Forget the Math

Sometimes, we get too focused on the math. Sports is the king of this – sabermetrics, fantasy games, even broadcasters are obsessed with finding that next nugget, that next formula that will somehow quantify the qualitative nature of athletics. Business is just as guilty – how much did we produce, how much did we sell, how great was our profit?

It even leaks into the church, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Point is, sometimes it’s not about the numbers. In fact, it’s never about the numbers. Not really. The numbers will always be a product of caring about the central concern: people.

I love what I read in the Book of Romans the other day: “God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic has never been his concern.”

He calls us by name. How might things change at work if you focused on the names around you rather than the numbers they produced? What if by focusing on the name, you would increase their production?

John Maxwell says it this way: “What asset has the greatest potential for actually going up in value? People! If you help people become bigger and better on the inside, eventually they will become greater on the outside.”

We live in a results-oriented society, and production is and will always be an effective measure of health and maturity. But when you focus too much on the production, you destroy the asset that produces – people. You have to nurture one in order to get the other. That was Paul’s point in the Romans passage I quoted: God knows and deals with you before he expects anything from you.

Take a break from the math. Take a moment with your people. You’ll find everything works better together in the end.

A Whole New World

different-races1So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.

The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.

Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.

The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.

But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:

“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”

Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?

I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.

My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.

Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.

Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.

In Christ alone.

It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.

And that’s the life I want.

Just Like Dad

574716_10151110734279376_1861750003_nSunday is Father’s Day. Do your dad a favor – don’t go the tie route. Get him something nifty, like an electric razor or some boxer shorts. You know: show a little creativity in your choice of banal, inexpensive gifts! After all, dad will pretend to like whatever you buy him, so why put in the effort?

I’m kidding about the gift. Not so much about dad pretending to like whatever you get him.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the next few Father’s Days. My kids have finally entered the stage where I can expect some homemade gifts like ashtrays, coffee mugs, and elaborate attempts at pop-up cards. I am especially looking forward to the creative madness that my daughter will produce; Ella has the potential within her to make something heretofore unseen in the universe, and I want in on that kind of creation. And once Jonathan gets a bit older, his detail-oriented mind and science bend might actually produce some Father’s Day chemistry that turns out to be an anti-aging, performance-enhancing serum that allows me to live until I’m 190. So, yeah – I’m stoked about my potential Father’s Day gift haul.

But the greatest Father’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten has simply been to celebrate my own father each year. The joke around our house is that dad was always traveling, but my memory has him home quite a bit. I can see us in the backyard of our old house, tossing a baseball. I can see him cutting that same yard with the tiny, tired push mower that we used for years (it was only after I moved out and went to college that the man actually bought a riding lawn mower, a strange coincidence I’ve never reconciled). I close my eyes and I can picture him leaning against the fence at ballgames, or setting up a tent on a Scout trip, or paddling like a madman as we fought the Table Saw rapid on the Ocoee River.

For as much as we joke about my dad’s absence, it’s his presence that I most remember.

When I stepped away from youth pastoring, I also stepped away from seeing my dad on a weekly basis. In my entire life, there’s been a little more than five years when we didn’t go to the same church; over the past two years, we’ve worked side-by-side on most Sundays in the church’s sound booth: dad on the mixing board, me on the presentation software. Again, it wasn’t so much about what we did together as much as it was the fact we were together. I highly doubt that he would be so sentimental about the arrangement (though he’s surprised me a bit on that front lately), but for me, the warmth and joy of working with my dad on a weekly basis was something to be cherished.

As we both learned in 2011, you only have a little while to spend with your dad.

It was that weekly time together – even when we weren’t in the booth, we were still at the same church, in the same place – that I knew I would miss. There were a lot of wonderful people at the church, people that I still love dearly, but there is something special about being able to spend time with your family week in and week out; something even more special about being able to show your parents your personal growth on a consistent basis. Not that I live for my parents’ approval, but you never outgrow the hope that your parents are proud of you. Every Sunday, I knew that they were.

My kids felt the separation too. When I told the kids that we were stepping away to chase a new path, my kids were both hurt. Jonathan seemed to take it hardest; he started crying. When I asked him why, he said, “I’m crying because now we won’t get to see Nonna (my mom) and Poppy (my dad) anymore!”

He thought that the only reason we saw my parents was because we went to church together.

Once I explained that family is family, regardless of where you go to church, and that we would make special effort to see Nonna and Poppy now, instead of just taking it for granted that we would see them on Sunday, he felt better. In a strange way, so did I. Because I realized – as much as I loved seeing my dad every week – I took for granted that we would see them. It was a given. I didn’t have to work to make sure my kids had a relationship with them, it just happened because of Sunday.

That realization made me a bit sad. I don’t want my kids growing up and taking their grandparents for granted. So we’ve made extra effort (perhaps too much) to get the kids over to their grandparents’ house at least once a week. I worry about over-staying our welcome, but my parents assure me that it’s okay. That they love it.

Kind of like my grandparents used to tell my parents whenever my brother and I went for visits.

It’s weird thinking about that now. I’m now in my dad’s position and he’s assumed the role of his father. My dad had one advantage over me, in that when he was 37, I was 15. He had the youthful energy to be a good dad to a young boy; I sometimes wonder if I suck as a parent because I don’t have the same energy as I did at 27. My kids don’t seem to mind, though, and maybe I actually have an advantage not available to my dad: the perspective that comes from being older. Honestly, I don’t know.

I do know, however, that my dad thinks I’m doing a good job. He’s never sad that too me – or if he did, I mentally deflected it because I’m not great at accepting compliments – but I know he feels that way because he always tells me how great my kids are. That’s high praise. I eat it up.

I look a bit more like my dad these days, which is funny because for the longest time I didn’t think we looked anything alike. Now, my hair is going gray (though not as gray as his) and I definitely see him staring back at me from the mirror, or in pictures. I’m taller and thinner, but the eyes are the same. I can only hope that mine give off the same kindness and good nature that his do. After years of wondering which parent I favor, my physical presence finally caught up with my personality and the answer is clear.

I’m just like my dad.

And that’s awesome.


ImageYesterday the pastor of the church we’ve been visiting was speaking on the topic of Good Advice. The main point of his sermon was that too often people seek out “yes men” for their decisions – they fail to seek out enough perspective before making a decision and so their choices often lead to hardship. The pastor suggested that for many people, life is about acceptance: we crave it, and so we seek it, and we’ll give it in order to obtain it.

In other words, we’ll give people a pass on things they do if they’ll give us a pass on the things we do. The Romans called it quid pro quo. Scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

The pastor went on; rather than acceptance, he said, what we really want is discernment. To know which things are good, and to be able to choose them. When we can discern for ourselves, we don’t have to trade our approval for someone else’s; we can simply do what we know to be right. We still seek counsel in order to do things wisely, but the fundamental idea of knowing what we should do gives us clarity and focus. It doesn’t leave us chasing our tails.

I was amazed by the pastor’s ability to bring that together. I find myself trying to be an accepting person when what I really want to be is a discerning person. Too often I trade my approval for the approval of others, and I’m learning I don’t have to do that. I can disagree with someone about the how or why of something and not have to feel beholden to them, as if I’m responsible for making them feel good about their life choices.

As the pastor pointed out, I’m responsible before God for me. Not anyone else.

That doesn’t mean that I live a life of isolation and nonchalance. There’s still a mandate from God to be light in the world. But how people respond to the light isn’t up to me; I simply have to live according to His word and His spirit. He’ll do everything else.

Discernment. Wisdom. Strength. I want them all, and have been praying for God to develop them within me. How about you?

Together We Go

ImageI’m fortunate to be married to an exceptional woman. Case in point: I had to re-submit my book manuscripts to Amazon and Barnes & Noble because I accidentally misspelled my son’s name in the dedication (the curse of typing too fast and arrogantly thinking you don’t need to proof the stupid dedication; let that be a lesson to you writers out there), and I noticed that for $25, Amazon would add your book to the distribution list for bookstores, libraries, and academic institutions. I mentioned that fact to Rachel.

“Let’s do it!” she said.

I looked at her. She was smiling. She was serious. I laughed and told her I would rather spend the money on getting my own website.

“Let’s do it!” she chirped.

She is the world’s greatest wife. Polish the trophy, engrave her name, hand it to her tomorrow. Game over.

It’s funny because a lot of people have only heard my side of the story lately; that we stepped away from everything that we knew because I felt strongly that now was the time to focus on my writing career. But we also stepped away from the familiar so Rachel could pursue her dreams, find her purpose. She’s an exceptional administrator and manager, a bold yet kind voice in the midst of chaos who can take the swirling vortex of creative ideas and pull them down into the corporeal world, giving them form and weight and substance.

In short, she can take the poop storm you and I encounter everyday and turn it into a sensible, productive reality. It’s darn near a superpower.

She’s been doing this her whole life, of course, but she’s always followed a different path, because she believed her purpose was teaching. Seven years in public schools and even more in church settings have taught her that teaching is a great skill she possesses, but it’s not her purpose. And that’s okay, because it means that she’s on the verge of something great herself.

Which brings me back to the happily married part. Most people would be freaking out during times like these, times when neither of us have a secured job, when we’re both waiting on God to deliver something amazing instead of chasing something average. And that’s the key: we’re both waiting. We’re both searching. We’re both in a position to make this leap of faith, so wherever we go, we go together.

Together, no matter where we land. Like it’s supposed to be.

Hopefully, you can say the same.