Monday, October 24, 2005

God Over the Rain

"I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions." -- The Mighty God
"He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." -- Jesus, speaking of the the Mighty God
"The abundant life does not come to the wise because 'the weather that God sends him is good'. The abundant life comes to the wise because he knows that the God over the weather is with him." -- Yours Truly
It was Wednesday morning, and my son, Shade, who is in Kindergarten asked his mom if he could go to school after the bell rang. Upon probing, Shade said that the day before some big fifth grader had "touched him on the shoulders". I was watching the news about Hurricane Wilma, the most powerful hurricane ever seen in recorded history, when mom told me, I decided to escort Shade in to class rather than just dropping him off so that I could kick some fifth grader's butt.
Instead, I escorted him in and took him to Mrs. Hill and had Shade tell her so that she would be aware of the potential problem. While I was in there, Mrs. Hill showed me a pile of Shade's work that I didn't get to see the night before at Open House. I stood alone in her class flipping through his writings, his work, and his illustrations. Mrs. Hill had written titles for each illustration that were given to her by Shade after he drew them. I got to one of those sheets of manila paper with a couple of cool pictures on it. The titles floored me.
One was called "God over the rain" and the other was "Dad alone with God".
I had no immediate introspective epiphany or anything, but I just sat there looking at the pictures...then at the titles...then and the pictures. Something was happening to me that was hard to describe. It involved joy, but not from just one source. I had joy because these pictures are obviously somewhere inside of my son. I had joy because my son, who has tons of pictures inside of that imaginative heart of his, when choosing to draw anything, chose to draw those. I had joy because of the truth that was contained in them that is bigger than the pictures themselves, and bigger than Shade (or I) consciously knows. I also had wonder...and it, also, was not from just one source. I wonder at how these pictures got inside my boy. I wondered what it meant that they are in there. I wondered why I was standing there experiencing them on this day. And I was grateful...and yes, for more than one thing. I was grateful that my boy has those pictures in him, grateful he expresses them, grateful for sense of wonder and awareness and curiosity it gave me for the day.
A few hours later, Doyle, my friend and the worship leader I work for (and sometimes with), came in and said the word "Immanuel". I knew that he was suggesting this particular name of Jesus (which means "God with Us") as the focus of that night's devotion, which was great, but also did me some serious good personally in conjunction with what I was listening for because of Shade's pictures.
I know there is a mighty God, the God over the Rain, more powerful than the most awesome forces of nature that humanity has ever or will ever see. And my life has been and still is a longing to know that Mighty Being, to be special to Him, to matter to Him, to love Him, and to be with Him. And I have done many, many things...good and bad, and mostly get to Him. But today, God has reminded me personally...through my son, through the weather, through my work, and through my friend...that it is HE who longs to be with ME. And that He wants it, has done it, and is doing it. He is Immanuel. He is with me.
I didn't even have to slow down and reelect on it to know and remember instantly what direct, practical effect it has on me to know this either. He showed me right in the same experience of my son.
My son, who showed some signs of hesitation (but not defiance or paralyzing fear) about wanting to go to school before the bell rang, stopped even thinking about the 5th grader as an issue to be dealt with when I told him that I was coming into class. Instead, his attention turned fully and joyfully and passionately to that single fact... that his dad would be with him. His hesitation that he most assuredly, I'm convinced, could have and would have "handled" on his own as he went where he had to go was replaced by excitement, confidence, and eagerness to just go, because his dad was with Him.
That's exactly what happened, and what happens, to me. I only rarely experience outright defiance or paralyzing fear. I think my Enemy knows by now that I turn shamelessly and dependently to God in the face of those situations. He now challenges me with small things, that just make me hesitating, to get me to appeal to my Self to "be strong" or come up with some strategy to "deal with the problems" on my own as I go where I have to go. But when I live fully present in the reality that the powerful God Over the Rain is with me, I can't even see the problems I get so excited to just go... with excitement, confidence, and eagerness...simply because God is with me.
So simple.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Scholarship, Lectureship, or Relationship

This piece is a longer than usual, and has taken me days to put together, but I think it is now what it is supposed to be. Read it when you have an extra minute...and I'd love to hear what it brings up in you.


"Which is more influential and life changing for you personally -- relationship or lectureship? Does being deeply moved by a really awesome sermon typically equate to being moved into action? Do you feel as though God exerts more life changing influence through your investment of time, resources and energy into preaching to the masses or through your investment of time, resources and energy into this small church you've planted? Do your passions and investments reflect your answer?" - a question posed to me by my friend, Chuck Griffin


"I am He who instantly enables the humble mind to understand more about eternal truth than could be learned by studying ten years in schools." -- Thomas a' Kempis, reflecting what he heard from God


"Perhaps some have been called to find great satisfaction in their service to God through lectureship. Maybe some will make their mark for the Kingdom through scholarship. While both of these are a part of my life's work, neither of them can contain or be my life's work. Neither of them can by themselves contain my passion for life (and sometimes, quite honestly, when I elevate them above their proper place, actually sap my passion for life!). My impact, if I am to have any impact at all, and my satisfaction in Christ, if I am to have any satisfaction at all, will be through relationship." -- Yours Truly


For just over a year, I have been a preacher.


One of the inward struggles I have is the constant conflict between two priorities. My clear call and desire to have my life be defined by the priority of relationships, and my clear duty to produce a "quality sermon" each week.


I didn't know these two things would clash when I began in this new post, and it is true that I could (and still can) logically explain their co-existence in a way that they don't have to (i.e.: "your sermons help you earn your right to be heard in your relationships" & "your relationships make your sermons more effective because they know your heart."). And I did so, to myself and others, throughout the whole year. But in my heart, they clashed like two white knights claiming that the other was a fraud and in the way of his work. What can I say? It doesn't really matter if they should or not, the fact is they did. And all this despite my constant best efforts and prayers.


Imagine a guy preparing for a sermon, but feeling like he needed to be investing in relationships. Then watch that same guy get up and leave his office and invest in relationships, but carry with him a nagging feeling of needing to prepare for a sermon. This was present, in one way or another, in almost every moment of my life this past year. The first one showed up externally through things like my constantly accepting (and craving) interruptions from people, studying "out loud" with anyone who would listen, and working on it late at night when fewer people were available to be loving on directly anyway.  The second manifested through my hurrying through conversations when they didn't seem "spiritually productive" enough, little snide comical comments to people about the horrible albatross of having to prepare a sermon (there is a little truth in every "joke"), and saying no to relational ministry and family opportunities because my stress was mounting.


Needless to say, this wasn't working. But I "made it work" (which doesn't work), because I felt selfish and petty about wishing for better (imagine me complaining to my 91-year-old Louisiana hurricane victim friend (see my "Finding Frank" blog entry) about my high-stress struggle of deciding between studying the Word of God for people or acting out the Word of God to people. Poor me!)


Add one more subtlety here to the mix: there is also the regular thought that it would be good to continue my education. I am admittedly under-educated (as far as formal scholarship goes) compared to most of my peers who do what I do, and that makes some nervous about my lack of knowledge, my future career stability/marketability, and credibility with intellectually impressive audiences. 


Three weeks of total freedom from this tension came in August, when my elders sent me into a sabbatical from my regular duties. It was during this time that I realized what I was living with (and making everyone else live with). It became increasingly clear that I had no real choice if I wanted to be faithful to God's call: I am to make my impact through a 100% commitment to relationships. So it seemed to me that my choice was clear...I had to quit preaching in order to quit compromising...


Yeah, that thought only lasted about a fraction of a second before I admitted that that was the wussy, not faith-filled, way out. Quitting preaching, while it would get rid of the temptation to elevate lectureship impact over relationship impact (and ease the presumed necessity of increasing my scholarship impact), assumed that there was no way to be 100% relationally focused AND preach on Sunday, too. So I decided I need to give my God a chance to show me that He is bigger than I give Him credit for.


I'm a little nervous to admit it, but since September, I have given up on "sermon prep" as I formally knew it. I now strive to focus in every moment on the people who are with me in those moments. I strive to be fully present and available for them, giving all that I am to them completely. Whether it is my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my co-workers, a stranger or just myself, I want to be totally "awake" to what is going on in and around us...totally awake to what the Spirit of God is inviting me to give and do and be and become, and be very spontaneously responsive to it all.


There hasn't been much of an outward change, really. But what has happened inside of me has been incredible (and it has nothing to do with the quality of my sermons since I've committed to this). It has been liberating, freeing, costly, fear-conquering, insecurity-demolishing, ego-killing, joy-filled, life-giving and self-sacrificing. In other words, it has been "Christ-like".


My friend and Life Coach, who played no small part in ushering me to this jump of faith, sent an email that describes well what this feels/felt like on my first Sunday home from sabbatical, and also articulates well why I am requesting every one of you to find your next step of Christ-likeness and take it. The life that Christ promises to bring you and give you is just beyond it.


"Today Brian is giving his first "unprepared," or make that "less-prepared-feeling" message to his congregation.  What this means is that he has resisted the habitual temptation to put the bulk of his time this past week into "message preparation," and has instead devoted himself and the bulk of his time to loving like Christ did - first God, then himself and his family, then his ministry leadership team, then the people God sent to Him during his walk through the week, thereby spending his time and energy in a deeper kind of "preparation."  It's definitely not about defiantly "not preparing;" it's about preparing better, and differently.  Be that as it may, I know he feels a little naked and unprepared this morning as he prays, as if he has shirked or slighted a major job responsibility.  But I know that he hasn't.  I know Brian's servant heart.  I reminded him Friday that he is surrendering to being "called by God" to "be a shepherd," according to the model of His Son, vs.. surrendering to being "required by man" to "do a job" in a certain prescribed way, and that he has never been better "prepared" to be used by God, for His glory.  Please pray for Brian this morning, that he might empty himself completely and, as a clean and perfectly prepared vessel, God will fill him up and use him as a wide and deep channel through which He pours His abundant blessings on everyone He touches through His words." -- Jim Spivey 


I'm still a baby in this new venture of faith for me, facing my fear of failure weekly, denying myself the option of "preparing out of fear", and weekly wondering if I'll be able to do it again.


This is the life, people...the one where you really need God to show up for you and you depend on Him to...and He does. Every time.


What is your next step. Stop struggling with it and take it.