Friday, February 28, 2014

Clutter Slows You Down

I have had my current email address for a LONG time now…almost 15 years. When you have an email address for a long time like that, some things just tend to happen naturally. You use it for everything. Most people you contact regularly know it without looking in their contacts. And, unfortunately, you begin to get mail from sources you never even knew existed.

Over the past several days I have been attempting to narrow the time I have to spend each day deleting unwanted emails. Now, as I write this, I’m PAINFULLY aware that this message is one of those messages that regularly hits YOUR inbox. To be clear, I still have some messages like this coming to me as well. But what I’m trying to do is make sure that the messages I’m choosing to receive regularly are ones that merit the time I have to invest in reading them. To that end, I have clicked the “Unsubscribe” link a LOT in the past week.

My wife, Kelley, is AMAZING at this! Every single day she has something that I have to set goals and carve out time to achieve - an Inbox with ZERO messages. Her desk is neat. Her calendar is neat. And even though she doesn’t dot her I’s with little hearts or put smiley faces in her o’s and zeros, she has an incredible gift of organization that makes me the perfect yin to her yang. 

I’m in a season right now where I am trying to identify priorities and give them my clear focus and more attention than less important things in my life deserve. To do that, I’ve got to get rid of some clutter. Clutter in your life just slows you down. You have to look longer for things, and you have to sift through junk to get to the treasure. Worthy things that are desperate for your attention suffer when you have to sift through the clutter to get to them.

So, what if you’re like me and not as organized as someone who has color coded bins in her closet? Embrace that God did not put that within you and that organized people will never understand why you are so messed up. BUT - do yourself a favor and use the brain God gave you to compensate for that gift you’re lacking. Systemize your approach to life and set priorities - then follow them. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do that without getting rid of a little clutter in your life. And in chasing discipline in this area of your life you might find that you’re more disciplined in other areas. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Chaos, Confusion, and Great Faith

The past few days in Wilson County have been difficult to navigate for young people and parents. Two more young lives came to an end far too early and under difficult and jarring circumstances. Coupled with a teen suicide earlier in the month, these events certainly lead to questions and emotions that have at their center the ability to shake, strengthen, or cloud our faith. How can we have great faith in the midst of such chaos and confusion?

I shared with students this past Wednesday night about the answers to those kinds of questions by looking at pioneers of faith in the Old and New Testaments. I shared with them how easy it seems to have faith when God sends the flood just as He promised after directing Noah to build the ark. When He shut the mouths of the lions after Daniel maintained his faith and practice of regular prayer with God. When He allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to survive the fiery furnace that was fueled by Nebedchanezzar’s anger of their obedience to their God over his command to bow to an idol. We LOVE those representations of faith because they have a Hollywood ending where the underdog wins in the end. 

But what about other times in our faith? What about the times when God does NOT seem to come through for us? What about when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or, worse yet, result in an answer that counters what our faith suggests “should” happen. I think that it’s in these times that we need to cling to our faith more than ever. I must confess that it’s easier to write about such things when one is not in the midst of the pain that goes with such chaos and confusion. That does not change, however, that great faith is needed in times of great strife.

As Christ followers we can be convinced of a few things:

1 - None of the battles we face are “Front Page News” to the God of the universe. God has known since before we were born every single challenge we would face. And as we have journeyed closer and closer toward them, He has been preparing our hearts to cope. He’s been  putting people in our lives who can support us and who have been through similar circumstances. His heart has been broken by the things that we will face as well as His knowledge of how we will react to Him as a result of how we interpret our suffering. He is not surprised. At all.

2 - Our view of His plan is both limited AND selfish. Most of the time when we face suffering, we can’t see the good that can come from it as we are too blinded by the pain. I would think that this is even more magnified when the pain includes a parent outliving his or her child; it’s just NOT the way things are supposed to go. But when God looks at the overall plan, His scope is far broader than we can ever imagine; His goodness permeates the most horrible of situations. Quite possibly the toughest thing to remember when living in great chaos and confusion is that God has not stopped, even for a second, being good. Whether your belief is that He calls people home sooner than others or that He simply allows things to happen for a reason - either way, both are overflowing with His goodness. That is good theology, but it can be incredibly difficult to live while in the middle of the pain.

3 - He, Himself, has faced that horrible pain as well. I think most of us have great capacity to love. But I have yet to meet someone who would willingly lay down the life of his or her child for someone else. Sure, there are PLENTY of folks willing to lay down their own lives for a friend or loved one, but laying down the life of your own child is altogether different. Yet when God looked at us, something about us made us worth it. Something about us made Him willing to lay down His own Son as a sacrifice for our disobedience. He was willing to repay rebellion with salvation. He was willing to do ALL the giving while we continued to do ALL the taking. Talk about something that’s not going the way it is supposed to - how could we for one second fathom that He would be willing to give His only Son for those who continue to mock, violate, and dismiss the love that drives His willingness to save us? Now THAT’S unfair.

As I have tried to interpret for myself the events of the past several days, I find that I am selfishly viewing them in a manner that affects me. I have focused on what I have experienced and the difficulty of losing young lives. I have had to remind myself that the source of my strength can absolutely NOT be the source of my pain. I have had to remind myself that though my heart breaks, the heart of God was broken long before mine - AND it was broken FOR me. And that as I navigate the loss of life, I have to do so while acknowledging the One who gives life - and gives it abundantly. 

Please let me know what I can pray about for you or your family.


Friday, February 7, 2014

I Think He Wants More

Last night we held a meeting for high school students interested in participating in our International Mission Trip this year. For the past four years our focus for international missions has been in Surco, Peru, about three hours outside Lima. But since our partnership with International Christian Youthworks last year brought us two interns from Europe, Alex and Ute, a new opportunity emerged for us to scout possible mission opportunities in that part of the world.

As you would imagine, telling a group of high school students that we are going to England is received a bit differently than telling them you are going to a third world country. In our meeting last night I was very clear with students and parents that our church is not in the business of sponsoring student tours to Europe. This trip, like all others we take, is about investing in God’s transformational work through His Son, Jesus Christ. This will be a working trip that requires us to step out of our comfort zones. This isn’t a “comfy” trip so students can see another part of the world.

To convey that sentiment, I felt led to make a more concerted effort to assist students in defining their calling to participate on this trip. Students desiring consideration to participate have to complete the following requirements: Complete a mission trip application, complete a survey, complete a 500 word essay describing why they feel God calling them to go, interview with a 5-person council, and complete a community service project.

As I laid out these requirements I could see an obvious widening of the eyes in our students…and I was thankful. These parameters, you see, are not intended to be barriers. Rather, they are intended to help students identify with what Christ may, or may not, be calling them to do. We are striving to push students to a level of excellence commensurate with the high calling Christ calls us to as His children. These parameters raise the level of commitment, desire, and calling while helping students identify the magnitude of each in their desire to participate on this trip.

I hope you’ll join me in finding ways to “raise the bar” of excellence in our commitment to Christ as believers in Him. Although His gift of grace is exactly that, a free gift to us, it didn’t come without the ultimate cost - His death on a cross. His ultimate sacrifice for us is worth our paying attention to excellence in our work for His Kingdom. We will absolutely well represent Him in our ministry and missions both domestically and internationally. He wants our best; let’s offer it to Him with great passion.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for you or your family.