A Gospel built on good manners

My wife and I prize good manners. We’re from the South, so Southern hospitality flows through our veins. Even if we don’t like you, you’ll think we do.  😊

So we teach our kids to have good, respectful manners as well. Here’s how a typical conversation goes at our house:

Me: Hey Rex!
Rex: What?
Me: Rex, do you want to try to say that differently?
Rex: Oh yeah, “Yes sir?”

It’s not that I want to try to keep him in a subservient role by calling me “sir.” I don’t want to remind him every day of his “place.” I also am not on a power trip where I feel like I “deserve” to be called “sir” because of my position or how hard I work. It has nothing to do with personhood.

Yet it has everything to do with personhood.

I remember in seminary being warned not to confuse behavior modification with Gospel transformation. That to boil transformation down to altering some behaviors is to rip the power out of the cross. The point of Jesus’ death wasn’t to make us “good” people…the point was to reconcile two polar opposites: God and sin.

Did Jesus die to make us morally good people?

No sir. He didn’t.

But one of the rules my wife and I have as parents is that when our kids address us, and all adults for that matter, they speak with respect. That means a few things.

  • Saying, “Yes sir/ma’am” and “No sir/ma’am.”
  • Looking people in the eye.
  • Listening when others are speaking.
  • Learning people’s names.
  • Responding when spoken to.
  • Speaking up when you want/need something. (and not just expecting people know what you want)

I’m sure that my seminary friends will differ from me. In fact, I would probably have disagreed with me while I was in seminary. But now as a parent, I’m thinking otherwise. I don’t just see “good manners” as a parenting tactic to keep Southern charm alive and well. I also don’t see it as a way to keep my thumb on my kids and their behavior. I don’t equate it with the sum total of their spiritual lives, yet it’s a fruit of their heart.

“Good manners” are a theological stance. I see 4 main reasons why having good manners is a reflection of a heart that first and foremost loves God. (yes, you can have good manners for a variety of other reasons. Just like you can choose to do all kinds of good things for a variety of other reasons. You don’t have to love Jesus to choose not to murder people, do you?)

4 reasons why good manners are theological

1. As image bearers of God, everyone deserves respect.

We have been created in the image of God. Every one of us. As such, every person deserves a level of respect. Have they lived worthy of that? Probably not. But that doesn’t negate the image of God in them.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27

When we treat others with kindness, we respect the image of God in them.

2. Good manners show we believe God is loving, patient, and kind.

When we are loving, patient, and kind towards others, we reflect our deeply held belief that God is that same way. When we are loving, patient, and kind towards others even when they don’t deserve it, we reflect a God who operates the same way.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

When we treat others with kindness, we reflect a God who does the same.

3. Good manners show how pleasant life can be.

Wouldn’t you much prefer to be treated with respect than without it? Isn’t life much more pleasant when, even if/when we disagree, we can do so civilly? I’m not suggesting we need to agree with everyone, and affirm their every thought and action. Love chooses a different way, even in moments of disagreement. Love chooses kindness not at the expense of truth, but alongside it.

But I tell you, love your enemies… – Jesus, Matthew 5:44

4. Kindness leads to repentance. Not harshness.

Check this out: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” – Paul, Romans 2:4

Harshness, biting words, and condemnation didn’t lead you to repentance. Kindness does. If you want to be an agent of reconciliation, don’t be a jerk.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. – Jesus, Luke 6:45

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath. Kindness doesn’t nullify or weaken truth, and the power of our sin. If I’m kind and respectful towards you, that doesn’t mean I condone everything you do. It means I recognize the way God operates with me, and how I’ve been led to repentance. And it means I’ve got the same hope for everyone.

When we use good manners, we treat others with kindness. Because we have eternity in mind.

So I’ve got more in mind when I correct my children on their “sirs” and “ma’ams.” And there are plenty of other ways to teach our children to respect and treat others with kindness. But I’ve got a Gospel focus in my parenting. I’ve got an others-focus that I want them to grow in.

But maybe I’m just being old-fashioned?

 

To be an effective leader, stop wasting your time

This is a flea market. Notice all of the junk. Randomly priced, randomly placed, randomly assorted junk. The highest priced item here: $7.50. (It’s also a picture of my son’t handiwork. “Hey dad…*snicker*…see what I did to that little wooden…*snicker*…mannequin…*snicker*?”)

Below is a picture from the next table over. Seriously, within just a few feet I saw a “Royal Albert China Dinner and Tea Set” for $850. I’m not saying it’s not worth that price tag…I honestly have no idea what, if anything, it’s worth.

 

Someone kept these for a long time. They spent a lot of money on them. Probably moved with them a time or two. Took extra time and care to store them. And probably rarely (if ever) used them. Now they’re sitting at a flea market, not selling. Because you can’t sell $850 dishes beside a $.28 button.

It’s sad, really. I feel bad for the person that bought them, the one that stored them, the one that didn’t use them, the one that transported them across town to the flea market, and the one that’s (not) selling them now.

Individual leadership

I bet there’s something you’re doing right now that, when you look back on your life in 20 years, is really a waste of time. You’re moving boxes of expensive dishes (your most valuable resource is your time) that you’re going to try to sell later, that nobody wants to buy.

  • There’s a book you’re reading that isn’t helping you. Put it down.
  • There’s a habit you’ve got that leaves you more irritable and less patient with people. Stop it.
  • There’s a relationship you have that is moving you further from who God made you to be. Change it.
  • There’s a side hustle you’re juggling that sucks the life out of you. Time to cut the cord.
  • Your “relaxing” time doesn’t leave you recharged. You can do better.

Life’s too short to protect expensive dishes you don’t want.

Organizational leadership

Church leaders, make sure the “programs” and initiatives you’re starting don’t just appease people’s itching ears, but actually lead them somewhere. Just because people ask for it doesn’t mean you have to do it. And on the flip side, be careful putting your time and energy towards what you think is nice without seeing if people want it.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. – Paul, 2 Timothy 4:3

Know where you’re taking people, understand WHO you’re trying to produce, and relentlessly pursue that. Stop having people do things that simply keep them, and you, busy with activity but don’t actually help them become the Jesus follower you’re trying to lead them to become.

Good pastors don’t just exegete the Scriptures, they exegete their people. In other words, good pastors don’t just spend time trying to know, understand, love, and unpack the truths found in the Bible. They work equally hard to know, understand, love, and unpack the people God’s called them to lead, and the unique vision God’s called their local congregation to. One without the other short-changes both. To love the Scriptures but not people makes you into a Bible-thumper. It also means you’ve not obeyed the most important command in Scripture: love others as yourself.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Jesus, Mark 12:30-31

It’s hard to know when you’re doing this, though, and whether the programs and processes you have in place are working. Maybe try asking a couple of questions of those you’re leading:

  • Because of ____ (program, event, etc.), are you closer to Jesus?
  • Are you growing more patient or more irritable with people, as a result of ___?
  • Are you finding yourself more or less courageous with your faith?
  • Do you find yourself more available emotionally, spiritually, and physically for your family, and those closest to you, because of ___?

People will be honest, especially when it comes to how they spend their time and resources. It may just be that that recreation ministry makes you happy, but isn’t helping your church become more faithful followers of Jesus.

Can we all agree to not become, or continue practices that produce, expensive dishes that nobody wants to buy?

 

 

Getting help from the kids

My kids help me cook. Clean. Fix. Load the dishwasher. Put away clothes.

And it’s more work for me. It takes longer, is more frustrating, isn’t done as well, and will oftentimes end up in a sibling arguement. It would be much easier for me to just do the chore myself. It would be done more effectively and efficiently. But I let them engage in these tasks among thousands others. Why?

sometimes you’ve gotta eat donuts after bedtime. #Disciple

Because I love them. And I see who they will become. My kids aren’t going to be any help around the house when they grow up, and won’t be productive people as adults, if I don’t give them opportunities like this. If I always treat them like kids, they’ll always act like kids.

As a parent, I’m not raising children. I’m raising adults. In other words, I keep their end in mind.

Does this sometimes burn me? Yep. Sometimes, things break. Sometimes, it takes so long that I don’t get done what I needed to for the day. Sometimes, the house isn’t fully clean by the time people come over. Sometimes, the the project we were working on ends up in a couple of extra trips to the hardware store.

I’m praying that the work I’m putting in now will pay dividends as they grow up.

Just like discipleship

When you disciple someone, you see who they will become, not simply who they are now. And you help them take steps towards who they can become.

dis·ci·ple (verb) , /dəˈsīpəl/ – to invest yourself in someone else to help them become all God created them to be.

If you want to help someone grow spiritually, you’ve got to give them responsibility beyond what they’ve “earned.” To challenge someone means that you push them beyond what they’re comfortable with. You give them opportunities to grow, not opportunities to stay exactly where they are. In the gym, if you lift the exact same weights every day, you won’t get much stronger. But if you lift heavier weights, your muscles grow.

“Love…hopes all things” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7

I’m so thankful that people have done this for me. That’s what’s helped me grow up. If I were only given rookie level opportunities when I was a rookie in ministry, I would’ve stagnated as a rookie. But I was given responsibility and authority beyond my level, and was given the chance to grow up.

Sometimes, it “worked,” and I succeeded. Many times, it didn’t, and I fell flat on my face. I found myself running tucked tail back to my boss (or mentor) saying, “HELP ME!” (and to be honest, I’ve grown more through my failures than my successes) Other people could’ve done those tasks much better than I: quicker, more effectively, with better results and with less mess. But they wanted to see me grow more than they wanted a task to be completed.

And isn’t that the zone where significant growth happens, in an environment where risk is taken, but failure is safe and protected?

Could taking a risk on people burn you? Yep. Both in the now and in the future. Maybe you’ll be criticized for what they did. Maybe you’ll be criticized for giving them responsibility too early. Maybe you’ll be criticized for spending time with THEM. (if Jesus was, so will you)

But that’s what their faith needs to grow. Muscles don’t get stronger unless you use them. You see who the one you’re discipling will be, and you’re constantly pointing and repointing them that way.

SMALL GROUP PASTORS: Don’t expect a new group leader to act like a veteran. But don’t ever expect them to become a veteran if you don’t give them the chance.

Jesus chose people that “the church” had rejected. People that had been passed over. It was THOSE men that Jesus chose AND DEVELOPED. He spent time with these guys, so much so that others criticized him for it.

The Church needs you to disciple. We need you to pour yourself into others, and give them opportunities that they haven’t earned. We need you to replicate yourself, growing people in their faith. Not so that they become clones of you, but so that they ultimately become fully formed followers of Jesus.

When was the last time you gave someone an opportunity they hadn’t earned?

 

5 truths to remember when you move

My family and I have transitioned more times than we would have liked. Each move has been difficult for one reason or another. And each has brought an abundance of joy for one reason or another. We’ve moved

  • from home
  • from a church we loved
  • from a state we loved
  • from a beach we loved
  • to a different city
  • to a different state
  • from the South to the West
  • with kids
  • without kids
  • with help from a moving company
  • with just our own backs

IMG_7879

In our 13 years of marriage, my wife and I have moved 8 times. The WHY (and how to know we were ready to move) is another post for another day. But we’ve learned a few things about making a transition. It doesn’t mean we’re experts by any means. But maybe what we’ve learned can help you if you have a move coming up.

First of all, I’m going to presume God’s in it. Moving is difficult enough. Don’t go anywhere unless you’ve wrestled that one to the ground.

So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the LORD to stay in the land of Judah. – Jeremiah 43:4

 

“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.'” – Deuteronomy 1:6

But if you’ve already made a move (or at least made up your mind that it’s time), here are 5 things you must remember if you want to land well. And I know you do. You don’t want to burn out yourself or others. You don’t want to be in your role for a couple of months and hate it.

You know there’s more that goes in to a move besides your job, right? That is typically what will move you, but not what will sustain you. That’s the part of the iceberg you see, not the 90% that’s below the water.

5 truths about moving

Remember: unpacking every box right away isn’t the most important thing.

Yes, you want to feel settled. Yes, you want your home to be less cluttered. Yes, you want to find that pan  you just KNOW you packed in the box with the rest of the pans but it’s not there. But believe me when I say that unpacking everything right away isn’t of utmost importance. You’ll have plenty of time to settle in. Plenty of time to hang those pictures. Just breathe. Unpack a couple of boxes every day. You’ll get there. But putting pressure on yourself to do it all in the first week is a recipe for a quick burnout…and a lot of counseling sessions down the road.

Remember: do the thing you love, that brings you joy and life.

For my wife and me, we love CrossFit. Are there “more important things” than finding the gym where we can work out? Sure. Can we just work out at home and do our own thing for a while? Sure. Do we HAVE to quickly find the CrossFit box where we want to work out? I’d actually say, “Yes.” For us, we CrossFit every day. It’s our physical outlet, and the way we push ourselves physically and mentally every day. It’s our community. They’re our people. It’s our daily release. I’m not sure what yours is. Maybe it’s coffee. Maybe it’s basketball. Maybe it’s a book club. Maybe it’s bunco. Find that *thing* that brings you life, and that gives you a semblance of routine, and do that QUICKLY.

Remember: integrate yourself…don’t wait for others to do it.

Yes, you’re the new girl. And everyone wants to get to know you. But don’t wait for them to do it. Introduce yourself first. Walk the halls. Invite yourself to coffee. Be genuinely curious about people, what they love, and how long they’ve been doing what you’re doing. Don’t put the burden of responsibility on everyone else. Take some initiative.

Remember: you’ve got to keep relationships alive.

You’re the one that left, after all. Text, call, FaceTime, send notes, send gifts. Don’t expect that everyone is pining for you. If you want to maintain friendship, that’s on you. And you need it! There are a handful of relationships that will span the moves and the years. Hang on to those and fight for them.

Remember: give yourself grace.

Did you know that it takes somewhere between 2-3 years to feel settled? If you feel a bit uneasy and out of sorts in the first few months, know you’re normal. In some of our moves, we felt like we’ve moved to a different country. Yes, we spoke the same language…but besides that, EVERYTHING felt weird. Every 6 months felt like a new window was opened, that let a little more light in. As relationships formed and routines were carved out, a new state will begin to feel like home. But it takes time! So give yourself grace to feel sad. To feel lonely. And to feel like a fish out of water.

Have you ever made a transition? Anything you’d add?

 

5 leadership truths I’ve learned from my kids

As a family, we spend a lot of time together. It’s a value for us, honestly. Some people would say quality time is most important, but we say that quality time is only found when you spend quantity time together.
And because we spend such a vast amount of time together, we experience a lot of everything: lots of laughs, tears, and joy. Lots of light moments and plenty of teachable ones. Moments of quiet and long stretches of seemingly meaningless noise from the back seat. And while “learning” mostly flows one direction (my wife and I are always looking for opportunities to teach our children truth), the waters flow the other direction from time to time, too. Here are a few things I’ve learned recently from my kids.

5 leadership truths I’ve learned from my children

1. Don’t root your identity in what people think

My daughter is a wild child. She vacillates between high highs and low lows, and everything in between…all in the span of 5 minutes. But one thing is certain: she isn’t affected by what you think of her. If you think she’s funny, great. If you don’t, great. If you agree with what she’s doing, great. If not, great. And while some of that behavior we as parents are working on, there’s something beautiful about not being swayed by the shifting thoughts of others.
think she cares what you think? Nope.

think she cares what you think? Nope.

The more you care about others’ opinion of you, the more you find yourself chained by them. What do you see on this spaghetti-smeared face? Pure joy.
Confession: sometimes I care too much what other will think.
Truth: The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. – Proverbs 29:25

2. Have fun

My son just loves to have fun. Where ever he is, whatever he’s doing, he’s looking to enjoy life, and pull others in to his vortex. Seriously, whether he’s at school, church, or in the front yard, he’s constantly gathering people together to play, laugh, and enjoy life.
Check out the one kid on the left that's dabbing. The. One. Kid.

Check out the one kid on the left that’s dabbing. The. One. Kid.

 

Confession: Sometimes I get lost in tasks.
Truth: “So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” – Solomon, Ecclesiastes 8:15

3. Take risks

My kids take risks. All of the time. Some   Many of them are dumb. But that never slows them down from taking another risk that might end in them falling flat on their faces. Maybe we could learn something from them. Maybe we play it too safe, under the guise of “I might look foolish” or “I might not succeed.”
Confession: Sometimes I lean towards comfort.
Truth: Where there is no risk, there is no faith.

4. Love quickly

Both of my children are quick to love and trust others. I’ve found that the older I get, the more I’m tempted to be slow to trust. They have a short memory, while mine is a little longer. As I’ve seen my trust of others broken, it makes me a little hesitant. I’m learning from my kids that relational risks are worth the potential downside.
Confession: Sometimes I struggle to trust after it’s been broken.
Truth: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus, John 13:35

5. Tell people what to do all of the time

Oh, wait…that’s just my daughter. And I’m not applying that one. 🙂
 

6 Leadership truths we can learn from Legos

4016.

That’s the number of pieces in the Lego set my son and I are building. It’s called the Death Star, and it’s even more epic than I anticipated. He saved his money for a long time to get it, and it hasn’t disappointed. Every single day, Rex asks if we can build a little more of it. So naturally, I’ve used it as the hook to “finish your homework then we can build a little.”

All 4016 pieces...with one happy boy

All 4016 pieces…with one happy boy

I love the time spent with my son, using our minds and our hands together. It’s good for his development, and for mine. It’s good for our relationship. And I’ve found that we can have meaningful discussions about the most important things in life while we’re working together…even more so than if we were to sit down and have a face-to-face talk. Boys seem to respond better talking side-by-side.

But enough about that.

Did you know that you can learn a little about leadership development* from Legos? (actually, you can learn a bit about leadership from almost every aspect of life if you look for it)

6 Leadership Development Truths Legos teach

1. They don’t build themselves. No Lego set has ever spontaneously built itself.

No person has ever built themselves either. There are no truly self-made men/women. We are all a product of the communities where we live: our city, our church, the 5 people closest to us, our small group, our hobbies, our experiences, etc.
If you want to grow in your leadership, surround yourself with people who lead like you want to lead.

2. It’s as much about the process as it is the destination. We’re having as much fun building the set as we will ever have with the set once it’s “done.”

Development happens in the doing, not simply in the “learning.” It’s as you lead that you learn to lead. Books, seminars, and Ted talks can only take you so far. I’ve heard it said that “community” is both a goal and the means of achieving the goal, of the Church. The same is true of leadership development.
Leadership development is both the goal and the means of achieving it.

3. The destination is vital. Without instructions, the Lego set is a bunch of mismatched pieces.

Knowing what you’re developing towards is important, otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels. But when you have a destination in mind, it gives you the freedom to know what to say yes to…and what to turn down. It points you in the direction you need to go. We are all lumps of clay in the hand of the potter, who makes of us something beautiful and useful, giving our daily grind purpose and meaning.
Without a destination, you’ll hit it every time.

4. Improvisation is crucial. We’ve lost so many of those pieces. And a blue 2×2 just adds character where a light gray 2×2 should be.

Leadership development is not simply a series of formulas you follow. You can’t check all of the boxes and magically be developed. The development happens as you improvise throughout life. That’s called wisdom.
Leadership is a purpose-driven art.

5. There’s a special tool for when you make mistakes. I love that Lego assumes you’ll make mistakes.

IMG_6019Our development will be fraught with mistakes. And there’s a tool we need day after day after day: grace. Grace for others. And grace for ourselves. Grace that we’re not perfect, nor will we ever be. (there’s also a proactive tool to help us make fewer mistakes: constantly learning)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

6. It’s never done. There’s always another piece you can add to make it more awesome. And over time it breaks down, revealing more holes.

Leadership development isn’t a “thing” you put on your to-do list. It’s a process that changes throughout life, in different seasons, ups and down, highs and lows. Different seasons expose different weaknesses that invite more development.

Have the end in mind, but remember that the best leaders are always in development.

*another word for “leadership development” is discipleship. Because we’re called as followers of Jesus to be disciples, constantly learning and growing in the way we know, love, follow, and lead others to do the same.

 

Packing lunches in the dark

Every morning before the house wakes up, I make my son’s lunch. I pack it in the lunch box, fill up his water bottle, zip it away in his bag, and hang it up on the hook.

IMG_5859

He doesn’t even realize I’ve packed it. He doesn’t ask if it’s done, doesn’t check my work, and doesn’t ask what it is. No thanks, no “you’re the best, dad!” He just eats it at his appointed lunch time at school. No thoughts about why dad packed ham today instead of turkey, or why the crackers were a little stale. He just eats.

The quicker, the better, since he gets to play on the playground when he’s done.

I love that I get to do this for him.

This is a picture of God’s relationship with us. I wonder how many things God does for us that we don’t even notice. He does so much for us that we never realize, and that we don’t, or can’t, control. He causes the rain to fall and water the earth. The sun rises and falls every day. He even causes the very molecules of our bodies to hold together (Colossians 1:17).

He causes relationships to hold together (or not). Our finances to hold together (or not). He causes the earth to grow plants…which, in a way is kind of like making our lunch. 😃

Think about the thousands upon thousands of chain reactions that happened to bring you to the very spot you find yourself right now. Think of the failed ideas, the interviews you passed, the car crashes you avoided, the relationships you’ve had, the pain you’ve walked through…all leading to this moment.

When I was a child, I didn’t realize this. I’m sure my parents, or someone along the way, pointed it out to me, that God controls everything. But I didn’t pay much attention to these things…I just went on about my life.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I begin to take stock of the ways God provides for me and my family. I notice what He does day in and day out that provides safety and security. My heart shifts toward Him as I count the too-many-to-count ways He gives me more than I deserve. Even when things don’t go my way, I trust God knows what He’s doing. Seeing the goodness of God in action deepens my love for Him.

Becoming more aware of our surroundings is a sign of maturity in life. My son, who’s 8, has a greater understanding of how the world works than my 3 year old. And I’d like to think I understand more than either of my children. I’ve matured, and I’m more cognizant of the way things work. As my son gets older, I hope he begins to realize the lunch-packing I do. Not because I want credit, but because becoming aware is a sign of maturity.

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. – Paul, Romans 8:28

Do you know what the original Greek word for “all” means?

It means “all.” In all things God’s working for our good. In all things He’s at work. He’s not sitting back wondering what’s going to happen. He’s in the very middle of everything because He’s lovingly working all things. From the big happenings in your life to the tiniest breath, God knows what He’s doing. And every moment is shaping who you are and who God intends you to become.

Time to grow up. Time to see who’s really packing our lunch.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

 

Running on empty

When I started driving at age 16, I bought a little Toyota Tercel. It was old at the time. It was a little beat up, and if you wanted to make it up a big hill you had to turn the A/C off. But I didn’t care. I was proud of that thing.

I remember one day pulling in to a gas station to get a drink. I had half of a tank of gas left, but figured that since I was there, I might as well fill up. I noticed it took longer than normal to fill up. Thinking it was just a slow pump, I went on.  A couple of weeks later, I was still at 3/4 of a tank but decided to fill up again. It took a long time again.

empty

empty

As I pulled out, the gauge jumped from full to empty to full. I pulled over to the side of the road.

I didn’t know what was going on, and I was just praying I would make it home. As I looked down at the gas gauge again, it was full. Completely.

And I was confused. Completely.

The next day, I was on empty again. But before I could pull in to the station, the needle had gone back to full.

What was happening was the mechanism that controlled the needle telling me how much gas I had in the tank was broken. So on a 10 minute drive across town, I would go from full to empty a dozen times. It was maddening. And anxiety-producing.

When I thought I was full of gas, I’d been running on empty.

Are you running on fumes?

It’s entirely possible that you’re running on fumes but you don’t know it. It’s possible you could be out of fuel but think you’ve got a full tank. Cruising around town, you’re about to have to call a tow truck.

If you’re a leader, you’re in an even greater danger of not just taking yourself out of service, but taking others with you. 

God has given us some gauges to help us know whether our spiritual tanks are full or not.

Sometimes they are broken (though more often than not, the problem is that we choose to ignore the warning signs). I’ve found that some of the best gauges are actually questions you can ask yourself.

5 ways to know you’re running on empty

1. How’s your family?
Start with this question. Because your family (or those closest to you) know you often better than you know yourself. And they’re a great indicator for you. If they’re worn out, but you don’t feel that way, your gauge might be broken. You may be physically, emotionally, and spiritually running them ragged. Check that gauge.

Our hearts deceive ourselves, and we need others to help us see what we’re blind to. Those that know us best can help. Have you ever asked them?

2. Are you growing more anxious?
The Bible says to be anxious about nothing, (Philippians 4:6-7) which is easier said than done. We can easily find ourselves anxious about everything. Finances, job security, spiritual growth, physical health, parenting issues, retirement, and tomorrow’s to-do list keep you up all night.

If you’re growing anxious, you’re running on empty.

3. Are you growing less patient?
Patience is a sign of peace. And peace is a sign of rest. And rest is a product of  intentionally sabbathing.

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32

If you find yourself with a short fuse, with patience constantly out of reach, you’re closer to *empty* than you think.

4. Are you resting well?

And I don’t just mean “are you sleeping enough,” though that may be part of it.

Are you working so hard you need the rest? And resting so well you need the work?

5. Are you feeling less fulfilled?
Fulfillment comes from doing what God created you to do. That’s based on your spiritual gifts, your heart, your abilities, your personality and experiences (HN: Class 301 at Saddleback). So your interpreting a lack of fulfillment isn’t your job’s fault. Or your marriage’s. Or your local church’s. Or your home’s. It’s a by-product of a heart that’s searching for fulfillment in the wrong places. Here’s where life’s found:

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. – The Apostle John, 1 John 5:11-12

A lack of fulfillment should signal to you that your gauge should be on empty. Time to fill  up.

Have you been running on empty and didn’t even know it?

 

 

Excessive, annoying grace

Confession:
I like coffee. And maybe (said while squinting my eyes and making the universal pinching symbol for tiny) I am a little excessive about it. Just maybe.

I have just a few different ways of brewing coffee. Here’s what I’ve got:

Chemex
Aeropress
Toddy
V60 Hario
Stove top Italian Espresso Mokka
Iced coffee brewer
Espresso machine
Manual Espresso maker
French press
Traditional brewer
Keurig

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You never know what kind of coffee you’ll need. Seriously. I may need to make lattes for guests, or a pot of clean coffee for me and…well, I’d probably just drink the whole pot of Chemex. *Confession alert.*

Or maybe it’s hot outside and an iced coffee is preferred. Or maybe we have a lot of people in the house that could care less about the taste of their coffee and I’ll get the Keurig out. 😃

Regardless, I’ll bet you look at my coffee brewing collection and say I’ve got a little too much. Too many options. You probably have just 1 way, maybe 2, of brewing your coffee at home, and can’t imagine why a person in their right mind would need more. You may even say that my collection is a bit excessive. I can see why you’d say that.

Because you don’t love coffee as much as I do.

I love drinking it. Sipping it. Gulping it. Making it. I love the art and science of making the *perfect* cup.

And I especially love serving it to others.

You may not appreciate my excessive approach, until you’ve had a cup from my house. I can guarantee you that it’ll be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had. Ever.

Annoying obsessions

There are lots of things we see other people doing things that are excessive seem excessive and annoying to us, right? When people collect items we don’t care about, it seems odd to us. From comic books to cars. Baseball cards. Pokemon. Pogs  (remember those??). Signatures from famous people. Action figures. Barbies. Buttons. Cameras. Typewriters. Fountain pens.

And coffee equipment. It’s annoying to you. You may think, “Why would anyone need so many different ways to brew a cup of hot dirt?” But I assure you, I do. And if you enjoy coffee as much as I do, you will appreciate my collection.

Grace

Grace: noun \ˈgrās\ Unearned favor from God.

Grace is the same way. I need excessive amounts of it.  I realize the gap between who I am and who God’s created me to be. I see the mistakes I have made and continue to make. And I need grace each and every morning. I need it by the bucketfuls. I need it so much that I preach and teach on it. I tweet it. I talk about it in conversation. I need it in every different form I can get. I get it and I give it.

Without it, I’m bankrupt.

If you don’t feel like you need it, my obsession is strange. Which means I may be annoying to people. More often than not, it’s annoying to “church” people. People that “have life all figured out.” People that think it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.  Sorry, folks, I’ll take all of the “good thing” I can get.

Side note: I’m so thankful I’m not at a “churchy” church. My church is a place where it’s ok to be in process, ok to still be figuring things out. Ok to not be ok (but not ok to stay that way).

It’s impossible to abuse grace. Because it’s meant to be applied when you’re at your worst and when you think you’re at your “best.” Even our “best” is filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) So even in my best year in my best season on the best hour of the best day…I still fall woefully short. I’m still in need of grace to cover me. When perfection is in demand, I’ll choose to let someone else live it.

Grace is always needed. Never earned. Paid for already. (John 1:14-17)

To get that grace, you’ve just got to ask. (Romans 10:9-10)

If you want the favor of the King, cast all of your eggs in the basket of grace. That’s where mine are.

 

The “superhero” you

I love superhero movies. There’s something fun about getting lost in the fantasy world of capes, masks, and gargantuan fists. To see someone climb up the side of a building gets me stoked. To see someone smash the ground so hard it causes an earthquake makes me smile. And through a series of unforeseen, never-could’ve-guessed-it plot twists and turns that are completely predictable, the good guys win. I like that.

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Well hello Smiling Thor Captain America Hatchet Man!

It’s fantasy in all the right ways.

I’m not always looking for a drama. I like to watch movies for the escape value. Life’s hard enough, so why be reminded about it on a 20-foot HD screen with surround sound? Can I get an “amen!”?

But when it comes to real life, there’s inherent danger in wearing a mask though it might be more fun and “safer.” It’s “easier” for me to pretend like everything’s always ok in my life. It’s easier for me to wear the mask of

  • I’ve always got the answer
  • My kids are perfectly well behaved
  • I don’t struggle with “normal people” things
  • Life’s easy
  • “I’m doing great!”
  • I’m coping really well

Why we wear masks

There’s a gap between who you are and who you want to be. And this is a universal truth. As I look across my life, there is so much that I wish I could do. So many areas where I wish I was better, stronger, more articulate, and a better leader. So many areas that I wish I’d matured in.

There’s a gap between who I am and who I want to be. And I’m not alone in this.

I look at their marriage and wish mine were more like that. I look at the way they parent and realize I’m not where I need to be. I see their leadership and am quickly reminded I’m not as strong as them. I see the way they handle adversity and notice I’m not able to do what they do. I watch they way they navigate complexity and chaos and wish I were different. I see the way they speak, they write, they excel, and realize I’m not them.

My gap is wider than yours in certain areas. And narrower in others. In some areas of my life, I have a gap where you don’t. But we all have gaps. So we try to cover those with a superhero mask. Because superheroes are strong where we wish we were. Superheroes can overcome anything. And they always win.

They aren’t scared. They can take a bullet. They can fly, climb, and throw cars to save people. Everybody loves them. Kids want to dress up like them for Halloween.

Nobody’s ever wanted to dress up like me for Halloween.

4 Truths about masks

It’s easy to compare others’ strengths to our weaknesses.

When we look at others strengths, it’s easy to compare what they’re great at with what we’re weak at. And that’s not fair. God’s given you strengths so you can use them to serve others. If we were strong in everything, we may be tempted to think we don’t need God.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10

Others’ strengths aren’t your strengths. Your weakness isn’t theirs. So stop comparing.

Gaps call us to faith.

The gaps we see in life can’t be crossed on their own. And the gap between who we are and who we want to be can be an awfully large chasm that isn’t traversed overnight.

It’s hard to exercise faith when the skies are blue and we feel like we can “handle” everything. When we’re weak, unsure how and where to take the next step, we can grow in our faith.

If you look across your life and don’t see any gaps, be scared. Because your faith isn’t growing. And you’re probably looking in the wrong direction.

Exercise some faith and grow.

The world needs you. Not the you with a mask.

People are more endeared to you through your weaknesses than through your strengths. Because they have weaknesses, too! In fact, Paul the apostle says

But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

If you want to fully embrace grace, and fully embrace the power of the One that rose from the dead, take that mask off. After all, you’re not fooling anyone.

Ever tried boasting about your weaknesses?

You are deeply known AND deeply loved.

You are known by God more fully than anyone on this planet. God even knows you better than you know yourself. And as deeply and fully as you are know, you are loved.

It’s impossible to be fully loved without being fully known. But most of us walk around in fear that if we’re fully known, we won’t  be fully loved. Thankfully, that’s not the case with God. He knows our weaknesses. Our joys. Our tendencies to mess things up. He knows our past and our future. Yet still He loves us.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! – God (Isaiah 43:1)

Live in that.

 
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