Thursday, December 27, 2007

good questions for '08

A couple days ago I was sitting in Barnes & Noble skim reading a book over a cup of joe (I love reading $25 dollar books for the cost of a cup of coffee). It was a simple little leadership book called, QBQ!, (which stands for the Question Behind the Question), which was written by John Miller to encourage leaders, coaches, mentors, and anybody else who wants to live more productive lives to start asking ourselves and others the real questions we need to ask to eliminate blaming, complaining, and procrastination.

Miller asserts that:
“Why” questions (Why me? Why this? Why do they…?) often leads to powerlessness, victim-like thinking.
“Who” questions (Who did that? Who didn’t do that?) often leads to blaming and scapegoating.
“When” questions (When will that happen?) often leads to procrastination

His principles of good questions are simple, but really helpful. They’re built on the conviction that we are accountable for our thinking and for our behavior, and that we’re free to choose differently, to think differently, and to live differently. Here are Miller’s 3 characteristics of good questions:

1. They start with “what” or “how,” not “why,” “who,” or “when.”
2. They contain an “I,” not a “they,” “them,” or “you.”
3. They contain an action word like “do,” “contribute,” or “build.”

Here are some really helpful examples of bad questions (BQ) we often ask ourselves and others, and good questions (GQ) we should start asking:

(BQ) Why don’t they communicate better?
(GQ) How can I better understand you?

(BQ) When is somebody going to train me?
(GQ) What can I do to develop myself?

(BQ) Who dropped the ball?
(GQ) How can I contribute right now?

(BQ) Why don’t people follow through?
(GQ) How can I be a better coach?

(BQ) When are they going to get it?
(GQ) How can I communicate better?

(BQ) Why is he so self-absorbed?
(GQ) How can I be a better friend?

Those are simple, but profound questions that move us towards greater personal responsibility and personal accountability, and that’s a pretty healthy direction I'd like to move in.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the painted veil

If you like movies that take you to another time and place, you'll love The Painted Veil. This one takes you deep into the interior of China circa 1925, and deep into the pain and struggle of adapting to culture and the healing of broken relationships. There are several scenes in the movie which are profoundly spiritual, the most explicit being a scene between the Mother Superior of an orphanage and Kitty Fane, a young British volunteer whose marriage is all but dead. In this really profound scene the Mother Superior vulnerably confesses:

“I fell in love when I was 17, with God. A foolish girl with romantic notions about the life of the religious. But my love was passionate. Over the years my feelings have changed. He’s disappointed me. Ignored me. We’ve settled into a relationship of peaceful indifference. The old husband and wife who sit side by side on the sofa, but rarely speak. He knows I will never leave him. This is my duty. But when love and duty are one, then grace is within you."

I don't want to settle for peaceful indifference. I want the deep grace within that comes when passion allies itself with faithfulness. I want it in my marriage, and I want it with my God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

prince of shalom

We typically translate shalom as "peace," but "peace" just doesn't really get us there. Shalom has a far more profound meaning. It's not just the absence of conflict, war, or even anxiety. It's also the presence of a deep contentment and a satisfying wholeness. It's the prevailing presence of a radical harmony in our souls and in our worlds. John Ortberg says it like this:

• In a world where shalom prevailed, all marriages would be healthy and all children would be safe.
• Those who have too much would give to those who have too little.
• Israeli & Palestinian children would play together on the West Bank; their parents would build homes for one another.
• In offices and corporate boardrooms executives would secretly scheme to help their colleagues succeed; they would complement them behind their backs.
• Tabloids would be filled with accounts of courage and moral beauty. Talk shows would feature mothers and daughters who love each other deeply, wives who give birth to their husband's children, and men who secretly enjoy dressing as men.
• Disagreements would be settled with honesty, grace, and civility. There would still be lawyers, maybe, but they would have really useful jobs like delivering pizza, which would be non-fat and low in cholesterol.
• Doors would have no locks; cars would have no alarms.
• Schools would no longer need police presence or even hall monitors; students and teachers and janitors would honor and value one another's work. At recess, every kid would get picked for a team.
• Divorce courts and battered-women shelters would be turned into community centers, which would be staffed by professional ball players.
• Every time one human touched another, it would be to express encouragement, affection, and joy. No one would be lonely or afraid.
• And in the center of the entire community would be its magnificent architect and most glorious resident: the God whose presence fills each person with unceasing splendor and ever-increasing delight.

May the Prince of Shalom come this Christmas!

Monday, November 26, 2007

a new day

A few days ago I was down in Laguna Beach, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Just north of Main Beach, up on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, is where I often go to linger with God. It's where I go to pray. It’s where I go to worship. For me, it's a divine sanctuary.

On this November afternoon it was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The setting sun was leaving a trail of light glistening on the water, and the gentle swells were lapping up on the white sand. To my left was a string of sea gulls sunbathing along the rail of a fence. Out in front of me, past the palm trees, pelicans were diving for dinner, and off to my right a sequence of rugged rocky points were pressing into the sunset. It was picture perfect

And then the thought struck me…this piece of perfection is actually broken! As good as this…and it was good…it’s actually supposed to be better! Every element I was taking in was once purer. Everything—the land and sea, the birds of the air and the trees clinging to the hillsides—once existed in truer harmony with one another. Everything in this picture had been tainted by the consequences of human behavior, and if I had ears to hear, I might actually hear what the scriptures describe as “all of creation groaning and crying out as if in childbirth” for the day when things will be made right again.

We may not see the brokenness of creation in a place like Laguna Beach on a beautiful fall afternoon. But we do see it when fires race through our neighborhoods; when a hurricane pummels the Gulf Coast; when a cyclone devastates the Bangladeshi coast; or when an earthquake buries a village in Central America.

Even more, we see the brokenness of creation in our own lives. We see it in the pain we feel way too often. We see it whenever we stumble and fall. We see it every time we fail to be the people we want to be…the people we know we should be. Why am I so much like Paul when he wrote, “I do the very things I don’t want to do, and I don’t to the things I want to do!” Because that’s what broken people do.

Unfortunately brokenness doesn’t stop at our own skin. We experience it our relationships, in the judicial system, in the world's economy, and in our work. We know deep down in our souls that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Not the way it was made to be. And it’s not the way it’ll always be!

The scriptures tell us that there will be a day when “all things will be made new!” There will be a day when the pains of childbirth will end, and we’ll live in a new and unbroken world. When all of creation will be back in sync with itself. A time when we’ll be fully at home in our uncompromised bodies, and we’ll live at peace in untainted relationships. There will be a time when life will be lived as it was meant to be lived.

Let these words breathed by the Spirit of God in Revelation 21:1-7 wash over you as we enter the holiday season:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."

"I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

"And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

listening at the speed of a walk

In our lives, which are all too often lived at a frenetic pace, there are times when we simply need to slow down and listen at the speed of a walk. Because if we don’t, if we continually move through life pushing the posted speed limits whenever possible, we’ll often miss the important things all around us that God wants us to see. And so there are times in my life when I put away the car keys and I go for a walk. I like to call it intentional wandering, because I go with a purpose—I go to listen, and I go to respond to what I see. I want to tell you about two walks I recently took, walks in two very different neighborhoods that are worlds apart, and yet share something in common.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon in September, Luc and I took a walk through the black township of Soshanguve in South Africa. It was great to be with Luc again, (Luc is the guy I mentored in Pretoria and who I helped buy a bride for six cows), and it was great to be back in Africa exploring another neighborhood where we are hoping to birth a new ministry. We had two objectives for our walk: 1) to get a feel for the neighborhood, and 2) to drop in at the mosque that had recently sprung up in the township and meet the imam.

First, it might be helpful to know that white people don’t walk through black townships in South Africa, and so as Luc and I walked, people unabashedly pointed at me and talked openly about the lekua (white person) on their street; quite likely the first white person they had ever seen on their street. As we walked, we prayed, eyes open, out loud, just Luc and I talking with God and each other about the things we were seeing. Sometimes we stopped to chat with people, but mostly we just prayed for these potential new neighbors of ours.

Two things really stood out to us as we walked and prayed: one was the sense of community the people in Block KK experienced in the midst of their poverty. Groups of children were everywhere…playing in schoolyards and kicking balls on the dirt roads. Teenagers were hanging out on street corners. Women clustered on porches to cook dinner together, and groups of men sat in tight circles on rickety chairs outside their corrugated tin shacks. They didn’t have much, but they had each other. I couldn’t help contrast that with our culture, which has so much stuff, and yet is so often alone and lacking the intangible asset of community.

The other thing we noticed was the need to create beauty even when you’re struggling to survive. Most of the shacks and block houses we walked past were painted…albeit in multiple colors as paint could be secured. Most yards were dirt, but the dirt was neatly racked. And even in those dirt yards there was almost always a prominently displayed flower or bush that had obviously been planted with pride and nurtured as if it were priceless. It struck both Luc and me how precious the simple things in life can become to us when we’re not feeding our insatiable appetites for more.

The last stop on our walk was the new mosque, where we wanted to meet the imam and introduce ourselves as fellow spiritual leaders who also want to be men of peace in this neighborhood. This neighborly, even diplomatic visit on our part turned out to be a bit more complicated than we had imagined.

Before we were able to meet the young imam, we had to get past the “grounds keeper,” a surly South African man about my age who saw himself as more of a bodyguard than a grounds keeper. He was deeply suspicious of our motives, and didn’t hesitate to let us know it. He did not want us anywhere near the mosque, and he had no intention of allowing us to meet the imam. Within a few minutes we were surrounded by several men from the mosque who continued to question us and challenge our intentions.

Eventually, the imam came out to the courtyard to see what was happening. He was a small, almost fragile looking young man who had recently come down from Somalia to lead this Islamic community. Without a word spoken between us, Luc and I decided that the best way for us to actually get to know the imam was for me to stay engaged with the bodyguard and the other men so that Luc could get off to the side and talk with him unimpeded. So that’s what we did.

Standing there in the courtyard with these Muslim men, I found myself experiencing their hostility—a kind of hostility I’d never felt before. As they outlined the perceived atrocities and injustices committed by our country throughout the world, I could actually feel their pain and their anger. This wasn’t a theoretical, philosophical discussion about politics and world events that most of us are accustomed to. This was personal. These men had actually suffered most of their lives, and in their eyes, I was complicit in the wrongs they had suffered. It didn’t feel fair, but fair wasn’t the point.

Even more disturbing to me was how they felt about my God and my faith, a faith that for them is epitomized by televangelists and prosperity gospel teachers who visit their township 24/7 via satellite TV. Do you know these men Robert? Are these your friends Robert? Why do people clap for them? Why do they accept applause as if they are God? Why do they wear fancy clothes and drive fancy cars? How can you believe in this Robert? As Luc was building a relational bridge with the young Somali imam, I was trying my best to explain to the South African men surrounding me that the Jesus they see represented on satellite TV is not the Jesus I see in scriptures, and that the churches most of us go to are nothing like the churches that meet in those studios and stadiums. This was an eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe moment of truth. I could see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they were struggling to believe that there actually could be a different kind of Christian faith in the world today than the one portrayed on the big screen, and that if there was such a thing, was I accurately representing what this different kind of Christian might be like?

I wish I could say they embraced what I shared and had a spiritual “aha” moment. They didn’t. But I do think I left them wondering about all they’ve seen and been told about Jesus and his followers. I think I left them wondering if there was another story out there that needed to be considered. And at a minimum, I hope they experienced a different kind of Christian…one they didn’t need to be angry at or fear.

As Luc and I walked back to the car, he said, “I’m sure glad nothing bad happened with those guys, especially on this day.” “What do you mean, on this day?” I asked. “Well, today is 9/11. Didn’t you know?” No, I actually didn’t. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I can just imagine what they must have thought when they saw this big white guy walking into their mosque on 9/11!

We would have never experienced what we did on this September 11th if we hadn’t carved out a couple of hours to listen at the speed of a walk. We met people who were kind and inviting, and people who were hurt and angry. We experienced some community assets and some liabilities that we may have missed if we were just driving by. I’d encourage you to give it a try in your neighborhood. Take some time to intentionally wander through your neighborhood with God and see what he wants to show you. You may be surprised.

A couple of months after that walk, I walked through another neighborhood on the other side of the world, a neighborhood just an hour or so away from our home. It’s a neighborhood we’re hoping to birth another new ministry team in. In a future post, I’ll tell you about that neighborhood and what we’re hearing as we listen at the speed of a walk.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

casper the friendly atheist

I just read a fun and provocative little book that has stimulated some good thinking and some verbal sparring among some friends of mine. The book was written by Jim Henderson, a follower of Jesus, and Matt Casper, an atheist. It’s called Jim and Casper Go To Church. (Yep, that’s the actual title…makes you want to read it, doesn’t it?) It’s the whimsical and sometimes disconcerting story of their visits to a dozen different churches sprinkled across the states, particularly focusing on the observations and insights Jim was able to elicit from Matt Casper, the friendly atheist.

It didn’t take Matt long to wonder if there was some kind of script that churches are supposed to follow, because even though they experienced some stylistic differences in churches, almost all of them seemed to do essentially the same things. While they were taking in all the Sunday morning happenings and having a groundhog day experience, the question kept resurfacing, Did Jesus tell you guys to do all this?

That’s a great question. Over time, we add layers and layers to our programs and services. New ideas get added on to our traditional operating systems and our churches start to feel like the religious equivalent of Microsoft code. We do lots of stuff and add lots of bells and whistles to our events because we think people will like it.

And then a guy like Matt comes along who simply asks, Is this what Jesus told you guys to do? And then, with a biblical literacy that defies his own beliefs, he wonders why we gather so often in big comfortable spaces and put lots of money and energy into self-gratifying services instead of just keeping things simple, rolling up our sleeves and living out Jesus' love where it’s needed most, which is probably not in these buildings.

Good stuff. If you’re interested in hearing about their little journey, check out their book, Jim and Casper Go To Church. But here’s the question some friends of mine have been sparring over, and I’d like to invite you into the skirmish:

Should we even care what an atheist thinks of our church?

After all, atheists are not our audience, right? Church is for believers, right? I mean, it's great that non-believers occasionally drop in to visit, but the church doesn't exist for them. Hmm. Is that true? Well, then who are we doing this for? Who are we really putting on all these services for anyway?

I’d love to hear your take on that question(s).

I’ll give you my take in the form of a metaphor. Let’s say you were going to invite some friends over to have dinner with your family. Would you care what they thought? Would you consider what might make it a more enjoyable evening for them? Of course you would. It would be strangely awkward to invite people to your place if you didn’t even care about what they thought. Now, would you cook something your family didn’t enjoy just to satisfy your guests? Would you ask your family to become something other than who they really are so the guests are satisfied? I hope not. You’d probably prepare something you think your whole family and your guests would enjoy. And you’d hope your family was comfortably genuine, engaged, and engaging, (okay, and maybe a bit more polite than usual).

So, is that dinner for your family, or for your guests? Both, isn’t it? It was true to your family. It nourished their appetites, and it invited their real, genuine presence. And it was thoughtful. It also considered the needs of those who were invited to join you.

Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t have lots of "just family" meals. You need to do that, and if you get some drop-in guests, well, they may have to flex a bit to fit in.

But any time we open our doors to guests, when we invite our neighbors to join us in our community gatherings, we are by definition entering into an act of hospitality. And the exercise of hospitality--caring about all who are in the room--is a very Jesus-like thing to do.

What’s your thought?

Monday, January 15, 2007

most christians aren't

I always find it curious when people instantly find confidence in other people because they've identified themselves as "Christian." You know what I mean, like when you hear someone say, "I feel really good about my accountant because she's a Christian." Or, "I'm so excited because my son got a Christian teacher at his public school." Heck, I even find myself doing that.

But a recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group found that only 9% of people who identified themselves as "Christian" actually held a Christian worldview. In other words, only 9% of "Christians" actually think biblically. 91% of "Christians" don't even think like Christ. So are they even Christian? And is having a Christian worldview really even sufficient to be considered a genuine Christian?

In the 1st century A.D. people who followed Jesus were known as people of The Way. In other words, you knew who they were not because of how they labeled themselves, but because of the way they lived their lives. Today it seems like way too many of us can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud the things he taught and the things he cared about without actually following his teachings or caring about those same things. I wonder how many of that 9% who have a Christian worldview actually live out what they say they believe.

It turns out Christian isn't much of an adjective anymore, and maybe not even much of a noun either. Maybe we should look for a new word--or perhaps an old word--to describe those who think and live like Jesus. The word Jesus used was disciple, which means follower, or student. It was a word commonly used in the trades of his day, a trade world characterized by an apprenticeship form of education in which an apprentice (disciple) gained knowledge and competence by emulating the practices of a master. Apprentices were discipled by their masters, and they became like their masters.

Maybe it's time Barna and his group stoped asking who is Christian, and started asking who is living out the revolutionary love of Jesus. Only then will we find out what percentage of our population is truly Christian.