September 2010


There are moments when you know that the pain and heartache of parenting is all worth it: watching your child take his first steps.  Helping them learn to ride a bike without training wheels.  Discovering that they’ve put underwear on the dog.  And snapping a picture of them wearing Target sacks over their shoes so you can later post it on your blog.

Before you start an Adopt-a-Franks-a-Thon to raise money to buy my kids some shoes, please know that this was their choice.  If you don’t live in North Carolina, you should know that we’re in the middle of a monsoon.  Austin was insistent that he wear his flip flops today; but didn’t want his feet getting wet while walking from the house to the car or the car to the school.  Jase…well, Jase is blond, and didn’t realize that his tennis shoes didn’t need three-ply plastic.

And so, for twenty minutes before we left the house this morning, I heard the swish-swish-swish-AHHH I SLIPPED AND MAYBE BROKE MY CLAVICLE! of plastic sacks on feet.  I thought about how proud Al Gore would be that we were reducing our carbon footprint (there’s a pun there somewhere, I can feel it).  And I told them multiple times that they looked ridiculous.  Because I’m an honest dad, and they did.  And even when I pulled out the phone to snap a picture, I said, “Come on guys, smile!” to which Austin replied, “This is a serious moment, dad.”

But the best part came when we pulled up to Austin’s school.  He had, of course, forgotten that the sacks were on his feet.  So he started ripping them off like an epileptic windmill before any of his friends saw him and started deducting cool points (these are the same 8th graders that listen to Justin Dweeber and swap Silly Bandz like they’re gold bricks, so what do they know about cool points, but still…).  So he ripped off the plastic, tossed them in the floorboard of the car, and then launched out of the Hooptie Deux to start the school day.

And then stepped directly into a very deep puddle of water.  With both feet.

A wise man once said that reality is the best teacher.  If that’s the case, then this weekend reality was one of those nun-style teachers with a ruler that raps you on the knuckles.

Last month I put you to sleep with this post about the ten year anniversary of our move to North Carolina.  This weekend, our oldest NC friends spent a couple of days with us as we walked down memory lane and then realized the next time we traveled memory lane it would be in a Hoveround®, because apparently we’re ancient.

It was significant that we celebrated the anniversary of us meeting a month after the anniversary of our move, because even though Greg & Kelly English were our next door neighbors, it wasn’t until four weeks into the deal that they actually spoke to us.  Not that we’re still bitter about it ten years later, because I know Greg had a Sunday School lesson to prepare and four weeks was just enough time to make sure I’d carried in the last box and he didn’t have to help me do one. Single. Thing.  (Again I want to stress: I’m not bitter.)

So on Saturday we drove over to Wake Forest to kick around Southeastern’s campus, including the seminary ghetto neighborhood where we lived.  (We made a few pictures in front of our old apartment, but it wasn’t my best glamour shot ever, so you can’t see it.)  And as we drove around the New and Improved Wake Forest, we sounded like crotchety old people: “These kids don’t know how good they have it!  Them with all their fancy Krispy Kremes and Red Robins!  Back in our day we had to drive all the way to Raleigh to go to the Wal Mart. It’s a wonder we even got a theological education!”

That night’s conversation, however, was the final nail in the coffin.  We reminisced about the ages of our kids when we were in seminary.  Greg & Kelly’s oldest son Tyler was just a little guy (not too little to actually help me unload the moving van even though his dad was sitting on the cou…ooops.  I’m not bitter.).  Jacob was four years old.  Now Tyler is starting his freshman year at George Mason and Jacob just hit high school.

And then one of us – I can’t remember who because of all the senior moments – said something sobering: “You know, we could be sitting here in another ten years as grandparents.”

That’s ridiculous.

I’m not old enough to have a ten-year plan that includes the word “Grandparent.”  I drive a grandpa’s car, sure, but that doesn’t make me one.  My wife is prettier than the day we met, if that’s possible.  I’m paying for kids’ braces.  I still feel very…um…

…what was I saying?

You kids get off my lawn.

I’m a schedule-keeper.  My day is generally broken down into 15-minute segments, and all of those segments are generally spoken for by 8:30 AM.  I might answer emails for 45 minutes in the morning (3 segments), have a Sunday planning meeting before lunch (6 segments), and do some marriage counseling in the afternoon (4 segments).  Did I say I’m a schedule-keeper?  I meant to say I’m a psychotic task-driven second-by-second type A guy that sucks all the fun out of life. Same thing.

But a few months ago I was reminded of a phrase one of my college professors used.  I only remember him saying it once, but once was all I needed to have it lodged into my brain for nearly 20 years.  He said, “Jesus had a ministry of interruption.  You will too.  You can either love your schedule, or you can love people.”

Just a simple reading of the gospels backs this up. Jesus was a man on a mission, but he didn’t overlook the fact that people were his mission.  Mark 5:21-43 is the story of Jesus healing two people – one of whom interrupted him on his way to his original purpose.  (It’s a good thing I wasn’t allowed to be Jesus (for multiple reasons), because I would have grouched to the disciples: “Now look what’s happened! That bleeding lady has put me behind, the little girl is dead, there’s NO WAY I’ll be able to make my 3:00 with that tax collector guy…”)

This is what it looks like for me: a 9 AM phone call from a distraught woman whose husband walked out the night before.  A 10:35 drop in from a staff member who is struggling with a project that is going down the tubes quickly.  A 2:04 PM request to plan a baptism for a few hundred people…oh yeah, and it’s due tomorrow.  A 4:00 text message telling me that a church member is having emergency surgery.

And in those moments, I have a choice: I can love my schedule, or I can love people.  I can stick to my guns and check off my to-do list, or I can drop what I’m doing and walk with people through life.

I don’t always get this principle (my co-workers will back me up).  Sometimes I’m amazed at my own selfishness…as a pastor who is called to serve, I’m irritated when I have to do so.  As a shepherd who’s called to guide, it frustrates me when that need arises.  People don’t get sick on my schedule.  They don’t have a marital crisis at the right time.  And they certainly don’t die when it’s convenient for me.

Are you catching the irony?

Here’s what is about to happen: I’m about to sit down and block out my day.  I already know of six meetings (about five hours’ worth) that are on my calendar before 5:00.  That leaves a precious few moments to answer email, work on current projects, and attempt to find the top of my desk.  And just as the ink dries on that daily schedule, something’s going to come up, someone’s going to drop by, and I’ll have a choice: love my schedule, or love people.

That choice is yours, as well.

Let’s be honest: I’m no music reviewer. When I was in 8th grade, the high school band director gathered all of us in the middle school cafeteria and made us take a proficiency test to determine who would be invited to be a part of the next year’s high school band.  I definitely got the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” speech.

I couldn’t pick Lady GaGa out of a police lineup. Or a butcher’s display case, depending on what outfit she’s wearing.

I don’t know my hip from my hop, I can name all four Beatles but not four of their songs, and my music collection consists of whatever is free on iTunes.

But by golly, I know what I like.

The Summit’s own Sam Fisher is releasing a CD of original music. This Friday we’re hosting a big release party that you can read about here.  And because I’m a big shot Campus Pastor that has a blog readership of tens of people, I was asked to listen to the CD (which I’m keepin’ until they pry it out of my cold, dead hands) and tell you all about it.

Which I won’t.

At least not in the snobby way that most music reviewers would: “Fisher’s sophomore effort consisted of an honest grasp on tenacity, undergirded by caramelly-sweet tones, not unlike the melodic pinings of bygone artists of a previous generation.”

Nope, this is my five-word review: Sam rocked my face off.

Sam Fisher is the guy that we force to carry a corded microphone whenever he leads worship at the Summit.  If we didn’t, he’d dance right off the stage, pulling a Crocodile Dundee-like move where he walks right over the heads of the people in the auditorium.  Most pastors want their people to tithe money.  I just want Sam to tithe a little soul.  I want him to fix the fact that I’m caucasianally-challenged.  He has more energy and more rhythm than any three people ought to have. He’s a talented musician, and he’s put out one hot CD.

I listened to it for a chunk of last week, except when people would drop in my office and I’d have to hit “mute” because this CD is contraband. I’m not supposed to have it, and yet I do.  I carry it from the office to the car attached to my wrist by a set of handcuffs.  I whisper about it in hushed tones, because I’m afraid someone will knock me over the head and take it away.

Here’s the deal: you need to get this CD.  And you can get this CD a whoppin’ four days earlier than the uncultured general public.  Show up this Friday night at 7:30 in the Brier Creek auditorium, and we’ll sell you all the CDs your greasy little hands can hold.  All proceeds go back into a fund to produce future worship recordings at the Summit.  And at the same time, you can listen to Sam and the band perform the CD live.

Let’s hope he has a cord.

This weekend I officiated wedding #22. (Not to the same couple, thankfully, although that would be an interesting blog post. Zsa Zsa…call me.)

Whenever I do a wedding, I really get a kick out of playing the role of Debbie Downer.  I talk straight to the couple, right there in front of God and everybody, and help them face the reality of what they’re entering: marriage is tough. It’s the most fun tough you’ll ever experience, but it’s still tough.

On Saturday I asked the couple to look at each other, take each others’ hands in their own, and ponder this core truth: “You will only face two problems throughout your marriage, and you’re staring into the eyes of one of them.” (thanks to Mark Driscoll for that quote)

The single people thought I was being harsh. The married people started throwing elbows, because they knew it was the truth.

And then I tried to offer hope in the midst of the hopelessness: Jesus is the only way that we deal with sin inside of a marriage.  He’s the only one who can fix what ails us.  And he’s the only one who can fill the needs that we often expect our spouse to meet.

At the reception, a 50-ish guy walked up to me.  This was the conversation:

Him: “Hey preacher, in your speech or sermon or whatever you call that thing, where did you get that?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Him: “You know, that whole ‘You can’t be what someone else needs’ thing. Is that yours?”

Me: “Um, no. That’s kind of the message of the gospel. We don’t have the power to fix our own lives, and that’s why we need Jesus.”

Him: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I’m Episcopalian, and I’ve never heard that before. So is that like a Baptist thing or what?”

Me: “Uh, no really, it’s a gospel thing.”

And that’s when I was reminded how unfortunate it is that the message of the gospel is so unfamiliar to so many.  We still live in a world where people try to fix life on their own, where people try to make themselves clean enough for God, and where people try to hide their junk from an all-seeing Jesus.

The gospel IS the point of  all that we do here at the Summit.  We don’t serve up a hot dish of self-help each weekend.  Pastor J.D. continually points to the fact that we’re more wicked than we could possibly know, but we’re more loved than we could ever imagine.  The gospel is the fact that Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  He removes sin and restores relationships.  He makes right what we’ve made wrong.  It’s not an Episcopalian thing or a Baptist thing, it’s simply a gospel thing.

That’s the point.

Unless you’ve lived a very sheltered life, you’ve heard of the phenomenon known as The Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect happens when on one side of the world, a butterfly flaps his wings, which moves molecules of air, which moves more molecules of air, and eventually so many molecules of air are moved that some of them end up being in a movie with Kevin Bacon.

Oh wait, my mistake: that’s called The Seven Degrees of Stupid Party Games. Never mind.

So megaauthor Andy Andrews’ latest book has that title (not the Party Games title, the other one. Pay attention.). Andrews starts with the questions, “Do I make a difference?” “Do I really matter?” and then goes on to tell some highly entertaining Paul Harveyish stories about two historical characters that basically changed life as we know it and gave us great freedoms as Americans and made it possible for Molly Ringwald to make a career comeback in The Secret Life of An American Teenager, decades after it tanked because of her three degree separation from Kevin Bacon.

And while the two historical stories are fascinating and probably worth the price of the book (free for me…see below), it’s the story surrounding the story that makes me wince.

Andrews finishes the book by stating that “On the planet Earth, there has never been one like you…and there never will be again” (true), “The rarities that make you special are no mere accident or quirk of fate” (true), “You have been created in order that you might make a difference” (true), “You have within you the power to change the world” (tru- wait, what?).

In one sentence, Andrews loses a magnificent opportunity to tie our lives to something larger. While he spends an entire book crafting an argument that we’re not islands unto ourselves and that everything we do “matters forever,” he fails to take into account that God is the author of our lives and the gospel is central to tying our lives to a greater purpose.

Let me be clear: I don’t fault Andrews for this, necessarily. He’s built his career on being a motivational speaker and author. He’s an author who happens to be a believer, not the other way around. While he speaks at many faith-related events, I don’t think he has a fish on his business card, and I don’t have a problem with that.

What bothers me is the continual push of faith-based publishers to market best-sellers with no tie in to the gospel. It’s church lite in most cases, with feel-good, toe-tickling messages that seem to exist to sell product and all of the related tie ins (“Butterfly Effect koozie? Coming right up!”). While I don’t necessarily expect more from most mainline faith-based publishers, it would be nice to see a better representation of a gospel foundation to a book such as this.

The book is great. And yes, our life matters. But I, for one, want to matter not because of the legacy I leave, but because of the impact of the kingdom on the world around me.

The fine print: this book was provided free to me by Booksneeze.com’s book review bloggers program. I’m disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations and so that large men with black dogs don’t break down my door in the middle of the night.

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