Friday, April 27, 2012

Carefronting on the job-site

99.9% of the time I love the concrete job I have, and more to the point, I'm thankful for my boss.  He's a great guy, a strong Christian, and honestly he's just about the best boss I've ever had.  He's the type of guy that asks me on Monday morning, "How was your weekend?  How was church?  How's your family?"  We talk about the Bible on the job, we discuss ministry, we talk about books we've read or are reading.  And, he's extremely flexible; he's very accommodating to my needs as a tentmaker.  The .001% of displeasure though, almost got the best of me this week.  I was frustrated to say the least, and a bit resentful too.

Today I had to initiate a conversation with him (after some prompting from God's lovely gift to me) that I didn't feel like having, but I'm glad I did.  My boss, in my mind was being passive-aggressive and it was making me feel miserable.  Sometimes I shy away from conflict, i.e., I don't want to rock the boat and I let my anxiety control me.  While I'm getting better at this, I still feel uncomfortable at times with tough conversations.

Let me set up the scenario, just a little:
  A couple of days ago, there was a concrete-pour that didn't go quite right, there wasn't enough drainage off of a porch, and after two days of rain there's some water sitting on it today.  I knew that he wasn't happy the day we finished it, but didn't think it would be a big deal.  He arrived on the site after the concrete was in place and by chance I was troweling it.  Though I didn't lay the concrete down, he didn't know that.  So it appeared I didn't lay the concrete to the right grade/elevation, but I was willing to let that mistaken notion slide then.  Again, I didn't think it was a big deal.

But, last night when I texted him to confirm what time we were starting today, I didn't get a response...  Thus, my feelings that he was being passive-aggressive began to solidify in the back of my mind.  There were a few other times over the past few months it seemed to me that he was "quietly simmering" when things didn't go quite right and combined with a lack of a response to my text last night, something seemed "off."  And then today, he seemed rather distant and sullen on the job-site.

So here's what happened today:  
After a couple of hours of working together, I waited till there was a time I could approach him with the other guys on the crew out of ear-shot and I simply asked: Are we Okay?  I was practicing the concept of carefronting, Augsburger's term for caring enough about the relationship to confront the problem or issue.  I wanted to do as Paul says, "Speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15) and layout the issue as I saw it.

My boss was extremely receptive and any anxiety I felt walking up to him, evaporated immediately.  He said in response, "I'm okay if you're okay."  A safe answer, and one that allowed me to continue.  I said something about "being vulnerable" and then I mentioned I could tell there was something strained between us. He took that opportunity to mention the pour from earlier in the week that didn't go well.  That allowed me a chance to set the record straight on some nuances of that pour, and without making excuses or being defensive, communicate that the grade wasn't my mistake.  But we didn't stay there, we went deeper.

We talked for a good 20 minutes, and there's no need to go into the details.  It was a really good talk though.  I was able to share my feelings, and this will come as no surprise, he was feeling some of the same frustrations.  He lovingly and accurately pointed out some areas I need to grow in, and really, I don't feel he was deflecting either.  Better yet, before all was said and done, we genuinely exchanged comments of our mutual appreciation for each other.  We shook hands and even hugged afterward.

Before I forget, I found out while talking he didn't ignore my text message -- purposely being passive-aggressive, it was merely coincidental that he didn't respond.  Perhaps the best comment he made, by that I mean my favorite, was when he said, "We are Christian brothers, at the end of the day, we'll work it all out."  My second favorite part of the conversation was when my boss said, "Here's what I hear you saying..."

I'm sharing all of this with you to say, 
It's better to bring into the light the problems you have in a relationship than to let the problem become sulphuric.  Instead of taking the easy way out and just avoiding the problem, you'll gain so much more by becoming vulnerable and asking the uncomfortable questions, by carefronting. In the end, I truly think talking out my frustrations actually strengthened our friendship & improved our working relationship.  It was rewarding to flesh-out the situation and gain some clarification that otherwise I wouldn't have received.  I know in the future I won't wait so long to address my concerns with him.  And while I can't speak for my boss, my respect for him definitely  increased and my frustration drained away, like water...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Curing conflict and healing hearts is a tall order...

Our text for this Sunday is Matt 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9 ESV).  A simple, straightforward passage; yet it has an incredible amount of depth.

This coming Sunday's sermon, in my thinking, potentially reflects the culmination of what the last decade of ministry has taught me.  Not because I was good at being a peacemaker, but I've learned how to become one, and I've learned the value of being a peacemaker - the hard way.  I want peace more than just about any other ideal.

I have seen enough shrapnel fly in the trenches of local church work: You never know where the landmines are till you step on them. I've seen several classmates from preaching school drift out of "full-time" ministry.  I've heard stories of pain, and lived through painful times too.  I've sought peace and that search led me to really seek out the Prince of Peace like I've never done before.  Peace is better than the strife and feuding that prevails in so many quarters.  There's so much useless and needless pain we endure; if only we'd seek peace.

The peace we are presently enjoying at New Song is basically because the people we are worshiping with are mature, and, we nurture unity within diversity.  We are okay with not seeing everything eye-to-eye.  100% agreement is not a test of fellowship.  We have a mutual respect that overlooks minor differences and encourages a group dynamic where people have the freedom to express opposing opinions without fear of being shunned or rebuked.  It's quite liberating not being held hostage by religious peer-pressure.  At the end of the day, we love each other more than we love "being right" or proving one another "wrong".

Peacemaking doesn't come naturally for everyone; it's a skill most of us need to be taught.  I can't think of a better gift you can give your children than the skill of being a genuine peacemaker.  In their marriages, places of work, with neighbors, in the many relationships they will enter in, the ability to build bridges and reconcile differences will take them the farthest.

As I work on this Sunday's sermon on Matt 5:9, I hope & pray I will be able to uncover the immense value of peace, and perhaps throw in a few pointers on how to be peaceful.  There are a few paradoxes I've stumbled on already.  Sometimes we have to fight for peace, and, sometimes we have to confront each other to build peace.  Sounds intimidating.  Pray for me.

One final thought: I wish all the people I've ever hurt in church or those who've ever hurt me could be together this Sunday and we could circle around this passage and celebrate the love of Jesus and the power of His blood...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What "The History of Love" really touches on

I don't take the time to read much fiction.  It's not that I think it's wrong, nor that I don't enjoy fiction - I simply don't make enough time in my reading regimen to fit in fiction.  I'm still in the habit of reading several books simultaneously; I guess I picked that up getting through college.

On the suggestion of a college-bound young adult who's a respected reader and writer in her own right, I took the time to read "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss.  Please don't look at this post as a "book review" or as a plug for the book, either.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but the climax was lacking.  The book basically wove the lives of a few believable characters together, from various stations in life, and, most everyone in the plot has grieved the loss of a loved one.  The book captured my attention because one of the main characters was a Polish survivor of the Nazi invasion.  That character, Leo, spoke the loudest to me.

Leo was separated from his first love, Alma, just as their teen years end .  She travels to New York avoiding the Nazi Death machine.  When they were reunited in the States, she was already married, and, raising the son she and Leo conceived just before she left Poland.  Their son Issac grows up to be a famous author, and all the meanwhile, Leo who wrote a book as a young man was unaware his own book was published by his friend, under his friend's name, a friend who was supposed to safeguard the book for him.

So without spoiling the plot too much or giving away the ending, I simply have one point of the book I want to draw to the surface: Thinking about your own Death.

A major reoccurring thread in the character of Leo is his ceaseless near-obsession with his eventual death.    He continually has an awareness that each day he lives, could be his last.  His main concern though is not being noticed, in life or death.  

There's no launching off into adventure or living life to fullest for Leo with this awareness.  You might think the author would take the plot in the direction of Leo making the most of this life, but that's not the case.

Myself, personally, I daily think of my death.  Not in a morbid way, and by the way Leo is not morbid in his pondering either.  My initial waking thought each day consists of an awe and awareness that I've made it through the night.  My first cognitive thoughts are of thanking God for His provisions of a safe night's rest, and a new day.  And then as the day goes on, periodically I wonder what happens after we die.  I think of good friends who've died.  I think of loved ones of have died.  I think about my death.

The value, to me, of the History of Love wasn't the love story of Alma, or the questions of religion that the book raises through a character who thinks he might be the Messiah.  The value was reminding us that we too one day will die, as Leo constantly considers.  Sounds a bit morbid or morose to you?  It doesn't have to be.

I think it's healthy to consider the brevity of life (again, not exact the direction Krauss takes Leo).  A daily awareness of the fragility of life might do more than help us plan for the future or help us enjoy each day... it might make us appreciative of the mystery of life and existence.  And yet....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Questioning Church:

I'm trying to write a sermon for Easter, but I can't start since I can't get a certain question out of mind.  I can't concentrate on Sunday's sermon because I keep asking myself, why do Churches even exist?  All week during the day, as I fall asleep at night, and driving to work every morning lately I've been wondering:  IS there a good reason to be, or to assemble as a church?

I know this sounds like a weird question to ruminate over, especially from someone who preaches.  I guess I'm wondering why do we exist/what's our real purpose because, I'm trying to work out in my own mind what it is I'm inviting people to participate in when I try to share what we are all about at New Song.

I know some people think of church in terms of contributions/budgets and membership/attendance or buildings & programs.  IS that really "it" to congregational life?  I don't think so.

Maybe it's about worship & Bible study?  Maybe the church gathers simply to sing, pray, and share their faith?  No, again, alone that's insufficient too.

In a couple of paragraphs I can't be naive enough to think I could explain every detail about what church is or isn't, but, I am confident in one or two sentences I can provide a cause or essential reason for the existence of the Church universal.

Jesus clearly is interested in how we view & treat others, i.e., Matt 25:31-46.  Jesus also wants us to love each other, for example see Jn 13:34-35.  And, Jesus wants us to submit to His authority and simultaneously  invite others into that same relationship too, as in Matt 28:18-20.  In all of this, Jesus never says anything about church as we typically think of it in North America.  He never mentions buildings, programs, staffing, nor does He even place an emphasis on our assemblies.

To boil "church" all down to a simple reason: Churches exist to develop disciples

Jesus had one sermon, He shaped it to fit His audiences, but really it was one message: Repent the Kingdom of God is here in your midst.  Jesus' main concern was for His followers to live under the sway of God's kingdom-presence.  How did He expect that to be accomplished?   Through replication; not imitation alone, but replication.  What was He trying to get His followers to replicate?  Him.  That's called discipleship.

But what about "converting people"?  Jesus never once, not one single time said "Go and make converts."  He never commanded His church to make "converts" or "Christians." He wanted disciples, ones that would become like Him.  "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40 ESV)  So whatever we are involved in as churches, it needs to be based in training people on how to be like Jesus, not like us... with our likes or preferences or culture, but all of us becoming like Christ.

So, if we want to honor Jesus' wishes as churches, at the end of the day our time & energy needs to be channeled, harnessed and focused on what was most important to Jesus.  Our main purpose and goal then is Discipleship.  If we get that right, everything else will fall into place.  If we don't get that part right, everything else will fall apart.

Whew, now maybe I can get started on an Easter sermon....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why are secular people still in love with Easter?

Arguably, Easter Sunday is the most unique Sunday of the year.  People who haven't attended a worship service all year long, are willing to -- on Easter.  People spend, I recently read, an average of $150. per person on Easter for clothes, candy, etc.  And, people who don't typically consider themselves evangelistic, can find themselves inviting their friends to worship with them...  Why?

It's hard to not see the influence of Jesus on our everyday lives.  The very calendar the world runs on is based on Jesus.  This is the year 2012; 2012 years of "what"?  2012 years since Jesus' birth.  Yet, His birth (which gets a pretty good annual celebration) isn't as significant as His death.  The death, which the whole world is reminded of each Easter, still influences us after all these years.

Our culture, nation, and global context is reportedly less "religious" or spiritual than it has been in generations.  So why are people still in love with Easter?  In part, Easter is "safe" in the minds of most people.  It's a safe time emotionally and culturally to let down our guard, and be open to the idea that there's something to the story of Jesus.  I think there's a longing in most people to connect with, and hope for an afterlife.  What's better than Jesus conquering death, being raised from the grave, and leaving an empty tomb to show people the fulfillment of this universal hope?

There's a twofold challenge with Easter for believers: In our desire to spread the Good news, #1 it's to not weaken our message and simply accommodate culture on Easter Sunday.  The 2nd challenge is, not seeing Easter as our only time to invite people (any day we can share our faith, is a good day to invite people).

Having said that, it I think it's a mistake for Churches to ignore the opportunity Easter provides to connect with people who are more open/receptive than usual.  I think Easter services should be focused on the Resurrection, but not just because visitors are expecting to hear about it, but because as much as people are still in love with Easter, God is and always has been in love with us.

Easter is the number one expression of God's love; God loved us so much He couldn't stand the idea of eternity without us, He was willing to die so we could live with Him.  No matter how far we stray from God's love or try to ignore Him, there's within each of us a divine spark, that no matter how dimly it glows, flickers brighter each Easter... and that's why ALL people are still in love with Easter.