The Word: Halfway

The Word: Halfway

Thirteen days ago turned to page 855 in the book I’ve carried for thousands of miles. It’s been on almost every trip I’ve taken in the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve used it to prepare and preach from pulpits in both Brazil and the US. The words of Isaiah 35 brought profound insight and encouragement last December when I was in Houston. As I opened to page 855–chapter one of the Gospel According to Luke–a new and unexpected journey began.

In the Christian circles I tend to run it we frequently open our Bibles together. Usually it is because someone is teaching and asks us to open to a specific verse. Honestly, this has confused me a bit from time to time…the teacher always reads the verse, so why do we turn to it? We’re don’t read entire chapters together, and certainly don’t have the time to read entire books. Sure, it can be helpful to mark a passage or scribble some notes in the margins, but how many of us really do that during a sermon?

Still…the Word beckons.

On January 1 as I read the first word in Luke 1 (“inasmuch”), a bunch of friends did the same. We aren’t physically together and we’re not reading at the exact same time…but folks said “I’m in” and began the two month journey through Luke and Acts. Everyone is going at their own pace, which is wonderful. I’m reading 6 chapters per week in Luke, but grace is abundant. This week, Wednesday was simply too busy and I was too exhausted. So I didn’t. I shared that I didn’t. As expected, people responded with grace, not condemnation. That’s what life together is supposed to look like. That’s what we do.

Having just finished chapter 12, I am now halfway through the book of Luke. Just a few small steps every day and here I am. Halfway. Most days it takes longer for me to write a few thoughts about the chapter than it does to actually read it. This two weeks of reading has taken me to page 872. Seventeen pages in twelve days of reading. On one hand, it doesn’t sound like a lot. On the other, there has been so much ground covered. Remember…we’re reading text that was written almost two thousand years ago. It’s not necessarily all going to be straightforward and easy. It was originally written to a different people in a different culture living at a different time. Some of it seems quite foreign.

As I pause today in the journey through Luke that we’re on, I have a couple of areas I’ve personally noticed change.

Community

The last two weeks something really cool has happened. People are sending me messages letting me know they’re with me on this journey. I’m getting insightful takeaways from my friend Tamarah. I got a message from Mike letting me know he’s reading with us while he’s traveling. Some people tell me they’re behind but still with us. Dear friends are engaging with Scripture at a level they never have before. Because we are doing it together. I’m learning that we all get more out of God’s word when we go through it together. We have a longing for community because God designed us to do life together. It makes sense that His Word is experienced better together.

I’m afraid most of us carry around a lot of baggage about God’s word. Many Christians carry an unnecessary burden of guilt…perhaps because they think they don’t read their Bible enough. Or perhaps it’s because they have tried and just don’t understand it. We want to love God’s Word, but find it intimidating or unapproachable. We look around us and see Bible verses printed floating around everywhere…sometimes used like fortune cookies or horoscopes, bringing brief feelings of hope and encouragement…but sometimes used as daggers, thrown at others with the intention of drawing blood. But there has to be more, right? Surely God’s Word is more profound than a fortune cookie. Surely it has some other purpose than to wound and condemn. Unfortunately, guilt and pride keep us from opening those pages and even more, it keeps us from asking the questions we find embarrassing.

We’ve all been there. Nobody was born understanding Scripture. Way back in the early chapters of Luke it says that Jesus grew “in wisdom and stature.” It was even a process for Him. Personally, I remember sitting in Mike’s class and asking if John the Baptist was the same dude who was one of the disciples. Was he the one who wrote John, or was John just about him? Was Luke a disciple? Are Christians supposed to take every word of the Bible literally? Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? Why do people think Jesus was God? How can there be one God if the Father and Son both claim to be God? What’s up with this Holy Ghost thing…is that like Christian Gatorade or something? Do we even need the Old Testament anymore? What’s up with all those lists of names? Why don’t all Christians read the Bible?

I asked all of those questions at some time in the past 10 years or so. I’m not embarrassed in the slightest about any of them. That’s how I learned who God is. That’s how both my faith and knowledge deepened. And now that’s happening around us…as we read together, we can learn from each other. We’re all travelers on a journey and all have something to contribute. We’re a community.

Our community is a bit disorganized, but it’s beautiful. I cherish every interaction. Nothing’s off the table or out-of-bounds.

Personally

Knowing others are also reading changes my own perspective. I’m not only reacting to what resonates with me, but I’m anticipating what others will respond to as well. It broadens my view and allows the Word to challenge me in unanticipated ways.

In the first twelve chapters, I have found myself comforted by the narrative. The story of Jesus’ life and ministry is familiar. When the disciples feed the crowds, I’m delighted. As the people lean in to listen to the incredible teachings of Jesus, I’m amazed. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds…it’s like visiting old friends.

But there’s more that has been happening. In addition to the life and events, there is conflict. There are teachings that are hard. As I read Luke, I see Jesus continually warning us to stop focusing on things of this world. He tells us to seek the Kingdom of God, which seems to be a stark contrast to the kingdoms we build for ourselves. He tells us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) That brings my mind back to the woman with the alabaster flask in Luke 7, who out of gratitude washes the feet of our Savior with her tears and anoints His head with oil. This woman who had nothing pours out everything she has for Him, simply as a worshipful response to the forgiveness she has found through Him…the new life she has found. She knows Jesus and has been transformed. She is no longer who she was…she has walked away from her old life completely. Her future is completely unknown except for this…that she is trusting Jesus with it. There is deep meaning in the anointing of Jesus here, but for her it represents letting go of her “before” to step fulling into “next.”

As I read I wonder what pieces of my past am I still clinging to that are keeping me from fully following Him? I often think of emotional baggage like the tattered and worn suitcases we bring back from Brazil. Rio is really hard on luggage. But what if the weight I’m carrying around is an alabaster flask, beautiful and full of a substance of great value? Do I trust Jesus enough to break that flask and pour its contents out for Him? Do I trust Him with my future, even if it is uncertain and difficult? At the end of chapter 9, Jesus seems to be telling us that we can’t look both back at our old lives and continue forward with Him. As He said in chapter 11, “a divided household falls.” And so I look at my heart and pray the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The reality is, trusting Jesus with eternity often seems much easier than trusting Him with tomorrow.

Even so…among all these teaching that challenge me so greatly, Jesus never gives up on anyone. Sure, He rebukes Pharisees and Scribes. We see plenty of people leave His side when the teaching gets difficult or the cost of following Him grows too high. But He never turns His back on anyone. This is where I find hope. In these chapters it is abundantly clear that following Jesus is not an easy life. He never guarantees that…in fact, He repeatedly tells us the opposite. When we follow Him, though, He remains with us. He does not abandon us, even in the middle of our messes and failures, even in our deepest hurt and darkest places. When friends abandon us or tragedy strikes, He is there with us…lifting our face and pointing it toward eternity…toward a time when there will be no more tears or pain. These chapters remind me that we don’t get there by breaking our jars and unloading our baggage. Those things bring us closer to Him in the journey, but ultimately all of our hope is in Him. We get a beautiful glimpse of Him on the pages of the Gospel According to Luke.

 


On December 31 I posted an open invitation to join me in reading Luke and Acts. There are no checklists and no discussion questions, just a ragged band of misfits wandering through the Word together. I’m reading 6 chapters of Luke each week and plan to read 7 chapters of Acts per week when I get there. I set that pace because it seems achievable and I’m just dorky enough to need that kind of symmetry. Four weeks through Luke and four weeks through Acts. But if you want to take this journey, do it at your pace, not mine. Read 30 minutes a day if you want…perhaps that will be 2 or 3 chapters. Read more or less…just keep reading. I’ve been posting a few thoughts and my progress on my personal Facebook page because that’s where this all started, but I’m happy to interact with anyone anywhere. Reach out to me and let me know how it’s going. And if you’d like me to reach out to you a couple of times a week to see how you’re doing, I’d be happy to.

The Word: Six Steps

The Word: Six Steps

One week ago I cast a message in a bottle out into the sea of social media. It was both a declaration and an invitation. I publicly pledged to kick off the new year by systematically reading Luke and Acts. With that pledge was an invitation to take this journey with me. No formal plan…no checklists, daily email reminders, or study questions. There’s no medal at the end and there are no tests. Simply: read through Luke at your own pace. Then read through Acts. Share what you want to share, but don’t feel obligated to do so. 

The pace I set for myself was six chapters of Luke per week. When I got to Acts, I’d move to seven chapters per week. At that rate, it would take 4 weeks per book. It’s a reasonable enough pace that it should be approachable by someone opening the Bible for the first time. It’s also possible to catch up if you fall behind but want to stay with the group. In my Bible, each chapter is only a page or two.

Something interesting happened… quite a few friends chimed in with “I’m in.” As people volunteered to go on this journey with me, my excitement grew. After the clock struck midnight, I stayed up until about 2:30 talking with my oldest son. Right before turning in for the evening, I thought, “hey…I could go ahead and read chapter one! It’s January first!” As much as I love reading Scripture, knowing so many others were going to be enthusiastically turning to Luke 1 in the morning brought new joy to it for me, too. One of the lessons I think scripture quite clearly gives us is that we are not meant to walk our spiritual journey alone. God brings people into our lives specifically so we can encourage and sharpen each other. Every “I’m in” has affirmed this in the past week. The questions, comments, and insights shared with me through Facebook, the blog, and in person have been delightful.

Some who messaged were reading the Bible for themselves for the first time. Some were adding this to their “though the Bible in a year” plan they had repeatedly done for years. All ages and all levels of people bravely jumped in. I got questions as wide-ranging as “where can I get a Bible” to “what was the meaning of the incense at the altar in chapter 1?” It was beautiful and good.

And we made it. We’re six chapters in. We’ve taken the first six steps through the book of Luke. We’ve seen the births of both John the Baptist. We met Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Jesus grew up and was baptized. Both John the Baptist and Jesus started their public ministries. Jesus shared the beatitudes in His famous Sermon on the Plain. And so much more…

On my agenda for this next week is chapter 7-12. We will move into the heart of the ministry of Jesus. We get to see the first parable of this Gospel. Parables are simply stories told to illustrate a point and were one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach. There are a couple of parables that are unique to this Gospel, including my absolute favorite (although that one doesn’t come until chapter 15). This week we also will see quite a bit of healing and miracles as well as a few nuggets of truth coming from the lips of our savior. As you go through the week, remember that every word is important. I’d like to challenge you to contemplate both the transfiguration and the cost of following Jesus in chapter 9. Notice the attitude of Jesus toward the Father. Be on the lookout for the Holy Spirit. Notice how much time Jesus spends in prayer.

Above all else, don’t give up. If something challenges you, allow it to challenge you, but don’t let it stop you. Make a note, write down a question, but keep going. If you have trouble reading, then listen! That’s not cheating at all…that is how Christians have taken in scripture for thousands of years. The Youversion Bible app has a “play” button that reads the text to you in multiple interpretations and even multiple languages. Explore a little and find what’s right for you. The Bible.Is app has an audio option, too. Both apps are free. Even listening, you won’t understand every little thing the first time through and that’s okay. The important thing is to persist. God’s Word is designed to be read for a lifetime.

When traveling across the country, there are many options. You can fly from coast to coast. You could drive. If you’re Forrest Gump you could even run. A different perspective is provided with each. The view from an airplane gives a broad view from above. On foot you move a lot slower but get a lot more detail, experiencing sights, sounds, and smells not available from a plane. This chapter-a-day path through Luke and Acts is much more like looking out the window of an airplane than it is a road trip. We’ll see themes, events, and attitudes but might miss some of the more subtle points and people. That’s okay. Enjoy the ride and learn to long for a return trip through this same country.

Have you seen anything new or unexpected so far?

Once again, thanks stepping into this journey. One week from today we’ll be halfway through the Gospel of Luke!

The Word: Luke

The Word: Luke

A new year breaking through brings fresh start. As we take down our old calendar and hang the new, we say goodbye to last year. 2018 is a blank page, ready to be filled with stories, adventures, and friends.

For believers, a common goal each year is to dive into scripture. We know that God’s Word is important, but for some reason we struggle to establish a consistent reading habit. I’ve managed to establish this habit, which has resulted in a true delight in the Word. Sure, I can be inconsistent. Some days I honestly don’t feel like opening the book. But when I’m away too long I miss it. I long for it. It’s important for believers to be connected to the Word.

I taught small groups Bible studies at church for more than seven years. I’ve developed curriculum and guided discussion for both adults and young teens. In 2017 I stepped away from that for a time, but the love for the Word, the discussions it brings, and the lives changed has never faded. Year after year I’ve had believers express a desire to learn more about the Bible…learn to read it for themselves, understand it, and have their lives shaped by it. This year, let’s do it.

My own personal experience tells me there is nothing mystical or mysterious about Bible intake, it just takes a little persistence. It’s a big book. There are a number of different literary genres at play. While it’s possible to start January 1 with Genesis 1:1 and move straight through, that really isn’t an approach that is likely to lead to much success. While much of Genesis can be engaging, by mid-February Leviticus hits…this is where even the best intentions of Bible reading go to die. I’m not saying to avoid this book at all costs, there is plenty of great stuff there. It just takes a lot more work than other books. Why do the heavy lifting so early in the journey?

The strategy I’ve recommended for a couple of years is modest. It’s two books of the Bible, Luke and Acts. I love this approach for a number of reasons. First, both books are written by the same author so it’s the same writing style and voice throughout both books. Second, Luke was writing to an audience not intimately familiar with the old Jewish texts. Kind of like you and me. Third, Luke was highly educated and had a great attention to detail. Because of this, he paints vivid pictures of what is happening throughout both books. Fourth, Luke set out to preserve history. These two books read like part one and two of a historical narrative. Much of it reads like an adventure story. Fifth, a lot of the narrative is already familiar. The traditional Christmas story comes largely from Luke. Jesus’s familiar teaching and life events are here. Much of the passion narrative is also here. Luke includes the resurrection, Great Commission (Acts 1:8), and the ascension. Sixth, Luke includes things that you never knew were in the Bible, too. While there will be a lot that’s familiar, there are some fun discoveries to find as well…like the night Paul preached so late that a kid fell out a window and died. Yikes! It’s okay, Paul healed him. Seventh, Luke provides the “what” of the Gospel in the Gospel of Luke, while giving us the implications of the gospel in the book of Acts (the formation of the early church, evangelism, helping others).

So here’s my big confession…although I’ve shared this strategy countless times I’ve never actually done it myself. So, as I hang my brand new calendar, I’m going to walk this path. Feel free to come along with me if you like.

Here’s my plan: I’ll start with Luke 1:1 on January 1. My goal is to read 6 chapters per week, which will complete the book of Luke by the end of January. I’ll move on to Acts, which I’ll read at a pace of 7 chapters per week. That will be 4 weeks for Acts. If I go a little slower, that’s okay, too. I’ve got a lot of reading to do for grad school, so I’ll adjust as necessary. Grace happens. Once per week I’ll write up a blog post about what I’ve read that week. Six chapters are a whole lot of content, so my post will be a simple highlight or application from the week’s reading. I’d love it if you’d join me in the journey…share with me what you’re getting out of the text or your struggles. Let’s hold each other accountable, too. Sometime in March, maybe we’ll go on and start a new journey after this one.

You can get email updates when I publish a blog post by subscribing. Or just check back every now and then and see what’s new.

Dishonor

Dishonor

Stories fascinate me. When my boys were younger, I’d make up new ones for them every day. Bedtimes found us following the adventures of a possum named Dishonor Book“Worm” and a cat named “Porcupine.” There were mighty battles between our dog Pete and the geese of doom (who hatched their evil schemes at the lake down the street). Dragons, treasure, and adventure filled the night.

Stories can be a lot of fun. When stories change lives, though, something powerful happens. The most powerful stories in the universe are of redemption. Nothing resonates with our soul quite like a tale of absolution.

Dishonor is an incredible story of rescue and redemption. It tells the true story of David Mike, a soldier who became a deserter. Drug abuse left him on the run. This compelling narrative talks about capture, escape, recapture, and ultimate redemption.

Amid the almost unbelievable ups and down of this crazy adventure, we see much more than just story of chaos, confusion, and confinement. There are powerful moments like the up and down court martial where powerful twists and turns occur. Then he faces decades in prison. The reader is right there with him.

Running from the military police was terrifying. Standing in front of a judge during court martial was humbling. Those stories pale in comparison to what happened once the door was shut and this former soldier began to view the world through iron bars.

wp-1471896991264.jpgHow do you find hope when a riot breaks out in prison? What kind of peace can you find when most of the rest of your life will be spent behind bars? Each day is a fight for survival. Each moment brings temptation. In a world where most decisions are made for you, every choice becomes that much more important.

David Mike’s story is one of the most compelling narratives I’ve read since Unbroken. And it’s all true. I found myself ducking in the ditches with Mike as he evaded capture. My lip quivered as his dad walked into the courtroom. Hope faded when those doors slammed shut. And then there was light. Redemption. New hope led to new life.

I’ve had the privilege of not only reading this incredible book, but also of meeting the author in person. Not only is this one of the best redemption stories to publish this year, the man behind the story is just as authentic, inspiring, and full of hope as the words on the pages of this book. This book is the real deal, through and through.


This is the first book review I’ve publicly posted in almost 20 years. David Mike’s incredible book will release on August 30, 2016. Much of the story has been shared on his blog (here). That blog is where I first became enthralled in the story. He posted one story per week for almost two years. I began anticipating Tuesday mornings because I knew the next installment would be waiting for me when I woke up in the morning. And now, it’s a book. This thrills me so much. If ever there were a story that deserved to be published, it’s this one. It has been a joy to follow David Mike‘s journey beyond the prison walls as he has fought to publish this book. His dedication to excellence and his persistence in the process ensure that this will be something truly special. Please consider purchasing this book on 8/30 and watch it skyrocket up the charts. If you can’t buy it that Tuesday, add it to your wishlist and get it soon!

Launched

Launched

Break out? No. Break-through.
Creative Storytelling

Launch Out 2016 is over. Echos of those final goodbyes have faded. Our ways have parted. We now cling to memories of #AllTheHugs as tightly as the original embrace. Online acquaintances have become like treasured family members. Life has shifted. Nothing is the same anymore.

Two days of intersecting inspiration is complete. Months of preparation by the incredible host team and presenters paid off. Our tanks are full but we are spent. We are living in the tension of our dreams and our days. Nothing is the same anymore.

The irony was rich…wearing a t-shirt that audaciously declared to the world that I was one who would “Go CONFIDENTLY in the Direction of Your Dreams” while wearily ticking off the miles on my journey back to my ordinary life…  maybe you felt it too. But ordinary life isn’t so ordinary anymore, is it? The truth is, it never was. Now we know that. And nothing is the same anymore.

Let me share a moment of perspective again. The infamous LaunchOut hangover may be settling in. But I have a secret. I know the antidote. It doesn’t protect against every obstacle, but it helps with re-entry.

Back in my college days I knew a few people who were pros at beating hangovers. I’ve culled some lessons I learned

Find your bandwagon

from them and have them here just for you.

  1. It was called “hair of the dog.” The cause of your hangover can also be the cure. Those guys I knew in college swore that if you never were sober, you’d never have a hangover. While this probably isn’t the best advice when it comes to the intake of toxins, it is great advice for dreamers. Even though our lives aren’t continually intersecting like at LaunchOut, our dreams still are. Yes, LaunchOut is a conference, but it’s also a state of mind. You can shift your perspective at any time. Be bold. Hold tight. Keep stepping in the direction of your dreams.
  2. Community. When hangovers hit, there is nothing like a good buddy to help you through. When obstacles arise, reach out to someone you connected with or even someone you just wish you had. You don’t have to dream alone, so don’t. And if you reached out to someone and they didn’t respond, it’s possible they had #allthenotifications and simply missed yours. Reach out again. Please.
  3. Jump on the wagon. Falling off the dreamwagon hurts. What I’ve learned from LaunchOut (and the Tulsa 5 Club)
    Scan the horizon

    is that dreaming and launching works better together. My dream might not line up exactly with your dream, but as Jerrod pointed out in the opening keynote, if you find someone heading in the direction you want to go, jump on their bandwagon. Dreaming has a way of exploding when it’s done together.

  4. Perspective. You know I’m a big fan of perspective. I’m convinced many people experience a post-launch hangover because they’re looking for it. They are expecting to crash after the launch. This is where I think Randy’s vision is so brilliant… we didn’t launch a rocket, we launched a sailboat. You know what that means? Even if you drift a bit, you didn’t crash. You’re still out on the ocean. Check the wind, trim the sails, and enjoy the view. Climb up into the crow’s nest and focus on the horizon instead of your hangover.
Focus

There you have it. Tried and true remedies for the infamous but mythical LaunchOut hangover.

Keep dreaming, folks. Keep doing, too. Nothing is the same anymore.

Launch Day

Launch Day

Today was Launch Day. Day one of the LaunchOut Conference 2016 (St. Louis edition) began with a bang. This the second LO conference I’ve had the pleasure of attending.wp-1469249728458.jpg

LaunchOut is an incredible and unique conference. It allows ordinary folks to launch into and explore their dreams. It’s a chance sail away from the safety of the shore and pursue whatever makes us come alive. Entrepreneurs, writers, coaches, public speakers, and financial geniuses grace the stage. Sound and video people help everyone be seen, heard, and recorded. The vision and logistics team make a billion moving parts come together at just the right moments, even if those movements are slightly later than anticipated. They’re still perfect moments.

Boldly stepping into the spotlight to share your message for the first time isn’t easy. We don’t just show up and wing it. Applications and outlines are prepared months ahead of time. Speeches are written, rehearsed, re-written, and trashed, only to be dug out and re-worked again. Anxiety rears its ugly head repeatedly. The battle is worth it. We each have something to say. We all have something to contribute.wp-1469249799290.jpg

Why do I love this conference full of ordinary folks? It proves something I’ve known for a long time. There are no ordinary folks. Each speaker draws insights from his or her unique story. These insights are relevant to everyone in attendance. But it goes deeper…between speakers we begin to get to know those who chose not to submit a speaker application yet. They each have a unique story and special insights as well. Everyone is extraordinary.

LaunchOut gives us all the room to be fully us. Fully alive. Even if it’s for one night, we can be a public speaker. A published author. Run video. Conference photographer. Then the conference is over, and we build upon what was started here.wp-1469249924213.jpg

 

The simple reason LaunchOut is one of my favorite conferences? Community. When you step on the stage, the crowd is rooting for you. If the sound blips, the crowd thanks the sound guys for all they’ve done and the challenges they’ve overcome instead of snarling impatiently. If the night runs late, we spill into the streets and locate the nearest open kitchen to continue the conference-inspired conversations. We rejoice with each inspiring success and roll with every distraction or disruption. No matter what, we’re in this together. Even after we all return to our ordinary lives. We make friends who become like family. Friends we can believe in and who will believe in us.

 

#TeamTori

#TeamTori

Sweet baby Tori (from Tori’s Triumph – Team Tori) is healed and whole this morning. IMG_5484In light of this news, I have to write. That’s how I process stuff. That’s what I do.

There has always been something special about Tori. Even before her terminal diagnosis, her smile captivated everyone. It was a joy to see her on Instagram every day. And those eyes… they were a glimpse at the joy we all long for deep in our souls.

When she was diagnosed and throughout her illness, her incredible parents demonstrated to the world how to walk through the most difficult of times with faith and enduring joy. In the middle of the hardest times they have never stopped trusting Jesus. They have shown all of us that sometimes the answer to prayer is the presence of Jesus with us and the fellowship we have with other believers. We will never be completely healed and whole in this life, but we can look forward to the day when every tear will be dried and every pain will be a faded memory. While we wait for that day, we run our race with endurance, confident in what lies ahead. Confident in the promises He has made and the love He has for us. Even when this world doesn’t make sense. Especially when this world doesn’t make sense.

I’ve carried a picture of Tori with me for longer than I can remember. She has been with us as we worshiped in Aracaju, Brazil. She was the only guest that tagged along as Joey and I did our father/son trip to the UK. I have taken her picture with famous authors, podcast hosts, and even a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes. Of all the pictures, the oneIMG_5822 I took at the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England is my favorite. The time we have here on earth is precious. Yes, we look forward to the eternity to come, but right here and right now matters, too. This time is significant, and it will not last forever. Treasure every moment. And please, please, please…don’t let another moment pass without accepting the truth about the God who created you and sent His son into our world to demonstrate how much He loves you. None of us know how many days we have. Don’t waste a single one by running from Him

 

Embracing Wonder – 2016

I probably think about words more than a healthy person should (see: grace). Words are important to me. This end-of-year tradition of picking a word for next year is serious business! It’s a bizarre form of New Year Resolutions for readers, writers, dreamers, goal-setters, and visionaries. We get to pick one word which will steer and shape the journey our year takes. Yikes!img_7841.jpeg

As I journeyed through the dark winter months of 2015, I chose to focus on advent. As I pondered the “already/not-yet” tension of the season, I became aware of the absence of a feeling that once shaped my perspective. I remembered it fondly, realizing how vital it is. It is amazing how profound, life-shaping feelings can just fade away. The feeling that faded was my sense of wonder.

When I found Christ  in my 32nd year, my life became filled with wonder. I was captivated by the message of the Gospel. My thoughts were consumed with the possibilities… somehow this infant in a manger was the Son of God and savior of the world. My goodness…God had a son…just like me. Because of His deep love for us, He sent His son to the world to be raised by others, build close relationships, live out a ministry, stand falsely accused of blasphemy and treason, and then be unjustly and brutally murdered. As tragic as it appears, there was a beautiful purpose behind it all.

The story didn’t end there. He rose again, conquering death while proving he truly was the son of God and savior of men. All this left me wonderstruck. Each individual piece of the story bounced around inside my head, opening my mind to possibilities and implications. Yes, I had a million why questions, and I explored them. More deeply than that was the profound wonder that continued to draw me deeper.

This wonder overflowed into the rest of my life. I stared into the depths of the night sky with new awe and appreciation. The people I met–both in the States and abroad–I saw with new eyes. 20150722135153_img_7472.jpgThey were brothers and sisters joining me on a journey, each with inherent dignity and value. Even the words I wrote and lessons I taught filled me with awe and wonder, and not at myself but at the ultimate source of it all. God.

I can’t tell you what changed over the years. Life goes on. It happens to all of us. We grow accustomed to the light we live in. It becomes normal, routine, and monotonous.

I can give a thousand reasons. I’m so busy. In addition to my day job, I’ve been attending graduate school, doing public speaking, teaching, photographing, and trying to get a book published. That’s all in addition to being a father, husband, and friend. I’ve always been busy, though.

The word and goal for 2016 is to appreciate and fall back into the wonder of it all. It is to be aware of the awe that surrounds us. The seasons come and go, as do our plans and goals. A perspective of child-like wonder at the universe we’re in, the people around us, and the God above us leads to an attitude of thankfulness and hope. It brings optimism and appreciation. It fuels our gratitude and unity with others.

I rediscover the wonder in life by interrupting my day. It happens when I watch our bird feeders 20151230121410_img_0918-01.jpegor when I capture a sunset. I remember it when I read the Word without expectation. It happens when I notice.

How do you rediscover wonder?

Let’s do this together.

Part Three: Coffee

The grinder whirs as the fragrance of the most sacred bean wafts through the air. IMG_4205Coffee’s aroma always takes my mind on a journey. Like many people, I first discovered the magical beauty of coffee in college. The Aspen Coffee Company opened up downtown, creating more than just a source for a legal late-night upper, but also a gathering place. It was here that I first deeply experienced community. George, Danny, Christy, Jason, Patrick, Jeff, and a dozen others. Our lives would intersect a few hours before closing time. We would discuss homework, religion, music, class, politics, tragedies, and life. Tears of both joy and agony were shed. Together.

Coffee is more than just a drink. It isn’t merely my favorite caffeine delivery mechanism. Around here, coffee is community.

If I want to catch up with an old friend, I’ll text “hey, are you free for coffee?” Some of the names have changed, but the bonding that happens over a steaming cup of sweet caffeinated nectar of the gods remains the same.IMG_3730

It doesn’t matter if it’s at a greasy spoon over scrambled eggs and floppy bacon or a pretentious coffee joint with art in the foam. The magical thing about coffee is the connection and the community it facilitates. The chief aim of “Grace, Truth, & Coffee” is community. Unity without uniformity. Appreciating our differences while celebrating what we have in common.

We each have a finite number of days on this spinning ball of rock, let’s not waste them by building walls and fences. Let’s build bridges instead.

Part Two: Truth

Part Two: Truth

“The truth is out there.” Mulder’s words still echo from my youth. These words crash into the popular and convenient claim that there is no such thing absolute truth. But think about it…to claim there is no absolute truth is a contradiction. It’s claiming to be an absolute truth! It’s enough to make your head spin.20150927202810_img_9710-02.jpeg

At Grace, Truth, & Coffee, the second foundation we build upon is truth. We don’t claim to have cornered the market on the truth. We’re travelers on a journey, just like a million other pilgrims. We’re searching for the truth, not with arrogance and condescension but with humble grace.

Humanity has embraced a divisive view of truth… we believe that my truth is contrary to your truth and so we build walls and remain isolated. Our truths conflict, and so they keep us apart. We protect our truth that we hold so dearly while superficially affirming your truth. The problem is, we weren’t created to live divided. At our core, we need each other. We long for connections. Our soul cries out for relationship. Yes, the world is full of relative truths about things like preferences and aesthetics. Lying deeper than those are absolute truths. Some are scientific, like gravity. Some are historical, like the Visigoths or Huns. Some are moral, and these can be the most controversial. However, difficult does not mean impossible, and doesn’t negate their existence. What we find as we uncover these truths together is that they unite rather than divide.

As we pursue truth, we do so with respect. In our quest, we each bring different knowledge and life experiences. Years ago, Stephen Covey advised “seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This is our guiding principle in our pursuit of truth. We each have something to contribute, and everyone deserves to be heard.

The truth is out there. Let’s find it together.