Friday, September 28, 2007

Maturing to Demand Nothing

"I have never known the freedom of undemanding love like we are experiencing." - My friend who lost his young son, concerning the love he is receiving from the family of Jesus.
"I am trying to give everything and require nothing." - My friend who is fighting for his fragile marriage and family, and learning how to be a Christ-like husband to his wife and father to his children.
We are so convinced that we need something from someone that we expend incredible amounts of time, energy and effort to get it. Be it through persuasion, manipulation, rallying opinion leaders to our side, throwing fits, hostile takeovers, emotional blackmail or whatever...some do it as second nature and have stopped even noticing it in themselves or others, let alone confronting it in order to consider a better way of life.
Have you ever know the freedom of undemanding love?
Do you know the freedom of giving undemanding love?
After growing up in my particular brand of dysfunctional family (we all have one), I was convinced that I needed my family to change in order to have peace, joy, and contentedness. So I expended incredible amounts of time, energy, and effort thinking about it and trying to get it. I had plenty of other things to do, but underneath was this undone thing that I really thought I needed. It was the day in history when I explosively "felt" the undemanding love of God that I began the journey of letting all that go. Sure enough, not only do I not need my family to change a thing for me to be happy, but I could still care deeply about them changing without ever needing it to happen. Ironically, I think I became the best change agent possible for a human being on the day that I stopped needing anyone in my family to change.
My next challenge was the first cousin of this one, although I couldn't see its relation at all, and would've argued against it, at the time. See, my family's dysfunction brought out the very best of my church family's dysfunction toward us. So while I didn't need anyone to change "for me", I started working for and with my church family to change "for the world". I was convinced that I needed the church to change in order to have peace, joy and contentedness. So I expended incredible amounts of time, energy, and effort thinking about it and trying to get it. I had plenty of other things to do, but underneath was this undone thing that I really thought I needed. It was the day in history when I "saw" that the connection between my "needing my family to change" and "needing my church family to change" was the same tune, different verse. So I applied the same undemanding love that God gave me, and that I gave my family, to the church. Ironically, once I didn't "need" the church to change (and again, it had nothing to do with apathy), I think I became the best change agent possible that a human being can be for the church.
I believe that God sent me a family that "needs fixing" and a church family that "needs fixing" so that he could engage in his beautiful work of fixing me. Not that I'm fixed, or that he is done, but I give Him the glory that I am past the days where I am, as a rule, ignorant of myself when I'm feeling any need from anyone for anything.
Having said that, I want all of you, my friends who read this, to know something.
- I love you just the way you are. I promise to always do so.
- I have no expectation of nor do I need you to change one thing one thing for me to love you and appreciate you in all the beauty that God has placed in you.
- I desire with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength for you to change - in any way that will give you more peace, joy, and "life" - and would do anything for you to be able to do so (except need you to do it).
- I will always look behind your behavior for it's motivation, and will assume that it makes perfect sense - no matter how bizarre or irrational it appears to you or anyone else - once I love you enough to understand you.
- And I will reflect back what I see to you for your (and my) continued healing, whenever, but only if, I feel invited to do so.
This is my loving resolve and commitment to my family (which now includes my own wife and children), to my church family (past, present, and future), and to anyone in the whole world who finds their way into my life (and I into theirs).
And finally, as I finish this piece where I sound so sure of myself and so confident and committed, let me give you this story as an offering of my continued weakness in this realm...
I was at lunch with a friend yesterday. He and I are both leaving next week for trips out of country to love in the name of Christ. He has become one of my favorite people to hang with. He is not from my family or church family, but is one of those "in the whole world" who stumbled into relationship with me, and he has been a very large highlight of my life over the last year. He has ushered me into his relationships, too. I have been blessed to meet his mother, step-father, his son from a past life, his office, his friends. We both think way more highly of the other than either of us think of ourselves, and in relationships like that, you can demand from each other without being demanding.
I was feeling quite lively yesterday as we talked, and as I was "reflecting back to him" what I was hearing him say in a somewhat comical and condemning fashion, and we shared in the laughter that comes from honesty, truth, being uncensored, and having total acceptance and undemanding love for one another (in other words, "brotherhood"), I said, "It's hard to be friends with me sometimes, isn't it?"
Looking back on that quick, spur-of-the-moment question, I think I was feeling a little insecure. I think I was still "needing him to be okay with me" the way I am (the way I described in those 5 points of resolve listed above). I would hate for anyone to feel like it's hard to be friends with me. But to demand that everyone (or anyone, for that matter) say that it's not hard to be friends with me would not be the undemanding love that I myself am so desperate for, and am doing my best to offer to the world.
Shew! It's a life-long journey, isn't it? And I praise God that there is always more ground to take, and that He intends on taking it, without needing me to.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Definition of Terms

"A pessimist, they say, sees a glass of water as being half empty; an optimist sees the same glass as half full. But a giving person sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty."G. Donald Gale
"Half full." - The saying on the front of one my shirts with a half glass of water on it
"Cool...a cup that can hold water when we find some." - The saying that comes to the mind of an optimist when the glass is empty
On a scale of one to being worthless (even damaging) and ten being useful (even life-giving)...
If "optimism" is the denial of reality for the sake of avoiding pain: [1]
If "optimism" is the acknowledgment that there is good and usefulness in everything: [10]
If "idealism" is the imagining of how it "should be" in order to accuse the world and excuse oneself from having it: [1]
If "idealism" is the imagining of how it "should be" in order to be inspired to conform oneself to it: [10]
If "giving" is done out of guilty obligation, legalistic righteousness, or to feel better about oneself: [1]
If "giving" is done out of the discovery that sacrificial love is the best, most rewarding possible life available to a human being: [10]
If "judgment" is the determination of what is right and wrong in people's lives and behavior [1].
If "judgment" is the determination of how to best love other people most profoundly despite what is right and wrong in their lives and behavior [10].
If "critical thinking" is primarily used to "point out what is wrong". [1]
If "critical thinking" is used to determine "what I need to be". [10]
If "unconditional acceptance" is the decision to not care how anyone else lives for the sake of being okay with them [1].
If "unconditional acceptance" is the caring so much that I can attach to anyone because of my realizing I have nothing personally at stake because of how anyone else lives [10].
If "giving everyone the dignity to choose" means "do it my way or your free to leave." [1]
If "giving everyone the dignity to choose" means "I'm striving to living life at ever-increasing levels of truth and love, and I'd love for you to join me, but no pressure." [10]
If "telling the truth" is the blunt, careless, and uncensored speaking of my mind. [1]
If "telling the truth" is the loving exposure of the introspective searching of my heart for the purpose of being a loving mirror for a friend or to engage in the humble, confessional healing of my own heart. [10]
If "spreading the word" is the academic teaching that certain religious practices, outward sacraments, and accurate doctrinal beliefs are the means of getting to heaven. [1]
If "spreading the word" is the sharing of Jesus Christ's message, Jesus Christ's heart, Jesus Christ's mission, Jesus Christ's priorities, Jesus Christ's character, and Jesus Christ's life that can be enjoyed here and lasts on into eternity. [10]
If "grace" doesn't include "truth", it's not really grace. [so...1]
If "truth" doesn't include "grace", it's not really truth. [so...1]
If the balance of grace and truth is trying to do 50 percent of each in every relationship. [1]
If the balance of grace and truth is figuring out how to be 100 percent of both. [10]
If "seeking to understand another" is the listening to others and applying your own definition of terms to what they are saying in order to hold them accountable for "what they said." [1]
If "seeking to understand another" is the holistic hearing of another person's heart regardless of the words they use and definitions they attach to it in order to "be with them right where they are at". [10]
And if "writing these emails" is the arrogant attempt to convince everyone that I am right about something. [1]
But if "writing these emails" is the humble attempt at putting words to the ideas and thoughts I am having, right on the front edge of my discovering or considering them, in an effort to give myself to people and receive from them their input, challenges, and affirmations as I seek to live life at ever-increasing levels of truth. [10]
I love you all.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I asked "the questions"

A couple of months ago, when I was giving a talk to the band of Christians I run with up here in Amarillo, I asked everyone to go home and ask some important questions (based on some of Paul's relational teachings in Colossians 4) to some important people in their life.
Wives, ask your husbands: "Where do you not feel respected by me?"
Husbands, ask your wives: "Where do you feel unsafe with me?"
Children, ask your parents: "Where have I been disobedient?" or "Where do you not feel honored by me?"
Parents, ask your children: "Where have I been a discouragement to you?"
Employees, ask your bosses: "Do you feel I work for your success or just mine?"
Bosses, ask your employees: "Do I treat you rightly and fairly?"
I asked my passion makes her feel unsafe. I don't know if you've noticed, but I get pretty passionate about stuff. From my view of myself, I have very few actual convictions, but the ones I have run really deep. I'm not saying this is a positive thing. I'm not saying it's negative either. I'm not even saying that it's accurate. I'm just saying that this is my current view of myself. At any rate, when an idea comes my way that taps into the deep convictions of my life, I get very excited about it and speak with a lot of excitement and a desire to act. When I do this with my wife, it feels as if my commitment to the idea is bigger than my commitment to her, her feelings, her opinions, her desires. I don't like making my wife feel unsafe with me.
I asked my dad...this was a tough one for me, because my dad has had to face my deepest convictions (read: judgments) where I made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that I felt he wasn't measuring up. I am absolutely certain I have not handled myself with him as Christ would have on way too many occasions, and am equally sure that I have blind spots about this. Whether his answer to me was flowing from his grace or not, which he has much of, I'm not sure. But dad said that even when we had hot disagreements, he never felt dishonored by me in them. He knew that my intent was from love and conviction. This was a cool word from my dad, as you might imagine. On the disobedience realm, he remembers when asking (read: demanding) his sons go and clean their rooms, my older brother would angrily go do it, but throw his toys around in the doing of it in obvious displeasure; my younger brother would feel the threat of a spanking and hop instantly to it in fearful urgency, but also with coercion. But I would hop and bounce happily to my room with a compliant "okay!" and a smile, only to go to my room and play rather than clean. Yeah, he laughed about it now. I don't think it was quite as funny back then. (see Mt. 21:28-31)
I asked my ministry assistant...she said yes. And it was cool, because she came into me first and asked me her question. I said that I feel she works very hard for my success, and all those she serves. Even those with whom she is justifiably frustrated with, I see her working for their success. She did tell me of one time when she felt like I asked her a question about her work environment that instilled hope in her for a change that would have greatly served her family, that I never then acted on. Not a huge deal, she said, but hey...I asked.
I asked my mom...And when I asked her, I worded the question, "How have you felt dishonored by me." She first dulled the blow for me by saying, "I would say, how I have 'not felt honored' - because I haven't felt dishonored by you." This was a cool word from my mom, too, as you can imagine. But she did say, very humbly, and not wanting to be a complainer that she felt like the only thing she has asked of me these days is a weekly phone call...and that she feels not honored when weeks go by and I have not honored that request. I was very humbled by this, open and receptive enough, and maybe, finally, grown up enough to not excuse myself for this dishonor of my mom. I have no excuse except that my life is my own, and undisciplined, and forgetful concerning this simple, unimposing request. It even took me asking about it for her to mention it. I'm sorry, mom, and ask your forgiveness, and commit "in front of" all these friends to serve you in such a way. It certainly is no burden when I talk with you, quite the contrary, it is a joy and a pleasure. For one thing, I don't have a bigger fan in the world, and for another, your depth of insight and willingness to explore all things is a delight. And for another thing, you make it easy and guilt-free to hang up when I need to. So know that you are doing your part, and my oversight is not a commentary on your worth, nor is it because you are some sort of burden.
I asked my bosses...but I have eleven that could be considered bosses of the traditional sort, and I hope to be sharpened and humbled, and hopefully affirmed, too, by their answers. But I will tell you here and now, it is because they don't treat me rightly and fairly, but with far too much grace and favor, balanced with relational challenges of honest truth and feedback always packaged in love, that makes me their biggest fan. They are godly men...all. And we at the Southwest church who have them as our Shepherds and trust them with our hearts know how blessed we are. And I am glad to suffer all the accusations of kissing up that I will receive from many of you (if history continues to repeat itself...hahaha) in order to say it of them. Because it is true.
I asked my kids... They are seven, five, and three (actually, Jakin 4 as of Monday, but he was three 2 months ago). I had them to myself one night, having sent their mother away for an exciting weekend with a friend, and I isolated each one of them and asked them their question. All of their answers boiled down to this: "When you don't play with me." Wow. I learn so much from them...they are my best teachers. I remember a wise old great-grandfather, when I was having my first child and collecting wisdom from the experienced, told me with tears in his eyes as if he wished someone had told him when he had kids: "Just play with them, Brian. Play with them." I can barely hold it together thinking about the profound wisdom in that, and the bloody battle I have to engage in within myself to honor it's simplicity.
May Christ my King continue growing me up into living as one of his subjects...a Kingdom citizen...expressed in every relationship that I will ever have. And may he do so in you.
Some call this kind of introspection "work". Some call it a beatdown. Some call it grueling. I guess, in a way, that is accurate. But I do it all gladly for the joy set before me that can only be had through it.
So I call it life to the full.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Being For Something vs. Being Against Something

Note: I wrote this email many months ago, put it in my drafts, and for some reason decided to send it today.
"When a man stands 'for' something, he stands 'against' an unspeakable number of other things without mentioning one of them. When a man stands 'against' some one thing, he stands 'against' that one thing more than he stands 'for' anything." - Yours Truly
I have a question for you (me). I want you (me) to think about this very seriously. Lay down all pride, all pretense, all needs to appear to be a certain thing to anyone at all, and all needs to be understood by anyone at all. Then take out a pencil (you (I) always want to be able to erase when answering questions like this in writing), and answer this:
In your heart, are you defined by what you are 'for' or by what you are 'against'?
People who are defined by what they are 'for' can easily answer (and gravitate towards) questions like:
What are you for?
What are you promoting?
What do you wish for others?
What would you love the world to have?
Who embodies what you stand for and are trying to become?
What are you doing to move forward?
Who are your intimate allies in your life and why?
What is your mission in life?
What is your vision for accomplishing it?
What was your last step?
What is your next step?
What factors will show you when to take it?
How do I connect my life to what you are about and why should I?
People who are defined by what they are 'against' easily answer (and gravitate towards) questions like:
What are you against?
What "promotings" do you resent?
Who do you dislike?
Why do you dislike them?
What would you love to see eradicated from the world?
Who embodies what you know to be wrong?
Who 'agrees with you' and who 'agrees with them/it'?
How is your mission superior to another person's mission?
What was the last thing done wrong?
Where do think the things being done wrong will naturally lead?
I'm not saying that the second list of questions aren't good questions. I'm saying they can become a persons primary outlet for making a difference in the world, and that they are extremely inferior to the first set. 
I regularly am told of people who perceive that what I am 'for' might be dangerous and even harmful to others (either in this life or the next). If this is true, then I am dangerous and harmful to others, because I think without hesitation that what I am 'for' is unstoppably good news for every single human being. I think it is the best possible life available to anyone and everyone, and I am using every bit of my energy in promoting, advancing, and sharing it with as many people as possible and who are willing.
What am I to do with people who challenge the good-ness of what I am for? In keeping with what I am for, humility and conviction both demand that I will 1) honor their fears by examining my heart to see if there is anything impure motivating what I offer, 2) embrace anything truthful in what they say, even if how or why they said it was impurely or poorly done, 3) let the truth influence and transform me in my ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and then 4) honor their (and my) free-will and self-responsibility and continue to offer the life of Christ undaunted. you primarily find yourself 'for' something or 'against' something?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I am on Cloud Nine!

"Let's make disciples of Christ through authentic and real relationships with people." - Yours truly, to the Southwest Church
"Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." - Paul, to the Philippian Church
"I appeal to you, brothers, that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." - Paul, to the Corinthian church
"May they be brought to complete unity. -  The prayer of Jesus Christ, concerning all of his followers
"I have come to find, as a builder and leader of spiritual communities today, that [shared visionis still one of the most important distinctions and vital characteristics of self-sustaining effectiveness and success in organizations." - My friend and coach, Jim Spivey
"A shared vision is not an idea.  It is not even an important idea such as freedom.  It is, rather, a force in people's hearts, a force of impressive power.  It may be inspired by one person's idea, but once it goes further - if it is compelling enough to acquire the support of more than one person - then it is no longer an abstraction.  It becomes palpable.  People begin to see it as if it exists.  Few, if any, forces in human affairs is as powerful as shared vision." - Peter Senge
"I am starting a Lifegroup with 5 couples. And I have started a men's group. We have been meeting for 4 weeks. There are 2 of us right now, and we will share the intimate community we are enjoying with a few others when it is time." - a paraphrase of my Elder and shepherd, Billy Burr
For those of you who know me, the 7 quotes above are enough explanation for why my heart is sky-high after the conversation I had (that I quoted above) with my 75-year-old friend and elder today. It might be little more dramatically clear if you read the first quote (which is our church's vision) and then read the last one (which is a leader of our church conforming his actual life to that vision).
I have this vision. It's not mine, but I have been totally captured by it, and can't seem to be loosed from it's grip (and I don't want to be. But it seems this vision is viciously opposed and assaulted all the if the whole world conspires and has it's face set against it). I think my slavery to this vision of becoming and making imitators of Christ comes from a brilliantly mixed "life-cocktail" which includes the combination of 1) my life experience, 2) my ensuing salvation from that life experience by Christ, 3) my continuing Bible study, and 4) the commitment to finding whatever it is that brings me the most abundant life to my heart.
End result? "Let's make followers of Christ through intimate and unconditional community with people."
Now...the word "let's" can be deceiving. I can live out this vision out by myself. Well, sort of. Of course, I need at least one other person with whom to be in intimate community with. But what I don't need is the leadership of any church I serve to agree with it and conform their lives to it for me to live it out. Hear me...I'm not being defiant...all I am saying is that I am self-responsible by God's design, and I can personally and humbly live out the vision of offering myself to my world, creating an atmosphere where we can all become more like Christ, all by myself. If I'm not doing it, there is no one, including those in authority over me at my church, whom I can blame.
However...if, in any season of life (such as the one I am in now), the call from God is to have this as a "shared vision" at one of His kingdom outposts (church)...well, then...I would need to use the world "let's"...I'd need other self-responsible people, leaders of the church preferably, to also personally and humbly offer themselves to people in their world, creating an atmosphere where they can all become more like Christ.
All of the elders and ministers at the Southwest Church of Christ made an agreement a few months ago. A commitment to conform the reality of our lives to the agreed upon vision of our lives...that is, to make disciples of Jesus Christ through authentic friendships. So, to have our oldest elder come in today, sit down across from me, offer intimate community to me, and then explain how he is making good, taking seriously, and conforming his actual life to that commitment in such a sacrificial and intentional way...
I'm getting choked up just typing it out. I'm scared to death that the simplicity of his actions will dilute the power of them. Our vision is "our stated vision" when we agree intellectually upon it, which we have done. Our vision is what Peter Senge calls "our shared vision" only when all of us leaders leaders die to it and give their lives to the tangible, palpable reality of our actual schedules and lives.
As Billy so "matter-of-factly-isn't-everyone-doing-what-we-said-we-would-do" spoke of how he has 3 times read the latest book given to our leadership team on the subject, and how he is starting two different sets of weekly, relational, transformational gatherings of people, and how he is depending on the Spirit to identify and send him one more couple who "needs it" to join his couple's group, and how he's training the young man in his men's group to be open to God using him to invite the next man who "needs it" to his men's group, I had to just interrupt him...
I got up out of my seat, went over to where he was sitting, put my arms around him, and burying my face into his shoulder said... "Thank you." 


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reasonable or Faith-full

"Do what you like. Like what you do." - the saying sewn onto a little tag on the tail of the new new shirt I'm wearing today.
"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." - Paul, in Ephesians 4:1
"Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot." - the title of a book that I haven't read

This morning, my son Shade came into my room and pushed me out of his way so he could sneak onto the edge of my bed. Usually he just falls back to sleep, but this morning he asks, "Do I have BMX biking practice this afternoon?"
"No. You have football practice," I sleepily mumble. Unfortunately, the BMX track is only open at certain times, so we can't go ride when it is convenient for us.
His mom added, "There are some parents of kids who grew up to ride BMX professionally who told me about practice stuff you can do at home. Like riding really fast, standing up, up and down the street. Also, doing push ups help you with your 'pumping' the handlebars."
Upon hearing that, my son, at 6:30am, when he is usually barely functional (like his dad), says quietly, "Dad, can I open your cell phone for some light? I'm going do some push ups right now."
We have found one of Shade's "sweet spots". 
In the movie, Meet the Robinsons, a little orphan boy who is constantly and passionately "inventing things", most of which don't work, can't seem to get adopted because all the mom's and dad's that interview him want to know what traditional sports he likes to play (football, baseball, basketball, etc). The parents, full of great love, I'm sure, all had a pre-determined picture of what they wanted their child to be interested in and successful at...enough that when given the option to love this little boy or not with his interests, they chose not.
Fortunately, one of the highlights of this movie was when you meet the Robinson's-- the couple who would adopt this boy. They watched and listened closely to his heart, and then invested extravagantly and insanely in his passion. They bought a house with a large circular upper room above it, took the boy up there and said, "This room is for you, son, to invent anything and everything you can." Needless to say, the boy was set free, and he grows up to contribute significantly to the world for good.
My attentive wife took the message of this movie to heart. We've been signing my oldest son up for sports with his neighborhood buddies for years already (and he's only 7). He likes getting a hit, scoring a run, catching a pass, and hitting a basket, and shooting a goal...but he's not living for it like a bunch of his peers are. Carrie really noticed this when it was time to sign up for Fall Baseball a month or so ago. She enthusiastically asked Shade if he was wanted to play, and he first responded with "Nah," and then re-thinking, followed up with "Well, okay." Best I can tell, he loves being with all his friends, and if playing some sports is how to do it, then, well, okay.
Right then, Carrie took careful stock of what she already knows about Shade. He loves 'extreme' stuff... skateboarding, roller blading, bicycling, climbing. Shoot, we endured non-stop hounding from him the minute he found out about "heely's" (shoes with wheels in them) until he had a pair. So, Carrie got on the web one Saturday morning, found a BMX biking clinic about to take place that day by a professional BMX dude, asked Shade if he'd be interested in it, and off he went to the car beckoning us to hurry up and go. This was unreal...the same kid who in Fall baseball games asks the coach if he can sit on the bench each inning because "he's hot" spent 5 non-stop hours in the August heat, wearing a long sleeve BMX jersey and long pants, and wanted more when he was done. He loves it! He's thinking about it when he goes to sleep and when he wakes up. There's nothing wrong with him playing football, and he will learn and enjoy a lot of things through it, but for whatever reason, BMX Biking taps into something a little deeper...a little "truer".
It reminds me of the popular Scripture in Proverbs..."Train up a child in the way he should go." Not in the way I would have him go, or the way that I think will make him a good living...but the way he should go. This requires attentiveness, listening and faith.

I want to do this for all of my kids, which makes it so profoundly important that I'm doing it for myself. What is my "sweet spot"? What do I go to bed and wake up thinking about? In my life, am I doing the thing that taps into something a little deeper...a little "truer"? I want to do what Paul says...that is, live a life worthy of the calling I have received. But what is that calling?
I'm convinced that most of us fit our callings (or worse, disregard them entirely in order to fit) into some pre-determined molds that really keep us from living a life worthy of our callings. It's the devastating display of a human beings lack of creativity and faith to kill a part of his heart's desire and love because they see have been convinced that their calling is impractical.
A friend of mine yesterday told me of a reading he had done recently marking the differences between "men of reason" and "men of faith". A danger is that true "faith-full men" can so easily appear to be "unreasonable men." Related to that thought is the fear that resides in faith-full men...that they really are being unreasonable. And maybe they really are. Maybe God has designed it perfectly to where one must reasonable or be faithful. 
May all that come behind us find us faith-full.
I hope all of you, my friends, are on the constant lookout for your sweet spot in life. I want to be ready for revolution every day, and I am in shameless need of company to have the courage to do it.