May 2014


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Surreal.

That’s the only word that can describe the feeling in our house today.

Our oldest…our firstborn…the kid who made us parents will be walking across a stage tonight to get his high school diploma.

I couldn’t be prouder of the man my child has become. He’s got a work ethic like nobody’s business, he’s got a servant’s heart, and he has a passion for Jesus. (You can read more about him on this post I wrote when he hit eighteen.)

Today marks yet another in a series of major transitions. We no longer have a high schooler, we have a rising college freshman. There’s a third adult living under our roof. He’s no longer a tax credit. He’s my friend.

Happy graduation day, Jacob. I love you.

 

 

It’s that time again, campers. Thursday: where I serve up the stuff that’s been rattlin’ around in my skull this week. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy…

 

Lighten Up, Christians, God Loves a Good Time. (via @CTMagazine, HT @_MichaelKelley) Send this to a stuffed shirt you know and love. And remind yourself of it, while you’re at it. I know I need to.

Look over our day-to-day lives. How do we parent, for example? Rules. Fears. Don’ts. Don’t jump on the couch. No gluten in this house. Get down from that tree. Quiet down. Hold still. We live as if God were an infinite list of negatives. He is holiness, the rawest and richest of all purity. In our bent way of thinking, that makes him the biggest stress-out of all.

 

Six Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers. (via @cnieuwhof) This has sparked more than a few discussions over the last couple of days. See if it does the same for you.

3. You’re disorganized

Few things are more demotivating than giving up your time as a volunteer only to discover the staff person responsible didn’t set you up to succeed.

The tools they need to do the job are missing or incomplete. The rest of the team is late.

Or maybe—worse—they’re not even 100% sure what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it.

You can always find people who will put up with disorganization, but many more will simply give up.

And high capacity people will make a beeline for the door.

 

If you can spot what changed in Google’s new logo, you have an amazing eye for detail. (via @22words) Don’t anybody ever call me OCD again.

Here’s the updated version…

Google Logo - After

And for reference, here’s the previous one…

Google Logo - Before

 

Wedding Crashers

Last weekend I attended two weddings in northern Virginia. The first I was invited to: the oldest son of our seminary besties got married, simultaneously taking the best selfie that I’ve ever personally witnessed.

The second was not one that I was necessarily invited to, unless you count “invited” as “I used my spiritual gift of nosiness to watch a wedding go down at the hotel where we were staying.”

I emerged from my hotel room at about 9 AM Sunday, fully expecting to grab a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby and kick back with my Bible to get some literal quiet time. (We were traveling sans three year old, so my wife and sons were exercising their spiritual gifts of sleeping until check out.) But the quiet time never happened. I walked out into the cool Virginia morning to hear the nadaswaram rocking and to see the stage being set for a genuine Hindu wedding.

If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up with genuine Hindu weddings. You grew up with genuine Southern Baptist weddings: elegant soirees with the exact same vows usually officiated by the exact same preacher followed by a reception in the exact same gym decorated with the exact same lattice while you enjoyed the exact same butter mints. 

Oh sure, I knew lots of different couples who got married in lots of different churches, but all the DNA of all the ceremonies were a 99.14% match. In other words: I’m familiar with Southern Baptist weddings. I know how they work. I know what all the traditions and trappings mean (for example: butter mints mean you’re too cheap to spring for a buffet).

But a Hindu wedding? Entirely unfamiliar. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when 9:55 rolled around and an announcer took the stage, explaining that the wedding would be commencing in five minutes and that she would be serving as an emcee of sorts, explaining what each of the traditions meant as we went along.

And so she did. From the entrance of the groom and the welcome of the bride’s family to the exchanging of garlands to the blessing of the couple by the priest, the emcee broke down every element of the service for the non-Hindu wedding guests and the non-guest / creepy pastor who was hanging out fifty feet away. While I couldn’t stay for the entire ceremony (Hindu weddings go long but my check out time only went till noon), I caught as much as I could, aided greatly in my understanding by the helpful emcee.

What does this have to do with the price of chole bhature in Delhi? Quite a lot, actually. I was struck on Sunday morning not only that I was a minority culture, but that I felt like a minority culture. I was an outsider in the truest sense, trying to make heads or tails of traditions that were entirely foreign to me. I was trading my 20 minute wedding ceremony for an all-day affair, my church gym reception with a lavish party, and I didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.

But the emcee did. And she faithfully guided us through the meaning of each element of the service. And so, as an outsider, I was able to feel a little more like an insider.

Every single weekend, someone shows up at your church with the same level of knowledge that I had at a Hindu wedding. They don’t understand communion (“Okay everybody, time to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the man who died for us.”). They don’t understand baptism (“So I went to this church, and they pushed this fully clothed guy under the water for no good reason.”). They definitely don’t understand the offering (“I told you those church people were just after my money.” / “Is it okay if I make change?”).

Churches that plan for their guests and want them to return will provide an emcee of sorts. Churches that want to make outsiders insiders will take frequent moments throughout the service and explain what’s about to happen and why. It doesn’t have to be a theological defense. It doesn’t have to be an extended soapbox. It just needs to convey the value of the moment and the value of the guest.

It’s time to grade your service: how do you address the wedding crashers?

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…when things get familiar, we tend to get sloppy. We turn inward to our own convenience rather than outward for the sake of our guests. We structure systems around our comfort rather than ease of use for someone who’s new.

That’s why I’d encourage you…every once in a while…to take another look. Arrive at your weekend worship experience with the heart of a pastor and the mind of a critic. Look for things that are incredibly basic to you, but might be incredibly confusing to a guest.

Read the entire post – including six ways to take another look – here.

Leaders Light the Way. (via @JasonYoungLive) A post by a new friend over at his newly-launched blog. If you’re a guest services geek, go ahead and add Jason to your RSS feed. Trust me.

1396360931764 I recall being in the middle of significant changes in my own area of responsibility. I shared a new vision with my staff and 850+ volunteers. As we rolled out the plan, there were elements that worked really well and other elements that created pain for both the team member and my staff. Having been in situations like this several times, there are five helpful reminders I have used and continue to do so when communicating vision with volunteer team members. and staff.

10 Things Organized People Do Every Day. (HT @BradHoffmann) I wanna be this when I grow up.

6. They spend 10 minutes at the end of each day tidying up. It’s easy for your space to get a little messy as the day progresses, and in all likelihood, by the end of the day you may have accumulated a pile of dirty clothing in one corner and scattered papers in another. Set a timer and commit to tidying up for 10 minutes. It will make you feel accomplished, up your productivity for the next day, and you’ll sleep better too.

Evernote’s Espresso Bar. (video) (HT @evernote) I share this not only because the concept is cool, but because of the CEO’s attitude towards serving his team members:

The original idea is that we would hire people to staff it, but when the espresso machine actually showed up, I thought, it’s just not the right image, [to hire baristas to run it]…so I thought the thing to do is now that we have this very expensive espresso machine is to staff it with the world’s most expensive baristas. …All of our [executive level employees] are required to serve at least one hour a week.

 

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

We’re entering into another week of shopping for a new car for our oldest son, and by “new” I mean “What can we afford if we try to sell his old car that gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago and then combine that sale price with the change in the cup holder of said car plus a booklet of coupons for free Frostys at Wendy’s” and by “we” I mean “my wife finds semi-questionable possibilities on craigslist and Jacob and I roam the countryside looking at said purchases.”

I know. I know. I know the first thing that just came to your mind: “Why would you shop craigslist when there are so many reputable used car dealerships in the Raleigh-Durham metroplex?” I will answer your question with a question: Do you know the difference between an individual seller on craigslist and a used car salesman? One is a scammer and a serial killer who will make your spleen into a hood ornament, and the other is an individual seller on craigslist.

Yes, I recognize the danger of buying anything off of craiglist. I’m pretty sure on Saturday I walked into a Honduran chop shop of ill repute. I looked at a vehicle yesterday which could possibly have been featured on CSI RDU (“Hey, do those blood stains come standard?”). I have thought about the very real possibility that I may not come back from one of these car shopping excursions, in which case we won’t need that extra car, in which case win win.

But y’all, craigslist transactions are so much fun. Here’s how it generally works: my wife finds “one that might actually work” on craigslist. She forwards me said item to my email inbox, which currently consists of about eight real emails and about 4,212 “ones that might actually work.” Some of those listings are from cars that currently reside in Oregon, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is that my wife and I are bonding with each other through the beautiful world of online vehicle commerce and l love getting the “ding” that notifies me of another “one that might actually work” from the love of my life.

(At least until last night, when Craig sent her a very terse notice that she had exceeded her allowable forwards and would have to cease and desist. Craig, if you’re reading this, your fifty bucks is on the way. Nudge nudge. Wink wink.)

So anyway, the emails come to me, and Jacob and I begin reading through the cars to weed out the ones that are simply not a good fit for him. Some of them have NEW OXY SNSRs! Some are in VRY GoOD COND! Some need to have a REBILT TRANNIE! Of course, those are the ones I delete immediately, because I have no idea what those things mean. My typical qualifications for a car: Does is have tires? Is there an engine somewhere in the general vicinity? Will the windows roll down when I go through the drive through at Chick-fil-A, or do I need to perform the maneuver where I pull just past the drive through, then crack my door open and bang it against the side of the building while I reach my arm and my money through the very small crack to get my #7 combo with extra pickles?

But then there are those that might actually be a “one that might actually work.” Usually these are all sold by one guy named Vince that DON’T WANT YOU TO WASTE HIS TIME. (i.e., CALL VINCE at (9)one9INE five5FIve [f0ur]t33n62% DON’T WASTE MY TIME KEEP YOUR LO-BALL OFFERS) So I spend roughly 67 minutes deciphering Vinnie’s secret CIA codes and call him, just to find out that he might have sold it B/C ANOTHER GUY IS BRINGING ME THE MONEY TUESDAY BUT I HAVE OTHER OFFERS ON MY LOT COME SEE ME AND CHECK OUT MY INVENTORY.

(Spoiler alert: some people on craigslist are unsavory characters that pretend to be an individual seller, when in reality they have cheated the system and actually run their own unlicensed car dealership in the back yard of a friend of a cousin. “I ALSO DO TAXES HIT ME UP.”)

Approximately one out of every 154 phone calls / text messages / emails translates into an actual on-site visit to check out a car. And by “on site” I mean “every Food Lion anywhere in the Triangle.” Apparently the contractual agreement for selling a car on craigslist has a stipulation that you have to meet in a Food Lion parking lot or no deal. So Jacob and I drive to Food Lion to meet up with someone who is equally afraid we’re going to kill them and drive off in their 2003 Toyota Corolla with mp3 player (dont wrk but u cld take it 2 a mechanical shop n they can fix it). And I run through my checklist: tires? Engine in general vicinity? (“Yeah man. It’s here in the trunk.”) Working windows?

And then Jacob and I look at each other, making that slight and subtle eye contact, communicating statements from our soul that only a father and son understand: “We have no idea what we’re doing.” So we thank the seller, tell him or her that we’ll be in touch / keep it in mind / have others that we’re looking at today / thank you for not murdering us and storing us in your basement freezer, and get in the car and squeal out of the Food Lion lot.

So the search continues. Week three of the craigslist car search carries on. And the tension / drama / very real possibility of death by exhaustion mounts. But even in this dark cloud, there is a silver lining: Vinnie said he could get me more money on last year’s tax return.

change-the-world

My friends, what you’re about to read is going to make you put down your electronic device and thank Jesus for the next generation.

I am incredibly excited to be on the Lemonade for the Least of These bandwagon. This project was conceived, fleshed out, meticulously planned, and is about to be executed by my friend Ava Forrest. Her goal is to bring attention to the plight of the fatherless and raise funds for an Ethiopian orphanage through something as simple and iconic as a lemonade stand. Ava is an inspiring entrepreneur, a tireless businesswoman, and a passionate visionary who is doing whatever it takes to see a world with one less orphan.

Oh, and I guess now is a good time to mention that she’s nine years old.

You read that right: a kid who hasn’t mastered elementary school is already following the mandate of James 1:27. Ava is running circles around most of us in the evangelical world, taking our good intentions and actually acting on them.

Her recent history gives her good reason to be passionate: three years ago Ava gained a new little brother through adoption. Judah is a child we prayed for and begged God for. He was a child that Ava, her other brother Marshall, and her parents James and Julie fought for. And now, he has a forever family and Ava has a vision for more.

Last summer Ava and her mom had the chance to visit Hannah’s Hope, the orphanage that Judah once called home. That trip planted a seed of an idea: what if she could raise a few dollars in order to purchase some much-needed supplies for kids at the orphanage?

So Ava did what most of us are too lazy / scared / apathetic to do. She took action. She enlisted a friend to design a logo. She put her mom to work creating a website. And to date, she has hundreds of kids in multiple states planning to set up lemonade stands this weekend.

Here’s my ask: I want you involved. If you have kids, I want you to encourage them to run a stand. If you have money (five cents or five hundred bucks), I want you to donate to the cause. If you’re a believer, I want you to pray for this effort. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever, I want you to promote the bejeezers out of this thing. Because at the end of the day this isn’t simply about helping a third grader see a dream come to life (although that’s awesome, too). It’s about taking a practical step to care for the fatherless.

I’m thankful for you, Ava. You’re a hero and an example to all of us. Thank you for loving the least of these.

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