Saturday, August 30, 2008

Depressing Prospects

Back in the day, Naomi and I used to be very active in a network marketing business. The Amway Corporation had re-invented itself in North America, morphing into a high-tech/high-touch business opportunity using web commerce as its primary sales conduit. The emerging business was renamed "Quixtar." Because I had quit Bible college, and was floundering in my ministry direction, I was very open to an exciting business opportunity. I was "prospected" by a very professional and friendly gentlemen, shown the business "plan," and got our first business materials to get started.

This new "network" of like-minded business "partners" did not leave us on our own though. Extensive training was available through weekly motivational and instructional tapes (pre-dating omnipresent car CD players or podcasts), monthly recommended books to read and quarterly conferences and conventions. In essence, one immersed themselves into the entrepreneur lifestyle. This saturation principle was designed to help you learn to eat, drink, sleep, walk and talk like a business owner. After all, business owners are self-motivated self-starters. In contrast to employees that just simply put in their time and collect a check that someone else has determined. This training was not provided by Quixtar (Quixtar is the "store" that provided both the business opportunity, and the goods and services that must be sold for honest commerce to take place). The training was provided by the network of business owners known as InterNet Associates ( or INA).

We dove into INA with reckless abandon, hoping to build a sucessful Quixtar business. I experienced a few problems though. A biggie was that I could never keep the conversation on business. My meetings and encounters with people always migrated toward a ministry opportunity. For several years we engaged all of the training offered by INA: weekly tapes, monthly books, major functions, etc. However, we had only slight success making money at it. It was not the fault of Quixtar. On the contrary, I've been "prospected" by many other opportunities since and found the goods and services they offer to be less impressive. Nor would I ever fault INA, for the training it provided parallels (and indeed uses) the best training sources on marketing, leadership and people skills to be found in western culture. No. The blame is our own for having not kept at it in the manner it was taught.

Many fine people were (and are) successfull building Quixtar businesses, and particularly because they followed the practices prescribed by INA. Much of the people skills and leadership instincts that I apply in ministry today are attributable to my time in the INA network. In addition, we maintain our Quixtar affiliation, enjoying access to their fine good and services at a discount. If it ever was our instinct to, once again, build a home-based business that offers quality good and services, plus offers an ethical and reputable business opportunity, we have it already.

The reasons that we do not want to build such a business now though are primarily the reasons why we didn't succeed before. Chief among them being that difficult line between relational ministry and relational marketing. I was before, and am much more so now, plagued with the concern over when business ended and ministry began. My own concience would be bothered with the issue of whether I'm having a pastoral moment with you now, or a business moment. Pastoring is one of those few jobs that one does not simply "turn off and on" depending on whether you're at the office. You take it with you everywhere. When I went to someone's house to show them the "plan," would they know that I still cared about them as a "pastor" even if they said "no thank you, not interested"? I could never build such a business while I'm a pastor. Even if I want to start back up building our Quixtar business, it will not be while I serve the Church in my present capacity; and since I hope to be serving as my church's pastor for years to come, I'll not be doing any network markeing for at least that long.

I say all that to say this. I was "prospected" today (again!). This time it was by a friend in a financial services business that uses peer-to-peer marketing strategies. In the middle of a job search season, the last thing you want to be told is that you pretty much qualify to be prospected by a friend out of the thin air. That's not the most encouraging thing in the world. "Looking at your resume sir, I see here that you have many good qualities and experiences that qualify you to start your own business that requires no qualification at all." That's does not feel good. I'd prefer someone just say they'll keep me in prayer. God knows our situation, and will undoubtedly provide for our needs. But if he gets around to it, I'd appreciate it if he would protect me from being prospected again until our income needs are met in a more solid fashion. Then I won't feel the humiliating sting of having been such easy prey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Unlikely Position

I really would never have guessed that I would find a part time job as a substitute teacher. Nevertheless, as events transpired, I was hired last week to serve as a substitute teacher at Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, TX. It seemed to be a good fit. Immediately I was needed to fill in for a teacher still on a missionary trip through Peru.

Mind you, I couldn't be less acquainted with her subjects (Honors Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Chemistry and Physics). Therefore, I'm grateful that the teacher laid out so thoroughly the instructions of what the students are to do each day. This way, I can follow her easy steps to make sure they keep learning until she returns.

Even though it's high school, I still enjoy the academic environment. I wish I could contribute something significant to the student's learning experience though. Perhaps I can simply keep them just interested enough until their teacher returns. In the meantime, I have to laugh at how God arranges such events. This is among the more unlikely positions I might have imagined for myself, yet I've enjoyed the last two days anyway.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Job search frustrations

In order for my church to be on better financial footing, it is necessary for my salary to be dramatically cut. This necessitates my seeking a second job to fill the income gap. It may be very necessary, but it is also very abhorrent. How I despise those cyclical doldrums wherein I'm reminded once again how specialized I've become. My experiences and training qualify me for equipping and developing believers in Christ in a ministry setting, but little else. How difficult it can be to examine my own resume' and imagine what work outside the church I could be hired for. Trying to rearrange my experiences and education to sound attractive to an employer seems, at times, dishonest.

Even when I completed the applications for "substitute teacher" for Rockwall and Royse City school districts, they had clauses that read, "omit any experience or reference that might reveal age, race, ethnicity or religion." Are you kidding me? Omit any teaching experience or job reference that might reveal religion? That omits my resume in its entirety.

I trust the Lord in this regard, but that doesn't mean I have a clue what he's up to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Yuck in the Gut

What a vile, and unsavory creature is depression. It seeks to convince you of things that are not true, yet seems to grow increasingly persuasive by the hour. It peers into your mirror and finds only faults and failings. It examines your traits and finds only shortcomings. It analyzes your qualifications and finds only fluff. It purports to declare your strengths, but lists only liabilities. It promises to reveal value, but shows only weakness. It paints a dark and sinister picture of you in the name of "honest assessment." Its bile has been known to melt the soul and render the spirit numb. Its fragrance attacks the nervous system, creating paralysis of the will. Victims have been known to involuntarily utter the refrain "why bother?" I hate depression. From the way it makes me feel, I don't imagine it's very fond of me either.

But I remember "the code"...

There is not fear...There is faith.
There is no folly...There is wisdom.
There is no feeling...There is truth.
There is no death...There is only the LORD.

Depression will not have its way with me, for I remember the LORD. I remember that He remembers me. I will not be governed by fear of job searches, school expenses, electric bills or car problems. I instead will be governed by faith that God works out such things. I might have no pride left through the manner he works it out, but faith and pride can sometimes be incompatible anyway.

I will not be swayed into folly, but led by wisdom. I will use what money I have in the most responsible way I can.

I will not be overcome by feelings, but be influenced by the truth. God knows my plight, and is present in my trouble. My value is not determined by conditions, but by the One who made me.

I will not wish to die and be done with the pain of it, but I will instead seek my full meaning in YHWH. Christ alone is my meaning. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He thinks; therefore, I am. I will not seek to escape pain, but instead to identify with Christ whose pain gives us common ground. Pain is the thing Christ and I have most in common.

Depression is such a nasty and abhorrent leach.

Friday, August 8, 2008

I miss my kids

When I talk to them on the phone it sounds like they are having such a good time with my parents in California. This process has gone on for a few years now, my 3 children spending a month with my parents. Each time is about now, the 3rd week into it, that I really start missing them. The house is so quiet. I get out of the house as much as I can to meet with people, but as a pastor and student, a great deal of my time is spent in the office - at home. It's really, really quiet. I can't wait to see them.

They called yesterday to wish Naomi and I "happy anniversary." Hearing their voices on the phone was a tremendous blessing. Now they're on the houseboat on Lake Shasta, swimming, exploring and playing games. How soon can the 20th come?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Married Fifteen Years!

It's hard to imagine that Naomi and I have now, as of today, been married for fifteen years. I remember our wedding like it was yesterday. Preparations were meticulous. Anticipation was palpable. Excitement was high. The rehearsals and reminders were all over. Now was time for the real deal. Everything went perfectly. The music was queued right on time. Everyone was in there places and the ceremony was exquisite. After vows had been exchanged and the Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" was played, we proceeded to the reception nearby. We danced and ate. My friend, Len, and I lip-synced an acoustic version of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." It was celebrant and joyful.

After the reception, Naomi and I got our luggage from home and headed off on our honeymoon. I had prepared the trip in advance, but had kept the plans from her. The surprise had been maintained, and she was totally unaware even up to the point when we approached the Edmonton Ferry. A short ride across the Puget Sound and we began our week long honeymoon on the Olympic peninsula. It was a wonderful trip in which we were able to get acquainted with one another as a newly married couple. The time was filled with hiking on Hurricane Ridge, walking along the coastline and relaxing in the Hoh Rain Forest. Man, I did not want to come home.

15 years later, we still love to get out, away and alone. The motorcycle provides the means for us to go out and have fun. Tonight we'll jump on and ride to a restaurant, talking about each other, our lives and what God might be planning to do with us next. 15 years after the marvelous day in Kirkland, WA we are definitely in love, remaining interested in each other and attracted as ever. 15 years makes us feel like seasoned "veterans." I remember when we used meet couples who had been married for 11, 13 or 15 years. We we stare in awe at such longevity and commitment. In our current culture, such awe isn't completely misplaced. Nevertheless, we now see 15 years are "flying by." The next 15 should be a thrill too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The 3rd Service

Church services vary. There are worship services, Adult Bible Fellowships, baptism services, prayer meetings and potlucks. There are such a variety of services that a church can, and should offer that each type of service needs a good reason for being performed. Unfortunately, one vital function of a church often does not receive its own service: that being one of fellowship.

In our church, we show that we value community building events that produce healthy fellowship by listing it among our core values. We articulate this with "We strive for authentic fellowship in a closely relating community of faith. Opportunities to care for one another through ministry, enjoy one another in activities and encourage one another with love are pursued throughout life in the church." As a result, activities that foster greater fellowship and authentic community are not only allowable, but are necessary to give expression for such core values for a church. Furthermore, since other services of the church (worship, education, communion, etc.) give expression to those values, the value of "community" deserves its own church service as well.

I call this "the 3rd service" because churches will typically set aside time for education and worship, but fellowship often falls by the wayside. Seen as less important or structured, other events crowd it out. Coincidentally, Starbucks Coffee Co. has referred to coffeehouse as the "3rd place" for people go after home and work. This is a purposeful pursuit of fellowship building to develop a healthy community of believers. It is not an amount of wasted time in which nothing else occurs. It is instead a church service designed to facilitate an aspect of church life that is no less vital than prayer, music, preaching or Bible study.

The "3rd service," therefore, should be closely guarded, protected from those tendencies to schedule every moment of church with fast paced activity. In Everett, WA Naomi and I observed how this played out when the church enjoyed breakfast together Sunday mornings or supper together Tuesday nights. In this way they held the "3rd" service" every week. I'm so pleased that my church does the same.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fitness of the Whole Person

At North Valley Kung Fu, we often observed that fitness was a universal indicator of our ability to manage ourselves. Of all the areas of life that deserve appropriate attention, one's fitness is of such import that it must receive priority in the arranging of life's activities. However, two questions should be brought to the discussion on fitness: (1) What manner of fitness are we discussing?, and (2) why is this fitness so important?

The first question as to the manner of fitness must seem a strange one. Does not everyone know that I'm speaking of physical fitness? Not so. Because of the layered complexity that is the human experience, there are many corresponding layers of fitness (or "fitnesses") that must receive due attention. I will mention three commonly discussed layers here, though more can be brought to bear. These "commonly discussed" layers are (a) the spiritual life, (b) the mental life and (c) the physical life. These three represent a good start on the subject of fitness for the "whole" person.

(1) People are spiritual entities. The Scriptures stress, more than any other subject, one's ability and responsibility to interact, with full submission, with the living God of the Bible. Humanity relinquished so much of this ability in the Fall that God must now graciously grant even the ability to respond to Him in an appropriate manner. Nonetheless, inasmuch as people are given ability by the Spirit of God, it remains their responsibility to perceive truth revealed by God, submit to His authority and obey His revealed will. The exact manner in which human responsibility and Divine empowerment intersect remains a mystery, yet the sum of its math is that we must cultivate, "exercise," and develop our ability to perceive, submit and obey. This can be called spiritual "fitness." The "exercises" associated with this fitness are found in the historic Christian disciplines of the Church. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, covers these very well. While it can be dangerous to prioritize aspects of the human condition, seeing that we are such an integrated complexity, spiritual fitness would deserve its place atop the list, if indeed such a list was created.

*Parenthesis - Such lists can indeed be dangerous, for they often deny how holistic a being is the human. Ancient heresies sought to separate the aspects of man to declare the spiritual life solely important to the exclusion of all others parts. This was appropriately denounced by the Church when such beliefs led people to dismiss the notion of sin, who suggested that the acts of the body were of little import if the spirit was aligned with God. Among Gnosticism's many faults was a failure to acknowledge that man's rebellion had been holistic; therefore, his redemption must be as well. Prioritizing "fitnesses" is understandable, but must not result in the compartmentalizing that we inherit from Gnosticism.

(2) Mental fitness is multifaceted. Educators would likely gravitate toward a definition that orbits intellectual rigors. Psychologists, however, would likely define this more in terms of mental/emotional "wellness." In any event, those functions of the mind that cannot be understood to be highly spiritual nor merely physical can be called the "mental life." This is one of the human "fitnesses" also. The person who is ever learning, ever processing, reflecting, thinking, asking, discovering and experiencing can be said to be mentally "fit." Such a one often reads regularly, writes reflectively and considers carefully those things that life is revealing to them. They are interesting. They have a variety of topics on which they can converse, for they are aware of the applications of those topics in the world. Mental "wellness" is pursued in how they reflect on life's lessons. They seek out and find helpful peers and/or mentors to share the journey with. Painful events are processed in a healthy manner because of how the "workout" is conducted. Mental fitness is closely integrated with spiritual fitness in more ways than can be described here. It is enough to suggests that each these "fitnesses" suffers from the neglect of the other.

(3) In a society obsessed with body shapes, acknowledging a necessity for physical fitness would seemed insultingly obvious. However, one's motivation for achieving said fitness remains the more important subject. The Scriptures speak so much of service to "one another" that the primary uses for the one's own fitness seem to be for everyone else's benefit. Because we are so fundamentally self-centered, developing an understanding of our own bodies that takes others into account is like holding back the tide. Any thoughts of physical fitness can quickly degenerate into notions of "feel fine with myself, just as I am." While a healthy self-image is indeed appropriate, and is often meant when the previous statement is spoken, it must not fail to account for how "myself, just as I am" is capable of serving others.

How is the overweight mom serving when she watches her children play from afar, but cannot join in? How is the winded and wheezing father serving who cannot play with his boys? How is the husband serving his wife who so neglects his health as to artificially increase her chances of being widowed by age 65? How is the spouse serving their beloved by ignoring their own fitness, presuming upon their husband or wife to remain attracted, ignoring it too? How is the young man or women serving the Church who cannot perform the physical demands of ministry? How is the believer serving Christ who has not cultivated sufficient fitness to escape concerns about their own health, and now can focus on others'?

These "fitnesses" (and more could be mentioned) are both important to the human experience, and integrated together. Consider how often one suffering from depression is influenced for that better by either prayer or exercise. Think of the clear head one can have for Bible study who has also worked out regularly. Imagine how satisfying physical fitness can be with the knowledge that it can bolster mental/emotional wellness and spiritual service. What we really need is not a prioritized list, but fitness for the whole person, with an eye for how it renders us more capable of blessing those we love.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back to Riding

I was so encouraged to get my bike back this last week after its repairs were completed. Immediately Naomi and I went for a ride up to Lavon to have dessert at a Sonic. Riding the bike allows for real rest. You know, that type of rest that is sufficient work to drowned out all other concerns. It takes concentration to really rest from the problems and work concerns that plague you the rest of the time. With the academic rigors always breathing down my neck, plus the responsibilities to the church, I was quite ready to get back on the road. Praise the Lord!

No sooner had I rejoiced over being able to ride again, but I was invited on a scenic ride to Celina, TX this morning. The twists and turns, as well as the communities we rode through were a great pleasure. This only increases my motivation to outfight my motorcycle for comfort as I explore the back roads of Texas. Who could have ever known that I would become such a riding enthusiast?