How to Break Free From the Clutter

I’m a news addict. My first temptation when I wake up is to grab my smartphone and scroll through all the important news stories that happened in the last eight hours since I checked it before going to bed. Politico, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, Christian Post, you name it, I check it. Before long, I’m inundated, overwhelmed by things I can’t affect and problems I can’t fix. Since I hit some Christian news sites (and since Fox News regularly plays to its evangelical base), I’m constantly told what I should be angry about, who I should be angry at, and what I can to do get involved. I’m pushed, pulled, angered and overwhelmed, all within the comfort of my own smartphone.

10.21.14

Maybe it’s not news for you. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe that Facebook news feed calls to you during the night. You can be so wrapped up in others stories that you forget to live out your own. Maybe it’s that Sportscenter app that keeps you connected to the heart of your sports world. Whatever it is, we all have things that call to us, that want to captivate our attention and ultimately distract us from what’s truly important.

So what’s the answer? How do we break free from the clutter that keeps us from viewing and living life from God’s perspective? Simple. Just do what Jesus did. Luke 5:16 says this, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Go to a place. Remove your phone (or iPad, or computer, or whatever distracts you) from your sight. Get lonely, where it’s just you and God, and talk to Him. For some that’s a prayer closet. For some that’s an open Bible and a journal. For me, that’s walking around my neighborhood just before sunrise so I can watch God’s beauty unfolding into another day.

If your mind feels too cluttered, then put your phone down and pray.

How Many Words Will You Be Worth Today?

It has been said countless times, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” We repeat this endlessly because it’s true. I can write an essay on the beauty of creation, or I can show you a majestic sunset touching the African savannah. I can verbally tell you about the virtues of commitment and sacrifice, or I can show you a wife caring for her husband as he agonizes through a terminal illness. I can attempt to describe the depths of joy, or I can simply show you a baby’s laugh. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

10.20.14

So as Almighty God conveys His relentless and boundless love to us, he can and has used words, “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). But I think he’d rather show the world through pictures. And that’s where we come in. Those who call on his name. Those who lay claim to Jesus as our Savior. We’re the living pictures, walking and moving and breathing, all the while conveying to the world (through our words, through our attitudes, and most importantly, through our actions) just how much God loves this world.

The question is: how many words will you be worth today? Will you take the day off simply because it’s Monday? Will you be unintentional because there’s nothing worthwhile on your schedule? Or will you see every encounter as a divine appointment? Will you take advantage of today and make something beautiful out of it? Your audience may be large as you interact with hundreds of people today. Or it may simply be the same eight people you see at work or the same two children you take care of at home.

Today is a day to paint. Today is a day to create a masterpiece. Don’t allow apathy, unintentionally, anger or bitterness to diffuse your palette into dark and obtuse shades that mar the beauty of our Creator. Use the full spectrum of colors. Paint vividly. Laugh, cry, inspire, encourage, share, love. Give someone today a beautiful picture of God’s love in and through you. How many words will you be worth today?

I am Mark Driscoll

mark-driscoll_profile_imgNews just broke of embattled megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll resigning from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll has been a very successful yet controversial figure as he’s built Mars Hill into a behemoth, spawning over a dozen satellite locations, a university, a best-selling book and a church planting network, all while battling charges of pride, divisiveness, plagiarism, and deceptive marketing practices for those best-selling books. In past months criticism of his ministry style reached a critical mass, he was put on administrative leave while the elders of his church investigated the charges, leading to his resignation this week.

Now, the easiest thing to do here would be to simply pile on Mark Driscoll. Everyone else is. From the charges it seems like he certainly deserves it. No one would fault my ‘righteous anger’ if I did. But I want to take a different route. Mark Driscoll resigning scares me to death, and it should scare every pastor to death. Why? Because in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll. We all have selfish tendencies which, if not controlled, can poison and destroy our ministry. We all have that seed of pride that just won’t die. We’re all tempted to take the credit when God does something in our church, which can lead to the unhealthy delusion that we’re integral and vital to God’s plans. We all face stresses at home and work, which if we’re not careful can be released in divisive and degrading ways to those who work with us.

Every single pastor can have a lifetime of ministry wiped out because of a moral failing or unrepentant sin. The Apostle Paul himself was aware of this danger when he wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I preach to others I myself am not disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Instead of judging him, we should pray for him, and closely examine ourselves. If we do, we’ll discover that in a way we’re all Mark Driscoll.

Elle’s Baby Dedication Speech

Okay, Elle didn’t make the speech (it would have consisted of a series of ‘ooohs’ and fits of drooling). Last night we dedicated Elle at Mt Vernon’s Baby Dedication service. One of the things that makes these services unique is that the parents read a letter in front of everyone declaring their wishes and intent for their future child. Since she’s our fourth and since we’re Dafferns, Robin and I decided to go the humorous route with Elle’s speech. Here it is:

elle

Elle,

Your mother and I have waited twelve years for this moment. We thank God for you, especially that you’re a girl, because to be honest, if you were a boy, we wouldn’t be done yet. But praise God you are a beautiful girl! You are the cherry on our sundae, the ketchup on our French Fries, the sugar in our tea, the castle in our Disney World, the Who Dat to our football game, the caboose in our train.

We have already prophetically declared that you are going to be our easy child, which compared to your brothers is setting the bar pretty low. Zeke will inspire you with his energy, Shepherd will comfort you with his kind words, and Lincoln will do his best to use you as an MMA sparring partner. You are guaranteed lots of laughs, lots of tears, and probably a few good years worth of therapy. If nothing else you will be tough, ready for what the world will throw at you.

Your name is Emmanuelle, which means “God with us.” Your very presence on the earth is a constant reminder of God’s goodness and grace. As a girl, I know that your primary sense of self-worth will come from me as your father. It’s my job to pour worth into you, to tell you that you’re beautiful, you’re a princess, and if any boy tries to mess with you I’ll break his kneecaps. I promise to love you and set the bar so high that no stinky boy will ever come close to meeting your standards. Your mom and I will do more than just promise to love you. We promise to love each other, to fight for our marriage every step of the way, so that growing up you have a beautiful picture of how much God loves us and how much we’re supposed to love each other.

Elle, you have no idea of the wild ride you signed up for when God gave you to our family. We couldn’t be happier. Now please let us sleep through the night. Amen.

 

The World Needs More Love Letters

Hannah Brencher is an incredible young lady I met at the Catalyst Conference who’s made a dream a reality. A lonely young professional lost in the urban jungle of New York City, Hannah began writing letters and leaving them around the city as a way to lift herself out of the depression she was struggling with. She wrote one blog about it with the simple note at the end, If you’re discouraged and need someone to write you a letter, please let me know. Before she knew it she had over 400 requests from complete strangers and the rest is history.

10.8.14

 

More Love Letters is the movement that grew around her to use this simple medium of letter writing as a way to spread love and hope to others. Each week several people will be nominated to receive love letters, and then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of strangers will write, pouring in love and affirmation when a person needs it most. If you go on the website, you’ll see that right now Janice is nominated. Here’s her story (nominated by her daughter):

“My dad is 62 and has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers and my mom is the sole caregiver. She is a pillar of strength, courage, and love. Even through this disease they never stop laughing with one another. My parents celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary this past July. Losing her husband slowly has been very hard on her but she manages to put a smile on everyday and is still quite the optimist! Even with the best support system I sometimes think she feels very alone.”

If you’re interested in writing a letter and joining a movement, go to More Love Letters. (https://moreloveletters.squarespace.com)

How to Deal When Life’s Not Fair

How do you deal when life’s not fair? When decisions outside of your control are negatively influencing your life? That was the question asked of me recently by a friend. Since it’s an issue that many people face, I wanted to share my thoughts (and conversation) with you. If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully it will help you as well.

9.24.14

Her question: People always ask the question why do bad things happen to good people. What I’m struggling with is the other side of that why does it seem like good things are happening to bad people? Not even necessarily bad people but people who continuously make poor choices or selfish choices, yet they always seem to come out on top. 

Right now the main thing is I’m dealing with a situation with my husband and his son and ex-wife and her family and I feel like I have no say in the matter yet it’s affecting my life. And I’m trying to let things go and have compassion but I feel like it’s the same thing over and over and it’s taking its toll on me and I’m being bitter and resentful and angry. Those are not characteristics I want in my life. Every time I feel like I’ve let go of the situation something else comes up. I pray daily about it, but as much as I hate to say this at times I feel like my prayers are hitting the ceiling and nothing changes.I feel like as much as we try and do what’s right we are either taken advantage of or mistreated.

 

My response: So sorry to hear that! I completely understand the question (and frustration) of why bad things happen to good people, and just as importantly, why good things happen to bad people. From your perspective, it doesn’t seem fair. And you’re right, it’s not fair.

One of the consequences of The Fall (Genesis 3) in the Garden of Eden and sin entering the world is that sin screwed everything up. Sin is like a bomb that went off in the world, and we all suffer the collateral damage. When a bomb goes off, someone standing 10 feet away can walk away unharmed but someone 100 feet away could be killed by shrapnel. It’s not fair. Sin is like a bomb that went off. From a ‘fairness’ perspective, life stopped being fair in the Garden of Eden. It hasn’t been fair since.

So, your situation, although unfortunate, isn’t surprising. As you’ve obviously figured out by now, life sucks sometimes. But how can you get through this without bitterness and resentment taking root? That’s the real question.

Getting in the Bible is important because it connects us to God and ensures that we don’t have to carry our weights on our own. Here’s a great Psalm that speaks directly to where you are. Read Psalm 73. In fact, I would read it again and again, every time those feelings of bitterness come up. In Psalm 73, the writer is expressing the same frustrations that you expressed: why do the wicked prosper? why do the righteous suffer? why do people make poor choices but still seem to get everything they want? That’s right where you are.

The key verses are 16-17: 16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Psalm 73:16-17

When the writer of this Psalm spent time in God’s presence, he got the perspective he needed. He realized that even though it seemed like the wicked weren’t suffering for their choices, God knows all things, and everyone will answer for their actions, either in this life or the next.

The toughest thing for you is the lack of control. You have no say in decisions that affect your life. When you spend time with God (and especially when you read Psalm 73), it will remind you that God is in control. He is on his throne. Even though it may not seem like it, he knows the actions of your husband’s ex-wife and she will be held ultimately responsible for them.

While that may not change the outcome of her actions, it should help keep you from becoming bitter and resentful. God is in control. He’s got this thing. Another great passage is Romans 12:17-21:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

When the subject of your husband’s ex comes up, by being kind and good (instead of mean and spiteful), you’re actually leaving room for God’s wrath (v. 19). If you try and take matters into your own hands, it leaves no room for God to work. So, go with the old saying, “Kill them with kindness.” Show her grace and kindness that she does not deserve. That allows God to repay her for the hurt she has caused you.

One of the other things that’s very important (if you’re not already) is to be involved in a good Christian community. You need to be involved in a good church and in a good small group, so that other strong Christians can help you “bear your burdens” and so that you don’t have to carry the weight yourself.

I know this is a lengthy reply but I hope it helps!

My Greatest Teacher in Life

I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life. I remember Mrs. Godbier in 3rd grade, Mrs. Mastroiani in 11th grade, and Dr. Jackson in seminary. They all taught me valuable lessons in life. But if I were honest, I have one constant teacher that helps me learn more than anything I could ever dream of in the classroom. My greatest teacher is failure.

(Thinkstock)

I hope and pray that my current church members never meet up with church members of my previous churches. It might shatter the illusion for my current church members that I actually know what I’m doing. Looking back on life, I’ve made so many mistakes: professionally, relationally, and personally. I could write a book on how not to run a youth ministry. I’ve burned bridges, dropped the ball, let things fall through the cracks. I’ve failed people, overestimated my own ability, grown too independent of God and paid the price. I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in life.

And yet, for every mistake, I learned something. Mostly what not to do, but I learned something. The difference between successful people and failures in life isn’t that the successful people don’t make mistakes. Failure is unavoidable. The difference is that the successful people learn from their mistakes. Learning from your mistakes takes gut-wrenching honestly, painful humility, and a willingness to adapt and change. None of these are easy.

But if you’re willing to honestly reflect, willing to admit your mistakes, and willing to grow from them, you have access to the best lessons in the world. They’re painful lessons. They’re costly lessons. But failure can be the best teacher available to us all.

The question is, are we willing to learn?

QUESTION: What life lessons have you learned from failure?

The Best Thing About Mondays

I posted this blog at 7:00 am, but there’s a good chance you won’t read it before 10:00. It’s Monday. That day. The day of dread. You dragged into work this morning exhausted (or hungover) from another weekend. Now it’s five more days of work before you can enjoy yourself again.

9.15.14

Most folks would avoid Mondays if at all possible. You’re physically and mentally tired, and your heart’s just not in your work. You back into Mondays. You lounge longer than you need to around the coffee maker. You spend the first hour and a half catching up on the weekend with others. Once you finally sit at your desk, you spend another hour looking at every (legitimate) website you can because you’re just not ready to work yet. By the time you look up, it’s getting close to lunch, too little time to get a project started. Better wait until the afternoon (or at least until the post-lunch coma is over). Before you know it, Monday is gone, lost in a sea of inaction and unproductively. Maybe Tuesday will be better.

Here’s the best thing about Mondays: it’s an opportunity to jump ahead in your work. When the default mode for many seems to be to slack off as much as possible and work only when necessary, Monday becomes the third day of the weekend, which crams five days of legitimate work into three (Fridays are gone too since you spend all day planning out your weekend or just fantasizing about not being at work). Stress levels get higher, the quality of work sometimes suffers, no one wins.

Here’s a crazy thought: put in a full day’s work today. Your body would like another day off. Decide to not give it one. Put your mind to work. Refuse to embrace the laziness that’s calling your name. Work hard today. You’ll find yourself way ahead for the week, leaving you nothing but good options for the next few days. Your work matters. The way you work matters to God. Jump ahead in your work today.

Why the NFL Messed Up So Badly on Ray Rice

If you’re even a hint of a sports fan, then you’ve seen the headlines filled with the Ray Rice scandal in the NFL. Here’s the quick recap: casino footage leaked months ago of superstar Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging (very ungraciously) his unconscious fiancee (now wife) out of an elevator. The implication from the video and the ensuing police report that it was a domestic dispute that turned violent, leaving Rice’s fiancee knocked out cold. The NFL responded by suspending Ray Rice for two games, which was instantly declared by the fans and media at large as being much too lenient for a very serious crime. Sports blogs and talk shows lit into the NFL for the paltry message it sent about the seriousness of domestic violence. In a rare about face, the commissioner admitted he got it wrong and changed the domestic violence penalties to be much stiffer in the future. Everyone congratulated the commissioner on his transparency in the issue. Matter settled. Ray Rice was welcomed back into Baltimore. Let’s play some football.

9.10.14

And then TMZ played the other half of the video, the as yet unseen portion, showing the world what a world class athlete can do with a left hook to a woman he’s having a dispute with. It’s disturbing to say the least. The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL do yet another about face. After welcoming Ray Rice back, they cut him from the team and the NFL indefinitely suspends him. Matter settled, let’s get back to football. Wrong.

All day yesterday I listened to sports commentators ripping into the Ravens organization and the NFL at large. Why? Because they both claimed there was no way to get that other footage, the one that a celebrity gossip website apparently had no problem getting. Because the footage was so heinous that Ray Rice should have been cut immediately, not six months and multiple fan outrages later. Because the NFL knew what was on that footage through interviews, and they didn’t suspend Rice because of what he did. They suspended him because of the fan outrage of what he did. That’s not leadership, that’s just being reactionary.

The narrative coming up from the talking heads (which may or may not be proved accurate in the days to come) is that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens had one overarching goal in this whole thing: the bottom line. Ray Rice was a superstar. Ray Rice was a pillar of the community in Baltimore. Ray Rice sold a lot of jerseys and a lot of tickets. They were hoping the whole thing would just go away. The way this whole thing played out leads many to suspect that the safety of Rice’s fiancee and the ultimate integrity of the game were secondary to the desire to continue to maximize profits. That’s why the NFL messed up so badly on Ray Rice.

QUESTION: What do you think about the whole Ray Rice situation?