Enjoy the Ride

We were all supposed to arrive in Nairobi on the same flight. But, we got separated in the Paris airport. I waited a couple of minutes, but as we were already in danger of missing our flight, I ran, Home Alone style, to the gate and trusted they’d meet me there.

I got to the gate just in time for the final boarding call. There was no sign of my companions. I boarded at the instance of the ticketing agent who warned me that the doors were about to close.

Maybe they were already on the plane. Maybe they beat me there. Maybe a kind airport employee had picked them up on one of the little luggage carts and taken a shortcut to get them to the gate on time.

I searched the plane. They were nowhere to be found.

I heard the door slam and the flight attendants instruct all passengers to take their seats.

I was off to Kenya.

Alone.

When I arrived in Nairobi, I found out that none of my bags had been checked to my plane. I did manage to contact my companions, who had gotten on another flight scheduled to arrive the next morning. When everyone finally got in, only four of our twelve bags – most of which were filled with donations for the ministry we’re visiting – had made it. We still don’t have the other eight, nor are we entirely certain where they are.

It’s not an adventure if everything goes as planned.

I’ve had a lot of adventures.

Every adventure – every delayed flight, every lost bag, every obstacle – reminds me that I have far less control over my own life than I believe I do.

What I do have control over is how I respond to those obstacles.

I can complain about the unsympathetic ticketing agent that wouldn’t hold the plane, or I can thank God that we all made is safely to Nairobi.

I can grumble about the incompetent employees that lost our luggage, or I can thank God for providing just enough and recognize that I can get by on a lot less than I think I can.

I can let my frustration get the better of me, or I can enjoy the ride.

Every unpredictable minute of it.

Travel Tips

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my thirty years. I’ve learned a lot about how to travel along the way. So, as I set out on my next adventure, I thought I’d share with you a handful of tips for the next time you travel.

1.     Never leave without a book… or five.

I have the worst luck when it comes to traveling. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was on a flight that wasn’t delayed (which explains why my family won't fly with me). I’m also one of those people who likes to get to the airport at least two hours early, even though I have TSA Pre-Check and even though I know the flight is not going to leave on time. The upside to the countless hours I’ve spent sitting in airports is that I’ve read many more books than I would have otherwise. So, always have more books than you think you need. You never know when you’re going to end up waiting longer than you anticipated.

NOTE: If you ask my family, they will tell you that I like to arrive at the airport five hours early. Don’t believe them.

2.     Always bring an extra pair of underwear.

The bad luck I experience when traveling extends well beyond delayed flights. Once, when I was going to Ireland, I spilled an entire cup of Starbucks down the front of my shirt and pants just as I was settling in for the six-hour flight. I’m not easily embarrassed, so the coffee stains didn’t bother me in the least. But, sitting in coffee-soaked underwear? That’s not all that enjoyable. The moral of the story is always have an extra pair of underwear readily available in your carry-on. Or, just don’t spill your coffee.

3.     Be open to getting out of your comfort zone.

I tend to keep to myself when I travel. I am not that person who strikes up a conversation with the stranger trapped in the seat next to me. I’m more of the put-on-my-headphones-pull-out-my-book-and-avoid-eye-contact type. But, I’m also the person that always ends up next to the strike-up-a-conversation type. I used to try to send subtle signals that I didn’t want to talk. As it turns out, the type of person that likes to talk to strangers on airplanes is also the type of person that can’t read social cues. So, I gave up. Do you know what I found? People are fascinating, and God works in mysterious ways. Since I began engaging in conversation with the folks that wanted to talk, I’ve only sat next to a Christian once. He has opened up countless opportunities for spiritual conversation – and opportunities for me to share my faith. I would have missed out of them all if I hadn’t been willing to get out of my comfort zone. Talking to strangers on airplanes may not be out of your comfort zone, but what is? What might God want to do in you and through you, if only you’d step out? You might learn something. You might encourage someone. You might even make a friend.

4.     Be exceedingly kind to the ticketing agents.

Ticketing agents deal with cranky travelers all the time. Don’t be one of them. Also, they could “accidentally” send your bags to the wrong city.

NOTE: I have had my bags sent to the wrong city, but I don’t believe it was because I was rude to the ticketing agent. I have, though, witnessed travelers berating men and women just trying to do their job and I would be tempted to send their luggage to Bangkok. if I were them. I wouldn’t do it, of course. But, I would be tempted.

NOTE: This recommendation applies to TSA agents, flight attendants, fellow passengers (especially those traveling with small children), and the rest of humanity.

5.     Write down your stories.

I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. I always make it about four entries before I give up for six months, at which point I decide to, once again, dedicate myself to journaling and, obviously, have to buy a brand-new journal. I have dozens of journals that completely blanks, save for the first three pages. A friend of mine, though, encouraged me to start writing down stories during my travels. Admittedly, I’ve only recently taken up this practice, but I plan to continue. Reflecting at the end of each day – even for just a couple of minutes – has allowed me to capture experiences and conversations I would have otherwise forgotten. It has also helped me think about and articulate what I learned. I don’t want to squander the unique learning opportunities that travel affords. Writing it down helps me make the most of the experience and provides the added benefit of being able to revisit those lessons later.

NOTE: As you jot down your stories, think about how you could tell them succinctly. People will ask about your trip, but most will lose interest if you start to ramble (a special thanks to those friends that indulge my rambling). So, decide on the couple of stories or lessons you want to share and think about how you would tell them in less than five minutes.

NOTE: If you can’t fathom telling only a couple of stories, I would highly recommend starting a blog, so you can share to your hearts content.

Well, that’s all folks. I’m off to Nairobi. I hope these tips prove useful, in your travels and in your day-to-day.

Here’s to the next adventure – mine, and yours.

Heroes

I was introduced to the writing of C.S. Lewis when I was a junior in college. His work has since profoundly influenced my faith in Christ, perhaps more so than anyone else.

Mere Christianity captured my mind and invited me to think reasonably about what I believe. The Chronicles of Narnia captured my heart and drew me to a deeper love for Christ. The Weight of Glory compelled me to consider the responsibility I have to others in encouraging their spiritual maturity. The Screwtape Letters unveiled the subtly and horror of spiritual warfare. A Grief Observed taught me to pray raw and honest prayers to a God who can handle my brokenness and even my anger and disappointment at a broken world.

Lewis is, undoubtedly, one of my heroes in the faith.

I never got to meet Lewis. He passed away decades before I was born.

But, I got to meet another hero of mine while I was in England last month.

You've probably never heard of him.

His name is Walter Hooper.

Hooper was Lewis’s secretary the last year of his life.

The publishing company that put out Lewis’ books was planning to pull them from print, as was, at the time, common practice when an author passed away. Hooper, a native of North Carolina, resolved to stay in England and dedicated himself to keeping the legacy of Lewis alive. He fought to keep Lewis’ writing in print and he succeeded. He also compiled and published thousands of letters written by Lewis.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that if we didn’t have Hooper, we wouldn’t have Lewis. That is, he would not be as widely known, read, or regarded as he is today.

It’s tempting to envy how God has gifted another. It’s tempting to become discontent in how God has gifted us. It’s tempting to succumb to the notion that those who receive recognition and acclamation for their influence, like Lewis, are the ones who are really making a difference in the world.

But, we need those able to stand on the stage and those able to build the stage.

For the Christian community to function as it was intended, we need everyone pursuing a unified purpose by way of their distinct giftedness. We are not to compete with one another, but complement one another.

Lewis used his gifts, and Hooper used his. God is still using Lewis to change hearts and minds. God used Hooper to make such change possible.

That’s why Walter Hooper is also, though for different reasons, my hero and why it was such an honor to meet him. I owe him a debt of gratitude for humbly using his gifts so that another could use theirs.

Lessons from Aidan (Part Three)

I’ve talked about a remarkable man I met named Aidan Mackey a couple of times now.

On my last night at Oxford, Aidan stood up after dinner and asked if he could say a couple of parting words.

The first thing he said was, “People often think that because I speak with an English accent I know more about any given subject than they do. They are wrong.”

You can read more about that here.

The second thing he said was, “People often think that younger people have nothing to offer older people. They are wrong. I get at least as much, if not more, out of conversations with those younger than myself, than they get from me.”

He joked that this was to his advantage given that, at ninety-six, almost everyone is younger than he.

To be honest, I only half-believed him. At thirty-one, I felt I had little to offer a man as wise and as godly as Aidan. That, once again, speaks to his humility.

But, I know he’s right.

The older I get, the more I realize I have to learn.

I can learn a lot from those older than me. I have learned a lot from those older than me.

But, I can also learn a lot from those younger. I have learned a lot from those younger than me.

I have – or could have – learned from almost anyone I’ve encountered, not despite our differences, but because of them.

The problem is that I don’t often stop to listen. The problem is that I can be distracted or even defensive. The problem is that I can be so arrogant that – consciously or not – I don’t believe that someone different from me has anything to teach me.

I want to slow down. I want to pay attention. I want to be open to learning.

Lessons from Aidan (Part Two)

I met Aidan Mackey in England a couple weeks back. He has long been considered the foremost scholar on G.K. Chesterton. I was in Oxford for a course on C.S. Lewis and Chesterton had an enormous impact on Lewis, so Aidan joined us for a number of meals.

Aidan stood up on our last evening together and asked if he could share just a couple of parting thoughts.

“People often think that because I speak with an English accent I know more about any given subject than they do. They are wrong.”

We all chuckled because, well, he was speaking to a group of Americans.

But, what Aidan said was true.

We are all so easily be taken by people that sound intelligent.

I assume that if they speak with a sophisticated accent or use big words or have a string of letters behind their name, they must know what they’re talking about.

I even do this with people who simply sound confident.

I assume that if they speak with such great conviction, they must have really given their position the thought and consideration it deserves. They obviously must know what they’re talking about.

But, is that really the litmus test for truth?  Of course not.

It can’t be.

Aidan is intelligent. But, all the more so because he knows that there is more to intelligence and more to truth – than just sounding intelligent. There is more to truth than just claiming something, wanting something, even willing something to be true.

The measure of truth is the Author of truth.

The wise – like Aidan – know that.

We shouldn’t assume that people who sound intelligent are. Or those who speak confidently are right. We shouldn’t assume that every truth claim is truthful.

Let’s, instead, be wise. Let’s submit, first and foremost, to the Author of truth and the Source of all wisdom. Let’s measure the truth, first and foremost, against Him.

Lessons from Aidan (Part One)

I had the distinct honor of meeting Aidan Mackey in England a few weeks ago when I was in England. I had never heard of him before, but I learned quickly that he is regarded as the foremost scholar on G.K. Chesterton.

Aidan did not claim such an honor for himself. He was adamant that he was neither a scholar nor an academic in the proper sense. But, he was, after all, president of the G.K. Chesterton Study Centre and if the British Library entrusts you with eight boxes of the renowned Chesterton’s personal belongings, you’re a scholar – proper or not.

Aidan served in the British Air Force during World War II. He said he was stationed in Africa because it was where they believed he would do the least damage. After the war he spent most of his career as a teacher and headmaster. He had seven daughters and speaks of them with warmth and pride and delightful British humor. He told us that when a young man asked his blessing for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Aidan said, “I would love to give my daughter to you in marriage, but I need to know that you can provide for a family. After all, there are nine of us.”

When we asked how he came to be the foremost scholar on G.K. Chesterton, he, again, denied it and gave the humblest answer I could have imagined.

“There have been many unfair things that have happened in my life.” he said, “Mostly to my benefit.”

Aidan takes no credit whatever.

He isn’t suffering from low self-esteem. He’s embracing self-forgetfulness.

When I think about the unfair things in my life, I focus on things that have not been to my benefit.  I’m happy to take personal credit for those things that were to my benefit.

But, the credit for success is not mine to take.

Every good thing I have has been given to me by God.

I can decide what I do with what I’ve been given, but I can’t take credit for the good things I’ve been given.

I could use a little more self-forgetfulness.

I could do to express gratitude for the graciously unfair things that God brought into my life.

I could learn and live the humility of Aidan.

Choosing Joy

I met Margie on a flight from Charlotte to St. Louis. She and Jackie, her best friend of sixty years, were on their way back from visiting Margie’s daughter.

I took the aisle seat and prepared to avoid two hours of small talk by pulling out my headphones. Margie said, “Now, are you going to cause any trouble on this flight? Because this row only has enough room for one trouble-maker and I’ve already got that role covered.”

“No,” I said. “The flight attendant asked me sit here, so I could keep you in line.”

I put my headphones away.

We talked for the rest of the flight.

She told me she wanted to get a BB gun she could scare off the squirrels that congregated outside her apartment window, but Jackie wouldn’t let her. “It’s just not safe, Marge,” Jackie piped in. “You’re a terrible shot and you’re liable to hit someone.”

Marge rolled her eyes and looked to me for support. I gladly complied. “You should definitely get a BB gun, Marge. Jackie, mind your own business.”

Margie told me about the time she and Ruthie mooned Jackie and Frannie when they were out golfing. Jackie, without looking up from her book, said, “Seventy-nine is too old to be mooning people, Marge. Nobody wants to see your wrinkly behind.”

Margie leaned over and told me not to listen to Jackie. “She reads those dirty romance novels. You can’t trust her.” This time, Jackie looked up. “I’m reading John Grisham! Marge, don’t tell people I’m reading dirty books!”

I laughed at the banter between these old friends. Jackie went back to her book and Marge and I went back to talking.

Marge hasn’t had an easy life. When her first husband lost his battle to cancer, she took a job in the hotel management industry that kept her on the road and away from home most of the time. She remarried in her mid-fifties and enjoyed two decades with her second husband before he lost his battle to Parkinson’s. Margie is eighty-seven now. She moved into assisted living a couple months ago. Her health is declining and the pain in her left hip has stripped her of the independence she loved.

But, she has no complaints and no regrets.

I asked her how she had cultivated such a joyful spirit despite all the heartache she had experienced.

“God has been so good to me,” she said. “Even in the darkest times, He gave me reason to be grateful. You can’t choose what God will ask you walk through, but you can choose how you walk through it. Oh, there's been heartache, to be sure. I've cried a lot of tears and I still deeply miss the people I've lost. It's just that I decided a long time ago I didn’t want to waste a single minute of my time dwelling on what might or should have been. Cranky old people start out as cranky young people. Don’t be a cranky young person, Casey.”

I won’t be.

Thank you Margie. I’m glad I took my headphones off.

Hurried

The gate attendant announced that we would be boarding shortly, so I put my book away and got in line. When they called my group, three grown men shoved past me to get on the plane first.

We were in the first boarding group. We had assigned seats. The overhead bin space was not going to be full. There was no reason to hurry.

But, hurry is what we do.

I’ve been noticing the symptoms of hurry a lot lately.

I was in Utah for vacation, driving on a windy, narrow mountain road with my siblings, when a truck came barreling up from behind. Our pace (the speed limit) was evidently too slow for him, so he swerved into the opposite lane to get around us. Mercifully, no one was coming, because he certainly wouldn’t have been able to see around the bend if anyone was.  As it turns out, he was going the same place we were. He “beat” us there by seconds.

I was trying on a shirt at a small boutique later that week. Through the dressing room curtain, I heard a customer tell the saleswoman that she was ready to try on her clothes. The saleswoman told her that there was only one dressing room (mine, for the moment) and, as soon as I finished, she would be able to use it. She kindly offered to hold the woman’s clothing if she wanted to continue browsing while she waited.

“But, I’m ready to try my clothes on now,” said the clearly impatient shopper. “So, what do you suggest I do?”

I confess that a part of me wanted to take my sweet time in that dressing room.

Hurry is just what we do. It’s a habit.

Often, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, much less know why we’re doing it.

“Hurry,” writes John Ortberg, “is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”

I don’t know what’s disordered in your heart. I know – at least in my more honest moments – what’s disordered in mine.

I prioritize productivity over people and movement over memories. I think more about what’s ahead of me than what’s right in front of me.

Life is short. Too often, it’s way too short.

Let’s slow down. Let’s learn to wait. Let’s find out what we have been missing. Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s stop and, quite literally, smell the roses.

Let’s get our hearts back on track.

The Aim of Faithfulness

When I stepped up to take my first shot, I noticed that the target was kind of, well, blurry. I hadn't picked up a bow and arrow in years, but I didn't remember the concentric circles having fuzzy edges.

As it turns out, I had forgotten to put in my contacts. This happens more often than it should. How I didn't notice they were missing before that moment is beyond me.

I didn’t hit the target once.

I hit the floor a few times, almost took out a ceiling light, and I’m pretty sure I got a piece of the target next to mine.

But where I was supposed to be aiming? No such luck.

After this series of failed attempts to land an arrow anywhere near the target, I went out to my car to see if I had a backup pair of glasses. I did.

They changed everything.

I could see the crisp lines of the target clearly. I knew right where I was aiming. Even with my glasses on, it still took a while to get the hang of it. But, as time when on, as I kept trying, assessing my shot, and correcting my aim, I got better.

By the end, I was certainly no Robin Hood, but I had managed to hit the mark with far more consistency and precision than when I began.

I wonder if that’s how we sometimes approach faithfulness to God.

The target is blurry. We’re not entirely sure where we’re aiming, so we end up hurling arrows in the general direction we think they’re supposed to be heading. But, day after day, month after month, year after year, we’re not getting any closer to the mark.

But, what if we were to look through the lens of Scripture?

What if we allowed God to correct our blurry vision?

The crisp lines of the target would start to come into focus. We'd find that the aim of faithfulness to God is made clear.

Jesus was once asked, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" In other words, "Jesus, what is the aim of a faithful life? What is the target of obedience?"

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,'" He said. "' And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love God.

Love people.

That is the aim of faithfulness to God.

The question is whether or not we will land closer to the target today than we did yesterday.

Chapter One

Three weeks ago, I sat across from two of my oldest and dearest friends at my parents’ kitchen island. We hugged and laughed and caught up after months apart.

Dick told me that he missed my writing. He said that he hoped I would pick it back up again. I promised I would when life slowed down. I promised I would when I had more time.

Dick went home to be with the Lord last Friday.

I’m writing again.

Because life isn’t slowing down.

Because I’ll never have more time.

Because my friend encouraged me to write.

I’m writing again, but, today, words feel so inadequate. This morning, we gathered to celebrate this sweet man. His family and friends shared their memories and we sang “Happy Trails” in his honor.

I have so many memories of my own.

Dick donned a toga and waved a palm leaf in honor of the “king” at my father’s 60th birthday.

He asked me to be his partner the last time we were at a Barn Dance together – and he didn’t mind at all that I wasn’t very good.

He made me the first Manhattan I ever tried.

He gave the best hugs.

He could always make me laugh.

And he taught me so much.

He taught me the proper way to chop wood.

He taught me to savor friendship.

He taught me that when you love someone, you tell them - a lesson I wish I had learned so much earlier.

He was more family than friend.

I loved him so much.

I'm rambling, I know. But, I am trying to find words worthy of this man and I'm coming up short.

C.S. Lewis closed The Chronicles of Narnia with the most beautiful – and, perhaps, the most comforting – words for a Christian faced with the loss of a brother. Dick was well-acquainted with my love for C.S. Lewis, so I don't doubt that he would patiently indulge me.

“And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

I hold to the promise that, one day, we’ll step into that greatest of adventures alongside you. But, until then, my dear friend, we will miss you. And we will love you always.

S.E.P.s

I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I love Douglas Adams. If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, I would highly recommend it. It’s fantastic.

The story begins with a man named Ford Prefect rescuing his friend, Arthur Dent, from a doomed Earth. As it turns out, the Vogons, a rather unpleasant race of aliens, intended to demolish it to make way for an intergalactic bypass. Ford and Arthur are picked up by a spaceship called the Heart of God. They go on to have myriad adventures as they explore the galaxy.

On one such adventure, Ford and Arthur mistakenly go too far back in time and find themselves, once again, on Earth (before it was destroyed) at a cricket match. Arthur is beside himself with joy at being back on his home planet and Ford, who wasn’t actually from the Earth, is behaving quite oddly.

“He was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot…

’Something’s on your mind, isn’t it?’ said Arthur.

’I think,’ said Ford… ‘that there’s an S.E.P. over there.’

He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking.”

Arthur inquires as to what, exactly, an S.E.P is.

“’Somebody Else’s Problem,’ said Ford… ‘An S.E.P… is something that we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem… The brain just edits it out; it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.’”

The S.E.P. turns out to be a spaceship belonging to a man named Slartibartfast, but, if you want to know who he is and why he landed his spaceship at a cricket match, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself.

It is the concept of an S.E.P. that I find so fascinating.

Ford, at least, understood that his brain was editing out the S.E.P.s and, so, knew to look for them. Arthur, on the other hand, had no clue that there might be more to the world than what his brain was processing.

I’m, too often, more like Arthur than I am Ford.

I’m unaware that I’m unaware. I miss so much that is right before me because I’m not looking for it. I miss opportunities to listen, to serve, to give, to love.

Those opportunities are just "somebody else’s problem."

Here’s the problem with S.E.P.s. If we are all editing them out, then “somebody else’s problem” becomes “nobody’s problem.”

It doesn’t take jumping around and waving our arms and blinking a lot to see our S.E.P.s.

It just takes paying attention to what’s right in front of us.

Let’s pay attention.

Faithful Servants

Yesterday was an important day.

Billy Graham celebrated his first day in Heaven.

Graham was (and now is more than ever) totally devoted to Jesus.

He gave his life to spreading the message that in Jesus – and only in Jesus – we can be forgiven of our sins and enjoy a reconciled relationship with the God of the universe.

The impact Graham had on our world is nearly impossible to overstate. Through his preaching and teaching, God changed the hearts and lives of countless men and women.

He wasn’t a perfect man, by any means. But, he was a man committed to his Savior. When I heard that he had passed away, could almost hear Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our loss is his gain.

Yesterday was important for another reason, though.

It was a celebration of a different sort.

It was my Mama’s birthday.

Most of the world has never heard her name. She has never preached before millions or written a best-seller or met with international leaders.

But as I thought about the impact that Billy Graham has had on the world, I thought also about the impact she has had on my world.

I’ve watched her begin every day by spending time with Jesus – listening to Him and talking with Him as with her best friend.

I’ve watched her open her home to hundreds of people.

I’ve watched her prepare thousands of meals (and batches of cookies) for family and friends and neighbors and just about anyone else that God allowed to cross her path.

I’ve watched her go through cancer with gratitude for each day and then seek out other women going through that same hell, so she could encourage them and pray for them.

I’ve watched her give generously of herself and whatever else she had to those in need.

I’ve watched her humbly serve without complaining even when those of us she serves fail to serve her in return – or, often, to even thank her.

To have a heart like that.

She teaches me more about the love of Jesus every single day.

She makes me want to know Him more and love Him better every single day.

I’m less like Jesus than I want to be, but more like Him than I would have been without her.

Here’s the point.

There is more than one way to be a good and faithful servant of Jesus.

Billy Graham was faithful to the call God made on his life and, as a result, God used him powerfully. My Mama – Chrissy – has been faithful to the call of God on her life and, as a result, God has used her and is using her powerfully.

We need the Billys. We also need the Chrissys.

I, for one, am grateful for both.

You will be missed, Billy.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

The Heart of Lent

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent – the forty days leading up to Easter.

Christians around the world fast during this season as a reminder of the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Jesus.

To be honest, I haven’t given anything up for Lent in, well, years.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the call to self-denial and self-sacrifice in preparation of the celebration of Easter.

It’s just that that’s not why I ever participated in Lent.

I participated in Lent because, consciously or not, I understood it to be an opportunity to drop a couple of pounds under the guise of spiritual discipline. I never gave up sugar so that I could better reflect on the self-denial and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I gave up sugar because I wanted a better body.

I’m not saying that anyone who gives up sugar – or anything else, for that matter – must have a skewed heart or skewed motives. If sugar is an addiction for you, giving it up may, in fact, serve as a reminder that Jesus gave Himself us so that we could be free from any and every stronghold. So, please don’t hear condemnation for what you’ve given up in the past or intend to give up this year.

I’m telling you about me. I’m telling you about my heart and my motives.

I have a remarkable propensity for taking what is intended to fix my eyes on Christ and twisting it so I can keep my eyes on myself.

Maybe you can relate.

If you can, let’s, together, agree to do Lent differently this year.

If we give up anything, let’s make it that which places us, rather than Jesus, at the center of the story.

After all, Lent is not about what we can do for ourselves.

Lent is about remembering what Christ has already done for us.

Grayscale

What is Christian maturity?

That’s the question a seminary professor I once had posed to our class.

We sat in silence for a moment before one brave soul raised his hand.

“Maturity is knowing how to navigate the gray,” he said.

That may have been the most profound thing I learned all semester.

What he meant was there are a lot of gray issues in life – issues over which honest, intelligent Christians disagree.

Maturity is learning how to navigate those issues as Jesus would have us navigate them – with wisdom and love and respect.

However, I would make more explicit what I believe my classmate intended to imply in his definition.

Maturity is knowing how to navigate the gray and how to discern the black and white from the gray. Maturity is standing firm on the black and white and embracing freedom in the gray.

We tend, though, to either see the world as entirely black and white or as entirely gray.

The former is dogmatism. The latter is relativism.

Dogmatism, as the lens through which we see the world, leaves no room for honest debate or agreeable disagreement. It assumes than anyone with a dissenting view is ignorant or, perhaps, even malicious. Dogmatism, more often than not, is based on personal opinion, rather than objective truth. For example, there are Christians dogmatic about how they believe God created the universe. The black and white of Scripture is that God created the universe. The how is gray. But, dogmatism is uncomfortable with gray and so tries to convert gray issues into black and white ones.

Relativism, on the other hand, leaves no room for conviction. If everything is gray, then right and wrong is wholly determined by the individual. That simply doesn’t align with reality. It breaks down with the slightest push. For example, if I stole your wallet you would protest that what I did was wrong. But, if you’re a good relativist, you’d have to admit that, though you’d prefer I not steal your wallet, I didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe I believe stealing to be right. It’s all relative. It’s all gray.

Here’s the point.

There is truth. There is right and wrong. There is black and white.

But not everything is black and white. God has given us enormous freedom within the confines of His objective reality.

Christian maturity is learning which is which and living accordingly. Christian maturity is learning how to navigate every issue in such a way that we represent and reflect the heart and character of Christ.

As Augustine once said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Stars and Legends

Blaze debuted at the Sundance Film Festival a couple weeks ago.

Director Ethan Hawke masterfully tells the story of Blaze Foley, a country singer/songwriter who had a lot of hard breaks, made a lot of poor decisions, and died too young – but wrote beautiful lyrics.

In one scene, Blaze and his wife are riding in the back of a pickup truck, dreaming about the future.

“You’re going to be a star,” she tells him.

“I don’t want to be a star,” he says. “Stars are selfish. Stars shine for themselves. I want to be a legend. Legends are after something bigger than themselves. Legends write and play for others. Legends leave something that lasts.”

Stars and legends both shine.

The difference is for what purpose they shine.

To be seen or so that others can see.

To seek to be served or to seek to serve.

To be self-centered or to be others-centered.

Neither stars nor legends, in the Blaze Foley sense, become such overnight. Each comprises thousands of choices in thousands of mostly mundane moments.

One such moment is before you – and before me.

Let’s make it legendary.

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

Four employees were held hostage at Swedish bank in 1973 when a botched bank robbery turned into a six-day standoff between the captors and the police. The incident, now decades past, would have been long forgotten save for an interesting twist.

The captors and captives bonded.

In fact, when one of the hostages spoke with the Swedish Prime Minister on the phone during the standoff, she said she trusted her captives fully, but feared she would die at the hands of the police.

She trusted her captors over her liberators.

The situation was so remarkable that it was dubbed “Stockholm Syndrome.”

It describes the implausible love of a captive for his captor.

It’s absurd.

But, I get it.

Sin is slavery. It takes me captive. It holds me hostage.

Yet, I choose it. I submit to it. I even love it.

The Bible says that we all do.

It’s a spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.

We have a Liberator. He offers us freedom.  He is decidedly on our side.

Let’s call sin what it is – a Captor.

Let’s, instead, trust our Liberator. Let’s love Him. Let’s choose Him.

To do otherwise is absurd.

Circles

Let’s try an experiment.

You’ll need a bandana, sidewalk chalk, an empty parking lot, and a friend (to make sure you don’t walk into a wall).

Draw a long straight line and stand at one end. Your task is simple. Walk that straight line blindfolded.

You can’t do it – at least not for more than a couple of yards.

Researchers have tested this and found absent external references points people will walk – get this – in circles, all the while convinced they are walking in a straight line.

What researchers don’t know is why this happens.

I don’t know either. But, it got me thinking.

Could it be that we weren’t made to be internally directed?

Could it be that we were made to orient ourselves to an external reference?

Here’s what I’ve noticed. When I take my eyes off of God – off of who He is, what He has done, and who He created me to be – I end up walking in circles.

I don’t need just any external reference. I need Him.

He the standard by which every part of me is measured. There is no other.

That’s why the author of Hebrews encouraged us to keep our eyes on Jesus, “the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

He is the beginning and the end and everything in between.

He has His heart set on me – and on you.

Let’s stop walking in circles.

Let’s set our eyes – and our hearts – on Him.

A Purpose Greater

Today, we remember a great man.

A man who stood up for justice.

A man who refused to resort to violence.

A man who rallied millions.

A man who paid with his life.

A man who changed our nation.

“Use me, God,” he once prayed. “Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”

We need more men and women like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need more men and women who will seek God and submit all they are, all they want to be, and all they can do for the sake of a purpose greater than themselves.

Let’s not just remember him today and, tomorrow, remain unaffected.

Let’s be those men and women.

Our nation – our world – needs us.