In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day

Ragamuffin Soul Looks Foolish

Ragamuffin Soul, Carlos Whittaker

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day – Chapter 8

It has been awhile since I’ve posted a Snowy Day post. Life has been busy! But tonight I was drawn back to Mark Batterson’s book, and we are now on chapter 8: the importance of looking foolish. Let’s start with a quote:

We try to look like everybody else. We try to talk like everybody else. We try to dress like everybody else. And the end result? We become like everybody else. We hide our idiosyncrasies and insecurities behind the mask of who we think we’re supposed to be. We stop being ourselves and start being who we think everyone wants us to be.

But something invaluable and irreplaceable is lost when we cave in to conformity. We lose our personality. We lose our originality. And at some point we lose our soul. Instead of becoming the one-of-a-kind original we were destined to be, we settle for a carbon copy of someone else.

Here’s the deal, as Mark Batterson says: if you aren’t willing to look foolish, you’re foolish. I’ve been praying lately for God to take me to the end of myself, to get me to the point where all I want is what He wants. A big prayer, but life is a journey. And then I pick up Snowy Day and realize the chapter is about looking foolish while we are dreaming the big, limitless dreams that God gives us.

I don’t know of anyone who more exemplifies this kind of holy foolishness than Carlos Whittaker, a man I’ve actually never met (yet!). Read his blog. Carlos is willing to be childlike, creative and unorthodox in his never-ending quest to be an authentic Christ Follower in this world. This week alone the Ragamuffin Soul was willing to show us his Ragamuffin Top as he begins a fitness quest. We’ve seen him dancing with his daughters, playing ping pong with his co-workers in a riveting live-stream. We’ve seen him interviewing leaders, riding the bus, fast-forwarding through his day, and leading us in worship. He opens his world and is willing to be transparent to show us the real world, a real dad, real ministry. Yeah, Ragamuffin Soul looks foolish. I wish I could, too.

Mark Batterson, who knows Carlos by the way, and would probably agree with my assessment, tells the story of riding in the van with his wife and kids, music blaring. Mark and his wife Lora get all jiggy to the music they have going. Their kids think they are crazy, but the people in the car behind them really think they are nuts. He writes:

But who is crazy? Is it us? Or is it the people who can’t hear the music? I’d like to think the crazy people are the ones who aren’t dancing because they can’t hear the music.

There is an old proverb: “Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

I’ve been praying for God to take me to the end of myself, and this chapter of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (please, Mark…can you think of a shorter title next time?) reminds me that perhaps the fears I am facing really result from my fear of appearing foolish. I’ve been praying this prayer, but I’m a little afraid God is going to take me up on it.

At least I’ll be in good company.

Even Coffee Can’t Give Me Enough Energy Tonight!

I am conviced that the only thing between you and your destiny is one small act of courage. One courageous choice may be the only thing between you and your dream becoming reality. And it may be as simple as placing a phone call, downloading an appliation or sending an e-mail. But you’ve got to push the first domino.

— In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson

It has been a long day here getting ready for graduation on Saturday and a family wedding in Oregon the week after. When we are tired, none of us keeps their temper very well. Except David…he’s always the same day in and day out. I’m trying to organize us all for the rather intense days ahead, and feel like I’d rather crawl in bed. So I am rereading this chapter in “Lion” to “screw my courage to the sticking place” (Beauty and the Beast quote…very eclectic tonight) and do the next thing on my list.

Pray for us all over the next few days! And look forward to some fun posts as we travel around the country a bit! Nothing like Carlos and DJ Chuang and some of the others headed to Saddleback and then WiBo, but still fun!

Eli Stone shifts the culture

Eli Stone

Chapter 6 of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy day is a call to action: get off your rear end and get out of the boat, like Peter walking on the water. There are two quotes that jumped out at me. I am going to give them to you, and then I am going to tell you why, in my opinion, the television show Eli Stone represents an important cultural milestone.

Quote One

Everything we change, changes everything.

Have you ever heard about the “Butterfly Effect?” This weather-forecasting principle states that even something as seemingly inconsequential as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can literally change a weather pattern. Faith is like that, too. Even the littlest moments of action or inaction on our part can initiate a chain of events with eternal significance.

Quote Two

Instead of complaining about the current state of affairs we need to offer better alternatives. We need to make better movies and better music. We need to write better books. We need to start better schools and better businesses.

So here is why I believe Eli Stone matters. This new television show is based on an up-and-coming lawyer suddenly seeing visions – usually of George Michael, oddly enough, singing in improbably situations. By following the impressions created by these visions, Eli alters the course of his life and the lives of people around them. He begins to fight for the underdog, create justice, and impact his world. Slowly – so slowly – Eli comes to understand that the visions are coming from God, and that he has a responsibility to act on them.

Eli Stone is one of the best examples of Hollywood treating faith with respect. Is it theologically correct? Probably not. Does it present the gospel in a four-step system? Nope. But it does represent an honest attempt to recognize that God is real, he works in this world, and he communicates to us. That makes Eli Stone a rare find indeed.

What I love about this show is that it doesn’t have the adjective “Christian” tagged on to make us watch it. It is well written, high quality, and totally entertaining. It exemplifies what Mark Batterson was saying in Quote Two above. When Christians step out and interact with culture in a meaningful way, like Paul in the marketplace of Athens, magic like Eli Stone can result. I don’t know who is behind the tv show Eli Stone. I don’t know if they are a believer or not. I do know that they have given us a great topic of discussion.

How to Live with Uncertainty

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day Chapter 5

Presumptuous blog title, no? How to live with uncertainty. Nevertheless, that’s what Chapter Five of In a Pit is teaching in no uncertain terms. Uncertainty is a part of life…maybe even the best part of life. Benaiah had no clue he was going to chase a lion the morning he woke up and changed his destiny. And once the chase was on, Benaiah had no guarantee of a checkmark in the win column. And neither do we. So how do we embrace the uncertainty that God has built into life?

  1. Tolerate interruptions. 90% of the time it is the unexpected, unimagined twist on our day and on our life that reveals God’s fingerprint. Yesterday it was the unexpected moment in the bar that gave me the framework to evaluate the whole crazy patchwork of my day. Viewing those 15 minutes cooling my heals waiting for food as an interruption in my plan would have robbed me of that insight. I am not particularly good at this process, by the way. In fact, one of the ironies of this post is that as I was writing a college friend of mine was instant messaging with me while he sat in an (apparently) uninspiring class, my computer froze necessitating a conversation with a mac-using neighbor at the next table, my husband called wanting to meet me at a different coffee shop, and the barista at the second coffee shop sat down for an extended conversation with us about life, faith, what he wants to do with his life and how to get there. Yes, they were interruptions to this post, but they were the point of my day!
  2. Be counterintuitive. The way God works in one life or church is seldom the way he works in another. If your mental map of “how God works” is modeled on someone else, you need to break that mold. Batterson writes, “Regardless of your vocational calling or relational status you have to do something counterintuitive if you want to reach your God-given potential and fulfill your God-given destiny. Sometimes you have to run away from security and chase uncertainty.” My life is filled with uncertainties, as is yours. I am going to cultivate the discipline of looking at them as opportunities, trying to find the counterintuitive approach.
  3. Prepare. Batterson uses the example of the Day of Pentecost. The disciples didn’t plan Pentecost; they weren’t even aware that it was coming. All of it was an interruption, an uncertainty. But they had prepared themselves for Pentecost by fasting, praying, being where God needed them. The chapter asks us what would happen if instead of spending all our energy planning events for God and telling him how we need him to work, if instead we spent that energy seeking after God. You can’t plan Pentecost, but you can be prepared.
  4.  View complications as blessings. While sometimes the complications in our lives can come as a result of wrong choices, most of the time they arise as a result of the good things we do in our lives. My complications come from my elderly mother, my growing kids or having too many great choices of activity in my life. These are blessings, all. Remember the parable of the talents? The reward for doing your work well was…more work. And so it is today. I was frustrated by the complications of arranging my family’s summer travel schedule last week, until I remembered what a blessing it is to have three nieces and nephews who love me and are getting happily and wonderfully married this summer.
  5. Rest. Above all I am trying to remember that God has a plan, and he is working his plan. I can rest in that. Mark Batterson tells the story of the untimely death of his father-in-law. In the aftermath of that grief, he would often find himself sighing with a grieving, overwhelmed heart. During this time he took to heart the verse in Psalms which says, “Give hear to my words, O Lord. Consider my sighing.” God hears our sighing – those moments of overwhelming burden – and interprets them as prayers. That thought has helped me a lot as a sigh escapes me. I know that my sigh represents all the uncertainty in my life: the knowledge that I have no idea what the right course to take is, the worry over my famiy’s choices, the unknown variables that my job sometimes means I must plan for. My sigh represents the unknown regarding all these things, and God hears it as a prayer. This is good.

One metaphor from this chapter encouraged a new attitude in my daily life this week. I am going to write my life in pencil, and make sure it has a good eraser. How about you?

Six Ways to Connect in a Coffee Shop

I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I’ve been thinking about how to actually go about connecting with my community. Jury duty aside, there just aren’t that many times when I am interacting in the community beyond a simple trip to the grocery store or mall. I imagine that many of us are in that position, where the majority of our relationships are found in our church or (hopefully) our neighborhood. So how do you begin to take steps to be “available” when you are hanging at your favorite coffee shop? These are the things I’ve been thinking about.

  1. Pick one or two coffee shops to frequent. I know it sounds obvious, but honestly there are at least five Starbucks I could choose in my immediate driving distance, and I like all of them for different reasons. Lately I’ve been intentionally trying to narrow down my choices in order to build relationships with the “regulars.” My favorite “work” coffee shop is the Barnes and Noble Starbucks. I find the combination of books and coffee inspires me, and the cafe is centrally located. I see many acquaintances and friends that way. At first, if I were honest, I was annoyed at some of these interruptions, until I remembered why I was sitting there in the first place!
  2. Choose a provocative book and leave the dust jacket on. OK…you know I don’t mean that kind of provocative. I mean a book that can strike up a conversation all on its own. During the DaVinci Code era, I’d either bring a copy of the DaVinci code itself (yes…I read it) or one of the rebuttal books, and I got into lots of interesting conversations. My recent favorite, In A Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, often draws comments because of its interesting cover and unique title. By carrying that book into one of my favorite shops the other day I was able to explain its main premise to the barista. He countered with a similar verse that inspired him, and then confessed he hadn’t been in church lately.  I reminded him that God really doesn’t sit there with an attendance sheet. That was it… not a huge conversation. But as I was leaving I heard another customer say, “Hey, I haven’t been to church much lately either. But I’ve started going here… you might like it…” I left before I heard the end of that conversation, but I thought how cool it was that a chain reaction was started.
  3. Learn people’s names. Again, this should be obvious but we often forget the small things. People’s names are important to them, so they should be important to you. This is one reason that a really good Starbucks will make an effort to learn your name and favorite drink. Return the favor. Even when in a casual conversation with another customer, people usually don’t mind being asked to give their name, and it builds a connection point faster than anything else.
  4. Come up for air once in awhile. If you are buried deep into your computer or book, very few people will dare to engage you in conversation. Every so often make sure you lift your head and make eye contact! A nod or a smile can start a conversation.
  5. Bring friends with you. Recently we met another couple and their little girl for coffee and had a great conversation going about all the ways God was working in their lives and ours. We hadn’t seen each other for awhile, and there was a lot to share. My friend is also a very outgoing personality, so our conversation was certainly heard by passersby. I noticed that there was one lady who kept trying to come near to us. She commented on the little girl, she returned twice for napkins, and she finally pulled up a chair nearby and just listened. When we engaged her in conversation directly she skittered off like a bunny rabbit, but she was warmed by the fellowship that was happening in our little circle. Not everyone will want to  sit down and become your new best friend, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t having an impact. Keep your eyes and heart open to those serendipitous moments.
  6. Add value to your favorite spot. Finally, be a giver and not just a taker. Lots of us sit in Starbucks and rent a table. This is a good thing, and just what they want us to do. But you can differentiate yourself if you take a few minutes to add value to the coffee shop community. I’ve done things as simple as compliment them on the community spirit the baristas create or ferry an empty cream jug back and forth over the counter for them. Remember my barista that was intrigued with In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day? The next time I returned to his coffee shop I brought an extra copy of the book with me to give to him.

All these things, simple to do, make you more approachable as you sit sipping your espresso, and they help you become part of a third pace community. I would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences in this area! The more we share, the more we learn from each other. In the meantime, isn’t it great to have an excuse for one more Starbucks run?

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day Chapter Four

The Art of Reframing Life’s Problems

I’ve made it to chapter three of In A Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Today’s topic convicts and delights me, both. The premise is this: life’s problems are God’s way of preparing us for God’s opportunities. The problems are the seedbed for the great feats of daring and delight, the stuff of stories. Problems are fertile soil, indeed. Mark tells the story of National Community Church and one of its first real problems. The church lost its lease on the school in which it was meeting. In the ensuing days God only opened one door: the movie theater in Union Station, which has been their defining characteristic as a church. What seemed like a problem was really God setting the stage for their future ministry.

So what are some keys to gaining God’s perspective on our problems?

1. Evaluate your past. When a broken bone heals, it heals stronger than it was before. Look at the broken bones of your life. Has God used them in unexpected ways? Reviewing the past helps us keep trusting for the future.
2. Search for ministry opportunities. How many conversations just “coincidentally” lead to common issues or problems? That’s God transforming your past into missional opportunities. Take those opportunities and redeem your past pain.
3. Examine your character. Often the adversity you have faced in the past is what becomes your defining characteristic. Maybe you have been overlooking such an opportunity? Offering up to God the sum total of who we are allows Him to pick and choose at any given moment what characteristic He wants to use.
4. Be prepared for surprises! We tend to categorize our personality traits into important and not important. “God can use my insight into scripture,” we reason, “to impact my small group.” In reality, he might be using your willingness to always provide the brownies and coffee and create a welcoming environment. Don’t despise the little characteristics that make up who you are!
5. Worship. Develop an arsenal of worship techniques that help you change your perspective on the problem at hand. For me, that would be music. For you? Perhaps prayer or time spent walking outside in God’s world? Whatever it is, write down the ways you can change your focus, because in the heat of battle with your lion, it is hard to remember what tools you have in your belt. Write them down and then use them.

I leave you with one final quote from chapter four.

. “Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.” Pg. 67

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day Chapter Three

Start Thinking God Thoughts

I continue to reflect on “In A Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson. In the third chapter a simple metaphor – heard before and mostly ignored before – has caused me to stop to ponder. According to Batterson, half of learning is learning. The other half is unlearning. Unfortunately, the unlearning is twice as hard as learning. So how do we unlearn the fears that inhibit us? Batterson uses a computer metaphor. We need to uninstall our old fears, and download the mind of Christ through scripture. “When we read Scripture, we are recruiting new nerve cells and rewiring neuronal connections. In a sense, we are downloading a new operating system that reconfigures the mind. We stop thinking human thoughts and start thinking God thoughts.”

Wow. Am I doing what it takes to think God thoughts? When I started scrapbooking I began to see my life as a series of scrapbook pages. I would stage events solely for the great pages they would make. (I am sorry, friends, who had to suffer through Mexican fiestas, hurricane birthday parties or trips to the circus for no reason at all). Perhaps the height of my obsession was the trip to Disney World where I picked coordinating outfits for the girls based on a really cute patterned paper I’d just found. Because I was a scrapbooker, I saw the world as one giant scrapbook. Recently I have done the same thing with blogging. Because I am always looking for post topics either here or on Dancing Thru Her Daddy’s World, I am beginning to see the world in “soundbyte” sized chunks that would make good blog posts. Think I’m kidding? Check out my “aroma” post here.

So what would it really take to start thinking God thoughts instead of scrapbook thoughts or blog thoughts? I guess it would take an overwhelming obsession with seeing God at work in the kingdom around me. If I were obsessed with finding these God moments every day, I would constantly tune my vision heavenward. If I were immersed in scripture the way I should be, scripture would be the first lens through which I would view my world, not the third or fourth. When I can walk into a coffee shop and hope not for peace and quiet but for a meaningful, God-ordained contact, then maybe I will have downloaded the mind of Christ.

God is Scrapbooking About Me!!!

What an amazing thought that is! The scripture, of course, doesn’t tell me God is scrapbooking. It refers to it as a “scroll of remembrance,” where God writes down everything we do. Sounds a lot like a scrapbook to me! Doesn’t that just make you happy, thinking about God caring enough to document our progress?

Chapter Two of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day gave me several new thoughts, including that last one. Sometimes it feels like we work in anonymity, doing what needs to be done and no one notices. Maybe your kids thank you for finding the cordless phone in the couch and putting the DVD’s back in their case, but mine don’t. Countless tasks fly by every day and no one notices…unless they aren’t done! But here’s the good news: God notices each and every good thing we do, scrapbooks it, and beams over us like a proud papa.

The second thought that I am pondering is this one: “In the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the chaos. And nothing has changed. God is still hovering over chaos. The creation story is a microcosm of what God wants to do in your life. He hovers over the chaotic situations ready to create order and beauty. He wants to fill the void.” (Pg 25 ,26) I don’t know about you, but that thought comforts me because if there is one word to describe my life it is chaotic! (Check out how crazy our life can get here). So God is hovering over the chaos that is teenage girls, elderly mothers and the rotating cast of characters in my life. He is hovering, and he is creating, just like he did in the beginning.

Other questions inspired by this chapter:
• What am I praying for, reduced odds against me or greater miracles for me?
• Do I view God as too big or too small to handle my prayer requests?

One last quote to leave with you. “God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you want to get where God wants you to go.” (pg. 30)