My Birthday is Coming….I Want Presents!

February 12 actually.

And this year, I am going to do all that I can to get as many gifts as possible. Not for me, but to help free the 27 million people around the world who are held against their will and forced to work in brutal conditions with little or no pay.

Slaves….today….it’s hard to believe but impossible to ignore.  There are so many factors that go in to someone becoming a slave, and just as many ways that we can get involved to help stop it.

I first became away of The A21 Campaign in the months leading up to The Passion Conference. But ever since then, I have not been able to look at my children, without thinking of the millions of children in the world who are sold as sex slaves.

Watch this:

And so, for my birthday, as well as my wife’s birthday, and our son’s birthday we are asking you to give presents, to give financially to The A21 Campaign to help end human trafficking.  I plan to blog once a month on this issue, as well as send emails, and post wherever I can, so that as many people as possible will become aware, and help provide the financial resources the A21 Campaign needs to actively combat this injustice.

So I am asking you, for my birthday, please give a gift. Please consider giving a donation equal to the amount of a birthday gift….or even more!

My family has created a fundraising page to make it as easy as possible to learn more about human trafficking, to give safely, and then to pass along the page to others, encouraging them to join the fight.

To learn more and give me a birthday gift, check out our family fundraising page by clicking  HERE

You can learn all about the problem and the solution by going to The A21 Campaign website.

Please help us spread the word and thank you in advance for my birthday presents!

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Open Letter to 18-25 year olds (cont’d)

The fallacy of the straight line (the audacity of the scribble).

Page 2 (If you missed page 1 please click here to catch up)       

So throughout the stories of the bible you find the audacity of the scribble. Abraham’s life was headed in a straight line until God calls him to leave his home and bring his family to a new land. Moses had a nice career….you know….building stuff….and then he is on the run for murder and finds himself talking to some shrubs on fire.  David was just a shepherd boy, and then an old guy (Samuel) pours oil on his head, and his life begins to spin — forward and then seemingly backward, and then upside down, and then the bottom drops out, only to be raised up again. There is Noah, and Jonah, and Solomon, and Hosea.  There are the Israelites wandering in the wilderness (which is actually a giant scribble in the sand) and Ezekiel, and Peter, and Paul, and John the Baptist. Even the life of Jesus seems to be following safe, familiar patterns for the most part, until around 30 when he is baptized and starts to preach the Kingdom of God. Everything spins out of control until he ends up in the scribble of betrayal, hate, flying fists and spit….ending with a cross, and nails, and execution.  Jesus shared in all that we are, including the scribble of life. 

And then 3 days later….

You and I no longer have to fear the unknown, the unclear, or the scribble of life. Jesus, the risen Son of God walks with us in and through the scribble, using that scribble to show us a new way to live, to think, to work and love and play. Now we embrace Jesus in the middle of what looks like scribble, throwing away all hopes of a straight line.

So our plans do not work out the way we thought, but Jesus is leading us, and we would rather follow Him in the scribble than walk a straight line of disobedience. You still plan, you work hard, you hope and dream, but you offer all of that to your real master, one who may lead you away from all of those things, into a life you could not have imagined.

Finally, a few observations as I finish this letter:

1. You don’t get to see the end from the beginning, but you will see the beginning from the end. One of the downfalls of living life forward, is that you don’t get all of the details, you can’t see all that God is doing, before you take your first step. But, it is a beautiful thing to be able to stop at a point in your life, look back at the direction God has led you, and be in awe of his care and purpose.

2. You are not called to wait until all lines become straight. You must follow Jesus now, even though your life is unclear and God seems distant. God is not far away, and it is often in the feeling of distance that God is doing His best work in our lives. Martin Luther would look at the scribble of Jesus on the cross and say that where God seems most hidden, there God is revealed….the same is true in our lives.

3. Call your parents. I know, you didn’t see that one coming! Call them. I get it, your busy and you don’t always think of it and they should understand….but they don’t. I can’t imagine having one the main goals in your life as a parent (to see your kids off) is also the most painful.   So put the letter down, call one of them right now, tell them you can’t talk long, you’re in a bad coverage area, but you just wanted to say hey! No reason, no money, just hey, and once they come to and pick up the phone, they will be happy.

Talk to you soon….if you ever call (just practicing)

Peace,

Bryan

Open Letter to 18-25 Year Olds: The Fallacy of the Straight Line (the Audacity of the Scribble)

Dear 18-25 year old,                                                                                                       

I know it’s kind of awkward getting a letter like this from me, either because you have no idea who I am, or you find it strange that I would write random letters to whole groups of people….I can see your point.  I only know that I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with your age group (not that I am too far away from it!) and there are a few things I feel like I need to share with you before you go any further.

These are not new ideas and you probably know all of this already, so just humor me and keep reading. What I’m about to say is written from a heart that believes in you, or more importantly, believes in what God wants to do in your life….if you will only learn not to fear the scribble (yeah you need to keep reading if that’s going to make any sense)

Most of us love straight lines. We like to make plans, set goals, create situations, and then we like to see those plans, goals, and situations play out, exactly as we planned, goaled, and created (goaled is a word to me).

What we secretly long for in our lives is for every plan we make to have a line that moves from point A (where we are) to point B (where we plan to go).

Like it or not, while straight lines exist on paper, they can rarely be found in real life. But this truth does not keep us from trying.  So you plan to graduate from High school and move on to the college of your choice. You graduate in 4 years and then you get married, to the spouse of your choice. You immediately move in to the career of your choice and soon you buy the house of your choice. Then the dog (the test baby) and if that goes well you have a child (the real baby) and so on and so forth.

we take comfort in straight lines

we love them

we have faith in them.

And then you don’t get in to your college, or you graduate without a spouse, or you move back home with your parents, or no one is hiring, or you are not doing the kind of work you really want to be doing. There is a tragedy in your family, or you struggle to have children. Suddenly we start to see the fallacy of the straight line. If we were to map out our lives it would look more like a scribble. A scribble has loops, it rises and falls and goes backward and forward and even diagonally. It looks messy and yet beautiful at the same time.

Now you must plan and even talk about and work toward your hopes and dreams. But even those plans must come with the understanding that for every time your life moves from A to B, it will move back to A, and then over to C, only to move around to B again.

I think about a guy from the bible named Joseph.

Joseph was loved by his Father, and blessed by God. But follow the path of his life. He gets betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery – not exactly A to B. He gets to Egypt, and eventually rises in the ranks, becoming the CEO of Potiphar’s house. What’s next? He gets solicited for sex by his owner’s wife! Next she frames him, and her husband throws Joseph in prison. God’s hand is on him, and eventually he leaves prison and becomes second in command of Egypt.  To make things more complicated, Joseph has a run in with his jerk brothers. when he finally reveals himself to them, this is what he says:

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. Genesis 45:5

God sent him? The betrayal? the pit? Slavery? Egypt? The Sexual advances? The lies? Prison???? This was God sending Joseph to Egypt to be in a position to save his family? Seems like God could have moved Joseph from A to B and avoided all the mess.

Later, when Joseph’s Father had died and his brothers were expecting revenge, Joseph reassured them by saying this:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:19-20

We want to run from the scribble in our lives, assuring ourselves it is not God’s plan….unless it is. Unless in the middle of the loops and rises and falls — right in the middle of all of the scribble there is God, shaping and forming our hearts, so that at the end of the scribble we are at the right place, at the right time, to be used by God to glorify Him, and share life and light with others.

As I finish up this letter, I have 4 final thoughts on this subject I’d like to share with you, but I think I will save those for tomorrow…oh come on….it will be like turning to page 2 of the letter….Just a really long turn.

Until tomorrow, I’d love to get your thoughts, comments, and testimonies on how God has led you in the scribble, and if you’d be so kind as to share this with someone else, that would be just swell.

Lessons from my Attack: The Church & False Advertising Part II

After my shower I sat down on the couch and rubbed my newly trimmed face as I laughed about what had just happened. (Oh, if you didn’t read the beard story, you should probably do that now. Consider this the scene at the beginning of the second movie where you flashback in order to understand the back story. I know, part I is kind of long and rambling, but it may help part II make more sense….maybe).

That experience reminded me of a comedian who once had a bit about the names we give to neighborhoods, and how those names have nothing to do with the place where we live. So you live in the “Pheasant Hills” neighborhood where there are neither pheasants nor hills. Or you rent an apartment at “Willow Run”, where there are no willows for miles.

Sometimes the church does this with the names we come up with. I cannot explain it any better than Jon Acuff does on his site, “Stuff Christians Like”. (Take a look, I’ll wait). We call ourselves “Life Church” though we are the deadest place in town. We use terms like “Grace”  but we only offer it to ourselves, or “Community” when we have no intention of sharing life, real life, with the people who attend there. Our church signs and local paper advertisements speak of our place of worship as “a loving place” when it’s members are feuding and gossiping; we declare, “all are welcome” but if certain parts of the “all” would ever come and visit, they would quickly learn they were not part of the “all” the sign meant….you get the idea.

Day after day in a million different ways, through our signs, logos, bulletins, and vision statements, we make claims about who we are — we put certain things on the menu, but when push comes to shove, we are not ready for the person who enters the building and actually asks for it.  We fumble, make excuses, defer, and then we say, “well, I think we’re done here, what do you think?” And like a beard trim gone bad at Great Clips, the person just wants out, realizing very quickly that we use words like grace, and faith, and hope and love and community, and a hundred other “church words”, but we have no idea what to do with them.

But church criticism is easy. What about me? What about you? Am I experiencing and walking in any of the things that I talk about? The things I put up on the menu board? Grace, hope, love, faith, hospitality (love of stranger), joy, peace, patience….power….Jesus. Ultimately, most people will not be repulsed by a cliché church name, but they will be by another cliché disciple who knows the way to live, the cost to live, but still refuses to live it. The church is people. People who have surrendered their all to the Lordship of Jesus….right?

So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

That’s tomorrow’s post…..baaaaa duuuuummmmmmmmmmm

PS. Minutes after I posted yesterdays thoughts, I received a very nice tweet from Great Clips looking in to my experience. You see they are good people, and I just want them to know if they (or their lawyers) are reading this, that I will still continue to visit their
establishment for a great haircut at a comfortable price.   And if anyone wanted to find them they could go to www.greatclips.com and set up an appointment online today….I think that’s all I agreed to say. I know one thing, I am not going to mention the hack job with the beard and the clippers….unless there are some free haircuts involved….eh?….Great Clips?….happy customer is a return customer?…Talk it over and get back to me.

Attacked at Great Clips: The Church and False Advertising Part I

First a story about growing a beard (nothing like a good beard story to suck you in)

Each year I grow a beard….it gets pretty big.  

I wish I could say the beard was some kind of statement, or my attempt to survive the cruel Virginia winter, or even regular prep for any opportunity to play a devious biblical character. But I’m pretty sure my reasons for growing a big beard have more to do with laziness, novelty, and….ok maybe the opportunity to play a devious biblical character.

When I get a haircut.  I go to Great Clips.

It’s perfect for what I need. I feel like the fancier places have too many unspoken rules I don’t know about – it’s like being a part of a secret society.  Plus my hair cutting needs can be easily addressed with clippers and a #4 guard.

Around Christmas time, I decided to get a hair cut.  So I went to my closest shopping center, walked in, sat in the waiting room, and studied the shampoos on the shelf. I then looked at the menu board they have hanging over the register.  As I look over the options and prices on the menu, I notice something that catches my eye, “beard trim”. I never knew that was an option, I’ve never had my beard trimmed by someone else….but suddenly, I was interested.

In a few minutes, an older gentlemen called my name. I walked back to the chair and sat down. I am very uncomfortable in a hair-cutting situation. I can stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people, but I dread sitting in that chair for the 12 minutes it takes to get a haircut. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but to me it is awkward and extremely uncomfortable. Maybe if I were there every week for a wash and perm it would be different.  All I know is that by the time he tapes my neck off with that white paper and straps the cape on me, I have exhausted most of the small talk I was preparing while I waited to be called back.

So out of desperation, I throw out a question, “so….I see on the menu you guys do beard trims?” “Yes,…are you thinking of getting your beard trimmed?” He asked as he stared at my beard, trying to decide if his clippers were up to the task. “Oh I don’t know” I replied….and then silence.  He finished my hair and then asked, “so, do you want us to trim that beard for you?” “that beard” implied it was some kind of parasite that had attached itself to the bottom of my chin.  The thought of not having to clean up a bathroom full of fur was pretty appealing, so I said, “sure, why not, let’s go for it.” There was a slight hesitation from the man, as if I had called his bluff, and now he actually had to go through with it. He looked uncomfortable, and I can’t blame him, cutting this beard is like taking a push mower to a row of hedges. So he prepared his instruments on the table in front of me, and got to work.

That’s when I quickly learned the man who stood before me had never trimmed a beard in his life.

He began hacking away at my face, hair flying all around me. Several times he would try to go too deep too fast, and you could hear the clipper motor bog down, trapping the clippers in my beard for a moment. I started to laugh and fought to keep it internal, my shoulders shaking gently. The clippers moved to my upper lip. and as he swept upward, the teeth of the hair guard would catch my right nostril. Multiple times I could feel the guard go up inside my nose. I jerked back each time, but he remained silent….focused….clueless.

After cutting huge swaths in my beard, he then moved to the fine trimming, creating even, symmetrical lines with the stubble that remained on my face. Only I watched him as he trimmed too far down on one side. His choices were to either trim it off completely or just leave it and hope I enjoyed making a statement about beard conformity. He tried to lower the other side, but it wasn’t helping.  At a certain point, he just stopped, looked at me in the mirror and said, “well, I think we’re good here, what do you think?”

Now I should have pointed out that I could see several tuffs of hair that he missed all over my face, like some sort of mangy dog. I probably should have mentioned that the roller coaster outline he created on each side of my face was not the style these days.  And maybe I should have asked for a tissue to stop the internal bleeding in my nostril from his erratic trimming. But instead I looked in the mirror, smiled, and said, “yep, that will do.” I just wanted out. As I walked past the waiting room, I could feel the pity-filled stares of those who watched the entire ordeal.  I wanted to shout at them, ” I was once like you!!” “I am a man, I’m not an animal!”

I drove home, pulled in to the driveway, and walked inside. My wife was the first person I saw as I  came in the door. “Wow, you got your beard cut off!” “Yeah, but look at it” I said. She started to walk closer to me and then stopped short once she could see what I was referring to. She stared at me with compassion, in the same way that Esmeralda looked at Quasimodo. “Oh….what happened?” she reached to touch it but I pulled away. “I’ll be in the bathroom shaving” I said as I stormed out.

Isn’t it interesting that this company offered a service on a menu board that they were not prepared to provide to an actual customer?

Isn’t it strange that this worker thought he was providing a “good” beard trim when he was actually providing me several nights of flashbacks and night sweats.

Isn’t that exactly what the church is like sometimes?

I’ll explain what I mean….tomorrow (dum dum duuuuuummmmm)

Sometimes Temptation Takes A While

I sometimes wonder how long it took before Eve ate the fruit from the tree God told her to avoid? We’re never told how much time passed from when God first gave the command to “be selective” with the fruit consumption, to when Eve actually first tried a bite.

We often read the bible as though a turn of the page or a new chapter, equals the passing of a single day. Even though the bible may tell us it was “3 years” or “40 days” or “120 years”, we  still read the biblical story as if every event took place right after the event before it.

So when I read the story about the fruit, and I look at temptation in my own life, I imagine the story of the fall begins something like this:  Eve wakes up early in the morning and goes for a walk (I imagine a health-conscious Eve). She knows right where “that” tree is located in the garden. Yet the warning from God is so new, so fresh, that she not only avoids eye contact with it, but she makes a point to walk out of her way to avoid it. For when you embrace the commands of God as a way to live life, you are filled with courage, determination, and nothing can lead you away from the truth.

Day after day she walks beyond and around the dangerous tree. Until one day when she doesn’t. Her reasoning is simple enough. The path she takes is twice as long as it needs to be, and just because she walks close to the tree does not mean she will look at it, or God forbid, taste its fruit. And so, for the first time, she doesn’t go beyond and around the tree, she walks right past it. She walks quickly and stares down at the ground.  But there it is….right next to her.

And then one day on her way home she walks by the tree, and this time looks it up and down. She wonders to herself, “what’s the big deal with this tree anyway?” “I’m just looking at it, it’s not like I’m going to grab a piece of fruit and take a bite…I’m not stupid!”  It does look good, and the thought of not being able to even try something begins to dig at her. So day after day she follows the same path, that takes her by the same tree. She lingers a little longer each time she passes, and each time she entertains a discussion in her mind about why God said that, and what God actually meant, and there are worse things she could do besides eat fruit. The wide vision of a beautiful garden begins to narrow into the longing of a forbidden object….and the desire grows.

Until the day when her longing is met with an invitation…an opportunity….and then just a taste.  Long before the moment when her taste buds exploded with the rush of sugar and pulp and juice, the journey that eventually led to her death had already begun.

The thing about temptation in our lives is that it can be so subtle, and sometimes it takes a long time.  We are more aware of the impulse temptations, like standing in line at the grocery store being pulled between a healthy living magazine on one side of the aisle, and the king size Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup on the other side.  I may not always win that fight, but I usually see it coming.  But sometimes, the progression of temptation in our lives moves slowly, allowing us to become more comfortable with our proximity to sin. Eventually, before we are fully aware, we get so close to sin that it starts to look like something other than sin, something we need, or worse, something we are justified in doing.

So we start spending an unreasonable amount of time around a coworker of the opposite sex, or head back to a website we had stumbled across once before. Maybe we go ahead and change the numbers, or we take “it” just this once. In all of our lives there is that one tree, that stands above the garden of God’s goodness and haunts us with a simple call: Come and see, check it out, stay a little longer, take a step closer, you won’t do anything stupid and you can always walk away.

Maybe that’s why the bible uses words like: run, flee, be aware, turn away from, and guard your heart — because sometimes temptation takes a while, and it’s patience can be our downfall.   In our lives, if we are not watching, listening, and walking toward our Creator, everything else begins to grow in significance.  We can then no longer see the forest of God’s provision, only the tree in our life that promises what it cannot deliver.  So what is the temptation you used to walk beyond and around, but now (maybe for what appear to be innocent reasons) you find yourself walking closer and closer to, even checking out what it has to offer?

Where are you?

What is the tree in your life?