When Running Around Leads to Your Turning Around

Police raided an open field full of underage drinkers recently in Holmes County, Ohio. You may think this sounds familiar. You may have been a part of some open field parties yourself in your younger days. But this one was unique. The raid happened when 45 police officers descended on a party that was part of a Rumspringa.

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Rumspringa is an Amish rite of passage. The word means “running around.” For Amish youth, Rumspringa usually begins around the age of 14-16. Teens are allowed freedom to leave the community and experiment with the world outside. After this season they come back to the community with a choice to make. They can either choose baptism with the Amish church or leave the community permanently and choose to live in the world.

But during Rumspringa some do some pretty radical things. Like buying a television. Or driving a car instead of a horse-drawn buggy. Some forgo the traditional clothing and hairstyles and go modern.

And some try out alcohol. That’s what led to a gathering of Amish kids in an open field in Ohio where beer was running as free as the Rumspringa teens. Imagine the regrets voiced while 75 were sitting in the local jailhouse.

You and I have some regrets too. We’ve probably had our own forms of a Rumspringa. We just call it by other names: “sowing our wild oats,” “Spring Break at the beach,” or  “mid-life crisis I’m buying a Harley-springa.”

There may be someone reading this on a Rumspringa right now. Some running around. Experimenting with something taboo. Flirting with something outside your boundaries. And you may be setting yourself up for regret.

We all have them. Even if we have already found our way to God there are many other times we have to find our way back to God. We wander from him. We do things we know we shouldn’t or maybe things we don’t realize will harm us. And we have regrets.

The younger son had them. He took an early withdrawal of his inheritance, went to a foreign land, and squandered it all. The story says that he “came to his senses” and made a decision to “arise and go” to his father.

When we come to our senses and awaken to our regret we repent. “Repent” sounds churchy, but it really isn’t. It is a compound Greek word made up of “mind” and “change.” Repentance, then, is a changing of our mind or our way of thinking. The Hebrew word for repent means “to return.”

The younger son had to change the way he was thinking about life. He had searched for something to satisfy his longing for love, purpose and meaning. When he hit rock bottom he realized the longing was still there.

And maybe sitting in pig squalor can help a person discover the real longing is for home. So he repented—he changed his direction—and headed home. Repentance can involve emotion. Some repent and tears flow. But repentance has more to do with motion. All repent and then go. True repentance propels us to go in a new direction. The younger son’s was towards his father.

Many of us have “come to our senses.” We can recognize decisions we’ve made that led us to places we one day regretted. But regret doesn’t get us home. That’s the second step that many people never get to. We want to change, we want to start over, we want a mulligan. But shame, guilt and even fear get in our way. We ask: “Will they accept me?” “Will they take me in?” “Could God ever forgive someone like me?”

And the answer is “Yes, yes he can. And yes yes he will.” The father welcomes his son home with an embrace. The Father will do the same for you.

Go home to him. He’ll run out to greet you. And that’s a better story than all the running around we could ever do.

Question: What direction are you going today? Do you need to change direction?



When Your Longings Surface Turn Towards Home

Henry the VIII had six. Elizabeth Taylor had eight. Zsa Zsa Gabor had nine.

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But Glynn Wolfe had more. He holds the record for marriages: 29 in all. He married some for days, some for months, and a few for years. He married teenage women and he married women with teenagers. He married country girls and he married city girls.

He exchanged wives like someone trying on a variety of clothes. You’d think somewhere along the way, maybe at #5 or even #14 he would have stopped. But he didn’t. Wolfe said he loved women but would get bored with them and felt a strong drive to find another one.

Henry. Elizabeth. Zsa Zsa. Glynn. It doesn’t take much to realize they were all looking for something. More correctly, they were longing for something. We have longings too.

We have a longing for love. That’s why when you got dumped in a relationship you found yourself getting into another one later.

We have a longing for purpose. That’s why even when you were a kid and did not have to pay bills or worry about working, you still had a dream of who you wanted to be when you grew up. And the reason you were thinking about this is that you already had a desire inside of you for purpose.

We long for meaning too. We want to know the answers to the big “Why?” questions of life. You may have asked them yourself: “Why, if God is good, did he let this happen?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Those questions and these longings are in us because they are placed there by God. The longings aren’t the problem. The problem is we often journey away from God to find answers to our longings.

The Prodigal Son did. Charles Dickens called this the greatest short story ever. The younger son in the story had everything his father had to give him. But even with that he had a longing for something more.

So he asked his dad for his inheritance. In that Middle Eastern first century culture that request was the same as telling your father you wished he were dead. You were supposed to take care of your father in his old age and then, when he did die, you would receive your inheritance.

But the father gave him his inheritance and he went away and spent it all “in reckless living.” We don’t know what that was. Drinking? Gambling? His brother offered that he “devoured the property with prostitutes.” Regardless, he lost it all trying to fulfill his longings.

When the money and the women and the friends were all gone he discovered he had another longing: home. He wanted to go back home to his father, even if it meant he would work as a hired hand.

Jesus told this story because he knew we all have longings for something more. And he knew that “something more” was life with the Father. That is where your “home” and mine is. It is a story about finding your way home to the Father.

As far as we know Glynn Wolfe never found his way back home. Believe it or not, he was a minister and he died alone, suffering panic attacks in the middle of the night in his later life because he was virtually alone all the time. To his dying day he kept a wedding dress in his closet. Just in case.

Your story can end on a different note. Pay attention to your longings. Believe that they will not be satisfied running from God but running towards God. Then turn towards home today.

Question: Identify a time when your “longings” took you far from home…the place you are made to be.

Stop Climbing Stairs and Sit

They are called the Scala Sancta. The Holy Stairs. You can find them in Rome near the St. John Lateran Basilica. They are believed to be the same steps Jesus climbed on his way to trial before Pilate. The 28 steps were moved from Jerusalem to Rome around 326 A.D. by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. They are marble in construction but encased in wood to protect the marble.

They are protected because for centuries pilgrims have climbed these stairs for various reasons. Some out of devotion. Some to offer prayers. And some because they believe that if they do so they will be forgiven their sins—one year for each step. 28 years of sin removed. When the average lifespan was only 50, two trips to the steps could give a person assurance of entry into heaven.

But climbing the steps is not easy. The only way a person is allowed to climb the stairs is on one’s knees, stopping on each step to offer a prayer. Karen and I have done this once. We thought the experience would be a good one, like crossing off an item on your bucket list. It was an experience. A painful one. And we did not feel a need to have that experience ever again.

Martin Luther climbed them. The great Reformer struggled with his doubts as a young man. He said “my conscience would never give me assurance, but I was always doubting and said, ‘You did not perform that correctly. You were not contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’”

On a trip to Rome he learned that if he climbed the Scala Sancta he could free his grandfather from purgatory and maybe help his own cause along the way. And so he began on his knees to climb one step at a time.

Maybe you haven’t climbed the Scala Sancta but you’ve had doubts too. Some of you don’t, I know. Some of you have a gift of faith and like a rock cannot be moved. But others of us doubt.

  • “With all I’ve done, how could God ever love me?”
  • “I just don’t think I’ll ever be good enough.”
  • “If the message of Jesus is so clear, why do I have so many questions?”
  • “If God is love then why do unloving things happen to people?”

A lack of assurance is nothing new. John’s audience faced the same. “… for whenever our heart condemns us …” he writes (1 John 3:20). If you ever think the first century Christians had an easier road to faith than you, think again.

But John had a remedy for “hearts that condemn.” He said there is a place to find reassurance: “before him.” “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him…” Instead of listening to condemnation listen to the One who works for your transformation.

That is the other place John points us to: our transformation. Do you have a firm belief in Jesus as the son of God who came in the flesh (1 John 2:23; 4:2)? Are you growing in your desire to be more like the Father (1 John 3:19-20)? Do you love those who also love the Father (1 John 4:12)? If your answer is “yes” then you can find reassurance that the fellowship with the Father and the Son is having its effect in your life.

Reassurance is not found in some secret code. It is not found in something detached from the world we live in. It is not found in rule keeping.

And it is not found by climbing 28 steps on your knees. Martin Luther knew the promise. “If your heart condemned you” you could gain assurance of eternal life one step at a time. So dressed as a monk, with a shaved head and bare knees, he began creeping up the marble steps with the hope of his troubled conscience finding peace.

At some point he suddenly heard a voice like thunder say, “The just shall live by faith.” He got up to his feet, left the place, and was reassured of his place with God. Not because he loved God first through any action. But because God loved him through his action. (1 John 4:10).

You will be assured too. When your heart condemns you do what Luther did. Hear the voice of God and believe in Jesus. Just sit before him. It’s so much better than climbing steps.

Question: In what way(s) has your heart condemned you?

Loved People Love People

Our house was full of Karen’s family when our first son Kristofer was born. No sooner had he arrived into the world than it started. “He looks just like Karen.” Being a proud new father I was a bit miffed by this. I wanted there to be some resemblance of me in him. But no one seemed to notice. It was a Campbell clan celebration.

chin1031 / Pixabay

You can understand my anticipation when it was my family’s turn to visit Kris. As soon as they arrived and walked in the door, I quickly grabbed Kris and held him up to them. “What do you think?” I asked. With a smirk on his face my dad replied, “He looks just like you, Rick.”

I turned to Karen with a “See, I told you so” look. She leaned over and whispered to me, “Well, honey, that’s because you are holding Kristofer upside down.”

We should not be surprised to see a resemblance between children and their parents. We even have these common phrases: “A chip off the old block.” “The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.” “Like father, like son.” “She’s the spittin’ image of her mother.”

Regardless of the phrase you might use, you’ve done as many have. Your neighbor has a baby and you say, “Oh, her eyes are just like yours.” “I can see a little of both of you in him.” As if any of this should surprise us. You’ve said those things.

And so did the Apostle John. He didn’t use the same phrases but he makes the same point. And whereas we might point to a nose, the eyes, the mouth, or ears as to where the similarity is found, John points elsewhere. The defining similarity we are to have with our Father is one thing: love.

John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Notice what he does not say. He does not list the things those “born of God” do not do. It’s unfortunate that God’s children are often known more for what they don’t do than what they do. John says what they do is they love. “Whoever … has been born of God…loves.”

But sometimes loving others is not easy. John knows this is true. He wants us to quit the sin of not loving our brothers and sisters. But he also realizes that becoming a person who loves is a process and takes a long time. That’s why he tells us to confess our sins. We don’t keep on sinning—that’s the goal of a child of God. But we confess our sins—that is the response of a child of God who is learning to love.

The way we learn to love is to first be loved. “We love because he first loved us.” How did God love us first? By sending his son who died for our sin. Love is active. And because he loved us this way we love others in the same way.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” We love real people: our brother (and sister) who are in the fellowship with us. We love them in real ways: by giving of our resources to those in need.

An old song stated, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It’s true. Loved people love people. And when people see them, they see a resemblance to their Father.

When You Love Others Less It’s Time to Confess

It’s the first sin I can remember. A sin of commission. And I knew I was doing it.

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My first grade year was not easy. As a child I had asthma and the harsh West Texas winters in Memphis, Texas knocked me out of a lot of school. Mrs. Newton, my teacher, wanted me to take a make-up test one day when I returned from a bout of sickness.

Mrs. Newton had me open my book. She showed me the questions I needed to answer. And then she left the room. They were simple math problems. Simple until I got to number eight: “Which number is the third number from the left?”

Sounds simple, right? I knew which was my right hand and which was my left. But I didn’t know if the question was asking for me to count from my perspective or its perspective. (Stop laughing.) I looked ahead and the next several questions were similar to this one. If I didn’t get my directionally challenged mind in gear I would miss them all and make a bad grade.

That’s when the temptation came. Mrs. Newton was gone. Her teacher’s book was on her desk. The one with the answers. All I needed was a peek at just one so that I could get my perspective corrected. I moved as quietly as a cat burglar to the book, stole a quick look, and headed back to my desk. Just as I was getting seated I saw Mrs. Newton through the windows coming back to the room to check on me. If she saw me she never said a word.

For several nights I couldn’t sleep. I just knew the test would come back with a note on it telling me where my eternity was going to be spent. Instead, she gave me an “A” and as far as I know she never knew what I did.

Maybe you can’t remember your first sin, but you can probably remember your last. You have some tapes that play in your head you wish you could erase. You have some words you’d like to take back. You have some actions you aren’t proud of.

And you call them all sorts of things: mistakes, bad judgment, poor decisions. And they are. But John calls them sin. And he thinks we should too.

In 1 John there is a specific sin he is concerned about. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”  “But I don’t hate my spiritual brothers or sisters” you might say. Don’t be so quick to say you aren’t sinning.

The Greek word for hate, miseo, means “to love less.” Jesus used the word when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, who wants us to be known by our love, surely did not mean “hate” in the sense we typically use the word. He meant that if we want to follow him we have to love them, yes. But love them less. That’s what “hate” means here.

You may not feel the usual emotions associated with hate—things like anger, disgust, hostility—towards anyone in the fellowship. But you may love them less. Less than your own interests. Less than your own desires. Less than your schedule. Less than your personal agenda. The sin John is concerned with is not immorality or crime. Those sins need to be confessed too. But the sin he is concerned with has to do with missing the mark of a relationship with God that includes a relationship with others in the fellowship. You can’t have one without the other.

Loving those inside the church becomes a witness to those outside the church. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let’s love each other more. And when we love each other less, confess it. And then leave that sin for love.

It’s as simple as counting three spaces from your left.

Question: What specific step can you take this week to love those inside the church more?

What You Believe About Jesus Matters

When I first met her she was more of a project to me than a person. My youth group was taking part in a 33-hour fast to raise money for relief efforts in Third World countries. Along with fasting and raising money we were to help someone poor in our community. I called Mrs. Anderson.

Unsplash / Pixabay

She sounded tired, the kind of tired that comes from a life of more “downs” than “ups.” More defeats than victories. And maybe one too many cold winter nights without a hot meal and a warm blanket. But a hint of hope surfaced in her voice as I began to picture for her how we wanted to help.

She answered “yes” and my project was underway. Something began to change, however, the day I drove up in front of her house. It was a bleak West Texas November. The steps up to the house were crooked and cracked. I knocked on the door.

“Come in!” “Mrs. Anderson?” “Yes, come in!” I turned the knob and took two tentative steps. The room was as unkempt as was Mrs. Anderson. Heavy-set, missing teeth, and “just out of bed” hair, she sat on the couch. Her left leg was noticeably larger than her right. She began to tell her story.

Her husband had passed away several years before leaving her with four children: one married daughter who was out of the house, a teenage boy and girl, and a fifth grade daughter. “Times have been hard,” she said. “I’m not able to get around to work because of my leg. Back in the 60’s I got bit by a spider and it got infected. The doctors say it isn’t getting any better and they may have to amputate.”

Insects scurried across the walls as she talked. The house would not have been so bad had it been clean. But what could she do? It was a chore for her to merely walk to the door. I began to lose sight of the project and see the person. And now, with a person within reach of me, I was faced with what kind of Jesus I believed in.

Maybe you’ve been there too. You’ve asked your questions about Jesus. If you’ve ever looked at him long enough you have. We’d rather him be spiritual and more tied to heaven than earth. That way we can worship him on one Sunday and not revisit him until the next.

But when you see that Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” things change. They have to. The truth you believe about Jesus matters. In 1 John, John is dealing with the virus of Gnosticism in his churches.  A group had surfaced who said that Jesus did not come in the flesh, that he was a first century hologram of sorts. They taught that the world is divided into spirit and flesh and the only thing that mattered was spirit. Jesus could never—if he were truly God—be associated with things of the flesh.

Because of this belief their worship was focused only on spiritual things, disconnected from the material world. Their lives were disconnected from their flesh—their bodies could do whatever, whenever and with whomever—and they could still view themselves as righteous. Their love was disconnected from the hurting and sinful of their world.

This is not the Christ John knew. The only Christ John knows is the one who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The only Son he knows is the one who was God-in-the-flesh, the Jesus he had seen with his eyes, heard with his own two ears, and had touched with his hands. So he writes, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” The truth we believe about Jesus matters.

It did to Mrs. Anderson. I had to come to grips with the Jesus I believed in. And when I began to understand more clearly what it meant that Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, my need for a project disappeared into the West Texas sunset and my love for this person surfaced. My Jesus was one that would not let me retreat to my study. He led me into the mix of this messy world.

And that mattered to Mrs. Anderson. In the following months my youth group and I became friends with her. We brought canned goods and blankets during the fast. Turkey and trimmings at Thanksgiving. Tinsel and toys at Christmas. We held a “spring cleaning” and made trips to the hospital during the amputation. A “Jesus come in the flesh” will connect the spiritual and the material. He would bring heaven to earth.

That’s where Jesus would be. And that’s why we confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.

Question: How have you experienced “Jesus in the flesh” in your life?

When the Fellowship Looks Like a Mess

A few years ago a friend of mine from childhood called me up. She’d seen on Facebook that Karen and I had seen Kenny Chesney at the Houston rodeo. She said, “You didn’t know this but my husband plays bass for Kenny.” Being a Kenny Chesney fan, I spent the next half-hour asking more about Chesney than what was going on in her life. That’s what you do when you encounter someone who has had an encounter with someone you would like to meet.

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That’s what you do if you would like to know someone who is not present. You ask their friend who is. So if you want to know Jesus get to know John. He’s been with him. And he wants you to be with him too. In the first chapter of 1 John we read: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us…”

John and others have walked with Jesus. Jesus’ life was made “manifest.” The word means “to make visible and known that which was hidden or unknown.” John is not about to give us some lofty, spiritual, code language that only the spiritual elite can figure out. He’s going to give us something down to earth that we can experience ourselves.

Then he tells us why he is proclaiming what he has known of Jesus: “… so that you too may have fellowship with us…” We have fellowship with “us.” John is referring to himself and others who have believed. He’s talking about the church. The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinonia which means “to have in common, to share, to be a joint participant, a partner with someone else.”

So koinonia is a sharing of life. John uses words of affection and relationship in his letter: little children, God’s children, beloved, brothers/sisters, fathers and children. These words give you a warm feeling.

But that may not have been your church experience. People often seem surprised when they find that the church is not perfect. But it did not surprise John. He sees in this fellowship problems too. It is a mess. He describes their behavior with words and phrases like: lie and liar, hate, child of the devil, and one who commits sin. He says some refused to love, had self-deceit and refused to help someone in need.

This is what fellowship is like. It’s messy. This fellowship is made up of people who are sinners. But they are people who acknowledge they are sinners. They come together to find out they are not all bad. But they remember they are not all good either. It’s a place you can learn to love others. And don’t forget it’s good to learn that others are having to learn to love you too.

We learn that by participating in another fellowship: “…and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” This is the only perfect fellowship you will find. Other’s aren’t. So there is no need to change churches. No need to jump to the next start-up. No church will follow a vision perfectly or a mission statement without mistakes. No church is perfect, and, if there were one, you and I would mess it up if we joined.

But the Father and the Son (and Spirit) have a perfect fellowship. We learn fellowship with “us” by experiencing fellowship with “them.”

That’s what this “last-living-one-of-the-Twelve-pushing-100-years-old” John would want for Jesus’ disciples today. He told the stories for years then wrote them down to last years after he was gone.

His words are still speaking today. He’s telling us what it is like to be with his friend Jesus. Listen well and you might find the fellowship you’ve been looking for.

Question: In what ways are you aware that you might love the church more? In what ways might you need to become more aware that people in the church are also learning to love you?

Find Life Around a Table

Can you picture a time of warmth around a table from your youth? It doesn’t take me long. As a young boy we took trips to northeast Arkansas to see my grandparents. We’d make our way past Texarkana and start checking off the towns: Hope, then Prescott. We’d move on to Little Rock, Searcy, then on to Hoxie and Walnut Ridge. Once there we knew Pocahontas was near. The car would snake its way through the town square and out towards Attica. If you blinked, you’d miss it. The General Store was on the left side of the road. The Baptist Church on the other.

But then over a few more hills and we’d turn onto the gravel road on the left and up to Granny and Pop’s house. By the time Dad parked the car they’d be on the front porch ready for two little boys to come running for hugs.

We had lots of fun on their farm. We’d try to help Pop “slop the hogs.” We’d catch fireflies. We’d crank homemade ice cream and ride our pony. But if I had to picture a time of warmth around a table it would be there. When the food was ready we’d all gather around the table: Pop, Granny, Mom and Dad, me and my brother. Pop would say the prayer. And we’d enjoy the meal together.

The warmth came not so much from the meal itself but because we were together and I knew that these people loved me and I loved them. Even my older brother. I had to. Mom said so. We were family.

Meals should be important to us because they were important to Jesus. Some scholars have said that “Jesus ate his way through the gospels.” Sharing meals was a significant thing in Jesus’ culture. There were social boundary markers in the Jewish world. And one way those boundaries were kept intact was by who received invitations to a meal and who did not.

Jesus came along and upended the social boundaries. Sure, he ate with his closest friends. That goes without saying. You know that from scripture but if not, you at least would know that from Da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Milan.

But Jesus did not only eat with those who were on the same journey with him. Jesus shared meals with people who saw things differently than he did. In Luke 7 Jesus eats at a Pharisee’s house. Jesus is reclining at the table with him. We need to remember that there are times we need to sit down with people we may not totally agree with and offer them our friendship. We might even give them a glimpse of the Kingdom.

And Jesus shared meals with people who lived differently than he did. He was known to eat with tax collectors and sinners. “Tax collectors” were hated by their Jewish friends. “Sinners” was a catch-all term for people who were obviously wicked. Tax collectors would fit into this category. But so would criminals and prostitutes. They had no place to fit in regular society so they fit with each other. When Matthew starts following Jesus he invites him to his house for a meal. We’re told that “many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus…” They were comfortable being with Jesus. And Jesus was comfortable with them.

Jesus ate his way through the gospels. Sitting at table with others meant they were accepted. They belonged. Maybe we should eat our way to life. Start with your family. If you are used to eating in different shifts or in different places around the house, begin by eating together at the table.

Move from there to inviting someone over to your house for dinner. Think about your neighbors and friends. From time to time you may want to throw a party and have a larger circle of people over.

When you can, eat family style. Sharing a meal includes passing plates and caring for each other in that way too.

Remember, you don’t have to be a great conversationalist. But you can learn to be a great questioner. Ask questions. Ask about a person’s day. What was good? What was not so good? Hear their story.

It’s a cold world out there. But warmth can be found around a table. We’d better get used to it. I’m told there is a banquet awaiting us at the Father’s house.

Question: What are your favorite memories around a table?

Don’t Squib-Kick Through Life

While in Italy in June I was asked to do two things I had never done before. The first was to try Horse Tartare. It wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. The second was to be the ceremonial kick-off kicker in an American football game for the Parma Panthers. It was worse than you might imagine.

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The Panthers became famous on account of John Grisham’s book Playing for Pizza. In 2008 Karen and I went to Parma because we had read the book and I wanted to see one of the games in the Italian Football League. We missed the game but got to meet the owner and his wife: Ivano and Bea Tira.

We’ve forged a friendship over the years and this summer we finally made it to a game. The Panthers were in the first round of the playoffs. In the days leading up to the game Ivano looked at me with a wicked smile on his face and said, “Rick, I want you to kick-off for us at the game.”

I thought he was kidding. I figured we’d get to the game and he’d have me conduct the coin toss. That didn’t happen. We were standing on the sideline and suddenly Ivano said, “You ready?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “OK. So we’ll go out on the field now and you will kick. You sure that’s OK?” I laughed and said, “Well, it won’t be pretty because I don’t kick footballs. But I’ll do it for you.”

I assured the real kicker he would not lose his job. Ivano said, “Now it’s time.” I turned around and saw the other team lined up. There was no turning back. It quickly dawned on me I had not planned out what I would do if he really was serious about the kick. I had no idea what I was doing so I stutter-stepped my way to the ball and kicked it straight on. (If you want a good laugh you can see it here)

My nephew Ryan—who played soccer and was his high school football team’s kicker—was watching from the sideline. He later said, “That was as wrong of a kick as possible.” The announcer called my 15-yard low spinning kick a Squib-Kick. It was ugly.

Sometimes our lives are like Squib-Kicks. Instead of hitting the sweet spot and sending the ball soaring we stutter-step our way through and end up with something ugly. And the reason is the same: we lack a plan for our lives.

Jesus didn’t. He knew exactly what he was to accomplish. You and I don’t have more to do than Jesus. He was here to save the world. And yet in three years he was able to tell the Father, “I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do.” In football terms he kicked it high, straight, and with distance.

Jesus had a plan and he gave us a plan: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” That’s the plan: make disciples. We learn from Jesus how to do what he would do if he were in our shoes.

And what would he do? He kept that simple too. “Love God. Love your neighbor.”

Instead of my terribly unplanned kick, our lives should be in sync with the plan God has given us to fulfill. But how do we do that when we are juggling multiple relational circles? A mentor of mine used to answer that question by saying: “Be a disciple. If you are learning to follow Jesus, you’ll learn from him how to make disciples. It will be natural.”

Jesus had many relational circles too: crowds, the 72, the 12, the 3 (Peter, James, John) and even the 1 (John). Jesus did not spend the same amount of time with everyone. But he did spend his time with everyone the same way…with purpose.

And so will we. What if you looked at your relational circles again with a plan? You won’t spend the same amount of time with everyone. But you will spend time with everyone the same way: with purpose.

It takes a plan. No Squib-Kicking allowed.

Question: How can you avoid a “Squib-Kick Life” starting today?

How to Find Community When You Can’t Find a Piazza

Karen and I were celebrating our 24th anniversary when I remarked, “You know, next year is our 25th anniversary. That’s a milestone. So I want to take you out to dinner somewhere special. You name it and we’ll go there.”

That’s a dangerous thing to tell your wives, men. I was thinking a restaurant somewhere in the Houston area. She answered, “OK. I choose Rome.” We had a love of Italy and I had made a promise so we started making plans.

We found a special place called The Library and reserved a table months in advance. The night finally arrived and it was a great celebration. After our meal we started meandering through the streets when we turned a corner and there it was: Piazza Novana.

It is one of the great piazzas in Italy. Ornate fountains, baroque buildings, street artists and performers make this the place to hang out. That night the piazza was full of people watching a live musical on a huge stage erected at one end. Piazzas are full of life.

Throughout Rome there are many smaller piazzas. They are the heart of the section of the city they are located in. Paths cross in the piazza. People meet in the piazzas. Piazzas are designed to encourage community.

It’s quite a contrast to our way of life. We drive home and put our car in the garage…if it will fit. The garage door closes and we enter the house. We might possibly have everyone in the family at the table at the same time, only to later go to their own separate rooms where each person has their own access to Wi-Fi, computers, and maybe a TV.

In America we live in a culture of individualism rather than a culture of community. How can that change? Looking at how Jesus created community will help.

Jesus created community around a common purpose.* Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word “repent” is not as “churchy” as it sounds. It literally means to “change your mind” or “change the direction you are going.”

This summer we left the Hertz Rental garage in Florence with our GPS ready to go. We turned right out onto the one-way street looking forward to enjoying a drive in the country on our way to a winery. But as soon as we hit the streets we realized the GPS was not working. More than once we determined we were heading in the wrong direction and turned the car around. You could say we “repented.”

That was Jesus’ purpose. And his followers had the same purpose: to help people turn and find their way into his kingdom.

Jesus also created community around common beliefs. Beliefs are important. Behaviors are based on beliefs. So Jesus taught what life in the kingdom was life. He knew what people believed would be seen in their behaviors. One example is Jesus taught that the marginalized had a place at his table. Some didn’t believe that and so only the approved ones would be invited to a literal table meal. In contrast, Jesus invited “tax collectors and sinners” to sit with him at many table meals. His community formed with people who believed what he believed. Community can be found with people who have common beliefs.

And then Jesus created community around a common place. The common place for Jesus was Galilee.  Jesus’ ministry began and ended there. Most of his ministry was spent traversing Galilee with people who lived in that region.

That’s how community is developed. People have to be together in a common place. Facebook won’t create it. Twitter can’t. FaceTime is better than no time. But it takes being in a common place for people to have the opportunity to look each other in the eyes and go deep into each other’s lives.

Who knows what could happen if we repent from our way of individualism and turn to Jesus’ way of community? We might find it. Even if we can’t find a piazza.

*These community ingredients inspired by Randy Frazee’s book The Connecting Church

Question: Where do you find community today?