HPIM6762There are volumes of virtual articles and actual books that examine the current generation of 18-35 year olds. Some of that work is highly positive, a lot of it disconcerting, and there’s a bit of it that is downright paranoid.

There are certainly things to be concerned about. If I wasn’t concerned I wouldn’t do what I do.

But, I am also deeply encouraged.

I see signs of hope all the time. During conversations over a cup of coffee, in students who wake up early on Saturday mornings to tutor kids, in our leaders, and on trips like we took to Joplin.

For 8 days I saw students who have grown up in the most self-centered, narcissistic era of all time (according to some), give and serve and sacrifice, and do it all with a happy heart, a cheerful disposition, and absolutely no complaining.

Which was amazing, but here’s my favorite part:

At the end of each spring break trip I’ve been on I’ve led groups through a simple exercise called “the hot seat.” When you are on the hot seat you silently sit and let the rest of the group speak words of affirmation and life into you.

It’s deeply moving.

Students today get all kinds of accolades and positive feedback from the culture at large (especially if they buy the right things, wear the right things, and say the right things on Facebook).

But, in my experience, as these cultural accolades increase, there is less space for
an actual person,
who actually knows you,
who has actually seen you in your element,
to say real and honest words
to your face.

In these moments you see the power of words, the power of real human interactions, and the greatness that resides inside each of these individuals.

We are blessed right now with some amazing students who God is using to do amazing things.

I’m grateful to just be here and to witness it.

Holy Ground

885637_551159211583285_352943300_oI’ve been on a lot of “mission” trips. I’ve been to Mexico, India, Kentucky, inner-city Chicago, etc. Each experience has been formative and important and memorable, no two trips alike.

But I have never had more fun on a trip than I did this last week leading students to Joplin, MO for the second spring break in a row.

What’s weird is that, in many ways, this was also the most stressful trip I’ve been on. The weather didn’t cooperate, most of our original work plans fell through, there were twice as many people as last year, and I was away from my wife and daughter for the longest time since Marina was born.

I have a couple of theories:there was little to no interpersonal drama, we had no complainers, and I love the staff I get to work with.

Those are all true, but here’s a brief version of what I shared with our team at the end of the week…

In Genesis 28, Jacob wakes from his “stairway to heaven” dream and says: “God was in this place, and I, I did not know it.” In Exodus 3, Moses walks up to a burning bush, meets God, and realizes he is on holy ground.

Here’s the thing: the bush is always burning…God is always in this place. Not just in the spectacular moments and the times when all our plans come together, the moments where you pass a set of key to a homeowner who has tears in their eyes.

No, God is in the mess
and the plans that fall apart
and the spontaneous conversations
and in the bad weather
and the late-night sonic run
and laughter
and spike ball
and banana grams
and sharing life on a deep level.

But, sometimes we don’t notice.

I think this is why Jesus talked about ears to hear and eyes to see.

This week was a good gift to me for a bunch of reasons, but it was a reminder that I love college ministry, I love students, and that no matter where we go…

the ground is always holy.

Tight Spots/Spacious Places

Have you ever been in a tight spot?

Where I went to school, as an undergrad, we had a busy street that many students walked across. The school responded by placing three stop signs incredibly close to each other to keep cars from speeding through and running over people.

Anyone who drove this street cursed these proximal stop signs.

One night, around 2 am, I blasted through all three stop signs (since not a soul was around). I was immediately pulled over and slapped with four moving violations (speeding and running three stop signs).

A $400 ticket.

I freaked out. My life was over. I had no way to pay that sum and opportunities I hoped to participate in evaporated before my eyes.

I was in a tight spot.

Psalm 118 provides us with a beautiful image: “When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place” (v. 5).

A spacious place.

Room to breath and run and be free.

My story ends well. The judge, for reasons I will never fully understand, let me off the hook. I went to traffic school and had the whole incident erased from my record. I owed nothing.

Grace. A spacious place.

Thank You Notes

After every birthday and Christmas time my mom would bust out a box of stationary and my sisters and I would get to work.

Thank you note time.

I never liked this exercise…I would always mess up a word or sentence and have to re-write the whole thing. It seemed tedious and involved too much work.

Now I love thank you notes.

I love receiving them and I love writing them. As I get older I feel like “thank yous” have become a precious commodity. Gratitude is rare in a culture of entitlement.

Psalm 100 is a psalm for giving grateful praise. It is a thank you note.

Beyond politeness and pleasantries, thank you brings us very close to the heart of God.

Gratitude and grace are intertwined.

Are we able to see good gifts in our lives? Are we able to say thank you? Do you need to get work on those notes?

Give thanks. Give thanks. Give thanks.

The Most Emo Psalm of All Time

There are bleak Psalms and then there’s the 88th Psalm. It doesn’t get much darker than this:

“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” (v. 18)

At times the question is raised: are the Psalms biblical? “Biblical” is a loaded word and sometimes it can get thrown around in unhealthy ways. And yet it is a fair, and intriguing, question, especially in light of the hopelessness of Psalm 88.

How does this belong?

If you try to fit Psalm 88 into a neat and tidy theological framework it doesn’t hold…you have to rationalize it away or not read it.

But it’s there. Right between the musical joy of 87 and 89.

And that might be the point. The psalms are not an instruction manual
or a theological treatise,
they are life.

And sometimes life is happy
and full of singing and rejoicing,
and other times life is painful
and full of darkness.

The point is not to try to distill a lesson from psalm 88. Just let it be there.

Because, sometimes there is no answer.
Sometimes there is no resolution.
Sometimes there is only darkness.

Rap Music, Psalms, and Boasting of Evil

This Psalm opens with a note: David has been sold out by Doeg the Edomite. Doeg’s thrown him under the proverbial bus and now Saul, David’s number one enemy, knows how to find David.

Saul’s going to kill David.

Psalm 52 reminds me of rap music. You know that moment when a car passes you and you can feel the low-end of some jam pumping through the stereo so loudly that is rattles your rib cage? That kind of rap music.

Angry, ticked off, someone-is-out-to-get-me-but-they-are-going-to-get-it-first rap music.

Psalm 52 and rap music remind us that there are people out there who “boast of evil,” who “grow strong by destroying others.” It is a reality of our fallen world.

I hope this Psalm helps you hear rap music in a different light. More importantly, I hope it helps us realize that sometimes there are destructive people in our lives and they are out to get us. And it’s ok to call it what it is.

May you find your hope in the name that is “good” (v. 9) and not in any other name.

Is Your Radar On?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Psalm 34 is the historical footnote provided in the heading: “Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.”

So David pretends to be insane to get himself out of a tight situation then reels off a perfect hebrew alphabet acrostic poem of thanksgiving in response. Because that’s what you do when trick Abimelek!

The creative process is fascinating to me. You never know when or where inspiration will strike.

Psalm 34 is incredible. Some of our favorite lines from any Psalm can be found here (see vs. 8, 13, 14, 18). This Psalm and it’s intro remind me to pay attention.

God is always at work,
inspiration might strike at any moment,
and something beautiful just might be birthed in this moment of craziness.

Is your radar on?
Are you paying attention?

And when God moves in your life in an unmistakable way what is your creative response?

The Icing on a Turd Cake

My final year in college my dorm burnt down. That was the icing on a turd cake of a year. The twin towers fell a week into school. A kid overdosed on my floor and died in his sleep. A girl in my small group passed away over spring break in a tragic car accident. My girlfriend broke up with me.

Then the dorm caught on fire.

I remember watching it burn and being overwhelmed by a number of feelings. The thought running through my mind, though, was “really God, now this? How much more do you expect me to take on?”

We’ve all had rock-bottom moments. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

David did such a good job of capturing that moment, that feeling, that Jesus quoted him.

Think about that.

The Psalm makes no effort to explain suffering, it just lays out in brutal honesty how much it sucks. And then, far from tying a happy bow on tragedy, David resolutely grounds his hope in a righteous God who gets the last word, who has to win. Life is hard, but God gets the last word, and that word is hopeful.

The Genius of the Red Solo Cup

You’ve probably been to a party with red solo cups. You know the drill. Everyone has the same color cup so you write your name on yours,
or you never put your cup down,
or you go through about 10 cups during the party
because you don’t want to pick up the wrong one
(who knows what’s in there!).

The red solo cup.

A symbol for college parties, but also a symbol of conformity. Why don’t we get more creative with cups at these parties? Is it because we just want to blend in, we don’t want people to know what or how much we’ve been drinking, we just want to be part of the crowd?

I find this fascinating.

There are no red solo cups in the Kingdom of Heaven. “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup” (Psalm 16:5).

No, everyone has their own cup, a cup that reflects who they are and how they’ve been beautifully and wonderfully made.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not one of conformity and monochrome monotony.

It is full of color
and life
and creativity
and expression,
where you are fully you.

This is the world we are invited to step into. Remember this the next time you fill your red solo cup.