Friday, June 10, 2016

From the Living Room with Bob

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to attend a Living Room event with Bob Goff and friends at Disneyland and Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. I cannot even begin to capture all the blessings of the trip in words, but I'd like to share some of the key take-aways from Bob's messages in hopes that they can be an encouragement and inspiration to you, too.

First of all, if you haven't read Bob's book, Love Does, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is an easy and uplifting read filled with stories from his life and experiences that can make a person wonder, "Does anyone really live like this?" But he does. And each adventure is also intermingled with deep spiritual truths and exhortations for us to live what he calls a "secretly incredible" life as well. So when I came across a chance to hear him speak in person at a fairly small "Living Room" style conference, I felt compelled to take a Bob-like leap (for me), hop on a plane across the country, and see how God might use it to speak into my life. I definitely was not disappointed!

Truthfully, I'm at a loss for how to even really convey so many profound illustrations that touched me so deeply, but I will give it my best effort and pray that the blessings can overflow to resonate with you as well. So here are some highlights from what Bob articulated (filtered through my interpretations, of course):

  • We're all at the kids' table, with Jesus. From the beginning of the event, Bob continually made it clear that the biggest blessings and most positive influences come from places of togetherness and commonality rather than from levels, hierarchy, or position. Even the title of the gathering, Living Room, was designed to be a "place without stages," with a more relaxed style of sharing than a typical conference (although technically there was a stage so we could see and hear). So rather than striving to be at the "cool" table or a place of honor, we were instead encouraged to consider a family get-together, sitting at the kids' table with all of God's children. What a beautiful picture.
  • If you want to do something awesome for God, do it for His kids. What parent doesn't take extra delight when a person does something uplifting for one of his or her children? In the same way, God's heart is especially touched when we reach out to encourage one of His beloved.
    • The message of the Gospel can be summed up in one word: WITH. God with us, us with each other--these are the keys to abundant life.
    • Play catch with God. This was probably one of my favorite and most personally impactful illustrations from the conference. Bob brought out a softball and began tossing it to different people seated among those of us listening. As he spoke, he painted a simple but captivating picture for us to envision of our lives with God. Put yourself in the position of a child playing catch with your father. If he asks you to come out and play, do you refuse to go out because you're afraid of dropping the ball? And what if you actually do drop the ball? Your father doesn't quit playing to go find someone else better at catching. He just steps closer and keeps playing catch. If he throws the ball wide, we can run wide. If it's short, we can step in. If he throws it high, we can stretch to get it. But in every situation we can keep growing and learning while in a place of full acceptance with our Father.
    • The only thing that counts is faith expressed through love. This statement from Galatians 5:6 was a continual theme running throughout the conference. Nothing else is more important. He also added, Instead of doing things that work, do things that last. Love always lasts.
    • We are not the hero or the victim. Just keep playing catch with God. 
    • Be "Tree Number 4." Bob used this exhortation many times to reiterate the previous point that we are not the hero or the victim. He told the story of when he auditioned for the leading role in a school play. Instead of getting the part he wanted, he was assigned to playing Tree #4. All he had to do was stand there and wiggle his fingers. But he still needed to do his part. Everyone has a role to play, and every contribution matters even if it's not the one you originally had planned. Just do what's in front of you. And when you don't know what to do, wiggle your fingers.
    • Seek to obey for the next 30 seconds. When Bob took skydiving lessons, he said that although there was a lot of preparation and instruction in advance, the test itself (actually taking the plunge and doing it) only lasted 30 seconds. In life, when facing a difficult or overwhelming situation, ask yourself, "Can I obey for the next 30 seconds?" After that, you may need to add another 30-second interval (or more), but just keep making the choice to obey at each moment.
    • It isn't the fall that kills you, it's what happens after the bounce. We need to catch each other on the bounce. I think I'll leave out the extra details and explanation to this one! But the point is still too good to not mention. When someone falls, we can help pick them back up and not let them be even more injured by another crash as soon as they come back up.
    • Our words have power. Think card stock, not paper. Bob showed us the notes he was using for his talk, written in marker on card stock. He said he doesn't even keep regular paper in his house or office. Instead, the card stock is a reminder that anything he says or writes needs to be valuable enough to be on quality stock, not just flimsy paper. So before you say something or write it, think to yourself, "Is this cardstock-worthy?" Always remember that your words matter.
    • Don't be too quick to title your chapter. Bob mentioned that, in writing his book, some of the best chapter titles were ones that couldn't be named right away. With difficult stories and events, it takes time and distance to allow a better title to emerge. A chapter that feels like "rejection" might later be titled "release." A situation where it feels like "I'm done" could later be more appropriately named "I'm back." He encouraged us to wait until enough time has passed before we give a title to the chapter of a season in our lives. Then write the next chapter; don't keep reliving the past ones.
    • Risk being misunderstood--Speak anyway. Respect others, but follow Jesus. Other people won't always get it. Love anyway. Share anyway. You will be misunderstood, but what will you do after the bounce?
    • Keep becoming the next humblest version of yourself. This was another concept Bob referred to many times throughout the conference that resonated deeply with me. I can't help but think of it with the passage from 2 Corinthians 3:18 as well. As we are transformed into the image of Christ "from glory to glory," we keep becoming more and more humble at each step. We don't have to look too far ahead, but as we keep growing, we can also keep having a conversation with the next humblest version of ourselves. He encouraged us to let the person you are inform the person you're becoming.
    • Do you want to simply agree with Jesus, or will you do it? Love isn't something to merely talk about. We need to take action.
    • How is your life working for those around you? Don't just ask how things are working for you, but look to see how you are impacting others. What can you do to let the people close to you know that you're thrilled to do life with them?
    •  Going far is more important than looking pretty.  On the last afternoon of the conference, we got back to our seats after lunch to find a piece of paper on each chair. When everyone was seated, Bob encouraged us to make our best paper airplane. (I can't remember the last time I had made one of those... Mine was VERY simple, but I was proud that I even remembered how!) When we had all made our airplanes, he asked for a few volunteers who considered theirs to be among the best-designed. Three people came up, and one by one they tossed their planes to see how far they would go. Then the rest of us all threw ours all at once--fun moment! After all the airplane launches, Bob regained our attention, took another piece of paper, and just crumpled it into a wad. He said that many of our airplanes were nicely designed, and some traveled well while others only managed a short distance or even a nose-dive. But then he threw his crumpled wad of paper to the back of the room. As you can imagine, it went considerably farther than even the best airplane. He said that sometimes we can get consumed with looking pretty or having the right externals, but we should be more concerned about going far. Even if we feel beat up or broken, we can still accomplish great purposes. Just seek to go far.
    • What is your definition of love? If it doesn't involve commitment and sacrifice, it isn't love.
    • It's better to be interested than interesting. People are more touched by your genuine interest in them than by how interesting you are. Show that you care, and you will go far in relationships.
    • Go big with your love. You will risk crashing hard, but you will be doing the only thing that matters. The risk is worth it. The only thing that counts is faith expressed through love.

    Toward the end of the event, Bob articulated that he hoped we would each be able to say, "I'm not who I was before I came." I want that to be true for me as well. I long to truly live what I've learned and be changed in my attitude and heart as I keep playing catch with God, day by day. I hope that you can be encouraged and spurred on with these thoughts as well. What can you do today to express your faith through love? Can you take that next step? Maybe just start with 30 seconds...

    Sunday, February 28, 2016

    Something's Coming!

    A few days ago I came home from Bible study so fired up that I lightheartedly wrote on Facebook an open invitation for anyone to call and listen to me give a sermon recounting a few lessons from Beth Moore on the book of Revelation. (I knew I sure wouldn't be going to sleep anytime soon that night!) Well, you might not be surprised to learn that not even one person took me up on the offer! However, some of the points Beth made in her DVD study, Here and Now... There and Then, are still resonating so deeply on my heart that I feel compelled to share here with hopes it can be an encouragement to others as well.

    Truthfully there are so many depictions thus far in our study that have hit me with perfect timing in my life and prayers right now. Even though the first five chapters are among the most familiar to me of the book, I love how God's Word can speak fresh truth every time we open and study it. And I have to add that Beth Moore can bring things out of it more personally and deeply than any human being I've studied under, too. But with all the personal stories and many thoughts I'd love to share, the scene I want to zoom in on now is from the fifth chapter of Revelation. Picture this with me in the words of John the apostle:
    Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 
    - Revelation 5:1-5 (NIV 84) 

    It is such a profound scene--please take it in for a moment.

    But here's what gets me: Why are verses 3 and 4 needed? Why doesn't an answer come as soon as the angel asks Who is worthy? Why is there searching in heaven and on earth and under the earth? Why does John weep and weep with intense external expressions of grief? Is there any purpose in the waiting and looking and grieving?

    Beth believes there is and explains it like this (paraphrased): Before we can fully appreciate anything of great glory, God will always provide for us to feel the lack, to notice what's missing. That's His usual way.

    Then she brought us back to a story from the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2:18-22.  Shortly after God created Adam, He said in verse 18, "'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" But the next statement in Scripture is not the one telling how God created woman. Instead we see a reminder of all the animals and birds He created and how He brought each of them before Adam to be named. Beth asks us to consider how that might have made Adam realize his need even more profoundly as the end of verse 20 reiterates, "But for Adam no suitable helper was found." Only after all this do we see God filling in the lack and creating a helpmate for Adam from his rib. God's provision is perfect, but in His own time and His own way.

    As Beth was sharing these thoughts from Genesis, my mind suddenly turned back to another of her studies, to something I was scrambling to look up when I got home that night. In the first session of her DVD study, Breath: The Life of God in Us, Beth shares much about the Holy Spirit in the first two chapters of Genesis. One of the points she has us take down asserts, "The creation narrative repeatedly displays a curious method." We then record four examples along with their references in Genesis, showing this progression in the story of creation:

        "Substance without form. (1:2)
         Form without animation. (1:9-10)
         Animation without image. (1:20-25)
         Image without equivalent. (2:18-20)"

    And for the conclusion she declares, "The overarching message of what's missing is this: Something's coming!"

    Something's coming! That's the phrase I couldn't get out of my head. God is providing, but somehow we can't see or appreciate it until we feel the lack, until we know what's missing.

    As I've pondered these thoughts even more over the last few days, many more examples come to mind as well. The entire Old Testament points out over and over again our need for a Savior. The law cannot be kept by anyone. Sacrifices have to be repeated because nothing is good enough, and everyone keeps sinning. After Malachi there are 400 years of silence. God's people wait for "a voice of one calling in the desert" (Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:3, etc.). And even now we "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).

    Something's coming, but we feel the lack. We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly.

    "But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently" (Romans 8:24b-25).

    Ah, patiently. That's where I can really struggle.

    But these reminders spur me on in hope. Even the lesson itself that night shed light on answers to prayer for me. Just one week prior I had finally voiced a concern I had been praying about and wrestling with for at least a month or two. As Beth was teaching, I was overwhelmed with the thought that from the moment I actually articulated the struggle to someone out loud, causing me to feel the lack even more intensely, I then began to see provision after provision, grace upon grace, of God's working and speaking to me in that area. I'm struck by it all afresh even as I type.

    At the same time, a heartbreaking situation for a dear friend was on my mind so much as well. I don't want to minimize it. The pain of the immediate and the not knowing are immense, I'm certain. My heart continues to ache and hurt as I pray for all involved, too. But I know God is providing for His beloved children. And I know that when the provision comes, He will be all the more praised because the lack is so evident there is no doubt that only One can fill it.

    Something's coming... We don't know when. We don't know what it will look like. We feel the lack, much like John. He wept and wept... but then...

    "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders." (Revelation 5:6a)


    John saw true Provision right in front of him. One day we will, too. Until then, we groan inwardly, we wait eagerly, and we pray.

    And those prayers? They are never missed and never forgotten. They're in a bowl, before the throne.
    (See Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4.)

    Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

    Sunday, January 3, 2016

    Good Reads for a Better New Year

    Two things I want to be more intentional about doing consistently in the New Year are reading and writing. So I'm sharing a few reads that have been instrumental in my life and might be encouraging for you in the coming year, too. I'd love to hear your suggestions as well! These are books that are broad in range and could help anyone start a new year (or any season of life) in a positive direction:

    1. Jesus Calling: Enjoying peace in His presence by Sarah Young
    One of the very best ways to start a New Year is by making a plan to spend time with God in His Word each day. Although I like to dig into in-depth Bible studies, this is my very favorite simple 365-day devotional. I've gone through it more than once, and I love how the author writes as if Jesus were speaking directly to me. She includes Scripture references for each day's devotion as well.  It's available in many formats as a book or a perpetual calendar, and you really can start it anytime and just come back around to the rest of the dates.

    2. One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are by Ann Voskamp
    I've shared about this book before but can't leave it out of a list like this. It's one of the very most life-changing books I've ever read outside of Bible studies. Ann has a poetic way of writing and bringing out the power of bold thankfulness in the midst of everything from tragedy and challenges to the mundane of everyday life.

    3. The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's best version of you by John Ortberg
    I'm not really sure how I have gone this long in life without reading anything by John Ortberg until this year. In what has definitely been perfect timing for me personally, I've read three of his books over the past several months and have loved them all. So I'm giving a very honorable mention to Soul Keeping and All the Places to Go, How Will You Know?, but if you only get to read one, I'm suggesting The Me I Want to Be. He shares so much on living by grace in every aspect of life to become more of our true selves that God intends for us to be. Who wouldn't wouldn't want that? It seems especially fitting at the start of a new year as well.

    4. Love Does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world by Bob Goff
    This book, quite appropriately, was one that surprised me a bit in its content and style in being different from what I expected--in a good way! I can't think about it or tell anyone about it without smiling. The last line on its back cover really sums it up best: "Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob's life and attitude just might inspire you to be secretly incredible too."

    If you're wanting to add a blog to your inspirational reading list, here are a few of my favorites to follow:

    1. Emily P. Freeman's blog | creating space for your soul to breathe
    Reading Emily's blog feels like sitting down with a friend who somehow seems to put my feelings into words when I can't quite articulate them. She truly embodies her goal of "creating space for your soul to breathe" and just seems like a breath of fresh air when the world feels like it's spinning too fast. She has started writing her Monday blog posts in the form of a prayer, which has been so touching to me as well. (She also has a new book, Simply Tuesday, which I'm wanting to recommend but haven't actually had the chance to read yet... soon, I hope!!)

    2. A Holy Experience blog by Ann Voskamp | because God has burning bushes everywhere
    You already know I love Ann's writing. What more can I say? I am continually touched by how her words turn hearts to the holy in the everyday.

    3. The Storyline blog by Donald Miller and other authors
    This blog has several contributing authors and is more broad in range for general life and wholeness. While that variety makes it harder for me to endorse all of it, so many posts have encouraged me and grown my perspective that I'd recommend it for you to check out as well.

    I was going to share a few more books I've already purchased and am planning to read in the coming year, but that list is already getting so long it's hard to narrow down. That said, I'd still love to hear your recommendations for any must-reads. Feel free to leave a comment. And thanks for taking your time to read this!