Life has lyrics to forget

I used to watch Newlyweds. I did. I loved it. I also love that it has a Wikipedia page as well to tag when writing about Newlyweds.

Nick and Jessica will forever be in my heart. Not in one another’s. But mine, yes.

I saw a clip years later of Nick and his brother Drew singing at their grandmother’s wedding (or something like that). For those who weren’t in the coolest of cool groups in the 90s, one of 98 Degrees’ biggest hits was I Do, Cherish You. It was a mixed CD staple.

In the 90s, you could only wear denim and white, in no particular order.

It was also a redo of a country song, which may be the only boy band hit to boast such a genesis. Regardless, Nick Lachey probably sang that song 1,000 times, scientifically speaking.

So there Nick and Drew are, at granny’s wedding (or something like that), rehearsing for the walk down the aisle. And Nick doesn’t remember the words! Oh, Nick, you’re so crazy, forgetting the words to the song you sang for 10 years.

It’s comical how something so familiar can feel so foreign at times.

I have a great friend who is a great singer of great songs he’s written. He used to forget words to his own songs. It was always awkward.

My son loves to sing. In the shower. Doing chores. In the car. Doing chores in the shower before getting in the car. Singing is his favorite. Christmas is also his favorite, which means Christmas songs are his favorite favorite.

A few weeks ago he boldly belted out O Come, Let Us Adore Him. He knew the melody. He knew when to go up and down and when to get softer and louder. That he didn’t know the correct words seemed a non-factor to his ill-formed frontal cortex. As far as he was concerned, he was nailing it.

Ready for what any of that goobly gop has to do with our adult lives?

I can’t help but feel that there are days upon days when it seems I know the tune…maybe I’ve even sung it perfectly before. Marriage, parenting, friendship, conflict, work, finances. We have lots of songs to sing.

We know the crescendos and tempo changes, but doggonit, sometimes I can’t remember the blasted words!!

I know what marriage is supposed to sound like and how that relationship is intended to flow and how my job harmonizes with it all. But I’m singing and just. can’t. remember. the. next. ___________.

Those moments are going to happen. I’ve appreciated when artists have just owned it right there in the moment and didn’t pretend like they were perfect. They laughed at themselves and made everyone feel free to laugh as well.

At 36, I’m learning to own my lyrical amnesia. I’ve been owning it a lot lately.

  • Sorry, children…it’s not you, it’s me.
  • Sorry, babe…it’s the kids, not you. Okay, no, that’s me too.
  • Sorry, teacher at school…that was my fault.
  • Sorry, person struggling to figure out the merge lane…it really is you and you’re the only one who doesn’t know it so I’m not owning that one.

What do we do in those frightful moments when the music’s playing, but the lyrics just aren’t there?

I think we keep singing. Keep belting it out like we know what we’re doing. And when it’s clear–even if only to ourselves–that we’ve forgotten the lyrics, we own it. Name it. Laugh or ask forgiveness or confess or whatever the moment requires. 

And if you’re wondering

I do, cherish you
For the rest of my life
You don’t have to think twice
I will, love you still, from the depths of my soul

 Love, Nick and Patrick (we do share a birthday, so that counts)

The Journey Towards a Better Death (and life)

architect-architecture-black-and-white-1537008The better game is one we all play even though it never promises a return.

We pay for the next better, move cities to find the next better, cheat on a spouse to experience the next better. There really is no end in the quest to find this psychological sasquatch.

One of the ways it has shown up in my life over the years is with church and employment.

Southerners are especially skilled in playing the better game with churches. The perfect one is out there. I’m going to find it. The one where the pastor preaches a strong, theologically rich sermon with hilarious stories, poignant illustrations, priceless application and all in 30 minutes or less, like an episode of that new Netflix show, F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

In my mind, there was always a better preacher. A better worship experience. A better atmosphere. There had to be. This could not be the pinnacle of church.

And I carried that same mentality and quest for better into my graduate education and professional career.

So by 2013, after 7 years of marriage, we’d moved 11 times (a couple of which were in the same city to a different living situation, but my wife still counts those as moves). Granted, at least I didn’t say I was feeling “called” to Nowheresville. We set up camp in Savannah, Los Angeles, St. Louis–all great cities.

My graduate transcript was a registrar’s worst nightmare. It probably looked more like a word search than a transcript.

After all my searching and gypsy-like moving, where did we end up? Daggum Bluff City, TN. You have to say daggum in a sentence with Bluff City.

That’s a very generous use of the word City, by the way.

But there I was. There we were.

I went from megachurch to megachurch in search of better and ended up being most satisfied pastorally and professionally working in this little, out of the way church and at a Christian school.

At Bunker Hill Christian, there was nobody waiting to be wowed. They wanted to be loved. I didn’t hit a home run with that one, but I grew. Oh so slowly. But they were kind, patient, and gracious.

That season was refining in the sense that it exposed the prideful dross that covered every inch of me. That pride kept me from living a Hebrews 11 life. It would keep from dying a Hebrews 11 death.

Even when I thought I was seeking first God’s kingdom, I was very much at home here. I was an earthly citizen through and through, ALL about the tangible, measurable, and quantifiable.

From childhood to adulthood, the next achievement, next girl, next church, next city, the next better was supposed to make me feel like I’d arrived.

My grand realization? Fundamentally, these were all things I could manipulate. All I had to do was say, Well, God’s calling me to California. Calling me to St. Louis. Calling me to break up with you (best.line.ever).

It doesn’t take faith to manipulate. It takes faith to live and move toward that which you do not control.

Hebrews 11 again

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

There’s only one truly better city, better scenario, better whatever. The city of God.

There is a future that will only be fashioned by faithfulness in the moment. The Architect has the plans drawn up. But He is also the Builder. So what’s our part?

It may sound like this conclusion to Hebrews 11

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

What better epithet could you ask for than verse 38?

    The world was not worthy of them

Only a person who has lived for a better world will have that said of them.

But like the folks in the text, I can’t sit idly by and dream of the better place.

So, a word to the dreamer like me who can’t get no satisfaction.

Pastor Darrin in Pooler, GA said something one Sunday while we were visiting. I can’t shake it. Keep your eyes fixed on heaven, but get your head out of the clouds, he said. Mind your business, I thought.

No, it really did hit me. Translation for my life? Stop being a critic without bringing a contribution. I’d made a living doing that. The pay is terrible.

I’m asking God to do something with my imagination other than have it be an idol factory that spawns discontentment and petty thoughts. I want to bloom where I’m planted as those flowery journals at Target quip.

But part of our spiritual journeys is smashing face first into the transcendent reality that the lasting satisfaction and fulfillment we seek won’t be found this side of forever. No thing. No one. It won’t happen.

That realization should be even greater fodder for the fire of exhausting all resources in this life on the journey towards what matters most. And it’s probably not the latest facebook fight or Twitter mud slinging contest.

I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, and this is what or who God has put in front of me right now, and I’m going to catalyze those resources to make the most and best of my actual life right now—and by faith it will produce a better life and death.

Eyes on heaven. Heads out of the clouds.

I’m going to cultivate the very ground in which I’m presently planted to see the fruit that God wants to grow in me and through me, for my good, the good of those around me, and for His glory.

Selah.

Leading with Authority, part 4: True Authority

Washing_of_the_FeetTrue authority, as hinted at in parts 2 and 3, is enacted when the one in authority acts as one authorized. That is, she is under the authority of another and not acting capriciously or arbitrarily.

How, then, does true authority behave? What’s the goal for those who wish to exercise godly authority and ultimately honor God’s authority?

As Charlotte Mason says, this authority is a trust. It’s not my own. It’s a stewardship. I will never forget pastor Andy Stanley’s classic leadership talk: Leadership is a stewardship. It’s temporary. And I’m accountable. 

In other words, folks, the buck doesn’t stop here. Autonomy is an illusion. To live as autonomous, or, as a law unto oneself, is to be a lunatic living in a fantasy land. To think there will never be an accounting for the measure of authority I, you, we exercise is foolish. Anyone in authority is accountable to a greater authority, always.

With that in mind, what does Christ-like authority look like?

1. It’s gentle. That is, it doesn’t seek to cause offense to someone. We refuse to be arbitrary or unreasonable.

2. It is alert and aware. This may seem odd but think about it. Good leaders know the tendencies of those in their care. You know when certain kids are more apt to misbehave and you prepare them for those moments.

  • For example: It’s time for an assembly, which is prime time for shenanigans. Good authorities would prepare people for that moment. “I know some of you are going to be tempted to talk and cut up. Remember, we want to give respect to the person talking. We want to cultivate the habit of attention. (I may even call on a few of you to narrate back what was said at times).”
    • How much better is this than a pre-scolding and then expecting the worst?
  • So we’re alert and aware of what we know will be difficult…that last moment of play-time. The final round of a game.
    • In our house, this is illustrated best at bedtime. We have to prepare for bedtime at our house because temptation abounds–to keep talking, to get out of bed, to
    • There are those things in the life of the school day as well. Prepare the students. Be proactive. Just as Jesus repeatedly tried to prepare the disciples for his departure…though they didn’t get it.

3. Authority is marked by timely clemency and timely yielding (Mason’s words). In layman’s terms, you know when to pull back a little and ease up…when to let grace have more of a place. And you know as well when to press in and let the waters of justice roll.  But, always with care, because if everything is a something, then your authority will mean nothing to the people around you. 

  • This is so important, I’ll say it a different way. If you make everything an issue, if everything is a battle that has to be fought, you’ll exasperate your students. Just like you would exasperate a spouse. And those spouses who live with an “everything is a something” spouse know exactly what I’m saying.

We should assess our motives for why we’re addressing something. Is it truly disruptive to the class? Is it disrespectful to someone? Is it detrimental to that child’s formation? Or, most likely, does it just sort of bother me, and I don’t really like it–so I’m going to now make a quick rule, and another rule, and another.

4. Authority pays careful attention to each person and situation to determine what’s required.

  • Ephesians 4.29 really speaks into this: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    • Corrupting means rotten and worthless–like spoiled fruit
    • Building up (even in disciplinary moments)–am I highlighting and honoring the image of God in this student?
    • As fits the occasion means I am fully aware of when I should press in or pull back.
    • That it may give grace to the hearer… Like, that person should feel you have done something good for them, even if the correction or redirection was hard. They should be able to look back at that encounter and say, “I really appreciate the way Mr/Mrs. Smith spoke to me.”
      • If a young child cries because of an interaction with you, it cannot be because of an autocratic presence. It should be those moments where you’re so tender and the Spirit has room to move in their hearts that they can’t help but crumble and let the tears flow.
      • If an older student is made at you because you addressed an issue, it cannot be because you were snide or biting or shaming in any way. It should be because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and feel the shame that should come with violating godly authority.

——————— And that brings us to the application side of things—————–

On the application side, here’s what you know about yourself: you lean towards applying authority the way you saw it applied growing up, especially in your anxious moments. (if you were raised under a more autocratic, harsh, impatient regime–that’s where you’ll lean in difficult moments).

The goal is for all of us to grow up and mature, by Christ’s power, into men and women who are able to govern well within our different offices of authority and to constantly ask ourselves, “Who gave me this authority?” Answer: God. And to Him I am accountable.

And when you think about all of this at a very practical level, here’s what we know about kids of all ages (as well as ourselves)–and it’s something Charlotte Mason highlights: We must be content to lead by slow degrees.

  • What she means is we have to be okay with a little progress here and a little progress there. Because we know that human souls are not shaped in leaps and bounds. Human minds aren’t shaped in leaps and bounds.

Every little step, no matter how tiny, is an arrival.

Thus, the way in which we express authority is an act of love, because ultimately, how do we express authority if not in love? Self-denial. Self-repression. Self-sacrifice.

Lindsey and I talk often about how our worst parenting practices arise out of selfishness. When we just turn a video on for the kids rather than getting down on the floor and playing–it’s selfish. It isn’t self-denial….we call it survival. Or when we’re outside WHILE the kids are playing, but we aren’t engaged. When it’s bedtime and rather than reading, singing, and praying, we’re dictating and threatening.

A word of caution from Mason in closing. We will never govern well if we desire the favor of our subjects. If we’re easily distracted. Or if we love the easy life.

  • If any of those are a sticking point for you, it may be that God is inviting you into a different calling.

In just three weeks of school, you have already had all more contact with kids than their pastors will have with them in a calendar year. That’s crazy! We have an inescapable responsibility to steward the authority God has given us. To point these kids to Jesus in good times and bad.

So, dear brother. Beloved sister. If you don’t have a set apart time with Jesus in the morning, I’d go ahead and just call in for a sub that day. Because you cannot fulfill the calling that we’ve been given without abiding in Jesus Christ. In that John 15 sense of abiding in Christ and remaining attached to the vine, knowing that apart from him there is NO nourishment.

That abiding is also our saving grace. In it, we’re reminded that God’s grace is upon us. He knows our weaknesses and has called us still to play this particular role for such a time as this.

Solia deo gloria

Leading With Authority, part 3: How to Be an Autocrat

Part One in this series introduced the weighty reality that children are image bearers of God and, as such, educators and persons in authority over children must treat them as image bearers. This means there is no such thing as an ordinary day at school.

Part Two laid out a key distinction regarding the location of authority. Simply put, authority rests not with a particular person, but with the office that person occupies. A principal, for example, has no authority in herself, but the office of principal holds the authority. Once a person begins operating according to her own impulse and not as one authorized, she forfeits true authority and become an autocrat.

This post addresses how autocracy behaves. So, if you want to be an autocrat, just follow these simple steps!

As a reminder, autocracy is defined as independent or self-derived power.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Kim Jong Un—a person operating according to his own impulse is an autocrat.

To bring it into the classroom and make it a little more real–that impulse may even be as simple as yelling, belittling, or doling out some arbitrary punishment in order to bring oneself back to a place of calm (at the expense of the child, to be clear).

Charlotte Mason speaks of the distinction between authority and autocracy in relation to the Centurion who interacts with Jesus in Matthew 8. Jesus possessed all the authority in and under heaven. But he did not leverage against or lord it over people.

The Centurion in Matthew 8 remarked that he too was a man under authority. In other words, he recognized that Jesus did not operate according to his own agenda, enacting seemingly arbitrary regulations and harsh repercussions for disobedience.

If Jesus had been an autocrat, how might he have behaved?

  • Impatient
  • Resentful (mainly because someone isn’t giving me the respect I–not my office–deserve)
  • On the watch for transgressions
    • If you work for someone who makes you feel like he’s watching and waiting for you to fail in some way, you are probably working for an autocrat.
    • If you as a teacher are watching or waiting for a child to fail in some way, you are probably being an autocrat.
  • Swift to take offense
    • Are you easily offended?
      • As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, as a school employee—you and I are the adults in the room. And when the kids see us not behaving like adults (which is synonymous with being autocratic and arbitrary) then we are leading them where we don’t want to take them.
      • If as an adult you’re easily offended and resort to childishness, you may be an autocrat.

Another significant behavior of autocracy is the implementation of extensive regulations. A drastic penal code, Mason suggests, is necessary because an autocrat needs everyone else to know where they stand in my presence. And I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep myself in a place of calm and feeling in control.

To wrap it up, if you want to be an autocrat…

  1. Be impatient with people (think of them more as problems to be fixed or projects to be completed)
  2. Be resentful (have this thought a lot-“don’t they know who I am”)
  3. Be on the watch for someone to mess up (see #5)
  4. Be easily offended (usually a sign of immense insecurity)
  5. Be heavy on regulations, rules, commandments, and repercussions (because how else can you judge if someone measures up?)

Make these five behaviors the foundation of your leadership and you too can be an A-level Autocrat!

Accomplish more and attempt less

large_charles-spurgeon-preaching-through-adversity

Photo credit:  DesiringGod.org

I want to share a quote from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1871. Is it a coincidence that if you flip 71 it becomes 17, as in 2017?? Yes, it is. Nothing supernatural there.

Charles Spurgeon has been dubbed the Prince of Preachers. (If you’re interested in his writings or life, Midwestern Seminary has done a service to us all here.) Being the Prince of Preachers means Spurgeon brought the Word of God to life in a way you and I, well, don’t. Not because we aren’t filled with the same Spirit, but because God uses different people in different ways. You’re not the next Spurgeon any more than I am the next anyone else. You’re you. I’m me.

If you aren’t a pastor, preacher, teacher but happen to read this, the point is just as applicable. It holds true for moms who find food in the strangest of places and executives who are prepping that $300,000,000 deal. There’s no difference in God’s eyes, by the way. Don’t be fooled on either side, whether rolling in dollars or diapers.

Preaching on prayer, Spurgeon made the audacious claim that

The more we do, the more we should pray…it should be the life-blood of every action, and saturate our entire life…I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

  • What if, as pastors, we devoted less time to strategic planning and more to praying strategically?
  • What if, as teachers, we thought less about making points and more about pointing to the Maker?
  • What if, as parents, we resolved to be less busied with activity and more active in the business of prayer?

Is it possible that we would accomplish far more if we attempted far less but saturated all that we did do in prayer?

 

God forbid you catch the rabbit

Image result for greyhound chasing rabbit track

Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.

I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?

This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.

Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.

For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.

Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.

That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.

See, the target always changes.

The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.

And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.

Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”

  • What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
  • What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
  • What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
  • What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?

You get the rabbit. Then what?

It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.

 

Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about how you’re sabotaging satisfaction in life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • That relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert. I’ve maintained adequate levels of dissatisfaction my entire adult life.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race! (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog he doesn’t know exists, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downton Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? EVERY RIGHT if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, if I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass.

And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………You didn’t guess. I’ll just tell you. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

As it turned out, my unrealistic expectations were akin to Round Up. I killed whatever grass I found under my feet.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job.

It makes sense, then, that changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

Where is there joylessness in your life? Where is there discontent?

Now, what adjustments–however small–can you make to your expectations in these areas? Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.