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...