Friday, April 3, 2015

How Not to Do a "Smash and Grab"

Does this actually happen to real people?

That was one of my first thoughts. Sure, I'd seen it in movies plenty of times. Some suave criminal quietly breaks into a car, connects a few wires and drives away. In a matter of moments, they've got a new sports car. But who in the world would want to steal my twelve passenger van? A struggling airport shuttle business? A horrifically corrupt church? A huge nerd that thinks it's cool to drive around in a massive van? 

Whatever the reason, somebody stole my van. My enormous, industrial, kid-moving machine. And they stole it right in front of my house while we were sleeping.

At least I know they didn't go hungry. There were enough crumbs on the seats to feed a small family. And if they brought kids along for this heinous crime, there were plenty of car seat options. Maybe even a few diapers (Although I can't promise any were clean).

Either way, it was a comically miserable experience. And what actually happened to my van is a tragically stupid story. 

After eleven days of insurance agents, tears and paperwork, we thought it was gone for good. Then my phone rang. It was a police officer from Normal, Illinois. He calmly and carefully explained that my van was "used in a crime."

What!? Used in a crime?!

A group of bumbling criminals in his city decided it was time to try one of those "smash and grab" maneuvers. Their search for the perfect battering ram brought them to my front door. Why drive over two hours to Chicago just to steal a van? Likely to separate the two crimes to avoid suspicion. At least that move was moderately intelligent.

"Smash and grabs" normally make headlines, but you won't find my van in any articles or videos online. Why? After stopping for some fast food and disposing of all three back seat benches, they were ready to steal stuff from a Sprint cell phone store. Then, poor planning or sheer incompetence took over. They turned around, threw it in reverse, and backed into the building. After multiple attempts, these geniuses only managed to smash through the first set of doors. They were soundly defeated by the second set of doors. So they left. With nothing.

Now, I'm glad for the Sprint store that nothing was stolen. But is it terrible of me to be disappointed? I mean, if you're going to steal my van, couldn't you at least use it correctly in the crime?

Anyway, having failed miserably, they drove it to a nice residential neighborhood and parked in front of someone's house. And there my van sat for about a week with no license plates, smashed windows and tons of body damage. Apparently it took the people living on this street about a week to decide it was worth calling the police about a "suspicious vehicle". Thank you, citizens of Normal, for using my van to make your city name ironic.

In the end, we settled with the insurance company and got another van. We also had DNA swabs and fingerprints taken so evidence from the old van could be processed (Admittedly, that part was kind of fun). And now, I've taken steps to simultaneously increase my coolness and our vehicle's security. You know that amazing chirping sound sports cars make when the security system is armed? My new van does that. Plus, I bought "The Club". Yes, that cheesy 1980's steering wheel lock still exists. Mine is an intimidatingly bright yellow color. I'm also considering installing a framed picture of my biceps on the dash.

Good luck stealing my van now, criminals.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

New Conference Speaking Opportunity

For whatever reason, it seems like Christians are always about 10 years behind everyone else.

It wasn't always like this. Throughout history, followers of Jesus have been on the front lines of cultural advancement. Churches during the Renaissance commissioned some of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen. Luther's ideas rapidly spread throughout Europe with the help of the printing press. Christians were among the early adopters and innovators of radio in the 1920's. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended centuries of legalized oppression through innovative non-violent protests, paired with print, radio and television media.
As a former history teacher, I love those stories. As a professional communicator, I'm inspired by them.

Whether serious or silly, I'm passionate about helping people see today's issues in a new way through the lens of faith. I'm also a strong advocate for creating a personal platform so everyday people can harness the power of social media to share compelling ideas, and develop deeper connections.

Now more than ever, followers of Jesus need to enter the digital space with creativity, innovation and strategy. Pastors and churches have the opportunity to make a larger impact than ever before. That's why I'm excited to join a team of talented speakers for the 2015 "Going Digital For His Kingdom" conference series!

I'll be speaking at four separate events around the country in 2015. If you're in Cleveland, Dallas, Tampa or Boston, please encourage leaders in your church to attend. 

I also ask that you'd pray for me as I seek God's direction for my participation in these events. May God receive all the glory.

For more information about the conference, click here.

For details about where and when I'll be speaking, check out my new "Events" tab. Or just click here.

And don't forget to sign-up for my email list! It's completely free, and I won't bombard you with emails or share your information with anyone. Click on the "Sign Up" tab, or just click here

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Secret to an Interesting Life

Everybody loves secrets.

Not just any kind of secret. People love juicy secrets. The ones that make you gasp in disbelief, and then run to tell someone else anyway. But we can't be too quick to dismiss the simplistic, boring truths that go largely unnoticed. They count as secrets too, since most people don't recognize them.

In this case, the secret to an interesting life isn't all that complicated. What is it?

Presume you might be wrong about everything.

I've found it's ultimately a waste of time to spend energy defending entrenched positions. That doesn't mean I don't have strongly held convictions. The opposite is true. But I've discovered that it's relationally destructive to argue with someone in an effort to change their mind. Long term relationships are more valuable than winning a particular debate. And over time, trusted friends will not only listen to your beliefs, but they'll actually want to hear them.

Admittedly, entering a conversation presuming I could be wrong isn't comfortable. At all. My ego would rather confidently share answers than listen to diverse ideas. So, if you're interested in joining me on this journey toward a more interesting life, here's some basic strategies:

  • Don't equate disagreement with stupidity. If I admit I've done it, would you? We all too often assume that somebody holds a different position because they're uneducated. Or because they have wrong information. Or because they're just plain dumb. But if you step back a bit, you'll realize that this practice is arrogant, rude and easy to spot. Plus - what if you're the one who's wrong?
  • Be like Socrates. He wasn't considered wise because he knew a lot of things. Socrates loved to ask questions. Rather than defend ideas, he pursued understand through thoughtful inquiry. This approach has added benefits. When you ask questions, people feel heard and appreciated. That goes a long way toward building respect and trust.  
  • Actually listen. If you're like me, listening is a challenge. When you're talking, I'm probably formulating my next response. That's why I'm constantly reminding myself that listening means hearing. And hearing leads to understanding. None of those things can be accomplished if you're drowning out the words of others with your own thoughts.
  • Swallow your pride. Contrary to popular belief, wisdom and knowledge are completely different. Knowledge is pretty straight forward. It's all the stuff you know. But wisdom is counter-intuitive, because the wise deeply understand how much they don't know. That's why God said humility is the result of wisdom. That means it would actually be wise to approach a conversation with enough humility to admit that you might be wrong. 
  • Get Curious. Kids are insatiably curious. But for whatever reason, curiosity gets lost when you become an adult. So what would curiosity look like if we didn't lose it with age? Expressing genuine interest in someone else's ideas. Most people fake interest with polite smiles and nods. Meanwhile, internal dialogue says things like "Will this person ever stop talking?" or "Where in the world do they come up with this stuff?" Unless you think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, a little curiosity might do you some good. If you're not careful, you might even learn something.
  • Be 'Likeable'. In radio and television, hosts strive for something called "likeability". It's that overall sum of personality qualities that makes someone say, "I like that guy!" Looking for an example? Jimmy Fallon is likeability personified. People love him because he's fun. He lets others shine. He's confidently awkward and genuinely humble. He's not afraid to look foolish, and enjoys being around others. Want an interesting life? Try to increase your likeability. And don't forget that nobody likes someone who thinks they're right about everything.

    The older I get, the less I know. Sounds strange, but it's true. Maturity brings the humbling realization that life is more complicated than originally thought. As a result, debates have lost their luster. So I'm journeying toward what seems to be a more interesting life. It starts with presuming I might be wrong, and you might be right. Care to join me?

      photo credit: Някак си все повече ме кефи да се използва #Google+ за блогване :-) [link] via photopin (license)

      Friday, March 6, 2015

      The Idol You Don't Know You're Worshiping

      What's your secret sin?

      Everybody has one. It's that part of your life where depravity seems to have the strongest grip. Most don't fight the kind of sin that's evident to the world around them. It's the internal battles with things like gossip and lust that consume the average Christian. But even worse are those sins that we're either unaware of, or are unwilling to acknowledge. In fact, I've come to realize that American followers of Jesus collectively suffer from one particularly destructive sin that has gone largely unrecognized. What is it?

      The idolatry of politics.

      God is supposed to be our first intellectual stop in life. He's our focal point of truth and direction. So anything that supplants His primary position is considered an idol. Far too often, I see followers of Jesus in America allowing partisan politics to shape their view of the world. God has been relegated exclusively to their spiritual lives, while they inadvertently shut Him out of their cultural, intellectual and interpersonal existence.

      Don't believe me? Here's the primary symptoms that illustrate how politics has become an idol for many Christians today: 
      • The disposition of political opponents. In politics, the other party is your enemy. Your job is to defeat them. Even despise them. In the Christian faith, you're supposed to love your enemy. See the problem here? If you spend time demonizing your political opponents online or in conversation, you're not following Jesus. You're following your idol. 
      • The oversimplification of complex issues. Lots of organizations make it easier for us to vote. They create simple charts that enable everyone to quickly determine whether a candidate is "for" or "against" an issue. Since this is so convenient, many have decided to transfer the concept to faith. They've awkwardly squeezed the omniscience of God into a cute little political checklist. Just like many political issues are much more complicated than we'd like to admit, God is much bigger than we care to acknowledge. So let's stop oversimplifying the Creator of the universe, who reminded us that "...Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?"
      • The wrong source for cultural analysis. If someone has questions about prayer, they turn to God. The afterlife? Same thing. But if an African American teenager gets shot in Ferguson, Missouri, they run to Bill O'Reilly or Bill Maher. As I've written before, this is unwise at best. We end up looking inconsistent and strange when we post a Bible verse on Facebook in the morning, followed by hate-filled partisan political rhetoric in the afternoon. Whether we like it or not, we cannot compartmentalize loving our neighbor. Particularly in the midst of contentious cultural issues.
      • The political litmus test for faith. Somehow, many Christians have decided that there's one particular political party that's inherently more Christian than another. In essence, they believe that if someone isn't affiliated with their favorite party, their eternal salvation is probably in jeopardy. This is absolute foolishness. A broad examination of Biblical principles would take you across both sides of the aisle, and into many third parties. And the opposite concept is also true. All political parties fall short of God's standards, just like we do.
      • The means of societal change. It's an idea that looks good on the surface. Armed with good intentions, many Christians have tried to change America by legislating Biblical morality. They hope to compel conformity with the rule of law. Unfortunately, this is a short sighted approach. It neglects that essential problem solving question everyone must ask - "Then what?" For example, let's just say you could pass every faith-based bill of your dreams. Then what? Would people instantly start following Jesus? I doubt it. Laws don't change hearts or make disciples. God does. Through you.
        Watch the news. Listen to your favorite talk radio program. Make educated decisions in the voting booth. Stand firm on Biblical truth. But stop making politics your idol. This sin is hurting others, misrepresenting the Gospel, and probably keeping others from Christ.

        Just seek to follow Jesus and love your neighbor, with a generous dose of humility.

        photo credit: DSC_0097 via photopin (license)

        Friday, February 27, 2015

        The Driving Secret You Never Learned in School

        Turn signals are counterproductive.

        It's happened to everyone. You're stuck in heavy traffic, crawling a few inches an hour. Annoyed at everyone else on the road, you decide it's time to change lanes. Thankfully, the guy next to you seems nice. He left a small gap, basically inviting you to move in front of him. With a grin, you flick the turn signal. Then he quickly crushes all of your faith in humanity by tapping on the accelerator. Gap closed. Opportunity lost. Day ruined.

        Don't worry. I've figured out how to solve this problem. Using my innovative strategy, I can freely change lanes in heavy traffic whenever I want. And this has been a closely guarded family secret.

        Until now.

        So buckle up (both figuratively and literally), and prepare yourself to be amazed:

        • STEP 1: Lower your sunglasses on your nose. Make them look like an old lady wearing reading glasses. Just trust me on this. It increases the effectiveness of what you're about to do.

        • STEP 2: Engage your turn signal. Why? Two reasons. First, it tests the character of the person next to you (Sorry optimists, but I'm basically guaranteeing they won't let you in). Second, it's the law. Cool people obey the law. 

        • STEP 3: Roll down your window. I don't care if it's January in Fargo - just do it. If you don't like the cold air, crank up the heat first. 

          • STEP 4: Increase the space between you and the car in front of you. But don't leave too much room. You wouldn't want to let anyone in front of you. Just leave enough space to safely execute the next few steps. 

            • STEP 5: Turn your head, and stick it slightly out the window. Be sure your sunglasses are still down on your nose. This is the key to making everything work. 

              • STEP 6: Quickly turn back, and look the other driver directly in the eyes. Give them one of those stern "let me in" looks. 

                • STEP 7: Keep staring, with your head slightly tilted down and your eyebrows raised. At this point, you'll notice the other driver pretend they don't see you. Why? They're embarrassed that you caught them intentionally keeping you from changing lanes. The overwhelming shame of this selfish decision is too much to bear. That means it's time to close the deal. 

                  • STEP 8: Carefully stick your arm out the window, and point to that tiny space they've left. While your arm is out, quickly glance forward to make sure you're not going to crash. Then, turn back and give one more intense glare. The other driver will immediately act surprised to see you. Miraculously, they'll widen the gap and let you in. Some will even wave you over with a fake smile. 

                    • STEP 9: Place your head and arm back inside the vehicle, and take your spot in the next lane. Once you've taken your rightful place, raise your right arm and give them a courtesy wave. This will make them feel like they did something generous.

                      • VARIATION: If you've got someone in the passenger seat and need to move to the right, ask them to perform a variation of the above steps. Just have them add a little more emotion. Since they don't have to watch the road, they can afford the extra effort. 

                        • DISCLAIMER: I'm not responsible for any accidents caused by you doing this incorrectly. The technique above is designed for traffic jams only. Lesser variations should be applied to faster moving situations.

                        Your life has now changed for the better. Feel free to thank me in the comment section below. 

                        photo credit: IMG_7629 via photopin (license)

                        Thursday, January 1, 2015

                        Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014

                        Time flies when you're getting old.

                        I mean, we all know I don't look old. Still strikingly handsome and youthful at 35. But time seems to be constantly quickening. 2014 brought me a fifth child, a new job and another trip to Africa. In the midst of this, I managed to carve out the time to do a little writing.

                        And I'm truly grateful to all of you who've taken time out of your busy life to read, discuss and share my posts. Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to interacting with you more in 2015.

                        One of the more interesting exercises at the end of the year in blogging is analyzing which posts garnered the most traffic. With that in mind, here's my top 5 most popular posts of 2014:

                            1) 9 Questions Not to Ask Large Families

                            2) Two Words that Prove Racism Exists in the Church

                            3) An Impossible Choice

                            4) You Might Be Wrong about Ferguson, and Racism

                            5) The Struggle No Father Dares to Discuss

                        photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

                        Tuesday, December 16, 2014

                        Ferguson: Think Biblically (A Panel Discussion)

                        It's time for Christians to have productive conversations about racism.

                        Recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City exposed the open wound of racism in our society. Unfortunately, far too many followers of Jesus have allowed political pundits to dominate their thinking on this issue. And many white evangelicals continue to deny the need to address racism both in America and in the church.

                        In the midst of this, I've been doing my best to speak logically, compassionately and Biblically about the need for Christians to openly discuss racism and racial reconciliation.

                        On Tuesday, December 9th, it was my privilege to participate in a panel discussion at the Moody Bible Institute called "Ferguson: Think Biblically". This event was hosted by Moody's African American student group, "Embrace". I shared the stage with Moody Bible Institute professors Clive Craigen, Ernest Gray, and Angela Brown. You can listen to the entire event below (After introductions, the discussion begins at 13:43):