The Passing of Time

James Taylor famously crooned, “The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.” As I inch ever closer to my own half century mark on this rotating rock, I think there’s something to that. As much as we try, there is no way to slow down the clock, to travel backwards in time.

This year marks twenty years of marriage for me and my wife. It also marks ten years since I lost my mom and ten years since my daughter was born. It seems that despite our greatest efforts, there is no way to control the fact that at any given moment in life, we will be experiencing both joy and heartache. My own experience has been that behind every celebration could very well be a tragedy and vice versa.

As I grow older, I feel like I’m learning that the word “pivot” has fully entered into my vocabulary. For years, I think the word “hold the line” seemed to define my approach better. Encounter something difficult or challenging and challenge it back, fight against it, refuse to accept it. While that’s admirable and sometimes necessary, I felt like it was more of a rebellious lack of acceptance of reality than a defiant and bold commitment to press on through the muck.

We cannot change what has been but we can change how we move on from there. We can pivot and continue to change our outlook and our approach.

The Book of Job, the character in the Bible known for his difficult season of loss and difficulty, contains words from his friends that were supposed to have been encouraging to him, or at least help him shake out of the funk he found himself in.

His friend, Bildad, said in Job 8, “Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.” Not the most encouraging of words, especially for someone who has lost just about everything.

At the same time, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “He (the Lord) is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” That’s a little more comforting to me than the words of Job’s friend. Before time, God was. When time is over, God will be. Before the difficulties came into our lives, before time began to drag us through this mortal coil, God was, in fact, he set the clock in motion.

Like I said, I’m getting better at accepting this, but I can’t say that I like it always. My oldest is starting high school in the Fall. Next month will mark a decade since I lost my mom. Just over 20% of my life has been spent without my mom, and it will just increase from here. That’s a difficult reality to accept, but accept I must, because what’s the alternative?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus to redeem the time for the days are evil. He understood the passing of time. That word “redeem” could be literally translated “to buy out of,” in other words, drawing out meaning and purpose rather than fighting and complaining.

This is a season of transition for so many people. The pandemic seems to be on the retreat. The school year has ended. Some have graduated from elementary school, middle school, high school, college, or even grad school. Time marches on and like old JT sang, embracing and enjoying it may just be the better approach.

That doesn’t mean that we sit back and let time trample all over us. It means that we do what we can to redeem moments and days, to buy the meaning out of those moments that we experience. Because when we take this approach, I firmly believe that as the clock ticks off all those seconds, minutes, hours, and days, it can allow our vision to be clearer for the things that really matter to us.

As I look back over the time spent with my own parents, the moments that were the most significant were not the ones that had been carefully curated and planned, but the ones that were embraced, especially when things didn’t go as planned or as we had hoped that they would.

Maybe holding our plans loosely and pivoting when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped is a better approach. I think of it more like a soap box derby than a NASCAR race. In NASCAR, you can control your speed and direction. In a soap box derby, you mostly let gravity do its work, pulling you down the hill. You glide and slightly steer your way down, but to think that you have total control is probably delusional.

As you face whatever transitions lie before you, embrace the soap box derby. You can’t steer as much as you think, but you’re also not helpless to do your best as you pivot at the obstacles along the way.

Earning It

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about the dynamics of trust and how important they are. I shared three principles of trust and how they had been helpful to me.

Since I wrote that, I have been struck by the importance of the third principle that I had shared: trust is earned. It struck me enough that I felt I needed to elaborate on it a little more because I have seen so many people miss the boat on it from teachers to pastors to coaches to parents and beyond.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your own capital before you engage in the tricky work of relationships. Entering into conflict and difficulty with the assumption that you have more capital than you really do can be one of the most damaging things not just for long-term relationships and working environments, but for the development of the people whom you have been charged with leading.

We all need to earn the right to speak into situations, we aren’t just given that right because of our position. As a pastor, I am invited into various different environments and situations. My tendency, especially as an Enneagram 8, is to charge in like a bull in a china shop, but I have had to slow myself down, take a step back, and assess the situation before I jump in.

The only way that I got to this point, unfortunately, was having failed too many times before. I, and those who I have hurt and frustrated, could tell story after story of situations into which I stepped when I thought I had more capital than I really did simply because of my position or experience. The problem is, our culture has jettisoned the respect for certain positions that they once held, and rightfully so. There have been too many people who have stepped into positions and abused those positions causing incredible skepticism and mistrust.

The question that I have had to adopt is, “What am I missing here?” We might say it in another way, “What am I not seeing here?” This speaks to the value of other voices and perspectives, voices and perspectives that can speak into the places that are in our own blind spots. Even if we don’t immediately engage others, simply taking a step back, slowing down, and assessing the situation to determine just how much trust and capital you might have is enough to improve the situation.

There will always be times when regardless of the amount of assessment and time taken, people will still not respond. There is little that can be done about situations like that, I’ve found. You just have to take your lumps and power through them. There are some people that would not respond to someone even if they had all the leadership capital in the world, that’s just the way of things.

Here are three things that have been helpful for me in situations like this:

1. Slow down

2. Ask yourself, “What am I missing?”

3. Find ways to earn capital

1. Slow down

This is something I have to do regularly. One of my top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinders themes is Activator. The mantra of the Activator is, “Ready! Fire! Aim!” I am hungry for action and impatience is part of my DNA. But if I don’t slow myself down, I will quickly run over people, get too far ahead, and end up derailing a process that might have gone smoothly had I been patient.

I don’t expect that everyone has the same patience struggle that I have, but slowing yourself down is helpful regardless. It’s helpful to get more people on board before pressing forward. Not everyone will get on board by slowing down, see the adoption curve to know there will always be laggards in the process who will be slow to adopt anything. The slowing down isn’t for them, but for the others on the curve, including yourself.

2. Ask yourself, “What am I missing?”

One of the most dangerous assumptions that I have seen in myself over the years is that I have the whole picture. While I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, I am far from omniscient. Part of slowing myself down has been asking myself this question. If I can’t see what I’m missing, I will usually enlist a trusted friend or my wife, someone who can see in my blind spots. I call these people “rearview mirrors” for the benefit that they give me of revealing what’s hidden from plain view to me.

Rarely have I asked this question and not come back with something. It may not be a laundry list of things, but it’s usually something. Asking ourselves this question gives us a far more robust picture of the situation and allows us to have a fuller perspective. It also enables us to invite others into a process from which they might feel isolated. Including them in the process and getting their perspective on this question is helpful for you to give you information and helpful to them to give them a voice.

3. Find ways to earn capital

It’s a mistake to think that everyone functions and operates the same. One of the reasons why StrengthsFinders has been so helpful to me is because it helps me to better understand how people are motivated. A highly relational person will most likely not be motivated the same way as someone whose strengths lie mainly in the influencing or executing domains of strengths. Investing in a person to know their strengths and better understand their perspective has been helpful for me to earn their trust.

First of all, it lets them know that I see it as worthwhile to hear their perspective and know how they are wired. Second of all, it helps me to adopt a language that will more effectively communicate to them in a way that they understand and embrace. In doing this, I will generally earn the trust needed to be able to step into difficult things.

Jesus’ disciple Peter wrote in one of his letters to the early church, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” That doesn’t give us the right to walk all over people, but it does give us confidence and grace to know that when we have loved people well, when we take the inevitable missteps that end up hurting someone, we can hope and pray that our love for them will lead to forgiveness. Please don’t see this as an excuse for abuse nor fodder for manipulation, that’s not what Peter intended in writing it and not what I intend in quoting him. It simply means that we do our best to put our relationship first, loving people in a Christ-like way so that they know they are valuable and important to us.

As I say with most things that I write or talk about, I am a practitioner in these things, not an expert. I share out of my own brokenness and experience, a lot of times the experience of failure and an absence of doing it the right way. There are probably additional points to be added, but these are the ones that have been most helpful to me as I have done my best to lead well and earn the trust of others rather than assume that trust simply comes from my role, position, or authority.

The Dynamics of Trust

I’ve been thinking alot lately about trust. It’s an interesting thing, at least it is to me. It’s a commodity that seems to be scarce in today’s “cancel culture” climate. If it’s been given, it seems that some people use it as a bargaining chip, hanging it over our heads, ready to yank it away at the first sign of insurrection or offense.

As I looked back over the contents of my blog, I’ve written before about trust, but in roundabout ways. I began to think about what trust is and how I’ve seen it play out in my own life. As I thought, I came up with 3 key reminders of trust when it comes to relationships, reminders that I think are important to remember regarding trust and losing trust.

Trust can’t be fast-tracked

Trust is not something that comes to us with the immediacy to which our culture has come to expect. It takes time. It can’t be fast-tracked. Trust-earning is an investment and some people are not willing to take the time that it requires.

If we aren’t willing to take the time to build trust, we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes back to bite us. Like Miracle Max said in “The Princess Bride”, if you rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles. If you rush trust, you get rotten trust, trust that may not even be able to rightly be called trust.

Don’t expect that there is the equivalent to a microwave that can somehow cook trust in thirty seconds or less. This will take time.

Trust can be lost faster than it can be gained

I have seen this so many times in life, directly and indirectly. Trust takes time to be built, but it can be shattered in no time at all. All it takes is a few bad decisions and it’s gone.

When this happens, when trust is lost, the tendency is that one action might be able to somehow reverse it and gain it all back again. I have rarely, if ever, seen this happen. I’m not talking about forgiveness. Forgiveness may be able to happen quickly (though not always) but trust takes time to rebuild. If trust is lost, the process starts all over again and oftentimes starts at a point further back than it originally did because of the breakdown that has taken place. When trust has been lost, it will take more time to earn it back than it did to earn it in the first place.

To think that trust can automatically be regained after some breach is naive and even ignorant. If you’ve experienced a breach of trust, don’t be afraid to take your time to allow someone or something to earn that trust back. If you have been the one breaching the trust, sit back and settle in for the journey of showing someone once again that you can be trusted.

(As an aside, there are times when people withhold trust like a weapon after a breach of some sort even though the person who is trying to regain trust has made the effort. This is unhealthy and I could probably spend an entire post on this)

Trust is earned

I’ve noticed that there is a very modernist viewpoint that still seems prevalent when it comes to things like trust. There is an expectation that because someone is in a certain position of authority or power that they should automatically be trusted.

If our last few years in the political world has taught us anything, it’s that people are far less trusting of political figures than they ever used to be. But I don’t think that this lack of trust is limited to politicians. Unfortunately, there has been a significant and growing suspicion and loss of trust for leaders within churches because of a few who have used their position as a means by which they can abuse and take advantage of those who trust them.

Stepping into a position will not automatically garner trust for you, especially among the younger generations. People will be waiting to learn why they can trust you, how you make yourself trustworthy. Trust cannot be assumed, it can only be earned.

When in doubt as to whether or not someone trusts you, it’s probably better to assume that they don’t and step gingerly along. Assuming trust can cause more damage if that trust isn’t there. Communicating through the process can help the process move along, not necessarily faster, but smoother.

Having been in organizations that have experienced diminished trust, these three reminders have been helpful to me. I hope they are helpful to you with your own journey with trust.

Kingdom Men Rising – A Book Review

Having conquered significant challenges and struggles in his life, Tony Evans is a prime candidate to write a book encouraging men to stay the course and submit to God’s rule over his life. Evans is the first African American to graduate with a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the first sole African American to have authored a study bible and a whole Bible commentary named after him. Evans has set an example of what it means to be pursuing a Kingdom vision and Kingdom values.

In “Kingdom Men Rising,“ Evans suggests that, “If God’s kingdom men decide to rise up to fulfill our calling, we can see Him heal our hearts, our families, our churches, and our land.” Evans spends the book convincing his readers that the pursuit of Biblical manhood is the way to achieve this. He breaks the book up into three sections: Awakening Biblical Manhood, Unleashing Biblical Manhood, and Transferring Biblical Manhood.

The definition of a kingdom man, according to Evans, is, “a male who visibly and consistently submits to the comprehensive relationship and rule of God, underneath the lordship of Jesus Christ, in every area of life.” Evans calls men to step up to this task, to show up for the challenge. Evans has written before about the need for men to step up in his book “Kingdom Man.”  Evans’ desire in this book is to challenge men to step up to their responsibility of not just living out Kingdom values but also empowering others to live them out in this generation and the generations to come.

Living out Kingdom values needs to be done through an authentic spiritual life. It doesn’t come through rituals, budgets, programs, building, or religion, Evans writes, but only through the life, power, and strength of the Holy Spirit. Too many men are living dry lives and settling for cures that don’t address the cause of their issues. We have to dig deep to address the spiritual causes of the brokenness that we are seeing in ourselves and the world around us.

While some men might discount themselves because of their own brokenness, Evans suggests that men who have been broken have both learned to surrender to and depend on God. These types of men can be a force to be reckoned with. These types of men should not be excluded but should step up to lead, despite how they might see themselves as disqualified. God can use the broken vessel who understands that their strength doesn’t come from themselves but from HIm.

It’s easy to feel disqualified from service to God, but we need to look beyond our past and even the challenges that we have faced. Our position, status, and lineage don’t matter as who goes with us on the journey. If we are going in the strength of God, we can overcome the obstacles that stand in our path.

Simply overcoming the past and moving on isn’t enough. We also need to be looking to empower the next generation to allow them to live into Kingdom values as well. We need to set up reminders for ourselves and others, just like we see in the Bible, to us of where we have come from and how we got where we are. We need those constant reminders of the faithfulness and supernatural power of God in our lives. We can’t keep that to ourselves, but need to pass it on.

Evans challenges men that we cannot pass on the blessing that God has given if we have never really received it ourselves. He also challenges his readers to prepare those to whom we will pass on what God has allowed us to build. No one wants to pass on what they have invested in to those who don’t share a common vision and focus, so prepare those to whom you are passing along to by preparing and investing in them.

Tony Evans shares personally throughout this book. The loss of his wife of more than 40 years is still fresh as he writes this book. He shares his own heartbreak with this loss as well as other challenges that he has faced as an African American man. He never does this to cast himself as a victim but to speak to God’s power through all of these challenges, a power that has allowed him to rise above those challenges in pursuit of the Kingdom values he writes of in this book.

Up until a few years ago, Tony Evans had just been a name to me. Over the past few years, I’ve read more that he has written, including his study Bible and commentary. I have gained a lot of respect for him in that short time and so appreciate the wisdom and insights that he has shared. Even at 70, Evans shows no signs of slowing down in not only his pursuit of Kingdom values but in passing those values to the next generation. This book is part of his effort to do just that and I think he succeeds.

If you want encouragement, insight, and challenge to be part of the change that the world needs for the Kingdom of God, pick up and read this book. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Ins and Outs – Ups and Downs

It’s hard to believe that the world has been struggling with COVID-19 for more than a year. As social media reminds me of memories of a year ago, memories that hoped for a short-lived response to this virus, it’s easy to find myself getting sucked into the questioning that comes when the unexpected things of life hijack the plans that were laid out.

Throughout this year, I’ve done my best to listen better to the position and response that people have had. When it comes to health and safety, I understand that we all land in different places. Understanding why we’ve landed where we have is important to me, I find myself extending far more grace and compassion when I have that better understanding.

This year has caused many people that I know to take steps back and reflect on the things that make up their lives. Changes have been made. Career changes. Family changes. Health changes. Those in the theology community may call a kairos moment.

The Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is more about the passing of time, seconds, minutes, hours, days. Kairos is more about the significance of a moment, seizing the opportunity that stood before you.

Growing up in the church, I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself and made nearly ever moment that lay before me a kairos moment. Where do I go to school? What do I major in? Who do I date? Where do I live? I think that we can sometimes put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves to make everyday decisions that are not nearly as significant as we make them out to be.

Having lived a bundle of years now, I look back at decisions that were made that seemed monumental and eternally significant that look fairly pedestrian from this angle. They don’t seem to be the ground-breaking moments that I thought they were as I stood on the precipice of those decisions. Even if they still seem significant, I see God’s fingerprints throughout, moving pieces and making course corrections, aligning things in such a way that they fit better than they originally did.

There is a freedom in surrender. I’ve been learning that more and more as I get older. It’s not a giving up as much as it is a giving in. In some ways, it’s its own kairos moment when we come to the place of understanding and acceptance, acknowledging that surrendering isn’t defeat so much as it is victory, as long as we are surrendering to the right thing.

Jesus came to that place when he prayed in the garden, “Not my will but yours be done.” He accepted the will and the way of the Father although the cup was bitter to drink. He would rather have drank a different cup but he knew that the only way to arrive at the outcome needed was through the cup that lay before him.

We are a people who love our freedoms and autonomy. We stand before the God who created us and rebel because we never asked to be made, never asked to be set into his universe. We want what we want, when we want it, and anything that stands in the way of that freedom and autonomy will be responded to in much the same way that a toddler responds to the word, “No.”

I am reminded of the following quote:

It would seem the Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory”

We sacrifice the best for what we have convinced ourselves is the best. When we come face to face with what we have assumed is the best, we see how it pales in comparison and then we do our best to convince ourselves that it really is the best. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in others and in myself. Am I saying these things because I believe them or am I saying them to try to convince myself that they are true?

A friend emailed me the other day about her faith walk and I couldn’t help but think to myself that there are times when I think I might call it a crawl rather than a walk. Considering how long I’ve been doing it, I might expect that I would be further than I am. Instead, I find myself on a circuitous route through the wilderness that parallels the journey of the Hebrew people towards the Promised Land.

There are some days that I feel like I’m putting together a piece of IKEA furniture without the instructions. Sometimes the pieces seem to make sense while other times I’m cursing my own lack of understanding and the lack of provision of a plan that I can see as fully developed and understood. It’s infuriating and even when the pieces come together, I still might find myself asking whether it was all worth it in the end.

And so it goes. We press on. Every moment seems weightier than it is, but I am trusting that there is a plan and method beyond my own understanding. That’s not an abandonment or even a lackadaisical throwing up of my hands, it’s more like a Jesus-like surrender to the will of the One who put this all together.

Is Maturity Your Metric?

Worldwide, the Church just celebrated Resurrection  Sunday, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. By doing so, Jesus conquered death and sin through his own sacrificial death and resurrection. Afterwards, he appeared to his followers before ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Before Jesus ascended, he left his followers with some words of wisdom. He commissioned them to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey his commands.

Jesus didn’t instruct them to build big buildings or fancy programs. He didn’t command them to build big church staffs so that people could relegate the church to another one of the many places or organizations they go to consume things. Jesus instructed his disciples to make more of the same: disciples who follow Jesus in word and deed.

I’ve struggled in my years of watching Christians in the West (including myself) become more and more passive in their Christianity. We struggle with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It’s a grace without a cost, a grace whose account has been paid for in advance which somehow convinces us that, “everything can be had for nothing.” Armchair Christianity seems to be a much more palatable experience than that to which Jesus called his followers. After all, who really wants to sacrifice anyway?

The Church likes to apply business principles to its own practices. We like to make sure that we are efficient and effective. We like to create our S.M.A.R.T. goals and do our best to set up metrics that tell whether or not we are doing the best job we can.

I’m a fan of leadership books. I read Patrick Lencioni and others and enjoy them immensely. I think there is a place for principles when it comes to being an effective leader. But we have to put everything into context and we can’t stray from our original commission and command: to make disciples. Is there a way that we can reconcile the commission that Jesus gave the Church while also embracing leadership principles?

What would happen if we evaluated Jesus’ leadership style based on some modern day leadership principles? Would he be considered a success? In the short term, his leadership was certainly questioned by the authorities, but the proof can be found as early as just a few years later. Jesus’ choosing of twelve men and investing in them for three years proved to be effective for starting a global movement. Among those twelve, Jesus was connected more intimately with three. If bigger is better has become our mantra or our metric, we will certainly find ourselves questioning Jesus’ methods. But what if he wasn’t wrong? What if we’re wrong?

I think the problem is in our metrics. How do we measure our success? How do we measure whether or not we are achieving the goals that we set? Are the goals that we set the same goals that Jesus set for us when he commanded us to make disciples who make disciples? The type of disciples who live and breathe the principles and commands of Jesus?

The metrics that we use shouldn’t be how many people sat their butts in our seats this past Sunday. The metrics shouldn’t be how full our offering was or how many online followers we have. Our metrics shouldn’t be the number of programs we have or whether or not we are bringing in more people than the church down the street. Are we measuring the right things or are we falling victim to the culture of consumerism that swirls around us?

I have to admit that it’s easy for me to fall into this. It’s also easy for those who promote these kinds of methods to be critical. Critics may claim that those who don’t embrace these methods are just sore because they can’t succeed with them. But it’s not that metrics shouldn’t be used, it’s that we need the right metrics, the metrics that Jesus gave us.

I have come to believe that maturity is the primary metric we need to be using. We don’t need to be measuring nickels and noses but the heart behind those nickels and noses. We need to be measuring whether or not we are effectively making mature disciples who are making mature disciples. Are we producing the fruit of mature disciples who make more disciples?

The funny thing is measuring maturity is a tricky thing. We will often measure maturity through some of the other things that we have a tendency to measure. How well a person serves their neighbors  can be evidence of maturity. How faithful of a steward someone is with their gifts, financial and otherwise,  can be a measure of maturity.  But our focus must not be on those things alone, for those things are evidence of what’s at the heart and in the heart. Like Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. I think that we can safely say that out of the abundance of the heart, the hands and feet act too.

What are we doing to not only create disciples in the Church but measure the maturity of those disciples? We have a tendency to look at the things that our culture and our world looks at, the things that sparkle and shine. The Church has become guilty of celebrity culture as much as the world around us has.

Jesus chose twelve people from all different walks of life and invited them to follow him. Along the way, they discovered the way of the Messiah. They didn’t always get it right, there was conflict, there was frustration, there was confusion, but Jesus’ investment in those twelve reaped benefits for millennia to come. The strategy may not have seemed effective at the time, but the Church remains and God’s kingdom continues to advance.

The thing about using maturity as a metric is that it’s slow moving. It requires patience. It requires investment. It requires sacrifice. It’s playing the long game instead of two minute drills. It’s running a marathon rather than a sprint. Are we willing to have our patience tested? Are we willing to invest? Are we willing to give until it hurts? Jesus gave until it hurt, all the way to the cross.

It was again Bonhoeffer who said, “For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

How do we measure maturity? Through faithful obedience. Are we being obedient to what God has called us into? Are we being obedient to the commission that Jesus gave those first disciples? What evidence shows us proof of that obedience? Some might say you can’t see maturity, but I beg to differ. We can certainly point out where maturity is lacking. Take a look around you and then make a case that disproves what I just pointed out. Think about your leaders, whether you chose them or not, and then tell me whether or not you can see maturity, or a lack thereof, in them.

Church, let’s get back to using maturity as our metric. It doesn’t mean that we are perfect and flawless. We must engage in the call to look more like Jesus and to point people to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Invest and sacrifice. Trust and obey. May we invest in those around us so that Jesus’ commission might be fulfilled. Not overnight, but with a steady and consistent pursuit of teaching people to obey all that He has commanded. This is the direction to which we are called.

Slowing Down to Listen

I was texting with a friend the other day about the practice of listening to vinyl records. In a world that has been overtaken by a digital tsunami, intentionally going the analog route might seem silly for some. Why be forced to listen to songs by the same artist in a certain order? I want to listen to my music the way that I want to listen to it in the order that I want to listen to it. Right?

Wrong!

There’s something to be said about listening to albums in their entirety. Once upon a time, there was intention and purpose in the ordering of songs on a record. The tracks weren’t haphazardly sorted together in a random order. Instead, they were intentionally ordered in a way that made the most sense.

Those of us who grew up on cassette tapes or vinyl records could most likely tell you what the next track is without looking at any record jacket, tape or CD case, or digital booklet. We just got used to listening to the songs the way they were ordered. We knew what song started Side 1. We knew what song ended Side 1. We knew how Side 2 kicked off and how it ended. We didn’t necessarily question it, but we had to deal with it because it was the only way for us to listen to the songs (unless of course we bought a 45 of the album singles and chose to listen to one song at a time).

I mentioned to my friend that vinyl listening is a spiritual practice. It causes us to slow down. It causes us to wait.

Just today, while listening to an album in my office at work, I found myself delaying my restroom trip so that I could listen to a certain song. When I realized what was coming next, I pondered what choice would win for me: listening to that next song or making my way to the little boys’ room. I chose to raise the needle on the record so that I could relieve myself and listen in tranquility and peace.

It’s ironic to me that the resurgence of vinyl has been caused by the younger generations. After all, some in my generation never stopped collecting and listening to vinyl. My own brother has reminded me on countless occasions of the conversation that was had years ago between us when I began to multiply my collection of compact discs while he continued to pile up stacks of vinyl. He’s used to me being right a lot, so I think he’s relished the opportunity to stick my nose in a situation where I wasn’t.

There was always something to me about opening up a new CD. I loved pulling off the plastic wrap, peeling off the annoying sticker that kept me from opening the case, and gently yet urgently pulling the CD out of its case to find a home in my CD player so that the aural down pour might commence on my ears.

But there’s something about opening up a new record too. For me, it parallels the opening of a new book. The look. The feel. The smell. Gently placing the needle down at the beginning of those grooves (I really don’t trust my record player’s automatic start feature). Waiting. Listening. Anticipating. The sounds. The notes. The experience.

I’ve bought enough albums in the past few years to probably be recommended to addiction counseling. Sometimes it’s simply background music and I pay no attention to the ordering of songs. The songs mindlessly play as an underscore to wherever my focus is at that moment.

Other times I stop and listen. Other times I wait for that moment that I know is there. I know it’s there because I’ve listened to that song, in one form or another, a thousand times and that moment always catches my attention. It’s like stopping to watch that movie that’s playing on TBS even though you’ve already seen it so many times before. You want to see that moment, to experience it like it’s the first time all over again.

There is certain music that’s made for vinyl. Jazz, for instance. Although I’ve spent a considerable amount of money accumulating a substantial Miles Davis collection on CD, I’ve begun to purchase additional copies on vinyl. Can the experience of listening on vinyl to music like what Davis put out with his early quintet be duplicated? Am I being overly dramatic by saying that the experience is (dare I say) transcendent? I think not.

Slowing down isn’t easy. Of course, the whole world has had to slow down a lot in the past year. Some of us slowed down and realized that we liked the pace we were forced to keep. We realized that the other pace was unsustainable and simply unfun. Others of us are dying on the vine, hoping, wishing, waiting for the time when things can “go back to normal.” We’ve tolerated the pace at which we’ve had to operate but that little toleration has reached its limits in our heads and we’d just as soon have it be over now.

Placing that vinyl record on my record player is a constant reminder to me that order, structure, rhythm, and a slower pace are not bad things. While we might buck up against them, they actually provide us with a whole lot more freedom, stability, and peace of mind. Guardrails don’t force us to stay on the road, they keep us from going over the edge. I think I’d prefer the restraint over the reckless and fleetingly brief moments as I plummet to my death.

It might not be for everyone, but I’m pretty sure it’s for me. Slowing down is a good idea sometimes, especially when we have a year like we’ve all had. Slowing down reminds us that the greatest things in life are probably the things that move the slowest. And maybe while we’re enjoying the slow things of life, we can spin some vinyl in the background to provide a little soundtrack to that moment as it imprints itself on our brain.

Through A Window

A few months after the pandemic hit, one of my children was going through some of the challenges of adolescence. Friends. School. Changes. Pandemic. It was a lot for anyone to bear, let alone a prepubescent child longing for connections with his peers and ready for the next step of middle school.

I think that one challenge that parents constantly face in an ever-changing culture is to stay connected and engaged with the things that their children are watching, reading, and listening to. As connected as I feel that I am with pop culture, it often feels more like a tidal wave or a flood than a gently rolling stream considering the sheer amount of content that is constantly spewing towards us on a regular basis.

This particular child of mine has a tendency to throw himself into things. He is passionate about them for a time before he moves onto something else. At that moment, the thing that he was throwing himself into was “Dear Evan Hansen” the musical. While I knew that the musical existed, I had zero background information about it and had not even read so much as a review of it.

The first song that I was introduced to was “Waving Through A Window.” That seemed to be my child’s favorite song from the soundtrack. So, trying my best to listen and understand, I decided to dive headfirst into all things “Dear Evan Hansen” as well. I purchased the soundtrack and found out that there was a novel as well, which I also purchased. I then set off to learn as much as I could because I knew that at the heart of this story, was the heart of my child at that moment in time.

The story is about a teenager with social anxiety who finds himself caught in a made-up story about his friendship with a peer who recently committed suicide. It sounds incredibly heavy, and it kind of is, but in a redemptive sort of way. The story unfolds and lessons are learned through the mistakes the characters make.

My child comes by this throwing himself into things headfirst honestly, it’s something I find myself doing often as well. After reading the book and imbibing the musical with all its songs, I think I let it all rest for a few months.

Until…..

The other day….

I found myself alone in the house, which generally means that I can turn up whatever music I want to full volume and sing at the top of my lungs. It had been a while since I had listened to DEH and I thought that it could be a good one to listen to and sing since no one was listening.

As the notes flew out of my Alexa and my voice joined Ben Platt in singing “Waving Through A Window,” I began to really listen to the words. As much as I read and listen to, I’ve gotten very bad about not actually paying attention to the words. This time, I paid attention. This time, I kind of hit me.

I’ve learned to slam on the brake, before I even turn the key

Before I make the mistake, before I lead with the worst of me

Give them no reason to stare, no slipping up if you slip away

So I got nothing to share, no, I got nothing to say

Step out, step out of the sun if you keep getting burned

Step out, step out of the sun because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned

On the outside, always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, I’m waving through a window

I try to speak, but nobody can hear, so I wait around for an answer to appear

While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, I’m waving through a window, oh

Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?

We start with stars in our eyes, we start believing that we belong

But every sun doesn’t rise and no one tells you where you went wrong

Step out, step out of the sun if you keep getting burned

Step out, step out of the sun because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned

On the outside, always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, waving through a window

I try to speak, but nobody can hear, so I wait around for an answer to appear

While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, waving through a window, oh

Can anybody see, is anybody waving?

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?

Did I even make a sound? Did I even make a sound? It’s like I never made a sound, will I ever make a sound?

On the outside, always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been?

‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass, waving through a window

I try to speak, but nobody can hear, so I wait around for an answer to appear

While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass, waving through a window, oh

Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me? 

At that moment, as those words washed over me, I realized that this song could have been an anthem for the past twelve months. In my mind appeared the pictures that I had seen of people who visited their loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes through windows. I thought of the many people whose only connection in the past year had been through the “window” of Zoom, longing for physical connection but settling for the digital alternative.

I thought of the many kids who struggled with school when they had been in person and now found themselves struggling even more as they were learning from home. I thought of the parents who had lost jobs, lost income, lost hope.

We were made for connection, and this has nothing to do with whether we are introverted or extraverted. When God created, he made it clear that it was not good for humans to be alone. And yet so many of us have felt alone.

In the midst of hearing these words with a new perspective, I received the news that a local high school senior had unexpectedly passed away. My heart broke because, although I didn’t know the particulars of the situation, it seemed that “died unexpectedly” had become the vernacular for suicide. Like I said, I wasn’t sure, but that was my suspicion.

I’ve felt the loneliness myself. I’ve felt the disconnection. I see it in the people I love. I see it in the people I care about.

But the other thing that I see is the world is constantly changing. While we often wax nostalgic and long for the simpler and easier days gone by, we can get caught in a healthy pattern by refusing to face what’s before us. Wishing things were easier doesn’t change the fact that we still have to face the hard things that come to us. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

I can almost hear the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, “as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Hope is firmly planted in the future, it does not lie in the past.

I pray that we can find hope. I know where I find my hope, which doesn’t mean that I never come face to face with my own moments of hopelessness, it just means that I can usually see beyond them.

If you feel like you’ve been waving through a window, wondering if anyone sees you, if anyone hears you, if anyone cares, and if anyone is waving back at you, please reach out. Please know that someone cares. While you may feel alone, there is help, there is love, just reach out and you will find someone who cares.

Judging Intentions

Listening to a podcast recently, a thought that was shared got stuck in my head and has been ruminating ever since: We judge people by their behavior but want to be judged for our intentions.

I have had to sit in this for a few days to let it unpack me and take root. I’ve rolled it over in my head and tested it against some things that I have been currently facing. It’s been a helpful thought to understand myself and others better.

While I don’t think that personality profiles are the end-all-be-all for understanding people, I firmly believe that they are helpful tools to give us insights into ourselves and others. They give us language by which we can explain and understand things in a way that we may not have seen or understood before.

The two tools that I have found most helpful have been Gallup’s StrengthsFinders and the Enneagram. The challenge that I have found for myself is not using what I find from these tools as crutches to lean on or, worse yet, walls to hide behind in order to shirk my own responsibility.

Recently, I have been doing some work of self-examination to discover some unhealthy tendencies and feelings which I know need resolution. In order to move away from unhealthy behavior, identifying it is the first step. Turning away from it is the next step and that proves to be something that is as challenging as the identification. As a Christian, I believe that I can only discover this behavior and move from it through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that he works through many different means to do this, including other people.

When I started listening to the podcast that introduced this concept to me, it hit me like a two by four in the middle of my forehead. The light bulb went on and I began to discover that my lack of understanding this has probably been at the root of some of the things that have taken root in me.

As a general rule, I know why I do the things that I do. I am fairly self-aware with a healthy understanding of who I am. When I go about doing things, I know my reasons and rationale for that. Oftentimes, I expect that as people see my behavior, they will be able to see or know my intentions. If they don’t see them or know them, I expect that they will communicate with me to gain a deeper understanding of my intentions.

At the same time, I look at others and I often do one of two things. I either project my own personality and intentions on them, judging them on what I would be thinking and intending if I did the same things as them. Or I simply look at their behavior and judge it at face value whether or not their is a deeper “Why” that exists beneath the surface.

Not using it as a wall to hide behind but rather to understand myself better, some of this comes from the fact that I am an Enneagram 8. 8s can be defensive and volatile. Anger is easily their “Go-to” emotion and they are always ready for a fight. Knowing this about myself helps me understand my reactions to things.

Knowing this about myself has also helped me to create pathways and buffers that move me away from my primary emotion and tendency towards fighting. Speaking with a consultant a number of years ago, the term that we landed on together was “empathetic curiosity.” Empathy is not high on my strengths list, so I have had to raise my own awareness towards it and create a pathway that moves me towards it in a way that I would not naturally gravitate.

I’ve learned to ask questions to gain a deeper understanding rather than assume the worst, which I excel at. Asking questions helps me move from analyzing behavior based on face value to analyzing behavior based on the intentions that exist beneath the surface. Most people have a pretty good handle on why they do the things that they do and even if they don’t, questions can be helpful for not only me but for them in looking at things that they may not have considered before.

As I listened to the podcast and rolled this thought over in my head, I realized how guilty I was of this very thing. I had been looking at behavior and judging it based on my thoughts and projections rather than asking questions to understand better why this behavior was present.

Looking deeper into myself, it became clear to me that not only had I been doing this, but it flew in the face of so much of what I have taught others. Don’t project what you think someone needs or thinks onto someone, simply ask them the question of what they need or what they are thinking.

As if some of these realizations weren’t enough for me, God put some additional praxis moments in my path to ensure that I would not only see his grace in all this but also repent of the posture that I had been taking. As those moments began to unfold, I was moved with emotion at the care that God had taken to help thick-headed old me to gain a better understanding of this.

How are you judging the behavior of others? Even if it’s someone you think you know well, asking them questions about their intentions rather than presuming you know their intentions is the right course of action. I’m learning this slower than I probably should, but I think it’s going to be a game changer for me if I really lean into it.

It shouldn’t surprise me that Jesus’ words hit close to home here. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Give others the same courtesy that you want them to give you as well. I just wonder how much this could change the way that we engage each other, especially in our differences, if we took this approach.

Is It Changing Me?

We get to a point in our lives when we need to decide whether we are going to stay as we are and as we have been, or if we will change and be changed by the experiences and the people around us. While some people may look at this as a bad thing, thinking that they are somehow giving up their freedom and individuality by allowing so much influence in their lives, I actually think that we are doing ourselves and others a disservice if we don’t allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by what’s around us.

Mind you, when I say changed or transformed, I don’t mean that we are necessarily changing our minds, altering our viewpoints, or shifting our moral compass. What I mean is that we can learn from anything and anyone around us.

One of the biggest gripes that I have had with the church based on my own experiences is that we have looped many things into a category and box called “Discipleship” that neuter that word. Instead of really teaching people what it looks like to be disciples of Jesus, we instead cram their heads with lots of information while not really calling them to something bigger and better than themselves.

We have gotten really good at making “experts” while missing the boat when it comes to making practitioners. Disciples are people who not only know what Jesus said, but also live those things out. It’s not enough to simply say that I know the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, are we actually living and practicing those things?

I remember back to when I was in school, there was so much information that I was putting into my head and so often, I rose to the level of the tests and that was it. Of course, some of that information was not incredibly practical for the every day. But if we consider that the things that Jesus taught are things that have the power and ability to change and transform us, if we gain information without transformation, have we cheapened the message?

Reading through the gospels, it seems that Jesus had numerous encounters with people who considered themselves “experts” on things. A closer look at them revealed that they may have been experts in information but not in practice. They knew all the right things to do, they may even have done a lot of them, but they missed the boat when it came to understanding what was at the heart of Jesus’ commandments.

I think we’ve mismeasured significance in our culture. Significance always seems to be measured in size and grandeur rather than in impact and change. We do this in the church all the time, convincing ourselves that bigger is better and the more people we get to come, the more significant and successful we are.

If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that our emphasis has been on things that are not necessarily reinforcing the importance of making disciples and accepted the cheap substitute of consumers instead. When you’re no longer seeing people come into a space on a weekly basis, or at least not seeing them come in as regularly as they once may have, you come to a place where you begin to evaluate just what you have been focused on.

Discipleship also involves multiplication. This is something I’ve had to think about a lot over the last few years. Am I multiplying disciples? What kind of disciples am I multiplying? Do they look like Jesus or do they look like me?

The journey to be changed is not an easy one. It requires constant evaluation and reevaluation. It’s mostly tiresome work and can often be frustrating, especially if we use the metrics of our culture to determine whether or not we are successful or effective. There have been times when I’ve just had enough, when I’m tired and I just don’t feel like going through the trouble any more. 

There are times when I wonder whether or not it’s worth it. There are times when I wonder if any difference has been made. And then I see the change, either in someone else or in myself. I realize that beneath the surface, God has been doing the work that is beyond my reach and control, he has been doing the transformation that we often try to orchestrate on our own.

At the end of 2020 and into 2021, I knew that I had to rethink all this. I knew that if I was going to keep my sanity I needed to reevaluate just how I was measuring what I was doing. I wrote on the whiteboard in my office, “Celebrate the small.”

Through the gospels, Jesus mentions that small things turn into significant things in the Kingdom of God. As I heard someone say the other day, I would much rather be one inch wide and a mile deep than a mile wide and one inch deep. Significant things hardly start out the way we had thought or even intended, but in the hands of God, they can multiply far greater than we could ever multiply them on our own.

Some might say that celebrating the small is a cop out. They may say that anyone embracing that saying is embracing a defeatist approach because they aren’t capable of performing to the level that they should. I beg to differ. I challenge anyone to read through not only the gospels but the entirety of the Bible and find anything that condones a “bigger is better” mentality. David. Gideon. Jesus. Paul. Peter. The Bible is full of the insignificant accomplishing the super significant by the power of God.