Wake up, sleeper.

For some reason, I woke up today with an even deeper level of discouragement over how divided we are as people.  And it’s not simply the division, as profound as it is these days, but it’s that we just don’t know how to manage our differences of opinion in healthy ways.

No matter how old we are or where we’re from, our opinions are forged by the paths we have walked.  Sometimes, beliefs are passed down through our families. Perspectives are shaped by childhood experiences.  Often, attitudes are set and judgments are passed, as reactions to past hurt or exhilaration.  

For some, their position is loud and boisterous.  Others make their stand quietly, without fanfare. No matter what, opinion runs deep.

  • Tex-mex or Northern Baja cuisine…
  • School choice or public education…
  • National League or American League…
  • Cable or streaming…
  • 2nd amendment or gun reform…
  • Mac or PC…
  • Clapton or Eddie Van Halen…
  • Calvinism or Arminianism…
  • Republican or Democrat…
  • Ford or Chevy…

And there are hundreds of variations of these”opposites” that people have opinions on.  Strong. Immovable. Unshakeable.  

You see, that’s the thing about opinions and positions and beliefs.  When we have them, either secretly or boldly, we believe we are right.  Like, reallllllly right. And no amount of debate…no amount of new evidence…no amount of logic or persuasion is going to do much to change our minds.

Look, I’m a Mac-owning, Clapton-loving, National League kind of guy.  You can try, but I seriously doubt you are going to make a dent in my vastly superior position.  You can extol the greatness of Microsoft… or try to convince me that Clapton couldn’t carry the gig bag for Eddie or Page or Jimi or Stevie Ray…or that the DH makes for better baseball.  Pfft.

I’m set.  Really. Don’t bother.

But here’s what I do need from you.  I need you to try and understand why my position means so much to me.  I need you to hear some of my story and how my experiences have shaped the strong feelings I have about some things…many things.  I need you to hear my heart and try to understand the thinking behind my opinions.

I don’t need you to agree with me, even though I might quietly believe your life would be better for it.  I just want you to respect my position and attempt to see it from my perspective, so that we can be friends and move forward to contend together for the greater things.  And I suspect that is what you want from me.

This is what’s missing in the public forum.  Listening and hearing take time. Patience with differences and kindness for the greater good demands our full attention.  Grace under attack requires the supernatural.

We can do better than what we are doing.  All of us can. We have to.

And if you don’t think I’m talking about a lot more than guitar playing or baseball or carne asada, you don’t know me very well.

Theology for Grasshoppers

(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally. But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Yo, Grasshoppers!

Boy, it has really been awhile since I last wrote to you guys.  So long, we’ve even added a new Farrasprout to the team. Welcome Tobias Allan Farra!

From what I hear, you’re going to be the last of the Farra tribe for a while, Toby.  I hope I’m still around when the next wave comes rolling through, but that decision is way above my pay grade.  You don’t know anything about pay grades yet, but you will soon enough…

I saw something on TV today, so I wanted to write this to you guys while it was still pretty fresh on my mind.

I wish this wasn’t true, but for the rest of your lives, you’re going to have to learn to deal with people who are mean, rude, thoughtless, arrogant, or just plain hurtful.  Most of the time, you won’t be able to do anything to stop them. That’s just the way they’re going to be.

The only thing you will ever have real control over is how you’re going to respond back to them.

Trust me, you’re gonna want to get mad, hold a grudge, put up a wall, talk about them behind their backs, avoid them, or even be “fake nice” to their faces (when you’re really mad enough at them to punch them right in the nose!)

There’s a verse in the Bible that I have held close to my heart for over 50 years and one that has taught me how to be a friend to nearly every person who has ever crossed my path.  The words are few, but boy are they powerful:

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Ephesians 4:26

I’ve always believed I have about 24 hours to deal with my bad feelings for another person.  No matter what they’ve said or done. Yup. 24 hours. And once those 24 hours are up, I only have two options:

One…forgive them and consider them a friend.  And treat them like one.

Two…go and talk with them about what they said or did and how it made me feel.  If they continue to say and do mean things, I have to keep going and talking to them.  I might even need to take a trusted friend to join me, if the problem continues.

That’s it.  Forgive them or talk with them.  Or forgive them AND talk with them.  The problem is it’s much easier to talk ABOUT the people we are angry with, than it is to talk WITH them.

It’s not going to be easy. These days, people don’t grow up learning to talk and forgive. It’s crazy, but there are actually people who hold on to anger or bad feelings for others for months, or even years. Sometimes, forever. Don’t settle for being “those” kind of people. Ever.

I know.  That’s pretty heady stuff for little sprouts like you, but I promise if you decide to live by what the Bible says in this world (instead of by your own feelings), where careless words and thoughtless actions are everywhere, people will notice there is something really different about you. And your lives will make a difference.

Use your 24 hours wisely, Grasshoppers.


The Skywalker Letters. #3

Jedi Noob,

To be honest, I’ve really struggled over this particular letter to you.  I’ve written and rewritten it, both on the keyboard and in my head, dozens of times.  But I have to remember this is a letter, one pastor to another, from my journey to yours.

(To any of you who think I’m offering a backhanded criticism or that I’m trying to say something to you that I can’t say to your face, I hope you remember me better than that. Jedi paranoia is the worst…)

If you choose to walk this pastoral path for a lifetime, it is going to be filled with a particular kind of loss that hurts more than you will ever be able to speak about…except to the hearts of only your most trusted and faithful friends.  To everyone else, you will give a smile, words of encouragement and understanding, and a call to join you on the “high road”.

What is this loss, young warrior?  It is the loss of friends.

Some of those losses are simply the result of relocation…the sad, but inevitable fallout of living in a mobile, even transient, society.  I get it. Sheesh…I did it myself. Kids grow up. People move. For jobs…for family…for health…even for a better view of God’s creation. But once there is a move, friendship takes a hit.  Maybe you even work real hard for a while to stay connected, but it will never be the same, no matter how many FB pics and comments you post. And it’s okay.

It has to be okay.

Sometimes, people leave churches for really legit reasons.  Toxic leadership, unhealthy church relationships, financial mismanagement, doctrinal disagreement, empty programs, loneliness, disconnect, and probably many others.  They need to leave. If some of those conditions ever exist in your church, you’ve got way bigger problems than the loss of friends, Skywalker. Just sayin’.

But that’s not the loss I’m talking about.  The one on my heart this afternoon is when people up and leave your church and go to a new one down the street.  At least that’s what it feels like. And when this happens, you will feel a particular kind of pain deep down in your bones. And you can’t talk about it.  You just can’t.

People will leave your church family for all kinds of reasons.  Some are understandable. Some have no expressed reason at all. Some just drift away because their connections are not deep enough or strong enough. Some will leave because of personal issues you never knew about. But from my POV, it will always circle back to the same basic reason:  they are no longer finding what they are looking for in your fellowship. Cue U2…

Now, your response to that little nugget of reality can be pretty complex and is better left for another letter somewhere down the galaxy.  I’ll get to it someday, I promise.

For today, though, here’s what I hope you are able to see.  When those people leave, your friendship with them will be forever changed.  And the loss of friendship might even be against your will. And it will hurt. You will want to fight it.  Sometimes, you will try to keep the friendship active. Sometimes they might even try to keep it alive.  But you will be fighting a losing battle. It may be a little more complicated and there may be some layers to their decision, but make no mistake…they left because they wanted to leave.

And here’s the really dysfunctional part.  You will run the risk of feeling like it’s your fault.  Your fault they left. Your fault you don’t see them anymore. Your fault you don’t text or email or talk on the phone anymore. Your fault the friendship dissolved.  Your fault they felt neglected or overlooked. Your fault they didn’t find what they were looking for. Your mind and your logic and even your support group will try to tell you otherwise, but aching hearts don’t respond too well to objectivity!

Look.  I didn’t say I was the sharpest lightsaber in the quiver.   Just rapidly becoming the most experienced.

So here are a few lessons to be learned:

You will often be left wondering. You will probably never know the full extent of why people leave your church fellowship.  It will stink. I don’t know any other way to say it.

Good friendship takes time.  There is no substitute.  It takes shared experiences.  It needs give and take. It takes common direction.  It takes conversation. Lots of it. As a pastor, when people move on, you will no longer have that time with them.  Any of it. They have moved on to new friends. You will also.

People need to be in a place where they can grow and thrive and live lives that bring honor to God.  That may not be in your fellowship any longer.  If the cost is your friendship, that’s a pretty small price to pay for the good of the Kingdom, don’t you think?

Pull up your big boy pants.  You’ve just got to remember it’s not your church, your people, your needs, your plans, or your kingdom.  It’s God’s business and you’re just a caretaker. Where his people go, who their friends are, and who they choose to share life and ministry with are not yours to control.  There is one Church. One Vision. One Kingdom. One King.

As a shepherd of the flock, your heart will be broken more times than it will be thrilled…unless you insulate yourself behind behind a desk, or a pulpit, or a program, or a bunch of other insulated shepherds.

Or you can choose to fully invest yourself in the lives of the people who wander onto your path, for as long as they choose to be there.  Count the friendships as gifts from God.  Who knows?  If they leave, maybe they will be the kind of blessing to others they have been to you…

From the Yoda Anvil…

My loss

sadness 2I have called North Point my church family for over 21 years.  As much as I want to be “just one of the guys”, I understand that with responsibility, comes expectations and clarity. And, for the most part, I’m okay with that.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with, though, is the loss of friendship.

I recognize the line between my job as a minister and my life as simply part of our church family is completely blurred.  Some of that is because it is required of me…some because it’s just the way I am.  But no matter which way you cut it, I’m fully invested.

I’m not naive.  I know that through the years, there have been people who considered North Point their church family who left because of me.  Maybe they disagreed with something I said.  Maybe they felt I neglected them. Maybe they considered me a poor leader.   Maybe they didn’t like my hair style.  Maybe they just don’t like me very much.

It’s how some people have come to understand the church.  It’s how some people have come to understand relationships.  I don’t like it.  I wish it were different,  but ultimately, I’ve learned to be okay with all of that.  I have to be.

No, the part that is really difficult for me is when people decide to leave North Point for reasons other than me, and I lose our friendship in the process. (For the record, I draw a deep distinction between being a friend and having a friendship. One takes little time and little effort.  The other takes a huge dose of both).

Again, I understand that North Point isn’t for everybody.  Maybe they just don’t want to be part of a church family at all anymore.  Or maybe it could be that others are looking for different things in church families: programs for their children…a certain kind of Sunday morning show…the “right” kind of people…opportunities for serving…doctrinal purity…whatever.

And North Point certainly can’t be all things for all people.  We don’t want to be.

But it still cuts deeply that I have to lose friendships when people decide we aren’t what they are looking for.  Because once they leave North Point, nothing is ever the same.  I lose our time together.  I lose connection.  I lose sharing life. I lose partnership.  I simply lose touch.  And there will never be the time to make it up.

All against my will.  And I hate it.

And I’m always left to wonder if they feel the same way about the loss of me.

I’m kind of whiny tonight.  Blame it on the sternum saw…





Marriage Tuesday. Part 1

This is a personal message to young adults…both singles and couples.   It will come in two parts.   These two posts may be the most important thing I have ever written.  It weighs on my heart pretty heavy.  It’s not about judging…or inducing  guilt…but simply to get you to think (or even talk) about the patterns you are building in your young lives…

marriage 2When Wanda and I were just a young couple in our 20’s and early 30’s, we lived in the rapidly growing, economically robust culture of 1975-1990 Southern California.  It was massive… full of upwardly mobile twenty and thirty-somethings.  It was the center of pop culture shifts for the nation…and driven by the pursuit of expansion and social status.  It was our home.

As a young couple, we rejected status seeking and financial security, neither of which was consistent with our own upbringing.  Instead, we dove into friendships.  We fully invested in relationships and ministry.  Our marriage was shaped by seeing it (our marriage) as serving a greater good.

Marriage wasn’t simply for our own enjoyment, but the depth and character of our marriage was defined by sharing it with others.

Don’t misunderstand…we loved our time alone.  Date nights.  Weekends away.  Vacations with just the two of us…35 days of backpacking or camping alone one summer!  But being alone was not the majority of our time.

We had deep, meaningful relationships with dozens of people and healthy, regular friendships with dozens more.  People we served.  People who invested in us.  We were always involved with small groups of students in weekly discipleship groups…and other youth workers that we not only shared ministry, but life, with.

We were close enough with other couples to learn from their mistakes and receive their teaching and accountability.  At any point in time during these years, we were involved in open and transparent friendships with 25-30, or sometimes more,  other people (singles and couples) at the same time.  For their good…as well as for ours.

These were people who worked full-time jobs…owned homes…had children… had extended families…went to school…mowed their own lawns…managed households… and had personal goals and dreams.  But we all, somehow, made time for things that were ultimately more important.

We found our greatest joy and greatest challenges in these friendships.  They were demanding.  They were fun.  They were complicated.  They took time.  We loved doing things together.

We learned to view our time as not our own, but belonging to God…and we were simply stewards of it.  Just like our money or our possessions.  We helped each other when houses needed to be fixed or cars worked on.  We ate together all the time.

We played tons of sports with each other.  Volleyball in the park or on the sand at the beach happened all the time.  I played softball one night a week for nearly twenty straight years…and that always included going out for pizza afterward.  Weeknight or weekend leagues…it didn’t matter.

Being with friends fueled our lives…broadened our perspectives…taught us what was really important.  And there was always room for new people.

And it didn’t change once we had children.  It defined our family life and gave our boys the greatest life experiences they could have ever had…and helped shape their character and values.

From the moment our kids were born, they went with us.  We lived our life and fit them in.  I think we knew, instinctively, that there would come a time that their lives and schedules would take precedence over ours, so it was important…super important…that we create a lifestyle of total flexibility and people investment while they were babies and pre-schoolers, that would carry over into our family life once they started going to school.

We packed light…and traveled lighter.  We bathed them in ice chests in Mexico.  They got held by hundreds of kids when they were babies.  The whole youth group babysat them.  They learned to eat whatever everybody else was eating.  They seldom had a set bedtime.

People were constantly in our house.  Or we were going over to someone else’s house.  People got to know us and our boys.  We still have loads of people from those years who ask us about Chris and Corey.

Our boys were always with other people.  I am convinced that the primary reason both of them have always functioned well with adults, is because they lived their lives out around people who were older than they were.  It was in the midst of all these deep friendships that they learned the value of conversation.

This lifestyle was our choice.  I’m not saying it wasn’t complicated and demanding, but we are deeper and better people because of it.  Giving ourselves away to others for the good of the Kingdom became second nature for us.  It was not only what we did…but who we became.

But something has happened over the years.  It’s all different now.

Stay tuned for Part Two.  Pay careful attention.  It’s not pretty.

Pastors shouldn’t blog

blogging 1I don’t really believe that.  But I came close to adopting it as policy.

During my writing sabbatical, I began to struggle with the reality that most of what I was writing about…or wanted to write about…was stuff I was seeing in the lives of people I love and share life with.

This was really nothing new.  For years, I have written about people I know and the stories of their personal journeys.  It has always been pretty easy for me to hide their identities and change the details enough to protect them, while still passing on critique, life lessons, or a challenge to address what’s wrong.

But that had gotten increasingly more difficult.

Honestly, it’s easy for someone to criticize the actions or attitudes of another, when you don’t really know who they are.  When they are at an arm’s distance.  When they are on the other side of a computer monitor.  When they sit in an ivory tower or underneath a freeway overpass.

When they have no names, they aren’t real people.

It can be even more complicated for pastors.  I follow a number of high-profile christian types who constantly come out with both barrels loaded, criticizing and judging all “types” of people who claim to follow Jesus.  They find fault with church leadership and rail against different theologies.  They condemn certain behaviors, while praising those they see as superior. They write boldly to the anonymous, generalized “other”

And they do it from pulpits with moats of separation.  They do it from insulated board rooms and the protective confines of inner circles.

But I can’t hide like that.  I walk with people who sin just like I do.  I share meals and laughter and shortcomings with people I call friends.  I see the failures of people whose names I know and paths I share and messes I wade into.  I see myself in them.  As a pastor, I can’t play dumb to what I see.  I can’t ignore what is wrong and needs to be fixed.  I can’t turn a blind eye.  I’m a card-carrying people helper.

But a blog or a post from the safety of my recliner and the protection of a screen is not the place to do it.  And that’s where I have found myself the past year…fighting the urge to call out the unhealthy and damaging behaviors of the people I love from this unfiltered internet stage.  So I experienced a sort of paralysis.

And I think it was a good thing.

So I am now ready to move forward and write again.  Most sin is common to all.  The only difference is degree.  I’ll continue to work hard to protect the identities of my friends, while confronting those things that damage us, separate us, and undercut the grace of God.

But it sure would be a lot easier to live insulated from real friendship and calloused to the effect of my words on others.

On second thought, pastors really shouldn’t blog.

The deep end

The Deep EndA few days ago, I met up with an old friend, Bob.

We met each other in 1978 and became close during our late college years.  Shortly after I moved on to youth ministry in Huntington Beach in 1980, Bob joined up with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  He spent some years in linguistics schools, met his wife (also a translator), started a family, and has spent the past 30 years helping to translate the God’s Word for people groups on the other side of the world who have never read a Bible.

That’s a great story worth hearing about.  But not today.

But this one is.  Bob and I have not seen or talked to each other since the last time we were in a church camp together in 1984.  Through the years, we have exchanged a few Christmas cards and some missionary newsletters.  Once the internet was created, we sent some emailsbut nothing very detailed.

The reality is we’ve both been pretty focused on where God planted us and investing in people we were sharing life with.  As it should be.

I suppose that’s what made last Wednesday such a good evening.

Bob was in town for a conference with the Wycliffe affiliate he is working with these days.  We had made plans several months ago to get together for dinner, if our schedules could match up.

I pulled up to the hotel and texted him that I was waiting out in front, by my jeep.  As the lobby door opened, I recognized him immediatelyjust as he recognized me.  Thirty years had changed some things in his appearance (mine, too), but not his eyesand not his voiceand not the warm embrace.

He hopped into the jeepwell, he actually struggled into the jeephis hip replacement hadn’t fully healed yet(ah, old people problems) and within seconds, we had picked up immediately where we had left off thirty years previous.  Amazing.

No small talk.  No casual dancing.  Straight to the heart.  We spoke of our love of our families, of the church, of God’s Word, of the poor and oppressed, of Jesus.  We dove quickly into the hurts and frustrations and fears and disappointments and mistakes in our lives.   The conversation moved effortlessly.   Joy mixed with sadness.  Hope filled with reality.  Much laughter.  A few tears.

After 3-4 hours of conversation (encouraged by the ambiance of the smells and tastes of Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell), our evening ended as quickly as it had started.  A quick drive back to the hotel, a good-bye hug and best wishes to our families, and a resolve not to let another thirty years pass before we shared brisket and our hearts again.

It was a great evening.

Do you have friendships like that in your life?  People who demand life in the “deep end”?  Friends who are not content with small talk, gossip, and petty?  Real brothers (or sisters) that don’t demand the veneer of shallow, but quickly cut to the heartno matter how much time has passed?

They don’t come easy.  The cost is steep.  But they are worth everything.

I wish them for you.

(If you felt like this was a “bait and switch” on the Calvinism thread, sorry.  It will be back soon.  This was just on my heart today…)