Ties and Opportunity

IMG_0132Ties mean opportunity for me – something I took for granted for most of my life and probably still do. For the first 3.5 years after high school, I worked in various sales jobs to save money for Bible College and I wore a suit and tie every day.
Job #1: Was working for Wayne Mansfield. He ran a public speaker agency and was a speaker himself. I sold sponsorships for the seminars and was a general gofer to help plan the events. I worked for Wayne for about 18 months and received an eye opening education. The company was “Mansfield Pacific Corporation.”
“Why are we called Mansfield Pacific Corporation?” I asked Wayne one day.
“Because it sounds SO BIG.”
There were 3 of us.
Job #2: was selling gym memberships for an express gym that had state of the art Nautilus equipment. I couldn’t get behind the sales practices and later learned that the place was run by a weird Christian based cult. But it was my first experience at city partnerships. I built a relationship with state’s Kidney Foundation and got some media exposure for the Gym having teenage kidney transplant recipients come work out while news cameras rolled. 2 months working for the Gym and then fired for lack of performance. They didn’t care about media exposure, they wanted big dollar sales. Weird “Christians.” Shady place.
Job #3 was selling newspaper subscriptions. The City’s Chamber of Commerce newspaper decided to move from free to paid subscriptions. Selling people something they used to receive for free is no small task. Every time I hear NPR do a fundraising drive, I think of this job.
As I was going door to door, I sat at the desk of a man who built and sold spas and hot tubs. He had a red phone on his desk that just kept ringing and ringing, interrupting my little sales pitch to convince him to pay for what was free yesterday. The phone was a “Yellow Pages” phone that tracked how many calls came from his Yellow Pages ad. (At the time, Yellow Pages would put a phone in some companies and only publish the unique number in the Yellow Pages ad and then track the number of calls the ad generated.) The phone literally rang every few minutes and Ray, the owner of the company told me, “You should work for Yellow Pages – they’re easy to sell!” I took his advice, applied for Yellow Pages and quit the chamber newspaper. 6 months at this job. I served as a Sales Manager for a few of those months. I was a terrible manager and had no idea how to care for a team – I micromanaged and exacerbated them. I was 18.
Job #4: Yellow Pages Australia. Ray the hot tub guy was right, YP was pretty straightforward to sell in those days. The main challenge was that our country was in a significant recession and small business owners were feeling very pinched, so when we’d call them their initial reaction was to cancel their ad and save some bottom line. My ‘soft sell’ approach was just the ticket – lots of listening and care and then slowly help them see how their ad generates revenue. I made YP a ton of money for the 18 months I worked for them and I won all sorts of sales prizes including an all expenses paid trip to USA which is how I remembered Johnson University, driving on Interstate 40 from Nashville to Asheville. My preacher’s son, David Timms, was a Johnson graduate and someone I deeply admired and that simple sign on the interstate spurred me to move my focus from a college in Sydney to one in Tennessee.
YP really wanted to keep me around – I was a top performer, but my face was set like flint for Bible College after 3+ years of dreaming about it. My manager Julian had a wonderful, dry sense of humor. When I handed in my resignation, he called me into his office and tried to convince me to stay and move into management. I explained my call to ministry and his last words to me were, “Cuss, in my mind, you’re not a ‘has been,’ you’re a ‘never was!'”
I have fond memories and tremendous life lessons from the first and last job particularly. They helped shape who I am today, but as I reflect on 4 jobs in less than 4 years, I reflect on opportunity and the freedom I had and have to gain a job, leave a job, get fired and still find another job.
I wear a tie for the month of December to raise money for those trapped on trafficking to also have opportunity.
Thanks so much to all the generous folks who have contributed to Dressember. Links to donate are in the comment section.

Power, Money, Sex and Dressember


In 2004, one of my ministry volunteers gave me the book, Disposable People by Kevin Bales which made the stunning claim that our modern world has more slaves today than any period of human history. 25 million+ humans enslaved by other humans. I couldn’t believe it, I can barely fathom it now, but its true. It is happening today.

Far too many of those humans are a particular form of slave: sex slave. They are owned and exploited sexually for profit. Sex slavery is massive business even in this country, even in this state. Many of those trapped in the horror of sex slavery are children. The average age is 15. Again, unfathomable and true all at the same time.

I struggle to know what to do about such an overwhelming reality. Of all the “gospels” and solutions thrown around for the world’s problems, I remain steadfastly committed to the only good news worth pursuing – that of Jesus Christ and his unique ability to change what the heart wants. For all our talk about forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life, surely two phenomenal gifts, one of the great miracles of Jesus’ gospel is he changes what we want and rearranges our priorities. Until powerful people change what they want, sex slavery will be a reality. Jesus truly is their only hope.

In 2009, college student Blythe Hill wanted to do something about it, but didn’t have the technical training to make a difference, so she started wearing a dress every day in December simply out of solidarity. People asked what she was doing and the next year her friends joined her and by 2013, she decided it was time to go public and use “Dressember” to raise money for organizations committed to this cause. Her goal for that first Dressember was $25,000 which she thought was preposterous. She raised it in 3 days.

Since 2013, Dressember has raised over $3 million. Thousands of women participate from all over the world. The money goes to two world class organizations. International Justice Mission and A21. They work in all facets of the issue: legislation, outright rescue, prevention, recovery.

For our family, Dressember got real when our friend Linnea participated. The following year Kimberly jumped on board along with some others. Then several women from our church joined including my wife who is a Dressember BOSS. This year my sister Toni has joined the team!  Now team #sugarandspicegirlshavenoprice has 26 participants. 

Men can participate too. We wear a tie every day for the month of December. What is that like? Its a royal pain, especially in the day of slim fit shirts. I feel like someone is slowly choking me throughout the day while I violate Colorado Casual attire and endure funny looks. Yesterday I strung the lights on our roof in a dress shirt and tie.

But I do it to stand in solidarity with the women I love and respect. I have the deep privilege of being married to, related to, father of and friend too some remarkable, powerful, dignified women. It is a privilege to participate in Dressember with them.  It’s a very small gesture, but I can’t think of a more important time to stand in solidarity. The last months have brought some very evil and dark behavior into the light.

Like most people, I have been disgusted and shocked at the menagerie of powerful famous men who have sexually exploited women for their own selfish gain. Their repeated pattern of aggression and abuse is disgusting and I know it is the tip of the iceberg. I know it also means there are exponentially more non famous men who do it to women who have little or no recourse. It pervades all facets and power institutions of our society, including the church. #metoo. #churchtoo. Its true. Until we allow God to sift our desires and proclivities with his grace, we will never change.

It is not true of all men, of course. No one is saying that it is. Just as I am privileged to know great women, I also know many great and decent men. But I have been humbled to learn how even decent men can be complicit through ignorance or silence or even dismissal of women’s stories. As I read some of the stories making the news, I can’t believe the aggression, behavior and calculating moves these men made. “Can’t believe” can equal, “dismiss.” Us men need to use our power more to speak against this despicable behavior. We should all be safe for all women, all the time. That sentence should not be as radical and counter cultural as it is.

So I am wearing a tie to do my part to raise money to stop this madness. I would be grateful if you would consider donating to IJM or A21 through the Dressember campaign.

My wife’s campaign is here

My sister’s campaign is here

It all goes to the same place. Thank you for considering donating.

And yeah, if you live nearby, you’ll see me in a tie this month. Its highly unusual. Last night, I was way overdressed for my wife’s office Christmas party and it felt weird. I’ve been wearing a tie for 3 days and already explained it over a dozen times. Maybe that’s part of the point.

What Makes A Church A Church?

What makes a church a church?

It is a question several of us ask around Discovery. What activities, ministries and postures are essential for a church to actually be a church? Without one of them, we might be a very good thing, but we’d no longer be a church. What do you think a church must be about in order to be a church?

Here is Discovery’s list: 

— Centrality of Jesus. The core of everything at Discovery is Jesus – His teachings, his God-ness and his work on the cross and in the tomb. We exist to invite people into life in Christ (what the apostle Paul calls being, “In Christ”) and then to orient every fibre of their life, every corpuscle of their being around the centrality of Jesus.

— God’s evident power. In today’s resourced and technological world, we can accomplish impressive and sophisticated work, but a church has access to power that is unique to God alone: transformation, redemption, salvation. Churches put all kinds of energy and effort into ministry, but is it fueled by Divine Power that only God provides? While Discovery is far from a “name it and claim it” culture (!!!) we look for and point to signs of God’s providence and power where “only God” got us to where we are.

— Fruit of God’s Spirit. Paul of Tarsus reminds us in his letter to the church in Ephesus that we can see evidence of God’s work by the “fruit” that God produces. A church is a place where an uncommon level of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control are evident. We are far from perfect but a church should be able to point to an uncommon amount of fruit – evidence that God is at work among us. Continue reading “What Makes A Church A Church?”

Rich Mullins 20 Years On


I first heard Rich Mullins’ music at Jan’s home. Everyone was outside and I stepped inside to refill my snack plate and heard the most arresting vocal harmonies coming from Jan’s stereo. The song was “If I Stand” by Rich Mullins. After a verse reminding us that there is more to this physical world than meets the eye, Rich dropped this killer chorus:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

My sister bought the album “Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth” which included the breakout hit, “Awesome God.” We then bought every album that Rich released after that. I now own every album Rich ever recorded.

My favorite album has to be “A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band.” The song, “Land of My Sojourn” remains one of my all time favorite songs from any writer of any genre.

And this road she is a woman
She was made from a rib
Cut from the sides of these mountains
Oh these great sleeping Adams
Who are lonely even here in paradise

except the way Rich sang it was a play on words with “Adam and Eve.” He sang, “These great sleeping Adams who are lonely EVE-n here in paradise.”

I’ve quoted the chorus in sermons probably a dozen times: Continue reading “Rich Mullins 20 Years On”

Robert, Danny, Kip and Today’s Reality

As I’ve been struggling to wrap my mind around our country’s current reality and how pervasive racism and hate groups are, 3 people from Seminary keep coming to mind.

Robert Fife. Dr Fife was a highly respected New Testament scholar and the reason our New Testament library was one of the finest in the United States. When Dr Fife traveled to speak, instead of a speaking fee, he’d ask for a particular book. At the end of his career he donated over 10,000 theological books to the library. But Dr Fife was also a World War 2 Veteran – he served as a chaplain on the front lines and one of his last acts as a chaplain was to help liberate people from the Nazi death camp in Dachau, Poland. People would ask Dr Fife to tell them stories from his experience and he would reply that he gives one lecture, one time per year where he talks about what it was like to liberate people suffering in that atrocious death camp.  Continue reading “Robert, Danny, Kip and Today’s Reality”

GLS 2017: Bryan Stevenson

UnknownI was not able to blog and publish all the speakers at GLS in one sitting, but GLS featured several speakers about whom I have not yet blogged. One of the most profound and provocative speakers of GLS this year was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of him before (one of the great gifts of GLS is meeting amazing leaders I’ve never heard of) but his work and the way he talks about his work is utterly stunning and I am left deeply convicted by the implications of what he is saying. Here are some notes:

— At the start of the talk, Bryan gives highly disturbing stats on USA’s mass incarceration.   In the 1970s, USA incarcerated around 300,000 of its citizens. Now it is 2.3 million. Women’s incarceration has increased 800%. We incarcerate more of our citizens than the next several nations combined.

— Drug dependent people in USA are criminals. We could have used the health care system to address these people, but we use the criminal justice system.

— We are led and have been led by the politics of fear and anger.

— If you allow yourself to be driven by fear and anger you’ll tolerate things that create imbalance.

— Fear and anger are essential ingredients of injustice.

— Who is responsible for this? We are. We have gotten too distant and uninvolved.

— Proximity is the solution to figuring out the solution.  Bryan’s continual emphasis that proximity is essential to leadership and justice was compelling. 

A difficult conversation on race:

— we are a post genocide society, but our narrative was “they are savages.”

— centuries of slavery. The great evil of USA Slavery was the narrative of racial difference we told to justify it.

— Slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved into terror and violence.

— People of color say, “Why are we only now talking about ‘domestic terrorism’ (talking about 9/11 or Oklahoma City Bombing) when many of us have been subject to domestic terrorism for decades?”

— Germany, South Africa and Rwanda all make sure people know their history and make people have the conversation about their own difficult history. In Berlin, for example, you can’t walk 100 yards without running into a monument or a reminder of a painful and awful history. But in America we don’t talk about slavery, we don’t talk about lynching.  I bear this out. I only learned about Colorado’s deep racist history from two pastors who sat us down to talk about denver riots and Golden’s KKK history. Also, I had the privilege of visiting Germany last year and was struck by how deeply the German people are intentionally “undoing” the sins of the past with their welcome, warmth and openness. It was visceral. 

I’m not interested in talking about this to punish our country for our history, but to liberate us from it.

— Those of us in the church understand that there must be repentance before redemption.

— We must stay hopeful. Hopefulness is essential for effective leadership. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice and effective leadership.

— There are hopeful leaders and there are people in leadership positions not leading.

— Sometimes I go places to speak. Sometimes I go places to listen. What does “listen” mean? It means I don’t say anything. this was profound to me – so often a leader visits a place to share what she or he has to say, but Bryan says a leader also visits to listen and learn. 

— It takes courage to stay hopeful in the face of daunting situations. “That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired. That’s why I need to be brave, brave, brave.”

— We are biologically and psychologically wired to stay comfortable. That means we need to make a decision to be uncomfortable. Effective leadership only happens when great leaders are willing to do uncomfortable things.  PROFOUND! I think Bryan tapped into the essence of walking by faith here and why so few of us habitually do it. 

— Bryan has heart and gut wrenching stories about the people he serves who are incarcerated. His most gut wrenching was the young child who was tried as an adult because he shot his mother’s attacker who was a deputy sheriff and the child’s harrowing and abusive experience in jail. Utter, utter evil.

— Why do we want to kill broken people? What is it about us that when we see brokenness we want to crush it?  My job is to defend broken people against a system that wants to legally kill them.

— We live in a broken system. The people in power are unwilling to get proximate, they are locked in narratives of fear and anger and they have lost hope. Again, another huge statement. 

— I do what I do, not because I am a lawyer, but because I am broken too. It is the broken among us that can teach the way grace works. The broken understand the power of mercy and the power of redemption.

— As leaders we cannot assume that we have qualities that other people don’t have. We must identify with the brokenness of those we lead.

— Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. If someone kills someone, they are not just a killer and a leader sees more than just what they do.

— the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.

Bryan Stevenson is a mind blowingly powerful person and an exceptional speaker. What am I going to do about his challenge? 


…Repay Evil with Good…

Full Article Here

In preparation for an upcoming neo-Nazi march in the small Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, local residents decided to fight back in a hilariously perfect way: by sponsoring each of the 250 fascist participants. According to Heeb Magazine, “For every metre they walked, €10 went to a programme called EXIT Deutschland, which helps people escape extremist groups.”

The anti-semitic walkers didn’t figure out the town’s scheme until they had already started their march, and by that time, it was too late to turn back. The end result? The neo-Nazis raised more than $12,000 to fund programs to put an end to neo-Nazis.

GLS Friday: Immaculee Ilibagiza


I read about the Rwandan Genocide only a few years after it occurred and to this day cannot fathom the sheer horror of it all. It is described as the most efficient genocide in history, but “efficient” is typically a positive word, so I shudder at that description. I have a book on my shelf, “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Die With Our Families” that became the basis of the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” It is a chilling account of genocide and what it is like to feel alone and afraid in the midst of violence. Immaculee gave us an incredible gift in her talk of leading us through her experience while showing us hope and courage. She was utterly phenomenal.

– I would not wish anyone to see what I have seen, but the lessons I learned from it are invaluable.

– I know without a shadow of doubt that God is real. When you can’t, He can. Whatever our Lord tells us, He’s right.

– Genocide happened because we failed to love our neighbor. The teachings of Jesus really matter. Look at what happens when humans disregard them.

– Stunning story of her dad basically saying, ‘it’s true that we might die, but how many people have an opportunity to know that they will likely die? We can use this opportunity to get right with God before we die.’

Continue reading “GLS Friday: Immaculee Ilibagiza”

Friday Session 4: Sam Adeyemi


One of my favorite aspects of GLS is how it introduces westerners to world class non western leaders. Several years ago, Sam Adeyemi spoke at GLS. I had never heard of him before and was blown away by his leadership teaching. I was excited to hear from Sam again and he did not disappoint. 

– In leadership,  you don’t attract who you want, you attract who you are.

– Leadership works when there is alignment between the sense of identity of the leader and that of the followers.

– If a group of robbers had the opportunity to elect a leader, would they elect a police man? No, they would elect a more experienced and sophisticated robber. The policeman’s ability to help a robber transition from robber to citizen is what leadership is about – leading them to someone they have never been before.

– The miracle of leadership is this internal change. At this point, I was saying, “Thank you God for a GLS speaker who is showing the power of the gospel and how it fits leadership.” I missed a couple of sessions on Thursday, but from my experience Sam was the first speaker to show the power of the gospel to transform AND also the first to show that all leadership starts with heart transformation. 

– Unleashing the potential of followers, especially those who are ‘less than ideal’ is the miracle of leadership.  Yaas! Gospel alert! Jesus was all about transforming the ‘less than ideal.’ I am a ‘less than ideal.’ 

– Real and sustainable change in people’s life begins with a change in their sense of identity.  In Christ you are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come. Please excuse me while I go find some tissues. 

– One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is a new belief they have about himself or herself.

Continue reading “Friday Session 4: Sam Adeyemi”

Unknown-1I haven’t heard Marcus Buckingham in almost 10 years, but remember being astonished as he led us through his Strengths Finders material. “A Strength is not something you are good at. A strength is something that when you do it, you feel strong.” 

Whoa. Here he is again in 2017 and he was again outstanding and provocative. 

– If you study bad and invert it, you get not bad. So study ‘good’ if you want to learn about good.  Excellence has its own configuration. You learn more from success by studying success, not trying to invert failures.

– A leader’s job: build more teams like your most amazing team. Marcus had us think about the great teams we have served on and the terrible teams we have served on and then dropped that simple bomb on us. 

– Speaking of provocative, do we need to talk about the decision to wear a hoodie over a crisp white dress shirt, but under a fancy sports coat? 

Continue reading “”