Learning Together: a Working Parent is Bi-Vocational

Picture 2A parent’s most obvious vocation is what you do to receive a paycheck.  It is your trade or profession.  You dedicate 20-60 hours each week to this particular career.

You wake up in the morning with your mind set on the tasks that lay ahead in your job.  The deadlines, meetings, calls, managing, reports, budgets, professional relationships, opportunities for promotion, and showing up to work on time.  Most of what you do from the time you wake up till the time you walk out the door is preparation for your paid vocation.  You set an alarm to give yourself sufficient time to make yourself look presentable.  You eat breakfast to sustain your energy until lunch break.  You leave with plenty of time to account for traffic and distance.  Five out of seven mornings revolve around this vocation.

A parent’s less obvious and often overlooked vocation is what you do to care for your home.  It is your life’s work.  The moment you married and then decided to procreate, you claimed suitability to accomplish this mission.  This vocation comes with its own set of responsibilities.  Much like your paid work, growing and developing as a leader in the home is essential to your role as a father or mother and spouse.

Maybe I am stretching it a bit too far, since vocation more strictly relates to a career or occupation.  I don’t want to define marriage and parenting as a corporate enterprise or a market endeavor.  Still, I believe there is a link between your work life and home life.

You can discover the link by replacing “vocation” with the word “calling.”  A Christian understanding of “calling” unites your domestic and occupational life under a greater purpose.  Neither is an end to end itself.  One is not greater than the other.  Your family and your career are opportunities for you to fulfill God’s will for you and all of creation.

Working parents share dual roles under a single calling.  God calls you to fulfill a purpose through your career.  God calls you to fulfill a purpose through your family.  The purpose is the same:  exemplify God’s love and expand God’s kingdom.

If you take the technical definition out, then I think you can admit a working parent is bi-vocational.  You have two worthy roles that require great dedication.  You are a parent and a professional.  One doesn’t trump the other.  They coexist.  Working hard at one doesn’t cancel out your need to give equal effort to the other.  To focus on one while neglecting the other will only hurt both.  The most difficult part is finding the right balance.         

It isn’t easy.

I am blessed to be married to someone who does it exceptionally well.  It is amazing to see how hard she works at her career, yet how passionately she cares for us, her family.

Thank you, Brooklyn.  And thank you to every working parent who balances your calling at work and at home.  You are amazing.  You deserve more credit.  We cherish the difference you make in our lives and in our world.

 

 

Learning to Find Your Way Home

Home.

It’s crazy how one word can carry so much weight.  It illicits a range of emotions.  Think on it too long and your eyes will be filled with tears, some happy and others sad.  It might even be a mixture of both.

Home.  

I was intrigued by Elizabeth Gilbert’s definition of “home.”  If her name isn’t familiar, then maybe her bestselling book is, “Eat, Pray, Love.”  She formulates a definition in her 2014 TEDtalk with the title, “Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating.”
For her,

“Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself…your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”

Home, for her, is writing.  Whenever failure or success disorients her life, she resolves to find her way home.  Writing is where she rightfully lives.  She makes her point:

I’m writing another (book) right now, and I’ll write another book after that and another and another and another and many of them will fail, and some of them might succeed, but I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcomes as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.

I like Gilbert’s definition of “home.”  It reminds of the “home” to which we are all invited to return.  The “home” of God’s love.  It is the primary place you can truly rest.  Here, it is safe to be yourself.  However far failure or success tries to throw you away, the door is expectantly open and a place at the table awaits you.  God’s love is the only thing that dedicates more energy into you than you could ever devote to it.  When this is your home, results become inconsequential.

I also like Gilbert’s definition of love because it begs you to search for God’s creative design in you.  You are created with a talent, a passion, an awareness, an experience, a gift, a perspective, or whatever you want to call it.  You have something in you that can only be born out of your life.  It is creative.  It is beautiful.  It is life-giving.  It is transformative.  It is loving and caring and compassionate and can break down systems of evil.  Whenever you dedicate your life to it, you breathe easy.  You know you are doing what God has called you to do.  It’s not work.  It doesn’t feel like a chore.  You would do it without pay.  It is the home God has created you to dwell in.

I have no idea what you are experiencing right now.  Could be failure or success?  Whatever it is, don’t wander too far from home.  Home is a safe place.  If you feel you’ve gone too far, you haven’t.  God’s love welcomes you home.  The door is wide open and the porch light is on.  Come home.  It is here that you will discover your creative purpose. Who knows, maybe it is writing?

Check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk:

Learning Together: Take Heartfelt Risks

After 22 years of cold, snowy, cloud covered winters in Ohio, Brooklyn and I felt ready to move to the tropics.  Where else, but my family’s favorite vacation destination and Brooklyn’s childhood home?  Florida.  The Sunshine State.

Going into college, my goal was set on simply graduating.  If I could survive four years of classes without dropping out or being kicked out, then I would be satisfied.  I wasn’t sure it would be possible.  No one else in my family had made it past a semester.

My vision changed.  I fell in love with theology, Biblical studies, and the basics of practical ministry.  This love translated into good grades.  Good grades caught the attention of my professors.  My professors suggested I continue my studies in Seminary, and possibly even pursue a PhD.

One problem:  Is there a reputable Seminary in Florida?  We discovered one.  ONE.  Asbury Seminary, based out of Wilmore, Kentucky, was opening a brand new campus in Orlando, FL.  Our senior year in college marked the Seminary’s first.  We set an appointment to visit the campus for Spring Break.

The campus was small with one building.  The building renovation wasn’t complete.  The professors were young and non-traditional.  The student population was less than 50.  It was tough to imagine this seminary-plant being the right choice.

I remember our final night together before the 15 hour drive home.  Brooklyn and I were laying on the bed staring at the ceiling.  We didn’t know what to do.  Both of us had a deep sense of emptiness and fear.  Could we make this move?  Would we be able to live 15 hours away from home?  Or should we make an easier choice?

“YES,” we decided.  We can.  We will.  Scared out of our minds, we felt in our hearts a nudge to take this risk.  It was a long, emotional ride home.

It was late at night when we made it home.  We walked into our apartment to see a red beacon of light flashing across the room.  It was the answering machine.  Yes, this was before we had our first cellphone, go ahead and laugh.  We listened in shock.  The dean of admissions from Asbury left a message, “Please, give me a call at your earliest convenience, I have great news for you.”  

I hadn’t been officially accepted yet, so I figured this was the news.  I was wrong.  He called to tell me they wanted to offer a full-tuition scholarship.  He said, “After meeting you in person and hearing you describe God’s call on your life, we want to offer this opportunity to you.  Will you accept?”  He didn’t know my answer was already “yes.”

The decision to take this risk was heartfelt for Brooklyn and I.  Our hearts felt the excitement of the possibility of moving to a new place with warm weather.  Our hearts felt sorrow over the potential distance between our family and us.  Our hearts felt fear when considering the financial strain we were facing.  Our hearts felt shock to hear the offer of a full-scholarship.

Taking this risk wasn’t a flippant decision.  It was full of emotion, prayer, contemplation, discussion, and uncertainty.  Together, Brooklyn and I took the risk.

Taking this heartfelt risk is the most pivotal decision in our marriage and ministry.  In many ways, it has shaped our journey as pastors.  It has opened doors to walk through that otherwise would nott have been visible.  Honestly, we might not be pastors today had we not ventured out.

As followers of a creative God, we are learning together to take heartfelt risks.  You will know the opportunity when you feel it.  God is active in your life through your desires and through your fears.  God wants you to venture out into the unknown.  A great adventure awaits you.

I don’t want you to be confused.  Taking heartfelt risks with God isn’t synonymous with moving away from home.  You can step outside of yourself and into the unknown right where you are.  There is plenty of adventure in your own backyard.

Brooklyn took one such risk, which I will ask her to share with us this week.  Be watching for Part 2 of this post:  Learning Together:  Take Heartfelt Risks.

 

Learning Together: The Perpetual “Yes”

family pic]Our story begins with a red dress, an air mattress (not what you are thinking), a bag of Cheetos, a gummy bear, and Tony Campolo.  Odd assortment of details, I know.  Without them, I am not sure we would be where we are today:  married and both pastors.

We weren’t likely candidates for one another.  We were 15 years old.  I was from Logan, and she had recently moved to Lancaster.  Major rival schools.  I was single, and she was dating an older soccer stud who was the envy of every youth group girl.  I was busy with basketball, and she was busy with volleyball, modeling, and working.  I was barely noticed by the girls at church camp, she had the attention of every teenage boy roaming the campgrounds.

I am not a huge supporter of the concept of “love at first sight.”  Not sure how you can love someone you’ve never met.  So, let’s just say, it was “googly eyes at first sight.”  I was sitting with my buddies in the old, jankity, carved on, uncomfortable church campground pews near the front of the large auditorium.  Hundreds of teenagers overtook this prime real estate for every worship service.  I am minding my own business with my friends when it happens.  Down the aisle walks a girl wearing a red dress.  It was like nothing else existed in the room but her.  I thought to myself, “Someday, I will date a girl as breathtaking as her.”

I thought she was in college until later that night.  The teenagers like to hangout in front of the auditorium next to the concession stand.  I saw her again.  This time, she was being swarmed by boys.  I kept my distance.  No need to embarrass myself with a girl way out of my league.  Out of nowhere, she walks over carrying a bag of chips and says, “Would you like a Cheeto?”

I wish I could say I was super smooth with my response, but I can’t.  What I said was so lame, I can’t even remember a single word.  Doubt she can either.  Our conversation was cut short with interruptions from other boys with googly eyes.  We parted for night and returned to our cabins.  I am not sure I even knew her name at this point.

The next morning I was carrying an air mattress with the help of a friend.  We borrowed it for the night, so needed to return it first thing.  Along the way, I notice the girl in the red dress walking toward us.  My mind scrambled with words that I could say.  By the time we passed by, all that came out was “Do you want a mattress?”

That pretty much summarizes our fist meeting.  I never expected to see her again.  If I did, I was sure my chances were blown.

Less than a month later, we boarded the same airplane headed to Phoenix, AR with a hundred other students.  We would be meeting up with 7,000 other students for a youth event called NYC.  She sat next to her boyfriend.  I sat next to my buddies.

One night during the event, a gummy bear war broke-out in the hallway of the hotel we were staying.  The next morning, gummy bears were everywhere.  The hotel staff must have hated us.  Please forgive us, God.  Anyway, we rushed out in a hurry to our first worship session.  To get into the event, you needed your official lanyard and ID.  I forgot mine.  Guess who else forgot hers?  The girl in the red dress.  What should a strong, athletic young man like I do in a situation like this?  I offered to walk back with her.

We hopped on the first available elevator.  She pushed the button for her floor, and I did mine.  By the time we made it to our floors, we stood alone in the elevator.  Can you say awkward?  Remember, I am the guy who offered a mattress.  I don’t know what to do or say.  I am staring at a dirty floor filled with gummy bears, and the lightbulb goes on.  I say to her, “I dare you to eat one of those gummy bears.  If you eat half, then I will eat half.”  PAUSE to think about it.  “Okay, you go first,” she says.  I pickup a red gummy bear, tear it in half, and we both down it at once.  It was magic.

Things kind of run into a blurr after that, until one worship session I will never forget.  Tony Campolo was the main stage speaker.  I had no idea who he was.  The only way I know to describe him is the Christian, preacher version of Dick Vitale.  His message was mesmerizing.  He had the attention of the entire arena, all 7,000 of us.  He told one story that carries more depth than most I have ever heard.  Here it is:

At the end of the message, he gave the invitation.  Anyone feeling a call to create a church that reaches out to the broken hearted in our world, he said, “Come forward.  Leave your seats, wherever you are, and kneel here at the foot of the stage.”  I left my seat.  Somewhere else in the building that seats over 10,000 people, Brooklyn left her seat.  Unaware the other person was there, we both accepted a call to vocational ministry.

The question we heard from Tony, and through him from God, was “Will you accept my call on your life to be a leader in the Church who will change our world?”  Our answer was “YES.”

We’ve been saying yes ever since.  We’ve learned together that a life following God is a perpetual yes.  

“Yes” we will study for the ministry at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.  “Yes” we will move to Orlando, FL to attend Seminary.  “Yes” we work at a small Nazarene Church we know nothing about.  “Yes” we will move across the United States.  “Yes” we will work hard to become a better speaker.  “Yes” we will be patient with our visions.  “Yes” we will stand on platforms and speak to 1,000s of teenagers.  “Yes” we will support what God is doing in the other person.  “Yes” we will accept new opportunities.  “Yes” we will work for justice.  “Yes” we will do what’s unconventional for everyone else.  “Yes” we will care for our family.  “Yes.”

Being a pastor married to a pastor requires of us a “perpetual yes” to God.  I am not saying we haven’t missed a “yes.”  Maybe we have.  That’s not the point.  What’s important is never ceasing to say it.  The moment our dominant answer is “no” we will no longer grow.

You don’t have to be a pastor married to a pastor to learn this reality.  God calls all of us to create a Church that can change our world.  Some will do it through medicine, politics, athletics, art, business, parenting, teaching, rescuing, or any talent or ability or passion one possesses.  You can say “Yes”, and you can say it perpetually.

 

Learning the meaning of Romans 8:28

romans 8.28Romans 8:28 is read by many as a verse of comfort.  You gain assurance that God is on your side.  You find hope that situations and circumstances are heading in a positive direction.  You turn to it when feeling down.  You offer it to someone else to bring them up.

It is a message a comfort.  Paul, the writer of Romans, is offering hope to his readers.  He wants his readers to know God is on their side, despite the difficulties that befall them.

However…

It isn’t a message of prosperity.  It isn’t a message of security.  It isn’t a message of wish-granting or prayer-request answering.  Paul isn’t promising safety or uninhibited good times.

The point being made is this:  you can count on God to use a bad situation for good. This is different from the thought that God will keep you from bad situations.  Not true, at least according to this verse.  It is already assumed a bad situation has befallen you.  God won’t let it have the final victory.  God speaks last.  God redeems the bad by using it to create good.

If you haven’t opened your Bible to Romans 8, read it here in 6 different translations:

  • NIV.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,who have been called according to his purpose.
  • NASB.  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
  • NLT.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
  • MESSAGE.  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
  • NKJV.  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
  • NRSV.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Notice the key phrases.

  • We know.  This truth is something that was evident to Paul’s readers.  “You already know this,” he says, “but let me say it as a word of encouragement.”  I like to think they know based on what they’ve learned from the Old Testament stories.  I also imagine they know through their own experience.  They have known sufferings and trials, and have witnessed God’s ability to shape it into good.
  • All things work together for good.  All things.  The already good and the bad.  Paul is writing this during a time of suffering.  He is speaking directly to their situation.  “I understand the suffering you are going through right now, trust me.  Don’t let it get you down or cloud your thoughts.  God hasn’t abandoned you.  Someday all suffering will end.  Your suffering now is futile compared to God’s future reality waiting for you.  Persevering through these tough times isn’t in vain.  God will use it to create a situation for good.”  
  • for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.  It doesn’t happen by accident.  God will not force God’s hand.  If you don’t want God to redeem the bad with God’s good, fine.  Let bad have the final word in your life.  God’s desire is to work in cooperation with you.  This requires you to love God in response to God’s love for you.  In loving God, God is able to partner with you to create good from all things.

If you come to Romans 8:28 in search of a pot of gold, you are looking in the wrong place.

Chances are, you already know this.  You understand that following Christ puts you in contention with the ways of our world.  You have experienced hardships or trials due to your faith.  You get it, though.  God has taken those moments of suffering or persecution or difficulty and created opportunities for good in you and in our world.  Maybe it deepened your faith.  Maybe it opened your eyes.  Maybe it inspired you with a new passion.  Maybe it brought you a new perspective.  Had you not been in a loving relationship with God, you would have missed it.  You would not have heard God’s voice.  You wouldn’t have followed God’s lead.  If God did create good with it, you wouldn’t have recognized it anyway.

The meaning of Romans 8:28 is a simple reminder that God is for you when things seem to be against you.  God proves it by using even the bad to create good.  Don’t let yourself be confused.  God isn’t the author of the bad.  Neither will God incubate you from all difficulty.  Like Paul, you can rest assured, that whatever things come your way be it death, or life, or angels, or rulers, or things present, or things to come, or powers, or height, or depth, or anything else in all creation, (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Learning to Be a Pastor Married to a Pastor

family pic]I am a pastor married to a pastor, and so is my wife.  Kind of sounds like we’re married to someone else when I put it that way.  Haha, oh well.  We are married to each other.  That’s it, nothing crazy happening up in here.  Most of you know this already.  What you don’t know is how we do it.  I say this because we’ve heard you ask, “How do you guys do it?”  Or you say, “I don’t know how you do it.”

And we’re like, “Do what?  Eat pizza every Saturday Night after church and not blow up into a blimp?  I don’t know.  The YMCA is our second home, maybe?”

We hear you.  You can’t imagine how your spouse and you could both be pastors at the same time.  You can’t fathom how either one of you could be a pastor at all, for that matter.  So, you’re curious.  How do we do it?  What’s it like for us?  How do we balance family, church, and life?  Do we share the same philosophy of ministry?  Is the pressure too much on our kids?  When do we know when to follow whose lead?  What obstacles do we face?  What joys do we experience?  Do we ever want to give up?  What keeps us going?  What dreams do we share?

I am not sure we have all the answers, but we are learning.  TOGETHER.  As a partnership.  Neither one of us lording over the other.  And, our greatest joy is cheering for the other to fulfill what God has empowered us to be and do.

Knowing you are curious, we have decided to start a series.  Once or twice a week, one of us will write a post on this blog about our journey together as pastors.  The title for the series will be “Learning Together.”  Anytime you see these two words, you will know it is about our experiences of being pastors married to a pastor.

Here is where we hope to take you in the first few posts:

  • How we became a couple.
  • When we realized we both were going to be pastors.
  • What being a pastor was like as a volunteer.
  • How we chose our majors in college.
  • Why we decided to get married at 19 years old.
  • What was our first big step into full-time paid ministry.
  • What the difficult lessons were we learned early on
  • What the ordination process was like
  • When we started working in the same church together
  • How having children changed our roles

Here’s what we hope you will gain from these posts:

  • A more intimate insight into who we are, especially those of you who serve with us at our church.
  • Encouragement for ministry students wondering how this could possibly work in their marriage.
  • Confidence in both the female and male ability to lead well as pastors.
  • A new imagination for how God can use your marriage to influence others to love God.
  • A reality check that we, as pastors, are human just like you.
  • Courage to support all the ways God wants to use your spouse to change the world.

I hope you will join us on this journey of Learning Together.  It will include the good and the bad, the funny and the sad.  It is the story God is writing with our lives.

We look forward to sharing our thoughts with you.  Feel free to share your thoughts back to us as well.    

 

Learning 3 Reasons Why Your Story is Important to Me

 

I had no idea what I was walking into as I stepped into his home.  An hour and a half later, it came clear to me.  He needed me to hear his story.

One incident in his story opened the vault on his soul.  He spoke of a time a friend and he broke into a bakery truck.  They stole everything possible.  They carried away loaves of bread, packaged pastries, and snacks of all kinds. Barely anything was left behind.  No one had a clue until the next morning when the driver checked his inventory.

Years later, he returned to the house of the owner of that truck.  He knocked on the door.  The man he wanted to speak to opened the door with a bit of surprise.  He told the guy, “I am the one who robbed your truck a few years ago.  I am deeply sorry and needed you to know.”  As he is telling me the story, he pauses here to take a deep breadth and fought off the tears.  Twenty or thirty seconds goes by and he says, “The only thing he said was ‘Thank you’.”  With that, he breathed out a sigh of relief and wonder at his fortune to receive forgiveness.

For ninety minutes, I heard much more of his story.  I walked away thinking to myself, “he needed someone to hear his story.  Today, that someone was me.”  I’ve thought more about it, and realize I am learning the importance of hearing the story of others.  In the moment, I have come up with 3 reasons why it’s important:

  1. You will learn something about the person you didn’t know before that can help you better understand their current pain or future direction.
  2. It is privilege to be a person someone trusts enough to share their soul with you.
  3. You will gain a perspective that can help you better help them.

As we tell and listen to one another’s story, I pray God uses each person to write narratives replete with redemption.

Learning How to Make “Over-the-Top Andes Mint Cupcakes” for My 8 year old’s Birthday

For recipe, go to Mel's Kitchen

For recipe, go to Mel’s Kitchen

The day didn’t start as planned. With pollen floating around everywhere and landing on everything, Kirra has been battling allergies.  Her right eye is taking the brunt of the attacks.  Swelling has occurred off and on for the past three or so days.  Yesterday, it took a turn for the worse.  One hour into the school day, Kirra sat in the school nurse’s office with a red, puffy, and itchy eye.

Disappointment set in.  She could barely sleep the night before in anticipation for celebrating her big day with friends at school.   Now, she had to wait at least 24 more hours.

March 11th is Kirra’s big day.  One day before the date of this post, which means I am still recovering from the festivities.  The most exhausting part of the day being the two and a half hours it took me to bake her cupcakes.  No laughing!  It took me that long.  I am admittedly an amateur cook.

I have made desserts for previous special occasions.  At least twice, I have made the world’s best tasting chocolate cake for Brooklyn.  Can’t say it has ever looked pretty when done, but it tasted right.  She appreciated my effort, I think.

This was a my first time making cupcakes for Kirra’s birthday.  Her favorite combination is chocolate and mint.  I went to my go-to resource for recipes:  Mel’s Kitchen.  I found “Over-the-top Andes Mint Cupcakes.”  Easy choice.  Done.

Baking is messy.  Flower, sugar, powdered sugar, melted chocolate, and dirty dishes spattered the kitchen.  At one point, I had cupcakes in the oven while at the same time making ganache and buttercream icing.  I was juggling three things at once.  Stress had to be written all over my face.  I certainly felt it.

Everything came out as planned, except one thing:  the icing.  It is slightly on the runny side.  It tastes great.  It just doesn’t have the hold factor.  It pipes out great, but then kind of melts down like a snow man on a hot day.

It was worth it.  My aching back and sore feet.  My damaged self-esteem.  My time taken away from other important tasks.  It was all worth it.  It is worth it because I love my 8 year old Kirra.  She is worth it.  She may not realize the connection between my baking and my love for her, but it is real.

Learning how to make “Over-the-top Andes Mint Cupcakes” is as much an exercise in baking as it is in loving.  Each year I hope I learn how to love Kirra better.  A bonus will be figuring out how to make icing.

If you haven’t notice, Kirra is growing into a mini-version of her mom.  Brings back memories of conversations Brooklyn and I had before having children.  We talked, laughed, and dreamed about the possibility of our children being like their mommy.  Kirra is well on her way.  Amazing to have a glimpse of the beauty of Brooklyn in our little one.

Feel blessed to have the opportunity to learn to make cupcakes for those I love.

Learning the Meaning of Amos 5:24

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream.  Amos 5:24 (NRSV)

I grew up in Ohio, so our summer excursions would include at least one trip to Kings Island and Cedar Point.  You may think I am biased, which is fair.  Seriously, though, these are two of the greatest amusement parks for roller coaster aficionados in the United States.

When roller coaster lines were too long and the weather too hot, my family would opt for the White Water Canyon ride.  It is a water rapids raft ride with signs posted everywhere as you walk through line, “You will get soaked on this attraction.”  No joke.  You couldn’t escape it.  Water would splash in from the sides.  Hoses would blast water at you from all directions.  A few unfortunate passengers would fall victim to the worst evil of all, a waterfall.  While half of the raft laughed in the “Hahaha, you’re going to get it” kind of way, the other half crouched in fear of their inevitable fate.  Hundreds of gallons of water came rolling down on the top of their heads.

For the next few hours, you walked around in shoes that audibly squished and wet pants that chaffed your inner thighs with every painful step.  I can’t explain why we ever went back, but we did.

The new Paddington movie includes a brilliant scene when the bear first arrives to London.  Having never experience civilization before, Paddington has a tendency to misjudge the proper use of things.  He is instructed to go to the upstairs bathroom to freshen up.  He has no idea what this means.  He uses the kids toothbrushes to clean wax out of his ears.  He eats the wax, which apparently tastes awful.  In an attempt to clean his  palette, he dumps a bottle of mouthwash down his throat.  A burning sensation in his mouth leads him to dunk his head in the toilet water for relief.  He gets stuck, rips the pipes off the wall, misuses the shower and floods the entire bathroom to the ceiling.  Curious as to what is taking place in there, the father of the house opens the door.  An avalanche of water rushes out and rolls down the stairs like a flash flood.  Go to this link to watch for yourself:  Paddington Trailer.

Have the image of rolling water in your mind, yet?

Amos wrote, “let justice roll down like waters.”  Justice.  Let it roll down.  Open the floodgates.  Pour it out.  Don’t hold back.  Give all you’ve got.  Too much will never be enough.  Send it by the tons.  Never let it run dry.

This is God speaking by the way.  If you have justice to give, God is ready to receive it.  Endlessly and without limit.

What is justice?

Justice is not selling out for money (Amos 2:6).  Justice is not taking advantage of the needy for material gain (Amos 2:6.)  Justice is not making the situation of the poor worse (Amos 2:7).  Justice is not ignoring the pain around you (Amos 2:7).  Justice is not taking sexual advantage of vulnerable people (Amos 2:7).  It isn’t lavishing yourself with a lifestyle made possible by shady business (Amos 2:8).  It isn’t violence and robbery (Amos 3:10).  It isn’t oppressing the poor or crushing the needy (Amos 4:1).

Yet, God observed these injustices in God’s own people.  These are descriptions of how God’s people had been living.  From positions of privilege and power, they upheld the systems that held down the broken and poor.

Somberly, the book of Amos declares to God’s people:  “Thus says the LORD:  For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.”  (Amos 1:6)  No escaping it now.  God is appalled at their ways, which leads God to say with a bit of shock to the people:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals, I will not look upon.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

I don’t want these things,” God says.  “I have no use for them.  They are meaningless rituals.  None of it is authentic.  It’s all just so hollow.  It’s not worth your time to even bring them near me.”  BUT…

“let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”  God says, “I will gladly accept justice.  My arms are wide open, ready to receive all you can give.  Knock me down with it, I don’t care.  You can’t drown me.  I will happily absorb as much as you can produce.  Please don’t send me any of the other stuff until you think you’ve exhausted me with justice and righteousness.  By then, these waters will make everything else so much more pure.”

God’s desire for God’s people is the same today as it was with the people in the book of Amos.  As a child of God, you are born into a reality where justice is the M/O.  You are reborn with a purpose to make wrongs right.  Your DNA is love, humility, and justice.  This is the true mark of authentic faith.  Not going to church, reading your Bible, and praying.  Without a life of justice, these are merely rituals.  Hollow and empty.  Do justice in your life, and they become infused with power and exceptional worth.

Let justice roll down like waters…

Learning What Advice I Would Give to College Students at MVNU (or anywhere)

brooklyn with student at MVNUBrooklyn and I were recently invited to speak at our alma mater, Mount Vernon Nazarene University.  What an honor to be entrusted with a platform to speak into the lives of students.  Preaching on their stage connected us to the many preachers and speakers whose words still have an impact on our lives today.

Our itinerary was full.  In less than 24 hours, we led a seminar on Dating/Marriage, preached in morning chapel, spoke at a luncheon, interviewed for a video, and preached a second sermon in evening chapel.  Did I mention our kids were with us?

With the interview, we weren’t sure what to expect.  Brooklyn and I simply made ourselves available in the moment.  Chairs were setup in front of two cameras in the lobby of their new basketball arena (awesome facility by the way).  We were handed a list of questions to review.  Minutes later, we were asked each individual question.

Brooklyn went first.  I sat behind the camera listening to her responses.  She is good.  She has done interviews before.  By the time she is finished, I am nervous and not sure I have any answers as original or inspiring as hers.

My turn.  They ask, I answer.  Some of my responses seemed good, while others were barely intelligible.  Of all the questions, there is one that has stuck with me.  I’m not sure it had inherent value greater than the others.  For me, it connected with my experience since graduating from MVNU.  I wish I had asked great leaders to answer it before journeying into the workforce.

The question is, What one word of advice would you give to students at MVNU?

I can’t remember exactly the way I worded it, but what I wanted to say is, “Don’t let anyone steal from you the ideas and imagination God has given to you during your journey through college.  We need you to chase big dreams.  You will face resistance in those of us who have grown comfortable in our own logic and politics.  Ignore us.  Your ideals aren’t impractical.  They are visions of new realities that can only come into existence through the divine imagination God has given you.  You are smart.  You are gifted.  Your are talented.  You are creative.  You are beautiful.  You are what the world needs.  You are the ones who can offer a fresh expression of the Kingdom of God to the world.  Please, don’t leave behind the visions you discovered through your experiences in college.  Risk the unknown.  Take a chance.  Journey past our old ways of being and doing.  Let the world experience what God has given only you to share.”

I am thankful for the opportunity to share with the students at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.  I am confident Brooklyn feels the same.  Our hope is that the students have received as much from us as we received from them.  Whether you are student at MVNU or somewhere, I want you to know.  We believe in you.  We trust you.  We can’t wait to see you lead.