Monday, August 25, 2014

A Question That Could Alter Your Life

OK, that's not the question I had in mind, but the more I look at that picture I think to myself ... "That's really not a bad question to ask." I would often save myself a lot of trouble if I would just "not do that thing." But, the question that I had in mind is a lot more simple and less wordy. And, it's a question that has been used in the past and actually did alter the direction of someone's life. This question was just a very, very brief part of the WCA Leadership Summit. The speaker probably spent less than two minutes mentioning this, but it's what I remember most from his talk. The question is simply: "How's ____________________ ?"

This simple question altered the life of a man in the Bible named Nehemiah and we only see him ask the question one time. Nehemiah 1:1 - 2 reads "In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my bothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem."

The basic question Nehemiah asked was "How's Jerusalem?" The answer wrecked him. The place was in shambles ... "in great trouble and disgrace," we're told. Nothing was as it had been or as it could be. When Nehemiah found out the answer, he "sat down and wept ... he mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." Once he found out what was going on, once reality smacked him in the head, he just had to do something. Once he did, the entire direction and purpose of his life was changed and my guess is that he never felt more alive than when it did. 

One of the things I'm trying to get better at is asking the right questions. Too many times I get worried with having the right answers when, in reality, the right answers often present themselves with the right questions. This question: "How's __________________ ?" is a great question to ask, because it will always provide an answer. 

How's your marriage?
How's your health?
How's your family?
How's your time with God?
How's your thought life?
How's your time management?
How's your generosity?
How's your humility?
How's your temper?
How's your job satisfaction?
How's __________________________?

But, the life change doesn't happen simply by discovering the answer, but rather what we do when we discover the answer.  If we are unsatisfied with the answer but do nothing, then things will remain as they always have been. But, If we ask the question and see things aren't as the should be or could be, we may be motivated to ask another great question: "What do I need to do to get me from here (where I am) to there (where I want to be)?" In other words, you may start one of the hardest and yet one of the most rewarding journeys of your life.  Getting from "here" to "there" is not easy work, but you may find that in the journey you'll become more alive than you've ever been, especially when we trust that through it all "God is for me." (Psalm 56:9)

So, "How's ______________________?" But, be warned: Don't ask the question unless you're willing to do something about the answer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Introverts and Extroverts

I live in an area that has a lot of engineers. Recently an engineer told me a joke that I thought was funny. He said, "How can you tell if an engineer is an extrovert? ... He's looking down at YOUR shoes."  Ok ... you had to be there. :)  Anyway, this past weekend, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit with the team from Grace Community Church. I'll probably be posting several thoughts from the Summit in the next few days. (You've been warned.) Anyway, one speaker, Susan Cain, spoke on the power of introverts and it was truly fascinating. 

I would definitely consider myself an introvert. There was a time when I wasn't so proud of this. I knew I worked better when I was alone rather than in a group.  I knew I felt more refreshed and renewed in a small setting than in a large one. I knew that part of my ministry role meant that I needed to "turn it on" at different times and around different groups of people, but boy, I was truly exhausted afterwards because it took so much out of me to do so. I rarely left large groups feeling refreshed or energized. I left feeling exhausted and often guilty for feeling that way. 

For many in ministry, the myth can often be that you have to be loud and outgoing and have a "take over the room" personality in order to be effective. Susan calls this the "Extrovert Ideal" or "the ever-present belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight."  For a long time, I think I fell for that myth until I realized that if I truly am "fearfully and wonderfully made," as God tells me in Psalm 139:14, then I don't have to pretend to be something that I'm not. I can be secure in who I am. I feel as if I'm certainly becoming more comfortable with who I am and learning to believe that Ephesians 2:10 is as true for an introvert as it is for an extrovert ... "I am God's workmanship (handiwork, masterpiece) created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared in advance for me to do." What that tells me is that there are only certain works prepared for me and if I do not do them, "something important will be left undone." And, that's not just true of me ... it's true of you as well.  Introvert ... extrovert ... doesn't matter. We are all wired in certain ways for certain things and we must seek to plug those wires in to the right outlets and unleash the power of the good things God has planned for us to do. 

Another thing Susan mentioned in her talk was that "There is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' environment."  I really feel like this is an important thing for both extroverts and introverts to realize and it speaks to why we need each other so badly. Roughly 1/3 of the population are introverts. This obviously means that a majority of the population would be more extroverted which also means environments and methods and programs are often designed with the extrovert in mind.  She began to talk about her conversations with many introverts in mega churches.  Mega-churches tend to be loud and high energy ... something that any extrovert would love! But, it's important to realize that while an introvert may love the church, the environment may be a little more difficult for them to handle. And, she stated that it's so vital to understand that just because a person may not be incredibly boisterous or loud in worship doesn't mean they are not worshipping. Just because a person may not speak up to pray in front of a group, doesn't mean they aren't a person of prayer. Just because a person may not step forward doesn't mean they haven't deeply processed what they've heard and plan to do something about it. If an we call people to do something and expect them to do it in the way we want them to do it, we may be, in reality, calling them not to be true to who they really are. As an introvert, I can watch an extrovert do or say something and think that they are being "showy" when in reality their heart is very genuine. An extrovert can watch an introvert not raise their hands in worship or not share their deepest struggles in a large gathering and think they are really missing out in worship or not as committed to God as someone else who may do those things when, in reality, this person is a very passionate follower of Jesus and truly committed. It just looks different. This is important for us all to realize. No matter what our personality type, we need to remember: 1) I am not the judge of a person's motives or heart  2) Just because someone doesn't do it like me doesn't mean they are more right than me or I am more right than them 3) We need to compliment each other. 

Caring about your cause is a powerful form of leadership. Introverts care deeply. They go deep with their passions and have a strong will and passion to move forward. If you are an introvert, "show the courage to speak softly." Don't be ashamed of who you are and realize that God has gifted you and empowered you to go deep in your relationships and passions. You have something powerful to offer and something great will be left undone if you do not.

Monday, August 11, 2014

ISIS: What Blows My Mind the Most

I, like all of you, have been appalled at the atrocities happening in Iraq at the hands of ISIS extremists. I read one CNN article in which a survivor described what is happening like this: "It's not a crisis. It's a catastrophe!" The stories of horror, the pictures of persecution, the families faced with the impossible decision of fleeing in to the desert with no supplies or staying and facing prison, persecution, and/or death ... my heart breaks. 

This weekend, as a church, we took some time to pray for the people of Iraq and our Christian brothers and sisters there who are being killed for their faith. As we were praying, one of our pastors (Mitchel) reminded us to pray for "Saul like conversions" for the leaders of ISIS (Reads Acts 8 & 9 if you need to better understand this). He asked us to pray that these leaders would come face to face with Jesus and never be the same. 

If I can be honest, praying in this way was the furthest thing from my mind. If anything, I was praying for God's justice ... for His revenge ... for His anger to be poured out on these people and that He would step up and defend His Church. Make no mistake ... He will. I don't know when, but one day all will be made right and "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

But, as horrible as the atrocities are ... as heart-breaking as it is to see families destroyed for their faith ... as difficult as it is to see this evil being done in the name of "good," what blows my mind the most is that Jesus died for the very same people that are carrying out this wickedness. What blows my mind is that my sin makes me just as guilty as their sin ... but His grace is big enough to cover it all. What blows my mind is that, as hard as it is for me to understand it and comprehend it, if any of these ISIS leaders "confessed with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, they would be saved." 

In my very finite mind, it just doesn't seem fair. But, grace is anything but fair. I'm so thankful that, because of God's grace, I haven't been treated fairly. I have been treated unfairly and the unfair treatment of God's grace has given me so much more than I would ever deserve. 

Would you join me in praying for our brothers and sisters persecuted in Iraq and also for "Saul-like conversions" in the lives of those doing the persecuting. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Knocking On vs. Knocking Down ... Some Thoughts on Prayer

I've never had to knock down a door, but I'd like to think I could if I really had to. I've seen it done in the movies and, well, I found this nifty picture on the internet too. "Don't use your shoulder. "Don't use a jump kick."  "Lean back." "Drive my heal into the ground." "Kick near the lock." Sounds simple enough. Oh, and I apparently need to have a fireman's uniform as well. Thankfully, I always keep one in my car for just such an occasion. But, for some reason, I don't think it's as easy as this picture portrays.

Although knocking down a door sounds fun, I'd much rather just open it ... or have someone open it for me. 

What does this have to do with prayer? 

This year has been a very powerful journey of prayer for me. It's been a serious roller coaster ride with ups and downs and twists and turns and just about everything in between. I've laughed during prayer. I've cried during prayer. I've gotten angry during prayer. I've been overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness during prayer. I feel like there have been times when I've come alive during prayer and, if I can be honest, there have been times I've fallen asleep during prayer. I've seen God clearly answer prayers with both a "yes" and a "no." Through all of this, one consistent thought that has stuck with me when it comes to prayer: "Knock on the door. Don't knock down the door."

In Matthew 7, Jesus referred to prayer as knocking on a door. In Revelation 3, Jesus said, "What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open." My responsibility is to knock. His responsibility is to open. As long as I keep that in mind, I find peace because I trust that He is in control. If God wants to open a door, seriously ... who is going to stop Him. I believe that. But, the reverse is true as well: If He wants the door shut, it's going to stay shut. Even then, I have to trust that He is in control. 

The truth is, sometimes I don't like not having control over which doors open and which doors don't. It's this little pride thing that seems to show it's nasty little head in my life every so often. I like to think I know what's best and what doors should be opened. When I fall to this, I move from knocking on to knocking down.  

I know I've moved from simply knocking on to trying to knock down when ... 

  • I feel entitled to have something and I become bitter because I don't.
  • I feel discontent with what I have instead of grateful for what I have.
  • I get angry. Not a righteous anger over a wrong or an injustice, but an anger that I'm not getting what I want.
  • I'm feel a temptation to sacrifice a principle or a personal standard in order to get what I want.
  • I put myself first and am willing to sacrifice the feelings of someone close to me in order to get what I want.
  • I become obsessed with whatever it is I'm praying about ... so much so that my eyes focus on "the gift" rather than the Giver of the gift.
  • I'm clearly going against the principles of God's word to get what I want.

As much as I hate to admit it, doors are not my specialty. But, they are God's. I can knock on the door. I can knock hard on the door ... with both fists, even. And, I can keep on knocking hard for as long as I can, but will I trust that God is the One ultimately responsible for opening doors? When I knock down doors, I generally make a mess of things and I'm picking up the pieces for a long time. When I allow Him to open the door and then gently step through ... the adventure begins and I can trust that no one will be able to close it. 

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