Place your bet

Photo by @ Alex via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few months ago I went to Las Vegas with my father-in-law for 24 hours. There are at least 4 things hilarious with that statement, right?

He was running a marathon and needed someone to drive with him from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. I went since it’d be nice to catch-up along the way as well as have lunch with my mom, who lives a mile from the Strip.

Since my mom lives there… I have been to Vegas at least 10 times. Normally, I like to people watch late at night. The joke has always been that I’m down $11 in slots lifetime and I’m mad about it. I’ve never really been into the games.

What I learned from 6 hours on the Strip

Unlike my normal late-night-people-watching, this trip had me up very early, checked out of my hotel, and walking the Strip by breakfast. With more than 6 hours to kill I wandered through a few casinos filled with old people playing slots and a bunch of dealers standing at empty tables.

Along the way I stopped at a Starbucks. As I sipped my mocha I entertained myself by watching a few scattered games here and there. In truth, like a lot of Christians, I feel really out of place on a casino floor. More because I don’t know what to do than that I don’t feel like I could enjoy it.

At one casino there was a small crowd around the crap table. It was a morning clinic explaining how the game worked. Perfect… I could kill an hour, learn something, and its free.

Here’s an observation from that clinic: There is a time to place bets. But once the time has passed it is too late for placing bets. You are either in the game or you are out. The shooter rolls 7 or 11 on his first roll, everyone with a bet on the line instantly doubles their money. If you think about it, every form of gambling has that same timeline. A time to place bets. A time when betting is closed. And a moment when a winner is declared. Cards, slots, horses, lottery, etc.

When you are playing in the game you have a claim at the table. You can win or you can lose. Your heart beats faster and adreneline pumps. The dealers chatter with you. And the cocktail waitress is happy to bring you a bottle of water or whatever you’d like on the house.

When you aren’t in the game you have no claim to the table. You can’t lose but you can’t win either. You’re on the sidelines as an observer. No pitter-patter of your heart. The dealers might not acknowledge you. And fat chance in getting a free drink from the waitress if you aren’t in the game. You’re just another tourist.

Gambling in Vegas is a lot like life outside of Vegas

It feels like people are so afraid of losing that they just refuse to place a bet at all.

  • College – Where do I want to go? What do I want to study?
  • Marriage and family– Is this the right person? What if it’s the wrong person? Should we have kids? If so, when?
  • Vocation – What do I want to do when I grow up? What if I don’t like it?
  • Location – Where do I want to live?

People aren’t shy about their shock with Kristen and I because we placed bets on all four of those categories early in life and have continued to “improve our hand” over the years.

The flip side, experience has taught: In order to win you have to place a bet in the game. And the window for placing a bet is limited. When the time comes to place a bet I already know I want to be in the game because sitting on the sidelines is too boring for me. There are risks and rewards… but I always know I want to be in the game.

Life’s winners and losers are in the game. But those who hold on, never placing a bet, will never know what winning feels like because they are too afraid to accept the risk of losing. And that, my friends, is losing every time.

hmm... thoughts

The weekend ahead

I’m looking forward to a fun and crazy next 5 days.

We’re going to Disneyland!

We might be the only family in Southern California who has never been to Disneyland. And that’s all Megan wanted for her 10th birthday. So today, after school, we are going up to do just that. We’ll be in Anaheim tonight through Sunday. I’ve actually never done anything at a Disney park, either. So we’re all pretty amped up about it and a little nervous, too.

Sunday morning, I’m getting up at the butt crack of dawn to leave Disneyland and come back down to La Mesa to teach at Encounter. My talk is called, “So I’ve been thinking about how to be good news in my neighborhood.” It’ll be all about unleashing your creativity to be good news. (I’ll post the notes in the free section.) After church, I’m back to Anaheim to hop in the pool and then drive everyone home.

Monday afternoon through Tuesday, I’m off to Chicago to help out my friend Andrew Marin. He’s working with a publisher to produce some training materials for his smash hit book, Love is an Orientation. Actually, I’m not 1000% sure what my role is in that. But I know that I’ll be speaking into the youth ministry portion of the content, helping youth workers practically minister to adolescents in matters of sexual orientation.

I’d appreciate your prayers for this whirlwind 5-days.


Put up or shut up

Photo by Cindy Seigle via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m from Indiana. A big part of my childhood involved playing basketball in driveways.

From the time the ice melted until we could hear the band playing and crowd cheering from Notre Dame stadium all we did was play basketball. We’d get off the bus and play 21. We’d have breakfast on Saturday then play 21 until lunch… followed by 15-20 more games of 21 until dinner.

When we could get 6-7 people together we’d play half court, make it take it to 10. Usually, it was 3-4 guys playing 21 until our fingers cracked or palms were white and the rest of our hands were black with dirt.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else’s moves. They knew who to guard from outside and who to push to their left hand in the lane. We knew who had an unstoppable jump hook. And we knew who couldn’t make a layup. There was even a kid so good at free throws that we had to make a new rule, after 7-check-up.

But the biggest rule of them all? Put up or shut up.

Photo by DonkerDink via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It never failed that the kids who didn’t play very much ran their mouth the most about how good they were. You’d hear them in the hallways at school trying to convince everyone that they could play. And you’d hear them on the bus all the way home.

Then we’d all get off at their stop, take their ball out of their bushes, roll it to them and say… Put up or shut up.

We’d call their bluff. Maybe they really could play? But usually not.

What does that phrase mean? Simply put, let your actions speak for themselves. It’s easy to run your mouth and tell people how good you are. But can you deliver?

In my neighborhood the best players didn’t have to tell people how good they were. They let their game speak for itself.

And chumps like me? We just kept out mouths shut.

All talk, no show

This same principle applies today.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to someone running their mouth about something. They know how to do my job better than me. Or they know how to do someone else’s job better than them so they are just trying to prove how smart they think they are to me.

They know how to minister to my youth group better than me. They know how to parent, to budget, to garden, to _____ [insert verb] better than I do.

And sometimes I just wish we were back in middle school so I could follow them off the bus, go fish the basketball out of their bushes, pass it to them and say “Put up or shut up.

Looking in the mirror

My dad says a phrase that I think about all the time, “Don’t write a check that you can’t cash.” I think about that a lot. Especially when I run my mouth about what I can do, want to do, or should do.

I need to make sure that I’m not just talking about things for the sake of talking about them but that I’m willing to “cash those checks” with my life.

Church leadership culture is quick to celebrate the person with the loudest megaphone who says the quote worthy thing that gets retweeted all over the heavens.

That’s a whirpool of “put up or shut up”  that I want no part of. Eventually, someone is going to ask them to cash that check.

Instead, I’d rather just keep my mouth shut and do my best to let my game speak for itself.