Monday, February 28, 2005

Graduate School

“The most awesome learning feat on the planet - a child’s acquisition of spoken language - occurs in the absence of any formal instruction.” -- George Leonard

“You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why continuing education is good.” – Bill Day

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." -- Mark Twain

“When [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – Luke, commenting after the “educated men” quizzed the two disciples

“You could possibly consider that Peter’s and John’s ‘graduate school’ was their 3 years of walking with Jesus.” – Jeff Walling

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -- Mark Twain

“[In graduate school] we all seek to integrate the best biblical scholarship with real ministry challenges because it takes more than good intentions to transform lives to the glory of God.” – Evertt Huffard

I’ve been putting off typing these thoughts…perhaps mostly due to fear that I am not objective about the subject (which I fully acknowledge that I am not)…but I desire to be known in this area and have the rich feedback that I oftentimes get from you.

I’m going to begin graduate school in the not-to-distant future. It’s an awesome privilege and opportunity to stretch and grow. But I am still struggling with the idea that it is the best use of my time. It’s definitely good use of my time, but I’m wondering if it is the best use of it.

Let me start with my fears…

I’m afraid of the demand it will be on my time (Evertt Huffard said to plan on 1 full day a week).
I’m afraid of it taking me away even more than I already am from ‘people work’.
I’m afraid of really loving it and wanting to dive into it more than into people.
I’m afraid of the new relationships I would forge through it replacing the ones I need to continue to invest in locally.
I’m afraid of the discipline it would take.
I’m afraid of losing my status as “unqualified, but chosen” in the eyes of man (see Luke’s quote above).
I’m afraid of being seen as a typical preacher-type.
I’m afraid of disappointing people due to my increasing inaccessibility.
I’m afraid of the frustration that will come inside the inevitable tension between “needing to study” and “needing to be with people”.

Let me go on to my excitement…

I’m excited about the demand on my time, giving me a more tangible, explainable excuse for why I’m inaccessible to people.
I’m excited about learning more, and learning more about how to learn more.
I’m excited about the new relationships I would forge through it.
I’m excited about the discipline it would demand of me.
I’m excited about how it would help me be a better preacher.
I’m excited about learning what I don’t know about it that I should be excited about.

As I re-read this, noticeably missing from my list above is any fear or excitement concerning my family. It’s because I’m just totally clear about the priority of my family above all else. I’m willing to live and die for my family, so of course I’m willing to fail graduate classes for my family, as well as lose my ‘job’ for my family. As long as I stay true to that, graduate school does not benefit or hurt my family in any significant way. So I have no fear, nor excitement, in this decision concerning them. This struggle, for me, only affects my “working hours,” so to speak.

Ultimately, all my fears and excitement aside, I guess the question that I’m looking to answer is this:

Will there be a significant improvement in my effectively winning the lost to Christ by going to graduate school?

Tough question to answer. I’m open to suggestions (even guesses) on how to attempt an answer.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Social Justice

I met a guy named Alvero this past week. Alvero stood in my office telling me about how he has spent the last years feeding hungry orphans in Zimbabwe. He’s having to leave there, now, however because he is white, and where he lives, any black man can come and take any of his possessions that they want at any time they want. Alvero would stay, if it was just himself, and might even with just his wife, but he has a young son and daughter living there, too. In the neighborhood, the black boys taunt his son by saying, “My dad can come take your dad’s house anytime he wants!” The spirit behind it seems to run a little deeper than the “my dad can beat up your dad,” thing we threw around when I was a kid in Houston, TX.

Alvero must leave, but there are still hungry orphans there. We aren’t talking about a hungry that results from missing a meal, we are talking about hungry that results from not having any food, any day. My pantry is full of luxuries, and there is a child starving. I’m hurting over this today.

And the racism…we aren’t talking about a community immaturity that results in insulting someone of another race (although this is also horrific). We are talking about a government initiative to run off people of a different race. I’m hurting over this today.

And the suffering of Alvero from relocation...we aren’t talking about the “suffering” I did by having to leave an incredible community of faith in Houston in order to join another incredible community of faith in Amarillo. We are talking about the heart-tearing that must come with a decision between helping with the suffering of hungry kids and helping with the imminent danger of his own kids. I’m hurting over this today.

It’s just not supposed to be like this. And I am supposed to be doing something about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The voices in my head...

"He teaches us both discipline and obedience however we force Him to." - Oswald Chambers


“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” -- 1 Kings 19:11-13


Residing in my head are several voices screaming for my attention. There are hundreds, actually, but my mind groups many of them into one solitary voice that is asking for a particular focus from me.


The first of these voices I will name “Revolution”. It invites me to the rare, lofty, value-centered, counter-cultural, life-changing things that I feel blessed to have the opportunity to even think about. This is a highly personal voice. Others rarely know that this voice is inviting me to its work unless I reveal it to them. And even then they would not think of holding me accountable to heeding this voice, because it would be so costly to me and those around me (oftentimes including them) that they feel it’s beyond their ‘right’ to do so. These things are faithful to the purity of the term “revolution”…and acting on them would create change, fallout, resistance, excitement, fear, and (hopefully) freedom…first in myself, then in others. This voice calls to things that are idealistic and I rarely summon the courage to fight for and actually do them.


Another voice I will call “Important”.  It invites me to things that are typically as personal and hidden as Revolutionary things, though once someone starts to get to know me and my values well, they might actually sense my need and desire for them to point them out and help me see them through. This voice is always present and there is always a list of things that it is pointing me to. The things themselves are characterized by their attainability, but also by their lack of urgency that oftentimes keeps them undone. I guess that these are the “should do’s” that I referred to in a previous piece a few weeks ago. I love these things. I know that they are mine alone to do, and feel a sense of “on-targetness” when doing them. But they are constantly getting subverted by…


…the voice I will call “Interruption”. Don’t let the name fool you, it is not always inviting me to meaningless, small, or distracting busy work. This voice is oftentimes calling me (maybe even directing me) to do what I need to be doing in that moment. However, the things it invites me to are primarily characterized by their urgent nature, and admittedly, ARE often just busy work. I pretty much ignore Interruption when it falls into the category of busy work, although I heed it sometimes when I want to be distracted, or desire the illusion of accomplishment by beginning and finishing something small. Interruption is screaming, for me, usually when the thing it is inviting me to has a personal name. It is when the interruption’s name is Callie, or John, or Mary, or Joe that I struggle with whether to call it direction or distraction. Occasionally, I stop listening to all other voices and only listen to this one, and let it dictate my day…and on those occasions I wonder if I’m acting irresponsibly or in faith. Get it?


That’s enough voices for today…they are the three loudest, for me, for sure, and I am grateful to all of them. They have each played a part in leading me to a very satisfying existence of love, and I am grateful for their presence and even the dilemma they put me in.


Through them, God is teaching me about discipline and obedience, and He is also teaching me about humility and grace.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I'm thinking about "church"...

"We dream of a church that really does meet people where they are at, that ministers to people on their turf, that does not convert people to evangelicalism, but to Jesus. We desire something far less cognitive and for more holistic, more missional, more experiential, more serving, more real. This Sunday morning circus is suffocating the faith of people by allowing them to believe passive church services are nurturing their spirit. It is their spiritual work to show up and passively fatten up on more knowledge."- Chris Gonzalez, telling me of a car ride discussion with his wife

"They were consumed with knowing what the first followers of Jesus really meant, and equally consumed with figuring it out as a community together and with God. They were amazed at the power of God because they were witnessing it! They shared everything...possessions, goods, food, family...everything. And if anyone had any need they couldn't provide, they would sell their goods in order to get it. This was a daily thing...not just an occasional religious discipline. When they did go to their homes separately, these values went with them because their hearts were different. Does it surprise you that such living would result in more and more people being pulled effortlessly into this group? There's not a human being alive that could resist it." - My interpretation of Luke's description of the first "church" in Acts 2:42-47, and a description of what my friend Chris and his wife are looking for.

I haven't written lately. Not because I haven't wanted to...I think about it every day. It seems my mind is so busy that I can't settle on any one single thought, which keeps me from taking any action.

This is a pretty good mirror of what I am in constant fear of my religious experience becoming: A busy mind that keeps me from taking action.

Ultimately, I have nothing to do in life more worthwhile than knowing God and knowing Jesus? What more is there to life than loving Him and loving others? The Bible teaches me that I can find Jesus "out there" as I feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and such (Matthew 25:37-40). It says that God comes to me and completes me when I love other people (1 John 4:12).

I must confess that I have exalted my busy mind as an asset, and still believe that it sometimes can be...but not if it stops me from actions of love. When I really love, there is not a human being alive that can resist it. When we really love, we become the church that my buddy Chris and his wife need and long for...the one described in the book of Acts.

But I'm too busy thinking about it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"Should do's" vs. "Must do's"

“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” – the Psalmist


“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” – the God of the Psalmist


I have a discipline problem. I’m not very disciplined, and I am extremely disciplined. It’s very confusing.


I don’t know if it’s a character flaw, or not, really. It’s tough for me to discern. Frankly, I’m disciplined about the things that I have agreed are “must do’s”. “Should do’s” get mentioned romantically by me regularly, and even get some action out of me occasionally, but for the most part, the “should do’s” of my life are sort of treated like the stereo-typical step children of my life.


The problem is, I don’t think anyone could give me any more information or inspiration that would sell me on what I “should do” than I already have. I really think I’m in a position where either I or God must make them “must do’s” for me or I won’t really do them.


Take, for a safe example, working out. I should do this. I should do this regularly. I know the payoff, both immediate, and lasting…both to me, and my family. Shoot, I’m gonna be 50 when my oldest kid is 18 and I wanna be running around with him, climbing mountains, playing ball, and stuff. I need to be planning for that now if it’s going to become a reality. I should really do this, y’know? God couldn’t have made it easier, either. I get a free membership at a premier health club that is 50 yards away from the office I work out of! I have a wife who supports this part of my life, too, and is willing to work hard to protect my time doing it!


But since I only “should do” this, I often don’t. I have a discipline problem.


Maybe I’ll wait for heart attack, for the doctor to tell me that I must exercise or die (as if this isn’t true now). Then maybe it’ll make it into a “must do” and be a fully adopted, permanent fixture to my life.


We humans are so pitifully weak, and only are able to hide it from each other by showing off the fruit of our “must do” list. And I tell ya, boy, I can make a great case to anyone…ANYONE…about how much I must do my “must do” list. Even if it’s at the cost of my “should do’s”. Seriously, try me out. I can even make most people think my neglect of my “should do’s” is downright noble!


It’s a faith issue, of course. Everything is. Did you know you can measure a person’s spiritual maturity directly by how much time they spend on their “should do’s”?


I should really work on that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Stryder the Poet

“Jesus doesn’t slam you either for your doubts, your fears, your uncertainties. He wants to encourage you in your current assignment.” – Reggie McNeal in The Present Future


I prayed to God, asking Him to use me in some way with some one, right now.


A little desperate? Maybe. I wanted so much to matter to someone Saturday night. Someone that I didn’t necessarily know, but loved still. I wanted to find a searcher, someone looking for an explanation for things. Someone longing, but confused. Someone open, but honest. Someone hurt, not just angry. Someone looking for that “something” that I am constantly looking for. Someone like me.


I was on my way up to my office to put the finishing touches on the 30th sermon of my current assignment…preaching to the Southwest Church of Christ in Amarillo, TX…when my deep desire to be Jesus to one climbed up over my desire to preach well to 850.


So I went into Starbucks with my Brennan Manning book and my desperate request of God to use me, bought some Tazo Chai Tea and sat next to a dude with a book (in one of those comfy chairs) who was asleep. He woke up shortly, asked me what time it was, initiating a 4-hour long conversation that took us from the book he was reading that explained how a reptilian race was controlling the earth’s events and manipulating us (he was a searcher, looking for an explanation to things), into deeper, grander, more transcendent questions that brought some clarity to his thoughts (he was longing, but confused), into my specific challenges of his worldview as compared to mine (he was open, but honest), into his past upbringing as a missionary kid in Thailand who was shipped off to boarding school by his dad who abused him while quoting scripture (he was hurting, not just angry), and finally into the deep wellspring of the righteousness, joy, and peace of being a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.


He was a poet, and jotted one down for me to take home to my wife (“I like to make sure women know they are beautiful”, he said), and quoted another long one from memory that explained his current position in life. It included a phrase about the “poison from the pulpit” that he is so afraid of and been hurt by, primarily through is dad. As our time ended, and the coffee I had bought for him had run out, and I did need to go spend some time on that sermon, I prepared for the blow as I told him I was a preacher…


“For like the whole church?” he asked.


“Yes,” I responded.


“How many people?” he asked, not so that he can measure how “successful” I might be, but to get his mind around this sweatshirt-clad, “holey”-jeaned, tennis-shoe wearing dude with spiky, bleached hair and what I might mean by the word “preacher”.


“850 or so” I told him.


“How old are you?” was his next question, and he only felt a little at ease when I told him 36. It was strangely sweet and satisfying to see his mind being blown up a little bit. It was like the judgments of this 33 year old man concerning the people of God were being challenged, that maybe he can reconsider a world view that he had to dismiss in the past because of it’s representatives.


I invited him to services the next morning, and even though he looked longingly into the distance, confronting everything that means to him, and said, “I haven’t been to church in a loooooong time,” he said he would come. He didn’t, but I woke up Sunday thinking about him being there. David (he likes the nick-name, Stryder), the searching but confused, open but honest, hurt but not angry man I had prayed to meet might be joining my faith community to worship the Father and become more like the Son.


The next morning, I was in some nice pants, a white oxford, and a sweater walking through the back of the sanctuary when I passed a brother who’s only words to me since I have arrived to preach to his community of faith have reflected anger, judgment, and legalism. I summoned whatever kindness and forgiveness that I could muster, smiled and shook his hand with a warm greeting, to which he responded by clasping my hand firmly, pulling me close with authority, and saying “young man, where’s your suit.” I looked into his eyes and sure enough, he was serious. I responded with a somewhat sarcastic remark about not owning one, pulled from his grip, and went on.


I know those people exist, but this time, I wanted to cry. I prayed that Stryder wouldn’t show up and meet him. I had told Stryder about the 800 or so people I worship with that would accept him, love him, and include him with little effort, but that there might be about 50 or so that are just like what he thinks they are…focused on rules, not him; focused on image, not hearts; focused on superficial expressions of devotions, not actual devotion.


But I also told Stryder that if he didn’t love those folks, too, then he becomes just like them. He understood deeply…said it would take time for him to do it, but that he totally gets that he needs to.


He might beat me to it.