Are You Called?

Filling out applications, having phone interviews, talking with those designated to protect the way of the local church has been an interesting experience. It’s changed a bit since I last did this. Some of the questions I’ve been asked have been humorous and at times, perplexing, as to why a group of people searching for a pastor would what to know the answer to this question or that question. This is not every place, of course, but there has been a large handful that I have wondered “what are they reacting to that would cause them to ask that?”

One such question has been “Are you called to X Church” or “What are you called to?” That question is a bit of a conundrum for me to be honest. Early on my high school days, the idea of calling became new to me. Friends of mine began to share that they were called into full time ministry. In college, as I studied the Bible, culture, theology and, well, backpacking, that idea was in no less imperative in the making of a person for ministry than when I was in high school. As Iris and I prepared to go overseas, the leaders of our denomination asked us over and over, pressing really, as to whether or not we were called overseas, called to a group of people, called to a particular place. Calling, calling, calling has became such a massive part of the litmus test of whether ministry is really what God wanted for someone, that it is hard to ignore (which I never was fully able to do).

I answered those questions with an energetic “YES!” and continued on my merry way. I never thought anything of it…at least not too much. In recent years, I’ve watched many people move overseas with their hopes and dreams all folded and packed tight in their baggage called “Calling.” They arrived, lived, ministered, served…..and then left. They left to go back to their home countries because of a medical need, visa issue, family crisis, or the “door shutting” on what they were “called” to do. And many of them were completely uncertain, heart broken, disoriented and confused as to why.

Now I stand in the same situation. We hadn’t planned on moving back to the States permanently, at least not this soon. It came as a complete surprise to us. I’ll admit, I’ve gone through the same questions that they no doubt also have asked. Was I wrong? Did I misunderstand God? Did I fail, yet again, in hearing God? Was I never really called in the first place? Was I called somewhere else?

Because God started working on my heart in regards to calling a few years ago, my whole world didn’t come shattering down. Not saying it isn’t hard. Man is it, just read my last post. Maybe I was more free and unbound to this concept than some of those who had been in the same situation. Why, you may ask? Because I was never called to a place or a people or a city or a ministry.  What if we were never called to anything? What if “calling to something” was only our interpretation? What if we are only ever called to God? How would this change things?

Let’s wrestle in the mud through this one…more to come.

be blessed today

 

Poverty-The Break

I love Portland, Oregon. It’s by far my favorite city in the USA. Maybe it’s the city itself in it’s weirdness. Maybe it’s the coffee scene which is so much a part of my life. Or perhaps it’s simply that this is a city where a lot of life change and growth has happened in my life. But I do love it. And, as with any big city, it has it’s needs and shortfalls. One of them being the amount of homeless residents. We recently moved back to the States from living overseas for over a decade, and have been residing in Salem, Oregon-a city about 45 minutes south of Portland and a fifth of Portland’s size. But the homeless population is astounding. A little less than half the amount of Portland’s homeless population which means that close to 500 kids in the schools in the two counties that make up Salem, are homeless.

I’ve never known poverty, really. At least, I’ve never lived it. My family was not rich by any American standards, but we weren’t in poverty. My travels around the world have put me in places that I’m not sure I would allow my pet to live, yet it was what many people would call home. They are what we see images of on our TVs or what we read reports on every year. We read about them in books and see them in videos, many of which are asking for donations to help support life giving work that is going on there. And so, we give financially and pray for those who are “less fortunate” than we are. And this is where I think we break from what God commissioned us.

I grew up, as many I know have, in churches that gave to help those in need. Which, in my opinion, is great! When I later went on to serve in ministry capacities overseas, I would come back to share stories of those we were sharing the Gospel with. When talking about these cultures in which we lived and spoke about how we were telling those around us about Jesus, we got smiles, nods and “thank yous” from those listening to our stories. But it almost always was shared in a way that showed how much financial need these people were in. When I shared about how we were helping them financially and sharing about Jesus, we were met with a great pity for those people and because of there “misfortune,” they really needed Jesus.

When our ministry moved from reaching into the lower class to trying to share Christ with those in the upper classes of society, our stories weren’t met with the same adoration. Why? Don’t they also need to understand that we have a Savior who loves them deeply? A God who calls them His children? Yes they do, but they don’t have the same financial need as others.

What I believe is that when many are sent from the American church to ministry cross culturally, it is the general belief that they are being sent to share the Western American Christian life with those in other cultures. That hard work, grit and determination will help you be successful and successful means you will have money….and Jesus. I could go on, but this is where I believe we here in the States have strayed from the commission Jesus gave us. It is a much different gospel than the one Jesus lived and modeled for us.

The ideas of “blessed” and “less fortunate” are for another post, I promise. But, for my brothers and sisters in Christ here in the West, let me simply suggest that perhaps the gospel that we are so excited about sharing, and that we are spending a lot of money supporting, isn’t really the gospel of Christ. Let me suggest that the Gospel we may be preaching, the gospel we may even believe in, isn’t the Gospel of the Son of Man, but the American Jesus we have come to love and come comfortable with.

More to come…

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

What’s More Lasting Than a Resolution?

My family and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the States for the first time in a couple years. It was a fun night surrounded by friends, playing games, talking, and more importantly, laughing together. It’s been a long time since I laughed like that. I’m not a huge celebrator on New Year’s Eve as I hate staying up that late to watch a ball drop, or to go light fireworks….the years of youth ministry full of all nighters have kind of killed it for me. But being up with friends is well worth the cost the next day of being tired. We were headed back home at 12:10 a.m. and we were all in bed by 12:25 🙂

You hear it as soon as Christmas is over…. the talk of resolutions, the plans for the new year and the list of things people hope to get accomplished. Setting goals is important. I a big proponent of setting goals. For me, if I don’t have goals to reach, I squander my time, run around aimlessly and become a slave to the things of the “urgent” instead of engaging in things of the meaningful. But part of the meaningful things is calling on our lives as followers of Jesus to simply be. Being doesn’t require any doing. And God often times asks us to stop the doing ….and just be.

The burning bush, the small still voice, being in a garden praying, retreating away from the crowd, getting up early before the sun, being away and fed by ravens, not having to prepare meals but simply collect manna from heaven……all of these stories and verses encourage us to stop the doing and simply focus on being. Accepting that we are in the presence of God, begin the inward journey of accepting who we are in Christ, start to understand how God has made us, see the world that is actually around us not just what we want to see.

With the sometimes lengthy lists of resolutions I’ve had, my experience has been that I get focused on accomplishing that list and less about sitting in God’s presence. If things on that list start to control me, I am no longer being a being-I am pushing my being aside to do. And sometimes I’m doing things just to do them. I am a get-things-done kind of guy. And I also know that me being is far more important than me doing. If I have little understanding of who I am in Christ or God’s presence, how can I help others dive into the deeper life?

Moses takes time to stop and just be in God’s presence in the form of a burning bush…but empowers him to lead all the Hebrew out of Egypt and crushing Pharaoh; David, getting up before sunrise, was a warrior king-the greatest in Israel’s history; collecting manna allowed the Hebrews to see God will always provide for them….though there were times when we are asked to quite ourselves and just be, this often times leads to God using us in deeper ways than we had ever hoped.

As we are now three days into 2017, I want to encourage all of us to hold our great list of resolutions and goals very loosely. To not get so caught up in doing that we lose sight of the One who created us. To spend time just being in His presence and starting down an inward journey of  you are in Christ. In that, I believe you will be able to connect with people on a much deeper level and become leaders of others on a similar journey.

Happy New Year

be blessed

The Art of Ending

I never took a preaching class. As part of high school and core college classes, I had to take a public speaking course. I enjoyed them. It was good to get feedback, but apart from that, nothing. I’ve also never taken a formal writing class. You probably can pick up on that in my writing. There are far better writers in the world, and I don’t desire to compare myself to them…it just won’t make my day. Nonetheless, I still enjoy speaking and writing.

Why? That’s a good question. Their might be a bit of ego in there, being in the limelight, center of attention. Although, God allows me to fail in that area from time to time when my pride tries to block any glory going to Him. In those times, I search to find a greater reason why I like these forms of expression.

Thankfully, I have come to find a greater depth as to why I enjoy it. Depending on what I’m speaking, writing or talking about, there are two main reasons why it brings me joy and encouragement. First is that I am a bit of a visionary leader. I love being able to cast vision, help others develop a vision and encourage others to see what God could do if we took a risk. So much so, that it is very hard for me to follow someone who isn’t a visionary leader. Casting vision and then continuing to bring people back to that vision, for me, is key at making anything work. People who can’t do that cause me to question if they can’t dream or believe in something greater, how could I? But that’s another topic for another day.

The second reason why I enjoy speaking and writing is that I can simply share my journey in hopes that it may help someone else, just like others have shared their journeys with me, encouraging me to keep moving. Without us sharing our stories, we can end up feeling all alone, unique, un-relatable and isolated-not what God intended when He calls us the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ.

But in all of this, in looking at other leaders, one of the hardest things I’ve noticed is how to finish. Back to me never taking a preaching class-I’ve always heard that how you end the sermon is the hardest thing about it. How you “land the plane,” so to speak, could make or break any talk you give. Being able to make that conclusion bring it together, summing up to challenge others with what was just said or spur others on in a rally cry is a hard thing to do. In fact, it’s hard every time I write in this blog to come up with how I am going to end each post. The ending is what people will remember. The ending determines what will be remembered.

Though I’m only 37 (yes “only,” don’t mock me you young ones), I’ve come to learn that how I end things is important. How I will end my time here is vital to leave a legacy of God’s grace, provision and love. I struggle with not only ending a blog post, but with handing things off to others. Coming alongside someone to encourage, invest in and build up is something I enjoy. But handing things off entirely to someone else is hard. I know that if that project, business or ministry is to sustain and thrive, it needs to be handed off well. In order for that to happen, the leader, or in this case me, needs to hand it off well. If the pilot can’t land the plane, it doesn’t matter how fast or smooth it took off, and it definitely doesn’t matter how smooth the entire flight was. The landing is important.

Landing it, handing it off well, is not only you being able to empower those who are now stepping into the lead, but it is you submitting to God that He is ultimately over all.  Hanging on too long is nothing but fear based. I talked about that a bit last week. Paul wrote many letters to a lot of people, trying to empower them from afar. He moved from the lead role to a support role. A good friend of mine, Andreas, is the leader of a church planting movement that started out of Sweden. His ministry philosophy goes like this:

I do it, you watch me. I do it, you help me,

You do it, I help you. You do it, I watch you

Not only does he believe this, he has modeled it many times over the past two decades. He not only knows how to cast the vision (take off) and keep the momentum going (cruising altitude), he also knows how to hand it off well (landing). If Paul had not  handed it off, it makes me wonder if Romans, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy would even be in the Bible we read. We simply move into different seasons of life. From being the one who needs support and encouragement to the ones who are giving both to others as they step into the roles God has for them. Modeling to them our trust in others and in God. A “giving back” to Him a portion of what He has given us.

My prayer is that we not only do that with every ministry venture we’re a part of, or job position we have, but also with our lives. To come to a place where we are passing  on what God has done in us to those around us. Encouraging, empowering and speaking truth.

How about you? Do you have experience with someone handing it off well? Have you handed things off well, or perhaps not so well? What was the impact?

be blessed today

 

Photo credit: https://schalks28.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/ride-bike.jpg

Traffic Patterns and U-Turns

Traffic Patterns and U-Turns

It’s funny, living overseas, driving a car. Americans that come to visit us in the last country we lived cringed when driving down the road either with me or with others. Here, it seems to be the same. Offensive driving is the key to getting anywhere within the city. Offensive meaning you work your way through to get to where you’re going almost to the extent of no matter the cost. Though it drives me crazy (pun intended), I actually enjoy it a bit. What is painted as a two lane road, actually is five lanes. Sidewalks are used as an “express lane” of sorts. At least sometimes. To me, it’s part of learning to live outside of what I’ve always known…a learning experience. Which I like to learn. The tricky part is when back in the States (or any other Western country), remembering that that is where I am…not in a super offensive driving scene. People get tickets for that kind of thing, you know.

When all the traffic is backed up, two lanes turning into four, all going in the same direction, I often try to find another route. Open up my map on my phone and look for other roads, allies or paths to get to where I want to be and just start driving. In many cases, I actually end up dong a u turn and find a route that way,  which ends up being significantly faster than if I would have just sat in traffic. Going back to move forward. One thing that has always stumped me driving in the last four cities we’ve lived in is it seems that many other drivers on the roads don’t think this way. “If I need to go West, going East, even for a little bit, won’t get me there,” seems to be the thought.  Weird..though I’m glad because it gets me there faster!

I had a great conversation the other day with a friend of mine. We were talking about how in the Western mind, we have to constantly be advancing the Kingdom of God. Growing. The church must continue to grow. And to be honest, this make sense, right? If we want the Kingdom to advance, we have to constantly be pushing forward, clamoring and grasping at anything we can to move.

I don’t think I could be a monk. I love to read, I enjoy monasteries and I thoroughly enjoy and need solitude. That’s just how I roll (Iris has come to appreciate this side of me as I have come to appreciate that she is rejuvenated by groups of people). I don’t think I could handle as much solitude as a monk, however. The Desert Fathers and Mothers escaped the craziness of life and threats of killing in the 4th century. They escaped to the desert in Egypt hence their name. Great works of deep spiritual thought came from their time and still speak relevant truth today. They realized that they would need to grow deeper in Christ in order to help others do the same. They desired to provide a place where people could get away and focus on their inner life for a bit.

Why? To refresh. To recenter. To refocus. To retreat. They were able to see that Jesus Himself needed times of retreat in order to move forward in what the Father had planned for Him. If this is how Jesus lived His life, they believed, this is how every believer could benefit from living and modeling the same. This idea of moving “backward” in order to move “forward” is very counter-intuitive. Economies recede, countries panic. Armies retreat, everyone thinks that they have lost. Churches plateau or decline in attendance, pastors panic. Not hearing God speak, have I lost faith? When these things happen, it’s good to stop and evaluate what’s going on. But panic? Christ is the Prince of Peace, for us to panic was never His intention.

In the book “Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development,” Bruce Demarest quotes developmental  psychologist Daniel J. Levinson’s observation, “Both generativity and its opposite pole, stagnation, are vital to a man’s development. To  become generative, a man must know how it feels to stagnate-to  have the sense of not growing, of being static, stuck, drying up,  bogged down in a life full of obligation and devoid of self-fulfillment.   He must know the experience of dying, of living in the  shadow of death.’Through the dark night, then, God changes the habits of our  lives, lovingly weaning us from attachment to inordinate pleasures,   possessions and puffed-up egos.'”

In those times of silence, plateauing, or stagnation so to speak, it may feel as though we’re going backwards. And to some extent, perhaps we are. But it is only to move us forward. Retreating to grow in depth to move forward in a different, more profound way. Or perhaps, stopping enough to simply gain perspective of where you really are and who is really around you so that you may move forward more effectively, compassionately, intentionally.

For me, this has happened more times than my human mind would have liked. So many times wondering what was going on, why am I moving backwards, why am I being “held back” or “forced” to stall (I talk a little bit about that here and here). Yet every time my compassion for others has increased, my patience has grown and I am more at peace. Of course not all the time, I am a human don’t forget. But it’s just been more. Or maybe just more consistent. I know there will be more times like this, and it is hard on my heart to even admit that. But, I also hope I remember what I’m writing now…that “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

be blessed today

And you? Have you gone through a time of moving backward, of retreating, of stepping back? Did you feel “forced” to do this? What was your experience like, and what came of it? Sharing your journey only helps us all live out ours. Thanks for reading!

Kids, Sides and The Church:Where’s The Line?

I love my kids. Each one of them is completely different. They are creative in their own right, each using their own medium of words, pencils, Legos or ponies. Our youngest will be heading to first grade next year, and Iris and I are honestly starting to mourn her not being at home as much or us not having our own special time with her as we take her to school later than the boys. They are different from each other. This also means that they are incredibly skilled at knowing exactly how to push each other’s buttons.

Inevitably this will result in at least one of them coming to us for support, help and probably most of all, retribution towards the offender. When Iris and I try to explain our point of view, a decision we’ve made or a punishment given, it seems we are constantly getting interrupted with a “but, but, but,” or a “you don’t understand.” They don’t really want to know why, they just want to be right. In other words, they don’t care to understand why we are making the decision we made, or pointing out the flaw in their argument, they don’t want to try to understand our point of view and thought process. They want to be right, that’s it.

Don’t we all?

I’d love to blame TV for this kind of thinking but I’m sure that’s not where it came from. Ya, we are all fallen people born into this world, and that has a part. Sadly, I’m fairly confident they learned this from me. I like to be right to! Shocking, I know, but I want to be understood without ever trying to understand what they, or anyone else is trying to say.

When I’ve seen this in kids and other adults -when they don’t try to understand the other person’s perspective or don’t try to understand where they are coming from- it leads to a mess of things. It  leads to interruption of the other persons speaking, which leads to thinking less of them, which leads to dehumanizing them by name calling, belittling or dismissing what they say altogether. A total lack of maturity.

A few years ago, I was leading a team and brought in a team developer to get us to the next step of working together and being more intentional both individually and corporately. We created a set of operating principles/guidelines as to how we would treat each other during our meetings. This was partly due to many of us interrupting each other and/or speaking over each other while in a discussion, especially a heated one. I hope no one was keeping track as I think I may have been the worst offender of this. But it was helpful in giving us tools to begin to humanize and build each other up. It also helped me to see that I need to change how I interacted with my kids…to listen first. I’m not perfect and neither are they so it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it has a great impact. Respecting. Humanizing. Giving the other person space in the present and engaging with them by listening is showing them that they are worthy. Just as you are worthy of life, breath and time.

There are a lot of “sides” in this world. It seems we are constantly a culture (especially in the Church in the States) of “Fors” and “Againsts,” a culture of “Pros” and “Antis.” I can understand and expect this in a culture or group of people that doesn’t hold to Jesus as Lord. But when I see it in the Church, the Bride of Christ, it causes me great pain. I’m 36 years old and have been through a few election cycles. It’s been 18 years since I have had the privilege and freedom to vote in my home country. It seems that with each cycle not only do the candidates act more like children it but also that the politics in our country continue to tear the Church apart. Instead of it being the Body of Christ, it is being torn into sides of every shape, size and order. These are the years months I am incredibly thankful that I don’t live in my home country and that I only stream our favorite shows rather than watch all the many commercials on regular TV. It’s election time. It’s slander and demeaning time. It’s when adults who aspire to lead one of the most powerful countries in the world act like immature children pressing each other’s buttons, interrupting, dehumanizing.

And I hate it.

And it’s ugly.

But it is uglier when it turns into we. WE, WE are choosing to be ugly. We are choosing, by engaging in it, by choosing to engage in how the world acts, how the world treats each other. But we know we are not of this world, right? We have no place on this earth to call our home because this is not our home. So why do we engage in such behavior? Why do we champion those who act in such a manner? Why do we allow them, this behavior, this man made system to tear our God designed Church apart?

We are to seek first to understand before being understood. We are to listen, hear and empathize with those around us. We are to humanize them and allow them to share their humanity with us. Why? Because we are followers of Jesus. Because if we do that to even the least of men, we have done it to Christ.

My desire, my plea dear brother or sister of mine in faith in Christ, please stop allowing yourselves to get caught up in this. Not for my sake, but for yours. Not for my sake, but for those who are looking at you as you follow Christ and are watching to see if this Jesus fellow is really all He is said to be. Use the voice that God has given you to be edifiers, encouragers and blessers. The world is full of the opposite, but we are not of this world. We are not of this place. Let us live this way.

 

 

Will Your Last Year Affect Your New One?

It’s that time of year again when Facebook promotes it’s “Your Year in Review” algorithm as well as everyone starting to talk about what resolutions they’ll be making. “Christmas is over, and now, now it’s time to get back to reality and change things that we never got around to changing this past year.” I’ve done this may times before. In years past, I’ve spent a few days around this time of year to pray through and plan out what I’d like to do in the coming year. It could be new opportunities, fitness goals, family goals, or areas I’d like to grow in.

But I’ve noticed a problem. The problem isn’t planning for the coming year, it’s planning without taking an honest look at what just happened in the past 365 days. If I don’t have a clear handle on what has gone on in these past 52 weeks, what makes me think that what I plan will actually happen without being affected by the patterns and habits in my life that are positive and/or negative? The truth is no matter how much I plan, I can’t control everything nor everyone around me. The second truth is if there are things in my past, even this past year, that I haven’t fully dealt with/explored/grieved/understood/acknowledged or reflected on, those things will haunt me in all of my future plans.

I’m not suggesting that my hurts,  hang ups and habits won’t affect me negatively at all if I take the time to examine the past year. I am suggesting that if I don’t take the time to examine, they will have a far greater affect on me this coming year. And it’s not just thinking about and focusing on the bad, it’s also taking the time to celebrate the good that has come about. Perhaps it’s cultural, but it seems we in the West, don’t take time to celebrate the good, no matter how small, that comes into our lives. Especially if that good comes via a path of great pain and difficulty.

Earlier today, I finished going through a set of questions a friend of mine posted to help reflect on this past year. Dr. Steve Brown sent a list of questions as a way to help to navigate the past. He encouraged us to take 60 minutes to do so. Mine took a few hours (it’s been an incredibly hard but formational year for me), and this was just a good start to process what has really gone on. If you don’t have that kind of time, I really encourage you to take 2-3 questions and that 60 minutes and reflect on your year. Even if you think it was the same, mundane year as always, you might be surprised by what has actually gone on under the surface.

I also encourage you to lean into your community/support circle and process through some of this. God designed us for community. Having those around us who can speak truth and an outside perspective is more valuable than the purest gold.

Start by simply writing down things that happened. Think of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Then prayerfully think through these questions and journal your answers. Here are the questions:

  • What’s been hardest?
  • What surprised you most?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • Where did you fail? What did you learn?
  • What’s been disappointing?
  • Who or what do you need to grieve?
  • Where have you been stretched? Where have you grown? What have you learned?
  • What have you been encouraged by? What should you celebrate?
  • Where do you see blessings from waiting? From struggle?
  • Who or what have you invested in?
  • How have you seen God at work?  What have your learned about Him?
  • What’s on God’s heart for you this next year?
  • What are your big priorities for the year ahead?

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For me, I noticed patterns of feeling as though I was in the wilderness and God was silent, lots of time simply waiting and the difficulty of waiting for a guy like me. But through that hardship, I have a greater understanding of peace and trust in Him. This isn’t exhaustive as to what I wrote down, but a good start to the conversation.

     So, what about you? What were things that you noticed? Where was God in all of this? And in what areas did you grow? Sharing our stories and experiences helps us to know we are not alone on the journey!