Life-changers…#9

number nine(this is a recurring weekly series on the fifty events that shaped the course of my life and the person i’ve become along the way.  welcome to my therapy.)

this one’s a little longer.  sorry.

in my first year, the leadership of the church that i served in huntington beach made a bold move.  they began the process of creating a school as part of the ongoing ministry of our church.  we already had a pre-school, so for many it seemed like the next logical step.

organizational documents were drawn.  a board was selected.  a principal (headmaster) was hired.  recruiting students/families began.  our building was reconfigured.  equipment and supplies were purchased.  and within a year or so, they were off and running.

i remember questioning the leadership team on their goals and priorities for the school.  they said they were concerned about what was happening to children in the public school.  in my youthful self-righteousness, i countered with saying all they cared about was what was happening to their children in the public school.  (i may have been right in my assessment…but i missed the mark entirely when it came to christlikeness!)

i said if they really cared about kids, for every kid that could pay the tuition, we should offer tuition to a kid/family that couldn’t afford it.    that didn’t go over so well.  i’m afraid lines were starting to be drawn.

by the time our first son was eligible to be enrolled, the school was firmly established and had experienced steady growth.  as the youth pastor of the church, i had already encountered numerous “conflicts” with the school over building and equipment usage, scheduling, and the youth group kids constantly going where they weren’t supposed to be.  church kids…what are you gonna do with ’em?

i wasn’t necessarily “at odds” with the church school, but it was definitely bumpy at times.  we were all still family.

but things became different when we were offered a full-scholarship for our son to go to the church school (a perk of being a pastor on the staff).   it was the first time we were confronted with what we believed about the public/private school debate on such a personal level.

this was an era of major debate and political wrangling over the school voucher issue.  the public school system in california was under civic assault from angry parents and angry teachers.  gang influence was spreading.  test scores were down.  massive budget cuts were gutting the rich educational history of the state.  and private christian schools were starting to pop up everywhere.

so we studied the issues.  we sought counsel.  we listened carefully to the debate.  we looked deeply into god’s word.  we prayed…  and then we decided to enroll our son in the local public elementary school in our neighborhood…right next to our church building.

i didn’t set too well with a number of people in our church family…especially those who were deeply involved with the school.  i get it.  to them, it felt like a “slap in the face”.   it was a rejection of significance.  but to us, it marked the moment that would define our family life and our focus of ministry forever.

my youth group was full of public school kids.  it was my “mission field”.  how could i not be part of it with my own blood?  to us, it was incarnation.  to have withdrawn our own would have felt like rejection.  so we dove into the public school with our whole hearts.  we accepted it as an extension of our ministry…warts and all.

i totally affirm the responsibility…and the right… for parents to make the wisest choice for the education of their own kids.  some choose private schools.  some choose church schools.  some choose home schools.  but for us, it was never just about our own kids.  it was about the community.  it was about those who couldn’t afford specialized education programs.  it was about those who didn’t have parents with flexibility and education.  it was about standing up for them.

did we sacrifice excellence in education for our kids, so we could be martyrs on the altar of public school rescue?  no way!  our kids never suffered.  they had some of the most fantastic and dedicated teachers that any kids have ever had (especially during our years of life in a super low-income neighborhood.  those teachers should be granted sainthood.)

our boys grew up with a great understanding and appreciation of different cultures.  they were forced to deal with really difficult people and develop problem-solving skills at really young ages.   they had to learn quickly how to say “no”,  when confronted with evil.  there is very little that is “safe” about the public school these days.

but it was where we dove in.  it forced wanda and i to be active participants in our son’s social and educational development.  we didn’t just send them to school.  we invested ourselves in those same schools.  those schools became family to us.  we became part of them.  they became part of us.  and it definitely changed our prayer lives…for the better!

all because of a decision we made when offered a free private school education.  who would have guessed?

did our kids turn out perfect?  nah.  but we have two boys that are really good public school teachers…who both married public school teachers.   and we couldn’t be prouder.

over the 38 years of youth ministry,  i bet there are 15 or 20 kids who grew up and entered church ministry as a career. and i bet there are 150-200 who entered public education as a career, with a desire to influence the lives of kids and make a difference in the communities they serve.  and we couldn’t be prouder.

apples don’t fall far.

First things first

So good to get back to what’s really important tonight.

Over fifty kids from our community came to our kid’s program tonight. That’s 5-0.

47 of them rode the bus. I already love our bus. It had to 110 degrees inside of it and every face was smiling as we pulled up to the North Point building. So cool to be around kids that are satisfied with so little.

There must have been 60-70 kids total…80-90 with all of our workers included. It may not have the splash that churches of greater resources can offer, but there was no less passion…no less love… no less mission…

Watching different colors and cultures and backgrounds and stories rub elbows with each other is what church is all about. Knowing we get to introduce them to the God of love is humbling.

Who we are as a church family…and the definition of our calling in our community…is becoming clearer every day.

North Pointers…are you catching it?

Community Life – Three

having a common goal is central to healthy community life.   the problem is that even if the organization has a stated common goal,  it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody who’s part of the organization has an equal buy-in to the goal.

even in most families,  not every family member has equal buy-in to what the family is all about.   moms and dads almost always have more buy-in than the kids…especially early on in the life of the family.   parents foot the bill.   parents take care of house.   parents put food on the table.   parents clean the messes.   parents take the blame.

parents also have the responsibility for passing on the buy-in to their kids.   they have the job of teaching values and assigning duty and monitoring commitment.   if they don’t,  they will fail in the most basic of parenting tasks.

the church is family…and like most families,  not every member has equal buy-in to what the church family is all about.   but unlike nuclear families,  the church family doesn’t have “parents”.   at least not in the same way.

do we really expect that some people…maybe the older ones or the ones who have been part of the church family longer… are supposed to do most of the work?   or foot more of the bill?   or clean up more of the messes?   or shoulder more of the responsibilities?

buy-in takes time.   although everybody in a church family is equal before god,  there will always be degrees of spiritual maturity…and degrees of commitment to the common goals.

there are some who welcome the challenges of serving and giving and the shouldering of responsibilities.   there will also be those who need the example of older,  wiser and more seasoned disciples to pull more weight in the family…until the rest are able to do their share.

shouldering responsibility in the community of faith is a privilege.   it is not a burden.   it is the joy of being a faithful servant.

it also requires patience and determination to be a healthy,  gracious example to those who follow.

Community Life – Two

i can talk all i want about the need for community or the value of community,  but if you don’t want it…or you don’t know how to enter into it…it’s not going to happen.

in the church,  we talk about the need for good shepherding.   we plan and strategize and structure for how to follow up on people…for how to develop ways of looking out for the needs of people and drawing them into relationships where they can be engaged and cared for.

well,  here are a few thoughts about shepherding:

there are a lot of people who don’t want to be shepherded.   they don’t want to be drawn into relationships.   or they don’t see the need…or joy…of living life close to other people.   or they are comfortable with being alone…or aloof.

there are others who don’t possess the skill set to function comfortably with other people.   or they carry so much baggage,  they make friendship difficult.   or they wear so many masks,  you never really know who you’re dealing with.

there are some others who would like to part of the group,  any group.   these folks even attempt,  on some level,  to be noticed and drawn into conversation.   but for some reason…maybe many reasons…the connection doesn’t happen.   the attempt to reach out goes unnoticed…or even outright rejected…and future efforts to connect are shelved.

there are still others who seem to dare you to be friendly.   their walls are tall and thick.   past relationships…especially in the church…have left them cold,  angry,  or skeptical.   it seems like they have lost the felt need  for friendship or any kind of personal life accountability.   or simply never had it in the first place.

for most,  it is much easier to stay in small,  safe pockets.   sometimes that includes a few like-minded,  similar-personality acquaintances.   sometimes,  especially in the lobby of a church building,  it can look like the uncomfortable set of cliques we all endured in the school cafeteria years ago…with all the loners sitting by themselves longing to be invited in.

do you ever remember wanting to fit in?   do you remember where,  in the social pecking order,  you fell?   were you part of a larger group that accepted you in?   were you part of a small group of misfits…comfortable with your limited measure of social status?   did you muddle through your adolescence with your one BFF?    or did you learn to plaster yourself against the wall in lonely anonymity?

the real questions are these:  have you outgrown those boxes and grown up?   have you learned to include others into your life?   have you learned to reach out and let others into your world?

either way,  it’s time for some change…don’t you think?

Community Life – One

this week,  north pointers are deeply connected to lives that have been touched by tragedy.

for the past five days,  many of us have been working together to help bonnie get her house ready to sell in the aftermath of her husband’s motorcycle injuries nearly two and a half years ago…landscaping,  painting,  tiling,  siding repair,  plumbing,  packing…a huge job that people are willingly sacrificing their time and money to see happen.

we also have two families,  in particular,  that have been deeply impacted by the tornado in joplin.   logan and aanna and adam and autumn each have many friends and family that reside in joplin who are living through the devestation…even as i write this.   today,  they are coordinating the collection of emergency supplies and will be leaving in the morning to drive to joplin…to deliver help and encouragement over the memorial day weekend.

these two,  unrelated efforts have got me thinking.

we live in a culture that celebrates the individual.   for most people,  life is lived out in an individual vacuum.   i take care of myself.   i look after my own.   i respond to my own needs first.   i do what i want.   i go where i choose.   i function in my own best interest.   i live for my own comfort…my own security…my own happiness…my own future…my own well-being.

sounds awfully…self-centered.   but practically speaking,  that’s how we live our lives until somebody else’s life is rocked to the point that we must look at how our lives can impact the life of another.   and many…tho not all… take action.

it’s a little ironic to me that the very best way of celebrating the individual  is always found in the context of community.   it is when we really begin to sense that there is something greater than ourselves…and that something greater is only truly discovered when we stop isolating ourselves and disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world.

as a follower of christ,  i know that my great example emptied himself  (philippians 2) for the good and well-being of others.   it was there that his purpose was declared.

the same should be true of any who bear his name.

Walking

so i made this decision about a week ago.

after a lay-off of a few months,  i knew it was time to start my walking regimen again.   my playing days are over.   my knees haven’t been able to bend past 90 degrees for over three decades.   i haven’t sweat as a result of actually “running” running in years  (short bursts of effort on a racquetball court don’t really count as running…).

walking is my default cardio. i’m not sure bowling would qualify.   anyway,  back to the decision…

while walking through my community last week,  i had a moment.   it was a moment of both clarity and overwhelm.   i live in a neighborhood full of possibilities.   my church  (not “mine”…) is part of this same neighborhood.   that night,  i saw and felt opportunities to live out my faith with a new perspective.

most of the ideas were not new.   many of them are things we’ve talked about before.   some are things we’ve done in the past.   others are things we already do,  in some way.   some are all mine.   some are yours.    you can see the list here.

no,  the ideas were not new.   but the sense of urgency was.   the sense of reality was.   the sense of clarity was.   and the sense of “what do i do now?” left me feeling horribly under-qualified as a leader.

it was just what i needed.

when it came to youth ministry programs and strategies, it seems like i’ve always known what to do.   my life experience…my education…my training…my spiritual gifts…my natural talents…had always allowed me to lead from my strength.   i always felt comfortable in dreaming,  program-planning,  creative problem-solving  and team leadership…when it came to youth ministry.

right now?   i really don’t know the next step to take with all of these possibilities.   i’m not sure what is the best move to make.   my experience is leaving me unprepared to navigate through the next steps of mobilizing our church family to make the right choices…the best places to invest our time,  energy,  and resources.

so instead of using my ingenuity and limited leadership skill,  i’ve decided to….walk.

i’ve decided to walk  my community for the next 30 days and listen to what god might be saying to us.   to me.

i walk about an hour each day.   i try to go different routes…walking different streets and different parts of the neighborhood.   i have a pretty cool two-and-a-half mile loop that i’ve already done a few times.   i really like it.

there’s nothing special about the thirty days.   wanda and i are going on vacation march 14,  so i’ve decided to walk everyday until then.   it’s not some kind of spiritual 40-days of  “purpose”.   i’m not walking around trying to pray the walls of the city down like some kind of modern day mo-joshua (you had to be there…).

nope.   i’m  just a guy wandering around trying to see my community with god’s eyes and asking for wisdom on how to proceed.

it’s a nice place to be.

anybody want to start making your own walk?   anybody want to join in praying for wisdom?    there’s plenty of room.

What’s your vision?

i went for a walk through my community tonight.   i bet i walked nearly three miles…up and down streets…downtown… through most of the different parts of the neighborhood.   i always have better conversation with god when i’m walking.   tonight was no exception.   here’s what i saw as i walked…

an afternoon or evening tutoring program for kids

make NP a music venue for local talent

marriage and family counseling for people who cannot pay

a low-cost wedding chapel for couples that are economically strapped

small groups that meet in local establishments

a bus to pick up kids in the neighborhood for programs

an athletic park  (baseball, soccer) at the lewisville rodeo

a frat house  for guys to live in while they serve the community

day care for mom’s who can’t pay

a coffee house

sunday groups that meet inside  local business establishments

tree trimming for overgrown houses

new partnership with christian community action

community outreach partnerships with other local churches

convert abandoned warehouse into a gymnasium

ESL classes

after school program at college street elementary

low-cost office space for start-up businesses or ministries

parenting classes

community theater presentations…in the LV playhouse

volleyball league or tournament

neighborhood movie nights on the big screen…with free barbecue

invite our community to join us in a challenge  (planned famine,  benefit for CCA, etc…)

host a local debate at the flying pig

host a concert at the new grand theater

i guess i’m just wondering if there are any others that are having the same vision for what north point can become as i’m having?

do we have people who are willing to get “radical” with their time and money…for the honor of god and the good of others?

are there folks that are ready to trade the “american” dream… for a “kingdom” dream?

If you are a 20 or 30-something, read this. Please. Part Two.

Like I said yesterday, this is a personal message to young adults…both singles and couples.

Over the last two decades, I’ve seen changes in the part of life (young adulthood) I hold closest to my heart.  We were both barely 21 in our first year of marriage.  This summer will mark 36 years since Wanda and I made the promise to spend our lives together.  We moved away from the motherland sixteen years ago, so most of the changes I have witnessed have happened here in the Great State, but I suspect they may exist outside of the frontier, also.

(Warning. Beware of “over-personalizing” every observation I make.  Some of them may nail you right between the eyes…others may miss the target altogether.  When shoes fit, put them on.  When they don’t, put them back on the shelf.  I am a master of the mixed metaphor…)

I look at what’s going on today, and I see something totally different than how Wanda and I lived in our 20’s and 30’s.  I see culture exerting its will over the hearts and schedules of young adults in ways that were completely foreign to us.  I see young adults growing more and more inward and protective of their time and money and possessions and children.

Rather than “choosing” a lifestyle, I listen to story after story of people who feel their lifestyles are being dictated by demanding jobs and incomes that are being stretched so thin they are ready to explode.

Here is my ultimate commentary of life today: People will work hard…get up early…stay late…and put up with high demands and uncomfortable situations…as long as it nets a paycheck or directly benefits their home/family in some way. But people simply don’t want to be pushed outside their comfort zones in their “negotiable” time…what little they have of it.

Because well-paying jobs are harder to come by, young adults are willing to be miserable in order to keep those jobs.  I hear fewer and fewer stories of idealism and dreaming and living by faith…and see more and more looks of emptiness, frustration and “shoulder shrugging” resignment.  My heart goes out to so many young adults these days that see a richer and deeper life, but it sits outside their grasp.

Our houses have become sanctuaries for personal retreat and insulation from the nasty, demanding world outside our doors.  Home improvement has little or nothing to do with the quality of relationships that are built inside our walls…but about the next new thing we can add to make our behind-closed-doors experience a better one.

On the positive side, I see more young parents taking their roles of protector-provider very serious.  But I also see parents who are bowing at the altar of family worship. That’s when life is allowed to revolve around the kids…when parents sacrifice everything for their own kid’s personality development… happiness…education…experience… schedule…to the exclusion of community life outside the family walls.

More than anything, I see young adults who have lost sight of bigger pictures. The need for a greater community experience…the command for genuine, selfless service to others for free…the cry for deep, transparent, challenging friendships…the profound value of a village for our children to grow up in…these seem to be pearls that are losing their worth.  Quickly.

Hey, it’s easy to throw stones.  It’s a lot harder to provide light for the journey.  There are no easy, quick fixes.  Life seems to be a lot more complicated for you guys, than it was for me when I was your age.  But if you hunger for more. If there is something inside you that says there is a more meaningful life out there to be had…here are a few suggestions for turning it around:

Find a person or a group of people that needs what you have to offer…your talents…your gifts… your passion…your love…your service…and make a commitment to those people. Make it so they depend on you.  Make it so that if you don’t do your part, those people lose.  Make it so that breaking your commitment is simply not an option. I didn’t say it would be easy.  But you can do it.

Find a group of like-minded, like-hearted young adults and begin meeting with them regularly.  Find an existing group.  Start your own group.  Meet about something that interests you.  Read a book.  Study a topic.  Go out to eat.  Play on a team.  Share a hobby.  Meet a need.  Just do it together with some people.  Regularly. I think you will be blown away by the change that happens in your heart.   And you may even find the stress in your schedule is much easier to manage. I still believe in a God that changes people.

Practice saying “no” to yourself and your family.  Everybody will be much better for the experience.

Make the time to really determine if you want to live a life of selflessness…a life of community…a life of transparency…a life larger than your personal family unit.  Some people don’t want it. Some people are quite content with being the center of their own world.  So be it.

But if you sense a calling to walk in hallowed footsteps…if the size of your world is shrinking…if you don’t want your children to grow up like you…then you have to step boldly. Is the life you are living really the life you were meant to live?

I’ll close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite books, We Really Do Need One Another by Reuben Welch:

You know, we want to save ourselves and hold ourselves back as though the highest goal in life would be to look good in our caskets.  It’s no special blessing to come to the end of life with love unshared,  selves ungiven,  activities unactivated,  deeds undone,  emotions unextended.  It’s not an encouraging thought,  especially at my age in life—but I have the feeling that when a person is middle-aged,  he ought to be about half used up.  And when I read this passage,  I keep asking myself what I’m saving myself for?  Isn’t it God’s intention that when we come to the end of the line, we’re just about used up?

The Fifteen (#14)

repeat…over the course of the final fifteen days of 2009,   i’m going to let you in on fifteen things that need to change in my life in the coming year.   fifteen decisions that i am making that reflect things that are important to me.

i’m going to go waaay out on a limb.   i’m going to give you my best shot at honest transparency, in an attempt to be held accountable.  some things will be  about my spiritual journey…others are simply improvements to the life i walk.   either way, they are important to me…and here’s the next one on the list:

change number fourteen

i love north point.   i tell my old friends back in the motherland that i finally found the church that i belong in, after years and years of being a square peg in a round hole when it came to church.

i eat, sleep, breathe, walk, talk, dream, plan, play, pray…north point.  every day.   sometimes 24/7.

i’m not saying this to be congratulated or praised.  quite the opposite.

without some pretty hard core accountability, i totally run the risk of having no life outside of north point.  that’s unhealthy…a horrible example…pure disobedience to the great commision…the exact opposite of the lifestyle of jesus…and, frankly…pretty dysfunctional.

and the sickest part about this is that i know better.   and not only do i know better,  i flat out don’t want to live this way.

now that my boys are grown and gone, i don’t have the natural connections to the community that i had through their lives.   and i really miss it.

if i’m ever going to be the leader god wants me to be,  i need balance in my life.   i need a wider circle of friends.   i need the interaction with people who are totally and completely different from me.   i need their insight and perspective.   i need to hear their stories and listen to their perspectives.

i need to wander out of the spiritual ghetto of church life.   not that church life is bad.   quite the opposite.   i simply need to follow the example of jesus more closely.

so here’s my plan:  i need to get more involved with my neighborhood and my community.

i’m already pretty involved.   i just want to go deeper…and make myself open to new friendships and possibilities.

we have three new families on our block.  i’m going to meet them and see what we have in common.   i’m going to ask our next door neighbors if they want to bowl.   i’m going to look into the possibility of joining the old town business association.   i need to start eating at the flying pig and tierney’s and the old town meat market more often…instead of driving down near the mall or across 35.  i’m going to figure out  how to volunteer some time at one of our local schools.

these are some starters.  i know it looks like a lot of time, but i need this.   i want this.

so…anybody up for lunch at the pig with me one of these days?

ouch!

pei-wei red-robinsubway

ok.  so i got called out today.  by aanna.  aanna.  sheesh.

we were all the way into our regular after-the-service dance we do to decide where everybody is going for lunch.  it’s a pretty fun dance.  usually.

i had just finished preaching about the need for community and connection and to stop being individuals and stop living in isolation and embrace the “we” in our theology…and i didn’t want to go where others were going to lunch.  it’s my prerogative.  it’s my money.  it’s my time.  it’s my taste buds.  and i didn’t want to go to pei wei.  red robin was out of the question.  subway was my choice.  mine.

of all the food stuffs that go in my belly, asian food is one of my least favorites.  i like a little panda express once every few months.  but lettuce wraps?  come on.  i realize that everyone says they are the most awesomely incrediblistically great food morsels to ever inhabit one’s mouth, but…come on.  lettuce?  wrap?

and…oh, yeah…i didn’t want to go.

so aanna…sweet aanna…calls me out and says i better start practicing what i preach.  she even said she wasn’t ever going back to whataburger with me anymore.  she says the only reason she goes is to live out community with me, because she doesn’t even like whataburger.  i say if she just keeps eating the mighty whataburger with cheese, she’ll come around.  we’re talking apples and oranges…or lettuce and a mouth-watering burger made just the way you like it.

so i need you to “wei” in on this.  is lunch on sunday afternoons about community or satisfying your taste buds?

i think aanna and i will make it through this.  really.