Bonus Question

The question that I didn’t post yesterday was, “What truth can we help you remember?” Think about that for a while. What do you know to be true but when difficulty, stress, loneliness, etc comes you default to a lie?

The most common response to that at our family weekend was some form of, “I need help remembering God will show up or come through at the right moment.”

At the heart of our worry that God won’t show up or come through is the fear that he either untrustworthy, he has lost track of us, or he just doesn’t care.

Even in spite of marrying my best friend and favorite person in the world, the move to Bentonville has been challenging. My first job was at the Parks & Recreation Dept. I liked it but it was only part time. As savings dwindled, and I mean really dwindled, I was stressed and wasn’t sure what to do vocationally.

For the last 3-4 years my ultimate desire has been to work with pastors and leaders. Most of the coaching out there is church growth driven. There is a need for that but I’m more suited for and passionate about spiritual direction and developing the heart within the leader. So Krista and I began to pray, “Is this the time to keep the part time parks job and launch out into consulting adventure by faith? Or is this a season when I do something completely different? You have to make this clear!”

That sounds good and was the right way to pray, but honestly, I was also saying, “God, I feel like Joseph. Everybody has forgotten me and so have you!” Basically saying, “You’ve lost track of me.”  After a couple weeks of praying together specifically and systematically about this, Krista got a text from someone in town about my interest in a job. That was on a Friday. Saturday I reviewed my resume. Sunday I emailed it. Monday I interviewed. Tuesday I was offered the job. Just like we’d asked, God made it clear that for now ministry would look different. Weekend retreats, a handful of spiritual direction/consulting clients, and one camp next summer is about all I can handle.

Please don’t hear me saying that if you just pray correctly, with the right words, in a certain way everything will turn out rosey. If you know me at all you know I’ve had very non-rosey periods of life. What I am saying is God is trustworthy, he knows where you are, and he does care.

Isaiah said it much better:
Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “ God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG)

Suggestions for fighting the “Where are You” fight:

  • Tell God exactly what you think and how you feel about his silence, he can take it
  • Put his assurances from scripture (like the one above) back on him
  • Find ways to remind yourself that God is trustworthy he knows where you are, and he does care (post-it notes are underrated)

Does your attitude suck?

As I wade into the blogging pool again, I need to begin with an honest confession: My attitude sucks. If you work with me or only know me socially you may not detect it. I can fake it for short periods of time but those who live closest to me know my attitude sucks.
So why does my attitude suck?

It sucks because I’m short sighted.

  • Humanity in general and western culture in particular is short sighted. If we don’t see results in three easy steps we want our money back. If there is no evidence of change – in an often unreasonable amount of time – we jump to a different track. We don’t do well with the in-between times of what was and what will be. Historically, I’m talking 600 BC  historically…not the 1950’s, the people of God had a very long view on things. Their songs of praise and cries of lament were anchored in the day of redemption that would come whether they saw it with their own eyes or not. My sight is so short it usually lands on me. Their sight was long enough to focus on us.

It sucks because I’m forgetful.

  • Not only am I forgetful of the heritage that I was adopted into, I’m forgetful of God’s activity in my own life. If I would stop stewing for one minute I could fill pages with stories of when God came through. Places to live. Jobs. Conversations that changed our family’s trajectory. Checks in the mail. Opportunities that superseded my hopes. And on and on. If only there was a way to remember…oh wait…that’s part of the purpose of gathering on Sunday…that’s part of the point of quiet reflection in the morning…that’s part of the point of expressing gratitude before I eat. Maybe if I started to remember on purpose my attitude wouldn’t suck so bad.

It sucks because I think I’m alone.

  • I lived alone for a long time which I now realize was a blessing and a curse. Blessing in the sense I learned to be alone and not be lonely. Curse in the sense that my first instinct is, “It’s up to me to figure out, make happen, and do.” When I got married this summer that instinct didn’t switch off. I see my challenges through the lens of being alone and not through the lens of community. My wife is so good at echoing the sentiment of God, “We are a team. It’s not just up to you.” And yet I act as if I were alone.
This morning I read a passage that I’ve read hundreds of times, shared it with others dozens of times, and even taught on it a few times. But today it pulled all these threads together.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! (Ephesians 3:20, 21 MSG)
Hopefully your attitude doesn’t suck as bad as mine but if it does (and chances are some days it does), pray with me that…
…our sight will focus on the life that is and is to come
…we will remember God is always near and up to something
…our default will begin to be reset from alone to accompanied

Huddled Masses

The other night some of my class mates and I visited a church service. It is called Theophilus. One of my professors is the pastor there. They share space with an Episcopal congregation on the SE side of Portland. Each week, things began with dinner at 5pm. Round tables were set in a large communal room of the church. I ended up at a table with two high school guys, three of my friends from GFU, and two young women early in their careers.

Olivia was the most talkative. She is a graphic artist who had moved to Portland from San Diego. We began to joke with her about the weather…leaving year around temperatures in the 70’s, beaches and blue skies to go to the wet and often dreary Pacific Northwest. After the initial levity, Olivia told us that she made her decision very intentionally. In fact the climate was the very reason she moved here. “In southern California people are outside all the time and when it gets dark you really can’t find anyone. You wander around wondering, ‘Where is everybody?’ I wanted to come to a place where people huddle together when it gets dark and cold.”

I don’t think I was the only one at the table stunned by her assessment. It was quite amazing that someone from a place many of us dream of living – desires community and connection more warmth and sunshine. Olivia saw possibilities where many of us only see hassles.

When I get home next week the sun will go down earlier, the temperature will have dropped, and the rain will soon turn to snow. I’m not looking forward to it but I hope my random encounter will help me look at winter differently this year.

  • Hopefully I will complain a lot less.
  • Hopefully I will remember that seasons of life can grow as dark and cold as the seasons of the year.
  • Hopefully I will see the dark and cold as an opportunity to huddle together with people rather than as an excuse to stay alone.

A Lesson in Tenacity

I hit my threshold of office occupancy for this afternoon so I headed to the nearest Starbuck’s for an iced Americano and renewed inspiration. After getting my drink I took a seat on one of the soft chairs facing the windows. As I began to read I realized the woman sitting behind me is using this space as her coffice too. Rather than reading or typing she is making cold calls attempting to generate appointments.

Over and over her pleasant voice recites a version of the following script: “Hello, my name is Marie and I would like the opportunity to review your insurance coverage and see if you are getting the best coverage for your insurance dollar.” Over and over she makes her pitch with kindness. Sometimes she gets hung up on before she finishes her first phrase. Others wait until the end. I can tell some people give her excuses of why they aren’t interested or that they aren’t the right person to talk to. Her tone hasn’t changed. There is no discouragement in her voice. She doesn’t seem to take any rejection as personal. She just says “thank you,” and calls the next.

I don’t know if this is a new job, old job or whether or not this is her dream job. What I do know is that Marie is relentless…not in the high pressure sales way but rather in knocking on proverbial doors way. Somewhere along the line she decided that if she was going to sell insurance she was going to do the hard work of talking to people she doesn’t know, making contacts and chasing down leads.

There are a few things I’d like to give myself to in the last third of my life.

  • I want to love well.
  • I want to walk with leaders in ways that will facilitate health and longevity.
  • I want to help people exchange caricatures of God for a clearer portrait.

I came to the coffice hoping for inspiration. I got it…and a lesson in tenacity.

The video I posted yesterday reminded me that fear can derail my dreams. Today I am confronted with the fact that our dreams won’t happen without dogged determination. So in the words of Marie (who continues to make calls behind me) “Thanks for your time and have a great day! Goodbye”

 

Not, Don’t, Won’t or Am, Do, Will

I was at a party the other night and I met some new people. The conversation started out well as one couple asked me about going back to school, the adjustments and eventually the degree I’m pursuing. The wife grew up in a very religious community full of churches, Christian colleges, and a couple seminaries which led to, “What kind of seminary is it?”

Because of what I assumed about the culture of her youth, I attempted to distinguish what George Fox was by describing what it was not. A few comments made sense but then I quickly and completely lost them. The glazed look followed by loss of eye contact was the sure sign. I don’t know why I did that but I know I’ll never do that again.

Articulating our beliefs by what we don’t believe, defining ourselves by who we aren’t, and explaining our mission by making clear what it isn’t – is a bad idea whether your motivation is to protect, include or win an argument.

  • It is a bad strategy because its a conversation ender. If I met you and my entire tone highlighted what I’m against, why would you offer what you believe? Conversations are give and take, speaking and listening. Very few people would put their positions out there for fear of landing on my list and become someone else I don’t agree with. They may start to listen but soon they will withhold their opinions and be looking for an out.
  • It is a poor testimony to our God and faith. Consistently speaking out of the negative makes me sound angry, cynical and judgmental. (BTW – Those are not fruits of the Spirit) Jesus engaged people with questions which opened them to hear what he had to offer: Life. Paul looked for common ground (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9) in order to share the gospel = GOOD news.
  • It is a weak stance because most people expect more from us. Most of my friends are not looking for more things to avoid. They are looking for a compelling reason to live. Jesus offers that and commissions us to be salt and light, mixing in adding flavor and illumination. If this Jesus we claim to follow is ‘all that’ our words and life should point to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

I close with a few things I’m pondering this morning…

Do my neighbors and co-workers know more about what I stand for or what I stand against?

Would my friends describe me as someone is for something or against something?

Does my family know what/who we believe in or just what/who we don’t believe in?

p.s. Jesus used both negative and positive language. In Mark 10:45 he said, “[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Maybe that’s a good ratio for us: 2/3’s of who we are to 1/3 who we aren’t.

Start Your Week Differently

Monday’s are notorious for being our enemy. Many of us develop this mentality as soon as school become routine and it continues to roll right on until retirement.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you reframe your idea about the first day of the week:

  • Begin with, “Thank you God that I have a job” instead of “I don’t want to go to work.”
  • Resist complaining about the weather.
  • See how many times you can say “Thank you” to the people you interact with today.
  • Try not to base your conversations with people about others. Ask them how they are, what they really enjoyed this past weekend and what they are looking forward to this week.
  • Every time you see a handicap parking sign thank God that you can walk from any space in the lot.
  • Tell someone you love them. (Tell all your kids you love them today.)
  • Open the door for someone or let someone go before you.
  • Look people in the eye and smile.
  • Avoid talking about your health problems and pets.
  • Tell someone you appreciate them and give them one reason why, ie their dependability, their friendship, their character, etc.
  • Find some way that fits you and your personality to celebrate Monday rather than dread it.

I hope you know I’m not suggesting these because I have mastered the Monday blues. I’m trying them right along with you. It’d be great to hear your stories this week. Feel free to share them in the ‘comment’ section.