David Brooks on American College Mindset

“Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” David Brooks, “The Streamlined Life”

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes about the mindset of college students in America. You can read the whole article here.

As a pastor, I want to understand the mindset of people in my community. What questions are people asking? What are the concerns keeping people awake at night? What motives drive people day-by-day? Brooks give us some helpful insights to consider. Along with the above quote, he adds,

“It is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.”

Sadly, most worthy pursuits, including spiritual ones, do not fit into the tidy categories of utilitarian, streamlined and success-oreinted. I appreciate Brooks’ recognition of the shortfalls of such a mentality. “The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.” This mindset among college students poses a real, tangible challenge to meaningful ministry and gospel proclamation. How to engage the mindset without forfeiting the gospel’s power? I am not seeking an easy answer, but I do embrace the tension.

Also, I see an opportunity for ministry here. The feeling of “emotional vulnerability” mentioned above will not be quieted by utilitarian pursuits. The vulnerability will win in the quiet moments. It will always be there. The opportunity is to pursue  true relationships where inner-vulnerabilities can be shared, addressed and helped.

I will spend my day contemplating what else Brooks’ post means for ministry and interaction in my community.

Do you agree with the article? What would you add? How else do these realities affect the Church and gospel-ministry?

Don’t Be So Self-Centered!

As the pastor of a local church, I am often left to ponder the disconnection of a person from our congregation. Why has he not been to worship in three weeks? Why is he visiting another church? Why did he stop participating with his small group? These are constant questions for pastors, and I imagine there is a parallel set for the leader of any small to medium-sized business.

My standard series of responses to these questions is overwhelmingly disappointing. My answers either center around people’s view of me or people’s view of our church. My answers tend be in this general realm:

  • He must have not liked my preaching.
  • He must have not liked our convictions or values.
  • He must have believed the grass was greener elsewhere.
  • There are more sinful and hurtful answers that I think but refuse to type or speak.

All of these responses are about me and our church. On a few occasions, these answers are accurate. Most of the time, I am wrong. I am learning the depth of how wrong I am.

How wrong am I? People often disconnect from our church because of something going on with themselves. The cliche, “It is not you, it is me,” is actually true. People disconnect because of unbelief, doubt, sinful patterns, depression, loneliness, accusations, family strife, loss of a job, addictions and much more. Notice a theme here? People disconnect from the church when they have spiritual needs. People disconnect when they need Christians to pursue them, love them, challenge them, teach them and pray for them. People disconnect from the church at the times they most need the church. As a pastor, my task is to lead my church by example in pursuing these folks.

When I make the people’s disconnection about me, I miss the opportunity to be a pastor to them. I miss the opportunity to lead them. I miss the opportunity to love them. I miss the opportunity to speak the gospel of Jesus into their need. My self-centered thought patterns are distracting me and in some cases preventing me from ministerial opportunities.

Here are few leadership adjustments I am attempting:

  • Don’t be so self-centered. Look up, look out and see the real issues. There are gospel opportunities in reality.
  • Don’t assume I know the reason. Take the time and risk to ask. Send an email. Make a phone call. Knock on a door. The risk likely will bear fruit.
  • Let the disappointment of disconnection drive me to prayer. I don’t heal people or fix people. God does. Perhaps, my contribution is praying God’s blessing into a situation.

What do you think? What other adjustments would you recommend? How does this apply to other business settings?

Quote: God Constantly Surprises

Incredibly, the Old Testament teaches that God is able to sustain the weary, heal the hurting, judge the wicked, empower the oppressed and do anything else necessary to be a loving Creator. Thus the Old Testament tells a vital story. It speaks of major issues to real people. It portrays a magnificent and all-sufficient God who constantly surprises his followers with a perfect blend of power and goodness. No wonder these texts have captivated readers through the centuries.

Paul House, Old Testament Theology

I am preparing for a new sermon series through the Minor Prophets at my church. While reading this morning, I found this excellent quote, and I reinvigorated to pursue meeting God in the Minor Prophets. So, I pray…

Father, would You captivate my soul again with yourself? Would you teach me of your justice, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness? Would you change me by allowing me to see you?

Are We Actually Controlled by a Quarter?

ImageI just returned from a trip to Aldi, the grocery store known for low prices and self-service shopping carts. At Aldi, the shopping carts are locked at the entrance of the store. One is only able to get a cart by opening the lock with a quarter. Likewise, a person must return the cart to the desired location to retrieve his quarter. This is how Aldi works. Embrace it or shop elsewhere.

There is an element of capitalistic and managerial genius to this scheme by Aldi, but that is not the point of my post. I am fascinated at how a quarter (That is 25¢. $0.25. It takes four of them to make a purchase at the dollar store.) is able to control our behavior. In theory, every shopper at Aldi could leave his cart in the parking lot just like any other store. The only penalty for such a choice is a quarter. Yet, I never see a cart anywhere in the Aldi parking lot. The carts are always returned.

Why are we so easily controlled by Aldi’s scheme? I have pondered this on many trips to Aldi, but I have not found a satisfactory answer. Does it only really take a quarter to alter our behavior? Here are a few possible answers to the question.

  • We are that cheap.
  • The quarter causes us to think about money and count the cost.
  • The quarter causes us to consider what is best for Aldi and other customers by returning the cart.
  • The quarter causes us to embrace Aldi’s scheme of reducing costs by needing less employees.

Or is it something else all together? I want to draw some conclusions and reflect on this. I feel sarcasm and silly thoughts abounding in my head. I need your help. Think with me. Why do you return the shopping cart at Aldi? You can comment on this post or one of my Facebook or Twitter pages. social media sites.

McCullough on Membership

Too often we try on new churches like we try on new clothes and for much the same reason. We’re looking for style and fit, for what meets our needs and makes the appropriate statement about who we are. We put our churches in service of our desire to be somebody, and our commitment doesn’t outlast the better options of Elsewhere. But this posture—beside its offense to the cross—leads to self-absorption, restlessness, and isolation.

Matt McCullough, Wendell Berry and the Beauty of Membership

Matt is a friend of mine and a church planter at Trinity Church in Nashville. The above quote, which is clear, thoughtful, and pointed, is representative of the entire article. It also is pressing toward a vital thought for us. Church membership is far more than an affiliation that meets our set of personal desires. Church membership is a commitment to a particular group of people for a particular purpose. Read the entire article. Be challenged. Then, I would love to hear your thoughts.

“If you don’t need their rewards…”

“If you don’t need their rewards, you do not have to play by their rules.”

Nathan Johnson in Broke*, a documentary by Will Gray about artists and the music industry.

Broke*I have spent the last year wrongly attributing this quote to Seth Godin, who also appears in Broke*.

Johnson is speaking about money and luxury within the music industry, but I find the quote wide ranging and helpful. I often feel external pressure to be something, feel something, or act in a certain manner. No matter who “they” are in a particular moment, should I feel their pressure at this moment? I find freedom when I am able to remind myself not to unnecessarily submit myself to the rules of “they.”

Broke* Releases

Broke* Releases

Broke*My dear friend, Will Gray, made a documentary about artists and the music industry called Broke*. Broke* was released today on iTunes. Within the next few weeks, it will be available on Comcast, Verizon FIOS, and DirecTV, as well as available for rent/purchase on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Xbox.

My wife and I watched Broke* together tonight. It is an excellent story, an powerful collection of interviews, and an entertaining collection of music. If you are an artist or enjoy art, I commend Broke* to you.

D. A. Carson:…

D. A. Carson:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist.

If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.

If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician.

If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.

But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death, and he sent us a Savior.

—D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 109.

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds posted this quote today. I found it very helpful and timely. I pray this quote will shape the worship at my church, Redeemer Church, today and in your gathering.

Caring for a Spouse with Postpartum Depression

Jamie and SuzanneMy wife blogs at SuzanneShares.com. This week she is writing about her struggle with postpartum depression, and she asked me to contribute a post. You can read the original post here.

Suzanne has been sharing her postpartum depression struggles over the last few days. I am extremely thankful for her risk in sharing this hard story with the world. I pray and long for God to use our struggles for the sake of His glory and His purposes in the world. Before I begin, you should know a few important facts about Suzanne and me. I love my wife deeply. Our marriage is strong and healthy. We communicate directly and openly about struggles, faults, sins, and weaknesses. In this post, I will say some hard things regarding my wife’s PPD. These statements are things we have discussed. We do not feel the statements belittle either of us. We feel that sharing with openness and honesty is worth the risk of being misunderstood.

When it comes to PPD, what do you call the spouse who is walking through the struggle and giving much care to the person with PPD? We have not landed on a satisfactory term to date. For our purposes here, we will call this person the “caregiver.” These are my experiences as the caregiver during PPD.

My Journey as a PPD Caregiver
I remember subconsciously thinking, “Did the hospital send me home with the wrong woman?” The hospital had extreme measures to ensure we went home with the correct child. No one every checked to see if I was taking home the correct wife. After a few weeks, the Suzanne I knew and loved was not the Suzanne presently living in our home and caring for our child. The before children (B.C.) Suzanne was fun-loving, outgoing, strong, persevering, initiating, and independent. The after children (A.C.) Suzanne was fragile, withdrawn, almost anti-social, void of initiative, and highly dependent. There was no doubt that the woman in my house was not Suzanne. One question haunted me. Will she ever return?

The Vise: A vise is a strong, metal clamp. When tightened, it prevents an object from moving. For 8 months, Suzanne’s PPD went undiagnosed, and I spent every day feeling like we were stuck in a vise. These factors were trapping us:

  • I had no experience with childbirth, childrearing, PPD, or anything related to it. So, I did not know how to explain or process what was taking place in our home.
  • We were new to our town and our church. We needed friends. I found myself longing for people to know the B.C. Suzanne. Because I did not want our new acquaintances to form wrong opinions of her, I attempted to hide the truth of A.C. Suzanne. We withdrew together. Accidentally, we shielded ourselves from the help we really needed. No one was allowed into our world to show us that Suzanne needed help and that help was readily available.
  • Since we did not know that help was readily available, I took it upon myself to fix the problem. I bore the weight and fear of Suzanne’s PPD while she battled for sanity by the day. This was a desolate existence for me. I had withdrawn from the world to fight for my family, and my home was breaking by the minute. My wife needed my care and assistance virtually every minute of the day. Our infant son needed my care and assistance virtually every minute of the day.

If you have read the previous posts and wondered how Suzanne went 8 months without being diagnosed, this is the answer–I was caught in the vise, and I did not know how to best help her. I spent 8 months attempting to serve and hold the family together until things got better. In the process, I was unintentionally denying Suzanne the better solution and care she needed through diagnosis, counseling, openness, and love within the body of Christ. The vise grew tighter by the day. We finally sought help when the vise broke me.

No Reprieve: PPD overtook my wife. Think about the worst day of PMS ever experienced, increase its intensity by 50%, add a needy infant, and stretch it over 240 consecutive days. Her actions, decision making, thought life, belief, disposition, and desires were altered. (The only thing unchanged was her love for Mexican food. For eight months in 2005, Nashville Mexican restaurants made a bundle of money off our family.) There was no element of our marriage or our home  unaffected. There was no realm within our withdrawn world that felt normal. Everything was new and more difficult than it used to be.

Help Wanted: As days became weeks and weeks became months, I knew that we needed help, but I did not know what that meant. Because I was scared and hurting, I was paralyzed. It took a series of meltdowns and interventions from old friends to see that we could get help. Once I shared openly with my pastor, the help came quickly and overwhelmingly. We were served and loved. If you hear anything from these blog posts, please hear this: Help is available. PPD is brutal, but it is curable. Your wife will return to you. Yet, do not wait for postpartum to “run its course.” Seek help. Love her by getting her the help she needs.

The Hangover: Suzanne was able to get much needed help. My wife was back. With equilibrium she was again herself, and she was a phenomenal mother. After a few months she was connecting, serving, loving, and impacting our new community. It took me almost four months to recover from walking as a caregiver during postpartum. No one ever gave me any medicine. No one gave me retreat to recover from the stress and tension of postpartum. No one sent me to counseling.  I do not say these things with angst, but they are a fact. Being a caregiver during PPD is prolonged survival mode. It is prolonged adrenaline dependency. There will be a let down. There will be some low, hurting days after your spouse is healed. There will be a hangover, and it will take time to heal. Give your body the time it needs to recover from surviving on adrenaline.

The Residual: About one year after her recovery, Suzanne looked at me and said, “Jamie, I am not sick anymore. Please stop treating me like I am still that person.” PPD is behind us, but there is still residual and fallout. It is a chapter in the book of our life, but the book is not closed. Postpartum depression is caused by a combination of hormonal changes and new life stresses. Remember the PMS reference above? As my wife goes through hormonal cycles as all women do,  there will be brief windows in time (at least monthly) where I notice an attitude, a response, a thought pattern, or an action reminiscent of our PPD days. Every time it startles me, scares me, and causes me to overreact in some way. My overreaction is not fair to Suzanne and who she is, but it is something I will always battle. Brief momentary residual is expected. Don’t overreact like me.

I am not a model husband for sure, but I have walked this line. I hope these thoughts help you as you love and serve those battling PPD.

The Quiet Days Are the Hardest…

will_photo_bannerMy dear friend, Will Gray, is fighting cancer and fighting for his life. Here is a reflection I wrote today for #GoTeamGray while visiting him in L.A.

The Quiet Days Are the Hardest…

…at least for me.

Quiet days are the ones when Will mostly rests and there is little interaction except for eating and taking medicine. The last few days have been quiet days.

These days are hard because we do not know what it all means. We do not know what is going on with Will’s body while he rests. We know that allowing him the needed rest is the right thing to do. So, in the words of Will, we do the next right thing. We give him space to rest. We cut vegetables and juice for his next meal. We pray. We hope. We wait. We prepare for tomorrow.

Every day with Will, even a quiet one, is a blessing. Lord, thank you for these last few days. Please give us tomorrow with him, then another tomorrow, another tomorrow, and another…

Friends, thank you praying and seeking the latest news on Will. If the blog goes quiet for a few days, you can assume they have been quiet days. You can assume that Will is resting while he continues the fight. Please keep praying with all your might and faith that God will heal William.