A Time to Listen – White Men Can Love Their Black Brothers Better

Not just on a day like today, but on, oh, so many days in the past tumultuous year, we speak our mind.

We have a comment and opinion on every news item that crosses our feed. Everything is shaded in hues of left and right. Everything is spun and spat with webs of liberal or conservative fears and prophesies. We speak so much we stop saying anything of any true substance at all.

And often times, we speak out of turn. We speak our defenses when the court is lending its ear to the prosecution. We speak our minors in the presence of things truly major.

We speak. And speak. And speak.

And we miss the sign written all around us. “This is a time to listen.”

Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, we have a lot of folly and shame to deal with. And when I say “we” here, I am really talking about my white brothers and sisters. Every one of us on this planet can take heed from Solomon on this one, but in many regards, it is the white tribe to which I belong that should weigh the King’s words in this tumultuous season.

A lot of issues that we wrestle with, events that we click, share, post, and comment on in blinding speed, are more complex than people on both sides would care to admit. Complexity demands good listening – not the quick-fire, defensive back-and-forths that define so much of our social media conversations.

As national events like we have seen in Ferguson and New York have transpired, I have watched African-American brothers in Christ honestly struggle in the open as the details emerge. To say I absolutely, fundamentally understand the struggle would be to diminish their unique personhood and the creativity of a God who wove their unique stories. But I do know they struggled.

The most loving thing one could do at that moment, especially as a white brother in Christ, would be to listen. Really, truly, actually, actively listen.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even dare to be silent with you.
– Henry Nouwen

But this form of loving one another is so antithetical to the attitude we embrace when we share and comment on social media in particular.

This has been grossly evident in the comment sections of some of the raw, gut-wrenching posts from my African-American brothers in Christ. In moments of pure turmoil when they deal with the ugliness and the worldly brokenness of dead bodies, blood on the streets, and true injustice, the ugliness gets uglier when their white brothers in Christ do not act like their Savior, who according to Philippians 2 thought of others as more important than himself. We do not love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love that hopes all things and believes all things as we do not give one another the benefit of the doubt. We do not remain slow to speak or anger and quick to listen, as we, within seconds, hit “Enter” to post a comment that destroys the humanity of the original poster.

The loving thing to do would be to allow our brother to air his struggle. That is the essence of Christian fellowship: vulnerability and freedom to handle the ugliness of the world out in the open in light of the hope and grace found in the cross and resurrection.

The loving thing to do would be to read our brother’s comment with ears intent to hear the man’s heart – not to assume his agenda.

And often the loving thing to do would be to close our mouths or, in the cyber realm, get our fingers away from the keyboard.

Pastors and leaders have rightly argued in recent days that in light of current events it is “A Time to Speak”.

But if it is a time for some to speak, then that must mean that for others it must be a time to listen.

Are we listening?


It is a time to listen in more ways than one.

Today, in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some of the things I am listening to:

 

Five Youtube Videos That Earned My Thanks

When my family makes it’s way around the table so that each person can offer something for which they are thankful, I am going to be pretty tempted to say thanks for Youtube.

I know I am not the only one either.

How many times have you found yourself in a situation and you didn’t know what to do? Sure, maybe the first thing you did was think, “Oh, I know! I’ll Google it.”

Then your browser takes you to a list of videos on Youtube showing you how or to a list of blogs which include said videos within the text.

It may seem trivial, but, man, I am thankful for Youtube.

Since I am in such a festive mood, here are 5 videos for which I am particularly thankful:

1.  How to Carve a Turkey (from Art of Manliness)

One thing I am doing in a current discipleship group is working through what we call man-plans. We each chose 2-3 things we wanted to learn from a list found in this great book on biblical manhood.

One of the things I chose to learn (or really re-learn) is how to carve a turkey. This video was just what I was looking for. The corresponding blog article also includes step by step written instructions.

If you’re a guy whose never taken the reins of the holiday bird, check out the video and step up to the serving plate this Thanksgiving.

2. How to Tie a Tie (from Tie-a-Tie.net)

I am not embarrassed to say this video might be one of my best-friends.

Before serving at a church where tie-tying knowledge is a necessity, I didn’t really have much of a demand in my life to step up and learn how to tie a tie. As I hit graduation from seminary and went through the interview process, the demand picked up quickly.

At this point, I no longer need to watch the video. But I do find my way back to the site to brush up on my technique or to look at other knots.

Still don’t know how to tie a tie? Check out this video to learn how to tie a half-windsor knot.

3. Kings to Win Protest Against Grizzlies

One, I am thankful for the Memphis Grizzlies. I am thankful for the Grit-Grind. I am thankful for their NBA-best start to the season.

I am also thankful for really funny videos. When I first watched this video, I was overly anxious that the NBA was going to strip the Grizzlies of their controversial win over the Sacramento Kings.

Lastly I am thankful for Rickrolling.

4. Surge is Back!

When I found out that this once-extinct beverage was making it’s way back to the market on Amazon via a Facebook campaign, I ordered several cases.

I am thankful for the many memories it brought back from my days growing up in a crazy youth group.

I am thankful for Surge, as it helped me accomplish one of my initial goals when I became a youth pastor: Make a kid throw up. 

It was glorious.

5. Katy Perry – Dark Horse – Ten Second Songs Cover

For one thing, I am thankful that people who have talent (not talking about Perry here) still have an outlet to showcase their creativity. This guy is awesome.

But I am also thankful for this Katy Perry song for another reason.

One night this fall, some students decided to play some pranks on the youth pastor.

They didn’t know what they were setting themselves up for.

I may or may not have kept the students up til 4 a.m. I may or may not have poured water on all of them as they slept in their sleeping bags. I may or may not have thrown their stuff in the street.

I may or may not have played this song and sung some of the lyrics in a very menacing voice while blowing up balloons filled with shaving cream.

No matter how long I live, Dark Horse will be a song very close to my prank-loving heart.

So thank you Youtube for letting me reminisce on my night of terror in 20 different styles.


Obviously in the endless spectrum of Youtube videos, there are a number of other videos that I have enjoyed or benefitted from this year, but these are 5 for which I am especially grateful.

What about you? Send me a link to a Youtube video that you are thankful for this year.

Wisdom in Action: From the Baseball Diamond to the Real Life Battlefield

THIS POST IS PART OF THE NEW SERIES, “A GOOD SOLDIER” – A SERIES OF REFLECTIONS ON THE MILITARY CLASSIC ONCE AN EAGLE AND HOW THE LESSONS WITHIN THE BOOK CONNECT TO BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP. FOR AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Doing the Right Thing

When You Don’t Know What to Do

Sam Damon not only was a good soldier. He was one heck of a baseball player.

He excelled at the high school level and continued to play competitively after graduation. Soon after joining the army, Damon finds himself on the familiar diamond in a scrimmage between the troops. Even among a group of athletic soldiers that included former professional athletes, Damon stood out.

He could throw and hit a baseball harder and farther than most men, and he knew it. (p. 58)

With two outs in the last inning and Damon’s team clinging to a marginal lead, Private Sam Damon gives the reader a glimpse at true wisdom.

First, Damon accurately assessed the situation.

Davis, a solid hitter in his own right, is standing at the plate. If he gets on base, Damon’s team will find themselves letting the victory out of their clutches. Damon watched from the outfield as his pitcher stared the batter down and considered carefully his next pitch.

Sam knew what the big man was thinking: if he didn’t get Davis he would have to face Corporal Hansen, a big blond Swede who had hit him all afternoon, who could always hit him — who would drive in the two runs and the game would be over. (p. 59-60)

From over a hundred feet away, Damon observed what was happening and knew what would happen next if immediate action wasn’t taken to deal with the batter at hand. This at-bat, one way or the other, would determine the game.

Damon knew something had to be done.

Next, Damon instinctively acted with skill and with decisiveness.

Pitch by pitch, Damon predicted what would happen as if he were the pitcher and batter himself. Damon knew the pitcher was about to unleash a fastball right over the plate to try to bring the count back in his favor. He also knew that the batter would anticipate the fast pitch and would take a hard swing.

Seconds later, a line drive soars in Damon’s direction in left center. Time almost freezes as the outcome of the game lies in the balance.

Davis is about to get on base… Hansen’s coming to the plate… Damon’s team is about to lose.

As Damon chases down the line drive bouncing in the rough grass of the outfield, Damon, in an instance of spontaneous awareness, processes everything that is happening and everything that is about to happen and executes a deceptive play on the ball – all on a whim with the game on the line.

Without any conscious thought he dipped down, trapped the ball deftly; then spun around in the wilted yellow grass as though bewildered, took a step back. There was an outcry and he could hear Merrick distinctly now, shouting, “Go on, go on!” He wheeled and threw with all his might…

Out. Out a mile. The game was over. (p. 60-61)

Even as the ball screams towards him, Damon isn’t entirely sure what he’s going to do. He finds himself in a position that requires immediate action. Damon obliges and acts.

Later on, after the spectacular game-winning assist had caused a scuffle among the troops, Damon admits to his commanding officer that this wasn’t a scheme he had tried in other games. This wasn’t planned out ahead of time. This wasn’t a case of knowing what to do because he had “been there, done that”. This was a man in the face of conflict, executing with skill and decisiveness.

Sam Damon, a humble Private in a scrimmage among troops on a baseball diamond, exhibits for us, biblical wisdom.

Wisdom is not just knowing truth; wisdom is the ability to live life skillfully.

My church is working through the book of Proverbs on Sunday mornings right now. In his introduction to the sermon series, my senior pastor offered several definitions of wisdom.

My favorite was this:  Doing the right thing without precedent.

Commenting on this definition of wisdom, Pastor Darrin explained, “[Wisdom] means you know what to do in a situation even though you’ve never experienced it before. You have built up such an understanding of life from God’s perspective that you have skills not from experience but from intuition.”

Wisdom is Sam Damon in the outfield.

In life, you are going to get a line drive hit right to you with the game on the line. There won’t be time to do research or take a survey from friends and counselors who have been there before.

You are going to have to field the ball now or you’re going to lose the game.

You are going to need wisdom.

Great. Thanks for obvious. I need wisdom. How am I supposed to get that?

Whether we turn to Chris Pratt guarding the endangered galaxy or Mitch Hedberg pointing out the irony in the mundane like the way escalators can never be “out of order” because they just turn into stairs, we are a people who love one-liners.

Star-Lord delivers the one-liners at a rapid pace. What? You’ve never heard of Star-Lord?!?

But the king of one-liners was also the king of wisdom.

He was a man wiser than any other – one who could step into a situation he had not faced before (such as handing over a baby claimed by two women) and execute with skill and decisiveness (threatening to slice the baby in half):

King Solomon, son of David.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon drops the one-liner of all one-liners to answer the fool who doesn’t really buy into the idea that he needs wisdom to field the line drives of life with skill and precision. He says:

The beginning of wisdom is this… GET WISDOM.

Proverbs 4:7

If we want to live life with skill and decisiveness, we can’t just wait until the line drive is already heading our way and hope that we can handle it. Skill and the ability to make a decision with decisiveness come from a lifetime pursuit of discipline, character, and conviction.

Solomon sees you facing a situation you’ve never met before – parenting your kid through a new phase of growth and maturity – going through an interview process you’ve never had to endure – putting the food on the table with an income not quite at what you’ve been accustomed – and he offers a word of advice.

You need wisdom?

Get after it.

Go. Get. Wisdom.

God will be gracious to grant wisdom to those who seek it (James 1:5-6).

But wisdom requires some exercise and discipline on our own end.

Damon would not have been able to field the line drive bouncing awkwardly in the grass…

He would not have been able to fire a rocket to home plate with such accuracy and might…

He would not have recognized the likelihood of his team’s defeat in the present situation…

He would not have the wisdom needed to execute his trick play…

… had he not put in years of disciplined, physical training and rigorous study of the game of baseball.

Being prepared for life to come our way does not mean we will always know what to do when crisis strikes. But when the ball takes a hard bounce the other way and we need to fire a line back to the plate, we need to be in a position where we have done everything we possibly could ahead of time in order to be in a position to live life skillfully with decisiveness.

When life demands some hard work, we need to have taken the time to put some wisdom in our tool belt. The job is not going to get done without it.

There isn’t always time to consider options or get second opinions. The game will be over unless we act with wisdom.

So let’s go get it.

“A Good Soldier” – A New Series.

Part 1: 10 Practical Ways to Obey 2 Timothy 2:7.

When I was undergoing some pastoral training at my local church in Louisville, KY during my seminary days, a good friend of mine raised his hand during a brief time for Q&A.

“If there’s one thing I could read to help me understand leadership better, what would it be?” Rob asked.

Our lead pastor did not hesitate. He told us about a gargantuan book that he had recently worked through. He told us about a book that every man was given at West Point in order to prepare for a life of service. He told us about Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle. And then after the session was over, he gave his copy to Rob.

Now, I wasn’t the one bright enough to ask such a helpful question. But after I had heard such praiseworthy comments about the novel and had seen its Large-Print Family Room KJV Bible size, I went home and immediately ordered a copy on Amazon.

During that time, I was working on a term paper on the significance of the apostle Paul’s usage of the soldier metaphor. My friend Rob and I had also been watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, together and discussing leadership principles we had ascertained from each episode. So to be introduced to a military classic with this kind of reputation was something I could not pass up.

Recently, my wife and I have begun to listen to this masterpiece on audiobook. The narration is a little too speedy at times for my taste but the book still manages to take over 41 hours of listening to complete. During the course of these long hours of taking in a tale of leadership, discipline, and loyalty, I have had plenty of time to meditate on some of Paul’s last written words to his disciple Timothy.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim 2:3).

Being a pastor, a ministry leader, or just a Christian who is doing the normal Christian duty of making disciples is like the life and work of a good soldier. This was one of Paul’s go-to metaphors in his letters. Over and over again, he pointed to the Roman soldiers of his day to teach truths about the Christian life.

At the end of this passage, Paul tells Timothy to do something with this favorite metaphor.

“Think over what I say,

for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

2 Timothy 2:7

There’s a command, and there’s a promise. Paul did not just talk about soldiers for fun. It wasn’t because he particularly enjoyed military history. He didn’t just happen to be a Stephen Ambrose type of guy.

The reason Paul went to this metaphor over and over, and the reason he commanded Timothy to meditate on it, is that the Lord has ordained the soldier (along with the athlete and farmer) to be inspired examples for pastoral ministry and the everyday Christian life.

God has chosen the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer to uniquely teach Christians what their life is supposed to look like. This, Paul says, deserves our attention.

This passage calls for a response. It demands some action. On a practical level, 2 Timothy 2:7 basically tells New Testament believers that if they want to understand their lives and callings as Christians who make disciples, they should buy some old military books, spend some nights watching sports, and get a little dirty planting something in the ground.

Here are 10 ways that you can follow Paul’s instruction on meditating on how the soldier, athlete, and farmer teach us about the Christian life and discipleship:


10 Practical Ways We Can Obey 2 Timothy 2:7

  1. Read military history, biographies, novels, and memoirs that give insight into the life of the soldier.
  2. Watch a military film like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, or anything else besides Pearl Harbor.
  3. Talk to a military vet about their time in the service.
  4. Play in a sports league.
  5. Train to run a marathon.
  6. Grab some buddies and have a regular night where you watch the big game (Paul said to meditate on the athlete. No “I don’t like sports” answers allowed).
  7. Watch great documentaries like many in the 30 for 30 series to gain insight into the life of an athlete.
  8. Plant and maintain a garden.
  9. Visit a local farm and see first hand the work that goes into producing a harvest.
  10. Read some John Steinbeck or Wendell Berry that gives insight the life and work of a farmer.

While doing one of these simple tasks, follow Paul’s command. Meditate on what you are hearing, seeing, feeling, learning, experiencing. What about these tasks lines up with what you are called to be and do as a believer? What insight can you gain from these areas of life and culture that speak into our worldview as a disciplemaking follower of Jesus.

Don’t just do one of these tasks. Watching a war movie or playing a pickup game at the gym in and of itself will not help you reach Paul’s goal of understanding the Christian life. We need to do these things while seeking the Lord in prayer asking him to give us wisdom and insight into why he has chosen these unique metaphors to teach us about our lives.

 


 

In this new blog series, I am trying to do my own part in obeying Paul’s command in verse 7. What exactly is it supposed to look like for me to live my Christian life, to serve in my ministry, like a soldier? While working my way through Myrer’s military classic, I am trying to pull away principles from Once An Eagle and examine them in light of Scripture and Paul’s revelation that the story of the soldier is a parable for the Christian’s own sojourn through life.

I pray that as we give thought to the life of the soldier, we would see the fruit of the Lord being faithful to his promise — that we might be given “understanding in everything.”

I’d like to hear from you. Do you have a favorite military movie or biography? Favorite sports documentary? Have you ever read a single book about farming? Leave a comment below. I am always looking for new resources to help me in my own quest to think over what Paul has to say to us.

Five Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere, with Anyone

I remember the first time I had the opportunity to lead a Bible Study. I was in high school, and once every week I would meet with my youth pastor and a few other guys in my youth group at Perkins for breakfast and conversation about the Bible.

After a few weeks, my youth pastor decided he wanted the students to take some ownership in the group so he asked me to lead the discussions at the table. Being one who always wanted a role in leadership and feared the idea of disappointing a mentor, I jumped at the opportunity even though I had no idea how to lead a Bible Study.

I don’t remember much about those Bible Studies at breakfast, but I am positive they were terrible. I had no clue what I was doing. I would read a passage the night before and try to find something creative to point out – something that would make the rest of the group ooh and aah while nodding their heads in approval.

That’s not exactly how things turned out. I stuttered my way through the talk each morning trying to find something meaningful to highlight while sharing nothing with clarity. After a few weeks, I grew weary of the exercise and the early mornings soon became too much. I soon vacated my role as Bible Study Leader and took back my few extra hours of sleep in the morning.

The Bible Studies were so bad even the Bible Study Leader quit coming.

I had a worthy goal.

I did not have the skills to successfully achieve my goal.

I burned out and went back to bed.

There were many problems in the way I approached the Bible Study.

Leading a Bible Study means letting the Bible take the lead. 

The first problem was I thought leading a Bible Study meant I needed to come up with something to say. Good Bible Study Leaders and Teachers know that they are not coming up with something to teach; they let the Bible teach for itself.

When you write a Sunday School lesson, a Bible Study, or even a sermon, you do not go to the Bible with something to say. You go to the Bible to see what it has to say.

I should not have prepared for my Bible Studies by looking for that elusive moment of inspiration when I would find something that would leave everyone breathless. Instead, I should have spent time figuring out what the author of the passage was trying to say.

Leading a Bible Study is more effective when one person is not doing all the talking. 

Probably not your best method for leading a Bible Study at Perkins.

A lot of times when we try to lead a Bible study for the first time, we think we need to duplicate what our pastor does on Sunday morning. We think that we need to be a teacher who does all the talking and who is is responsible for teaching a set lesson.

But often times the most effective thing a Bible Study Leader can do is sit back and facilitate. Asking good open-ended questions and letting others discover what the text is saying through conversation often provides deeper, richer learning than straightforward lessons where only one person does the talking.

In most cases, Bible Studies should be a dialogue that depends on the group navigating the text rather than a monologue by the expert. One reason for this is that good questions that lead to a dialogue is a much more reproducible method than the expert monologue model.

Leading a Bible Study is easier than you think.

Some of you probably believe that you could never lead a Bible Study. You’re wrong.

God has called all believers to make disciples. He has called us to teach others to obey everything that Christ has commanded us. Paul says we are to be “teaching one another,” (Col 3:16). Teaching at some level is something all Christians are expected to do.

The fact is Jesus would not call you to do something that is impossible for the non-experts. When God calls us to make disciples and to teach one another, he is calling us to a task that is doable. We just overcomplicate it too many times.

Whether it is with your kids at home, with some friends at school, or your spouse, you should be leading someone in discussions on the Bible. That’s just one part of what it means to make a disciple.

So how can we do that?

 

5 Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere with Anyone

There are many methods you could use to lead a simple Bible Study. This is just one way that allows you to open up a Bible passage at any time with anyone and have a solid, biblical conversation that will produce great fruit.

I was taught this method of Bible Study by one of my former pastors, Chad Lewis. I have taken this method that he passed on to me and taught it to several men in discipleship classes. It has been fascinating to watch men who never thought they could lead, take these five questions and become able Bible Study leaders in a short amount of time.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself?
  3. How do I need to respond to these truths?
  4. How does this passage lead me to worship?
  5. How can I use this passage to minister to others?

Take these five questions today and work through them with someone you know. Allow time for the both of you to meditate on these questions and to talk about some of the answers that the Holy Spirit has brought to mind.

The beauty of this model is that it works for every passage of Scripture. You can use it in the Gospels or in the Books of the Law. You can use it in Paul’s Letters or in the Prophets. You can use it in a narrative or in a poem. Where ever you are in the Bible, these five questions will continually lead you in powerful discussions about God and his Word.


This set of questions is just one of the many tools I learned from Pastor Chad Lewis in Pastor’s School at Sojourn Community Church. One of my favorite things about Pastor’s School was how everything that we were taught was reproducible – taught in a way that we could take it to someone else.

Another gift that Chad has continued to take to others is his gift of songwriting.

Right now, in the wake of great suffering and loss, Chad is working on a new album that you can be a part of. Please consider being a part of the Kickstarter campaign to help him finish the album.

Chad has passed on many things to me that I have been able to share with many others. How awesome would it be to see the masses of people that this man’s ministry has impacted rally together to serve him in return.

Help make this album happen.
Help make this album happen.

Whether it is a small financial gift or just the click of a share button on Facebook, take a moment in the next few days to help Pastor Chad accomplish this goal so that he can continue to use his gifts to minister to others.


 

[Update] As of this afternoon, Pastor Chad’s album has been fully funded! You can still chip in if you’d like to be a part of the production and receive some cool rewards.