Theology 101

We just finished a thing called 42 Days.

It was a six-week journey of reading a book, making a once-a-week meeting, daily Bible reading, and a practice of general personal discipline that a group of 45-50 North Point men made together. It was a good thing. We’ll do it again, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t easy. Especially the book.

We chose to read “Crazy Love”, by Francis Chan. It wasn’t the most difficult read I have ever done. As a matter of fact, his style is easy to process and the content was pretty straightforward. But what he said didn’t sit too well.

Nobody likes to be called out for being a slug. Especially a spiritual slug. And especially not a bunch of men who have to actually look each other in the eyes and “fess up” to falling short. Lets just say our weekly meetings were not some kind of brag session on how great each of us are doing with following the commands of Christ…

For most of the guys, it was the first time in a long while…or even the first time ever… that there was any public owning of personal spiritual shortcomings or weaknesses. I can’t speak for women, but I know this is a difficult thing for most men (though I sense men and women are probably far more similar in this area than Bible scholars and cultural anthropologists think).

So here’s what I’m thinking today: How do you face your failures? How do you navigate through the flood waters of mistakes and shortcomings and willful disobedience to the statutes of a holy God? How do you stare down the man or woman in the mirror when you know the real story behind the public personna?

According to God’s word, no one is righteous…no one does good…everyone falls short of God’s standards…. We learn from the Master’s own mouth that the beginning point of a right response to God is to admit our spiritual bankruptcy…and from the writings of the Apostle Paul, we are taught that the path to spiritual strength is through the embracing of our weakness.

Hey…nobody ever said the “logic” of the Kingdom wouldn’t be counter-intuitive!

One of the boldest statements made in the Bible is by Paul in Romans 6:1-2…

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1, 2 NIV)

Should we keep sinning, keep disobeying, keep living selfishly, keep willfully living contrary to God’s revealed will for our lives, keep ignoring the needs of others and the good of the Kingdom….and then say, “No problem, I know God will forgive me!”???

To put a modern spin on Paul’s answer to his own hypothetical question… “Are you an idiot, or what?” No way are we to take advantage of God’s compassionate love for us. No way are we to deliberately and selfishly impose on his gracious benevolence towards us.

But here’s what we can do: Let your sin and brokenness and pride and laziness and obstinance and hard-heartedness and struggles with integrity be a constant reminder that your sufficiency and worth and wholeness will never be earned or deserved…nor will it ever be perfect…and that without your failures, you would never be driven to your knees for help.

Or with gratitude.

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Only at Men’s Whataburger

So I’m sitting here enjoying (?) some 84 degree weather in Huntington Beach, waiting to make the three-hour drive up to the camp…through Southern California Friday work traffic. Mmmm… Sounds like fun.

Still looking forward to cool mountain temps. I will not be a particularly happy camper if…

Anyway, I thought I would weigh in on the North Point Raccoonapalooza (for all my friends who reside outside the epicenter of my world, we found out we have a whole tribe of raccoons that have set up shop in the drop ceiling of the NP Grand Ballroom and Events Center).

These gnarly little rodent-bear hybrids are going to end up costing NP a “raccoon-load” of cash, when all I said and done with the catching, relocation, clean-up, restoration, and replacement plan. Kingdom stewardship never smelled so gamey.

Back to the Whataburger connection…

Every week, at our Thursday World Problem-solving Caucus, we are joined by Mr. Luster. He’s not really part of our group, but since we think he’s related to Marshall…and they’re both die-hard Razorback fans from Arkansas…we always let him come over and give us our weekly dose of Southern wit and wisdom.

…and hope we learn some more about Marshall’s hidden lineage.

Here was this week’s serving:

(Mr. Luster) Well, good mornin’ Reverand. Where’s old’ Ellis today?

(me) We’re not sure. We think he’s in Mexico. But that’s not important. We’ve got a couple of questions for you. Do you have raccoons in Arkansas?

(Mr. Luster) Yes, sir.

(me) So what do you do with them? Do you trap them and relocate them like we do in Lewisville?

(Mr. Luster) *look of bewilderment*

(Mr. Luster) No. We kill them and eat them. They taste just like squirrel.

(me) oh.

I love Texas…reason #78:

I get to have friends from Arkansas.

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Life Together…3

i used to laugh at the old guys that would gather early in the morning at the local mcdonald’s  or the neighborhood dairy queen.   they grab their free senior’s cup of coffee and join with the other old dudes to solve the world’s problems…one sip at a time.

obama’s politics…tony romo’s most recent meltdown…their wives…the greenhouse effect…the academy awards… televangelists…texas weather.   you name it…they discuss it.   i’ve always loved sitting off to the side and marveling at how they enjoy each other’s company.

i am now part of a group like that.

a couple of years ago,  i invited some men to meet for breakfast once a week at the ghetto taco bueno in my neighborhood.   attendance was sporadic…and we changed locations… but there was a small group that persevered.   and now it has turned into something pretty special.

i made the ground rules clear:

  • this was not a bible study
  • we wouldn’t hold hands and pray out loud
  • i wasn’t going to preach or teach a lesson
  • there was never going to be an agenda
  • there was no time frame…come for 15 minutes or stay for an hour
  • our goal is for north point men to become friends
  • i hoped that men would learn names and stories
  • no expectations
  • no assignments
  • no guilt
  • just come…eat…laugh…learn

and it worked.

these days,  every wednesday night i send out a group text to 21 men that says,  “whataburger…7-9 in the morning”.   every thursday …sometimes starting around 6:30…men start to show up at our local whataburger.   usually 8-10 come.   some weeks,  as many as 16 will show.

some stay a few minutes before they hurry off to work.   others stay through multiple shifts of guys.   men walk in and shake hands and call each other by name.   they pick up where the last week left off.   they ask for updates on jobs and marriages and kid’s games and health issues.

sometimes we talk politics and sometimes we talk sports.   sometimes we circle back to the sermon from the past sunday.   sometimes there are multiple conversations going on.   sometimes we are really loud and annoy the other group of men who are gathered in the dining area.

we are learning each other’s stories and have grown close enough to know some things we can pray about for each other.   it has given meaning to the interaction we have with each other on sunday mornings.   most of the guys do more than the nod and the grunt  they used to do to each other.   i see them standing and talking and extending the connection that was born on thursday mornings.

i go to bed every wednesday night with the anticipation that i am going to see my friends on thursday morning.   it is my favorite day of the week.

i wish we could get every north point dude to come.   even if it was just for a few minutes.   the time we spend there makes a difference.   it has become sacred.   it’s church.   it’s life together.

(if you’re a north point dude and you want more,  we meet every thursday morning at the whataburger on main street and I35 in lewisville.   guys start to show a little before 7 and the last of us usually leave around 9:30.   no expectations.   no agenda.   the guys are usually pretty well behaved.   let me know if you’re interested in coming and i’ll add you to my weekly wednesday night group text reminder!)

A lesson from the wilderness

like i said yesterday,  i spent this past week at bear trap ranch…an inter-varsity christian fellowship camp about 45 minutes up the mountain behind colorado springs.

for the past eight years,  i have been part of a small group of guys who serve as youth ministry mentors to youth ministers who come from across the country to spend five days in the colorado wilderness…for rest,  clarity,  challenge and personal development.

it’s a pretty awesome experience for me.   in the midst of trying to serve and help,  i am always drawn face-to-face with who i am as a guy…especially as i relate to other dudes.

some would say that men don’t do very well when it comes to talking…at least on a deeper level.   we do well when it comes to our favorite teams and foods and cars and television shows and music.   but when the conversation moves out of the shallow water,  most dudes are looking for the door.

i appreciate this conference because most every guy is coming with the knowledge that,  even if he doesn’t want to jump into the deep end,  he knows he needs to.   this is refreshing.

this is needed.

men need other men…to talk…to listen…to feel…to get in each others faces…to walk in each others souls…to point each other to the grace and greatness of god.

it’s one thing to debate the merits of the designated hitter or the run-and-shoot or a chrysler hemi…but it’s quite another thing to speak of kingdom issues and the lordship of christ.   quite another.

last week reminded me it was not only possible,  but mandatory.

it’s time to man up.

Thinking about men

wednesday and thursday mornings have become just about my favorite times of the week.

on wednesdays,  there’s a group of guys that get together at mcdonald’s  at 6:30 for a quick breakfast and some conversation on the way to work.    i get over there every week to join them.

i do the same thing on thursday mornings at the taco bueno by my house.

if i could figure out how to join the guys who meet at the taco bueno down by the mall on thursday mornings,  i would.   i guess i’m kind of secretly hoping they change days!

i love hanging out with guys.   i wish more guys felt the same way.

i read a great question tonight:

“are you prepared to make the changes needed to become a man of influence for god?”

man,  what a question!   it cuts to the heart of the issue.   as important as our answer is to that question,  i think it’s even more important that we have the courage and personal insight to ask it!    we need more men who will go deeper in their discipleship.   men need other men to show the way…ask the tough questions…lead out with the difficult answers.

if we don’t do this for each other…if we don’t model a seriousness about our faith and a soberness in our lifestyle… we are destined to be shaped by television commercials during football games and testesterone-laced radio talk-show hosts who have created a forum for acceptable racism,  sexism,  shallowness,  empty commitments,  and narcissism for all men in our culture.

don’t let it happen.

Men and kindness

men in our culture are not taught to be kind.   i’ve come to the conclusion that kindness is not a virtue that is affirmed in men…especially young men.   this really concerns me.

in scripture,  kindness is a not a single word…and it is a characteristic with multiple definitions.   it means mild and pleasant…as opposed to harsh, critical or bitter.   it means loving and benevolent.   it means gentleness.   it means agreeable, joyful and happy.   it means tenderness and genuine concern for others.

kindness is an attribute of god and quality desirable,  but not consistently found in humans.   yet…in a study of 37 cultures around the world,  sixteen thousand subjects were asked about their most desired traits in a mate.  for both sexes,  the number one preference was kindness!

color me surprised.

men in our culture have a different set of values:   strong,  opinionated,  powerful,  competitive,  aloof,  non-emotional,  driven,  tough,  thick-skinned,  blunt,  hunter-gatherer,  provider,  risk-taker.

young men and boys have characters that are being shaped more by pg-13 teen sex and drinking movies,  beer commercials,  aggressive video game personalities,  and media stars…than kind men in their lives.

it’s just the way it is.   so what are you planning to do about it?

Do not let kindness and truth leave you.  Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.   Proverbs 3:3

What is desirable in a man is his kindness,  and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.   Proverbs 19:22

That’s what i’m talkin’ about…

i got an email from my friend andrew today.  andrew was the founder of the 1010 project and just recently took a job with amnesty international in london.  it’s been a tough few months as he has tried to make the transition from boulder, colorado to the other side of the globe…without his family.  melia, his wife, along with konner and tanner, have had to wait back here in the states while they all finished the school year.

i know the days are growing longer and the wait must be incredibly difficult.  he sent me a copy of the email he sent to melia after church yesterday.  it blew me away.  he invited me to share it with all of you:

i wanted to tell you about today – sunday….

for some reason, i got up and went to church, the same church i went to last week.  don’t know why i chose the same one – maybe it is because i knew where it was.  i walked in and found a seat on my own, near the back somewhere…

a man sitting behind me leaned in and asked me if it was my first time.  i lied and said it was – it might as well have been.  anyways, he came up and sat beside me.  the song service began, and for some reason it was very emotional for me.  it went on and on, with the leader allowing time and space for real worship, it seemed.  i sat down and was weeping.  the man let me be, but after a while he asked ‘ you ok??’  i just shook my head.  he just let me be.  finally, i asked him… ‘ please pray that my family can come, this week.’  he didn’t ask any details, but he just prayed.  he prayed for a visa.  he prayed for it to come on monday.  he prayed that our family would be a family again.  out loud.  right there.  in the middle of the service.  

after he prayed, he told me he had to go.  he took my mobile number and took off.  i sat and listened to the sermon on my own, then after – another man came and sat beside me.  he introduced himself and said the other guy told him about me.  he asked about the family…., and he as well just prayed for me, for us.  he told me to call him when our stuff arrives so he can get a bunch of guys to help us move in.  

i got up to leave, and another man grabbed me and told me he saw me last week but did not get a chance to say anything.  he took me back in to get my information and i told him what was up.  he asked what i needed, and all i could say is my family.  i said, ‘i know nothing of this place’, and he said back, ‘but we do.’  we can do most things, but we cannot read minds, he said to me.  

as i went out the door to leave, i got my bike, and another man said to me, ‘nice bike – very nice bike.’  i agreed, of course, and we started talking bikes.  he is a mountain biker, along with some other guys in this church.  anyways, he asked, and i told him the same story about our family.  he offered to lend us his car this week for when you land.  offered to put me on the insurance so i could drive it….  

they all are looking forward to meeting you and the boys next week.  they all are praying.

imagine a church with that kind of fellowship…from men, no less.  

this is what we are looking for.

a church with anything less than this is unacceptable.

anybody ready to take the challenge?