Do You Want to Name Chicken or Invent Toilet Paper?

The following is a brief tale of two men. One you know, one you don’t. One’s existence changed how we each live our lives every single day. One’s existence didn’t really change anything. Allow me to introduce you. 
The first man’s name was General Tso Tsungtang, or as his name is spelled in modern Pinyin, Zuo Zongtang, and he was born on Nov. 10, 1812, and died on Sept. 5, 1885. He was a frighteningly gifted military leader during the waning of the Qing dynasty, a figure perhaps the Chinese equivalent of the American Civil War commander William Tecumseh Sherman. He served with brilliant distinction during China’s greatest civil war, the 14-year-long Taiping Rebellion, which claimed millions of lives.  He didn’t cook, and didn’t necessarily even like spicy food.  However…
Today, he is exclusively remembered as the namesake for the popular Chinese dish General Tso’s chicken.
The second man’s name was Joseph C. Gayetty.  He invented the first packaged toilet paper in the United States in 1857. Joseph C. Gayetty is credited as the inventor of modern commercially available toilet paper. “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper” was sold in packages of flat sheets, medicated with aloe and watermarked with his name. Gayety’s toilet paper was available as late as the 1920’s.
Today, nobody knows his name, but everyone pays homage to him…every…single…day.  (Sometimes twice a day!)
Here’s the question.  Do you want people to remember your name…or your legacy?  
Everyone knows General Tso’s name.  But nobody knows who he was, what he stood for, or why he existed.  And to be honest, most people don’t really care whether he existed at all.  
Nobody knows Gayetty.  But everyone is glad he existed.  Everyone appreciates what he has done for the world, and his legacy affects all of us today.  He had a lasting impact on the world.  
Sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to tell our own story, that we forget that most of our great grand children won’t even know anything about us.  So many live day to day desperately spending time on futile efforts to build their own kingdom, by the relationships they value, the decisions they make, the places they go, and how they spend their money.
But some understand, that their name and their kingdom are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  So rather than trying to make their name famous, they spend their time trying to play a lasting role in a story that is much bigger than themselves.  
100 years from now, it won;t matter if people know your name.  What matters is leaving a lasting impact here on the earth, for the sake of of God’s kingdom…a kingdom much bigger than you and me, that will matter so much more to people than we ever could.
Are your decisions, relationships, investments, and time utilized to build your kingdom…or the Kingdom that will outlast the world?
For me, I want to invent toilet paper, not name Chinese food.  Because even those who love General Tso’s chicken…will need toilet paper.

Joe Paterno’s Keeping Me Awake

So, it’s 1:40 in the morning and I can’t sleep.  I’ve laid in bed for nearly 3 hours now, eyes wide shut, hoping for rest, longing for relief, but one prayer continues to burn through my mind and won’t stop echoing through the chambers of my heart…“my God in Heaven, please, please, above all else, help me to…finish…well.”

I cant seem to get the apostle Paul’s words to stop ringing in my ears like crashing symbols where he writes in 2 Timothy 4: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Over and over again tonight, I find myself begging God to let me have the honor of speaking those words over my life.  
I’m finding more and more that it doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish that ultimately counts.  Paul himself is the perfect example.  Here is a man who not only had a bad start, but an evil, vile, wicked, & reprehensible period in his life.  He not only condemned early believers, but was literally responsible for the viscous murders of entire family’s whom uttered the claims of Christ.  But those days became irrelevant in light of the cross.  The apostle Paul was remembered not for how he started (as bad as it was)…but how he finished; as one who fought hard for, ran strong with, and lived out the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Like tonight, I sometimes find myself haunted by the fear of missing out on this legacy…

Tonight, I, like so many, can’t get the name Joe Paterno out of my head.  Isn’t it sad, that the name Joe Paterno is headlining more news magazines in recent days that the name Jerry Sandusky.  Why is that?  I have a theory, and it’s that theory that haunts me tonight.  It’s that instinctively, humanity is more drawn to a fall from grace, the further that fall tends to be.  Think about it, if someone who has no public platform or reputation, or no accolades to their name, and they fail morally, or socially,  how often does it make the headlines?  RARELY.  If a plumber gets caught buying crack from a male prostitute, you’d be lucky to see it on an episode of COPS.  If a pastor gets caught doing the same, it’s national headlines for weeks.  Why?  Because, intuitively, we are drawn to watch people fail, when they have more to lose.

All of your accomplishments and impacts on the world are forgotten when you finish poorly, especially if you’ve accomplished much.  After reading all of the articles, and seeing all of the reports, I’m more convinced than ever, that Joe Paterno’s legacy will be one of tolerance to evil, rather than one of legendary coaching, or leadership.  And it’s sad, because here’s a guy who in 45 years of coaching has seen over 400 wins, two national championships, five undefeated, untied teams, 5 AFCA coach of the year plaques, and more than 350 former players who have been signed to the NFL.  He was a legend…but now, all of that will be overshadowed by the scandal in his program.  When his final chapter is written, it will be titled “The Fall of a Legend.”
And here is why this leaves me sleepless…I pray more than anything else that that would not be me.  Not for my own sake or reputation, but for the reputation of the one whose name I bear, Jesus Christ.  I say this not because I feel like I am even remotely as accomplished as Joe Paterno, but because I represent one whose accomplishments can’t even begin to be measured, and whose message is one the world desperately needs to here.
This is why, as someone who is responsible for the care of teenagers, I take my responsibility seriously, and scandal likes this always makes me check and recheck my operating procedures for myself and those leaders I serve with.  It’s the very reason we have background checked leaders in place, and why we keep our leaders in groups of three when they are with our students.  It’s why we have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse allegations and will ALWAYS involve authorities.  These kinds of things are IMPORTANT to me, not only for the sake of our kids, but for the sake of the Gospel. 
So, my commitment has been, and will continue to be…that I will take EVERY measure possible to ensure that as an ambassador of the King, I finish well, and that my legacy glorifies my father in Heaven, rather than being plagued by my sin on the earth.  So, here I sit…awake, reminded by the tragedy of Penn State, with a resounding prayer beating the drum of my soul… “my God in Heaven, please, please, above all else, help me to…finish…well.” 

Common Ground

One of the questions I get asked a lot, not necessarily from regular joes, but primarily from other church leaders is: “What’s the deal with your music?” And even though most of them don’t come right out and say it, I know EXACTLY what they mean…

They want to know why every time they see a youtube video from our church, or see footage from one of our student ministry services, they see us unapologetically doing what they would call “secular” music. With all the AMAZING (hear the sarcasm?) “Christian” music available today, why do you do so many songs that aren’t “Christian?” So I’d like to address their line of questioning…

First things first, you have to understand why we do what we do on Sunday mornings. Top to bottom, in every environment, our NUMBER ONE goal is to see EVERYONE take the next step in their relationship with God. But to get skeptics and saints alike to dial in, and focus on what that next step might be, we are required to find some common ground for everyone right out of the gate. That common ground can’t be theology, belief systems, or facts. It has to be something that taps into everyone’s human emotion.
Now don’t get me wrong, I want people to understand theology, build a faith on truth, and develop a sound belief system. But if their not tuned in to learn about how to have those things, we might as well be talking to a wall. So we try in almost every service to do a song, play a game, play a video…whatever, that has NO OTHER PURPOSE but to make people happy that they came. We literally do things that serve the single purpose of making people have fun. Why? BECAUSE EVERYBODY ENJOYS HAVING FUN! It’s common ground for everybody in the room.  As humans, we are always DRAWN to people and environments that make us feel good, and we always RESIST people and environments  that make us feel uncomfortable.  That’s why we do what we do.
Jesus did the same thing. In Luke 15, we find Jesus teaching to a very mixed crowd, tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and religious leaders. How could you possibly relevantly teach to such a diverse group. Rather than diving right in to the teaching, Jesus starts by finding common ground. He starts out by talking about how it feels when someone loses a sheep. A sheep! Not about the Heavenly Kingdom, or about faith, or about the Father’s will…but SHEEP! (What a secular topic!) He knew that everyone in His audience could relate to what it would feel like to lose a sheep. Then, once he had their attention, He went on to teach them about the love of His Father in Heaven. But first, he found common ground, and had them dial in through human emotion. 
When we do “secular” songs at our church. It’s not just to be cool. It’s so that we can get people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds on common ground, dialed in. I mean, everybody loves a good Beatles tune, or the latest from Coldplay, right? We will continue do whatever it takes to ENGAGE the people God has sent our direction, so that we can successfully CHALLENGE them with the truth of God’s word. Besides, why wouldn’t you wanna check out a church where a John Mayer tune in the lineup?

Changing Expectations and Jerry Seinfeld

One of my favorite shows of all time was Seinfeld.  There was just some sort of brilliant honesty undertoning everything that happened that fascinated me.  I love the show so much, I even own the entire series, all 9 seasons, including reunions, outtakes, and cast interviews.  Needless to say, I’m familiar with the show.

It’s hard to choose a favorite scene because they really are all incredibly well written.  But one of my top moments has to be the clip above (minus the subtitles of course.)  I think I am drawn to it so much because of the truth behind it.

The scene illustrates the expectation we all have when dealing with car rental services, hotels, airlines, etc.  It’s funny because it’s real, not just in general, but specifically for you and me.  Almost all of us have had that moment when we made travel plans and/or reservations and because of some companies error, downright carelessness, or just bad customer service, our plans are foiled.  In fact, the reason this scene is soooo funny to so many people is because it’s just the level of service we’ve ALL come to expect.

The sad part is, and partly because it’s true, people who are disconnected from God have some of the same negative expectations about His Church.  They still show up from time to time for one reason or another, but for many they fully expect to be condemned for their current state of living, or to spend an hour of their weekend being fed information that is completely irrelevant to their lives.

You know exactly what I mean.  Have you ever invited that friend to church for the first time, and it was the Sunday the Pastor is preaching about the rapture, the seven churches of Revelation, and the Great White Throne Judgement?  I have and frankly, it sucks.  For so many people without a real relationship with God, the idea of connecting with their creator on a personal level is muted out by the negative experiences they have had at a place of worship.  And so when and if they do finally come back, they come with very low expectations for practical, relevant, life-changing experiences.

We are getting better, and by God’s grace, I pray it continues.  But what if we did change the status quo’s in our churches.  What if we did blow people’s expectations of church out of the water.  What if unlike many rental car companies, when people showed up on Sunday mornings, they actually got what it was they are looking for, rather than the same ole-same ole they came expecting.  What if people’s expectations began to change, because people’s experiences began to change.  What if we lived in a world where when the word “Church” was spoken, people had thoughts of help, hope, healing, & restoration.

We can change people’s expectations.  But it can only happen if we keep our focus on what matters, how the Gospel of Jesus can relevantly apply to peoples everyday lives.

Just Dance

So this past Monday night, I was introduced to the ridiculously bizarre, sado-masochistic world of JUST DANCE for the Nintendo Wii. Now don’t get me wrong, I can completely validate the level of fun most people experience when playing this game. I am just NOT one of those people. Why? I am a terrible dancer! I am TERRIBLE at it. If there were ever a reason to keep the lights dim in a club, it’s me. It’s not only that people around me would be inhibited from dancing themselves due to their laughter. It would also be their sheer terror at the apparent exorcism that was occuring in my body. But anyways…

For those of you not fully aware of the concept of this game, let me explain. You are holding the controller which acts as a sensor to your movement during the round. Then, when the song comes on, out of the shadows appears the silhouette of a phenomenal dancer, pulling off move after move, some of which you only wish you could pull off. The object of the game is, during the song, to mimic identically (and on time) the same dance moves as the shadowy figure on the screen. The more you nail the moves, the more points you get. The person with the highest number of points wins.
But I got to thinking; to anyone watching, not only me, which is bad enough, but even the best dancer attempting to play this game, without the context of knowing what was going on, you would look like a complete and utter idiot to them. But in the heat of the moment, I realized, YOU DON’T CARE. You have one goal. It’s obviously not to impress the people around you, but rather, to follow your leader to the absolute best of your ability, because you are on a mission. That mission: MOST POINTS. No matter how idioitic the moves and steps may look to the outside world, you continue to try and follow the directions of the one in which you are focused.
This is EXACTLY how we are to operate as Christ followers. Some of our life’s choices and steps may seem weird to the outside world. But as FOLLOWERS of Jesus, we shouldn’t care. Our goal should be simply to FOLLOW the calling, instructions, and lifestyle that Jesus Christ has set before us.
But living this way is hard to do. When I play just dance, I’m not just bad because I’m a bad dancer, it’s because I care too much what other people around me are thinking as they watch me play. I’m not solely focused on the only one who matters, my leader. Rather my focuses are on others thoughts, and opinions of me. For many of us, that’s the very way we live life. We have a desire to do well, and finish well and please God with the life he’s given us. But many of us can’t focus on living that way because we are distracted by our need to fit in and be normal. Life Principal: We can never see who God is CALLING us to be, when all we are looking at is who everyone else EXPECTS us to be.

So my challenge is simple: Stay focused on God, and his direction for your life. Don’t worry about how ridiculous it makes you look to everybody else. Remember this verse: This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 1 Corinithians 1:25