30 Jan

The Refugee

Many stories about refugees have been emerging over the past few days. You may have heard this one but it’s worth sharing again.

An evil leader in a small middle eastern town caused local terror by doing the unthinkable – killing infants. One of the families there was able to miraculously escape by crossing the border with their infant. They fled to a nearby country that they hoped beyond hope would take them in as refugees. The irony was that this country had once enslaved their ancestors, creating a tension that made everyone extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully, because this receiving country apparently had reasonable policies in place despite this historic tension, they took them in. And the family found life-saving refuge.

Some have debated the claim. But let’s be clear.

Jesus was a refugee.

And the implications mean something for today.

Make no mistake. Mary and Joseph fled from terror with an infant Jesus. Egypt had every reason to refuse them because of extreme past tension. They did not. Perhaps they actually had reasonable policies in place.

Either way, could they have ever known that as they allowed them entry, they were opening their doors to the Savior of the world?  Oh the irony. This same nation whose leader had once killed Hebrew babies now took in a Hebrew baby whose own leader was killing…Hebrew babies.

“But that was another time, different circumstances, and THAT infant was the actual Messiah,” we might all too quickly object. And then we remember.  We remember that refugee infant who was given refuge and grew into an adult rabbi who described the implications of caring for and not caring for the “least of these.”

Jesus: “Whatever you did/didn’t do for the least of these, you did/didn’t do for me.”

The religious: “But we didn’t realize that was YOU.”

Jesus: “It was.”

Yes, there are “least of these” everywhere. Right here in our own cities.  All around the world.

And then, there are some who are desperately fleeing terror looking for refuge. Helpless. Hopeless. Innocent.

Sure they could go looking for refuge somewhere else. We could debate whether or not they should or even could. But for very legitimate reasons many seek refuge in the United States of America, a country built upon open hearts and open arms. A country built upon equality and justice for all. A nation with the responsibility of recognizing itself as blessed, not for itself alone, but for the purpose of being a compassionate presence back to the world.

There are parallels.

God gave Israel some pretty specific warnings about never forgetting that they were not to be exclusive but always “a light to the Gentiles.” He reminded them constantly that they themselves were once slaves in Egypt (sound familiar?) who “cried out” for refuge. He reminded them to never forget the outsiders, the marginalized, and oppressed. Never. Ever. Forget. Because if they did, God made it plain they were living outside the purpose for which they were created.

But they forgot.

And when they did, God became flesh. To model an inclusive, embracing, even suffering love for the sake of the outsider, oppressed, poor, and marginalized. To answer that ancient, tragic question of Cain whose brother’s blood “cried out” for justice.  Am I my brother’s keeper?  An answer God would model in the flesh through Jesus with an emphatic, “YES! Always. Always. Always.”  And just when humanity narrowed “brother” or “neighbor” to blood relative or person next door or race or nation, Jesus shattered that border too.   THAT kind of boundary-shaking love got him put on a cross.

May we never forget.

As individuals. As the church. As a nation. May we not screen out Jesus, who didn’t just live in the flesh 2000 years ago, but in many faces, colors, and nationalities, stands at the borders yet again as an innocent refugee.

May we open our hearts, our eyes, our arms, and our homes. May we not live in fear. But in hope. Yes, secure the borders rationally, be responsible, and oppose terror and injustice diligently. But not at the expense of the helpless. Not even for a day.

27 Feb

Lasso The Moon

I wrote and delivered the following as a 9 minute talk at Q Commons in Nashville hosted at Lipscomb University, February 26, 2015.

I once convinced my children that I lassoed the moon. Oh, the beautiful power of imagination. It was the perfect night to pull off such a caper. Windy, partly cloudy, and the illusion of a full moon racing across the sky. Inspired by my favorite movie character, George Bailey, I stooped down, picked up an invisible “magic” lasso and said, “Hey kids, watch this!” as I flung it skyward, capturing not only the moon, but the imaginations of two wide-eyed children who dared to imagine with me. And though it defied all logic, they dared to believe.Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 9.19.42 AM

A few short years ago I dared to imagine how love could be embodied as business. Not just business on a mission or for a mission or even with a mission. But business as mission. Business as a vehicle for the advancing kingdom of God. Business that invited the consumer to be consumed in a bigger story.

But I had no business starting a business. I didn’t have the training, the education, or the experience in business. My limited business experience came from selling golf balls as a kid growing up near a golf course. (That story is here.)

Even so, I dared to imagine. And that imagination turned into creation as I co-founded The Well Coffeehouse as a way to participate in the kingdom of God. The Well was designed as an intersection of business, faith, culture, and community.

Imagination often seems to arise out of pain in two ways:

1) that which has broken our heart in the past
2) that which breaks our heart in the present

Behind almost anything beautiful, there is pain. And that is what makes that thing so beautiful. Because redemption is indeed the most beautiful of things.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell to free the figures slumbering in the stone.” – Michelangelo

David had always been in there. Michelangelo just had to let him out. And it would take a chisel.

Earlier in my journey I experienced the painful “chisel” of exclusion from community. It hurt. Deeply. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I dared to imagine a community created through a “third space” business that would relentlessly love, embrace, include, and invite all who are thirsty for acceptance and connection. And I had felt the pain of the present fallen world crying out in thirst. Those 6,000 voices every day crying out for water only to fall on deaf ears as they go to their graves desperate with thirst.

Where do we start? As you look to participate in the advancing kingdom of God and seek to find your place, your pain is a good place to start.

That pain helps us to come alive. And once we come alive, to imagine and to create. There’s no formula for that. But our pain reveals within us a passion that drives us. That passion leads us to discover our design. And that design reveals our destiny.

But this is not simply a duty accomplished out of a sense of guilt or obligation. This is life that we have been given. It’s who we are and what we do and it is deeply embedded in each of us. As theologian, author, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman said so well:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

These powerful words echo the psalmist who said, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). When God is our greatest delight, we naturally see the desires he has embedded deeply in our hearts. Those desires compel us to love.

What is it that we delight in that can truly make a difference in the world? People. Meeting them where they are. Embracing them. Serving them. All to love them toward the kingdom of God.

There is power in a community that always has a place at the table for others. A community that participates with Jesus not only in sitting at the table but doing something even more radical . . . going out to where they are like a shepherd goes to a lost sheep . . . putting them on our shoulders . . . bringing them to our table . . . and celebrating over them in community.

In doing this we become co-creators with God. Co-creating a redemptive community without walls and borders.

In community there is always the option of building walls and trying to fence people in. But there’s a much better way. Illuminate before them a source of life that will fulfill them and satisfy what they thirst for, and they will come back again and again. No walls. No borders.

The Well has been our way of illuminating that source of life and inviting others to drink deeply. It is business as mission. We make money. We give it away to the most thirsty people in the world. We create community over coffee and we love the thirsty people.

We try to do that with excellence, working with all of our hearts and giving our best. We do it with creativity and hard work.

As a business we’re not afraid of often forgotten Jesus-words like shrewdness as we seek to leverage the caffeine addictions of Americans into hope for the impoverished by filling their cups. We’re not afraid to live out parables in which Jesus spoke of money and “putting money to work” as a way of investing in an unfolding kingdom at hand.

And that is our task at hand. We want to engage with all of our hearts. We don’t wait for someone else to do it. We open our eyes to the passion he has placed deeply within us. We respond to the pain around us in the world. We co-create with God in a broken world as we too become a work in progress.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 9.18.20 AMSo may you lasso the moon. May your pain, your desire, and your giftedness be a gift to the world as you reflect a redemptive Story and co-create a redemptive future.

17 Dec

Golf Balls & Lemonade: How I Learned To Be An Entrepreneur

Golf Balls & Lemonade: How I Learned To Be An Entrepreneur

Maybe I was born to be an entrepreneur.  I spent several years of my childhood growing up in a middle class, suburban neighborhood surrounded by a country club. It wasn’t a fancy golf course in any sense of the word.  If it had been, this story may have never been told.  All I knew was it felt like one big, amazing playground.  As one of our countless adventures, my friends and I would sneak our bikes onto the golf cart paths for some pretty amazing joy rides that required dodging flying golf balls and oncoming golf carts.  Thank goodness my little sister never flew off my handlebars where she liked to ride.

A couple of times a week we’d venture over to the golf course clubhouse to buy a coke and a snack from the vending machine with the four quarters we saved up for the purchase. Don’t tell but sometimes they’d even let us into the bar area and let us buy a coke from the fountain.  I listened as golfers boasted outrageous tales of their prowess on the course, laying claim to 400 yard shots off the tee into the wind and onto the green.  They’d describe hitting the flag out of the sand trap and sinking 30 foot putts in the rain…with their eyes closed.  But I knew better.  Because I watched.  From the woods.

My friends and I spent much of our time looking for lost golf balls in those woods and ponds. They were everywhere. And I mean everywhere.  Sometimes we’d find one so far off the fairway we’d howl in laughter.  “How could anyone have hit one this poorly!”  These poor, lonely golf balls were just begging to be found.  And find them we did.  By the hundreds.

We got good at  not only spotting them but training our eyes to dig out the good ones. The shiny yellow Pinnacle was a real beauty.  Or how about the orange Top Flite? And the mother of all golf ball finds – a shiny brand new Titleist.   Probably hit once and left to die in these dense, muddy woods that no one dared crawl through. Except for us.  It was like having an Easter egg hunt every day of the year.  We’d find these little beauties, toss them into our bag, and then head back to my driveway to see who’d reeled in the greatest catch.  Many times our newly found golf balls needed a little work. That only added to the fun.  We cleaned and polished them, sometimes with the handy dandy golf ball cleaning station on the cart paths, until they looked like they were right of the box.

One day I had an idea.  And a business was born.

I set up shop on the spots near the toughest, most wooded holes.  Golfers do some hilarious things when they make a poor shot. I saw clubs fly through the air.  And putters snapped into like twigs.  That’s not to mention what I heard. Let’s just say I learned some new words.   But I learned about more than temper tantrums and four letter words.  I learned that a frustrated golfer tends to spend more. He’s thinking, “I’m having such a lousy day I’d better buy some extras.”   So does one who just birdied a hole.  He’s thinking, “I’m such a pro and in such a good mood that I only need one golf ball for this entire course but I’m gonna make this nice little kids’ day.”

As the golf cart came racing toward my strategically placed position beside the ball washer at the end of the hole, I was ready for the pitch.  They were either speeding toward me in anger over what had just happened on the fairway or they were cruising along rather cooly with a “I’m on my way to the PGA” grin.  Either way.  I was ready.  “How are y’all hittin’ ‘em today gentlemen?  Need any golf balls?”  I sold the ones that looked new for 50 cents. And then there were some with scuff marks that I valued at 25 cents.  The one with scuffs and cuts we put into a grab bucket that we could bundle for the best offer. Five for a quarter sounded good.  What else were we going to do with them?

Over the years I sold hundreds of golf balls.  Almost every golfer that forked over their money said the same thing with a chuckle: “I’m probably buying back my own golf ball that I hit into the woods.”  It was true. At least once I think I watched the ball go into the woods off the tee shot, recovered it from the muck, shined it up on the spot, and offered it back for sale before the same golfer arrived at my little shop.  I know. It was shrewd. They lost it. I found it. And then sold it right back to them.   Everybody won. They didn’t have to pay for a high priced new golf ball and I had enough money to go back to the country club for a few cokes and snacks that week. And the opportunity to hear a few more outlandish golf stories as I rubbed elbows with these PGA wannabes.

I’ll never forget when one time a jolly old golfer offered me $20 for my bucket of golf balls.  It was the grab bag.  The leftovers.  The ones no one else really wanted.  I don’t know if he really wanted them or if he was just being nice.  As a kid it felt like $1000 as I gladly accepted his offer.  It was in my blood.

One day things changed. And so did my perspective.

It was time to expand the business.  We spent many days in the sweltering Atlanta heat.  And there was something I thought golfers would surely want as much as a golfball – cold lemonade.  I was wrong.  We made 5 gallons and were ready to grow this little business into an empire as we set up in the shade on hole # 7. Now we were big time.  Golf balls and lemonade.  But no one bought it.  I’m still not sure why.  Maybe we overvalued the product and priced it too high.  They’d buy the golf balls and offer a polite, “No thanks.”  on the lemonade.

We were about to call it a day and pack it up.  So much for expanding the product line. Then I had the idea.  “We can’t drink all of this. Let’s just give it away.”  As each golfer came by, I had my sweet little 5 year old, snaggletoothed, blonde sister, make the offer.  “Sure is hot today. Would you fellers like some lemonade?  It’s free!”  And would you believe, every single golfer had the same reaction?   They reached out their hand for the lemonade with a grateful big smile.  And then something unexpected happened.  Without exception, EVERY golfer that stopped by reached into their pockets with a grin…and handed us a dollar.  We made more money that day than ever before.  By giving it away.

I learned something of tremendous value that day.  Business is about more than making a buck or two for myself.  It was about people. It was about generosity. There was joy in giving something away. On both sides.  It wasn’t about the dollar they handed us. It was seeing each golfer moved to generosity in response…to generosity.  We generously gave them a gift.  And they generously gave back.

I continued my golf ball business until that sad day when we sold our house and moved away.  I continued to sell and golfers continued to buy.  We didn’t break out the lemonade again but preserved that special memory as a lesson that would move from a lemonade stand into real life.  Between the golf balls and the lemonade a missional entrepreneur was born even though it may have taken me almost 30 years to realize it.  But I wasn’t put here to just be a creator of business. I was designed to be a facilitator of grace and generosity.   To partner business and mission.  Grace. On both sides of the transaction.  That’s what we’ve been blessed to experience every day of our first 2 and a half years of The Well Coffeehouse.Rob & Chris make first ever cup of coffee at The Well

And so I begin a new journey as the new Director of Missional Entrepreneurship at Lipscomb University.   I learned a lot from golf balls and lemonade.  I’ve learned even more from coffee and clean water.  And I’m thrilled to invite aspiring entrepreneurial students to see their lives as something bigger than they’ve ever imagined.  Business as mission.  A way to bring about change in the world…on both sides of the transaction.