in you ability to lead effectively?

 

 

A Psalm for Sandy Hook Elementary

Today is Monday, December 17, 2012.  Our children return to school for the first time since the horrifying event last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.  Most of us are still without words, including me.

So, I turn to the words spoken to us from God’s people of ancient times.  For the victims and mourning families of Sandy Hook Elementary School, we join with the voices of God’s people throughout history and say:

About the wicked:

7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. 8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. 10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. 11 They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

And we say to God:

12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”? 14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. 16 The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. 17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:7-18 (NRSV)

 

Finding the One: Is it Biblical?

Did you find “the one?”  Are you looking for “the one?”

It’s common in the United States in 2012 to be looking for “the one.”  “The one” meaning the one and only person you are meant to marry.  The person who completes you.  The person perfectly compatible for you.  The only person that can make you happy for the rest of your life.  And if you miss “the one,” every other relationship is doomed to fail.

Looking for “the one” isn’t exclusive to the secular or the religious.  Some call it destiny.  Some believe it’s God’s plan.  Others refer to it as a fairy tale.  Call it what you want, most of us believe in it.

But is it Biblical?

I’ve had difficulty finding biblical support.  Here’s why:

Dating did not exist in the Bible.

The social and cultural worldview of the Bible didn’t allow for dating.  Marriage was a contract between families.  Each family chose the best spouse for you based on status and future security.  You didn’t choose “the one,” instead one was chosen for you.  That’s it.  One person.  No more.  No choices.  Take it or leave the family.

With this in mind, imagine the gravity of Jesus words in Matthew 5:28-29, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  Remember, your spouse is chosen for you.  He/she could be really hairy, averse to working out, missing a few teeth, and completely at odds with everything you love about life.  But she/he is yours, till death you do part.  There must have been blind people everywhere.

Biblical marriage is about love for the other. 

And love is defined by Jesus’ life as self-sacrifice for the good of the other.  Love is a choice to put the needs of the other above your own desires.  Love is not a feeling, it’s an action.  It’s not based on merit or records of wrong.  It’s selfless and life-giving.

So, what does this mean for dating and marriage in the 21st  Century?

Dating is beautiful.  Dating is a gift.  It is a blessing.  It is an opportunity.  It is an exercise of your free will.

But, dating and marriage is not about finding “the one.”  It’s about choosing one to love.  You can take your time.  You can hold high standards.  You can search for compatibility.  These are good and highly recommended.  But one thing remains true, no one is perfect.  It’s less about who you choose and more about your choice to love without abandon.

It makes sense to me how divorce could be a problem in a culture where your spouse is chosen for you. It also seems logical that the freedom to choose a spouse would increase the likelihood of finding “the one” to last forever.  Sadly, statistics show otherwise.

Maybe we shouldn’t be praying for God to show us “the one.”  Maybe we should praying for God to help us make the choice to love one.

Whether dating or married, what’s holding you back from making the choice to love one?

 

 

Part 2 Why You Should Read the Bible Like a Text Message

Have you ever received a random text message from a number you didn’t recognize?

I have.  It’s a bit frustrating.  First of all, without knowing who’s behind the text, it’s nearly impossible to make sense of it.  Second, I don’t know if the message was really meant for me, so I’m not sure how or if I want to respond.  Third, I want to know how someone has my number and I don’t know about it.

I need  to know more than just the number from which it was sent.  I need to know the actual person.

This brings us to the second reason why your ability to read and understand a text message can help you read the Bible.

Text Message Skill #2:  Know the person behind the message.

Imagine if we didn’t have the ability to see on our phones the name of the person writing.  It would be nearly impossible to understand what the person is trying to communicate.  Knowing the person writing a message helps determine the meaning behind it.

I received this text message recently:  “Hey are u on edgewood?  I was right behind you.  I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to seem like a stalker.”

Now, imagine receiving this text without knowing who’s sending it.  Awkward.  How should I interpret this? What is this person trying to say to me?  Did she/he just want to say hi?  Does someone have a secret crush on me?  Should I be scared? Happy? Annoyed?  How do I respond to this?

To read and understand a text message, it’s essential to know the person behind it.  The same is true when reading the Bible.  You need to know who’s writing it.

Like getting to know anyone, it takes some time and effort to get to know the authors of the Bible.  Here’s what I’ve learned can help you get started:

  • Ask your pastor.  Your pastor may not have all the info off the top of her/his head, but she/he knows where to find it.
  • Google it.  You can find an answer for almost question you have on the internet.  Not every source is reliable, though, so check more than one website.
  • Visit your local college library.  If you live near a college or seminary, visit the commentary section of their library.  It’s available and free.
  • Buy a biblical commentary.  Commentaries can be overwhelming, so choose wisely.  Some commentaries are meant for an academic audience while others are written to be more accessible to the everyday reader.  Tips:  Ask your pastor for recommendations, you don’t need to buy the whole set at once, if it’s free it’s normally not the best.

How well do you know who wrote the Bible?

 

An Atheist’s Question for Christmas

I have a friend who doesn’t believe in God.  Nor does his family.  Nor does his country.

Atheist is a strong word, I know.  Maybe too strong for my friend.  A better qualifier may be agnostic.  But regardless of the title, God and religion have never been a part of his life.  He met a Christian for the first time less than 4 months ago.

I invited him to experience a Christmas Lights spectacle at our church.  We call it Lights of Lakeland.  It’s more than lights, though.  It’s a visual and interactive smorgasbord of popular Christmas/cartoon characters for young families.  To exit the event, everyone must make a pass through a live recreation of Bethlehem.  Last scene, Mary and Joseph are holding baby Jesus.

As we walk through, I hear from my friend again and again, “This is amazing.”  Then we pass through Bethlehem, slowly.  I stop to explain each part the story of Jesus’ birth.  I realize my friend is hearing it for the first time.  This time he says to me, “Wow, you have a deep meaning behind Christmas.  Thank you for sharing this with me, I feel blessed.”

It’s a quiet walk back to the lobby.  He sits down and pulls out his smartphone.  He’s deep in thought.  He’s google-ing Christianity in his own language.

Then comes his question for Christmas, “If all Christians believe in Jesus, why do you have so many different types of churches? And why don’t you get along?

I don’t have a good answer.

I wonder, “What part of the Christmas story have we forgotten?”

Jesus said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34

Here’s what I learned:

  • Christianity is much bigger than the church I attend.
  • Division in the Church discourages belief in Jesus.
  • God’s mission is more important than doctrine.
  • Every follower of Christ is my brother and sister.
  • I’m sorry, I forgive you, and I was wrong should be used often.

What needs to change for Christians to love one another?

 

 

 

Top 10 Christian Music on My Playlist

Picture of All Sons&Daughters latest album, “The Longing.”

I’m in no way an authority on music.  I’m the son of a father who is tone deaf.  Seriously, every time he sings even the birds cover their ears.  Much like you cover your eyes when I dance.

I am always on the lookout for new, fresh voices.  You may be looking for different tunes as well.  So, I thought I would share the 10 artists that currently top my list (in no particular order).

  • All Sons&Daughters
  • Rend Collective Experiment
  • For King and Country
  • JJ Heller
  • Matt Hammitt
  • Andrew Peterson
  • Jon Foreman
  • The City Harmonic
  • John Mark McMillan
  • Trinity Grace Church

Some of you will look at this list and think, “I don’t recognize any of them.”  That’s okay.  I encourage you to check them out.

Some of you will look at the list and think, “I recognize all of them, but only like 2.”  That’s okay, too.  I encourage you to share which artists you love and recommend.

Who is on your top 10 list?

Who makes your top 10 list outside of the Christian music genre?

Jesus is not a Genie

Jesus isn’t a genie who grants our our wishes.

I don’t know anyone who literally thinks Jesus magically makes our wishes come true.  We don’t expect Jesus to instantly make us rich, powerful, and famous.  But, sometimes, certain misunderstood Bible verses help us lean in this direction.  For example:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or imagine.  Ephesians 3:20

If you’ve been to church, chances are you’ve heard this verse.  It’s often spoken in a prayer or benediction.  The phrase we tend to highlight is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or think.”  Emphasis on all we ask or think.

It sounds like Jesus will do anything we ask.  And more.  We simply need to ask.  So, why shouldn’t I ask Jesus to give me a better job, a bigger house, perfect health, and abundant wealth?  If Jesus isn’t accomplishing all I ask, should I assume I’m doing something wrong?  Or should I assume the whole thing is a farce?

Our thinking shifts when we focus on a different phrase:  “to him who by the power at work within us.”  Within us.  Jesus is at work within us.  At least, this is the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”  Jesus living in you, filling you with the power to know and be rooted in God’s love.  Jesus alive in you, redefining who you are in the shape of God’s love.

Read Ephesians 3:20 again.  It is only when Jesus is alive in your heart that God will accomplish more than you ask or imagine.  Because when your heart is the dwelling of Jesus, all that you ask or imagine isn’t about your wish list anymore.  It’s about something bigger.  It’s about God’s cosmic plan to “gather up all things in God, things in heaven and on earth –Ephesians 1:10.” 

Jesus isn’t a genie.  Jesus is a savior.  With Jesus at work in you, God will accomplish far more than all you all ask or imagine to redeem our world.

What have you been asking from God lately?

Why You Should Read the Bible like a Text Message. Part 1

Reading a text message is fairly simple.  It does require enough tech savvy to operate a cell phone.  Once you master your iPhone or dare I say Droid, it’s easy.  160 characters maximum.  One sentence, maybe two if you’re really good.

Reading the Bible seems extremely difficult.  39 books in the Old Testament.  27 books in the New Testament.  A couple thousand pages.  Different authors, all of whom you’ve never met.  It seems impossible.

If you can read a text message and understand it, I believe, you can read the Bible and understand it.

Many of the skills and intelligence it takes to interpret a text message are the same required for reading the Bible.  Anyone can do it.

So, this will be the first in a series of posts explaining how your ability to read a text message can help you read the Bible.

Text Message Skill #1:  Paying attention to context.

Context is what comes before and what comes after.  Before every text comes a conversation, an email, an experience, and/or text message.  After a text message comes another conversation, email, experience, and/or text message.  Take the before and after away and most text messages will not make sense.

I call it the PB&J effect.  The before is one piece of bread, the after is one piece of bread, while the text message is the peanut butter & jelly.  Ignore one or both pieces of bread and the sandwich doesn’t make sense.

Recently, I sent a message to a friend: “Any recommendations for where to shop for home ins?”  He didn’t know what I was talking about.   He mentally re-tracked our recent conversations.  He sent  a follow-up text message.  Finally it made sense.  He understood I was asking if he knew where I could get a good homeowner’s insurance quote.

Reading the Bible takes the same skill.  Focus on what comes before and after a verse to make sense of it.  The Bible makes it easy.  You don’t have to search for the context.  It’s right there in the verses and paragraphs that come before and after.  Problems is, most of us treat verses in the Bible like they are meant to stand alone.  They don’t.  They aren’t.  Each verse is a part of a larger narrative that comes before and after.  We just need to pay attention to it.

Bible verses don’t drop from the sky.  The Bible isn’t a collection of independent axioms.  Each verse is a small part of a larger whole.  Treat it that way.  You may be surprised.  It’s as easy as reading a text message.

Try it on your favorite verse this week.  You may discover something new.