Monday, November 30, 2015

The Key To Motivation

Friday, November 27, 2015

20 Albums In 20 Weeks: Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

What They Think

Sufjan Stevens may be one of the most highly regarded artists you’ve never hear of. Website Best Albums Ever ranked him as the number 59 artist of all-time.1 He comes in behind Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, and Prince, but ahead of Stevie Wonder and Green Day. (Charged with a near impossible task, the list is actually pretty good.) The album received praise from all directions. Metacritic gave the Carrie and Lowell an incredible score of 90, and The Guardian gave it five stars.2

What I Think

I became a Sufjan Stevens fan after hearing his song “Casimir Pulaski Day” from the album Illinois. He fearlessly makes use of any instrument at hand, varying from orchestral sounds to stripped back acoustic sounds. Carrie and Lowell  is another great album by Stevens, and quite possible his most personal. Lyrically, Stevens’ poetry has few rivals.

Favorite Lyric

The song Fourth of July gives me chills. It’s written about the last talk Stevens had with his mother in the hospital before her death. The verses alternate between words from Stevens and words from his mother.

Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles

Where It Fits

This album is too heavy to listen to all of the time, but it’s to powerful to ignore for long. When I need to reminisce or have some time in contemplation, I’ll put on Carrie and Lowell and settle in for a thoughtful listen. Sufjan Stevens’ music is haunting and beautiful and worth a listen.

For more info on Sufjan Stevens and Carrie and Lowell, check out Pitchfork's interview with him here:
                  Pitchfork's Interview With Sufjan Stevens

2 -

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Having Faith While Remaining Realistic Can Save Your Relationships

One of the greatest leadership books on the market today is Jim Collins’ Good To Great. In the book Collins discusses a thought that he termed “The Stockdale Paradox”. The maxim was drawn from the life story of Admiral James Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He endured severe torture and designed a system to help his fellow prisoners endure what they were facing. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism and courage after the war. The Stockdale Paradox includes two parts: 1)maintain faith that things will turn out for the best and that you will prevail in the end, and 2)accept the brutal truth about your current reality. Both are necessary to be able to endure and progress in life. Stockdale didn’t just employ his strategy in Vietnam, but in all of life. It enabled him to succeed in his career and eventually become a nominee for Vice President of the US.

I filter most everything I read through the context of relationships, and I believe that The Stockdale Paradox has direct implications for our relationships. For us to have relational success, we must have both components listed by Stockdale. Most relational breakdowns occur when we hold one side of the paradox and ignore the other. Here’s a glimpse at how this can play out in our lives:

Maintaining Faith But Ignoring Brutal Realities

There are lots of examples of people who have faith that their relationships will succeed, but refuse to accept the brutal realities of their circumstances. Most victims of abuse entertain this sort of thinking at times. Another example is when someone leaves their spouse to date/marry another person. At first, it seems flattering, “he left her for me”. “He chose me, we have something special”. While that may be true there are brutal realities to consider as well. You can have faith that he will love you and never leave, but the brutal reality is that he is (or at least has been) a leaver and a cheater. It doesn’t mean that he can’t change. He may make changes and be incredibly faithful and loyal. You can choose to have faith in that thought, but you should also admit the brutal reality to yourself. He left her for me. Sometimes leavers continue to leave and cheaters continue to cheat. It’s at least worth examining the thought that he could do the same thing to you one day.

Accepting Brutal Realities But Lacking Faith

Let’s be honest with ourselves, nobody’s perfect. If we are honest with ourselves, we are not even close. Life is hard and relationships can be a huge challenge. It’s easy to find brutal realities all throughout our relationships. You are not perfect and you will never have a friend, child, or spouse that is perfect either. If we become obsessed with only the negative aspects of our relationships, they don’t have a chance of surviving.

People who only see the negatives in relationships are either constantly demanding or constantly discouraged.  We must be honest about the brutal realities, but we must also have faith. We must believe the best of ourselves and of others. We don’t ignore the brutal realities, but we don’t let them define us either.

Relationships are difficult, but totally worth the effort. Engage both sides of the Stockdale Paradox as you work through the ups and downs of your relational life. You’ll be better able to decide which relationships to keep and which to let go of and you’ll enjoy your healthy relationships more deeply.

For more on The Stockdale Paradox read chapter four of Jim Collins' Good To Great.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Will Love Stop The Spread of Terrorism?

From her concert stage in Sweden last week, Madonna spoke words of love and hope in the aftermath of the nightmarish events in Paris.

Yeah, Madonna. 

Here’s a bit of what she said,

“Only love will change the world, but it’s very hard to love unconditionally, and it’s very hard to love that which we do not understand or that which is different than we are, but we have to or this will go on and on forever.”

Was she right?

Is love the only thing that will change the world? Will love and understanding stop terrorism?

Yes and no.

There’s a philosophical idea that’s popping up all over the world. It’s becoming popular in Christian circles, in politics, and even with entertainment elites. It’s a distortion of the Golden Rule.  The Golden Rule says,

                “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

That’s pretty good advice. Jesus uttered that thought over 2000 years ago, and mothers and school teachers have been uttering it ever since. The new philosophy gaining ground today builds on this thought. We’ll call it The Golden Rule 2.0. It says,

                “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and they will do the same.”

That’s a very comforting thought. The only problem is that Jesus never promised that. The point of Jesus’ teaching isn’t that there’s a way to guarantee that people will treat you well. When we twist the Golden Rule to promise this, something very ugly happens. We can begin blaming victims for how they are treated.

I’ve worked with countless abused wives who were trying to pull their lives back together. An overwhelming majority believed in The Golden Rule 2.0. They would say things like “it’s my fault that he hit me, I shouldn’t have made him angry.” They would walk softly around their husband trying not to “set him off”. The truth is that no wife should ever be abused. Ever. Period. There is no excuse for abuse. There’s also no excuse for gunning down innocent men, women, and children.

So, will unconditional love stop terrorism?


Are we still called to unconditionally love?


We love unconditionally, but we are also honest. We allow each person to be responsible for their actions without making tons of excuses. Whatever happened to make an abusive husband an abuser doesn't change the fact that he is still the one responsible for reaching back and hitting his wife. He has to find a way to get better, and if he doesn’t, he needs to answer for his actions.

We love, not to change other people , but so that we will be changed. Those who choose love, always grow. It won’t stop terrorism, but it will crush selfishness , pride, and arrogance. There will be thousands of ideas put forward as to how to stop terrorism in the coming weeks and months, and I hope that our governments will find a way to address it. But on top of all of that, let’s choose love. Choose to love honestly. Choose to love without ignoring justice. Choose to love with grace. Choose to love and choose to forgive. Choose to love and choose to hope.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lament: A Must-Read Guest Post By Josh Rouse

One of the best things you can do in life is to partner with people that are smarter than you. That's what I'm doing today. Josh Rouse is part of the leadership team at Village Church in Hayesville, NC, and we are guest writing for each other's blog today. If you haven't been reading Josh's blog, you are in for a treat. After you read him here, check him out at his blog home:

           This Josh Rouse

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Paducah, KY. New York. The Pentagon. London’s Underground. Nickel Mines in Amish country. The Taj Mahal. Newtown. Boston. Paris.

Sadly, I know I have overlooked some well-known tragic sites.
How does one give words to such events? Especially here: fresh off the latest example of mankind demonstrating its capacity for horrific evil How do we make sense of such tragedy? Of such heinousness? Of such wickedness? Of such darkness?

I have no idea.

I was struck as I watched the news unfurl on the ticker and social media this weekend: we don’t handle these events well. I saw things like, “This person will be brought to justice.” “Never forget.” #prayforParis.

Tragedy occurs and we reduce it to a hashtag.

But really, what are we supposed to do?

The political jockeying has begun littering my Facebook newsfeed again. Everybody’s passive-aggressively letting the world know their views on issues like terrorism, revenge, and the way our country handles refugees by how they are clicking “like.” And in the days to come, we’ll practice our expertly honed tradition of finger-pointing and blame-assessing.

But that doesn’t satisfy the question: what are we supposed to do with out hurt? Our pain? Our anger? Our rage?

In this time, however, I’m reminded of the usual:

Left to itself, mankind can be incredibly dark.

But I’m still wondering where we go from here? Who do we blame? What do we blame? How is justice served? How are things made right? How does restoration take place? Can it take place?

And I don’t know. I have some thoughts. But here’s what I do know…

In the Old Testament, there’s a book called Lamentations. Most scholars attribute it to the prophet Jeremiah, who’s often called “the weeping prophet.” The Jewish people have suffered the destruction of the temple and exile to a foreign nation. It’s an offering dealing with pain, horror, and grief. The Jewish people were in a state of “what now?” and their mindset and desperation are captured through Jeremiah’s words.

And there’s something else going on in the pages of Lamentations. Jeremiah voices some of the boldest critiquing of God to be found in all of scripture.

In the movie Mean Girls, the “popular” high school girls keep what they call a Burn Book. Basically, this Burn Book is a compilation of all the embarrassing, stupid, ugly, questionable things their classmates have done. It’s more like a black mail book. Within its pages, you could find the latest gossip and slander about the student body.

Lamentations reads somewhat like a Burn Book. Here is Jerusalem: the capital of God’s chosen people; and it is in ruins.

Not only that, but God stands as the accused. Jeremiah and the people blame him as the one who brought it to ruins.

The LORD has brought [Judah] grief…  (1.5)

Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me…?  (1.12)

The LORD has sapped my strength… (1.14)

The LORD has rejected all the warriors in my midst… (1.15)

The LORD has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah. (1.15)

How the LORD has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of his anger! He has hurled down the splendor of Israel from heaven to earth…  (2.1)

Without pity the LORD has swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob…  (2.2)

In his fierce anger he has cut off every horn of Israel.  (2.3)

The LORD is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel.  (2.4)

[The LORD] has multiplied mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah.  (2.5)

The LORD has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary.  (2.7)

[The LORD] has overthrown you without pity, he has let the enemy gloat over you…  (2.17)

In the day of the LORD’s anger no one escaped or survived…  (2.22)


And that’s just two of the five divisions of Lamentations.


There is no rousing speech at the end by God defending his name. There’s no Say Anything end to Lamentations, with God holding a boom box over his head, blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” There is a strange turn, however, as Jeremiah wraps up God’s Burn Book: the tension doesn’t resolve. There is no “they lived happily ever after.”
The Bible continues on though. The story doesn’t end there. God hears the hurt, the betrayal, the pain, the desperation. And he doesn’t zap Jeremiah and the people dead. He takes it.

In the midst of the accusation and anger, God takes it all. He is not afraid. He listens to his children.

Lamentations reminds me of an encounter I had with a good friend once. We were changing classes in high school one day and pushing each other around. Whenever it rained, a corner of the courtyard area would puddle up. This day, however, it was wet and incredibly cold. The puddle was no puddle. It was an ice-skating rink.

Funny thing about this good friend of mine: he had a temper. You knew what would push his buttons and set him off. (Well you didn’t, but I did!) So as we made our way past the ice puddle, I continued our shoving game by pushing him out onto the “rink.”

And there were all sorts of people were heading to the cafeteria (where we were coming from) and going to class (which we were). So as I shove my friend, he skates out onto the ice and does what could only be described as a gold medal worthy routine. And it felt as if it lasted forever.

My buddy is just flailing around like Nancy Kerrigan on a bender and a rather large crowd has gathered to watch. As the onlookers are entertained by the routine, I watch in horror because I know what is coming. My friend is going to blow his top. I have seen it rear its head. As soon as he gathered himself, he looks at me and sees dead red.

He charges like a bull and wraps me up around the waist. We’re both around 6’ tall, so this is no dwarf wrestling. He punches and grunts and snorts, angry as he can be. Yet I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let him get it out. So I held him and let him blow off his steam. It was a rare moment of extreme clarity (very rare in the life of a teenager). I had wronged him and now I needed to take my medicine—one body blow at a time.

I tell you that story because it reminds me of what’s happening in Lamentations. There God is: holding Jeremiah and the people, letting them blow off their steam, letting them vent and honestly share what they are feeling. He’s taking it. He hears every bit of it and he absorbs it.
In times like these, as we struggle with the whys? and the what-fors?, don’t be afraid to bring your questions, hurts, ills, pain, confusion, and desperation to God. He will take it. Don’t hold it in. Don’t hold back. Real. Honest. God will hold you while you swing away.

May you struggle with the whys? and the what-fors?. But may you know that the whys and what-fors? have an outlet. They are not meant to be bottled up and buried under the rug. There is a place to go with them. Specifically, there is a person to go to with them. The Almighty One, God himself, is big enough to take your hurts and fears. So may you bring them before him today. And find that he is far more loving, gracious, compassionate, and caring than you ever imagined.

Josh Rouse

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How To Avoid Damaging Others With The Bible

I know a great photographer. My family has used her on a couple of different occasions, and she is simply the best. Everyone who sees her pictures absolutely loves them.  I would recommend her highly and will use her for all of our photographic needs. How much sense would it make though if I asked her to bring over all of her equipment to the house to help me with my most pressing need right now, a deck that desperately needs to be stained? No matter how superior her camera and lighting is, it won’t do much good on the deck. It wouldn’t make sense, no matter how great she is with photography to expect her to be equally prepared and skilled when it comes to carpentry or fly fishing or chemical engineering.

But many of us have been taught that it’s ok to treat the Bible that way.

The Bible is life giving. Every word it says is true. It informs our lives. It guides, inspires, and corrects. But, in the words of Reggie Joiner, “the Bible is all true, but not all truth is found in the Bible”. Yet we stretch the Bible to force answers that it doesn’t supply on it's own. Here are three things we can all do to avoid damaging others with the Bible:

Quit Using The Bible To Speak When It Is Silent

Just because the Bible doesn’t tell us the year that the universe was created doesn’t mean that it’s less valuable. There is no reason to be afraid of what the Bible doesn’t include. God inspired the writing of the Bible to include what it includes. He has also inspired it to leave out what it leaves out. If He is ok with us not having all of the answers, then we can be ok with it too.

Quit Using The Bible As A Fact Finding Tool

The Bible wasn’t written to supply you with pithy answers to atheists who challenge you. It’s a bad idea to use the Bible to try to prove how wrong other people are. The Bible is a beautiful collection of stories, history, and poetry. It’s a story to be caught up in, not a tool to bludgeon others with. When we read the Bible with the primary goal of relating to God we will never be disappointed.

Quit Using The Bible To Try To Prove Your Point  

When we go to the Bible to back up what we already believe we close our eyes to things that God may be interested in showing us. The Bible is not a tool to prove how right you are.  It’s an invitation by the God of the universe to open our hearts and minds and be changed. When we read the Bible we are entering into a relationship. In the same way that it’s not good to use someone for our own purposes, it’s bad to use the Bible simply to win arguments.

The Bible is a powerful book. It doesn’t need to be twisted to do things it doesn’t do. It does everything we need for it to do. When we force the Bible to say things it isn’t really saying, we either become discouraged or we hurt other people, and the Bible doesn’t exist for either of those purposes.

Quote from Reggie Joiner at Orange Tour Charlotte 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fear Is Contagious: How To Avoid Being Infected

My mom used to love to watch Christian television. There was a channel devoted only to Christian programming, and when no one else was watching, that’s what the TV would be tuned to. I remember sitting down when one of the shows was on. I was too lazy to try to find the remote, so I let the show continue on. There was a man with large hair sitting next to a woman with even larger hair, and they were talking about the end of the world. They had these huge smiles on their faces, like they had just won the lottery, or rather that you had just won the lottery and they were eager to steal it from you. They talked about government alliances, red heafers, the pope, beasts with horns, and a lot of other things that I can’t remember. I was too young to know what it all meant, I only knew that they seemed very convinced that the world was going to end. Although they seemed happy about it, the brutal events that they were talking about scared me to death.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy there are instruction regarding warfare for the nation of Israel. As I was reading through (not that I’m planning on going to war anytime soon), one of the instructions captured my attention:

“Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.”1

That verse put into words something I had already experienced and that you probably know as well: fear is contagious.

If you spend a lot of time around fearful people you will become fearful as well. Fear spreads like a virus. Your brain starts to chase down all of the worst case scenarios and all of the bad things that could happen and before long, fear is in the driver’s seat of your mind.

Is your peace of mind being shaken by fear? Here are three things to consider:

Is my fear likely or only possible?

Few people have a daily fear of being struck by a meteor. The reason for that is that it’s extremely unlikely for it to ever happen. It’s possible that it could happen, but the chances are so remote, that there’s no real reason to consider it. It would be like building a home that could withstand incredible blizzards and sub-zero temperatures in Miami Fla. It would be a waste of money to build that home in Miami. It’s also a waste of emotional energy to worry about things that are incredible unlikely. If you made an  honest list of your fears, how likely would they be? Some may be realistic but many are probably not. If there are unrealistic fears that you carry, set them aside. They are gobbling up much needed energy and are doing you no good.

Am I taking action against the fear?

Fear multiples when we refuse to address it. It shrinks when we face it head on. If you’ve ever jumped off of a high diving board at a pool you know what I mean. The first time you edge your toes up to the end of the board, the pool seems to be a million feet below. Once you make your first jump, your fear begins to subside. Pretty soon, your fear is replaced by enjoyment. The more you think about what you fear and dread it, the more the fear will multiply. Facing the fear itself is much less stressful than carrying around the dread of it.

Are you talking about it to the right people?

Silence can be an incubator for fear. The more fear bounces around in your mind, the more it grows. Talking to someone about what you fear allows you to clear the air and get a fresh look at what is worrying you. The release that comes from getting your thoughts out relieves a great deal of stress. Also, it allows someone else to help you sort through your thoughts. Not being alone in your fear can help more than you ever imagined.

If fear is wearing you out and wrecking your life, take some time to think through these questions. While some fear is realistic and healthy, much of what we carry around isn’t. Fear doesn’t have to control you, you can have the peace you desperately want and need.

1 - Deuteronomy 8:20 (English Standard Version)
Photo Courtesy: "AustralianMuseum spider specimen 03" by Toby Hudson - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 au via Wikimedia Commons - you, you are likely more courageous than you’ve given yourself credit for.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Forgotten Art of Confession and How It Can Make You Whole

Confession is an important part of the Christian life. We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all hurt others. When that happens, we can either own it and talk about it, or ignore it and allow it to fester inside of us. Owning or confessing things can be difficult, but it leads to forgiveness and often reconciliation. Confession releases the heavy weight that guilt and shame inflicts on our souls, and thereby sets the stage for future growth. Also, we when confess to God, we find something amazing: He doesn’t hate us like we feared He would. He is not waiting to push us away, but is eager to embrace us and welcome us back. If you are new to the spiritual practice of confession, here are a couple of things to remember:

Don’t Confess Only to God

Being honest with God is a good place to start, but if there is someone that you have hurt with your decisions, you need to talk with them as well.  Many of us grew up in Christian environments where all that mattered was privately telling God that we were sorry. That sort of confession does nothing for those we hurt. We can’t always talk to those we hurt, but when we can, we should. When our bad decisions don’t directly affect anyone else, finding someone to tell is still important. When I confess to someone else, they can encourage me, and possibly follow up to see how I am doing going forward.

Don’t Confess To Just Anybody

When you are confessing to someone so that they can encourage you and keep you accountable, who you choose is critical. Confession is an intimate process, and some people don't do well with sensitive information. It’s ok to acknowledge that some people are more trustworthy than others. When you are talking through painful decisions you have made and that you are hoping to not repeat, you don’t need to be wondering in the back of your mind if this information is going to be spread around to others. Choose those you confide in wisely.

Don’t Confess To Everybody

The "social media confession" has grown in popularity over the past few years. Many people who have messed up in a relationship take to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to tell the world how deeply sorry they are for what they have done.  Many people hope that if the world sees how truly repentant they are, the person they have wronged will give them a second chance. This is desperation at best and manipulation at worst. Avoid it at all costs!

Don’t Confess By Comparing

“I’m really sorry I used the quilt your mother gave us to clean my old bowling trophies, but you bounced a check last month and didn’t tell me about it…” We’ve all heard confessions like these, many of us have attempted them as well. This sort of confession isn’t really a confession at all. It’s a justification. You hope that by comparing what you have done to something they have done, they will be more likely to forgive you. I’m not sure why we would think that bringing up someone’s past would make them more forgiving. Confession is about you, don’t make it about other people. Forgiveness isn’t about fairness. Convincing someone that they aren’t so great either isn’t a healthy way to engage confession.

Confession is difficult, but if handled well, it can be the first step to change and growth.  Confessing doesn’t guarantee that people will forgive you, but it does help you begin the process of moving forward. Remember the tips below and you can get a fresh start in your personal growth.