So, a few weeks ago, I was visiting with some friends and family near Philadelphia. One morning, on my way into Starbucks, some rather pushy Girls Scouts confronted me, while manning their cookie stand, set up outside the front door of the coffeehouse. Now, I don’t know about you, but I love me some Girls Scout cookies! Even though they sell these little sugar, caramel, chocolate, coconut and peanut butter filled nuggets of hope and sunshine at the absolute wrong time of year, they still sell tons of these things. Did you know that they still sell over 150 million boxes of these suckers a year! Recently, I ate an entire box of Samoas (my favorite), on the way to Lancaster to hang out with my friends at Manheim BIC. This is much easier to do these days, as the number of cookies they put in every box has shrunk; yet, for some reason, the box has stayed the same size. Someone should tell the Girl Scouts not to sell them during lent or leading into spring, for those of us who haven’t worked off last year’s cookies, and are in training before summer gets here.
However, the truth is, that I am no longer permitted to buy Girl Scout Cookies anymore. At least, I can’t buy them from strangers anymore. This will be the second year that my daughter, Annsley, who is a Girl Scout, is selling cookies. So, I am bound, under the father-daughter code and punishable by death, (Mother-Father code) obliged to buy ALL of my Girl Scout cookies from my daughter. Last year she wanted to sell 100 boxes, in order to get her 100-box merit badge. This year she raised the stakes considerably! The conversation went something like this:
Annsley: “Daddy, can I get the Girl Scout pajamas this year? I really want to sell enough cookies to get the pajamas.”
Daddy: “Sure Annsley, how many boxes do you need to sell in order to get the pajamas?” I responded in a supportive fatherly tone.
She dragged her little finger across the wrinkled and worn pages of the glossy catalog until she came to the picture of the pajamas, to find the all-important number. She responded in the broken mathematical rhythms of a seven year old.
Daddy: “Honey.” I responded kindly, “You aren’t reading that number right. Did you mean 1-5-0? Or, are you reading how many boxes you need to sell to win the aircraft carrier?”
Annsley: “No Daddy!” She wrinkled her forehead. (This is never a good sign.) “Girl Scouts don’t win aircraft carriers!!!”
This time she repeated herself with a little more confidence, accompanied by a hint of annoyance at my inability to grasp simple 4 digit numbers.
Annsley: “It says right here, 1-5-0-0!”
How can that be? One Thousand Five Hundred boxes of Girls scout cookies? For pajamas? So, in disbelief, I politely asked to see the catalog, which was quickly followed with an, “I told you so!” Low and behold, the going rate, these days, for Girl Scout pajamas is 1,500 boxes sold! So, if we do some quick math, 1,500 boxes @ $3.50 a box for a grand total of $5,250.00 worth of Girl Scout cookies… for Pajamas? Aren’t there child labor laws to protect children (and me) from this kind of thing?
But, I digress. So, when the girls in front of the Starbucks gave me their cute little, Amway inspired, sales pitch, by asking me in choral unison, to buy some cookies, I politely responded: “Sorry, I already ordered cookies from my daughter who is also a Girl Scout.” One of the more precocious girls, with fire red hair, pulled into tight pigtails, looked at me square in the eyes and said: “Just one box? Please?” I looked at the father, who was flanking his daughter on the right, fully expecting him, at any moment, to jump to my defense, (Father-Father Code) explaining to his daughter the age-old familial hierarchy of ordering Girl Scout cookies. Yet, he just looked at me as if to say: “Sorry, you’re on your own buddy.” So, I started to explain to these girls that my daughter wanted to win Girl Scout pajamas, which was 1,500 boxes, which should be enough to buy an aircraft carrier, but that the Girl Scouts don’t giveaway Aircraft carriers, and that if I bought cookies from them, that my daughter and wife would find out and they would make me dress up as a Girl Scout and go door to door, in my neighborhood, to sell cookies as penance. At this point, it’s important to note, that the father started to get concerned for his child’s safety and wished me good luck and sent me on my way.
So, we decided to let Annsley sell her cookies to as many people as she wanted, not pushing or discouraging any entrepreneurial sprit, but allowing her to discover just how challenging it would be to sell 1,500 hundred boxes of cookies. Somewhere around 100 boxes Annsley decided, on her own, that she would just go for the 100-box badge again. She wasn’t willing to invest in the time and social cost of 1,500 boxes of cookies, when the return on her investment was pajamas. In case you are wondering, the record for one Girl Scout, selling the most cookies in one year was set in 2008. Jennifer Shappe, from Detroit Michigan, sold 17,328 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. The prize? You guessed it, an aircraft carrier. I think I am a terrible parent!
As I thought more about the 100 box-badge, it made me think about how, at times, I have reduced my faith down to “spiritual” merit badges. I have proudly sewn into the blazer of my Sunday best: my church attendance badge, my missions trip badge, my youth pastor badge, my good language badge, my volunteer badge, my Bible memorization badge, my prayer badge, invite a friend badge and my seminary badge.
God never intended for us to get to know him through earning spiritual merit badges.
My daughter has a “special” badge that is ironed on the inside of her vest, that was a gift form her dear old dad. You can’t sell enough cookies to get this badge from the Girls Scouts. And, to my knowledge, she is the only Girl Scout in the world with this badge sewn into her Girl Scout vest. It was a gift that I gave to Annsley just cause I love her. She didn’t have to earn it. Yes, it’s a Philadelphia Eagles badge! Hey, she’s MY daughter, back off!
That Eagles badge reminds me that God avails Himself to us freely and gives us the gift of Jesus, his perfect life and incomprehensible death. He does this so that we don’t need to sell spiritual cookies, and that we don’t need to obtain spiritual merit badges. We live in a world full of merit badges, and even the church itself falls into the trap of “doing” for God as opposed to the practice of “encountering” God. Don’t get me wrong, doing is important, but only for the right reasons. We are called to serve others and follow God through works and obedience and all the other tasks I mentioned before. However, we do them “In view of God’s mercy” (Romans 12:1), not to win God’s mercy.
That’s why I love the definition of grace as, “UNMERITED favor”. Grace is the promise that God finds merit with us (through Jesus) even though we don’t deserve it. The beauty of grace is that it reveals that no amount of merit badges will save us. I mention this because of the most popular “spiritual merit badge” out there today, “The Good Person Merit Badge”. The theological and epistemological belief behind this badge is that, after we die, God will hold up our actions and deeds on a really big scale, closely resembling the one on the TV show The Biggest Looser, and that if our good deeds outweigh our bad actions, we are in!
I know lots of people (Christians too) who believe and practice this type of theology, which is fine. I just want to go on record that:
1. This is not what the Bible teaches (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-10, John 14:6)
2. Who determines what is good enough? And, is a 73% “good person rating” good enough? Does God grade on a curve? Do I get extra credit for teaching Sunday School?
Free gift! Jesus life and death on a cross was a free gift! If you have accepted Christ you have been given the best badge of all: The “Grace” badge!
This badge comes with a few “gifts” of its own too. No, it’s not an aircraft carrier. Not only do we get to spend eternity with the creator of the universe; I am pretty sure we get a sweet pair of pajamas out of the deal too!
So, I have been a Philadelphia Eagles fan since I was 5 or 6. I can still remember crying after loosing the 1980 Superbowl to the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl XV. So, this year, after convincing late season wins against Arizona and New York I decided to hang my Eagles banner amidst the Christmas garland, white lights, wicker angels and Christmas wreaths that adorn the front of my Northern Virginian home. Hanging the banner was an act of solidarity, on my part, after the painful Baltimore Ravens fiasco and the benching of Donovan. The birds also seem to be playing with a new vigor and a unique understanding that every game, from here on out, was a playoff game. I even kept the banner up after the inexplicable loss to The Washington Redskins and our playoff hopes were reduced to a mathematical equation so complex that NASA scientists needed to be consulted. In a stunning twist of irony, the Oakland Raiders, the same team that beat us in Superbowl XV, had given us an improbable chance at redemption by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, Why will the Eagles win the Superbowl this year? Let me tell you. Saturday, January 3rd was a warm and gorgeous day here near the nations capital. It was a perfect day to take down Christmas decorations and spend some time outside. Still basking in the recent dismantling of T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys (sorry Tom) and my Eagles banner still victoriously waiving behind me, I cheerfully took down the lights and decorations on the outside of my house. I was also thinking about the following days challenge, where we would be facing the Minnesota Vikings and leagues #1 running back.
The next day, after we convincingly beat Brad Childress and the Vikings, it felt like the Christmas season had been extended in some magical way. Considering the benching of Donovan and the loss to the skins, and that Eagles had been written off more times than a pile of receipts during tax season, it was like receiving a Christmas present, days later, that had been lost in the holiday chaos. On Monday morning I received a message from some friends, who live down the street, that I had inadvertently left 2 Christmas wreathes up in my windows out front (bitter cowboys and skins fans). Since I hang-up and take-down the Christmas wreathes from the inside of my house, I had no idea in which windows the neglected wreathes hung in. So, I went outside to find which window the wreathes were in, so that I could take them down before my wife noticed and the marital mocking began. That Monday was my first day back to work after a long winter vacation so I hurriedly exited my front door and headed toward the sidewalk. I turned around, to face my house, and found the 2 round culprits in the top left corner windows that lead into my bedroom. Also hanging there was my Eagles banner. Then it hit me! Almost as if the banner was trying to tell me something. The conversation in my head went something like this:
Eagles Banner: “You Idiot! You can’t take those wreathes down now!”
Barry: Yes, But Christmas is over and I have already taken down all the other Christmas decorations. People will think I am an idiot!
Eagles Banner: “People already think your an idiot! We have just won a Wildcard Playoff game and your going to take those wreathes down now?”
Barry: Yes, but what if the South Riding Proprietary fines me for having Christmas decorations up till February?
Eagles Banner: “Your an idiot!”
So, I left them up! They remain in my windows to this day. It’s a good thing I left them up too, because since then the Eagles have gone on to beat the New York Giants (Sorry Beth and Dan) and now are one victory away from our 3rd Superbowl appearance in my life time. I am hopeful that this one will have a different outcome.
So as you are watching the game today, please remember my wreathes and write me a message after the game on the The Ordained Barista Blog!
And, Yes, I am completely aware that when I refer to the Eagles I write “We”. I also realize that my name does not appear on the 2008-2009 Philadelphia Eagles roster, but it should. Also, If we do go to the Superbowl this year and anyone wants to send a poor youth pastor and his beautiful wife to Tampa, to see the game, I will give you my 2 wreathes. (After the game, of course!)
I was in the line at Starbucks last week and the lady in front of me ordered a mocha latte, with whip, and a formidable looking pastry item. She lightheartedly mentioned, to the Barista at the register, that with only a few days left till the New Year she “…might as well enjoy it now”. The girl at the registered, who might have weighed 105 pounds, politely acknowledged the sentiment, but didn’t truly understand the inner turmoil manifesting itself at her register.
I, on the other hand, knew exactly where she was coming from, having struggled with weight for most of my life, and I wanted to give that lady a hug. However, I also wanted to tell her that “New Years” never comes and smack the pastry out of her hand. (I also decided jail was bad.) I wanted to share with her that if she didn’t have the internal capital to accomplish her goal starting today, that merely changing the last digit on her calendar would truly offer her little sustaining motivation.
Maybe, like you, having tried every fad diet out there to lose weight: Atkins, The Zone, Starvation, South Beach, Grapefruit, Krispy Kreme. (Krispy Kreme was my favorite diet) understand these attempts usually last for a little while and then fade out.
New years resolutions are usually doomed, from jump-street, because they address behavior modification but rarely look at heart transformation. We try to change how we act without ever examining why we act the way we do.
If the behavior you are addressing is to eat less there are a million reasons to do that. Those reasons could range from being healthier, so you can play with your children, to looking better for the summer. The more you look at your heart motivation the better chance you have to reach your goals, whatever they are. For those of us who use food as comfort or as a coping mechanism this process is invaluable.
Behavior modification is also one of the biggest mistakes people make about maters of faith. Many people believe that being a Christian is about behavior modification, when in reality, Jesus is after heart transformation. Many think being a follower of Jesus is about being a “good enough” person in order to curry favor with God. We believe, incorrectly, that God has a checklist of things that you are and aren’t supposed to do, and is keeping score.
You shall help the old lady across the street.
You Shall Not push the old lady into the street.
In Jesus ministry he was always attempting to change people’s behavior by transforming the way their heart perceived life and truth. Jesus used story and cognitive disequilibrium (unbalances people’s thinking and preconceived notions, on purpose, to get them to re-think life and truth) to get then to examine where their heart is. Just take a look at how Jesus talks to the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, the woman at the well and of course, his disciples.
One of my all time favorite Bible verses is Romans 12:1-2. Here Paul explains that he is giving over his life to God, not merely because it is written to do so in the law. But, “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in view of Gods mercy.” He is saying that in light of the cross, in light of the nails, in light of the whip, in light of the blood, in light of the price paid, in light of the unmerited love of grace, my heart has been so transformed, so altered, that I can’t help but to change my behavior.
Now, to be honest, you only need to talk to my wife, or my kids or someone at work, to tell you that I am far far from perfect. In fact, some days I wonder if I am even going in the right direction. Yet, as I look back over my life, as a follower of Jesus, I know that I’m not perfect, but I also know that my heart doesn’t look the same as it did yesterday.
Hey Everyone! Merry Christmas!
Last week, against my better judgment, my friend Denny and I went to the “Ginormous” Tyson’s Mall, to do some Christmas shopping. I am not usually a fan of shopping, crowds, Christmas sales or pushy kiosk sales people. However, we did have an exciting brush with the Big Man himself, and his entourage, coming down the escalator. (See Picture: Denny and I both agreed that this was one of the most legit Santa’s that we had ever seen. He was also the most diesel Santa we had ever seen too. He looked like maybe he played linebacker at North Pole State.) Anyway, somewhere between 5 Guys Burgers and Cinnabon Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas. At first, I had a hard time answering the question. I don’t know why, I am usually pretty good at telling people what I want. I think it’s my spirituals gift. I tried avoiding the question as the two of us walked into the Apple store. We both immediately went into apple-salivation mode, it was like a sick and twisted Pavlovian-Jobs experiment (as in Steve Jobs? Get it?). I thought I had avoided the question, but he had the nerve to ask me the question again, “Barry, what do you want for Christmas?” I found myself giving a rehearsed answer about a new pair of pants or shoes or something. Now, I didn’t mention this at the time, but I have always wanted to get my wife, Rachel, and I tickets for Oprah’s new gift Christmas show. You know the one, where she shows a television studio full of ravenous women all the cool stuff she bought over the last year. She then proceeds to give one, free, to every member in the audience. Rachel would love that! I just love watching the people in the audience going absolutely insane! Like, “Beatlemania” level crazy.
“Starbucks gift cards are always one of my favorites!” I usually get a lot of those little gems. Starbucks even has these cool little Christmas gift card holders that are pretty festive. I was telling Rachel that, next year; I was going to use the gift cards as Christmas tree ornaments, on my “all Starbucks Christmas tree”. I could string some coffee beans together as garland, get some green lights and use a lighted Venti cup, on the top of the tree, as a the star. She looked at me as if to say, “Your an Idiot. Aren’t you a Pastor?” I get that look a lot.
Later, as I was reflecting on the day, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. You see, when Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas, without even thinking about it, without a hesitation, I instinctively spewed out a litany of “things” that I “wanted.” This was unfortunate because the question that Denny asked was not specifically about “things”. You see, I could have answered that question in a ton of different ways, like, “I want the Phillies to win the World Series.” (Oh, yeah, Sorry, they already did that) or, “I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.” “I want World Peace.” or “I want to have a safe and fun Christmas with my wife and kids.” I would have been happy if this sentiment had been even a tiny part of my answer. Was it? No.
Now, before you go and write me an angry letter, realize, of course, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with “stuff”. I like stuff just as much as the next person! It’s just that I feel, as of late, that “stuff” and the desire for “the stuff” have infiltrated my perception of reality. “The stuff” has cast a spell over me and I remain unaware of how deep my sleep is. This spell of “stuff” has the power to skew my perception of my needs verses my wants. The spell has made the “stuff” my first response and my last hope.
There is a picture that I have, at home, in one of my childhood photo albums. It’s a terribly dated 34-year-old snapshot of me, when I was 4 or 5, opening either a birthday or Christmas present. I am holding up the present with this indescribable look of elation. I am victoriously holding the present in the air like an Olympian after winning the gold medal. In this picture I look triumphant, elated and assured that all is right in the world. The only thing wrong with the picture is that, for the life of me, I have NO IDEA what the heck I am holding. No clue as to what this present I am frantically waiving about is. I have asked my parents, siblings I have even considered a hypnotist to bring me back to that day. The point is, at that moment, I was beyond excited about that specific present, but the excitement didn’t last! Even the very best presents in this world fade away and turn to dust.
I think back to my “All Time Favorite” childhood presents that I do remember:
#3. Rock’em Sock’em Robots: AWESOME! My brother, Brandon, and I actually disconnected the spring-loaded head from the body. Then, every time the robots head popped up, after being hit in the chin, it would fly across the room instead of just merely bouncing up and down attached to the body.
#2. Stretch Arm Strong: (Poor Stretch Arm Strong. Let’s just say that we discovered that the mystery syrup-guts, inside stretch arm-strong, do not light on fire.)
Atari 1600: One red button. Just one red button! Brilliant!
All these toys are long long gone! Dust!
Last week, at my weekly 5:30 am High School boys small group, we read through Matthew and Luke’s account of the Birth of Christ. Whenever I hear Luke’s account I hear Linus, as the narrator, in my head. Luke 2:8- Maybe you will recognize this scripture from the clip below.
If you read on though, just a few verses later, after the Sheppard’s Find Mary, Joseph and Jesus, hanging out with some donkeys, they retell the story about hanging out with the angel of the Lord and then a cameo from a heavenly traveling Choir and, most importantly, how the angel told them of “a Savior”, “the Messiah”, that had been born to them that day. We find Mary, still a glow from just giving birth to her child, she is listening to the amazing story the Sheppard’s are telling. She is holding the story up against the backdrop of a tumultuous and mysterious 9 months, where she silently wondered, many times, if she had just imagined the whole thing. Enter the Sheppard’s divine appointment that assures Mary that the child asleep, on her breast, is no ordinary child.
Then, the Author of Luke Says, in verse 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, he writes: “Marry kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
I love that verse. I think, Mary somehow knew, at that exact moment, that that this child in her arms was the gift that would never stop giving. He was the gift that would be “re-gifted” more than grandma’s fruitcake. He was the gift you can’t return, that always fits and is the perfect price. This gift is free, but He will cost you everything. Mary knew, at that moment, that she was to be intimately involved in Gods salvific plan for the whole world, yet to unfold. Yet, the plan didn’t merely just unfold, the plan was born and lived among us! The reality of the situation began to settle upon Mary and that unlikely cast of characters. The uncomfortable and spectacular reality that God was going to save the world through the seemingly illegitimate child of a homeless unwed teenage peasant began to sink in. She realized that, in her arms, amongst the Sheppard’s, manure, a fiancé who should have run and angelic visitors, was laying the savior of the world. Mary treasured up these truths and put them in a deep place within her spirit. She put them in a place easily accessible for when the trials of being the earthly mother to, well, God, that this treasure buried in a place deep within her sprit would be her comfort and her hope.
So, if I could go back in time, and answer that question again, this is what I want for Christmas. I want to treasure up all these things! To keep deep within my heart this beautiful mystery that is Christmas!
Merry Christmas Everyone!
A few weeks ago my wife, Rachel, and I were in Nashville with some friends for the National Youth Workers Convention. 12,000+ Youth Pastors in one room is always a good time. Anyway, I woke up early the first morning of the conference excited about the days activities and was equally excited that the hotel we were staying in was equipped with a Starbucks in the lobby! Bonus! As the elevator doors opened I was confronted by a runaway coffee line that was at least 25 deep. (This is the actual Picture of the line, you can’t even see the register yet.) Naturally, I was a little frustrated, but, of course, I got in line. What? Don’t give me that look! I can quit at anytime? After a few minutes I started making chatter with the Youth Pastor in front of me about the seminars that were on the docket for the day. Then we started talking about where, in the country, each of us were doing ministry, how many of these conferences we had each been to and about the time of sabbath, rest and rejuvenation that this conference provides for busy ministry folks.
Before I had realized it my new friend was ordering his drink, “A Dopio Espresso, please”, which made me smile even more! A purist! Then it was my turn, “A Venti Black Eye, please”! As we exchanged casual goodbyes and I made my way to the first seminar of the day I challenged myself to never stand in line the same way again. OK, I know, that sounds a bit weird, here is what I mean.
Did you have a front porch where you grew up? I did. we used to sit on it on summer nights and catch fireflies (by catch I mean hit with wiffle ball bats) chat with neighbors and listen to the sounds of a lazy summer evening roll by. The front porch was like home base for the activities that filled endless summer days and nights. I feel like, maybe, those days are gone, especially in the break neck culture of Northern Virginia and the North East. The invention of the air conditioner keeps us inside more. Our schedules and pace of life keep us more secluded from neighbors than ever before. Each generation becomes more nomadic than the generation before with fewer and fewer deep community and family ties.
Gone are the days of the front porch communities. Yet, I did some research and I found that the average person spends more than 5 Years in line. 5 years, that translates into 1,825 days or 43,800 hours or 2,628,000 minutes! That is more than two and a half million minutes. Think about that the next time you are standing in line at the local supermarket, bank, or at your local coffee house? What could you do with 2.6 million minutes? What kind of community could you strengthen? So I have 8 suggestions for the next time you are waiting in line!
8. Learn the name of the person behind the register. (Especially when you see him/her on a regular basis)
7. Pray for someone in line. No, I don’t mean to go up to them in the middle of Starbucks and ask them if you can pray for them! “God, Please heal Bob from his caffeine addiction.” Listen, you may not know their name, their struggle, or the praise that has captivated their spirit for that day, but God does. Praying for people in this manner transforms your heart and spirit to be more aware of the people around you and it makes your spirit more malleable in God’s hand!
6. Give someone your business card. After a few minutes of chatting with a person, when appropriate, give them your business card. You never know these days when someone may need to talk. I have found in my years of ministry and working at Starbucks that some people, initially, are more willing to share with a caring “stranger” than they are with a relative or spouse. Who knows you may get a chance to hear someones story? Awesome!
5. Pay for the drink of the person behind you? Set it up with the cashier to anonymously pay for the drink of the person 3 people behind you? Why? Why not! I know… I Know.. $4.50 a drink is why not, right? Listen, I am not saying do it everyday? It doesn’t have to be coffee either, I love doing this at toll booths!
4. When appropriate give a compliment to someone in line! Hey, those are nice shoes! Do you think they sell those in a 14? My favorite is to compliment mothers on how cute their children are, even if the baby looks like Winston Churchill and is licking the frappuccino display stand.
3. This is one of my favorites. Play 6 degrees of separation. There is a theory that we are all only separated by 6 people. That you could pick any 2 people and somehow link those 2 people together using 6 other people as the human links in the chain. Now, I am not trying to find a long lost relatives or anything. However, I will just ask people, “Where do you work?”, “Where did you go to school?” or “Where did you grow up?”. I can usually find a connection with people that will spark a conversation.
2. This next one can really set the stage for the previous 6. Hold the door for at least one person. Even if you have the right of way, hold the door!
1. OK, I lied. I only have 7, but this is where you come in. This is where you comment on your ideas of how to build community and love your neighbor with your 2.5 million minutes! Remember, time is of the essence!
DISCLAIMER: On most of these lines I use the caveat “when appropriate”. Most of the time, married men should not compliment, learn the names of and or buy drinks for 22 year old single attractive women. That is not called building community, it’s called something else!