Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Caffeinated by a King or The Joy of Getting Over Yourself

What do you think when you hear this phrase? "Oh, just get over yourself!" Does it offend your deep sense of individual entitlement, the petting of ego that most Westerners are so accustomed to? Or is it liberating?

This morning, as I was reading and trying to hear from God, I felt like he said just that, albeit in nicer terms: "Get over yourself, David, and onto me, onto others, and you'll find more of what you need." I love it when he does that--you know--the counter-intuitive "I'm God, so I can say things that normally wouldn't make sense but they actually do 'cause I said them" way of going about things. Yes, some of you know exactly what I'm talking about and are smiling as you read this.

Anyhow, as I thought about this more, dialoguing with God in my head and heart, I began to taste freedom and joy.

"Freedom from what?" you may ask.

Having just moved across the United States to one of the biggest, craziest cities in America, there has been a lot of self-reflection and focus on getting my needs met. This is quite natural for anyone who has just moved somewhere, as there's a lot to think about pertaining to self: "How can I get this setup? Where can I plug into community? How long will it be 'til I feel settled here? Am I investing in the right activities and the right people? Is this or that a proper use of my time?" I, I, I, my, my my. Makes sense, right? There's nothing wrong with being there for awhile. But to stay there...oh, to stay in that self-focused state, that's the trap.

Before I moved here, in asking God for any strategies that might be helpful in getting settled, here's what I sensed him telling me. It caught me by surprise: "David, when you get to New York, don't think about how you can find community for yourself. Instead, think about how you can create community for others, and in that, you'll find what you need."

Wow. Total Jesus-Yoda moment (of course, he didn't phrase it in "Community you shall find, when community you make" but you get the idea). And I was thinking about this further this morning. The more that we focus on self, the more we become concerned with our own personal lack, and it's easy to forget about serving others. On the flip-side, as we serve others, we can begin to get our minds off of our own felt-needs, find a new level of release from those needs, and hopefully realize our needs getting met in the context of community as we seek to meet the needs of others.

Paul said it this way in a letter he wrote to this church in a city called Philippi: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

(Funny enough, this was the verse of the day on a site I visit often called "Bible Gateway." It seems there's a theme to this day.)

"Count others more significant than yourselves?" Really? I have read this verse multiple times before, and it always challenges me. But when I get down to the brass tacks of it, it make sense. I remember a very talented musician and speaker in a church I was a part of once breaking this down saying that if we were really mostly concerned about meeting the needs of others in the context of intentional, loving community, then no one would really need to worry about his or her needs getting met, and everyone would be covered. (Thank you, Shae Cottar. This has stuck with me for years, now.)

I think the problem comes when we begin to think about how community, God, or the world at large might fail us if we do just that, as it kind of takes the "other," whoever that other might be, in order to make this work. And we've all experienced the failure of others, right? Likewise, we know all too well our own propensity to drop the ball when it comes to serving someone else.

But what if we didn't have to fear? What if---let's say, we could take our focus off of ourselves in such a way that we could really make life more about serving someone else above our own interests, KNOWING with FULL CONFIDENCE that our needs would be cared for. (I am not advocating an abdication of personal responsibility or a lack of awareness of our individual role to play in our own lives. I take that as a given as responsible adults. I'm rather trying to combat an extreme.) What if we could rely on something or someone totally reliable, knowing we'd be taken care of every single time?

Some of you can see where I'm going with this, and I don't mean for this to come off as some sort of bait-and-switch blog post. My destination of thought, however, is that God is the one who can and will meet our needs if we let him, and he'll even use other people, unreliable, fickle others to do so as we get our focus off of ourselves and onto him and others. I've experienced this time and again.

Jesus, addressing a crowd of worriers who had even more immediate reason to worry about their needs being met than most of us do, said,

"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." -Matthew 6:31-34

Note the word "kingdom." Jesus speaks about seeking the KINGDOM of God, which in my mind denotes two things: there is a king in this domain (king-dom...king's domain), and there is a community, the kingdom. What is a king and a king's domain without subjects to enjoy in that domain? So as we are seeking first this kingdom (and the righteousness that Jesus speaks of), I think it is a call of liberation, to focus on God, the King, who is the true center of all things and on building up others in that kingdom. If we are centered on God and on others, we are properly oriented. If, however, we make ourselves the center, how disorienting that can be! (Most of us can't even sustain the same emotional center through the span of a day by our own volition. So how could we ever act as our own anchor?)

If that word "righteousness" in the above quote throws you off any or causes you more anxiety by putting the focus back on yourself and how "you need to be more righteous," I would hope allay your concern by suggesting that even that issue is covered by the one who calls us to focus on himself. It's my belief that Jesus calls us to focus on the kingdom of God and his righteousness as a call to relief, since it is after all HIS righteousness that we are to seek, not something originating from ourselves.

It's like a free cup of chai. He made it, it originates with him, yet we have to seek it, put out our hand and drink it in as he willingly offers it to us daily. (Yeah, I had to throw the chai reference in there. You were wondering when that might come, weren't you?) And when you think about it that way, who can make the better chai, you or him? (I must admit, I make a really nice home-brewed chai, so that can be a hard metaphor for me if I think about it too literally. But Jesus IS the chai and the one who introduced me to it, so I know he'd win the contest, hands-down--my hands. He'll do the work.)

So what are we waiting for? I wonder what will happen today as the result of putting others before ourselves, focusing on a king, his kingdom, and his way of doing things...Kingdom Caffeination, baby!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Expensive Chai: Counting the Cost to Enjoy the Purchase

Change is expensive. A progression towards something greater almost always requires the giving up of something that is quite good. (I've written of this extensively in a previous post entitled "Paradigm Shift: The Advantage of Loss).

I think it's important to remember this cost when traversing a bridge of change, as it frees the person experiencing the change to appropriately process the loss that transition requires and to more fully appreciate the reward that awaits on the other side of crossing over.

Having moved from Chicago to New York City almost three weeks ago, I have recently experienced a very big change, and its many facets continue to delight and challenge me, though the delights have far outweighed the challenges thus far. The transition from one big city to an even bigger city has felt much easier than it should have, and this I attribute to the incredible support of friends and family through prayers and encouragement before, during, and after my departure. Before I left Chicago, more than one person conveyed a strong sense that God was going to make my transition to New York supernaturally quick and easy, that acceleration would be the mark of much of this new planting here. To my relief, this has proven true in many ways, from an ease in acclimating to the sights and sounds of New York City to familiarizing myself with the incredible mass transit system, quickly integrating into various forms of community here and feeling quite at home from my first night in the city. Any challenges have felt minuscule compared to the glorious homecoming I have experienced in a city whose history and potential for great achievements is so vast.

Yet, I am beginning to remember the cost, and it feels important to do so, in order to fully apprehend the new life that stands before me. If the heart does not take its time to fully grieve what's lost, it is my conviction that it will not be fully open to receiving the new gifts to be poured into it.

I did my fair share of processing and grieving the loss of Chicago and the many blessings of my life there in the months before leaving for New York, and I have likewise taken ample opportunity to drink in the rich chai of cultural treasures that God has begun to lavish me with here, particularly through the vast milieu of good theatre to experience.

But where much was dispensed, there is much more to put it its place, and the process of such replacement is worthy of whatever contemplation is required to receive what's coming next. To put it in CHAI terms, it is helpful to fully reckon the chai that I drank and the chai that I was required to pour out (and that I pour out still) in the service of receiving new deposits of chai if this revolution is to continue. Receive, drink, pour out, repeat. Without the pouring out, one ends up withholding what is meant to be shared and prevents multiple others from experiencing that which comes from a truly fresh batch. New chai into old chai might result in a spoiled chai, or luke-warm at best. Let it be hot or in-between. (Does this sound familiar?) But I digress.

Jesus spoke of this exchange which is so relevant to the theme of losing to gain.

"...No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ -Jesus as recorded in Luke 5:37-39

Without a proper letting go of these old vessels, we won't be able to contain the now that life desires to bring. But honoring the expense of the old, these treasure chests, wineskins, or cups filled with chai, can further aid us in receiving the transformation for which we have so dearly paid...and for which others have so generously sacrificed in that expense. And what is to be gained in exchange will be so worth that expense, knowing that the cost was great. Time for some new chai. Are you ready?