Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Beautiful Mess

Unemployment affords a lot of amazing luxuries that sometimes go unnoticed or unspoken.  Oh sure, there are the random freak out moments when you wonder how you are going to support your growing family, but if you can figure out how to ignore those when they pop up every 5 minutes or so, you can bask in the benefits.  For example, an amazing vacation package (as long as you don’t spend money on the vacations)!  Time with my beautiful family.  And I’m never plagued with the thought, “When am I going to find time to go to the grocery store?  Or read that book?”  It is so relaxing.  And numbing.

One of the benefits of the last few months, which I didn’t really see coming, was a fresh perspective of the greater scope of what God is doing.  I have been a networking fiend since I have arrived in Denver.  I follow up any lead, and some of the most energizing conversations have been 4 connections away from my original friend.  Within all of this, I have met some amazing people who are doing incredible Kingdom work, whether it is 5 minutes away or over an hour.

When working at a church, it is too easy to put 100% of your focus on what God is doing within your own community.  There are so many needs and demands, and if you can’t even answer the clamoring in front of you, how can you focus on other things throughout the city?  Most of the time, this is not the intention.  It is just the inevitable outcome of a busy and thriving church.

Yet so many pastors in Denver have been willing to meet up with some random, unemployed pastor merely due to a mutual connection.  And a lot of them have genuinely cared to help me find what God has for me in this next season.  I have also come across networks of pastors that work together in the same area, and their heart for the city is invigorating.  I’m not saying that didn’t exist in San Diego, but I just know I was not one of them. 

I have been blessed to have the space to just attend churches, and grab coffee with different practitioners, and just observe what God is doing.  Where is He working?  What are the needs?  Where may I fit into what God is unfolding in the city?  Wherever I end up, I’m really encouraged that I feel like I’ll have many friends on the journey with me, across denominations and communities. 

I have also seen the beautiful mess of God’s overwhelming diversity.  I used to be quite judgmental of all the different denominations and expressions of church, thinking that pride pushed us so far from the unity God desired.  But I remember a statement from Dr. Jim Smith in seminary that stated that God is too big and magnificent to ever be captured in one church community.  All of our churches together can give a fuller expression of our amazing God than any one church operating in a silo.  People connect to different expressions, and even churches that may bore me to tears, or push my weirdo button, or disagree with my personal perfected understanding of God, are a needed part of the larger movement.  That doesn’t mean that pride is not limiting unity, but it is not the only force at work.

I have attempted to find metaphors that can give a remotely blurry picture of the process I’m going through as many friends and family check in with my journey.  The one I have been using lately is the feeling like I’m on one of those detective shows where I put all the information I have up on the board/wall as I try to solve a murder.  There are pictures, scribblings, and assembled evidence, all connected by a confusing and creepy web of lines.  In my case, I’m collecting bits from every conversation I have, as well as times of prayer and reflection, to somehow figure out what God has for me in this next season.  Which can sometimes feel like I’m slowly being murdered, instead of uncovering the shocking ending.  Themes are emerging to unveil my deeper passions and the burdens I feel called to put my time towards.  Yet I’m still figuring out where to put my time this week, this month, and this next season. 

One of my hopes as I move forward is that regardless of where I end up, I hope to maintain this renewed Kingdom perspective.  Where I can somehow help the church at large connect in meaningful ways to the community around me, and to celebrate the beautiful diversity of God’s people.  I truly believe that the way God’s people interact with each other, with a deep sense of family, will have a greater impact on our city than any program or initiative we come up with. 

And yet I’m quite certain that I will continue to internally judge any church or individual that does not do things exactly as I would, since I’m passionate about how Jesus is perceived, and I’m still in process with my baggage and pride.  But God has really worked on my heart to pray and support mega-churches, as well as house churches, as I aim to find something in the middle.  To respect the churches that emphasize truth, as well as those that embody grace, as I wrestle with how to express them together.  I want to see Jesus thrive, not just a particular ministry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why I chose Idiocy....

Let me paint a little picture.  My wife and I lived in San Diego, which is arguably the most beautiful city in the United States, with perfect weather year round and the ability to quote Anchorman in context!  We both had jobs that we enjoyed, where we loved who we worked with, were able to use our gifts and our education, and had a great sense of purpose.  Although transient and changing at times, we had an amazing community around us that took care of us whenever a crisis or need arose.  We had 2 beautiful daughters who are, in my humble and biased opinion, overwhelmingly better than any other kids.  As the cherry on top, we find out we are having another kid with that unbelievable recipe of genes (a boy this time… Praise you sweet Jesus in heaven).  What is the natural response when you find yourself in that situation?  “Let’s quit our jobs and move!!”

Yes, after wrestling with the desire to be closer to family for years, we decided to choose this moment to go.  We made the choice when only one part time job was secured and no health insurance.  We lined it up perfectly so that we would move just late enough to avoid any pleasantries of autumn, and yet embrace every moment of winter.  Plus, we got there 2 weeks before day light savings, so our first experience of our new city has the least amount of sunlight as possible!  I know, brilliant! 

A nice advantage is when we talk to anybody who has been longing and searching for a job that gives them fulfillment and joy, we can confidently look them in the eye and say, “It’s possible!!  We experienced it!”  And then we let ourselves go!  (I wish, the unemployment checks would be nice).”  Overall theme:  with 2.5 kids, we choose Idiocy.  At least by the world’s standards. 

This reality was very evident in the first few months in Denver.  As I would meet people and share my story, most would ask, “Did you find a good job here?” as the motivation for our move?  Nope.  “Oh, you moved without a job?”  Yeah.  “WOW!”.  Some will be intrigued and want to know more.  That is probably 1% of people, if the only possibility is rounding up to the closest full number.  Most have a tinge of, “So you’re an idiot?” in their eyes, even if their voices try to drown it out with an intrigued tone.  But I’m okay with that.  The reason is because I’m a resident idiot, where this is not my first offense.  This is the third time that I have made a decision that is virtually impossible to explain on paper.  It doesn’t make any sense without bringing in the God card, which nobody can fully understand except the person playing it.  Why?  The God card can never be a formula.  It is personal.  It is unique.  It is confusing. 


I’m graduating college with a debt in the mid 30k’s.  My parents did everything possible to help me with college, but I had to pay most of my way through (which is a character-shaping aspect of my life I would not change whatsoever).  I feel called to ministry (which is directly linked to my infinitely stronger calling away from engineering), but I know I need to pay off my loans first.  I have a job offer 10 minutes from my parents’ house in the extremely cheap living of Amish country.  But what do I do in a season where my primary goal is to pay off loans?  I take a job in the most expensive place in the United States:  San Diego (this is a fact according to some list that is based primarily on opinion and assumption).  And….. I’m an idiot. 

But deep down, I knew I needed to go.  God had been growing me in confidence throughout college, and I was in a season of consistently choosing the option that would stretch me the most.  I knew moving back home could allow me to slip back into my former passive approach to life.  I knew I had to go some place that gave me no option besides figuring it out for myself.  The first year was very difficult, but constant 70 degree weather can always soften a blow.  In hindsight, I would not be who I am today without that step. 


I’m working as an engineer.  I paid off all my loans in 2.5 years by living in a garage and judging all personal expenditures as feeding the minions of Satan.  Yeah, I was extreme for a period.  Luckily I was slowly being transformed enough that Tatum was willing to talk to me when we met!  I thought paying off my loans meant I was going to be free to pursue full-time ministry, but I realized that God had his fingers crossed when I thought He shook my hand.  In hindsight, I realized how much character development was remaining at that point.  But as I’m approaching 5 years of engineering, I’m sensing it is time.   There is something inside of me that is affirming that I am ready and it is time. 

Imagine the timing of being newly married and planning to tell your new father-in-law this genius plan: “I’m going to quit my job as a licensed structural engineer so that I can work as an intern at a church.  But don’t worry!!!  They aren’t paying me.  I have to raise my own support to do this.”  Yup, I’m an idiot.  I was leaving a secure job, at an amazing firm, that was directly applying all the money and time I invested in my college degree, in order to pursue a dream.  Amazingly I maintained my good standing in the family, and they saw the fruit of my decision.  God was slowly molding me for a new calling, and it brought life and adventure to our marriage. 


And now to my current season of idiocy.  I am fully confident that what God is doing inside of me, and what He is preparing me for, could never happen without me moving in extreme uncertainty.  I want to be in control and always know the plan.  I want to play it safe.  But God wants me to have a greater impact than that.  He wants me to experience Him in a fuller way than would happen with me in the driver’s seat.  So I harnessed my inner Carrie and sang, “Jesus take the wheel!!”.  Actually, I most likely sang “Let it go” since Frozen songs are in my head daily. 

I’m currently in a season of dreaming that I have never experienced.  I’m allowing myself to consider things that I would always rule out in the past.  I’m thinking outside the box.  I’m acting with more confidence.  I’m feeling more alive than I have in a long time.  I’m freaking out daily and then calming myself down.  I would not trade this.  Do I still feel like an idiot sometimes when I’m not sure how I’m going to create an income each month?  Definitely.  Am I learning trust and reliance, which is faith, in a deeper sense than ever before.  Absolutely.

I chose to be an idiot because I didn’t want to live with regret and always wonder.  I chose idiocy because I believe God wants me to use my voice more.  I chose idiocy because it was time.  I knew it.  Tatum knew it.  And honestly, it doesn’t matter if anybody else knew it.  God is doing something, and I can’t wait to find out what it is.  And hopefully I find out soon…..