Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Act(s)in' a Fool: Daniel Fast Day One

Each day of the 14 day Daniel fast, Nate and I will be reading two chapters in Acts. I’m going to write a little bit about what three things stood out to me most and post it the following day.

Day 1: Acts 1 & 2

The disciples didn’t know WHAT they were getting or WHEN they were getting the Holy Spirit

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When Jesus told his disciples about their gift of the Holy Spirit, they got it all wrong. Even though Jesus clearly says that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, as soon as they hear “gift,” they’ve tuned out! How many times have I done that? I think I know exactly how God needs to bless me. The disciples ask if their power and stature will be restored. They’re thinking on a much smaller scale than what God can and will provide them.

They also ask if the time is now. Today our culture is even more wrapped up in the NOW and getting instant gratification. I probably would have been the disciple shouting time lines out to Jesus as he floated up on His cloud. “Are we talking Days? Months? Years?”

Turnt up on God

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

I am by nature a cynic and a skeptic. For a long time in my Christian journey, I thought “Okay, this Jesus thing is great… But let’s not get carried away.”

Honestly, I often looked to the people who were “sold out for Jesus,” with pity. Giving up your job? Moving your family? What are you – drunk? Well, I think it’s safe to say at this point our family has pretty much all our chips in. There’s probably at least a few people who might accuse us of being drunk or foolish with the way we try to live our lives for God – and I hope there are! My prayer is that our lives make people question us… and try to find answers in God.

They grew daily, without marketing or social media

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity - all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Man, what an awesome community! I hope and pray that anywhere we go and anything we do, we develop this type of body. But what strikes me most about this passage is how their numbers grew.

Today we have connectivity like never before – at least in theory. Our churches can have websites, social media reach, commercials on TV and radio – but statistically, churches are stagnant. The early church had no crutches to “advertise” Jesus. They created a community that people wanted to be a part of. I imagine that people heard of and experienced their love for others, even before they experienced their love for Christ. These people were truly living the two greatest commandments of loving Christ and each other.

Those are my three biggest thoughts and takeaways from Acts 1 & 2!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jonah's Performance Review

So next week, I’ll have an interim performance review at work. It’s the mid-year check-in to make sure you’re on track to deliver on your goals. Here’s my sick secret – I kind of love performance reviews. I love them, because I tend to be a bit of a workaholic and perfectionist. For six months, I work and work and work – sacrificing, learning, stretching myself – and then for 30 minutes or so, I get to bask in someone telling me how great I’ve done. And then even if there’s some things to work on, I know in six months, if I work hard enough, we’ll be talking about what great strides I’ve made in those areas. What used to be called “teacher’s pet” is now referred to as “upward potential.” It’s Junior High Academics awards day, only 15 years later.

I know this sounds pretty ugly, and it is. Some kind of weird pride and insecurity hybrid drives my desire to do more and do better every day. And while this has actually been somewhat beneficial in my professional and even personal life, it has been the single greatest struggle of my spiritual life.

Let me tell you about my least favorite performance reviews ever.

In college, I worked at Bath & Body Work in the mall. It was a good experience, in the sense that everyone should work a job where people regularly scream at you because someone 16 levels higher in the organization than you determined that Sun-ripened raspberry needed to be discontinued.

Honestly though, I really liked that job. I didn’t just clock in and clock out – I got to know the products really well. I greeted regular customers by name. I LOVED the sales competitions. And of course, the performance reviews every six months.

The highest raise I could earn for my performance was $0.25/hour, if I got really strong reviews. Additionally, when I worked there, Illinois was in the process of their graduated approach to raising the minimum wage - $0.25 every six months.

Every six months, I would think, “Yes! Great performance! $0.25 raise!” And then you know what would happen? Two weeks later, every person with poor performance who didn’t get a raise would have their pay bumped $0.25 to the new minimum wage level.

And of course, I was the bigger person, glad that we all made a livable wage. Just kidding. I actually cried once in my car on the way home because I was so frustrated. I worked so hard. Melissa sucks at talking to customers and her shelves are never neat and I worked her 4 a.m. shift on Black Friday. And now we are recognized exactly the same.

Embarrassing? Sure. Ugly? Oh yeah. But the implications are much greater and uglier when these tendencies seep into our spiritual lives. It looks a lot like post-whale Jonah.

Blakely is learning about Jonah right now in the church nursery, but mostly the part where a big fish swallows him and then he’s like, “My bad!” and then he gets spit out and does God’s will. But I am always much more fascinated about Jonah post preaching in Nineveh. I’ve read Jonah’s story probably 15 times in the last year. Why? Because I have Jonah tendencies that I’m trying to let God kill. Jonah was a top performer. Jonah saved thousands of MESSY people. And then you what happened?

He went and cried in his car. Melissa sucks at being a nice and Godly person and if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t even know who God is. And now we are recognized exactly the same.

Grace wrecks all of the artificial structures and ladders and hierarchies that our society builds. Grace says, “Just follow me” and mentions nothing of your failures – or your good works. Grace is the anti-performance review.

I don’t have a neat “moral to this story.” I can’t quite wrap this up in a bow at this point. Why? Because I still struggle. Because when I imagine God saying, “Well done good and faithful servant,” I’m only now beginning to see Him holding my face in his hands and not some sort of spiritual resume. Because The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) still unsettles me a bit at first read. Could I see my greatest worldly enemy in heaven someday and rejoice that they’ve accepted the same gift of grace given to us all?

God has brought me far in this journey of grace, and I still have a great deal to submit… Add that to my performance review goals. ;-)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Recalculating Route...

What do you think of when people say "God has a plan for your life"? Or reference being on "God's path"?

For a long time, I looked at my Christian journey as a specific path - point A to point B, with a specific direction or route. I think a lot of people get hung up on this vision as well.

This vision is the reason that people say they'll come to church or start praying "when they get right with God" or "when they figure some things out." This image of God's path is dangerous, because when you find yourself in the middle of the woods or the desert, you have to first find your way back to the marked path.

There have been several things in my life that have challenged this way of perceiving God's plan and path. When Nate and I invested in our calling to the church plant in Bloomington, at the end we whispered, "Was that what was supposed to happen? Was this the plan?" I struggled because there was growth for many, but pain for many as well. Was that a costly lesson that was part of a point A to point B journey? Did God call us to be a part of a church that was always intended to close its doors in less than a year?

I began to look at God's path differently when I was driving in Bloomington a couple of months ago. I had to go up there to get Emmarie's birth certificate from the McLean County Clerk, so I entered the unfamiliar address in my phone GPS.

As I entered town, I realized that I needed to go to CEFCU to get cash to pay for the certified copy, so as Siri directed, "Turn right on Washington St." I kept going.

"Recalculating route." Siri announced.

"Turn right on Empire St." I continued down Veterans.

"Recalculating route." Siri announced.

This continued to happen as I made my way to the bank, in the opposite direction of Siri's path.

As I mused at how Siri's path was always relative to exactly where I was at that moment, God's "path" suddenly made a lot more sense to me. God's path isn't some golden A to B route, where if you stray, you must find your way back... God is ALWAYS recalculating your route. His directions are from where you are at this very moment.

It doesn't matter how many wrong turns you've made. It doesn't matter how many directions you've missed or intentionally ignored. At every missed opportunity and broken moment, God says, "Recalculating route... You are still loved... You are still on my path." Your path is not a matter of wrong decisions, where you're at, or how far you've headed in the opposite direction - it's a matter of taking the next direction.

Where is God calling you right now?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hear me - What the Baltimore riots, Blakely's "questions" and my job in communications taught me about the importance of being heard

Today I had to cascade an “Action Required” communication. The action was simple. It would take employees maybe 10 minutes.

There was a newsletter article. A separate article for leaders. Talking points to include for the leaders. A digital screen sign. A flyer. A targeted email.

And I know that in two weeks, I’ll be calling people who swear they’ve heard nothing about this and want me to send it all to them again.

Short of setting a memo on fire and throwing it onto their desk, it often feels like we’ve exhausted every option for getting information out to people. You know what the trouble is? All of the noise.

Yesterday Blakely kept yelling, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” over the top of Nate and my conversation, so I turned to her and said, “What, Blakely?”

She paused for a split second and then said emphatically, “I have a question.”
She paused a bit more, and then launched into an explanation of something.

“That’s not a question,” I told her, mid-explanation. She immediately wailed. I sat there for a moment, thinking about how often this is happening lately. For some reason, I was unreasonably irritated that my 2.5 year old, who knows the proper use of “can” and “may,” says that she has questions, even though she knows they’re not questions. As I dug deeper into why she keeps doing this, I thought about when I say “I have a question” to her.

Usually when I say, “I have a question,” I am preparing her to answer. “I have a question” really means, “Listen closely.” Take time… slow down… hear me.

When Blakely says, “I have a question,” she’s really saying, “Please hear me.”

“Riot is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King Jr. said.

Whether it’s the riots in Baltimore, my toddler’s tantrums, politics, a teen’s recklessness, so often the plea is simply, “Hear me.” We don't all say 'hear me' well... The desperation to be heard can often drive ugly means of saying 'hear me' - violence, hatred, yelling, crude or cruel "humor"...

But as I clearly understand from my 10 communication vehicles apparently needed to drive home one point, we live in a world of noise. Lots of voices… lots of competing messages… Why? Because when we hear “hear me,” our response as a society is most often “NO, HEAR ME.”

If we are busy… if we don’t like you (or your kind)… if we think you should say ‘hear me’ in another way… If we *think* we’ve already heard your message… We communicate that you are not worth being heard.

I struggle with depression regularly, and I hate sharing about it, even with the person who is closest in the world to me – my husband. Why? Because the fear of saying, “Hear me” and hearing a response of “NO, HEAR ME” is greater than the fear of never attempting to be heard.

Early in our marriage, when I talked through negative emotions I was experiencing, Nate helped by jumping in with alternative perspectives… thoughts to “dismiss” the negativity… fixes… suggestions. But even when he was saying, “I CAN HELP!”… It sounded a lot like, “NO, HEAR ME.”

The last conversation we had about this, I spoke openly. I finished my thoughts. He hugged me tight and said, “I’m so sorry. Please let me know if I can help.” It sounded a lot like, “I hear you.”

We, as a society, don’t hear each other enough. When someone says, “It’s a struggle to be a young black man in this community,” and the response is “Do you understand the risks and sacrifices police officers make?” (Feel free to switch the order)… We’ve missed an opportunity to hear. We expect to be heard, without expecting to listen.

I have often struggled with this even in my prayer life. How many times have I been yelling “NO, HEAR ME” over what God was really trying to speak into my life?

Don’t get me wrong – you have a valuable message. But so does the person that you’re yelling over.
I used to post a lot of stuff on social media that frankly, I shouldn’t have. Now when I scroll through Facebook and see political rants, propaganda, “Christian truth” that looks a lot like hate, I cringe. Because this is what I know it says:

How can we, as a society, especially if you a Christian… turn our current practices on their head? Can we say, “I hear you.” Perhaps even, “Tell me more.”

At the end of the day, maybe nothing will be solved. You’ll still think the answer is A, and I’ll still think the answer is B. But I have a Blakely-style “question” for you…

“Maybe that doesn’t matter, because we’ll all be at peace that we’ve been heard.” ;-)