Choose Love Over Lonely.

Love DinnerThroughout my first year living in East Texas, I prayed every time I went to the grocery store.

“Lord, please let me run into somebody I know, and let us discuss the price of lemons, or dish washing liquid or the crushing loneliness that moving twice in four years brings, and if they could invite us over for dinner that would be nice too. Thanks. Amen.”

It never happened. Not one time.

That spring I was in California, sitting by my friend Karen’s pool, drinking wine with three of the world’s smartest women, when I said, “Yah, I’m basically a hermit now and I don’t even care.” Speechless and mortified, they threatened an intervention if I didn’t come back to California and myself.

But thirsty country has a purpose and I know now what it was for me. I also know heartsick and lonely like my own face, but running to California isn’t the answer (ok sometimes it is). Admitting this feels vulnerable and losery, but maybe if we said such things to one another and quit faking it, we’d get out of the desert faster.

So it was no small thing this morning, when I found my kitchen happily strewn with wine bottles, spent candles, flowers and stray forks after not one, but two Love Dinners. One was scheduled, the other was a charming surprise.

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Staring at the chaos with sheer gratitude, I thought “this is what building life with Jesus and his people looks like.” It looks like messy tables and open invitations for people to poke around your broom closets and say, “uh hey, what’s this?”

We don’t do this enough because we care too much what people think. We hide, exhausting ourselves with frivolity and small talk, when what we want is to be known and loved in spite of it.

This may be the best part of following Jesus. He knows me and loves me anyway. So I can relax around people and say “yep that’s a jacked up mess and I don’t know what to do about it.” On Friday night, it was fragile and a little heavy, so my friends turned it carefully in their hands and said, “Nope, we don’t either, let’s take it to Jesus.”

And something precious grew between us that someday Jesus will use for his own purposes.

Sure it’s easier to stay home and watch tv; it’s chancy to invite someone into your broom closet. It’s even chancier to invite nine somebodies, but it’s worth it because sometimes one will show up, hand everybody a tiny gift and say, “I know I can do hard things because I have all of you.”

I’m a million miles from the grocery store parking lot, and you can be too. If you’re struggling with loneliness here are a few tips:

1. You are enough for God, in all your beautiful damage. He can and will steady your heart, if you ask.

2. Then he’ll move all your furniture around and invite new people over to sit in it, and that can be scary and hard.

3. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, just keep walking toward it.

So make the call. Light the candles. Look each other in the face and get down to the way things are.

This isn’t frivolity. It’s legacy.

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Christians Should Throw More Rocks.

Out my back door and down the hill, three ponds lay tucked in the woods. A small creek filled with the cleanest water you’ve ever seen has faithfully slipped over red rocks and dead leaves day after day, and now all three ponds are brimming. The only regular visitors to this spot are Sam’s four bull calves and me.

I go there to hear directly from God.

You can believe what you want to, but four years ago, when I was dangling from the end of my rope, I found places in the Bible where Jesus himself said:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Since no one was around to tell me otherwise, I believed him, and today, I hear him best on the bank of the biggest pond. His voice is like a low whisper, almost like a distant train you can feel more than hear. If the voice in my head is a fiddle, then God’s is an upright bass.

“Get a rock and throw it in.”

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

I’d heard this before. Last week in fact and I did it, even though I was thinking, “I get where you’re going Jesus, but the ripple metaphor is a little tired.” Then I recalled something I always say when explaining the work of the LA Dream Center:

“The Dream Center,” I tell people, “is like ground zero, the epicenter. It’s like a love bomb went off in a rough part of LA and the shock waves rolled through the hood, leaving gardens, tidy lawns, freshly painted houses and families for miles in every direction.”

That’s what the love of God does. It spreads restoration, wholeness and order in all directions – like ripples.

But here’s why I had to toss a second rock in today: The ripples eventually dissipate, so somebody’s got to throw another rock. Somebody has to scribble their phone number on the church bulletin and hand it to the bleary-eyed dude on the back row, whose hung over presence is a miracle in itself.

Places like the LA Dream Center and Mercy Ships have armies of people with strong thighs and backs from years of grabbing hands and hoisting boulders together, chunking them into the water. But people like you and me can gather stones too. We can keep little ones in our pockets, not to throw at each other and at gay people and Muslims, but into the water of people’s lives, spreading shock waves of grace – no matter who they are.

“What are you waiting for?” I heard him say. “Throw more rocks! This is how we win. This is how the kingdom is built.”

It’s a fact that every rock makes ripples. So what kind of rocks are you throwing? And if they’re good ones, how often do you throw them?

Love Dinner #5 is on the books. I can’t wait to tell you what kind of rocks the girls have been throwing. To join us click here.

Three Lessons On Love From Pensacola

First City Church

As some of you know, I was asked to speak at First City Church in Pensacola, Florida last weekend with my friend Lisa Long (read what others have to say about her here.)

I don’t know if you have ever preached a sermon, from an actual pulpit, with people in pews staring expectantly at you, but I can tell you this:

I have strapped a parachute to my back, run down the side of a mountain and jumped off it, and that was nothing compared to preaching. You can listen to the whole sermon here but if you don’t have time, here are three things I learned:

This is them!

This is them!

1. Your heart is more important than my opinion. All kinds of people go to First City – gay people, wealthy people, drug addicts and people with checkered pasts who’ve wandered back after years away. Pastor Rick Hazelip and his team embody what Bob Goff said again and again at the Love Does Stuff Conference  – “You are not just invited here, you are welcome.”

So when tackling hard things with people who are groping around for Jesus, Pastor Rick’s framework is this:

Your heart is more important than my opinion. So I’m going to protect it while we talk about this. For with the measure I deal out to you, it will be measured back to me. I am not your judge, I am your witness to a life that is available in Jesus Christ.

This church hums with the love and mercy of God.

2. It’s not about me. While I was busy peeing my pants with fear during worship, the Lord reminded me of Zechariah 4:6. How’s that for obscure? See what a scholar I am? Wrong. It was written on the back of the SCRUBS Medical Mission t-shirts all of us wore every day in Zambia.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Oh yah, I thought, I just have to get up there, open my mouth and let him fill it. I walked up to that pulpit with no pee on my dress.

3. If you’re preaching about Jesus, while clinging to his feet, something is going to land. I prayed hard ahead of time for the exact people at First City who needed to hear what I planned to say.

  • How mad I was at the church.
  • How, as a result, I tried to make my life work without Jesus, and the myriad ways that failed.
  • How I finally took the tatters of my faith and the chip on my shoulder and laid them at Jesus’ feet.

They came up to me afterward one by one and said,

“You were talking to me today.”

“I’ve been out of church for ten years, but I’ve been at First City a month. I love it.”

“I’m going home to read my Bible.”

Those words are almost more than I can take. Thank you First City for having me and teaching me.