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):

                        Tuesday, December 9, 2014

                        Don't Be Color Blind

                        Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't expect this to happen when 1,500 people gather for worship.

                        It shouldn't be dangerous. But on this particular night, the service ended with the congregation huddled in the basement fearing for their lives. You see, while they were listening to sermons and singing songs, an angry crowd gathered outside. Eventually, 3,000 white residents of Montgomery, Alabama surrounded the church and threatened to burn it down. Why? Among the worshipers were a small group of people known as "Freedom Riders". They tried to peacefully protest segregated Greyhound buses and bus stations throughout the south. They received a violent reception when they arrived in Montgomery by bus the day before.

                        Huddled in the basement, one of the speakers picked-up a telephone to call for help. But he didn't call the police. He didn't call the Governor of Alabama either. They probably wouldn't have responded. As bricks smashed through the basement windows and tear gas drifted in, Martin Luther King Jr. called U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. After a night of negotiation with authorities, Kennedy finally secured the safe release of the parishioners and the Freedom Riders around 4AM.

                        You may have slept through history class in high school, but God loves history. Even a casual reading of the Bible reveals the rich history of Israel, the Jewish people and the early church. Clearly God values history, and wants us to learn from it.

                        In order to fully understand the deep racial divide in America today, we must follow God's lead and consider the history behind it. Rather than re-taking high school history, let me give you a few relevant highlights.

                        Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't really end slavery. After almost 250 years, slavery was finally abolished in the United States with the passage of the 13th Amendment on January 31st, 1865. At that moment, approximately 4 million people were suddenly released into a society that didn't want them. To make matters more complicated, 90 percent of the slave population was illiterate. Just imagine the challenge facing these battered families. After almost 10 generations of forced labor in brutal conditions, few had marketable skills outside of farm labor. Due to the color of their skin, none of them would be able to assimilate into an unwelcoming culture. It should come as no surprise that the Ku Klux Klan was launched in 1865 as well.

                        As if that wasn't bad enough, hope was dashed in the form of broken promises. Union General William T. Sherman issued a bold "Field Order" in January of 1865 that would allow freed slaves to occupy up to 40 acres of abandoned farm land on the Atlantic coast. President Andrew Johnson swiftly overturned that order less than a year later.

                        So there they were - 4 million black people with absolutely nothing in a country that viewed them as less than human. If only the justice system would persuade white Americans to accept these former slaves as equals. Unfortunately, it did the opposite.

                        Homer Plessy was a man ahead of his time. 27 years after the slaves were freed, Homer represented a group of individuals in an act of civil disobedience. They attempted to peacefully protest segregated rail cars in Louisiana. After purchasing a first class ticket, Homer walked onto a "whites-only" car and took a seat. His subsequent arrest ultimately resulted in a landmark 1896 Supreme Court decision. Plessy v. Ferguson established the "separate but equal" doctrine for society. It officially legalized the separation of black and white America. And the whole "equal" part was never realized. Instead, a series of Jim Crow laws systematically oppressed African Americans for another 69 years. 

                        So where do we fit into this story? While Martin Luther King Jr. was desperately pleading for Robert Kennedy's help in the basement of that Montgomery church, my dad was a 10 year old kid sleeping peacefully in his Minneapolis bed. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, dad was just two months shy of his 14th birthday .

                        Legalized segregation and discrimination simply wasn't that long ago.

                        So isn't it possible, or even probable, that the racial injustice that was woven into the very fabric of our continent for over 340 years could still persist in society today? Of course it is.

                        That's why I cringe whenever I hear someone talk about being "color blind". This seemingly noble proclamation denies the stark historical reality that black and white America developed within the same borders on distinctly different paths. One group established the government and mainstream culture. The other struggled to survive being shut-out of both.

                        This painful story isn't a scar to dwell on. Rather, it's a clear explanation for our current racial divide. And an opportunity for us to make the next chapter redemptive.

                        Progress requires spiritual answers. It also demands the good works described by James, the bold cross-cultural conversations modeled by Jesus, and the defense of the oppressed called for by God through Isaiah. If you choose color blindness, you choose stagnation. You choose historical ignorance. And you deny the culturally diverse reality that God created. Instead, choose to be empowered by history. Only then can you effectively be the Gospel in the midst of our divided culture today.

                        photo credit: *Seth via photopin cc