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Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 10

During the week that I spent in Denver, I had lunch with a clergy colleague that was doing her sabbatical on something called the Enneagram. For those who don’t know, the Enneagram is a system that identified nine basic personality types. I suppose you could think of it as a cousin of sorts of the Myers-Briggs Personality test.

After talking with her about her studies, I was motivated to go back to the motel we were staying and take an online version of the test to see what personality type I was. The test revealed that I was a 2 – a typed called among other things “The Helper”.

There is a lot that I could say about traits of my personality type. The easiest way to characterize the type, however, is to say that Helpers are people who put the wants and needs of others before their own. Their goal in life is to give – and receive – unconditional love.

That part sounds great, doesn’t it?!

The only problem with 2’s is that by always putting other people’s wants and needs before their own, people such as myself become out of touch with their own wants and needs. If they ignore those wants and needs too long, 2’s can become unhealthy and find themselves expecting other people to read their minds, anticipate their wants and needs, and then meet those wants and needs. When others can’t read their minds, 2’s can often respond by becoming controlling or manipulative in their desperate attempts to have their wants and needs met.

As I read a few books about the nine personality types in general (and my type in particular), I walked away from my vacation experience committed to doing something I have rarely done in my life: getting in touch with my wants and needs, and then taking the risk and actually asking to have those wants and needs met.

I received unexpected encouragement on my path when I read today’s passage from Matthew. In that passage, Jesus is quoted as saying: “We are intimately linked in this harvest work… Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger.” And then there was the sentence that hit me like a ton of bricks. “Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.”

The notion of accepting someone’s help being as important as actually extending help is a new concept for me. I would much rather focus on the other person and their wants or needs than admit I have wants and needs myself. If I took time and actually examined my wants and needs, I suppose I would have to face the truth I spend lots of time trying to avoid: I’m not a perfect, self-contained unit. I need help – from God and from others!

So where are you with the notion of accepting help from others? Do you find it easy to do, or is it something that challenges your basic ways of being? If you don’t have an answer to that right away, watch yourself through the course of the day and observe how you deal with your own wants and needs as they emerge.

Til next time…

Friday, July 30, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 9

I had an interesting conversation with one of my former classmates at my high school reunion last week. Let me take a moment and put the conversation in context for you.

The classmate with whom I spoke grew up in a household that had no religious background/affiliation whatsoever. On her best days, my classmate was dismissive of those of us who claimed a faith. On other days, she was downright cynical about the role faith played in our lives.

Fast forward twenty-five years. My classmate had lived through a series of challenges in her life. She had lost a family member to whom she had been particularly close; she had several career setbacks; and she watched as a loved one had a painful run in with the law.

All of these things (and more!) caused her to begin questioning the meaning of life. Eventually she began exploring Christianity and found a faith that she could call her own. That was the wonderfully exciting part!

It would have been nice if her story ended there. It did not.

In the process of claiming her faith, my classmate acted as if she were one of the few that had REALLY found God. She had a condescending attitude toward those whose faith took on a different character than her faith and drew upon a wider range of resources than she drew upon (she was a biblical literalist who saw the Bible as the only valid resource to inform her faith).

As our conversation progressed, it became increasingly clear that we had little to talk about because she was more interested in exploring our differences than identifying our common ground.

I was reminded of the conversation from last weekend as I read today’s passage from Matthew – for in that passage there is a section where Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ criticism of him for hanging out with those folks they considered riff raff. In response to that criticism, Jesus said: “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

The thing that struck me was the dynamic relationship between the words “outsider” and “insider”. At a time when lots of folks are rethinking what it means to be the church, there is an increasing amount of energy devoted to seeking “outsiders”. That is truly a great thing!

The sad part, however, is what happens to some of those former “outsiders”. In the process of claiming their faith, some develop a disturbing amount of arrogance and condescension toward those who understand/practice their faith in different ways. That arrogance and condescension causes some of those former “outsiders” to be transformed into ultimate “insiders” – individuals who now think they have a corner on the market on Christianity. How ironic is that?!

All of this reminds me of the tremendous challenge we face in our attempts to live out our faith: how do we people of faith (the so-called “insiders”) stay connected to other perspectives (the “outsiders”) who have much to offer us; and how do those of us who have recently viewed ourselves as “outsiders” maintain a sense of humility and respect for those who have a deep and long-standing faith. That is the question I invite you to consider today.

Til next time…

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 8

Last weekend I had the opportunity to reconnect with lots of great folks at my 25th high school reunion. Each of my former classmates impressed me a great deal with the tremendous strength they have shown as they faced the many challenges life has thrown their way.

One gentleman talked with me about living through the experience of losing his youngest child at the tender age of 6 months. Another classmate talked about the challenge of ending his 24-year marriage in a loving, respectful manner. Still another shared with me about the challenges of leaving her alcoholic and abusive husband in order to move forward and create a new life for herself and her two children.

While each of the stories that I heard was special, one of the individuals really impressed me with her remarkable strength and courage. The woman (whom I’ll call Shelly) told me about how her first husband struggled with an addiction to gambling. He moved Shelly and his family across country, forcing Shelly to leave behind her support system. While there, Shelly turned to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. Her addictions ruled her life for the next decade. Just as she moved into a process of recovery, Shelly was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. In the midst of this series of tragedies, Shelly managed to raise three wonderful kids.

There were so many moments in her life at which Shelly could have given up. The despair she faced daily could have motivated her to continue making dangerous choices. Shelly chose not to do that. She dug down deep, drew upon the faith with which she had been raised, and made a remarkable choice: she chose life! And with that conscious decision, everything began to change for Shelly.

I was reminded of Shelly’s story when I read today’s passage from Matthew – for in that passage we are told that Jesus encountered someone who was a potential follower of him. When Jesus presented the individual with a choice about whether or not to follow him, the individual decided to do something else. Jesus responded to the individual’s choice by saying, “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

Like Shelly, each of us comes to those moments when we get to make decisions about what we will put first in our life. Sometimes we make the healthy choice; other times we do not. I would encourage you to be mindful of those moments in your day when you face a decision about what you will pursue. Watch yourself in these moments and ask yourself: “What do I want to pursue – life, or something else?”

Til next time…

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 7

What a week it has been – full of incredible highs and lows. The week started when I received word my best friend from seminary, Eric, passed away unexpectedly in the night at the age of 53. It culminated with a wonderfully healing time with former classmates at my 25th high school reunion. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to settling back into a routine of sorts as I return to my regular schedule. Thanks so much for the love & prayers you extended in my direction during my vacation. They were much appreciated!! Now, on to my reflection for the day…

As many of you know, I have a long-time interest in a movement known emerging/emergent worship. The primary goal or purpose of emerging/emergent worship is to create spiritual community that is relevant to the 21st Century world in which we live.

I’ve noticed that there is an incredibly fine line that individuals and communities walk in their pursuit of this path toward relevance.

What is that fine line?

That fine line has to do with maintaining a balance between being relevant and maintaining a commitment to the essential values and principles of our faith. Let me give you an example of what I mean taken from my days in Denver.

During my time in Denver, I lived right around the corner from one of the mega churches – a place called Heritage Christian Center. The church was started in an individual’s home and exploded over a short period of time until it had several thousand members. It made a point of using all of the latest technology and gadgets to draw people in and present a faith that seemed incredibly vibrant and alive.

In the process of creating the community, however, things began to change. The Denver Post, for instance, ran an expose saying that the senior pastor’s base salary was in excess of $750,000. They were unable to find an exact figure so they used a relatively conservative figure. The church had also purchased a private jet for the pastor’s use.

In other words, in their attempt to make their faith relevant to the world, they ended up adopting much of the world’s values and principles via their ministerial practices.

That example stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ words in today’s passage from Matthew where Jesus said: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention.”

Most of us don’t have the temptation to take shortcuts by drawing salaries that approach seven figures or purchasing private jets – but we do face temptations to take “shortcuts” in other ways. Today, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on the ways you understand the way to life to be “vigorous”.

Til next time…