Conquering Combustible Comparison

Americans buy a lot of stuff they don’t need, racking up debt they can’t afford, to impress people they don’t even like, and then Instagram it to people they don’t even know. #pathetic #are_you_friggin_kidding_me

ConqueringComparison_MJDirect

Comparison is the enemy of life’s most precious commodity: CONTENTMENT. Left unchecked, words like envy, boast, greed, pride and jealousy will build such significant pressure in our lives that we’re one spark away from a discontentment brush fire.

So how do we overthrow their power? How do we reject what seems so natural for us to indulge? How do we conquer combustible comparison?

1. ADMIT YOUR EYES TELL LIES

Matthew 6:23 (MSG) says: “If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar.”

Comparison puts us in a dark place. And no one sees well in the dark. Truth is, we never see the whole picture of another person’s situation, but we don’t like admitting that to ourselves. I call this “cherry-picking.”

Cherry-picking says:

  • “I want the paycheck, but not the travel schedule.”
  • “I want the prestigious job, but not the commute.”
  • “I want the freedoms they enjoy, but not the marriage they have.”

Husbands and wives do this to each other all the time:

  • [Wife]: “Wish I had the luxury of getting away from the kids like you do.”
  • [Husband]: “Wish I could stay home and not work.”
  • [Wife]: “Must be nice to have some adult conversation for a change.”
  • [Husband}: “Wish I had all that time to just be with the kids.”

All over the world, human beings are cherry-picking situations. While life is made up of good and bad, strength and weakness, upsides and downs, we allow our eyes to tell us the lie that you can somehow have the cherries of another person’s life without the pits.

2. RUN AWAY FROM RISKY SITUATIONS

If your weakness is envy in a relationship (like your marriage), run from the things that tend to trip you up. For most of us, that means being careful what you allow yourself to tell yourself. Listening to those lies from your eyes will burn you every time.

What is risky for you? If it’s materialism, limit your time at the mall—watch it at Walmart. If you struggle with your own vanity, choose modesty. If you put undue value in your bank account, give to someone in need. We have to starve the comparison enemy in our life in order to feed contentment. If we don’t, contentment will never grow.

3. HELP OTHER PEOPLE WINHomeless_Child_Helping

It’s a crazy principle, but it’s a key to discovering true contentment. Jesus said it Himself in Mark 10:43: “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served – and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”

Take the back so someone else can have the front. Give so someone else can receive. Go without so someone else can gain. Your life will be better when you help other people win.

4. SAY THANKS FOR WHAT YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN

Nothing breaks the back of combustible comparison quite like stopping to appreciate all that you already have. This isn’t just a Thanksgiving exercise. This is a life-long decision. Giving thanks for what we’ve already received helps us value not only the past, but the present. Beating back the brush fire of comparison will lower the combustible pressure in your life and allow true contentment to rise.

The Combustible Comparisons

My first car was a 1978 Buick Regal. What was yours?

Combustible_Comparison

I didn’t get the keys to this bad boy in ’78. I came of age in the late 80s, which meant my first ride had some serious mileage on it. The headliner sagged onto your head when you rode in it. The door latches didn’t really work. The window cranks had broken off. At one point, I actually had to tie the driver and passenger doors together with a rope from the inside, roll down the window and get in Dukes of Hazard-style.  But it worked. It got me where I needed to go. And it was a gift to me from parents who were doing their dead-level best to give me what I needed.

Buick_RegalTo further complicate my transportation self-image, I was a scholarship kid at a private high school. That meant I was a poor boy in a rich man’s world. Every time I pulled into my parking place at school, I stood out among a sea of red sports cars and convertible Beemers. But rather than appreciate my car for the first taste of independence and freedom that it was, I compared it to what other kids had and I was discontent.

 

We all want to be happy. But few people recognize the primary enemy of their own contentment. It’s a crafty little explosive device that creates so much pressure that your life can become downright combustible.

James 4:2-3 (NLT) says:

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them… you want only what will give you pleasure.”

Contentment’s greatest enemy is comparison. There are five that sneak around inside each one of us—combustibles just waiting for a spark. When I compare:

1. My worst to your best: ENVY

That’s what I did with my old car. I didn’t compare my best to their best: my parents for example. I picked what I thought was my worst. Envy invades my life when I compare my junk to someone else’s jewels—my jalopy to someone else’s Jaguar. When we see our “have-not” in another person’s “have” we fall prey to the enemy of envy.

2. My best to your worst: BOAST

You know that guy who brags about himself all the time? We all know one. He’s the expert on everything—ad nauseam. If you can’t think of someone, you’re probably that guy for someone else. This comparison burns relationship because we’re all thinking the same thing: “Where’s the nearest exit?”

3. My less to your more: GREED

Year by year, the holiday shopping season creeps earlier and earlier. Retailers, once satisfied to begin the Christmas crush on Black Friday, have begun to invade Thanksgiving itself in order to satiate the materialistic appetite of America. When I compare my lack to your abundance, greed threatens to detonate my contentment.

4. My win to your loss: PRIDE

This was me over the past few years as a San Francisco Giants fan. When you win two out of three World Series Championships, it starts feeling easy. You start believing you’re entitled to it. The problem is that pride always precedes a downfall (Prov. 16:18). And the Giants proved that in 2013, finishing sixteen games out of first with the same World Championship roster.

5. My loss to your win: JEALOUSY

This comparison observes:

  •             “I lost my job, but you got a promotion…”
  •             “My marriage sucks, but you give the impression yours is good…”
  •             “I’m barely scraping by, while you’re going on vacation to Maui…”
  •             “You seem like you’re on the top of the world. I’m an Oakland Raiders fan…”

Every person I know desperately wants to be content. Recognizing the enemies of your greatest desire is essential to beating back the brushfire of deadly comparison. Which is your biggest pressure point? Share a comment below.

Run For the Hungry

I don’t know anyone who enjoys being hungry. I know I don’t. In fact, most Americans have made the pursuit of food one of the biggest foot races in their life.

RunFortheHungry_blogimage

We run to food every chance we get: for comfort, for celebration, for socializing, for fun. We don’t like being hungry, so we slather that aversion with super-sized servings of just about everything. Judging from the obesity rate in the U.S., now at nearly 36 percent, the run FROM hungry is about all the exercise we get.

But more and more, right under our cuisine-sniffing snoots, an altogether different race is being run. Today in San Diego, as many of 30% of the households can’t make financial ends meet each month. That means that 640,707 people are making the no-win decision between paying simple household utilities and buying groceries. One in four children are food insecure. They’re hungry, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

A few years ago, my wife and I stumbled across a Thanksgiving morning event in downtown San Diego called: “The Run for the Hungry.” It’s a 5K/10K fun run through the streets of the Gaslamp and East Village districts of the center city. The proceeds go to support the efforts of The San Diego Food Bank, which serves nearly sixteen million meals a year to people who need them.

I’m running again this Thanksgiving, if you want to join me. And every year, while I’m running the race, I ask myself the same question. Thanksgiving morning, before all the family face-stuffing begins, I take inventory: “Am I hungry?”

HungryPhysical hunger, especially the sort experienced by so many struggling people in the city center, is a blight that we must stand up against. It’s basic, it’s solvable and everyone can do something. So Thanksgiving morning, I will…do something, that is.

But chances are, if you’re reading this from your high-speed internet connection or $500 smart phone, you’re not all that worried about where your next meal is going to come from. You know where to go get your next grub. You have an app for that. But ask yourself: “Am I hungry?”

No matter what challenges or comforts life has dealt you, your heart is plagued by a different sort of hunger: a soul craving. You were custom-made with an intrinsic appetite for something bigger than yourself. You were crafted with a God-thirst right at your very core. You try to quench it in every conceivable way. You feed the appetite with every sort of delicacy. But it’s a hunger that can only be satisfied by the Life-yielding Bread of God.

“Am I hungry?” I ask myself, “Hungry enough to run for it?” Am I thirsty enough to reach for the Living Stream? Has a longing for something bigger—something God-sized—consumed me enough that I’ll stop at nothing to possess more of Him?

The spiritual discipline of fasting is powerful. It leverages the reminders of physical hunger for spiritual purposes. As the body’s craving for food increases, it begs the soul-question more and more: “Am I hungry—hungry for God?”

Pastor and author, John Piper, who has written extensively on prayer and fasting, says that, “Fasting is the exclamation point of the prayer: ‘God, I need you!’”

Take a look around you. Maybe drive down a city street or two. There are hungry people everywhere you look. Many need food, of the sort your local grocer can provide. But as you reach out to meet that significant need, ask the question your heart’s been begging you to examine: “Am I hungry?”

Maybe your next move is to step away from the super-size-me steeplechase and forgo a meal or two for a spiritual Q&A with God. In fasting and prayer, allow your physical hunger to sharpen your spiritual dependence on Him.

For when God is the supreme hunger of your heart, He will be supreme in everything. And when you are most satisfied in Him, He will be most glorified in you.” (John Piper)

Lucky 13

This past November marks thirteen years of marriage to the love of my life. I remember the stunning beauty of my wife and how astounded I was that she had agreed to marry me. I will never forget the solemn promises I made at that altar of white, and the high standards God’s word charged me to fulfill to my spouse.

SuperLike most weddings, I Corinthians 13—the Love Chapter—was read before our nuptials. They were big words then, but after thirteen years of life with Jennifer Jones, they have more significance today. We celebrate a love that has endured not only through life’s good times, but in spite of life’s bad. I’m thankful for lucky thirteen.

You’ve probably heard I Corinthians 13 read aloud at some wedding:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs….” (I Corinthians 13:4-5, emphasis added.)

When you ask most people to describe real love, they’ll often give you a list of all the things love does or love is—all good stuff. But one of the most powerful things I’ve noticed about love in this scripture—and in my marriage—is what love doesn’t. “…[Love] keeps no record of wrongs….” It never maintains a tally of mistakes. It never gathers evidence of failure.

Love’s no good at recording wrongs, but it’s very good at keeping records of what’s right. In fact, anniversaries were Love’s idea. They are the ultimate celebration of what’s right in a relationship. But why does that kind of right-record keeping turn into only an annual affair? How come daily life tends to turn into the long, tortuous score-keeping of slip-ups?

How do you break the brutal cycle? How can you stop chronicling wrongs and start recording what’s right about your spouse?

Here’s three thoughts (with a little “He said/She said” from my wife, Jennifer Jones):

1. Publicly Praise: Few things encourage your wife or husband more than recounting their greatest qualities in front of other people.

He said: Guys, we tend to “think” it more than we “say” it. You don’t get extra-credit for words you never said. Brag on your wife to others—in her presence—and watch her shine.

Hesaid_shesaidShe said: Ladies, we’re quick to huddle up and harp on the weaknesses of our husbands. Make it your intention to publicize his strengths. This kind of public praise communicates a level of respect that is invaluable to him.

2. Overlook Petty Offenses: Most of our daily conflict is cluttered with meaningless mistakes: schedule conflicts, undone household chores or off-hand comments taken the wrong way.

He said: For example, my wife is even now harping about how I’m writing this blog. Her list of petty offenses about me is growing by the moment. I, on the other hand, am blissfully rising above this negative talk. Try being like me—at least until I start hanging onto petty offenses. Then stop being like me. J

She said: Whatever. J In seriousness, let dumb stuff go. Refuse to let insignificant issues become significant in your mind. Stop stewing and allowing those things trip up your marriage.

3. Celebrate What’s Great: Don’t wait for your anniversary (as great as those can be). Turn a date this week into a mini-versary.

He said: Remind your wife (with a card or actual words) why you’re glad you married her. Give big; serve bigger. You might even get lucky.

She said: Put the kids to bed a little early, share a cup of coffee and hold hands for an uninterrupted conversation. Who knows? Maybe he’ll get lucky.

Make the decision today to stop recording what’s wrong about your spouse. Celebrate what’s right and watch your marriage win.

31 Flavors

My car alarm went off last night. The clock struck one and my SUV lit up the neighborhood. Now, this alarm isn’t one of those “other” annoying car sentries that constantly whine when the wind blows or after a bassy-stereo drives by. My alarm NEVER goes off—until last night.

31_Flavors

I startled to attention, stumbling around in the dark for my flashlight, and made my way to the front door. Something was definitely wrong. This doesn’t just happen in my driveway. And when your car is honking and blinking and generally raising cain at zero dark thirty, you don’t just roll over and go back to sleep.

Turns out, one of the kids didn’t close their door all the way and the alarm had been engaged. For the first time in its life, my SUV’s alarm was sounding simply when the wind blew, much to the chagrin of my next-door neighbor. No hoodlums stealing my stereo; no robbers removing my radials. Just the wind. Just a door left open a crack.

But for many people, another door has been left ajar. The alarm sounds may not be going off yet, but there’s a problem in the driveway. There’s a bomb under the bed. There’s an IED in the doorway of their life. This bomb lurks in the shadows. It ticks silently away, disguising itself in the camouflage of selfishness. It is the powder keg of prejudice.

“Not me,” you resist. “This is 2013. I’m a progressive person. I went to college, for crying out loud. I’m no bigot. I love everybody.”

If you’re like me, you’d like to think this sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen in my driveway.  You might even take a quick peak and comfort yourself with the knowledge that your tires are still on your truck. But don’t just roll over and go back to sleep. Whether the alarm has sounded or not, the truth for most of us is that there’s at least a door cracked open somewhere in our lives. Maybe just a smoldering ugliness just waiting for a spark. Prejudice goes by other names, you know. Things we consider normal or comfortable. People or places that are our favorite. Words we say without thinking. Maybe it’s a stereotype you apply to others, or a term you use in jest. Maybe you joke with ethnic slurs or words like “retarded” or “loser.” What do you whisper under your breath when someone “invades your territory” who looks or walks or smells differently than you? What ways to you entertain prejudice in your life and convince yourself it’s perfectly reasonable?

We discriminate based on appearance and ancestry, on gender and age and ability and more. We chase after one person’s affluence, while running from the poverty we see in someone else. We show favoritism in subtle and brazen ways. And all the while, the IED is ticking at the side of our road. How do we diffuse the bomb before it goes off? How do we control the fire before the conflagration burns us and the people around us?

IJohn_420-21Three things are required to diffuse the powder keg of prejudice in our lives.

1. Love Extravagantly: This is a church for people who don’t have it all together. We have all kinds of people and backgrounds here. We’re choc full of Catholics and Charismatics, doubters and derelicts, agnostics and atheists. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. We believe Jesus loves you extravagantly. And so do we.

2. Serve Selflessly: Jesus loved, and Jesus served. Try serving someone else selflessly. Nothing gets your mind off your stress like serving someone else’s.

3. Invite Liberally: Prejudice pushes away. You kill it by inviting people in with liberality. A liberal invitation to others means assuming a posture of openness, of kindness. You break the power of bigotry and hate when you intentionally soften your heart to others and invite them into a community with kindness.

Center Church is a little like Baskin-Robbins. Like any self-respecting ice cream shop, we have 31 flavors of people. We have vanilla and mocha, but don’t limit ourselves to serve only one or the other. I love chocolate, but we don’t just stop there. There are multiple flavors and variations of people at Center Church. Some are plain; some are exotic. Some come simple; some come sprinkled with eclectic toppings. But we value every flavor in the ice cream cabinet here. And we serve them all, all the time.

If you want to value people like that, you’re welcome here. And chances are, you’ll end up saving yourself a very noisy trip to your driveway in the middle of the night. Because the powder keg of prejudice has no power where it has been rained upon lavishly with love.

So It Grows

A couple of weeks ago, my next-door neighbor dropped off a house warming present. She walked up the center of my yard with a bright, big smile on her face and four baby plants in her arms. “These are for you!” she exclaimed. “I thought your kids might like to watch them grow.”

Planting

She released her tender grip on two pairs of bean plants, still in their plastic containers. Each of my kids stared wide-eyed at this new curiosity, wanting desperately to grab the one earmarked for them. My neighbor giggled her delight at the warm reception.

“These little babies will be growing beans in no time,” she smiled. “Watch and see!” And with that she wheeled and waltzed back down the stairs.

The Tribe stood around for a moment contemplating their next steps. Then a flurry of activity began. Four little pots were assembled in a row and soil filled to the brim. Little hands dug little holes, just the right size for little bean sprouts. There was primping, patting and even a little pontificating about how big these little sprigs would grow. Each pot was watered and tenderly set into its place. And then we waited.

Each morning over the past two weeks, as the Jones Tribe walks out the door and into our day, we pass by four little bean plants. Each day they receive water and sunlight and a cheery conversation from my three year old. And each day we’ve continued to wait.

Bean PlantYesterday was different. There, hanging from the tip of the tiniest, little leaf were two brand new beans. It’s like they showed up out of nowhere: perfect, fresh and custom made by their Creator.

Our little hands played their part in helping these little beans along. But for all our planting and watering and waiting, we were only bystanders. It was God who made them grow. It was God who was at the very center of this genesis—and these little babies had His fingerprints all over them.

The Apostle Paul said of the church that,

It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

(I Corinthians 3:7 MSG)

For the past many weeks, a group of expectant people—a new tribe—has been fawning over a new planting. Little hands have carved out little places of possibility for a new church at the center to grow. We have planted. We have done some watering. But in the end, the growing is up to God. The fruit of this endeavor belongs to Him: perfect, fresh and custom made.

October 20, 2013 will mark our very first gathering. I can hardly wait to check for beans. But as excited as I am, there’s no guesswork here. As surely as the bean plant will produce a harvest in due time, so too will God’s church.

I’m a lot like my smiling neighbor. Center Church will be growing beans in no time. Watch and see! God is at the center of this genesis and as is always the case, these little babies too will have His fingerprints all over them.

Sucker For a Good Guitar

I’m a sucker for a good guitar. I can’t help it. It’s like I’m hard wired for it or something.

Guitar

Ask my wife. There’s a special, MJ-only enclave in my house, filled with my stringed-favorites. I know each one and have taken great care to make sure they stay just the way I want them: polished and ready to play.

The first guitar I ever bought is there. It’s an old Takamine Santa Fe that wears the loving abrasions of years of play. The action has been sanded to absolute perfection and anyone who picks it up can tell that this little gem is worth hanging onto.  There’s a couple Taylor acoustics in there too. One is old and warm. The other is snazzy and tricked out. Both are models of careful craftsmanship any guitar picker would be proud to own.

GibsonHeadstockThere are friends from Fender and amplifier acquaintances from Vox and Orange. But encased behind bullet-proof hard cases sit two of my favorite people. A Gibson Les Paul Supreme is beautifully finished in a rich mahogany and inlaid with scrollwork on the neck. Next to him is a stocky, unpretentious vintage Telecaster that’s as old as I am. Both have a character all their own. Each had a particular purpose when they were made. Each holds a special place in the eye of their owner.

Several months ago, when God really began to stir a new song in me, I sensed Him drawing me to a new platform—one I’d never considered climbing onto—right in the center of the city. God began to work in the hearts of others around me too, calling them to a new sort of symphony. Like the guitars in my cabinet, we have each been handcrafted by our Creator for a particular purpose. Nobody looks the same; our unique qualities make us all different. But at the center of each person in the plan is the careful craftsmanship of the Sovereign Creative. He has meticulously made sure that each instrument stays just as He wants us: polished and ready to play.

Don’t know what kind of model you are. Maybe you’re snazzy and tricked out; maybe you’re old and warm and wear the loving abrasions of years of play. No matter what kind of package you come in, remember something very important.

Remember your Owner is a sucker for a good guitar. He can’t help it. You occupy a special place in His heart. He has set you apart. And you’re just the sort of gem He is committed to holding on to.

Don’t be afraid to place your life into His capable, masterful hands. He knows how to get the best music out of you. And no matter what stage He leads you toward, know that He has already composed a beautiful, musical masterpiece for you to play. Follow His lead with radical abandon. What you’ll hear along the way is the uproarious applause of Heaven itself. And that is the sensational sound you can find nowhere else in all the world.

Look to Dad

I walked up a long flight of stairs this morning. It took me a while to make it to the top, but I enjoyed every step. Because, you see, this morning I held hands with one of my favorite people all the way: Addison Grace.

Look_to_Dad

At age nine, Addie is my oldest daughter. She’s a little under four feet tall, but her personality’s as big as all out doors. She loves reading and tether ball and anything silly. She never meets a stranger and has a heart softer than any I’ve ever known. Addison was born with Down Syndrome and without equivocation, she’s the apple of her daddy’s eye.

This morning, I marched next to my little soldier into a challenging environment. A couple weeks ago we moved to a new house in the center of San Diego. We enrolled the kids in a new school too—one right down the street. But leaving the comfort and security of our previous place brought lots of additional challenges to the little ones. And Addie has struggled the most.

Different can be difficult, can’t it? Being the new blonde in the barrio is no walk in the park either. And Addie has wrestled this new transition in her own forty-five inch way. Dad was along this day to observe her new classroom, her new teacher, her new aid and her new friends. He was marching alongside to survey the land and underscore the truth that “Dad has your back!”

I watched as my diminutive darling jumped into her work, pushing her little glasses back on to her nose over and over. Biting her lip to scrawl out her spelling words, she would turn toward me after each one to see if I was still watching.

“I did it, Dad!” she would say. “You’re doing great, babe,” I would reply. And the entire time, I never missed a thing. I was standing just close enough to show my smile, a thumbs-up of encouragement and a wink of warmth as I watched in rapt attention.

Addie was working with her aide most of the morning. Between you and me, I’m not sure this lady’s going to work out. She’s gruff and preoccupied. She’s disinterested in Addie and Addie can tell. She exudes an attitude of distain and this dad takes a dim view of it. Within five minutes, the aide seemed as though she had somewhere more important to be. And Dad never missed a thing.

But over and over, as my daughter completed each direction, she would glance toward her dad for approval. And over and over, Dad delivered. Addie looked to her dad for support because she was sure—no matter how unpredictable her surroundings—that you can bet the rent money on Dad. Even if a soft look from others might be rare, she knows Dad loves and never stops loving.

A simple smile from Dad was enough for Addie today. All she really needs in all this world is the knowledge that her father waits in rapt attention of her every need. She can sigh in relief, in spite of the chaos all around her, because she knows Dad has her back.

It struck me, as I stood over that little desk this morning: I’m exactly the same way. Sometimes life throws enormous challenges into my path. Transitions are often very tough. And different can be difficult.

But no matter what my day holds, I have a Father prepared to patiently walk up the long flight of stairs with me. He marches beside me into the fray. And He is unafraid.

You may face disappointment or disdain, but your Dad takes a dim view of it in your defense. Glance toward the warmth of Who He is. He stands close to you, waiting in rapt attention of your need. And He never misses a thing. His faithfulness never subsides.

Life has thrown Addie some challenges. But the same dad that walked her up Stair Mountain this morning, walked her right back down in due time. Your Dad will do the same for you if you’ll only grab His hand.

Did you catch that wink? No matter what, you can be confident of this: Dad loves and He never stops loving. That is an enduring, eternal, unalterable fact. And you can bet the rent money on it.

Walk To the Crowd

A few years ago my wife and I attended the greatest concert of my life. U2 was coming to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and with them over 100,000 true believers to witness it.

U2_concert

The night of the concert, we drove into Los Angeles. We got in the serpentine line of cars toward the parking lot and waited our turn. We gathered our things and began walking toward the pulsing stadium of people. As night fell and the concert began, the air was electric. There was so much anticipation. There was so much expectation. And the boys from Dublin didn’t disappoint. It was amazing!

I’m a huge fan. I’ll admit it. I love their music. I love their vibe. I’m a U2 lifer. But as the concert began to draw to a close, Bono, the lead singer, did something that surprised me. He walked from the back of the stage with only an acoustic guitar strapped to his chest. As the throngs of people in the stadium hushed, he began to talk about his faith. All the lights in this enormous arena were extinguished and Bono stood alone in one, solitary wash.

Bono_acousticHe spoke of justice and love, and of a God who cares for the people of this world we live in. And he punctuated his brief remarks with a tribute to the most powerful force in all the world: Grace.

What came next sent chills down my spine. I wasn’t alone. There, with one simple instrument, Bono began to sing the timeless hymn, “Amazing Grace.” To my utter amazement, the sea of fans all around him joined in his chorus. Cell phones began to illuminate all across the basin of the 100,000 strong, singing at the top of their lungs. What had been pitch black just moments before was now awash with thousands of miniscule specks of light, swaying to the King’s melody.

And God was glorified right there in that throng of U2 believers.

As I sat there, stunned by what I was witnessing, I recognized a powerful truth. The supremacy and eloquence of God’s grace has a way of invading and overwhelming darkness with His inextinguishable light. He’s in the business of showing up in the midst of the biggest crowds and illuminating the truth for all to see. In fact, Jesus has made a habit of seeking out those kinds of places and flicking a Bic®. The darker the environment, the brighter the light shines.

When you walk toward the biggest crowd, with the biggest hurts, in the biggest need of a Savior—like maybe the center of a city near you—don’t be surprised if you bump into Jesus along the way. He always walks that direction. He always shows up in the midst of the greatest need. And if He is at your very center, don’t be alarmed when you sense Him leading you that same way too.

Wherever you find yourself today, walk toward the greatest crowd of people you can find. Look for the most dire need and the most under-served community you can locate. Pull out the little cell phone-sized light in your heart and let it shine brightly for Christ.

The amazing song of Grace is rising in the center of our city. And hell will squint at the brightness of our little lights, as we lock arms and sing at the top of our lungs.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:4-5 (NIV)

 

Taking the Field

I’m kind of a baseball nut. Always have been. I was the kid that collected baseball cards and lived on Big League Chew®. I slept with my glove under my pillow and clipped the box scores every morning. I played all the time and practiced in between because I was all about “The Game.”

BaseballGlove_bat

As I grew, I gravitated toward friends who loved it too. We shared war wounds and regaled one another with stories of our ball park intrigues. They were my teammates—my band of brothers. I’m friends with many of them to this very day. Shared passion will do that to you. And I would have it no other way.

Today, I’m still an avid San Francisco Giants fan. I bleed orange and black. But my understanding of “team” has only grown. I find myself on a different playing field now, drawn toward the ballpark in the center of San Diego. But nowadays, I spend more time looking at the people milling around the stadium than the uniforms on the field. The people of the center of San Diego are my passion now. And I would have that no other way.

This Sunday marks the beginning of a totally new kind of team in my life. Sunday, the Launch Team of Center Church takes the field. Like the comrades of my youth, these friends share my same passion. We have been drawn together with a mission as our common core: “Christ at the Center of Me. And me at the center of His city.”

Only this mission isn’t a game; it’s real life and the stakes are high.

This Sunday, it begins. The team is forming around a common purpose: to love people and serve the city. Over time, we will share war wounds and regale one another with stories of lives that have been miraculously changed. These will be my teammates—my band of brothers and sisters. And I’m confident this new adventure will anchor friendships that I’ll have the rest of my life.

It’s nearly time to begin. Time to lace up the spikes. Time to bust out the bubblegum. Time to get the old head in the game.

The people of the center of San Diego are our mission. And this Sunday, the Launch Team gathers for the first time: to pray, to grow, to connect as friends with a common passion. And I would have it no other way.