Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

This morning in my Bible time, I feel that God spoke to me… (and I was moved to blog about it… naturally).

This morning I was in Matthew 14, which is a chapter most noted for 3 pretty sizeable events: the death of John the Baptist, Jesus Feeding the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.

At first, I caught myself thinking: man this is a weighty chapter for Jesus and very clearly you see him-every other paragraph-trying to steal away… to be alone, still and quiet. When you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see this remarkable trait of Jesus’ and it’s our first marker for what I want to talk about today.

You see Jesus was in anguish… I mean just generally speaking he was-think about it: the weight of the world on your shoulders-literally to carry the burden of every human being’s brokenness all around you… painful, unimaginable. This is, perhaps, one reason why he was in constant pursuit of alone time with the Father.

But then when we find him in chapter 14 he’s also in a degree of specific anguish I imagine. In the preceding chapter he’s coming home and I’m just amazed how quickly the scene changes here in verse 57…

54 He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” 55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. 56 All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” 57 And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

And even though he goes on in the rest of that last verse saying, ‘yeah well typical… a prophet is never well-received in his home town’ as if he had already anticipated their response (duh, he’s Jesus), but still: these are his people, his hometown, his neighborhood, his original community. And please don’t underrate the community ties of 1st century Palestine… they did not have the same universally accepted norms of individuality.

So he’s coming off of that slap in the face and goes right into hearing the news of the mortifying death of his dear friend, cousin and, in his words, (Matthew 11:11) the most enviable man who ever lived.

That happens, he tries once again to get some solace and yet people find him, track him down, follow him and even here (in feeding the 5,000) he’s very moved (in anguish) for these people-and no, not just because they’re hungry, but I would venture that he was ‘moved with compassion’ for their spiritual hunger… they were ‘sheep without a shepherd.’

It’s what happens next that interests me the most as a teachable moment for what we are going through in our country and our world RIGHT NOW…

The disciples are caught in a storm and here’s what happens…

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

And here’s the radical perplexity of a life oriented toward Jesus and Kingdom-living:

Yes, even in tragedy, even in tremendous loss and sorrow, even in unimaginable pain-these may all be used as an invitation to experience the real and living God.

So when it may seem callous and untimely to suggest, ‘yes all things do happen for a reason’ it is nonetheless the truth of what we believe, the hope of what we live for:

that all things may be redeemed
that all things can be used for good
that all things are a means for showing us and growing us in something

So here is what I want to say:

For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in depression and anxiety…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in your marriage or parenting…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding feeling isolation, lonliness or rejection…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in sickness and death…

For any of these, Jesus is very present, very real and he bids you come…

To the person who says, ‘keep your prayers’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why does God let this happen’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why God, how God, Where’s God’ HE says YES COME

I’ll leave you with one more proof for this as God’s operation in the world.

There’s a wonderful passage from Jeremiah 29. Jeremiah-God’s messenger-brings a word from the Lord to his chosen people-the Jews-who are in captivity (again, 3 a.m., darkest hour) and while there’s a hugely popular part of the passage in verse 11 (for I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…), what I love is what comes next in verse 13: “if you search for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Do me a favor and repost/share this with anyone in you life who may be struggling in this way and if someone reaches out-good, bad or otherwise-send them a direct message, setup a phone call or coffee date and really lean into it with them… it’s worth it and it might just change a life.

A Microblog about What’s Wrong in Our Country Right Now

A Microblog about What’s Wrong in Our Country Right Now

Are you ready? Here we go: 

  1. We are possessed with listening to respond rather than listening to understand 
  2. We fundamentally cannot agreee to disagree well. Not only that; when we come upon a differing view we must demonize that person (or group behind that claim) by making them morally reprehensible 
  3. (Bonus point) we all just need a little more Jesus…

I’ll expound only on this last one then make prescriptions (cause diagnosing problems/making declarative statements about “what’s wrong” is damn folly without actually prescribing potential solutions… as Ghandi said, “BE the change you wish to see.”)

So I’m sorry for playing into the really old church joke (the answers always “Jesus!”), but I’m afraid it’s just plain true.

In other words, I believe placing Christ at the center of each and every area of our lives in greater and greater proportion is the very essence of the Christian faith. 

So yes, a little more Jesus; 1% more Jesus each day might do us all very well…

At the risk of being redundant, I make this claim because Jesus is the literal complete manifestation of perfect: truth, love, peace, hope, grace, mercy, strength, justice, goodness and life that ever was. 

He is life giving; his words and his life (as preserved historically in the Gospels). 

Our national dialogue is not very life giving right now. 

So do yourself a favor and invite some life into your… life.

That’s prescription #1.

#2 is this: practice.

When you come upon someone, in person or in community or online who has a different view than yours: practice just actually hearing them… 

Ask questions-not in order to load up rebuttals-but rather to fully hear and understand. 

And keep asking questions until you get to a part of them that’s so personal and vulnerable that you begin to see their humanity.

When you run out of questions, just sit quietly until you think of more. 

And then thank them and walk away… 

What you do next is critical:

Think about what you heard-compare it to the origins, factual accuracy, logical consistency and existential reality of your worldview and move forward. 

This, I think, may present us with a better way to live…

Speak Like Your Voice is Gone Tomorrow 

Speak Like Your Voice is Gone Tomorrow 

Words that have been used to describe my speaking style: “enthusiastic… high energy… contagious… passionate.”

If you want to see if this is true, see for yourself…

What I want people to know is two things:

1, This comes from a place down deep in my heart that longs to be an agent of change in the lives of others and;

2, I act like every time that I’m given an audience, it will be my last.

(3, You can make passionate pleas in your own way too.)

With so much going on in the world today-hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, famine, disease and destruction-I can’t imagine another way of thinking.

I take the realities of our world coupled with the hope that I live for (that there is a Sovereign God that is orchestrating all of history and will send his son again one day AND that he will come “like a thief in the night” Matthew 24:42-44) and I think:

I had better get busy living, spreading life by speaking life.

So when you see my passion, don’t be mistaken-it ain’t mindless hype, it ain’t noise and it certainly ain’t because I think too highly of myself.

It IS however how highly I view our message.

How many of us miss opportunities to speak the word we really feel motivated to bring… every day, hour over hour, text, phone call and face to face meeting with family, friends and coworkers everyday?

One of my greatest irrational fears is that I’ll suffer a traumatic brain injury that will result in lack of speech; inability to formulate and communicate ideas.

I know… irrational. But at the same time, accidents do happen… look no further than the motor vehicle we climb into every day. I don’t live by this fear; this fear is not the motivation; real and present danger isn’t either.

My aim is not to drive fear. That’s not our message. Far from it…

The message is this:

With tomorrow not guaranteed, what are we doing with the voices that God has given us?

Fabulous orator or not, we each have a voice and our time is limited (by eternal standards). You don’t have to be a pastor, prophet or boss either, but I urge you:

  • Today, don’t have regrets about holding back
  • Today, share the word (encouragement, life, hope, truth) you have for another
  • Today, use your voice to be a voice for the voiceless
  • Today, leverage your influence by giving voice to life change

Vision Alone is not Vision At All

Vision Alone is not Vision At All

This last month that was one of my greatest learnings…

You can have literally the best idea in the whole world, you can communicate it with all the style and grace imaginable, but if you have not people, you have nothing.

I’ve said it to a couple different groups of people now-the staff team I’m a part of, a group of volunteers during a training event and then I think I may have given the same speel to the entire church that we lead but what I’m learning last month, this week, this moment is:

You can have the most tremendous vision in the world, but if people aren’t invited along, have as much buy-in as you do and you are all moving together, then you will simply be alone on an island called vision. And that’s not where any of us want to be as leaders.

Most of what I’m talking about has to do with leading change, by the way. And now that I’m finally reading John Kotter’s seminal work by the same name-things are beginning to come into even greater focus.

The Kotter model has to do with an 8-step process for leading change and one of the “unskippable” early steps is creating a coalition for change… WITH at least some people who have power.

Before finally stealing this book from another pastor, I had been listening to an Andy Stanley podcast wherein he was interviewing the former Home Depot CEO, Frank Blake.

Blake gives yet another tremendous model, equation rather, that supports the same principle; he says:

i X a = e. OR

IDEA times ACCEPTANCE equals EFFECTIVNESS.

In other words, we as leaders often get trapped in our little vision caves where we fully orb this new idea, change effort or cultural direction and it is birthed in a vacuum of 1.

We then run out and tell the world about it, praying for a mutual sense of excitement, and yet how could they-they had no hand in the evolution of this idea?

Blake suggests getting the idea to 80% and then inviting the “coalition” or the people or the team or the influencers in and together forging the last 20%. In this way we will be working toward far greater impact and effectiveness.

So I have this book, I have my podcast and yet I have another source of input waking me up to this principle over the last few weeks.

A friend, and fellow leader at our organization, came along and said, ‘Ben I think you just need to over-communicate in this season of change.’

He went on saying, ‘people here have experienced haphazard and chaotic change-making processes that leave people somewhat sensitive to any sort of change.’

This, on top of the fact that most of the known world is change resistant already! (Despite the classic saying that change is perhaps the only constant in life!).

In your leadership wherever you are-family, church, business-learn from these greats and from my mistakes and:

1. Build a coalition for change (that includes at least some people with real power)

 

2. Work toward more acceptance by inviting people into the creative processes earlier

 

3. Over-communicate. I’ll use a recent quote a heard (Craig Groeschel via Thom Rainer from Groeschel’s latest podcast post on developing leaders):

As people are learning, they are forgetting.

This is especially true within the context of fresh vision and leading change, because we already have a natural sense of resistance.

I love and appreciate you all.

If you haven’t seen my last post, please look at it and even scan to the end: I am requesting some census data on the book you would like to read next! DO IT AND HELP A BROTHER OUT!

52 Week Blog Anniversary 

52 Week Blog Anniversary 

This week marks 1 year since I started this blog.

It also marks the completion of quite a sizeable goal: to write 1 post a week for 1 year. 

When I look at my dashboard it says that I’ve posted 51 times, which means after clicking ‘publish’ on this post I will have reached my goal. 

There’s a guy who writes about goal setting, I think its James Clear, when he talks about the aspiration to write a book-the discipline behind which is really just about writing consistently. And how if you could just commit to the discipline of writing consistently you would amass the equivalent of a full written work. 

Well with the average non-fiction book length of 50,000-60,000 words, I’ve produced over 57,000 words this past year (at an average post length of 1,100-a few hundred words too long by the way!). 

Obviously the purpose behind the goal was much more than to simply amass a load of written words. It was the implied meaning behind the words and the mission of my homepage-to impact, influence and ignite. And I can only hope that 1400 visitors from over 30 countries and 14 followers would feel in some way encouraged and motivated by these words this past year. 

In this past year I’ve tried my best to honestly convey the learnings and major takeaways from my life that they might be a living testimony to you and yours. This should show my attempts at being committed to lifelong learning (as opposed to presenting the words as an established profession). 

And, by the way, the blog is a fabulous learning journal medium to do just that-catalog all the things you’ve learned and processed as a means for looking back and actually tracking the wisdom and development that you’ve acquired. I don’t think we do this enough-life moves too quickly and we are prone to drift (as opposed to intentionally). 

And so maybe there will be a book… but what would be the big idea? Who would be the primary audience? How would it serve people? What book would you like to read or do you feel needs to be written?

Here are some early thoughts; send me your votes and ideas…

  1. I talk to a lot of people, typically millenials, who are perplexed and transient when it comes to their calling in life. This first book idea would be driven at these young people (and any others who feel at a vocational identity crisis). “Developing a personal mission statement: the 7 stages of discovering where all of you connects with the needs of the world”
  2. I believe that churches are at a loss in so many areas from the pragmatic (strategy, management and structural needs) to the spiritual (theology, mandate to reach the lost/next generation, mission and vision), this would be a call and a guide for churches to take the time to work ON the ministry not just IN the ministry. Passion: My personal manifesto for how the church ought to look. 
  3. For the longest time I have carried the conviction that you could tether a line from almost any social problem directly back to it’s family of origin experience; the common denominator for almost all spiritual, social and political flashpoints can be connected directly to what happens in that first community. The Family: the center and solution for every social problem

Okay, so there you have it. Would love to hear from you. 

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

So this week’s post was supposed to be about all my tremendous learnings from a leadership conference from the first week of the month, but we are going to have to call a major audible.

After getting just “owned” by the kids these last of weeks and feeling lighter on patience than we have in a long time, my wife and I agreed that this week’s post was about the age-old idiom:

There’s no use crying over spilled milk…

Defined as: getting upset over something that already happened, that cannot be changed

Couldn’t actually find the origin of the phrase but it seems hundreds of years old, because some guy names James Howell was talking about it as early as 1659.

So it is that since the 1600s and probably before that, people were still fussing over that which they cannot control, still fretting over something that cannot be undone… only now responded to.

I have a feeling that when it comes to control in the chaos (seeming anyway), we have permission to go much further back than that!

But before going back in time, let us begin in the year of our Lord 2017, the summer of which has been filled with much “fun and excitement”…

Sometimes the kids get into things… here’s a wrap sheet from 1.5 days this past week, Let us count the blessings:

  • The toddlers dip into the BBQ grease pan and trounce the patio with it. For those who are unfamiliar, this grease it is an incredibly intense sludge that leaves permanent stains to all wood and concrete that it comes into contact with…
  • One of the toddlers, who will remain nameless… SHEPHERD decides to sprint for the white sofa covered nearly head to toe in fresh mud (yes, after being told to stop and wait at the door)
  • This same, said toddler, was found atop the refrigerator digging into a bottle of kids probiotics and a bag of chocolate chips (both hidden and tucked to the back of the fridge) at approximately 6:10 am while I was sitting on the toilet. Note to parents and prospective parents: always remember just not to go to the bathroom by yourself anymore after your kids have reached a certain age… turns out they are very curious, very precocious… in the case of this kid-downright mischievous.
  • And yes of course there has been untold numbers of rice bowl flip flops left and right on the kitchen floor, juices, waters and milks

All of this on top of our garden variety stuff….

We get called in twice a month now to visit our foster baby’s birth mom-always a bit of a harrowing experience-she is a raw and broken woman and yet we are called to pray for her and love her.
We got 5 kids, two of which are, what we call, twin toddlers, one 7-month old that still hasn’t figured out how to put themselves to sleep- go figure?! And to top it all, Rylee has just been just exhausted… you’d think she was pregnant or something…

But all of those things up there are just a prime example of… say it with me people…

SPILT MILK!

So seriously what is the freaking fuss about?!

Rice can be picked up or swept up (sticky by painful stickiness as it may be), we have all the paper towels in the world from Costco for the other messes, we have a washer machine (for now) that gets to work on the couch cushions and, well, a backyard that is precisely that-an outdoor space for wreaking havoc on!

But I guess it’s just fun to fuss, isn’t it…?

It’s necessary to vent and piss and moan, isn’t it…?

I don’t know, but I honestly must feel that way for how much crankiness and drama I put out in response to each one of their “spills.”


Here’s the best I can figure and here’s your leadership lesson (leading in love, leading in work or leading in life):

1, is learning to call it what it is (spilt milk)

It’s just a circumstantial (momentary) reality that hasn’t taken a life or crippled or maimed you in any serious way.

If it’s spilt milk, it means that its small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Be willing to put those “small potatoes” in context and proper proportion of how much they are allowed to impact you.

2, accepting that you cannot control

This is 12-steps classic right here, but anyone in recovery will tell you that this is step 1. Why? Because it’s just that important and it’s the proper starting place!

Stop trying to skip steps and definitely stop trying to control something that ALREADY HAPPENED! The best and sweetest (and most peaceful!) place we can all submit ourselves to be is in relinquishing control.

3, control what you can… your response

My wife’s best prescription? Laughter.

And I’m inclined to agree with her… I just take myself too darn seriously sometimes! So lets agree to CUT IT OUT! And just laugh at that ridiculous blouse-ending grease stain… what’s our favorite article of clothing anyway, but TOTALLY REPLACEABLE!?

So whether you laugh or take 3 big breaths or have a quick walk or say a prayer, your response matters a lot.

It matters for your own personal compounding stress; it matters for collateral damage (in those around you) and it matters in terms of your faith. And that brings me to the final thing I’ll say…

As much as these are the “small potatoes” and “spilt milk” incidents of life, they are not incidental.

Our lives are built on the small moments.

After all, that is what our lives are composed of, in the end, aren’t they? An incredible tapestry of all the small moments.

And take hope, because I’ve also been reminded on more than one occasion that our God is the God of small moments. That’s where he’s doing his work, building our faith, establishing our legacy and building those who are following us.

 

 

10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

Just in the last 48 hours alone, odds are you’ve had loss of story, loss of identity, loss of point, purpose, direction or destiny.

We all have these momentary lapses of direction and belief. What I read in John chapter 9 about the blind man who stood up and spoke truth to power gives me hope and encouragement for each new day of crisis.

John 9: 1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered.

6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

A big back and forth between the man and the pharisees (Jewish church elitists); they even bring his parents in to testify. Then it gets REALLY interesting…

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

Here are some considerations for you that I think are power applicable (PA) to your life…

The rest of v. 3 says, “This happened so that the power of God could be seen”… where in your life is God trying to show the world how real he is, what evidence can you find of his work in your life?

Wash yourself in the pool of Siloam (the sending pool)… the thing, the material, the vehicle that corrects and heals, also sends… What is it in your life that God is trying to use to show, teach, reveal, correct in you but you possibly can’t even see that it’s a means of catapulting you into what’s next? v. 7

Recount how people just didn’t believe that this healed man was the same person… it’s a reminder that there will be people who mistake your identity but you declare it still. v. 8, 9

Your identity is closely tied to your story… stick to the facts and know your story, the truth of God’s work in your life is plain as day… how have you attempted to alter the narrative? v. 25

In the end do not give up hope, it is just a fact that some people will remain blind-never to catch the vision, your vision, God’s vision v. 27

How do you know if a thing is genuine and true? Test where it comes from. Jesus is from the Father, he does the Father’s work, that’s how you know he’s from the Father. Can you say the same thing about your so-called Christianity? The actual, tangible material of your life-does it reflect the One who saved and sent you? v. 32

Notice something and just let it mess you up a bit… this man comes to faith AFTER having been healed, AFTER being sent on mission  THEN Jesus has the conversation with him. What might this suggest about God’s grace, about his allowing people to be in process, about how his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55) v. 38

Jesus ends by telling you the point of the story: some are blind and are blind to their blindness, and I want to make a point out of them. What are your blind spots… can you even admit that you have them? v. 39


But what is it that I love most about this story? Two things:

It is upside down kingdom at its finest.

If you look closely you can see that Jesus took a seemingly worthless side-of-the-road bum and turned him into a fire-breathing prophet right before the eyes of the religious elite. It’s just whether we view the world this way or not, whether we are intentionally pushing forth and multiplying the upside down in our daily lives…?

AND

It is the extraordinary use of the ordinary person at its finest.

This is how Jesus has made his name famous-through the names, faces, stories and sentness of each and every one of his billion-strong followers. It’s just whether we believe it or not, whether we believe we might be used in this way or not…?

Maybe, just maybe, these are the twin themes of Jesus’ entire coming…?