Be Awesome

1780167_10202444553689725_2052193352_oI plan to post several reflections on our past two weeks in California, but I’m going to work my way backwards. Mostly because our return home was pretty traumatic.

We got up at 5 am, west coast time, said tearful goodbyes and drove to SFO (where we said more tearful goodbyes). A small blessing happened at the airport when we were able to get Marina her own seat (although that did mean I had to sit a row ahead of the rest of the fam).

Everything kind of went downhill from there. Overall, M did fine on the plane, but she’s done better (she only slept 20 minutes). I came down with a head cold the day before and wasn’t feeling so hot during most of the flight.

When we finally landed in Boston (6 pm east coast time), feeling sick and tired, Stacey picked us up, we ate some dinner, and finally got home just before 8 pm. And then things got crazy.

We got everything up stairs and turned on our heat (a sad fact, in and of itself, after being in California for two weeks), and less than a minute later our house was full of smoke and the smell of smoke. Turns out there was some kind of water leak down stairs while were gone, and we’re still not sure what exactly happened but there was no way we were all sleeping in our house in that condition (today we are home, but we are still trying to fix all of this).

So, we gathered everything up again and headed to Stacey’s house (thank you for being so close and for house sitting this week). As we were hurriedly trying to get everyone and everything in the car the back gate of the Jeep falls on me and pops out my shoulder. This shoulder has been troublesome for a long time, but this episode was particularly gruesome and given the circumstances I did not handle it well.

We finally got everyone in bed sometime around 9:30. What a day.

My immediate reaction to all this? Let’s go back!

Which leads me to some thoughts I jotted down on the plane: during the week students were around, we got to hear from several great people we are connected to about how they are radically living out the ways of Jesus. Everyone who shared did a great job and challenged our group to think and act more like Jesus.

I most enjoyed listening to Ben, the lead pastor of Cypress (the church that housed our group for the week). I thought Ben shared a number of things that were extremely applicable to our students, but one significant idea stood out to me.

Ben talked about his process of growth as a person, and as a leader, and he stressed the importance of faithfulness in the small things. He said that when he tried really hard to be good at the small things, at whatever was right in front of him, then the next thing, the future, seemed to naturally make itself clear. When he stressed about the next thing, and neglected the present, everything seemed more muddled.

So Ben’s advice to our students: just be awesome at whatever you are doing right now, and then when the next thing comes, be awesome at that (which sounds very cool in an Australian accent).

A lot of our students are facing transitions: graduation, starting a new phase of their program, marriage, internships, new jobs, moving from the first half of college to the second half, all kinds of transitions.

It’s common for students to be looking ahead. As a result it is difficult to be present, and it is difficult to see the value in whatever they are involved in right now.

And it’s common for me to do the same thing: to look ahead, but also to want to run back.

Ben gave us a good word: just be awesome at school, awesome at work, awesome at being a college student, and when the next phase starts be awesome at being a PT student, or a seminary student, or a new spouse, or a new employee.

And when the next phase starts with all of its new challenges and difficulties: don’t turn around and run backwards. Last night I did not feel like I was awesome in any way, and it’s actually in those moments that our faithfulness is most tested.

Be awesome at the little things, and big things will come! 

Not Worth It

I wrote two weeks ago about a “faithfulness deficit” in our culture. I continue to think about this.

I had a conversation the other day when a new thought struck. I don’t have a well articulated theology of spiritual warfare, but I do think a way the enemy attacks the church in the west is through undermining faithfulness.

We question whether the hard work and the rejection and the nastiness and the disappointment is really actually worth it. Someone stabs us in the back and steals our job. Someone we trusted turns out to be completely untrustworthy. We ignore a gut instinct and it comes back to bite us so we question our ability.

I have experienced all of those things and I’ve talked to other leaders who have experienced those things in just this last week.

I think about the conversations I’ve had in Acts this semester with students. I think about the blogging our staff has been doing through the Psalms. I realized this is a tension everyone feels, and has been feeling for thousands of years. David was hated and people tried to kill him. Paul was run out-of-town. So was Peter.

When injustice wins, when we get screwed, when it all blows up in our face, it rocks our world. It rocks our theology. It rocks our logic.

I keep coming back to this reality: not even Jesus could control the outcomes. He was rejected and despised in a big way, but also in a lot of other small, more subtle ways. Like this and this and this.

All you can do is throw yourself into the work and then let go of the outcomes. We can’t control what people will say about us, or what people will think of our work. But we can do the work and we can give it everything we have.

Again, we can’t control the outcomes, but we can choose to stay faithful. And that is a difficult but courageous choice.

A Faithfulness Deficit

We are immersing ourselves in the story of the early church on campuses around Boston this year and the conversations about Acts have been fantastic as our students explore community, the Holy Spirit, and facing opposition.

One thing we see in the early stages of Acts is rapid growth. In fact, we are given some hard numbers: the movement grows from 120, to 3000, to 5000. After hitting 5000 we are given more general statements like “others continued to join them,” or “their numbers were added to.”

This growth has been pointed out in several conversations I’ve been a part of and each time students have been interested in retention. How many of those 3000 stuck around for the next day and the next day and the next day? 

Fascinating. I think it’s a great question, and I think it belies the transient nature of our larger culture. Sure, lots of people will check something out once, but how many will actually stick around.

We have a faithfulness deficit.

I am sure there is a lot more to be said about this. But this question has surprised me and intrigued me. There’s some cynicism behind it (no way that many people actually stick around), but there’s also some wonder involved (that many people stick around? hmmmm….something going on there).

Faithfulness is a huge challenge and sacrifice. It is a better story. It is an all too rare story in our culture today.

Some Thoughts On Giving

A major project this summer has been increasing our support base. Fund raising, to put it bluntly. This is not my favorite part of the job, but there are also some beautiful, beautiful stories that come out of the process that I wouldn’t trade for the steadiest of incomes. I wrote about that earlier this summer.

Here’s what I want to say today: since Day 1 in Boston Amy and I have always been taken care of. Always. Sometimes in quite miraculous ways. Other times, simply through the faithfulness of our support team.

I read this article a few weeks ago. We have basically been fundraising during the worst time to do so in my lifetime. And yet, we have always been taken care of.

I also read this and resonated with it deeply. “It always seems to work out” is not a way to build a budget or to plan for the future. But, the truth is, it has always worked out. I think it has to do with faithfulness and with provision. They go together.

We have made some progress and we have some work still to do. That’s how fundraising works. Faithfulness and provision. And thengratitude…because it’s all a gift!

Fundamentals

This year is flying by and as it does I’m struck by the fact that I (we) am entering new territory. This summer will mark the beginning of our fifth year of marriage, my fifth year in Boston, my fourth year with Sojourn. This will be the longest I’ve lived in one place since I graduated from high school, the longest I’ve been in any ministry assignment, and equally long to any other job I’ve held.

When entering new territory I find it important to go back to some foundational truths. Like this, from one of my old professors:

Your ministry is who you are not what you do.”

In other words: character is the foundation of ministry, not talent, not job description…it’s not the role you play. Always a reminder that character comes first.

And then this…these ancient words, from one pastor to another pastor, resonate still thousands of years later:

“…I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. – II Timothy 4:1-5 (bold for the especially pertinent bits)

New territory can be scary, but also an opportunity. An opportunity to be reminded of the foundations. I’m excited for this next season, for finding out what it is like to be in the same place for a while. To put down deep roots.

But new territory or not the foundation is the same: character, faithfulness, sacrifice…may it be so!