Thursday, May 31, 2012

TransAmerica: Thoughts, Ramblings, a Lame Joke, and Learnings as We Penske Wagon Across America

It's nearly 11 PM and I'm in Effingham, IL (every Illinoisians' favorite city name to shout when angry). As I recline in a hotel bed, my family asleep all around me, and NBA analysts breaking down Miami's win, I decided to scribble down random thoughts and learnings from the Taylor's travels across the United States. Here it goes...
  • Contrary to popular belief, people do live in Oklahoma. I was able to understand their language and they are friendly to foreigners.
  • Texas seems to be the only state with state-shaped waffles.
  • While Democrats and Republicans vie for power, it's clear that Ronald McDonald is the boni fide Commander and Chief.
  • Penske trucks drink diesel like a sumo downs Chankonabe: quickly and in large quantities.
  • Dogs are high maintenance. 
  • Appreciation for long-winded preachers grows in direct proportion to the number of hours you are scheduled to drive (I've been hosting a three-day Penske Revival Conference and I managed to bring in some stellar keynotes and dynamic worship bands.)
  • While driving and worshiping it is safest to be a one arm hand-raiser (preferably your non-dominant hand).
  • Want Angolina Joliesque lips? Don't waste time and money with expensive cosmetic procedures. Have your brother throw a rock at your lip...poof! Puffy lips!! Repeat after two days (Pierson can testify to its effectiveness.  His words, "If feels like my lip wants to pop off!").
  • If you have poor night vision and are an inexperienced 26-foot-truck-with-a-car-dolly-and-Kia-in-tow driver don't get stuck having to back out of a hotel parking lot, surrounded by unattended semi's, in a severe thunder storm, with a multi-block electrical outage. 
  • If you gas-up at the big rig diesel pumps it is assumed that you swear like a drunken sailor who stubbed his toe after bumping his head... never mind the 8 year old boy standing next to me.
  • What revenue Oklahoma fails to collect in its absence of professional sports teams it makes up for with highway tolls. 
  • The iPhone never ceases to amaze me.
  • Ice cream always sounds good.
  • Every vehicle should be equipped with semi-grade side mirrors (scooters and segways included).
  • The company that promotes the most on the Lamar billboards is Lamar.
  • There are A LOT of people and each one has a story.
  • The laws of physics don't lie.
  • [Random lame joke] What's the the laziest town in Missouri? Doolittle, MO.
  • Doggie toots smell distinctly different than human ones (I purposefully used the terms "doggie" and "toots" so as to make a crude subject sound cute.  You're welcome, Mom. I also replaced "toots' with "ones" in the second half of the sentence so as not to overuse the word "toot..." Oh, wait... I just used "toots" four times...wait, five - never mind).
  • Panera Bread puts little effort in accommodating big rig parking, and I would be uncomfortable if they did. 
  • With a family of five and a dog chances are that at any point in time someone has to go to the bathroom.
  • In the Penske... uphills, "Sorry!" Downhills, "Weeeeeeee!"
  • All bugs look the same splattered on your windshield (You are supposed take this comment and make a theological point, "In the same way, all people, if they were splattered on a windshield would look the same too. We are all made in the image of God).
  • Just because you see a Highway Patrol doesn't mean you have to slow down, especially if he has already pulled someone over.
  •  God is a magnificent sculpture and painter.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Between HERE and THERE

During the 1980's when girls just wanted to have fun, when money was for nothing and chicks for free, my parents planted us in Recife, Brazil - a tropical metropolis with taste bud seducing fruit and hospitable locals. We were part of a six family team sent to plant, water, and nurture a community of faith. To this day, my foreign experience serves as one of the greatest positive influences on my life.

But in 1988, the time came to return to the land of Dr. Pepper, M&M's, Whoppers, and G.I. Joe cartoons. We moved back to the United States the summer before my sixth grade year. My sixth grade year holds the record for worst school experience - EVER! The TRANSITION home was brutal.

I returned to the US after studying in a diverse private school in Brazil... Americans, Chinese, Brazilians, English, Indians. My best friends was a Korean named Francisco (a very Brazilian name) and we communicated in Engluese (a Portuguese-English hybrid). The private school was laid back. Our classrooms had three walls; the fourth side opened to a lush garden of trees and flowers.  It was quite the contrast when I started school in the US. The Nazi teachers made me stand in straight lines with my hands to my sides, and they answered any movement with vicious screams. The kids pulled down my pants for a laugh while others made fun of my white Cheetah high top tennis shoes. (I had admired Michael J Fox's shoes in Teen Wolf and could not wait to get back to the US to mimic his look.) They were my prized possession until my "friends" started calling them "Cheep-ah's." Apparently Nike and Reebok were the only fashionable footwear.

The year of 1988-1989 was a difficult year because it was a year of reverse culture shock. It was a year of transition. Transition is often difficult, uncomfortable, and disorienting.  The majority would prefer to teleport from HERE to THERE than than hike through the BETWEEN phase called "transition." But the reality? Most of life is transition! We are always in transition, and transition offers immense growth potential. Unfortunately, most of us miss out on the opportunities transition offers because we are too focused on its discomforts to appreciate its value.

Israel understood the frustrations of transition better than any of us. Forty years wandering in the desert is not my idea of progress. They too missed out on the opportunities transition afforded because they could not see past its discomforts. Below are some of their responses to the disorientation of transition. Perhaps you can identify.
  1. "I want to go back!" Israel had just experienced the power of God first hand: the Red Sea parted and they skipped across on dry ground only to look back and see the same obedient sea turn hostile and lay waste the Egyptian army. At that moment Israel feared the LORD. Fast forward one and a half months. Israel has been wandering the desert, their bellies are rumbling, and already they desire to return to Egypt, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (Ex. 16:3)  God was taking Israel to the Promised Land, to an amazing future, but the uncertainty of transition led them to forget what lay ahead. Instead they longed for the past, an oppressive past. They preferred slavery over transition! Many times the difficulties of transition make us long for the past, even for a less than ideal past.
  2. "You did this!" When you find yourself in the mess and muck of transition one option is to blame someone else for your discomfort: "Mom, you made us move." "Well...the students here are snobs!" "These people are clickish!" "This town is full of idiots!" Israel blamed Moses! Apparently it was Moses's fault when Israel got thirsty in the desert.  And apparently it was serious; at least Moses thought it was, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me." (Ex. 17:4)  Israel's transitional discomfort pushed them to find a scapegoat and Moses's number was up!
  3. "God has abandoned me!" The demanding thirst of desert travel led Israel to doubt if the "Shock and Awe" God of the Exodus was still hanging around. They figured he had gotten out of Dodge. Exodus 17:7 expresses their concern, "Is the Lord among us or not?" It is a fair question. Could not the God who leashed the Red Sea send Israel some desert Dasani? You may have similar doubts during the chaos and uncertainty of transition, "Is God even here? Does he care?" Transition can feel as if God called you a direction and then jumped shipped.
  4. "I got this!" In Exodus 32:1, Israel is tired of waiting on Moses and God. They are not getting any younger, so they turn to Aaron, "Come, make us gods who will go before us." Aaron caves to peer pressure and sculpts Israel some cow-gods to lead them. The Lord's time was not working for Israel; his time led them to believe he was gone, so the people took matters into their own hands. "If God won't lead us, we'll make our own gods who will." Like Israel, when transition lingers you might try and speed up the process by pushing, forcing, and orchestrating your own outcomes. As a result, transition becomes about what "I" want rather than what God is doing.
Perhaps you identify with Israel and while in transition you have longed for the past, taken your frustration out on others, questioned God and/or decided your timing was better than God's. But, as you look deeper into Israel's story you discover that the desert wanderings, the marathon transition was not wasted time or a pointless meandering, but that during this BETWEEN time God was doing something. You learn transition offered opportunities the "firework" moments of life could not offer. The same is true for you.

On June10th, I'll be preaching a message to help you see that transition DOES! Israel's desert experience will help you better understand the BETWEEN segments of your life. In the meantime, spend some time exploring Israel's sandy transition. Read Exodus 14-19, 32:1-33:6, 40.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

    Catalyst 2012: Why I Go

    Last week I had the opportunity to head to Catalyst Dallas. In their words, Catalyst Dallas is a gathering of young influencers who see things differently and feel a burden for our generation. We seek to learn, worship, and create together with momentous energy while passionately pursuing God. I spent two days huddled with 3000 Christ-focused leaders learning, growing, worshiping, crying (well, some of us) laughing, eating, and yes...being entertained. Catalyst fills my cup, and although my motives for going are selfish the overflow of my experience spills into other life arenas.

    1. ...understands the need for young leaders. Although the grey-heads speckle the audience (for which I'm thankful), Catalyst unashamedly targets the under-40 crowd.  They realize the Western trend of a rapidly growing irrelevant Christianity and the fundamental need to empower, encourage, and equip young leaders who can effectively speak into the current culture with the great news of Jesus Christ.
    2. ...does a phenomenal job of turning creative people loose. Catalyst believes strongly that all gifts are avenues of worship. In the 2-day span DJs, slam-poets, videographers, painters, sketch artists, instrumentalists, vocalists, beatboxing cellists (no joke)...oh yeah, and a few preachers lead us into the presence of God.
    3. ...embraces diversity. Assorted colors of people fill the stage. I heard from Reformed preachers as well as Armenian preachers. There was no Church of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, etc. producing the event. It is a conference that understands denominationalism has a terminal illness and therefore centers on Jesus and Kingdom. The event pushes social justice passionately while not apologizing for excellent programing, creative entertainment, and leveraging consumerism. The music varied from hip-hop, to Kari Jobe, to Gungor, to even dancing the Cupid Shuffle.
    4. ...inspires hope. The conference focuses on what the Church is called to be and celebrates the amazing things God is doing through her rather than highlighting everything wrong with the Church. Catalyst reminds me The Bride is beautiful!
    5. ...reconnects me with favorite friends while connecting me with new ones. This year I reunited with some of my favorite people: Kent Rogers, Matt Clark, and Matt's beautiful wife Jana. God also brought people I needed to see and hug across my path, and finally God introduced me to some new friends. 

    Maybe I'll see you there next year!

    Thursday, May 3, 2012

    Scar Scratcher

    I have a scar from a self-inflicted wound. It does not hurt anymore, but it's noticeable. If you have known me for a long time, from before the scar, you will likely notice it. If we have become acquainted since its formation, you will not even see it. It is not a physical scar. It is an emotional, spiritual, character scar. I have learned to accept it, to let it serve as a reminder, to let it make me better, to let it motivate me and propel me forward...but that took time and intentionality. Satan likes to pick at my scar. He picks to make it bleed, to open the scar back into a wound. I am more aware of his strategic scratches now than ever before in my spiritual journey.

    As long as I can remember I have known Ephesians 6:12,  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms... and believed it, but I always struggled to decipher  between the activity of spiritual forces and the deadly combination of X-files reruns and spicy Thai. Over the last 8 months, God has honed and heightened my awareness to spiritual warfare in my life. One area I am particularly aware is in the scar scratching schemes of Satan (that alliteration is dedicated to the preaching community).

    Since my shaky return to preaching in December, every time I prepare to preach The Accuser works to stop or curb my passion to do so.

    Scenario 1: A day before my preaching re-launch I shared a meal with someone I deeply admire and respect. This individual spoke truth and wisdom into my life, challenging me to look deeply into my spiritual state. The Accuser leveraged this conversation, which the individual intended for insight and aid, to get Shame's foot inside the door.  Once his foot is in, Shame pushes until he breaks in to declare "I'm your new roomie."  Satan wanted me to stand before the community of faith, my first time back in the pulpit, on a foundation of shame rather than on a foundation of God's grace.

    Scenario 2: Mary Beth and I were headed to an interview weekend with an amazing congregation. I was supposed to deliver a short thought on Saturday night. That week began with one of the top-ten worst self-esteem experiences in my life. I went to an interview (not with a church) and was absolutely destroyed! Wow! It was painful. After that experience I wanted to cancel the upcoming church interview but did not.  In route, we missed our connecting flight due to a delay at DFW.  We switched airlines in order to get to our destination on time and managed to catch the last flight before a winter storm blew in, cancelling all flights.  We made it, but...our luggage did not.  It arrived the day we left the interview.  Needless to say, there were some distractions!

    Scenario 3: I arrived home late Saturday night after a packed 4-day trip and had to preach two services the following morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 AM and headed to bed.  About 2:30 AM my youngest son woke us up with the beautiful melodies of upchuck! It took awhile to detox the bedroom and get back to sleep.  My sweet wife handled most of it and sent me back to bed for rest. Groggy preaching is not good preaching.

    Scenario 4: The week before joining a friend of mine for a preaching duet, I came down with an abscess tooth. It had me in an arm-bar and I was tapping out! I got meds just in time to dull the pain the day before the sermon, so I headed to Starbucks to put some final touches on my part of the sermon.  Simultaneously, as I emailed my draft to my preaching friend I received a Direct Message on Twitter.  It read, "Someone is spreading bad rumors about you on the internet," and it had a link. Normally, I would think, "This is a hack attempt," but my past sinful choices gave me reason to doubt. Immediately I felt sick. Guilt and pain overwhelmed me! Once again, Mr. Shame was banging at the door to my heart!

    Scenario 5: A friend of mind invited me to preach.  Saturday night I had a dream: I had been rehired at a former congregation. I was in the office early on my first day excited and nervous, but I was wearing no pants. I sported only a T-shirt. Although I was uncomfortable in my quasi-nudity I was still able to function until I heard other staff arriving.  I thought, "They are going to know that I am not wearing pants. They are going to realize that something is wrong with me, that I'm the only one without pants." The nudity, just like Adam and Eve, was a metaphor for shame. I ran out to my car and discovered a couple of shorts in the trunk.  The shorts clashed with the shirt but I threw one on and ran back to the office.  As I approached the door to re-enter I caught a glimpse of myself in the window: my hair was disheveled, my clothes did not match, and I was still barefoot. As I entered the office, one of my old high school friends was sitting in a waiting chair.  I said, "Hi! Good to see you," and then ran to the bathroom to groom myself.  As I leaned on the sink and stared at myself in the mirror I thought, "Everyone will know that I'm messed up! You can't hide it." Thank you, Accuser, for that entertaining brain movie!

    God does not need me to preach. There are many voices more talented, better suited, and more effective than I have ever been and ever will be, but I do believe God wants me to preach. And, I believe Satan does not want me to preach. It has nothing to do with talent, experience, or has everything to do with GOD! When I preach it is a testimony that the resurrection is real, that sin will not win, that Jesus is the redeemer, that God is the re-creator - not because of what I say, but because of what God has done. I am a prop of God's grace and goodness! I am a product of grace! When people ask, "What's he doing?"  The answer is, "Oh that? That's God's grace!"

    The accuser does not want me to preach because he hates grace! He hates redemption! He hates love! he hates forgiveness! He hates the second half of my story! As a result, he leverages anything he can: flights, luggage, teeth, vomit, conversations, dreams, etc - to erase grace with shame, fear, and paralysis.

    The Accuser is trying to leverage your circumstances to grow fear, shame, guilt, hate, bitterness, lies... to keep you from embracing grace and living out of grace! Here are a few things I do to silence his voice...
    1. Quote scripture. I quote passages that disarm his lies with truth! The night Pierson woke up vomiting, I had trouble going back to sleep so I prayed over and over, "It is God who justifies..."
    2. I use the words of Jesus to speak to Satan directly, "Get behind me Satan!"
    3. I invoke the name of Jesus: "In the name of Jesus, leave me alone!"
    4. I pray for protection on weeks that I will be preaching.
    5. I tell my wife so that she can pray for me and encourage me to hear the voice of truth rather than the voice of lies.
    There is a force rooting against you, but the tomb is empty! We win!