May, 2011

May 11

Managing Your Gift: Self-Evaluation

This kicks off a series on “Managing Your Gift”, which is just a few life lessons I have learned the past month or so that I am trying to implement in my life. This is based on my belief that my biggest problem is not my lack of talent but my inability to manage my talent. As a steward of my gift, I want to use it to the best of my ability.

I used to think that evaluations were crazy. First of all, I hated evaluations, because they kept telling me, “You’re an idiot.” (Hey, I’m still learning how to accept negative feedback!) I came around, however, when I realized that I had a problem. I found myself struggling to maintain my focus in life. It seemed that I was constantly fighting fires. I had a project at work that I needed to focus on, and because of that, I neglected my social life. I started working on my social life, and I lost out on sleep, and work suffered. The list goes on! I realized that if I examined my life every week, I could make small tweaks to my life to keep me closer on track.

I had a second frustration. I found some of my tasks very frustrating because I wasn’t sure if I was doing well, doing okay, or doing a very lousy job. However, I had falsely assumed that I needed to wait for someone else to help me clarify this. It took a simple comment by Daniel Pink to spur me into action. “If you’re working at a place where your performance isn’t evaluated, do it yourself.” That very night I went back to the office to reference some other evaluations so that I could make one for myself. This one included not just my job, but all of life.

I began by breaking down my life in big sections:

  • Job Responsibilities
  • Church Responsibilities
  • Personal Projects

In each section, I added categories for each of the main projects that needed my attention. I also added some additional categories to evaluate my personal life:

  • Spiritual journey (Bible reading, private prayer and worship, input)
  • Personal recreation/rejuvenation (including level of rest)
  • Finance (responsibility and generosity)

First, I created a weekly review. This sheet was very informal. It just had a bunch of spaces, one for each category, to write done one or two sentences summarizing the previous week. This sheet proved to be very helpful in summarizing the highs/lows and successes/failures of the prior week. If there were specific aspects that needed my attention, I could easily tweak things the following week to improve upon it.

I also created a more formal monthly evaluation, covering each category in more specific detail. Each category had specific items to evaluate, rated from 1-10:

  • 0-3: Unacceptable
  • 4-5: Marginal
  • 6-7: Expected
  • 8-9: Superior
  • 10: Exceptional

While the weekly reviewed gave an overall picture, this sheet gave hard numbers to indicate how well I was doing and what areas needed my specific attention. Of course, the weekly review sheets were a very helpful resource to look back on to review the past month.

It’s as simple as that. It takes less than 30 minutes a week, and even in two short  months, it’s given me a lot of clarity in my life.

May 11

Ship It

“Ship it” is a concept that Seth Godin promotes, and I was challenged this way by a book that he endorsed. It’s got great implications for church and spiritual life–life in general, actually.

You see, my biggest problem is not lack of talent or ability. My  biggest problem is not work ethic. My  biggest problem is that in spite of the abilities God has given me and in spite of my efforts, I have a hard time coming up with a deliverable.

You want to pursue music. How soon can you “ship”? How soon can you play something for your friends? How soon can you start playing at church? How soon can you write your own song? How soon can you record that song and post it to Facebook for your friends? How soon can you get a “deliverable” that gives you tangible feedback on your progress?

As long as it’s just an idea, you haven’t really done anything. Many of us face an incredible internal resistance to “delivering” or “shipping”. We get ready,  work on it forever, then we stop short.

Here’s the best example I can think of. Your pastor preaches a message one Sunday. Can you have a “deliverable” by the next one? Can you have something that visibly changed? If not, you felt good because you thought about it, but in reality, nothing changed.

Maybe we are called to ministry. How soon can we get “deliverables”? Maybe it’s one friendship. Maybe it’s one meaningful conversation. But how quickly can you take it out of the abstract and actually live it out?

We as humans have an incredible power of self-deception. We  believe that thinking is doing.

It’s not.

What are the things you need to quit sitting on and get out there for the world, even if it feels like it’s not quite ready for market? You will never be perfect  enough, skilled enough, experienced enough. But will you let that stop you?

(This is what keeps me blogging, by the way.)

May 11

The Idiot Complex

We as people are prone to something I’d like to call the “Idiot Complex”. I confess that “idiot” is a strong word, but I picked it for a reason. I wanted a word that you can hang onto, and “idiot” is definitely one of those.

This a simple concept that can either destroy us or bring us together, and it works in two directions.

“You’re an idiot.”

Most of us would never say that to someone else’s face, but there are times when we think it. “Why doesn’t she catch on?” “Why is he doing it that way?” “They should….”

There are times when we have these you’re-an-idiot thoughts just because we’re feeling mean and spiteful, or sometimes it’s just because we don’t really understand the situation. But sometimes it’s more than that. Maybe the problem isn’t with them. Maybe the problem is with us.

Maybe your problem is that you have a gift and you don’t realize it. You might see something, but it doesn’t mean that everyone else sees it. You might be good at something, but it doesn’t mean that everyone else is good at it. That’s why we call it a gift, and that’s why it’s unique.

Unfortunately, because we maintain a you’re-an-idiot attitude, no one else benefits from our gift. We talk to our friends about others’ idiocy, we grumble about it under our breath, but we fail to use our strengths to help others because we’re more aware of their weakness than our own strength.

If we choose to, we can use our sanctified you’re-an-idiot thoughts to pinpoint some of the areas God has gifted us. (“What is easy for me that others struggle with?”) We can use that, no longer to dishonor or degrade others, but to honor them and empower them.

“I’m an idiot.”

The Idiot Complex also works in the opposite direction as the I’m-an-idiot complex. This happens when you meet someone who’s gotten over the you’re-an-idiot complex and is willing to offer his or her strengths to help you. Your pride tells you, “I should have known that,” and it echos into your soul, “I’m an idiot.”

The first step, of course, is coming to grips that you’re not an idiot. God doesn’t make junk. Just accept it. Rather, you just met someone else whom God has gifted differently than you, and they’re offering their gifts to help you out. If you honor them in that way, you will benefit from their gifts.

You can also use this to your own advantage. Watch out for your sanctified I’m-an-idiot thoughts. Sometimes we wake up and realize, “You know, I keep trying to do this, and I’m really bad at doing this!” And then we ask, “Is there someone else who is really good at doing this who should do this instead of me?” In this way, your sanctified I’m-an-idiot thoughts can help you step out of the way to empower other people to do what they have been called to do.

Real Life.

It happened to me this week. Several people were bold enough to ask me, “Hey, have you thought about it this way?”

They could have called me an idiot to their friends.

They could have sat back and said nothing.

I could have called myself an idiot.

I could have gotten defensive and written it off.

But this time, they didn’t, and I didn’t. Because of that, I benefited from their gifts.

That, my friends, is at the core of honor and the core of what it means to a part of the body of Christ, to be His bride, to be His church.

Because He alone is worthy.

May 11

Business and the Church

As some of you know, the last while I’ve been asking a lot of questions about what the church should  look like. The church is a body of believers with different gifts and abilities to bring the kingdom of God to earth. No matter where we find ourselves, we can grow so much in utilizing and leveraging those gifts!

I was reading Acts recently, and I’ve been trying to imagine what the early church must have looked like. I read stuff like this (Acts 2:44-47):

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

And just in case that leaves any doubt (Acts 4:32-35):

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

So they sold stuff to give to people in need? Weird! They had everything in common? Strange! Or is it perhaps weirder that here in America, each of us are so busy fending for ourselves (working lengthy hours and struggling to run businesses) that we have no time for kingdom work? (In fact, can I go so far as to say that we have perhaps brought a financial plight upon us because of our independence?)

We do know it is the responsibility of each man to provide for his family, but why did God put diverse gifts within the church? Could it be that God brings businessmen into the kingdom for the very purpose of building kingdom businesses? It’s not a foreign concept for non-profits to start businesses to support themselves. However, do only non-profits do that? Shouldn’t the church be doing more ministry and kingdom work than non-profits? Doesn’t the church have incredible potential for impacting the world if financial and creative resources were made available?

And just so you and I don’t get off the hook, the act of selling possessions and distributing to meet needs is not merely an oddity of the early church. It was an act of obedience to the teachings of Christ. Jesus told His disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

There it is. What will be our response?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May 11

All Things to All People

The last while, God has been impressing on me the importance of following His Spirit. Even though I believe in the Holy Spirit, many times I live as though He doesn’t exist. This is, as one person has said, “Christian atheism” because I call myself a Christian but don’t live as if God really existed. I want to relate one of those crazy experiences that nobody conjures but simply comes out of obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Saturday morning I was working in my office, editing a personal video project. It was a video of a talk I gave a week ago. In that talk, I said that sometimes God gives us very specific directions, and other times it’s up to us to live out what God has revealed in His Word. Now, even though I have an intellectual belief that God can speak that specifically to us, I don’t actually believe that in practice. Most of the time, I find reasons to suppress the voice of God if I think it’s too specific. “It’s crazy.” “It’s probably not God.” “I don’t want to do that.”

Well, I was in the middle of the video project when God arrested my attention with a specific intersection in town. I felt like I was supposed to take a Bible down to that intersection. The crazy thing was that as soon as that thought hit me, I knew it was a God thing. I immediately saved my work, locked my computer, and was ready to leave. But then I hesitated. “What am I doing? This is crazy! What voice am I listening to, anyway?” After all, this was May 21. Who would pick a day like this to look like a religious fanatic carrying a Bible?

But then, I gave in to God. However, in my debate and hesitation, I almost walked out without a Bible. I walked over to the bookshelf to see what I could find. All I found was a big, fat, blue hardback Bible on the bottom shelf. Why weren’t there any less religious-looking Bibles on that shelf? Seriously!

I grabbed the Bible, locked up, walked out to my car, and put the key in the ignition when God got my attention all over again. “Walk, don’t drive.”

“Okay, God, you want me to carry this Bible down the street looking like an idiot?”

I started walking towards the drive when I saw someone pulling in to stop by the office. I thought to myself, “I am not going to look like an idiot walking out the drive with a Bible,” so I turned around, unlocked the office, and pretended like I was there to work. Meanwhile, the questions kept running. “Why a big fat Bible? Why not YouVersion on my Droid?” But then I thought, “Maybe God wants me to give this Bible away.” Believe me, there were more arguments within myself, but you don’t want to hear them!

Gah! I gave in to God all over again. Out the door I go with a big, fat, blue hardbacked Bible in my hand. What an image–walking down the street with my big, fat blue Bible! This sounds ridiculous, but I turned the cover towards me so that people might just think it’s a resource book or something, not a Bible!

Several blocks down, I passed a door-to-door salesperson selling security systems across the street. He yelled a greeting to me, then called out, “Is that a copy of the Scriptures in your hand?”

I responded, “Yes,” then crossed the street to talk with him. He treated me like a brother. “The Scriptures are so amazing; I love the Scriptures. What’s your name? Are you going to church or something?”

I told him, “Nope, I just felt like God was telling me to take my Bible and walk down this way, and that maybe He had someone I was supposed to talk with.”

Now there’s something silly about me. Whenever I get stuck in situations, I resort to the only thing I know to do. I asked him, “Do you mind if I pray a blessing over you?”

So there we stood, in the middle of the road, as I started praying for him. Oops, car coming! “Uh, can we step off to the side?” So I prayed for Him. “God, reveal more of yourself to Him. Holy Spirit, bring revelation to Him. God, do not withhold any good thing from His life.”

When I finished praying, he was very grateful and asked me, “Where do you go to church?”

I told him, then I asked him. He told me, “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.”

Then he asks me, “Can I see your Bible? I want to show you a verse. He carefully flips through the Bible to the book of John, where he reads me his favorite verse, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Immediately my mind went down all the religious tracks. Okay, so what kind of argument can I pull out to convince him that he’s deceived? Why do I have to know so little about this belief? Hmm, what should I do? He gave an invitation to check out LDS. What should I tell him? Part of me said I really ought to debate with him, yet there was nothing inside of me that wanted to debate him.

I ended up saying very little, except affirming his faith in Jesus. As we parted ways, I asked myself the question, “Am I just going over the edge, favoring relationships and neglecting truth?” But then I had to ask the question, “What if?”

“What if this man is seeking for the truth? How is this man different from anyone else in any other place? What if God just wanted permission to do a work in his life? If so, how would he do it? Wouldn’t He get one of His sons or daughters to pray, using their authority in Christ to release God to do the work that He wants to do?”

After this encounter, I felt like I was “done”. I spent some time just sitting on a park bench pondering what had happened. As I was walking back to the office, I remembered these verses from 1 Corinthians 9 that I had read earlier in the week:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Here’s what I realized: maybe God wanted me to look like a religious fanatic so that this man would identify with me and see me as a brother. Maybe God made a way for me to gain entry into his life that I would not have been able to get any other way. I didn’t have to wear a white shirt, black pants, and a tie. All it took was a big, fat, blue hardbacked Bible.

That, and obedience to the Spirit of God.

May 11

A Yes-Centered Life (part 2)

Yesterday I talked about the difference between a yes-centered life and a no-centered life. Today I’m going to talk about how it hits home for me. You see, this perspective not only affects how you live, but it also affects what you hear.

I have this filter running in the back of my mind that hears “no” when I should be hearing “yes.”

God asks me to give up something. I hear “no more of what you want” when God’s heart for me is truly, “This is a ‘yes’ to you growing deeper in relationship with me.” Or, “This is a ‘yes’ to greater blessings that time will reveal.”

God closes a door. All I hear is the “no” when God’s heart for me is truly, “I’ve got another door that’s better. Trust me.” What God wants me to hear is the “bigger yes”.

And it’s not just God. It’s also people. Somebody offers a word of correction. All I hear is the “no” to my existing idea or the way I had always done things, when what I should hear is a “yes” to a better idea or better way of life.

My hope?

Jesus healed the ears of the deaf on the earth.

Maybe he’ll heal mine, too.

May 11

A Yes-Centered Life (part 1)

We can summarize our lives as revolving around basically two words: “yes” or “no”.

A friend of mine recently redefined accountability for me, saying that accountability is primarily about what we did right. For example, is the primary issue that you didn’t steal money from the cash drawer, or that you were generous in your giving?  It the primary issue that you avoided alcohol, or that you were filled with the Spirit?

Sometimes I think I get this, and other times I think I don’t. I’ve noticed that the more that I walk in who I was called to be, the less I struggle with the things that get me down. However, the further I drift from God’s commands and His call and purpose, the more I feel like I’m on a downward slope, struggling for a foothold, ready for everything to let loose as I go tumbling down to the bottom of the mountain I tried so hard to climb.

Whenever that happens, I instinctively start yelling to myself, “No! No! I shouldn’t be getting angry!” Or, “I shouldn’t be working myself silly trying to get this thing done!” Ironically, I get so obsessed with avoiding the temptation that the temptation consumes my whole attention. But what if I turned that around? What if my focus were a “yes!” What if, instead of fighting to keep my cool or keep my sanity, I turned to God and said, “Yes, I embrace your life! Obviously this other stuff isn’t working so well for me, so I say ‘yes’ to your Spirit!”

Paul wrote, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” By saying “yes” to the Spirit, we implicitly say no to the flesh.

Many of us have seen a “no”-centered Christianity. “Don’t do this.” “Don’t do that.” Some of us have reacted to that, so we do the things we’re not supposed to do. Well, the trouble is, those things are exactly what get us in trouble.

What if we turned that around to a “yes”-centered Christianity? Follow after Christ. Love your neighbor. Pour yourself out selflessly for others. Doesn’t that take on a whole new perspective? (It does for me, at least.)

Maybe this is one of the things that keeps people in bondage to sin. They struggle to avoid sin, but they have nothing to pursue instead. Consider how men view the issue of moral purity. Oddly, we as men blame our maleness for the problem, not realizing that, quite ironically, our maleness holds the answer. Could it be that when we withdraw from our God-given role of leadership and stop being aggressive for truth, for righteousness, for the Kingdom  (our “yes”), that we start getting pulled into all the other muck and mire (our “no”)? Doesn’t that change our whole approach to living a life of holiness and purity?

Yes. No.

Two words. Two views.

Jesus, bring us closer to the truth!

May 11

Church vs. Assembly

Yesterday I mentioned Acts 2:46 and Hebrews 10:25 which talk about the assembly of the saints.

If we look in Scripture, how is “church” used? How is “assembly” used?

Could it be that we have confused the words “church” and “assembly”?

We go to the assembly of the saints. However, we are the saints.

We don’t change churches; we change assemblies.

There are no church splits; there are “assembly splits”. After all, is the body of Christ divided?

Maybe if we had different words, we could untangle these concepts.

May 11

Weekly Assembly

Acts 2:46 says, “And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]” (AMP).

Why does the book of Acts mention that they met “day after day”? Why didn’t it say “week after week”?

Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching” (AMP).

Could it be that we have already begun to forsake the assembling of believers? Do we not see the day approaching? Back then they were meeting every day or almost every day. Are we really meeting more faithfully today?

Do you enjoy church? If so, wouldn’t you want more of it? If not, could it be that your picture of church doesn’t line up with God’s picture?

Do we try to adapt the Bible to our culture and lifestyle, or do we adapt our culture and lifestyle to the Bible?

May 11

Why “Acts”?

Why is the book of Acts in the Bible?

Is it merely “church history”, or is it an example for us to follow?

If it’s an example for us to follow, should we:

  • adapt the book of Acts to our culture and lifestyle, or
  • adapt our culture and lifestyle to the book of Acts?

Finally, is our lifestyle really an improvement upon the lifestyle presented in the book of Acts?

(Mine isn’t. But by God’s grace, it will come closer!)