Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Friend Needs a Job

"Desperation tends to bring about an extreme search for God and an extreme offer from the world to stop you from having Him." - Yours truly
I have a friend who desperately needs a job.
But he wants a life.
He has recently left the "party lifestyle" of his youth that involves going out to the bars every night, partying it up with people, and charming everyone on the scene. He was very good at this lifestyle, and it called his name every day when the sun went down. But when the sun came up, with last night's after-effects lingering, he would be full of regret, yes, but more than that, he would be full of a lingering belief that "there has to be more than this."
It wasn't long before he found "others" out there that have the same lingering belief, some living in it, some trying to figure out how to live in it. Since then, he has left his "life of the night" and become a "child of the day"...feeding the part of him that believes, and starving the part of him that hinders belief.
But now, he suddenly and desperately needs a job. And there is something about needing a job (which is a weird combination of "making money" and "finding a life") that brings about the competing feelings of urgency and reflection.
He started by calling a friend for a sales job. He got a good word from him that opened up a real possibility for a position. And he gave me that good news, but with a spark in his eye he said, "I'm not feelin' it." This excited me as he unpacked a vision he had for his life that involved finding a job that "makes a difference" in people's hearts. He rushed me to the computer and showed me a you-tube video about a difference-making group that got him jacked up. It would involve wholesale revolution and change for my friend...a move to another state, a huge step of faith, help from others to enable him to do it...and his eyes lit up as much as he was lighting up the room as he spoke.
That was last week.
This week, a variety of obstacles have pretty much cooled his "dream" and made it feel to him like it's impossible to achieve it anytime soon. So he called another friend to ask if he had anything that might give him a job.
So he calls me today telling me about this, and he has a job offer. It's for the company Budweiser...and his job would be called "Contemporary Marketing Manager". You know what his job description would be? It would involve going out to the bars every night, partying it up with people, and charming everyone on the scene. He'd hand out free beer, and get this, they are asking him how much he wants to make.
I've heard of this happening many, many times to people. But the most famous time is recorded in the Bible, when Satan made the extreme offer of "the world" to stop Jesus from living "the Life". "The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
My buddy is in very good company tonight, with a very big decision to make. Pray that he, and all of us, as it becomes our turn to face this choice between life or death, God or the World, a paycheck or a passion...pray that he makes the same choice as Christ. Which goes like this...
"Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" 
I think it goes without saying that Jesus said 'no' to the short-term, materially-rewarding, easy-as-pie choice that would have given him the world and a paycheck, and instead took the long-term, eternally-rewarding, costly choice that gave him life for the world and a passion.
When you make this difficult choice, GG, I have no doubts whatsoever that what happened to Jesus next will also happen to you: "Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him."


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The successful minister's life

"I am very clear about something very important right now, in this moment.  When we are aware of the many crises that befall and befuddle us daily and everywhere as human beings, we actually become better human beings - more caring, more compassionate, more focused, more purposeful, and as a result more fulfilled.  When we relax and go oblivious, we become "fat, dumb, and happy," and totally worthless to ourselves and others, and we appreciate nothing.  I think there's a clue here to the answer to the question, "Why look for the death and suffering?", and it is to find and celebrate life as the fragile and unspeakably beautiful gift that it is, that I'm totally aware of today, and we'll see what I notice tomorrow." - Jim Spivey
"The people who opposed Jesus weren't content to only attack the practice of his faith, but the people with whom he practiced them. 'Here is a friend of tax collectors and sinners," they said, and 'why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners,' they questioned.  Because,' Jesus replied, 'I haven't come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" - A thought inspired by a book about Lent that my friend Bro. Marcus sent me for my birthday 
There are two lives beckoning me as a "minister".
One life I will title the "Successful Minister's Life": This life asks me to invest in becoming a better and better public speaker, it invites me to teaching assignments that would require more time in my office with my head buried in books, it wants me to travel far and wide for speaking engagements at very worthwhile events, and it suggests that on top of that, that I would do well to fit in the writing of books. Each of these things have their own corresponding opportunities for the growth of how many I can influence for Christ, financial rewards with which to bless my family and give to the Kingdom's cause, and life-long learning in the doing of good things.
 I'm not judging those who live it, nor am I stating that this life doesn't make a God-honest, life-changing impact on people, but I can honestly say that immersing myself into this life would for me be a treacherous act towards Christ, a betrayal of my family and my message, and the death of me.
The other life I will title the "successful minister's life" (Sorry, I couldn't come up with anything better than the same name with lower-case letters...but I think this adequately draws a visual picture of how easily the first could overcome my practice of the second): This life asks me to invest in becoming a deeper and deeper lover of those around me, it invites me to people assignments that would require more time out of my office with my heart buried in relationships, it wants me to travel far and wide into the "heart engagements" with the hurts of those living right around me, and it suggests that on top of that, that I would do well to fit all of this in just as soon as I'm faithful in the daily practice of it all with my family. Each of these things have their own corresponding opportunities for the growth of how deeply I can influence someone for Christ, financial faith with which to bless my family and give the to the Kingdom's cause, and life-long learning in the doing of the best things.
I'm not saying that I have it perfectly nailed, or that this life doesn't sometimes include some of the practices of the former life, but I can honestly say that immersing myself into this life is for me faithfulness towards Christ, an honoring of my family and my message, and the death of me.
The former life, would cost me less and stroke my ego more, two things that I've learned I am inclined towards, but would leave me "fat, dumb, and happy." It would leave me living defensively, managing my life, and caring way too much about whether other people "are changing" or not in order for me to pretend I was successful.
The latter life, costs me everything (which turns out to be less), and strokes my passion more (which turns out be a higher trip than my ego has ever provided), two things that I've also learned that I am inclined towards, but this life leaves me "joyful, peaceful, and loving", and hanging out with people the people that Jesus said he has come to call (of which, I am one).
I'm not pretending that my choices are as black and white as all this. I actually am investing in becoming a better and better public speaker, and taking teaching assignments that put me in books in my office, and I'm going to LA in two weeks to a speaking engagement, and this blog, of course, is a form of my fitting in the "writing of books". But I choose not to let these things use, castrate, diminish, overwhelm, or distract me from my life and plug me into a pre-defined "ministry matrix" from which I would need to be saved all over again. Instead, I use them, ever-so-cautiously, to deliver the best possible life to and from my heart....the life of Christ.
I love you all for your unique and varied contribution to are highly prized and valued.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Immature or Premature?

"I always know a mature, wise person by how "comfortably unsure" they are of things - not in a cynical, pessimistic, self-deprecating kind of way, but in an open, inquisitive, delightedly and delightfully curious kind of way.  They take their time with questions that solicit their opinions, often not answering them at all, knowing that the question can be an old ego-trap.  And I always know an ignorant or immature person by how certain, make that downright cocksure they are of things - not in a humble, gently confident kind of way, but in a condescending, critical, and dismissive kind of way.  They have the answer almost immediately, even before the question is asked.  We often fail to realize what we are revealing about ourselves, at least to anyone who is really paying attention to and somewhat experienced in the subtleties of human nature, when we come across as immediately sure about things and/or about other people's issues and shortcomings.  And we can't fake wisdom, especially when things get heated; the performance just doesn't hold up in the flame of human conflict and melts away like wax in the fire. We really don't know very much about what makes other people tick (if we're honest, we're usually not even totally sure about what makes us tick in the moment), and if they just plain "tick us off," then there's probably something pretty significant going on inside us that we just haven't discovered yet.  "Dismissing or dissing" others when confronted by these unknowns is a sign of immaturity, laziness, or a very tired, over-busy mind.  Time and experience (in the form of many painful relationship breakdowns and failures) will take care of this eventually, if you let it, which is the first sign of wisdom.  When you're up to it, you will start asking yourself the million dollar question first, "What am I doing or not doing to contribute to this situation that I don't like?" and that is always the most self-responsible approach to any problem relationship, and it seems to come naturally only with experience, maturity, and hard-earned wisdom." - Jim Spivey
"I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." - St. Paul in Phil 3:12-16 
"The difference between those who are immature and those who are premature is that the premature eventually mature." - Yours truly 
As I search for the clues that Jim and Paul look for to identify the "mature" in the quotes above, I find these:
The mature...
...are comfortable with not knowing what they don't know, and are always open to the idea that what they know may be (partially or completely) wrong. not make a point of proving to everyone that they are humble through any form of self-criticism.
...when convicted that something is true, state it humbly and with gentle confidence.
...are very aware of their own ego, and the constant threat it is to their own cratering to it.
...know that "how they are" is revealing their character much more than "what they know or do".
...see all problems that they "feel" or "have" with others is firstly and primarily the discovery of a growth area for themselves.
...have stepped into, been hurt by, survived, and stepped into again and again very messy relationships and learn from each one, and value the process of doing so.
...know with absolute confidence that Christ Jesus has taken hold of them, for their good, and for their constant refinement, which is nothing to fear.
..."press on," joining Christ's energy with all of their own, to share in the joy of constantly becoming more wise (not be confused with becoming more knowledgeable).
...have no need for other people to agree with them on anything, even on this list of what makes someone mature, confident that God himself loves that person enough to "grow them up" too, making all things clear with little or no help from them.
The immature...
...are cynical, pessimistic, and self-deprecating about themselves. not delight in "not knowing" things.
...answer questions way to quickly and forcefully, almost daring others to disagree.
...are condescending, critical, and dismissive.
...are fairly sure about, critical of, and sarcastic about other people's issues and shortcomings.
...either fail miserably, over-exert, check-out or just don't show up when things get heated, messy, or emotional.
...instead of letting our issues with others prompt fearless self-discovery, just let those other people "tick them off"
...think that "appearing wise right now" is far too important to just engage with life as it comes, trusting that it's difficulties are giving me the wisdom I want not put their confidence in the undisputable, unalterable, untouchable fact that Christ Jesus holds them and is doing exactly what he wants, and that they can't mess him up with their grandest mistakes, and that they are right where they need to be in every given moment. not "forget what is behind", and instead carry their guilt, shame, and fear with them everywhere, infecting everything not "press on" towards anything that might be ahead, so scared that they might lose what has already been attained.
I'm glad to confess that I can recognize that "mature guy" inside of me, and he is growing. And I am sad, but not defeated, to confess that I can recognize that "immature guy" inside of me as well, but he is dying. If I could draw a line graph measuring the strength and forcefulness of the immature guy inside of me over my lifetime, it would show a steady downward trend, with occasional, but brief, spikes upward (the days that I find myself particularly vulnerable and weak and self-indulgent). And the downward trend is getting increasingly steep, moving exponentially downward, giving me the very real hope that Paul speaks of..."the prize".
And the mature guy "presses on" towards it, moving exponentially faster "heavenward in Christ Jesus".
What a ride! And I am totally clear that I have absolutely nothing else to focus on and "do" in life, and need to coerce nothing from anyone around me to succeed in it.
But I offer myself to Christ, not because I think I have value, but because I know that Christ knows better than me, and I trust him more than me, and he says that I do have value.
And I offer myself to the world, not mindlessly or on its terms, but intentionally and soberly and lovingly, and according to what I discern my calling to be from be weak, willing, honest, and courageous in every single relationship that God sends my way in order to help them become more like Christ, and to help the world become more like the Christ's Kingdom.
I (the immature I) must die every day to this, and have found it to be the hardest part of my life, and the only one that gives me life. So I (the mature I) put myself (the immature self) on the alter before God every day, wondering why he would accept such a meager offering as love for Him, but grateful that He accepts it and delivers Himself right back to me.
It sure isn't a fair trade. But I would stupid to turn it down.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Not Enough Energy to do the Wrong Thing

I'm always taken by how being "physically sick" stimulates a "waking up" for me. I've been in a sickly funk for about 2 weeks, not enough to take me out of action, but enough to keep me constantly tired and drained. And during the course of the two weeks, it seems the intensity of the "battle" for the hearts of people around me has been particularly intense.
As I live my life of choosing to fight for people's hearts (always being faithful to doing so for mine first, so that I do so for others in a productive, rather than self-destructive way, which helps no one - see James 2:8), I find myself feeling like Neo, Morpheus, and the crew in the Matrix movies...fighting against the people I love, for the people I love.
So this weird experience has been happening to me over these last two weeks of being slightly under the weather and energyless. Maybe you can relate to me when I confess that usually when I am tired or weary, I don't have the energy to do the "right things" for myself or in my relationships. I don't offer my gifts to the world...I don't give my energy to people, for people, like I would if I was feeling fine. And I excuse myself from it "because I'm sick" or tired. Self-defeating and confusing thoughts pop into my head to justify my inaction like "It's overwhelming and hopeless anyway," and "They don't even want what I'm offering," and "It won't matter if I take just one day off." These delusions actually sound reasonable, true, and weighty in those moments, and I choose to agree with them, because I don't have the energy to fight. 
But this time, these two weeks, it's like I didn't have the energy to do the wrong thing! This time, I bypassed all of the spiritual, internal, introspective, prayerful "working through" my fears and insecurities that I normally go through to find the energy to do the right thing, and just went straight to the right thing. It has been a glorious experience, probably not noticeable for all those outside of me, but very special and intimate for me and God.
And I woke up this morning (in more ways than one) to see these videos in my inbox, which I took the time to watch. In the first one, I got a visual of a potential and believable "real world" matrix forming itself around us, and I invite you to watch it -- whether it is true and accurate isn't as important to me as the believability of it, because something "like it" is true and at work in the world, trying to get all of us to "volunteer" into the system because it makes so much "sense" -- it made me cry.
The second two videos are a scene from the last Matrix movie, where Smith has become powerful beyond belief, totally taking over and ruling the Matrix as "his world", with only Neo persisting in his futile resistance against of unbeatable, insurmountable foe. Watch the scene closely, and listen to each sentence of the exchange between good and evil, especially the profound and convincing speech by Smith right at the end as he asked Neo "Why do you persist?", where he masterfully explains away the Kingdom values of peace, joy, and love as illusions of mankind trying to pretend that this meaningless life has meaning.
And then listen to Neo's answer...and his choice to die in order to have and give life. As my friend Chris Northcutt said last night as we spoke of our trying to live the life of meaning, passion, and purpose (that is, the life of Christ), as far as feeding and nourishing people goes, "the chicken is dedicated, but the pig is committed."
My buddy Jim Spivey said that these videos "explain him"...and I feel the same about them for me.
"To be Christ's is to have the miracle of self-validation or self-authentication. This deep faith that you are basically legitimate and true -- that you, as a child of God, belong here, in your role -- is the foundation of character, maturity, and emotional stability.  When we choose to live from the inside out, surrendering to the Kingdom of Christ and it's ways, we find an unstoppable energy (even in the face of all of the growing number of "Agent Smiths" as you go deeper and deeper). To have courage is to operate daily from within that still point, no matter what external circumstances you confront or face." -- My edited version of a quote from Peter Koestenbaum