Saturday, December 31

Four Words for 2012


A clock and a compass are both valuable tools, but serve two very different purposes. A clock measures where you are right now, without regard to the direction you are heading. A compass is all about direction. It's not so much about where you are at this moment, but about the direction in which you are heading.


The older I get, the more value I see in the compass. Destination and direction are vital. Destination and direction are more important than what is happening at any given time. A clear sense of destination and direction will help us focus on that to which God has called us, on what we really want our lives to be about. A compass makes sure you are heading in the right direction (or at least in the direction you want to go).


I need the focus that a compass gives. In a world ruled by full inboxes, crowded calendars, and over-flowing "to-do" lists, it is easy to lose sight of where I want to be and wander from the direction that will get me there.


The beginning of a new year is a good time to check your compass.


A few years ago, I came across this blog post by Chris Brogan. He writes about a different way of thinking about a new year. He thinks in terms of words that set the direction for the year rather than specific resolutions about what you are or are not going to do. His idea resonated with me. So each year, I spend some time with God – seeking direction on priorities and choosing three or four words to give direction to the coming year. All of these will have specific tasks, because even if you know your destination you won’t get there unless you take some steps. But the words (which will be at the top of each day’s calendar) will help set the direction for the year. 


Here are my words for 2012:


Deeper – This is about deepening my relationship with God through set and focused times in His Word, prayer, fasting, journaling, etc. But it will also happen as I learn to discern more clearly the Holy Spirit’s work in my life and follow His leading. Richard Foster begins his classic book, The Celebration of Discipline, with these words:


“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”


Wider – This is really about writing. I told my staff last month that I want to do more of that. There is no guarantee that anyone will want to read what I write. But I do want to be more purposeful in the discipline of writing.


Higher – This is about making other people better. This applies to my family, my staff, our students, my friends, folks in campus ministry, the people with whom I work in track and field, or others God brings across my path. I want to be purposeful in sharpening them.


Lower – This is about my weight. I told my wife last night that 2012 is a year no fried foods and no sweets. She was not excited about that idea. And I’m not sure that I can completely do that. But I do want to commit myself to a better diet – better foods, smaller portions, fewer calories – and more exercise.


So those are my words for 2012. What are yours?

Wednesday, December 28

Three Stories Calling Us to Better Lives

I intentionally left the word “sport” out of the title of this post because, though each of these stories come from the world of sports, the issues highlighted go far beyond something as temporary as an athletic competition. They are stories about higher virtues than winning or losing. They are about things like valor, courage, generosity, compassion, and fairness. I found each of them moving and challenging. I believe each are worthy of your time and thought. Let me know what you think …


Ashton Eaton is one of the greatest athlete’s in the world. He was a three-time NCAA decathlon champion outdoors, a two-time NCAA heptathlon champion indoors (where he holds the world record), the defending US national decathlon champion, and he won the silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea. I have had the chance to officiate Ashton on a number of occasions and he has always conducted himself with class. He is one of the US stars in track and field that you need to keep your eyes on in this Olympic year.

But he’s not necessarily the real hero in his family. Track and Field News shared a link to Ashton’s blog where he told the story of his brother, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines who was recently awarded the Silver Star – the third highest combat medal than can be given. It is worth your time to read Ashton’s words. His brother is just one of thousands of men and women who have risked, and given, their lives to make our world a safer place. They have demonstrated valor and courage on behalf of people they have never met and, for the most part, will never know what they did. We will never know most of their names. It is nice to be able to put a face and a story with one.


One of the football coaches on the hot seat in the SEC (at least at the start of the year) was Mark Richt, the head coach at Georgia. Fortunately, after on 0-2 start, the Bulldogs turned things around and had a great season – winning ten games in a row, the SEC East title, playing in the SEC Championship game, and earning a trip to the Outback Bowl. I say fortunately not because I’m a Georgia fan, but because the SEC (and all of the sports world) needs people like Mark Richt, who has a reputation of being a man of character. As this story also demonstrates, he is a man of generosity. I may not always cheer for Georgia, but I will be a Mark Richt fan.


Finally, I came across this story today (again, thanks to Track and Field News). It resonated with me because for the past year we have been dealing with a student in our ministry who found himself in a similar situation as this young lady. One of the things that I have learned from this process is that it is easy to speak from a podium or to a TV camera and dictate policy until you know people who are personally affected and whose future’s are in the balance. Illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be faced and dealt with, but it has to be done (especially in the cases like Ayded’s and Jonathan’s, who were brought to the US as children, have been raised here, and are contributing to making our nation better) with a sense of fairness and compassion.

Friday, December 23

God con Carne, Part 2


Yesterday’s post began to scratch the surface on the incarnation – of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He did that to demonstrate his glory in a way we could comprehend – in grace and truth – and to go to the cross, taking our sins upon his sinless person.


But the incarnation is not just a piece of theology. It is a practical way for us to live, to manifest God to the world that we live in.


Jesus’ friend, John, wrote:


This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. I John 2:5-6


We are to be the physical, personal manifestations of God in our world. There are at least a couple of reasons for that. One is that we who are Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of us. The other is that we are the Body of Christ to the world and each other.


And just as Jesus demonstrated the glory of God to the world through grace and truth, we are called to do the same.


But it does carry a cost


(Jesus), who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8


Jesus is not an assistant to God. Jesus is not the Joe Biden of heaven. Jesus has never been a junior partner to God but equal with the Almighty Father in every way, shape, and form. But he did not regard that position of equality a thing to be held on to.


It is almost impossible to grasp the impact of that statement. Jesus, who experienced the worship and adoration of the universe, voluntarily relaxed his grip on those privileges to put on human flesh, live a life of grace and truth, and die on a Roman cross.


Incarnation is costly. It was for Jesus. It will be for us. If we are to demonstrate grace and truth to those in our world who most need to experience them, we are going to have to lay some things aside.


Our positions. Our privileges. Our preferences. Our prerogatives. Our comfort. Our fear. Our selfishness. Our possessions.


We won’t best demonstrate the glory of God by doing church with our friends, who all think and act and believe like we do.


We will best incarnate the glory of God – his grace and truth – when we engage the world as Jesus did. Hugging the diseased body of a leper. Showing acceptance and love in the home of a despised tax collector. Gently calling to repentance a shamed adulteress.


Incarnation isn’t just theology. It is a practical way to live and serve others. It is to be our posture before the world.

Thursday, December 22

God con Carne, Part 1


I’m a carnivore and proud to admit it. If I get to choose a last meal, it’s going to be steak. I will occasionally order a salad, but it will be a salad with lots of meat on it!


Once a week, Gina and I have “cheese dip night” – dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. When we sit down, they don’t bring us a menu. They just bring our meal because it is the same thing every week: diet cokes, chips and salsa, a small cheese dip, and tacos carne asada. Steak tacos.


Every year, I make chili for our Christmas party. (I only make it once a year because it is too spicy for Gina, but most of our students seem to like it.) Of course, what most of us call chili is actually chili con carne – peppers with meat.


This is the time of year when we celebrate the incarnation – the reality of God in the flesh.


God “con carne.”


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.   Colossians 1:19


For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.   Colossians 2:9


Christ is the self-miniaturization of God, the visible image of the invisible God. The omnipresent one was downsized to the confines of a human womb. The all-powerful one became a baby that had to be fed and nursed and burped. The omniscient one had to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.


But here was the miracle: when he became human, he was no less God. 100 percent God and 100 percent man. I can’t explain it. I can only marvel at it.


In 1995, Joan Osborne recorded a song that asked the question, “What if God was one of us?” Christmas tells us that is exactly what happened.


Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,

Hail the incarnate Deity.

Pleased as man with man to dwell -

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!”


But it keeps getting better.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.   John 1:1-3, 14, 18


When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, the answer was , "No." When Moses begged, God hid him in a corner of a rock. He could only see the aftermath of God passing by. He could only handle a portion of the glory of God.


But John tells us that when God became flesh, we could see his glory. When you read through the biographies of Jesus, where do you see his glory? Maybe it is not what we tend to look for. Maybe it is:


… when Jesus kneels beside the woman caught in adultery and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” 

… when Jesus puts his arm around a leper, both healing and loving him. 

… when Jesus goes to the homes of Levi and Zaccheus, ostracized tax collectors, to demonstrate God’s forgiveness and acceptance.

… when Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother. Or even more when he stands and says, "I am the resurrection and the life … Lazarus, come out." 


Jesus' glory was full of grace and truth. Grace and truth. Grace that offered acceptance and forgiveness and entrance into God’s Kingdom. Truth that called to repentance and change and a life that sought first God’s Kingdom and righteousness.


Christmas should be the awe-filled celebration of God in the flesh, his glory in a body, grace and truth lived out among us. And alive in us.

Tuesday, December 20

Some Sports Highlights: Creative Traditions and Tebow Mic’d Up


One of the great things about sports of all kinds are the traditions that surround them. For my high school in Kansas, it was the entire team leaving the stadium and jogging across the street to ring the Victory Bell in front of the high school after a home victory. (Unfortunately, we never got to ring the bell at our final home game of the season. We lost the state finals, quarter-finals, and semi-finals at home in my sophomore, junior,and senior years.)


Here are couple of traditions that I’ve recently seen that seem to be a lot of fun. The first is from Taylor University and has a Christmas theme to it.


I would love to know where they came up with this idea, but Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, MA has a great pre-game tradition.


They also are pretty cool with the post-game celebration.


Finally, most of America is aware of Tim Tebow and the way that he has led the Denver Bronco’s to some great comeback. Of course, a big part of Tebow is his faith and the way he lives his life. No matter what people think of his quarterbacking skills, they have little doubt about what he believe or the kind of person that he is. During Denver’s game against the Chicago Bears a couple of weeks ago, they had Tebow mic’d up. I found it interesting to listen to what he said to his teammates, coaches, opponents, self, and God during the game. At least three things are for sure: He desires God to be honored, he is a great competitor, and the dude cannot sing.

Saturday, December 17

Miscellaneous Christmas Items: Christmas Music, Seryn, and a Provocative Christmas ad


Christmas tends to feature some of our favorite music. My favorite songs have always been Joy to the Word and Silent Night, and I love listening to the Messiah. But there are so many that I love. But there is also some bad Christmas music. I know this is a matter of taste, but you can keep your Little Drummer Boy and Away in the Manger. So what songs are your favorites? And least favorites?


Here is a list of 11 Christmas songs that never took off. It won’t take you long to figure out why.


A few days ago I mentioned a new favorite band – Seryn. They have a new Christmas album. You can check it out here.


St. Matthews-in-the-City Church in Auckland, New Zealand has a history of putting up memorable billboards around Christmas time. Here is this year’s ad – not quite as provocative as some years, but still enough to make you stop and think. Of course, their stated goal is to move beyond the “sentimental and trite” and “spark thought and conversation.” What is your response to the ad? Does it accomplish their goal? Is it too much?

Wednesday, December 7

Items of Interest: The Coldest, the Most Stolen, a great UK Christmas ad, and Seryn


A few items of interest from the past few weeks:


Here is a list of the 25 coldest cities in the US. Sympathies to my friends who live in these places!


Here is a list of the ten most frequently shoplifted items. Filet mignon? Axe? A razor? Really?


Here is a beautiful Christmas ad from Great Britain.


And, to top it off, a video from one of my favorite new bands – Seryn. Just today, Paste named them one of the top new bands of the year. Enjoy.