The Lowest RSVP Rate in the Nation

Colorado has the lowest RSVP rate in the nation. We are a state of people who like to keep our options open. We don’t want to be too nailed down. We like our freedom.

Open options, extreme flexibility, and self-determination are not bad values. They allow us to express our God-given preferences and explore the wide world which has been entrusted to us, at least partially for our enjoyment. They allow space for the vitality and spontaneity often conducive to creativity.

But living according to a default setting of “low RSVP rate” has some limitations, too. We cannot build a foundation of densely networked communities if we are primarily concerned with keeping our options open, remaining flexible, and determining our own destinies. Densely networked communities require personal investment. Investment consists of some level of risk in the areas of depth and intimacy, as well as some willingness to defer to others’ preferences and even to mutually agreed upon boundaries.

Think of such densely networked communities as Olympic teams, whether relay or basketball or soccer. For the sake of a shared victory, the players invest themselves in a long preparatory process, in which they spend concentrated time together, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They accept correction and counsel from each other and from their coach. They practice together in order to figure out the best ways to honor the rules of the game while also highlighting each member’s unique contribution. Players commit to each other, to their coach, to the game, and to their country because they have a common goal.

Whether in an Olympic team setting or a church family, depth and intimacy require a commitment to “showing up” (and engaging actively) that directly opposes the culture values of keeping our options forever open. How do you see yourself buying into Colorado’s “low RSVP rate”? How has this benefited and/or limited you and those around you? Please share your thoughts!

About Singing to Russell

Every night I sing to Russell before tucking him in bed.  Usually I ask him what song he wants to hear and most nights he requests: 1) “Santa baby,” 2) a made-up song or story about Papa Bear, or 3) a song about his friends Benji and Claire. One night recently, though, he said, “Mommy and Daddy drink wine, I drink juice.”  True confession… that is what my 3 year old requested I sing about! You’ll have to imagine how that song turned out because you’ll never hear it from me. No matter what I sing with Russell, I almost always end the night with a hymn, and lately it has been “Come Thou Fount.”

This past summer we did a message series called “Wisdom of the Hymnal.”  In it we looked at the stories and meanings behind some of the ancient hymns, including “Come Thou Fount.” One of the great lines says, “Tune my heart to sing thy grace.”

I love that line because it sounds like a prayer of invitation rather than of obligation. Sometimes I engage in spiritual practices from a sense of obligation or duty – and practices may legitimately become routine disciplines of daily life. But, I do not like when I find myself living primarily out of pressured duty. We always have freedom to offer our spiritual practices with a whispered prayer that says, “Lord, in this practice, tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Singing, living, embodying God’s grace is, after all, one of the healthy purposes of investing myself in spiritual practices. While my participation may delight God, it certainly nourishes my own spirit and hopefully bears witness of God’s aliveness and relevance.

Some spiritual practices that have become meaningful to me lately are:

-the spiritual practice of slowing in which I put my feet flat on the floor and take several deep breaths in and out…tune my heart to your perspective and pace Lord.

-the spiritual practice of reading in which I aim for depth over breadth…tune my heart to your deep mind and heart, God.

-the spiritual practice of friendship in which I make time for eyeball-to-eyeball, face to face unhurried time with someone else…tune my heart to being present over perfect Lord, available and wholly right here, right now.

Through each of these, I am learning to whisper a simple request, “Lord, tune my heart.”

Pretty Please: about asking

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8

I’m not always great about asking for what I need. Maybe its because asking means facing the possibility of rejection. Maybe its because I just want to do it myself. Maybe its because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fit in that I don’t’ even know what I really want to ask for.

But this is changing for me. I’m getting serious about my willingness to stand apart and not fit in if God is leading me somewhere. I’m sick of all the self-deprecating jargon I hear in myself and other people, like a badge of honor. Can we get beyond all that? Because God has placed grander visions in us. Every.Single.One.Of.Us.  And I don’t want to die someday having stood behind small-safe-selfish-afraid-comfortable living. I want you and I to get downright serious about not standing in the way of God bringing forth the next great thing through our lives in this world. There is too much need, too much brokenness, too much lonely living to play small and be afraid. Our world needs more willing, sacrificing, legacy leaving people who follow the Wild Goose (a Celtic expression for the Holy Spirit) into the great unknown.

Jesus spoke of the need to ask. Rumi also spoke of the need to ask when he said, “you must ask for what you really want.”

Asking awakens a powerful force in our lives because it is an act of faith and trust.  By asking we show our willingness to risk, to believe in a different tomorrow, and we show ourselves and others that hope is truly stronger than fear and that perhaps things could really change.

It is not that we necessarily and always get what we ask for. Sometimes we do not know what we most need. But the practice of asking exercises an important muscle in our lives. So, what do you need to ask for today?

Dream.Risk.Create

“In the beginning God created…” You and I are made in the image of God and one of the implications is that we are creative beings. At Sipping n’ Painting (the little art studio business that we own) it is very common to witness people’s apprehension, hear the objection “I’m not creative” and watch the hesitation around the idea of being artistic. Somewhere along the way someone drew a line in the sand and put a small percentage of the kids on the creative side of the line and the rest of us on the other side of that imaginary line. As a result, most of us believe and even say, “I’m not an artist, I’m just not the creative type.” But I don’t believe it, I think every human being is made in the image of God and there is no one more creative and artistic than the designer of this planet earth.  Just consider…aspen leaves turning and twirling in the wind, oh my! Underwater life, are you kidding me? A duckbill platypus, a baby kangaroo in their mamas’ pouch…and all the wild characters in my family! What creativity, what imagination, what incredible art!

I think the thing that stands in the way of our creating is a little word called risk. We can dream, but in order for our dreams to move from dream mode alone to actual work of creation we must take a risk. It is the risk that holds us back. It is the unknown, the fear, and the potential for failure that keeps us dreaming but never creating. Sometimes I think the place where walking with Jesus gets exciting is at the moment when we leave the familiar, and dreams in hand, we step out in faith to co-create with God. It is risky, which is probably why we do it so rarely. Each week in our staff meeting we review the week. We ask: what went right? wrong? What was missing? confusing? And we always end by asking ourselves: what did we do this week that was risky?

My hope and prayer is that our church can be a place where we encourage Spirit-led risk taking. I hope we can put courage in one another when fear paralyzes us from pursing the grander vision God has planted in our hearts. I pray we become for each other the incarnational presence of Jesus that is needed to follow God into the creative and unfamiliar places He is leading.

I Lack Nothing

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

From the perspective of our personal stories, sometimes this famous psalm of David just does not resonate. Lack nothing? Shall not want? Have all that I need? I lack the family of my dreams, I need more money to pay the rent, and I wantwantwant so many other things….

When trying to understand the seeming discrepancy between the words of the psalm and our experiences of need, we might consider that when we pray this psalm, we are participating in a much larger story than our personal stories alone can tell. We are being brought into the story of the people of God. The psalm is framed in metaphorical language, which means that it isn’t designed to be read literally. Rather, the psalmist David is conveying an impression–through a series of striking images–of a general truth: God’s relationship to his people is like that of a shepherd with his or her flock of sheep. This is the first time David uses shepherd imagery to describe God in the psalms. Prior to the 23rd psalm, we read about Yahweh as a more distant “king” or “deliverer” or the impersonal “rock” or “shield.” But here David uses the personal and intimate metaphor of a shepherd who is always with his sheep and who prioritizes their wellbeing. Like a good shepherd, the Lord cares for his people.

It’s the identity of the shepherd – not the perspective of the sheep – that takes center stage in the psalm. A shepherd’s heart and mind are focused on making sure that the sheep are fed and safe, provided for and protected. This is true in the collective sense of God’s people across time and geography, and it is true in our personal lives. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” When we find ourselves in need, we can trust that our shepherd sees and knows our circumstances. We can “bleat” our prayers in confidence that our shepherd will lead us well, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We can come to love and trust our Shepherd so completely that our needs diminish in the light of his presence with us.

I am delighted that we are joining with The Church in Denver (a group of 10+ churches) to study this psalm during the month of July.  My hope and prayer is that we will not just learn about this psalm but that we will experience the loving Shepherd in new and intimate ways. Perhaps we could spend the entire series…or better yet our entire lives, just praying that those first two verses of this psalm might be true in our daily lives.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Rate Me

Every time Amazon delivers something to my door, I receive a text message asking me to “rate my experience.” The text reads, “Your package with Pampers Baby Dry Diapers has been delivered by the carrier. Rate it right here at amazon.com/box.

Really? Rate my experience?  Let’s see… hmmm… I ordered the diapers, and then they arrived. Great job, everyone.

We live in a world that constantly prompts us to judge. Rate your experience, size up your competition, weigh her beauty, gauge his sincerity. Look. Evaluate. Assess. Judge.

These activities have a legitimate place in our lives. We weigh options for their risks and benefits. We attempt to choose right from wrong. We listen for truth and goodness in an effort to protect ourselves from deception. We teach our children discernment.

But judging can take up too much space in our minds and can become a perpetual habit. Once judgment becomes habit, I am prone to criticalness. I don’t want to be known for a critical spirit. I want to be about welcome, hospitality, and spiritual formation; I want to be about other-oriented-ness and active service. I want to develop a disposition that says, “This is enough. You are enough. I am enough. Relax, and rest,” rather than a personality that is always rating myself and others and concluding, “More, better, faster, higher. You could really do better next time.”

This vision of myself is not yet reality. I’m a driver. I run fast and hard, and I seek continual improvement. I need God’s words in my ear each and every moment reminding me as he reminded Jesus, “You are my beloved, precious in my eyes.” It is counter-cultural to allow myself, my circumstances and others to be enough – to cease striving and to rest in gratitude and joy. More and more, I want to live each day with less of an Amazon “rate me” philosophy and more of a Scriptural conviction: “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

About Power

Several years ago I worked as a site pastor in a multi-site church. My boss at the time was the executive pastor Mike Ross, who later founded Mother’s Global Village, with whom Platt Park now partners in Guatemala. When the organizational structure of our multi-site church changed, Mike went from being my supervisor to being a site pastor at one of the other campuses. I remember writing him a note expressing what an impact he was having on me. I told him how impressed I was with his ability to transition between roles in the church without letting his ego get in the way. Most people would have gotten a sideways, resentful attitude about the perceived demotion of that change, but Mike never missed a beat. He seemed to readily relinquish the appearance and position of power for something more authentic…

I just finished reading Andy Crouch’s book Playing God, and I have to say it may be my favorite read this year so far.  Crouch says all of us-not just the obviously “powerful”-have real power and the responsibility to use it well. Power is both an idol to be rejected and a gift to be redeemed. Usually, we think of power as a bad thing; we nod our heads in agreement when we hear someone say, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Certainly, power can be corrupt when idolatry and injustice are involved. However, Andy Crouch shows how redeemed power is a gift meant for human flourishing. He says that the nature and essence of power can only be discerned by its effect, like the wind. The true quality test of power is found in this question: Are the people around us truly flourishing? What sort of wake are you and I leaving in our relationships? Human flourishing never happens by accident; it always requires intentionality.

May you wield your God-given and redeemed power for the flourishing of those around you.