Lessons From a Nudist Colony

I grew up in a great home, the oldest of three Jones boys. My dad was a pastor, my mom a school teacher. We didn’t have much in the early years, but I never knew the difference. We had enough. Our needs were met. Our relationships were rich. We had each other.

Canoe

My father’s life loomed large in our home and I looked up to him in more ways than one. I suppose that’s normal for a young boy to idolize his dad. I loved mom, of course, but dad…he was something. In my case, Pop represented the epitome of strength and boldness. He was the definition of what I thought it meant to be man. He was a leader who modeled integrity. He was a Christian who walked with God. He was the guy who showed me how to shoot a gun and use a pocket knife and clean a fish—you know, all the important stuff. And he impressed something very deep in me, that I’ve never forgotten. I’ll show you what I mean.

One year, when I was a teenager, we were invited as a family to attend a canoeing trip on the Russian River in California. We were so excited. We donned our helmets and paddling gear and set off down the sleepy stream. One canoe was too small of course, to fit all five of our tribe. I may be the oldest, but both my brothers have me beat in the height and weight department, so we split up. Being the oldest, I captained one vessel, while my dad skippered the other of this rickety craft. My mom, not a particularly strong swimmer, rode with me. But that was going to change.

We’d been given some instructions from the canoe company about which fork of the river to follow. Clearly, we missed something, because what we came upon next was nowhere on our map. As we rounded the bend, suddenly the serene landscape changed. The sense of quiet isolation on a gentle river went right out the door. We had paddled right into the wild whirlpool of a Nudist Colony.

Naked people were everywhere: on inner tubes, on lounge chairs, on picnic tables. (There’s something deeply disturbing about naked guys eating fried chicken, by the way.) They were playing volleyball. The were flinging Frisbees. And just in case you’d missed all that, colonist after colonist were somersaulting into the river from the forty-foot rope swing strategically positioned to broadcast the camp’s location. And every one of them were naked a picked birds.

My mother is a very modest person and she was instantly mortified. My dad immediately came to her aid. “Mom’s going to ride with me from here, boys” he directed. We paddled together quickly and my mother disembarked for Dad’s boat, just in time for our first meet and greet. Looking back, the sight of this teenage boy’s jaw hitting the canoe floor must have been pretty funny. I’d never seen anything like this before. And it wasn’t long before the first dude in his birthday suit came floating out to us.

“Hello!” he called to my dad. I know he was talking to my dad, because my mom had her face in her hands. “Hello! Just passing through,” my dad replied, as he attempted to paddle past the man and his air mattress. (Candidly, there’s no classy way for a naked guy to float on an inner tube.)

“Well, hey man,” said the floater, “How about if I swim over there and get in your boat? I can float with you guys for a while.”

My mother was horrified, and honestly a little panicky. Why would this strange man from this strange place want to do such a strange thing? Mix that with a dose of terror from the thought of being spilled into the river and having to swim for her life. Instantly, came my father’s reply.

“How about I part your hair with this boat paddle?” he threatened. “Nobody’s gonna be gettin’ in my boat today.” And with that we darted past the bewildered man, who looked like somebody had just prematurely blown out his birthday candles.

When we got back into calmer, less naked water I popped the question. “Dad, what was that guy thinking? And what would you have done if he would have tried to climb in the boat with you and mom?”

He paused for a moment as though gathering his thoughts for this salient teaching moment with his three sons. He said, “Boys, nothing in all my life is more important than your mother. And taking care of her is my number one job. I meant what I said to that guy. The possibility of him not only embarrassing Mom, but flipping us both right out in the river was very good. And I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

It wasn’t bravado. I had every confidence that guy would have been wearing a boat paddle where his ball cap should have gone. My dad went on to challenge us that when we had a family of our own, the responsibility would fall to us. The truth is, as fathers, we can’t always control what’s around the river bend. We can’t promise that a freak on a flotation device won’t come looking to invade our space. We certainly can’t control the fact that we live in a chaotic world, filled with people and behaviors that are going to sully our scenic waterway from time to time. What we can control is whether we let it get in the boat.

I thought my father was hilarious then, and I think it’s hilarious now. But beyond the humor of my mom getting splashed by that rope swing, lies the sober reminder of one dad to another. Always take up the standard to be bold on behalf of your family. If you don’t, who will? And the next time you see Crazy floating down the river toward you, get a good grip on that boat paddle. You may need to thump a knot on somebody’s head. That’s what a good dad is prepared to do.

All I Know In a Paper Bag

The older I get, the less I know. Can you relate?

paperbag

I don’t mean that I’m losing my ability to remember, although some would argue I should seriously address my Diet Pepsi addiction. I mean that the more I learn in life, the more I’m keenly aware of how much I have yet to learn. The more I discover, the more I’m cognizant of the very narrow boundaries of my understanding. The universe is vast; my grasp of it could scarcely fill a paper bag.

I have endeavored to follow Christ for most of my life. I’ve admired Him and studied Him and marinated in His book again and again. I’ve spent a lifetime listening to people much smarter than me pontificate on all His manifold qualities. I’ve called upon Him in the darkest of nights and rejoiced with Him in the brightest of life’s blessings. I’ve travelled with Him through glories and graves, vistas and valleys. And all along the path, He has revealed Himself to me.

The walk has been thrilling and enriching and life-transforming for the good. But the longer I walk, the greater the revelation that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Who He is. Gather up all I understand about God. I’d scarcely fill a paper bag. The Mountain of His power, wisdom, grace and grandeur are still an undiscovered country.

And yet, in spite of all I do not know, I know His love.

The Apostle Paul sums up the seeming paradox:

I pray that you… know this love that surpasses knowledge….”

Ephesians 3:17,19 (NIV)

How can I know something that exceeds my ability to understand? The answer is: “I have no idea.” And yet we, mere babes, have the God-given capacity to know the Father’s love.

But the revelation of God’s love lies not in our keen knack to sneak morsels out of God’s love vault. The reality is that our God desires to impart an understandable, experiential expression of His love to us. He intends it. Mountainous though His love is, He actively and eagerly delivers kid-sized pebbles to our paper bag. This side of His Holy Hill, a brown bag will have to do. We simply have no more capacity. But one day, we’ll look on the Himalayas of His love and eternally understand. One day, what we have known in part, we will know fully.

But until then, I’m thankful for a God who lavishly and consistently delivers incomprehensible, yet completely understandable expressions of His love to my tattered paper bag.

Don’t Forget Who You Belong To

When I became a father, I started doing something that my dad always did. Isn’t it funny how that happens? You end up turning into the Old Man at some point. But in this case, it wasn’t an accident. I did it intentionally.

Dad_son

Every time one of my kids leaves for school, or heads to a friend’s house, or leaves my presence for any extended period at all, I pull them aside, grab their little face in my hands and remind them of something. I’ll whisper, “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

My dad used to remind me of the same thing when I was a kid. It was as predictable as the sun coming up. Every time I’d head out somewhere, he’d always remind me, “Don’t forget who you belong to.”

It made an enormous impact on me, obviously. (Because now I’m inflicting it on my kids.) But it would be difficult for me to over-state how significant the expression of love, care, responsibility and value of the family name was conveyed in that simple phrase. Even as a small boy, I would finish my dad’s sentence. And you know what happened when I became a man? I remembered.

Now, with my kids, I find myself wanting to communicate the same thing. I’m intentionally trying to express how much I love them and how much I care for them. I’m also being careful to inculcate in them the value of being a responsible person—to remind them that their name means something. I want to steep them in the notion that integrity is a precious commodity, and a scarce one at that. “You belong to Jesus, and to me,” reminds them both of their eternal value to God and of their earthly significance to Dear Ol’ Dad. I tell them this because I want them to know that they BELONG—and nothing could ever change that fact—for Jesus or for me.

I dropped Brody, my six-year-old son, off at school the other day. I did what I always do. I got down on my knees, grabbed his little face in my hands and said, “Brody, don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

And you know what he did? A little grin creased across his lips and he quickly grabbed my face with his little hands and replied, “Don’t forget who YOU belong to, Dad.” And with that he wheeled and went into class.

If you don’t think you’re being watched by your kids, think again. Every little action and encouragement, every voice inflection, every look, it’s all being imprinted on the hearts and minds of the little people that follow you around. Be careful what you’re writing with your words and actions. They’ll quote it back to you someday, one way or the other. Make sure the chapters you’re recording are worth reading by the little boys or girls under your care.

One of these days, they’re going to grow up. And they’re going to start writing their own pages and modeling what really matters to your grandchildren. And the loudest voice they’ll hear ringing in their ear—for good or for bad—will be yours.

If you’ve never done it, give it a try. Get down on your knees in the next little bit, grab a pint-sized face in your hands and with all the love and care you have in your heart, tell that boy or that girl: “Don’t forget who you belong to. You belong to Jesus and to me.”

They’ll thank you for it some day.

REACT: What expression of love has made the most significant impact on you? Leave a comment below.

Never Go Wrong Going Low

Try searching for a leadership book on Amazon some time. What you’ll find is a treasure-trove of some 100,000 book titles, all pushing their particular take on the mysterious keys to leadership.

LeadershipBooks

There’s plenty of books on the subject, a direct result of a hungry reading public, seemingly starved for it. There’s nothing wrong with leaders. I consider myself one. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about being a leadership learner either. The world needs better leaders. In fact, one could argue the world faces a crisis in the category–a global dearth of skilled trailblazers. That being true, perhaps we need those 100,000 titles. Or, maybe we don’t.

Something’s broken in how we look at this leadership thing. Maybe our hunger to dig up bigger leaders has actually unearthed their darker angels. We’ve all seen the grizzly undercarriage of this locomotive. You may have been run over by it. Maybe you’ve done the driving. Either way, there’s no shortage of leadership horror stories for us to share with one another.

What’s at the center of most citizens in Leadership World is the clamor to influence wider, build bigger and climb higher. It’s a drive to lead more people, get more production out of the resources around you, and become the bigger dog. There’s a lot of competitiveness in most leaders I know. We tend to treat people as commodities to be used, rather than gifts to be stewarded. Leadership can devolve quickly into emperorship. And God forbid two emperors start eye-ballng the same territory. The dog-fight that always follows, and the fur that always flies, will prove the better man or woman. The last dog standing always wins, right?

Isn’t that the sub-plot of most leadership books you read? How do I win more? How do I accomplish more? How do I build my brand or my portfolio or my renown?

But it isn’t working—in the long run. Short term victories are ending up in losing seasons for many leaders and the circles that follow them. Maybe we need a different paradigm. Maybe what we’ve been doing is building leadership with the wrong blueprint, the wrong model. Maybe, we need a different Book.

Jesus is the most influential leader the world has ever known. His book is history’s best-seller, going away. But what He modeled in leadership left just about everyone in His circle scratching their heads. He said if you wanted to be great (in the real Kingdom), you had be a servant. He showed that real Lordship didn’t arrive on a white, kingly stallion, but on a lowly donkey. When people hurled insults at Him, He made no retaliation. When they made threats, He held His tongue. When given the choice of personal advantage or self-sacrifice, He always chose the humble path. He always subordinated His preferences to His Father’s plan.

There was (and is) something compelling about the meekness of Jesus. He had all power at His disposal, yet restrained Himself. He exchanged the wealth of Heaven for the poverty of earth, all so He could give to you and me. He experienced loss, so you and I could win. And because He allowed Himself to be brought low, you and I are lifted up.

Jesus drew up a different blueprint for real leadership. And it’s one that has stood the test of the centuries. Try it on for size. You can never go wrong by going low. When you and I put on the Christ-garment of humility and servitude and lead from that posture, what we will glean is the fruit that only His plan can produce. You’ll be set free to enjoy true generosity. You’ll encounter the freedom that comes from selflessness. Any other picture of leadership is just a warped facsimile of the Jesus-original.

When you experience the counter-intuitive truth that your life is made better when you help other people win, you’ll discover what tens of thousands of the world’s books have failed to calculate: that there is richness and fulfillment in leading from bottom. As you follow the model of Christ, and take your personal descent into greatness, let hope rise, knowing that what awaits you is a reward you could never build for yourself. It’s buried beneath your feet as a leader. Dig down deep and lift the ones you’re leading along the way. Your personal greatness will be defined by how fully and how consistently you gave yourself away. Because when it comes to leadership and influence that really matters, you can never go wrong going low.

Hope Rising

My family and I took a trip to Palm Springs not too long ago. We got a good deal on a timeshare and quickly learned why our vacation was considered “off-season.” The temperature was hot—really hot. It was north of 110 degrees hot. But we immersed ourselves in the pool, got a steady diet of air conditioning and had a great time.

tram

One afternoon, we decided we really wanted to beat the heat. We had heard from some friends about a cool excursion called the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Everyone we talked to said that this daytrip was a must.

We gathered up the kids and headed to the Tram Base Station a few miles away. Elevation: 2000 feet. Temperature: 100 degrees.

As soon as we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, my wife began to renege. What had sounded like a great idea to her earlier in the day, now melted into a malaise of nausea upon seeing the nearly vertical grade we were about to climb. You see, this tram ride just so happens to be the world’s second steepest tramway.

My children were undeterred. Turns out, peer pressure’s got nothing on “Kid Pressure,” and my wife was feeling it. All four of our kids jumped and squealed with excitement as we neared the entrance. There would be no going back for Mom. She emboldened her faith by examining the cable display and counting the steel lines that would hold our lives in their hands.

As we lifted off from the base station, the excitement only grew. We seemed to soar above the valley floor, higher and higher. The views were incredible; the sheer rock face was incredibly intimidating. Up, up, up we climbed. As we did, you couldn’t help but notice the breathtaking views. And we began to notice something more subtle wafting through the open windows: cooler air. The higher we went, the cooler the air became–the more magnificent the vista grew.

When we arrived at the summit ten minutes later, it was as though the entire world had changed. What we had left at the bottom was sand and scrub brush and molten temperatures. The top greeted us with a forest of trees and trails and greenery from out of nowhere. Oh, and it was 35 degrees cooler too. Elevation: 8500 feet.  Temperature: 65 degrees.

We spent the entire afternoon exploring and investigating trails and rock formations, plants and animals. I’ll be honest, we spent a fair amount of time just throwing rocks too. But as we loaded up in the tram to make our descent to the base station, I considered my life.

kid-looking-upThis little, ten-minute ride had reminded me that even when I find myself in the place of difficulty, the place of desolation—the desert places, I need to believe something. When life brings the heat and I’m standing in the furnace of my pain, I need to hang on to something. I need to recognize that scrub brush and heat are naturally occurring elements of the valley, especially the lowest ones. But if I’ll look up, maybe I’ll see a place that looks very different.

The higher hope rises, the more beautiful the perspective. It took the second-steepest tram ride in the world to bring that into bold detail for me. My life is a lot like that tramway. It’s hot in the valley. But the higher hope rises in my life, the more beautiful my perspective becomes.

That’s why I need to live life looking up. There is a vista, sometimes right above my head, where I can see farther. There is an outcrop, often just above the horizon, where cooler winds have soothed the searing heat. There is a mountain that Hope built. I need only look up and see it. Christ, my Hope, stands on high places, calling me to lift my countenance. The higher I allow His great hope to rise in my life, the more refreshed, the more powerful, the more beautiful the perspective.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)

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.