Friday, May 28, 2010

Are You With Me?

This past week I had the privilege of listening to one of my co-workers share about what he was learning in his relationship with God. It is this conversation that has sparked some thoughts in my that I wanted to record not only for myself, but also for any of you who may be looking for a fresh perspective in your faith journey at the moment.

What if I said to you that the most important thing God desires from us as His creation is simply to be with Him. What would you say in return? Think about this for a moment. God's primary concern for you & I is whether or not we are with Him; whether or not we have a relationship with Him. God's primary concern is not about us being good enough, or holy, or doing all the right things, or saying all the right words or personifying all the right's simply about being with Him. Let me unpack what I mean a little bit. My wife Bonny is my best friend. It is important to both of us that we are with each other. As a family we try to do as much as we can collaboratively. Working in the field of ministry (at a church) lends itself to some interesting routines, guidelines and patterns for a family's life. There are times when I am unable to be with my family (physically present) as I would like...and it's during these moments and experiences that our relationships take a hit. Most often this is when silly arguments and miscommunication occur, and it is a direct result of not being with each other. When you are with someone, you begin to understand how he or she thinks, reacts and loves; not to mention what his or her needs are and how you fit into the matrix of his or her identity formation process. But even during these moments of time where frustration occurs, it is more important that I am with my wife and with my family than not.

Imagine this scenario for one moment. I've had a rough day at work, said some things I'm not proud of and perhaps done some things that I'm ashamed of as well. Instead of coming home to my family I simply write them a note letting them know that I need to get right first before I come home. What sort of message do you think I'm communicating to Bonny and my two children? I'm basically saying that I'm not good enough for them in my current state, so I must punish them and myself by removing myself from the relationship for a period of time. Sounds nuts right?

What if I told you this is often our approach in our relationship with God? I'm serious, think about it. We often think we need to get to a certain spiritual level or certain place in life before we are worthy to stand in the presence of God and enjoy a relationship with Him. But may I remind you and myself that God's primary desire is to BE WITH US!! The name Emmanuel means God with of the many names given to describe who Jesus is. Jesus, fully God and fully human, came to earth to BE WITH US so that we might BE WITH HIM. I encourage you to unpack this theme in your own personal study time. You will see the Bible littered with this theme over and over a potpourri of life throughout the entire story of God. In all that God is doing, His primary desire remains to be with us. Isn't that amazing?

Right here, right now, I hope some scales are falling away from our eyes and some clarity about who God is, is beginning to take shape. God wants to be with matter where we are, where we were or where we will be. His primary desire remains to be with us!! If we continue to function under the "we're not good enough" mantra, we will be stuck in a self-loathing cycle that has no end, because we will never be good enough to gain God's grace on our own. Jesus came to earth so He could be with us, and so we could be with God. On the cross He uttered these most famous words, "It is finished." In that moment, the "I"m not good enough" worldview lost its' power. We are the only ones that can choose to continue to be a slave to its' untruth. God wants to be with us...are we with Him?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Living Generously

The theme that I seem to be learning about most in my life is currently that of generosity. I'd like to share a few thoughts about what is happening in my life right now in hopes of sparking some thought and conversation in your mind.

Generosity is most easily defined as extending grace to others. It seems an odd pairing to have grace & generosity linked to tightly together, but with what I am learning and experiencing as of late...these two terms seem to have more parallels that one may think.

There are typically three areas people speak of when referring to living a generous life: time, treasure and talent. Time speaks for itself. Giving one's time to another person involves doing just that; finding flexible moments in your schedule to be FULLY present with and for others. Talent refers to using ones gifts to serve other people. Treasure involves the stewardship of one's resources.

The area I'd like to spend a little bit of time writing about today is time. I find it easier to be generous with my talents and treasure than I do with my time. I've learned that I guard my time more than anything else in my life. I'm not sure why, but I do think it's linked to my personality. I describe myself as being a natural introvert with extrovert tendencies. Part of being a natural introvert is discovering that I recharge my batteries by spending time alone, by myself, doing things that I enjoy doing. Being a dad has challenged me to change my habits, my rituals and my routine in order to be able to give quality time to my children. Time where Dad can be fully engaged, relevant and present with both Saydie & Cannon. Giving my time to my kids is very important. Will my kids know that they are important and valued? I not only need to give them my talent & treasure...I need to give them my time as well.

When you think about living generously, what is one thing you may need to work on?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What If?

Two powerful, loaded words...what & if. I've met people from all walks of life who have literally been held captive by these two little words, and not in a good way.

Jimmy Eat World put out a music album entitled Chase This Light. In one of the songs off this album, Dizzy, the lyricist pens this phrase - "you said you'd never have regrets, Jesus is there someone yet who got their wish?" The basic lyric sums up a general thought pattern that exists in our world, trying to live without regret. We even teach in churches this basic principle. But in this case, what we teach and reality are two different things. The bottom line is that we will have regret, it's not a question of whether or not we will...we will all choose to do something that we're not proud of, it's going to happen. Maybe it's an act of violence, or a verbal barrage we launch without thinking about what is being said. The question isn't whether or not we will live without regret, but what will we do with our regret?

Enter our famous two word company line - what if? We can use this simple question of what if to either find freedom from regret, or find shackles of burden and guilt. If we truly believe Jesus is who He says He is, then when He uttered the words "It is finished" from the cross, He paid the price for any regret we may have. We now have the choice to allow our regret to be motivator to do things differently the next time we are faced with similar decisions. 

In my own life I'm learning to see the question of what if in a completely different light. What if I were to allow God to use me despite my regret, my pain, my ineffectiveness and my imperfectness? What if I turned to Jesus instead of trying to do things out of my own strength and skill set? What if I simply let God be God, and I be who He has created me to be...someone who loves Him and loves other people? 

What & if...two small, yet very powerful little words. What if we could see what if from a completely different perspective?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Defining Success

Success is one of those loaded type of words, isn't it? We strive to be successful in life. We focus our career pursuits, our relational pursuits and our lives on the quest for success, but are we are of what the definition of success really is?

Having started a new job less than a year ago, I find myself contemplating this question often: "How do I define success?" In any sort of transition in life, we want to know that we have finished well, or done something to be remembered by, do we not? For me personally, I wanted to know that I left behind something significant in the last church that I served at. I wanted to know that my time had been a success, so I began to look for tangibles that I could measure in order to quantify my success. But even then, it felt as though I was missing the mark for what success really is.

Looking at the life of Jesus, I see someone who understood what the true definition of success was...doing His Father's will (being obedient to God). Jesus came to earth with a purpose, to save or restore the world and to demonstrate what it means to be a disciple maker (His Father's will). Jesus knew that this was the mission His Father had given Him to accomplish, and success would be measured by whether or not He was able to remain faithful to His mission. Hanging on the cross, Jesus proclaimed "It is finished" and with that sentence summed up what true success really is.

Success cannot be measured by numbers or quantified by other tangible means, which can be utterly frustrating, can it not? It's great to be able to point to something and say, "I did that!" with great enthusiasm, but in all reality being successful in the building of God's kingdom is less about us and more about God! So how then can we begin to function in and strategize for success? For me, the answer to this question continues to be illusive only because of my default programming which tends to focus on the tangibles as keys for success rather than the intangibles. As a youth pastor, success in my life must be represented by my willingness to be obedient to the mission God has given for my life. My mission may share similarities to that of another person, but it is not the same, nor can it be expected to be. If Jesus' mission here on earth was to bring restored relationship and demonstrate discipleship, His success cannot be measured by things outside of this definition. Jesus did not start the church, He gave that mission to His disciples. Jesus' success is therefore defined by His obedience to His Father's will, and His understanding that even He wasn't called to do it all, but only to play a part in God's continual unfolding story in our world.

I believe we wrestle with this notion of success because each of us craves something to be identified with and defined by. We may not enjoy being labelled, but when these labels point to success we tend to welcome them with open arms. Can we begin to think bigger? Can we allow ourselves to seek the true definition of success that extends beyond the easily measurable? I wonder if we made the shift to sincerely focus on success as remaining obedient to Christ how much less stress, chaos and clutter would remain in our lives.

Our mission: to be who God has created us to be through demonstration and proclamation of the gospel. Is this our definition of success?

Friday, May 7, 2010

The need for rest...

Being a father of two young children has taught me a lot. No lesson seems to be more valuable, however, than that of rest. Whether it is ensuring our kids get proper rest, or we as parents do the same, without appropriate rest, we all suffer!

Mark Buchannan is a Canadian author who has written much on this subject of rest from a biblical perspective. For those of who you may be interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend his book The Rest of God. The basic idea is learning to find moments of rest, or Sabbath, on a regular basis. I heard a story one time of a dad who worked a 9 to 5 job. After his long day at work, he began his commute home. Upon arrival, he brought with him all the baggage from his day at work into his home, and was unable to be fully present with his family. The family dynamics suffered as a result. After being convicted by the Holy Spirit on this theme of rest and Sabbath, this father changed up his routine a little bit. Instead of coming right in the door after he arrived at home, this dad would sit in the car and listen to one of his favorite worship songs prior to entering his home. As the song would play, the dad felt all the frustration and anxiety of his day (not to mention his drive home!) begin to melt away. The pocket of rest helped this dad to be intentional in the way he was building into the relational dynamics of his family.

Each of us may be able to identify with this story somehow. The point of the story is simple...without rest, we may not be able to engage the world around us in a God-honoring way. Remember that God Himself chose to rest 1 day out of 7 in order to enjoy His creation. We as part of His creation must learn to do the same. Trying finding pockets of quiet, rest and Sabbath this week. Be creative. Turn off the cell phone, unplug from the iPod or blackberry and drink in the moments of rest and rejuvenation. Together as a family, look for moments to rest and enjoy one another. Our life here on earth is about developing relationships. Without rest, we may not have a healthy perspective from which to grow in our relational connections with others.

Sunday, May 2, 2010 got my back

Our daughter Saydie has a version of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) which makes going to sleep rather interesting for her. On average, she will take 30-60 minutes to fall asleep every night. After doing a little research, we have begun giving Saydie melatonin prior to bedtime, which helps her to settle down more quickly and improves the quality of her sleep throughout the night. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to melatonin (which is a naturally produced chemical that coordinates the body's circadian rhythms) is vivid dreaming.

Our bed time routine with Saydie includes hugs, kisses, and rocking with mommy after prayer time with Daddy. Often times Bonny & Saydie share the most special conversations and moments together as they talk about their day and what they enjoy about each other. Tonight Saydie shared with us about one of her dreams. The mouse character from the Ice Age movies will knock on her door and try to take her away from mommy & daddy. As Bonny listened to Saydie's story, she gently encouraged her to pray about her fear...and Saydie did. The one line that stood out to us was when Saydie declared, "and I know Jesus that you have my back." Listening to Bonny share this story with me melted my heart, and motivated me to write.

Jesus talked about little children inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. It is this simple, child-like faith and trust that inspires us all to take flying leaps of faith. My daughter inspires me...she knows God is always with her, and that Jesus has her back...and she's challenging her Daddy to live in this simple truth as well!!