Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Full of Names

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another." - Jesus

"You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. In fact, you do love... Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more." - Jesus' disciple, Paul
"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart." - Jesus' disciple, Peter

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers." - Jesus' disciple, John
"Offering courageous and intimate love to another person is the only thing that has ever, ever worked in any of my disciple-making efforts. And it is the only thing that has ever, ever hurt." - Jesus' disciple, Brian
There is an email that I have been writing in my draft box that brings tears to my eyes.
It is full of names.
They are the names of people that I am attempting to have at least some level of intimate, loving, mutually serving, ultimately transforming relationship with.
It is a list that is full of emotion for me. Uncensored words that attempt a description of such emotion would include longing, closeness, leaven, endearment, hurt, disappointment, regret, care, too many, too much, not enough time, inadequate, fear, loss, potential, "if only I did more", laughter, awe, difficulty, conflict, woundedness, gratitude, acceptance, unconditional, affirmation, guilt, duty, joy, falling short, over shooting, expecting too much, despair, belief, quitting, apathy, giving up, re-engaging, spread too thin, mistakes, breakthroughs, speechlessness, secrets, confession, truth, freedom...Christ.
I have a weakness for people. It compels me to want to be with them, to hear their hearts, to see their worlds, to understand their perspectives, to give them mine in some hope that it can make a meaningful difference in their lives. It also compels me to want to avoid them, to avoid their hearts, to ignore their worlds, to judge their perspectives, and give them mine in some impersonal, matter-of-fact way in some hope that it will deflect them from inconveniencing me with the mess of their lives. And this puts me face to face with myself and my God, smack dab in the middle of the "every-single-moment" battle of deciding who I am gonna be.
In short, it gives me life.
I haven't started this other email, but there is another one that would be much longer that lists the names of people who I have had (in the past, as opposed to currently) some level of intimate, loving, mutually serving, ultimately transforming relationship with.
It is a list that is full of even more emotion for me. Especially when I see them again, or run into them, or get to catch up a bit. It's almost like time-warping back and meeting my younger self when I interact with (or just remember) someone who was known and loved by my younger self. The uncensored word list would include all the words above with maybe 4 times the the intensity. I don't know why the past names drum up more intensity, I only know that it is so.
There is a third one that I can't write, but it exists nonetheless. I don't even know the people yet who would be on an email listing the names of those who I am about to meet in the future who I will have some level of intimate, loving, mutually serving, ultimately transforming relationship with. So while there is not emotion welling up for these unknown people, the emotion wells up by the thought of the sheer amount of them coming.
Add to that, that I have forgotten more people's names than I have remembered, and I have remembered hundreds. When you are weak to people, there are a whole lot of people to love. And the less biased/prejudiced you are about who you will love, the larger the pool of people around you that you are weak to. And the deeper you go in any one of them, the more you realize just how much they (and you) needed someone to "go there" with them, and how important it is that they never are abandoned or betrayed. And the follow up that any one of them might need from the person who "loved them there" is potentially endless.
It is immense. 
Not to mention the fact that my love for people gets me into a whole lot of trouble. I am constantly asking people to trust me (which seems to be something most struggle with), and I am constantly trusting people and by doing so, asking them to be trustworthy (which is also something most struggle to be). And since this kind of relational capacity with people seems to represent a persons relational capacity with God, I am always asking them to trust others (which puts these that "struggle to trust" with those people who "struggle to be trustworthy").
It gets me into a whole lot of trouble.
I think it would easier if I would chill out on this intimate community thing. My days would be more predictable. My life would be more manageable. My nights would be less interruptible. My production (on things more measurable) would be more efficient. My hands would look a lot cleaner, my shirt would be less bloody, my mind would have fewer names, my lunches and coffees spent with fewer people more often. My email wouldn't take so long, my phone wouldn't ring so much, my home and office doors wouldn't swing so much, and my heart wouldn't either. I think it would be easier if I would chill out..."man up" on this weakness for people thing.
And if I could think of any other "less messy, less death-defying" way to make disciples of Jesus Christ, I would. But I haven't found one. See, the fact is that this is not really a "weakness" for people, it's a "priority" of people. And discipleship is always about transformation of people. And transformation of people requires loving people in the deep waters of their hearts. And that kind of scuba-diving adventure, should you decide to accept it, comes with some "water pressure". It's just part of it. And not quite as un-navigatable as you might think.
So I love people. And my love for people is right and good. I don't always love them right and best, but my love for them is right and good. I don't always prioritize those people just right or perfectly, but my priority for people is right and good.
Even the trouble it gets me into I love. Sharing in life with those God puts in my path gives me feelings, even when it is painful, that reminds me I'm alive. I have company at every turn. Offering spiritual friendship is all I want to do and it is all that has ever, ever worked to make my life look like anything at all resembling the word "good".
And those lists of names, and my unattainable desire to love them all in some direct, interpersonal, and intimate way that shows them what God is like, and what He thinks of them, and that He offers them the best possible way to live, and that it will last for eternity, and that it will never stop getting better...wow...I love it. I love that it is my desire, and I love that it is unattainable. I don't know why I love it, I just know that it is so.
And I live this way quite intentionally and crystal clear that I will get better and better at it, and will help others do the same, and that my longing to be in intimate community with every single person that I ever meet, because I love them so, will be satisfied...
...in Heaven.
As a matter of fact, that is my description of Heaven. Perfect loving relationship with God and everyone, and e everything, with an eternity to express it and enjoy it, and never exhausting how close and how much love we can feel and express...doubling it daily, maybe hourly, forever and ever. World without end. Amen.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I needed him to say it 22 times

"How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man." - King David

It has been a long, long time since I've had one of my middle-of-the night wake up calls from God. But I had one last night.
It was 3:30am, and there I was wide awake. It is a very unusual experience for me to wake up in the middle of the night. Every time, when I assume it is from God, and am faithful in getting up, going to my prayer room and either opening my Bible, sitting in contemplative silence, or journaling to one of my kids, or some similar quiet exercise...I am surprised by some Word from God that is personal, timely, exciting, comforting,and or directing.
As I lied awake in bed, feeling that familiar feeling, I expended the energy to remember some of those times.
Like the time when I was struggling with my "public speaking" ministry. I was avoiding "speaking engagements" as much as was possible without being outright and obviously neglectful of my youth ministry in Houston. In addition to the normal speaking expectations and necessities involved in being a youth minister, I was sitting in the tension of being invited to speak abroad (which stroked my ego) and wanting to be humble (which was the spiritual way of saying 'no'...when what I was really afraid of was "failing", which would've crushed my ego). Years of this being semi-navigatable climaxed with a few months of intensity due to the increased frequency of saying "no", moving me to really needing a specific word from God to trust and obey, regardless of the cost or consequence to my self (and self-image), taking me and my judgment out of it. Then it happened...the wake up call. I forced myself out of bed, asked God what He wanted, then opened my Bible and cast my eyes on these words: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." Wow. It was just icing to note that 1) these were words of Jesus, 2) spoken to Paul "one night in a vision".
I obeyed. It was hard. It took faith. And I have been healed. I am still speaking, faithful to that Word, regardless of the inward fears that still sometimes come. For me, it is a personal inside joke between me and my Father, and a tribute to His power and glory, that I am now a preacher.
Then there was the time that is more sentimental to me than it is "amazing". My wife and I were about to have our second child, and we were looking for names (we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl) that we thought were both 1) cool and unique and 2) spiritually inspiring and meaningful. We were really stuck. Then it happened...wide awake in the middle of the night. I forced myself out of bed (which is the only way I can get out of bed in the middle of the night - a legitimate and begrudged step of faith required of me for these treasures that only later am I grateful for), and went to the prayer room. I don't want to imply that these sweet words always come from "randomly opening the Bible", but I did it this time, too. I skeptically squinched up my face when I opened to I Kings 7 and started reading one of those boring parts of the Bible where it's outlining the dimensions, workers, and items surrounding the building of the Solomon's Temple. I almost tried again, turning to the New Testament, hoping to hit the gospels for a word from Christ, but decided to read on and "see what happened." My eyes got to a weird pause in the details about the 2 bronze pillars erected on the porch of the temple, where Solomon named one of of them Jakin and one of them Boaz. I glided by it, but couldn't keep the name Jakin from ringing in my head. I looked up it's meaning, which is "God Establishes." Great meaning, but I wasn't sold on it. The next morning, my wife had the same reaction. But it grew on us over the following weeks to a weird place of really loving it. So much so, that we used it in both our boy and girl names. Jakin Major for a boy, which means "God establishes greatness", and Callie Jakin for a girl, which means "The beauty that God establishes." We had a girl. Then 2 years later, we had another boy. We used both names. While that's valuable enough a gift between me and my Father, I expect I have yet to see the glorious reason He had us give them that name. And I expect I will learn that in and through my children as they grow up with those names.
There are more...but you get the point. So let me tell you what happened last night. 
Nothing at all. You know why? Because I rolled over and waited out my "wide-awakeness" for 45 minutes to get back to sleep.
And this morning...I am full of regret. I feel like a man in poverty, who didn't have to be. A feel like scarcity is upon me like a bandit, and it is due to my own faithless laziness. How often does God interrupt my sleep? Not often. How many times has He proven faithful to give me the riches of His Presence expressed to me in some unspeakable and personal way? Every one of the few times.
Twenty one times I find the words "get up!" spoken by Jesus. I've read all of them before. Many, many times in all of their various contexts.
But today I am getting my own personal set of those words, from my Lord, for my own personal context. I guess I needed him to say it 22 times.