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CRAIG'S BLOG

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My friend Sam sent me an email that simply said, “Take a minute out of your day when you can to let yourself enjoy this one." There was a link to a video.

I just “enjoyed” it…

It's five minutes and forty-nine seconds long, which is an eternity for some of us. I endured and was jumped by God.

As it ended I was in tears wanting to live, wanting to overcome, wanting to rise above all the crap/wounds/obstacles/battles/lies/doubt/compromise that crowds my life. I want to be that guy!

Five, ten minutes later I hear God say, “You are that guy. Enjoy the surf!”

Enjoy the surf!

When you can, take a minute and let yourself enjoy this. As soon as you finish, take all it stirred up to God.

Let me know what you heard. – Craig McConnell

Here's the link to the video.

 

3/22
(38)

Red Tricycle

For our Granddaughter’s third birthday we bought her The Coveted Red Tricycle.

She called to thank us leaving a voice mail saying, “Thank you sooooo much, this is the bike I’ve always wanted”. 

I couldn’t help but contrast the desires a three year old has “always” had with the long cherished yearnings of a 54 year old?

And whether or not the tricycle will be such a wonderful source of joy in a month or two. 

(read my blog titled "Matador" for a bit more on this theme)

- Craig McConnell

3/17
(22)

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I’m sitting up in the sound booth during one of our conferences as my mind begins to wander…  I’m musing over how long it has been and how much I miss teaching on an ongoing basis. I’ve always viewed myself as a “pastor-teacher” and thought the full effect/ power of my life is most felt by those “sitting” under my tutelage over time. I don’t think my strengths are suited as a one hour shock-and-awe inspirational circuit speaker. So… in the midst of my fond remembrances of teaching, God nudges in and, like a good friend interested in my story asks,

“When did you enjoy teaching most?”

I’m grinning ear to ear with an immediate response.

It was the college level theology courses I regularly taught at my church in LA. I’m beaming as I recall the seasons of waxing eloquent on Christology, Sanctification, Anthropology, and Harmitology… 

Yep… you bet I was feeling groovy passing out my 70 page syllabus chock full of enlightening insights, profound perspectives, implications and applications… oh, and a ton of footnotes noting alternative views with their pros and cons,  rabbit trails, sources, exegetical notes  etc. etc…. after all, any serious book of note on God has lots of footnotes!!! I loved it, loved it, loved it! It was thorough, commanding clarity on the cardinal doctrines of the faith… full of footnotes.

And then, in a sagely all-knowing tone, the voice of a loving father God says, “Yeah… you were hiding”

Pause.

Silence. One thousand one, one thousand two… one thousand six, my smile is now a gawking opened mouth with furrowed brow and questioning eyes.

He continues, “You loved it so much because you “found” validation there. Your syllabus and footnotes… your teaching was all a desperate strategy to win a little applause and fend off the haunting fear that you have nothing to say….

So I stroll through memory lane thinking back decades to my stint in seminary and how I wanted to get a Ph.D.  convinced that Doctor Craig McConnell would unquestionably have something noteworthy to say… right? Heck, I’d be an expert in the study of God! I’d be someone.

It’s taken a seven year hiatus from teaching to see, and it’s a bit embarrassing... a little tough to own one’s spiritual adultery, but here I was in the middle of a conference, admitting that one of my genuine strengths had been twisted into a godless quest for life… the abandonment of God for the affirmation of man. The blinded pursuit of a validation God alone can provide.  Admiring my footnotes instead of crying out to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the life I sought.

I’m sober, repentant and feeling invited into a deeper dependence upon God.

He’s smiling, I’m smiling and in an hour I’ll be speaking to 433 men. I'm no longer concerned whether or not I leave them smiling.

I’m marveling at the times and places God “shows” up to deal with some issue of our soul. Then again I’m not surprised at all, He’s always present… longing to be our God and more than willing to disrupt us in our adulterous pursuits

- Craig McConnell.

3/15
(28)

NappingI enjoy reading biographies.  Currently I'm reading about one of the towering figures of the twentieth century: Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. I’m early in the story of this prolific artist, author, poet, warrior, statesman and world leader  - and I’ve already been disrupted by the way he lived his life.

When asked, to what he attributed his success in life, without pause of hesitation, Churchill replied: “Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.*

Conservation of energy?  Never standing when you can sit? Huh….?

Churchill's whole life speaks of an unflappable vigor/spirit, an undiminished energy and yet he’s described as having “the gift of taking short naps when time permitted… when possible, he spent his mornings in bed, telephoning, dictating and receiving visitors”.*

The “gift” of taking naps?

The immediate thought racing through my head is, “Yes!!! I’ve found a worthy mentor… someone who gets me and can call me to the next level! Yes!!!"

But, I’m not convinced my initial take away is the take away the Author and Perfector of my faith intends for me.

I continue to read of Churchill’s life but return back to this “Conservation of energy” thing. I’m not sure why but I’m a bit muddled by it? Disrupted?

What are you saying to me God?

Perhaps I ought to pass Churchill’s quote on to a couple of my knuckle-headed-Type “A”-driven buddies. Wouldn’t it be a gift of insight and encouragement to them to know that the fruitfulness, the impact and the accomplishment they press for every day, 24/7 may not necessitate a frenzied, multi- tasking, always “on”, margin-less life style? I mean after all, Jesus’ life was never feverish; his life had a rhythm that allowed for time with people. He could spend hours talking to one person, such as the Samaritan woman at the well. His life showed a wonderful balance, a sense of pace, a poise that resulted in the world being flipped upside down. He conserved energy and effected history as no other!

I can see my mate's smiling faces as I exhort them to less time at the desk and more time in bed, to frequent naps and to create margins in their life… for them to be more like Churchill and Jesus!

At about the moment I’m firmly committed to confront my pals with a clarion call to “take it down a notch”, The Wonderful Counselor shifts the focus from them to me. My initial sense of validation is quickly deflated. That “ Hey, I’m a lot like Churchill (and Jesus)… I’ve got this whole conserving energy thing down- napping, mornings in bed, sitting around..." - is confronted with the question: “Conserving energy for what?”

What am I conserving my energy for?

This sweet short life is moving by quickly. I’m under the Big Top; at bat in the seventh game of the World Series; I’m in Bastogne and the enemy has launched a surprise winter offensive in the Ardennes; I’m living in a Larger Story where the hearts and lives of millions are deadened and need the Message of liberation. My wife, children, grandkids, friends and neighbors need me to be present and accounted for! This is not the time for extended naps! 

I think Churchill’s life was ordered by something larger than “chillin”… Christ’s pace also included exhausting periods of work, day after day of giving himself to others (Mark 1:32-34). On one occasion late into the evening, totally spent from ministry his disciples thought he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). 

Mellow is one thing, layed back is okay for periods, rest is good; we all need breaks from the battles we face but sitting on the sidelines, missing the action, living is a self-protective disengagement is not the life I want.

I want Christ’s life. I want his pace and poise… knowing when to pull away from the “crowds” and the shore to get a break and take a nap. I want, and at times, need a kick in the butt to enter the fray.

I will protect my margins, those sacred periods of rest and renewal… and I want to give it all, when, where and how God wants me to. I want to conserve energy so that I can make the mark I am meant to.

So, when do we nap and when do we bust our butts?

Mark’s account of Jesus’ crowded day gives a clue, “…Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (1:35). Christ waited for his Father’s instructions and the strength to follow them. He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer… he walked with God.

I long to walk with God, to sit with God... and, in limited amounts, nap with God!

- Craig McConnell

* Churchill by Paul Johnson, Viking Penguin, 2009, page 5.

3/09
(12)

Alg_olympics_curling A number of times I've turned on the Olympics because, well, it’s the Olympics  - those epic international games that draw the world together to celebrate the ideals of sportsmanship, excellence and competition!  It's a cultural ritual... like watching the Super Bowl, wearing green on St. Patty's, apple pie and voting out incumbents.

So... several times I turn on the tube and the programming is coverage of some obscure sport (Skeleton? Curling? Ice Dancing? Biathlon?) or some event I’m not particularly drawn to like Men’s Figure Skating Short Program and I’m thinking “I could care less”,  but before I can find which cushions the remote is tucked between and switch channels they do the story/bio/human-interest piece on one of the competitors and suddenly... I'm captured... I'm now the featured athletes biggest fan, cheering like crazy and ultimately in tears whether they win or lose.

The power of a person's story still surprises me!

I remember a gal I viewed as pretty spacey. My read was that she was tethered to some other world that, in terms of social interaction and meaningful relationships, made her, essentially a martian in this world. She, astutely, picks up my "I could care less about you" vibe and initiates a meeting with me to talk about it. We're at Starbucks having a cup of joe and the opening ceremonies start with her telling me all about her work and weekend - yadda, yadda,  yadda and just before I find which hemispheres of my brain the remote is tucked between and hit the power/attention/"Who cares" button she has begun to share some of her story. In mere moments I'm captured by her biography of betrayal, neglect, dismissal and abuse. She, vulnerably and softly shares of a season in despair and speaks of God rescuing her and of an ever present craving for friendships she's never known.

My coffee is cold and I'm stunned by my sin - so ashamed of my unloving interactions with her - and I wonder, again, why I've judged a book by it's cover...

In the same instant I'm now one of her biggest fans, wanting to cheer her on like crazy!!!  It's incredible how quickly our hearts toward another can shift!

Story is the language of the heart. Listen to another’s story and you'll understand them… you'll feel compassion for them, you'll end up being one of their fans...

I'm so glad I didn't change the channel. - Craig McConnell

2/26
(13)

  There comes an hour in the afternoon when the child is tired of ‘pretending’; when he is weary of being a robber or a cowboy. It is then that he torments the cat… - Gilbert Keith Chesterton   

Kitten-face

Eventually we all tire, and it is then that things unseen while pretending, surface… and we torment the cat, our spouse, our children, or the gal behind the United Customer Service Desk at United O’Hare.

I think of the gifted woman who speaks profound as-if-they-were-from-God words to those gathered in the groups she attends… and then, wearied from ministry, returns home spent, short and all but absent to her young son and husband. Her “gifting” leaves them tormented. There’s the pastor, a true verse by verse expository preacher who carefully parses every verb preparing for his series on “The Biblical Mandate to Love”, while his wife is withering from the cold dismissive silence that’s marked their marriage for 20 years. He stopped pretending years ago.

We can speak, behave and appear to be something we are not yet… and while it may sound and look good/godly/holy... we're actually just pretending... something core, true, is missing. It looks like God but is missing the stamp of authenticity... and lacking that, it will not last long. Paul hits on this saying,

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing...” I Corinthians 13

It may be an hour in the afternoon or a season of life… and we’ll catch ourselves tormenting the cat! It’s in that moment of exposure, of embarrassment, failure and frustration that we can see it, own it and then... cry out to God for a deep true transformation that endures and deepens over decades.

Decades!

Why do we settle for pretending when the life, character, strength and love we yearn for, and often pretend to have, really is available? We don't have to pretend!

I’m thinking of a blogger who loves nothing more than to poetically write of an intimacy and life with God and yet startled by fear and in-some-way committed to self-protection can get through life only giving 78% of himself. Most don’t notice, but at times it torments those closest to him because they need and want all of him!

Oh how I long to tire of pretending.

- Craig McConnell

2/21
(21)

Los-Angeles-skyline-at-night-wide

Lori and I just celebrated our 34 years of marriage.

I remember when we were dating and occasionally drove up the mountain road to Chantry Flats in the San Gabriel Mountains that bordered our hometown. In a few quick miles there were several turn outs that provided a perch to view the shimmering evening lights of LA.

We’d go up there to pray over the city!

Once we were cruising the twisty road and came up behind an older car dawdling up the grade piloted by an older couple - I was 22, they had to be in their 80’s. Once I got past the frustration of their slow pace bottlenecking a growing line of impatient road hacks I noticed how close Gram and Gramps were sitting. They were like two peas in a pod (do I sound like Forest Gump?), tight as could be right up alongside one another. In those days it was common for a car’s front seat to be a bench seat and the absence of mandatory seat belt laws made it easy to snuggle while you drove. He had one hand on the wheel and the other around her shoulder.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               We were mesmerized by an old married couple being so in love… after decades! Following them for a couple of miles I think a little cynicism I had about marriage was being dismantled by this pair of silver-haired lovers. Deeper than my cynicism was a latent desire for a marital intimacy and relationship that would thrive over the decades. Decades! I knew that someday, with someone, I’d say something along the lines of “till death do us part”, but long loving marriages weren’t a prominent theme in my world, and besides, the rapture was due in the next year or two making any long term commitment a mute point. Until that moment I don’t think I ever considered a long loving ever-increasing intimate marriage a very real possibility. Lori and I were captivated by the untold love story putzing along in front of us. When they pulled over into a familiar turn out, we couldn’t help but pull in right alongside of them. There they sat enjoying the city lights, there we sat enjoying them and began to believe and hope for ourselves. At the time I said to myself and then out loud, that’s what I want… I want to be that couple at that age… in this turn out, very much in love.

On many occasions since I’ve remembered that couple.

34 years into a marriage I hope lasts for seventy I think we have an incredible marriage... but, I know there’s so much more for us to experience, enjoy, offer and be, as husband and wife. Many times I’ve said to Lori, “I cannot wait till we’ve been married for 50 years… by then I will have become more the man who loves you as God intended you to be loved.”

We’re closing in on that older couple we saw 36 years ago, and I'm no longer a cynic. I know firsthand that a long lasting loving intimate marriage is possible! It is good!

If you see us pulled over in a turn out, pull up alongside, but hey, don’t flash the lights… we’re praying!

- Craig McConnell

 

 

2/14
(31)

I’m listening to the live version of “Our God Reigns” * cranked as high as my system will go… and it is not loud enough!

Louder! Louder!

I’ve invited the angelic armies to join me in worship… for the Rockies to raise their voice, for rocks and trees…for all of Creation to join the chorus… and it’s still not loud enough!

I’ve listened to it three times now and am in tears. I am incapable of giving God the praise He is due. Worthy of. Justly deserves.

Perhaps that’s my greatest short coming… worshipping Him fully. I mean it… there are so many things I fall short of, yet it may be that none is graver than curbing my full heart’s adulation.

I know grace, I know I’m forgiven, cleansed, His, the beloved… and I know, I know… but in this moment  of adoration I simply cannot express all that’s in my heart to Him... and it is that which I most want to do!

I fall silent.

The song ends with the live audience applauding… and it is not loud enough, not long enough. 

Louder! Louder! 

- Craig

• The Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Dave Crowder version on the album Everything Glorious

2/10
(16)

 

Choice

“It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” - Author Unknown

Some huge part of what it means to be human is our ability to choose. Our depravity, woundedness, glory and our transformation are all seen in the choices we make.

Some part of me was sulking over the constancy of choice that fills my every day.

How many choices do we make in a single day? Is there no rest? A little break... a couple of passes... you know, like a "snow" day?

Good over evil, a serving of vegetables over the old-fashioned glazed donut, listening versus talking, saving instead of spending, stillness over distraction, choosing to love instead of dis-engaging, smiling, reading over the boob-tube, life over death, to worship God rather than euphoria, assume their good heart, serve, courage verses cowardice… (on and on it goes!)

Then I read a column by Dennis Prager in which he observed,

Every change for good must be constantly renewed, but changes for the worse are often permanent. Goodness must be fought for every day, over and over…

It caught my attention as being true.

I want change! I want to change! But often I want it to be easy… instant… entirely of God and requiring nothing of “Me” (note my hiding behind a pseudo-spirituality).

Our lesser choices seem to have an enduring quality that our more noble choices lack. My choice to rage in hidden bitterness toward a cruel and former friend doesn’t seem to require the constant renewal, the regular reaffirmation that the choice to forgive, reconcile and love does. The choice to furiously follow God through the day requires a volitional strength and constancy that an extended spiritual malaise doesn’t.

Holiness and character displays itself in the thousand different choices I make each day. And there are times I am weary from the choices.

And then Paul speaks, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." - Galatians  

I will not give up!

“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely." - Author Unknown
- Craig

2/08
(10)

Suburban Home It was evening. I was eight, my younger brothers and sisters had just been put to bed. Mom and dad wanted to talk with me alone in the family room of our home.

It was then that time stopped; winter began; and the earth’s rotation was altered; Santa was exposed; never again were there “blue moons” or innocent warm summer days lying on the grass imagining shapes, characters and creatures in the billowy clouds above. The neighbor’s dog became mean, my younger “brothers” and “sisters” weren’t really brothers and sisters… my family became opaque, a faded hue, less real.My bedroom became smaller and now there were nightly burglars and malevolent strangers perusing my windows, terrorizing me, waiting for the opportunity to do me harm. It was that evening I learned of a father who died, and it was then that something in me died as my mom had.

My father was drafted and killed in the Korean Conflict. My mom was 21, I was three months, 14 days old. The concussion, the trauma of God allowing her lover, a fine and godly man die left her lifeless… about 6 rows from the front, on the left, in a pew alone crying most every Sunday. 

She remarried. A retired naval officer became my dad; he adopted me and changed my name from McConnell to Barnard. I was too young to remember any of this and the secret was neatly kept until the evening I was called into the family room. There I was told, “Craig…your dad isn’t your father. Your father was killed in a war when you were born. I married your dad when you were little…and he loves you very much”. And for this little guy all the adventures of boyhood in our Southern California baby boomer neighborhood were indelibly changed.

It is inevitable. We’re all wounded in some way. (To think you aren’t is to scoff at the beauty of Eden, the heart of God and the violation that sin is.) The scar of our wounds endure and with them some message that becomes the script by which we live.

As a young boy the first draft of my script was, “I’m different. Everyone else has a father…  There is something wrong with me!”

Sea Gull As life unfolds the message goes through numerous edits while staying true to the theme. The second edit came in my adolescence. Living disoriented with the pain and loneliness of not having my “real” father coupled with a variety of insecurities centered on the abiding question, “What’s wrong with Me”, and a culturally affirmed rebelliousness it was pretty easy to provoke my dad, the 20 plus year naval veteran. And so, having lit his fuse, at the intersection of the hall and his bedroom, he grabbed me, shook me and for the first of several times told me, “You are nothing but a seagull. All you’re good for is sitting, squawking and shitting”.

A Navy “Lifer” knows a seagull when he sees one.

No significant re-edits were needed following this.

I have absolutely nothing to offer… I sit, squawk and shit. Period.

That script held up well…for decades.

(I will continue the story, but let me ask... Do you know your wound? What script/message have you been given with it? Could it be that there is another script for us to live by?  Where and how do we find out?)

- Craig McConnell

1/26
(22)