Month: May 2015

The Benefits of Being Unproductive

(Please don’t be jealous!) I just returned from a full week out of town and away with my wife. No kids. No work email. No social media. Complete rest, enjoyment, reading, exploring new towns and new foods. Since I have returned, I’ve noticed an enormous change in my soul.

I am much quicker to listen, slower to speak, and slower to become angry. I have a much deeper well of grace to offer my kids. I am judging people less and dwelling on the goodness of Christ more. I have a wave of spiritual strength that is bolstering me. When I look back over our week away, I’m surprised by the fact that I didn’t really do much of anything. And that is the point.

In Exodus 23:11 God gives some interesting farming advice, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

I am not a farming expert but with just a little bit of research here is what I discovered. The health of soil used for agricultural production can change dramatically over the years with ongoing use. Crops draw nutrients and minerals out of the soil, they leech some back in as well. Some crops heavily deplete the soil and do not put enough of the other balanced nutrients back in. There are all kinds of different strategies to ensure that a soil doesn’t go bad; crop rotation, artificial fertilization, and letting the land rest or go fallow for some length of time.

The artificial processes work, but not completely and not when the land has been used heavily or substantially depleting crop have been planted. In fact, the best natural mechanism for soil mineral replenishment is to let it lay fallow, let the natural order of things (without the need for excess production) replenish what is needed.

The parallels are blatant. Our lives can become so easily depleted. We can produce season after season after season, but the mineral content of our souls will start deteriorating if we don’t replenish them. There are all different kinds of replenishment strategies and sometimes they work, in some seasons they work. The artificial additives can work for a time. But nothing can replace a time of letting our lives go fallow, even for a short time; no work, no productivity, no output only natural input allowed. Rest, delight, conversation, reading, more rest- soul nutrients.

So why don’t we do this more often? 2 reasons I think.

1. We are afraid of being unproductive. Without going too far into this, my counter is quite practical. We will fulfill this fear by not going fallow because we can never sustain high productivity levels without replenishment.

2. Having a fallow time for our lives actually takes a lot of preparation. Think of the farmer that needs to plan for the right amount of food production before and after the fallow season.

If we want good soil for our lives and our faith to grow in, we will have to let our lives go fallow at different times. Keep an eye on your soul-mineral levels and do the hard work of preparing for a time away from all that drains. Get the babysitter, mark something out on the calendar, and make it happen. Don’t worry a new season of productivity lies just around the corner too!

What Really Happens When We Complain?

Unfortunately for me, this is an easy post to write. When I take sincere inventory of my thoughts, concerns, and unguarded conversations, I find more complaint than I ever want to admit. Here are four things God is teaching me about complaint and what to do when I see it.

When we complain, we are often losing sight of the work of God in our life.  Think of the Israelites wandering in the desert, infuriated they didn’t have food or water. God provided both. Then exasperated at the daily ritual of the manna and water they complained; longing for meat and onions and riches from a land and a life that was not theirs. Don’t get me wrong, I’d probably do the same, but they didn’t realize how desperate they really were. They lost sight of the purpose of their wandering; God led them to wander through the desert in order to root out the riot in their souls. God designed their menu as a medical prescription for the disease in their heart.

This isn’t always true, but often the things that drive us nuts, are the design and direction of God in our lives. If James 1:17 is true, that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” and our complaints have to do with wanting more good and perfect gifts for our lives, then we are shaking our fist at the provision and purpose of God.

In fact the good and perfect gift He might be giving us is an attempt to root out the riot in our own souls, what a gift! He wants to divide discontentment, slay selfishness, and end anxiety in you and me. What we might be complaining over might be the menu of God designed for the medical procedure our minds and hearts truly need.

Complaint is a form of pride.  We don’t want to admit this, but deep down in the heart of a complaint is the belief that “I deserve more.” Once we go to this shadow side of entitlement, we are sliding far and fast away from reality. What we really deserve is far less than what we really have. (We DON’T deserve abuse and manipulation from others-please hear me I’m not avoiding the reality that some are in pain and without because of severe mistreatment.) We have been given life and breath and another day and all the rest, when at our core we are TRULY broken and deserve nothing. He has given His love and grace in the midst of our wandering. In Him we do have what we need.

Complaint is an attack on the character of God.  This is hard to face but when we complain, we are telling God, “you are not good enough, or powerful enough, or you don’t love me enough, or you aren’t smart enough to give me what I think I need and want.” The truth is that God is turning over heaven and earth for you and me every single day. He is full of love and it is from that place that He leads us and provides for us with His determined level of provision.

The way out of complaint is confession and gratitude. It’s just a very simple exercise (every time we catch ourselves complaining) of exhaling the complaints through honest confession and inhaling the blessings God is already pouring into our lives. Jump into a gratitude exercise, listing out who He is, what He has done, what He is doing. Acknowledge our limited understanding of the past, present, and future. Walk forward knowing He is powerful and loving and willing, we are being showered with more than we deserve, and in the space between what we have and what we want, God is working to shape us into His people.

Why are 1 in 5 American Adults Leaving the Christian Faith? A Pastor’s Honest Reflection.

The newly released study by Pew Research indicates some concerning trends.

The population of those claiming the Christian faith has declined by 5 million adults in America during the period of 2007-2014 (while other faith groups increased by over 1 million people during that same time period). In fact the data states that nearly 1 in 5 adults have left Christianity after being raised a Christian, yet those unaffiliated with faith have increased by 7 million people. And more than one third of all younger millennials in America are claiming no religious faith whatsoever. The trends are clear and concerning for those committed to the Christian faith.

Why is this?

Before we jump to nuanced demographic explanations and point out exception after exception to these trends (there are many which are full of hope and worth pointing out someday!), let’s first bravely face the giant elephant in the room.

The Christian church is known for what it is against. When the average American thinks of church or of Christians what do they think of? Judgmental, critical, exclusionary, intolerant, and divisive. Think of all the newsreel stories you have seen popularizing a harsh version of issue-based faith. Church, in the eye of the watching public, has often diminished to drawing lines in our culture and political wars to keep the wrong people out and the right people in and make the wrong people feel terribly unaccepted.

If we want to see a change in these trends, we Christians must realize that Jesus did not die on a cross to institute an issue-based system of religion. He died on the cross and rose again to install a grace-based relationship with the loving Creator of all, period.

When Christians and churches and news cycles start caring more about the behaviors that exclude vs. the imprint on all from the God of grace who is available to all who would turn to him, its no wonder people start walking away from church, from faith, and even from God Himself.

This has to get down to earth practical to you and to me. We don’t need to throw away our Biblical values of right and wrong. We don’t. But never, ever forget our job vs. God’s job.

It is not our job to convict the world of sin! If we think that it’s our job or treat people in a way in which we pretend we are the judges of the universe, then we the church are in sin.

It is our job as the church to introduce people to a loving God, who is full of grace and mercy and gentle understanding. We help people form a relationship with a God who will in the right time and by His spirit (not ours) invite people to change.

He’s been gracious with me, asking me to change and grow over twenty years, step by step. He’s never shoved my face into a divisive issue where I may be crossing a line, that’s not how my good Father in heaven treats me, rather He pulls me in close and through friendship and love with Him, He shows me a redeemed way.  The church has supported me by modeling what a surrendered faith in Christ looks like, but Christ by His Spirit has changed me, not the church.

We can do better as the church. Let’s become churches who invite people to belong. Let’s become communities who lead people to a God who loves. Let’s let God be the one who convicts. Let’s become friends, just like Christ, to those the religious institutions of our time and His, say have no place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to “seek and save those who were lost.” Jesus came for those who were “sick and needed a doctor.” He didn’t come to shame the sick and the lost and create a dividing line of issues that would keep the sick and the lost out. He came so that the world would know they are loved by a God who forgives and a God who restores people into a relationship with Him and onto a path of righteousness.

Part 2: Are You in a Funk? Here is a Way Out.

So King David wrote laments and had very real times in his life to decompress with his Father in heaven (see previous post). But that’s not all he did to get through the funk.

David was sometimes alone, that is, until he created community. David built friendship with Jonathan, David built community with his “mighty men,” many of whom were comprised of people in distress. (1 Samuel 22:2)

David was under more stress than most of us: hiding in caves, running from a murderous lunatic, a potential battle lurking around every corner. But he started to surround himself with people, the kind of people who knew they didn’t have everything perfect and put together in their lives. He surrounded himself with the kind of people who would be honest about themselves and about him.

He needed those alone times with the Father; those times to be heard and known by God alone. But he, like we, needed times to be known, seen, affirmed, reassured, challenged, and built up by the right kinds of people in his life.

Last night I was exhausted from a long day of work, full of ups and downs. But most Wednesday evenings is the night of my guys group. We hang out and decompress, we check in with what is really going on in our lives, we don’t keep secrets, we affirm each other, challenge each other, and then we pray. We’ve been doing that for years.

I didn’t want to go last night (sorry guys) because I was just tired and busy. But I went and I am a better man, a more centered and joyful and fulfilled man today because of it.

If you want to get out of the funk, you need a group. You need friends. Not just friends who will talk shop and talk stuff and present their good sides to one another. We need friends who know they and we don’t have it all together. We don’t need pretty friends, we need imperfect friends.

You might be thinking, “yeah it would be nice if I had that group, but I don’t so I guess I’m just outa luck.”

Not exactly, you get what you create. I’ve been around too many folks who just stop there. But please hear me, community is never pre-made. Community is never microwaved. Community is never just handed to you.

Build it. Take a risky step. Be the first one to make an invitation. Be the first one to share a level deeper. Be the first one to intentionally seek out others. Be the first one follow up and follow through. Be the first one to initiate the kind of community you want to experience for yourself.

The community you need to get out of the funk, to stay out of the funk, and to become the person you want to be is NOT just waiting out there for you. If you want community like that, you will have to build it.

Create Community.

Are You in a Funk? Here is a Way Out.

Over the weekend, my 7 year old son was in a funk. It made no sense to me, we had just spent some great time together the few days prior (camping of course!), he had time with friends, etc. It seemed like things should be going well on the outside. But he just seemed sad.

So I postponed one of our activities and sat him on my lap and hugged him and said “you seem sad, tell me what’s going on?” No response. So we just sat there. Seemed like 4 minutes of silence.

After a 4 minute hug, he finally said “yeah I think I am sad…” and he listed four or five things, with more specificity than I am used to in a dad/son conversation. I even had to pause and get him the Kleenex box.

After each issue unfolded through the snot dribble, I just said “wow, that would make me feel sad too, that ‘this or that’ happened. That makes so much sense. I’m feeling sad with you just hearing about it.”

Guess what… after that 20 minute time, we hugged, got a root beer and he was off and running, full of joy, a completely new person.

Here’s what I know. We need time to be with our Father. Enough space to know that He is present with us. Then we need to do the work of communicating where we are really at. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we are sad or in a funk and why that might be. It’s like opening up a faucet, if we can be intentional to start communicating the truth about what’s inside, the other stuff behind that initial stuff will start flowing out too.

What we know from Scripture and experience, is that our Father in heaven hears us, He knows us, He empathizes with us, and He is present with us even in our funk. Think of King David, pouring Himself out to God in the Psalms of lament.

Yes, God already knows what’s on our hearts. But maybe we need to journal our own psalm of lament to our listening Father for our own sake. So that we can be clear and know that He knows, and to be affirmed by Him in the funk.

In addition to some root beer, maybe the way out of the funk that you might be in, is a good old fashioned, sit down with a journal and your Heavenly Father and say, “God I think this is why I am sad.”

Match that with a good reflective read of Psalm 142, and see where your heart ends up at the end of that exercise. The circumstances you are in might not have changed, but being heard by Your good Father may change your heart.

Psalm 142

maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.