Monday, October 30, 2006

The Driven Life - Good or Bad?

I can't think of a better word for it. Gordon MacDonald calls it "drivenness." Many folks admire people that are driven. They get things done. They can often be found it key positions in successful organizations.

I used to think of drivenness as a positive thing. I remember reading a couple of books in the past with the word "driven" in the title, such as The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life, both by Rick Warren. However, the way Rick Warren uses the word "driven" is not the type of driven I am thinking of here. What Warren calls "driven" I would refer to as "called," because what motivates us should come from God. So I don't use the word "driven" in the same way. Here are some characteristics of drivenness:

1. Often gratified only by accomplishment. Sees life only in terms of results. Doesn't appreciate the process, only the product.
2. PreOccupied with Symbols of Success. These include things such as a "title," office size, special privileges, and other indications of notoriety.
3. Caught in the Uncontrolled Pursuit of Expansion. He want to "climb the ladder." Doesn't appreciate achievements of the past and is never satisfied. Always wants more and will leave if what he is a part of is not growing fast enough.
4. Limited regard for integrity. Since the driven person is so preoccupied with success and achievement, he will succeed by any means possible. He will spend little time with the inner self. Ethics slide and he can become deceitful, even deceiving himself.
5. Tend to possess limited or undeveloped people skills. Projects and personal goals become more important than the people around him. People are valuable to the driven person for how they can help the driven person fulfill his goals.
6. Tend to be highly competitive. Each effort is a win-lose game. Other successful people are seen as competitors or enemies to be beaten.
7. Often has a volcanic force of anger. He cannot take questions, constructive criticism, disagreement, etc. His anger can come out in ways other than violence, such as verbal brutality, insults, put downs, and general vindictiveness.
8. Tend to be abnormally busy. The driven person is too busy pursue relationships with other people, much less with God. He never thinks he accomplishes enough and is always attempting to do more. Sometimes he tries to impress people with the fullness of his schedule and will even complain about. But he will never accept a way to lessen his work load. His "complaining" is really nothing more than bragging.

When drivenness is described in this way, I can see that it is anything but positive. Even though many organizations value driven people (including churches) because they get things done, it is done at the sacrifice of relationships and other things that are important. It occurs to me that even though King Saul was a driven person and we typically see him as a dismal failure, most of the people under his rule probably saw him as a successful king. He had a string of leadership victories even after we begin to see the signs of drivenness. The call of God is not what motivated Saul, but his own drive to hold on to what he had and to accumulate more. As I look over the characteristics of drivenness in this list, and can point to events in Paul's life that can be placed under all eight of them.

I have spoken to people that worked long hours into the evening because they wanted to be successful. It is humiliating for your boss to indicate that he thinks you are not dedicated enough. I remember reading a book several years ago by Paul Faulkner entitled, Achieving Success Without Failing Your Family. It never really became a popular book in the business world because Faulkner makes it clear that you cannot have it all. Contrary to what others had been saying, you cannot be a huge success in your career AND a huge success in your family. You have to choose. If you are going to be a huge success in your career, it will cost you. I have also met ministers who were driven. I met a guy whose goal in ministry was to become a minister at the Richland Hills Church of Christ, one of the largest Churches of Christ in the country. It was all he ever talked about. Everything he did was geared toward that. There were signs of drivenness in his ministry. His family paid the price. I have known students who were driven by the desire to be better than everyone else in whatever they did. They chose their friends on the basis of their status. They dated people who would help their image. They fought tooth and nail for the lead parts in the play, or on the cheerleading squad. I have known a housewive who were driven by the desire to have the postcard house and the postcard family. This is what mattered more than the emotional well being of her children. And the list could go on.

There were those in scripture that were driven. In addition to King Saul, there was Peter, James, John, the Apostle Paul, and others. Out of these folks, we probably have a clearer picture of Peter and Paul. Both of them had agendas. Both of them were go getters. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees and had an immaculate record. He was sharp. However, Paul calls his pride and confidence in these things as putting confidence in the "flesh." Paul experience a transformation from being driven to being called. Paul's motivation was no longer the desire to accumulate success and notoriety, but the desire to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering and be conformed to his death. There is no notoriety in these things. He endeavored to live as Christ did. He wanted to humble himself as Christ humbled himself. He wanted to become the least of these. This was the call of God. If someone tried to overshadow Paul and his accomplishment from self-centered motives, Paul could rejoice because the name of Christ was still being preached. The call of God is not about Paul's accomplishments, but about God's accomplishments, regardless of who God accomplishes them though.

It occurs to me that if I have the right attitude God can use me in a more effective way. But then again, he may choose not to. I don't want to be like King Saul with all his driven tendencies. I want to be motivated by God's call, not my desire for significance as the world defines significance. It seems that what this boils down to is a question of motivation. Am I motivated by the call of God, or am I motivated by the desire for my own significance and notoriety? Where is my focus?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Memorial for our Mongee

For the Telgren family, 2006 is a year we do not want to repeat. In my wife's own words, it has been the year from Hell. We just lost her mother, whom we all affectionately referred to as "Mongee," to a battle with complications related to a stroke she had back in April. The memorial celebration was earlier this week, and it is now sinking in that we will no longer be able to just pick up the phone and talk to her, or drive down to see her.

Her memorial service was "different." She had told us that she didn't want anything that looked like a funeral or felt like a funeral. She wanted us to come in what she was used to seeing us in, even if that meant shorts and t-shirt. We shed tears of both sorrow and joy as we shared stories and memories of Mongee. From water balloon baseball and other numerous games such as Charades, Taboo, and Trivial Pursuit, there was always fun in the house. I remember watching the family dance around together in the kitchen to the tune of "Yakity Yak." I remember listening to her funny stories about family and other people she had known over the years. I remember how she threw herself into the holidays for both the kids and later the grandkids. It didn't matter whether it was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentines or Christmas, anything that had anything to do with the kids was a huge deal. I remember stories about her fierce devotion to her kids, especially when she felt any of them had been unjustly treated. For such a small lady, she sure was a spit fire! The office staff at the school would see here coming and they would scatter. You just didn't mess with any of her kids. If you did anything to jeopardize her family, you had better watch out! Family was of utmost importance to her, which is why she adopted her oldest sister's four children when she and her husband both died. That adoption ran the kid count in their family up to 10! I remember when I was dating my wife going over to her house and it feeling like summer camp because there were so many kids there! For a long time, I couldn't keep straight who belonged there and who the visitors were. There were always a lot of the kid's friends there and they were always welcome. I heard a couple of the kids honestly say that they were really bad kids and that Mongee still put up with them and still loved them and looked out for them. I heard the stories and can only imagine the range of emotions that she must have went through in caring for all those kids. Only someone with a lot of true love in their heart could do such a thing.

I heard several people remark after the service that they had wished they could have known her better. As I reflect on this wish, it occurs to me that there was nothing keeping anyone from this. Distance was not a real issue. I knew my grandmother real well even though we lived four hours away. The reason? My Dad was devoted to driving us out on an average of once a month to spend the weekend with grandma. Time wasn't an issue. We all make time for what we value in life. The issue is that we did not realize the nature of time. Time is the one thing we cannot set aside for later. Once it is gone, it is gone. Mongee was only 55 years old when she died last week. Just a year ago, we buried Papaw, but we never dreamed that a year later we would be saying good bye to Mongee as well. I don't know how much time I have. How will I use my time for what is really important? Time is perhaps the most precious resource that God has given. However, I do not know how much of this resource I will have. Will I maximize my time by investing in what is really important in life, or will I bury it in the ground? God has granted me health, the ability to walk, work, and talk. He has given me wealth, and has blessed me with people who love me. Will I maximize those blessings or will I bury it in career, possessions, work, and things of this nature? Will I be able to enter into the joy of my master by investing in what is truly important, or will I be in the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth? What is truly important in life, and what do my actions say is truly important?

After the memorial service, several family members came up to me and asked me if I would do their funeral service when the time came. I didn't ask them why they wanted me to do it, but I think it may have had something to do with the fact that this "unusual" memorial was so light hearted, different, fun, and personal. I have to be honest. In a way, it was both sorrowful AND fun doing this memorial because of who Mongee was. I guess the question for me is, who am I going to choose to be? Will the blessing of God shine through me to my kids, their friends, and all who know us, or will I be another guy who has a job and pays the bills? Oh how empty and self centered it would be if I were focused on these things rather than what is really important.

I still have time. I don't know how much, but I still have it. Therefore, it is not too late. I don't have to lament that I didn't get to know someone or someone didn't get to know me. I don't have to lament that I was not able to be more of a blessing or someone was not able to be more of a blessing to me. I don't have to have any of the regrets of wasted time. I can maximize it as the blessing that God intended. I can use it so that my kids and their friends can have fond memories of the Telgrens and how they loved their kids and loved people. It is not too late.

I love you Mongee and I will miss you. Thank you for taking the Proffitt kids and raising them, especially Stacey. She has been my partner, my lover and my best friend along this journey. Who she is says something about you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Flesh vs. the Spirit

I used to think that walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh as having to do merely with moral behavior. I have come to realize that it goes much deeper than this.

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess 2:13).

"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Tit 3:5),

This tells me that the Spirit sanctifies me and renews me. This renewal means that I put off the old self and put on the new self. It also means that I am no longer conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind. The transformation needs to come from the inside out. My mind needs to be renewed. I need to walk AND think according to the Spirit.

Walking according to the flesh can take on the appearance of religion, yet be devoid of the Spirit of God. Several years ago, I remember reading a book by Gayle Erwin entitled, The Jesus Style. In it, he talks about the "style" that Jesus conducted his ministry in. First of all Jesus is born in a barn to a Jewish working class family in a backwater place called Israel in a insignificant town called Bethlehem. That would be like being born in Toadsuck Arkansas. He is given a very, very common name, "Jesus," which is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, "Joshua." Jesus chooses a band of ordinary people to be his disciples, which included people such as fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot, which would be like having a member of the KKK and an African American on the same team. Then there is the way he died - crucified on a cross. In 1 Corinthians, Paul said that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks. I couldn't fully relate to this because we do not use crosses the way they were used in the 1st century world. A modern day equivalent would be an electric chair, gas chamber, or hangman's noose. If people were to hear a preacher say, "Take up your hangman's noose and follow Christ," or sing a song that said, "At the electric chair the electric chair where I first saw the light…" or say, "I am gassed to death with Christ nevertheless I live…" we would be ridiculed and mocked.

My flesh would want to do it all differently. I would want the savior to be born in a wealthy and powerful family with influence where he could receive the finest education and be groomed for being a ruler from birth. He would need to have a name other than something so common as "Josh," perhaps Joseph Witherington III, or something like that. He would need to assemble a dream team worthy to carry out the mission. He would need to go to the finest universities and theological schools and get a couple of Bible scholars and theologians to expound intricate theological questions. He would need to go to Hollywood to find a couple of good-looking guys with charisma to be the front men for his organization. He would also need to go to Wall Street and get a financial guy to manage his enterprise. He would need to get an architect that could build and impressive headquarters with its own zip code. Finally, he would need to go to Gold's Gym and get some body guards and put them in black suits with dark sun glasses. My flesh would want to have him die on a battlefield in a glorious battle, not in a gas chamber or electric chair. My flesh would want to clean it all up and make it socially palatable and acceptable. I would want to make gold jewelry out of the cross. I would want to build ornate, breathtaking, beautiful church buildings. There should be no low-lifes, losers, or people like that in the church. They need to be cleaned up to look "respectable."

I remember meeting a lady who bragged about her church of over 1,000 people. It had impressive architecture, a modern art sculpture out front, a foyer that rivaled a shopping mall, numerous programs, a school, a counseling center, a fleet of buses, and a professional ministry staff that would rival CEO's of any cooperation. One of the guys on the ministry staff had an MBA. What is all of that compared to a little church in Toadsuck Arkansas? I have preached in places like this where the building is aging, little white wood frame building on a hill. The parking lot is gravel, the carpet is worn, the pews are run down, and a retired guy and along with a preaching student serve as the preachers. It appears that there is no comparison between this lowly, backwards church and the huge, successful church in the city. But when I think of that little church in the hills, I don't think of the building. I think of people like Clint, who would drive you over 2 hours to Little Rock if need be. I think of Brenda who would invite you over to her place for lunch. I think of George who had the spare room that he would offer out hospitably. I think of Clara who was wealthy but generous with any need that arose. I think of the bedridden Mrs. Chamblis who couldn't get out of bed, but faithfully sent letters to World Bible School Students. I think of Glenna who would listen to you like you were the most important person in the world. When I think of that little church, I don't think of their aging building, but of wonderful, sweet, godly people.

Isn't this what God looks at? My flesh may look at stained glass windows, ornate decorations, impressive programs and things of this nature. However, if I am in tune with the Spirit, I will see it as God sees it. All the stuff that my flesh sees is invisible to God. He looks past the fa├žade and into the hearts of his people. As Jesus demonstrated, ministry is all about people.

There is a reason why Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit before they went out. They needed to go out in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. I notice that they didn't try to clean up the foolishness of the cross. They gloried in it and spoke the message boldly. The power of God was displayed in their weakness. This is a challenge for me because my flesh often wants to rely too much on human philosophies of management, leadership and wisdom. I sometimes have the tendency to evaluate spiritual things with fleshly measures of success. My flesh wants what makes me look good. I sometimes want to have a contingency plan for everything before moving forward, which tells me I may be relying on my flesh rather than on the power of the Spirit. I sometimes make ministry more complicated than it really is. I need to be filled with the Spirit and walk according to the Spirit and think according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School Shootings and Safety

"It could happen anywhere!" is the sentiment of several people after a deadly shooting at an Amish schoolhouse. Reporters have been speaking about how the community has been "devastated," and how their sense of safety in this "insulated" community has been shattered. There is no place that is safe.

In other news, there are more discussions about metal detectors, police officers in schools and things of this nature. As people scramble to pass new laws and rules to try and make schools a safer place, it becomes more glaringly apparent that these people do not understand what is going on.

The problem is not lack of security in schools. The problem is, and always has been a spiritual one. Darrell Scott, the father of Columbine martyr Rachel Scott, called the Columbine shooting a "spiritual event." There was more going on than meets the eye. Changing the surroundings without change in the inner person changes nothing. Metal detectors, police officers, locked doors, and such will not solve the real problem. True change comes from the inside out. As tragic as they are, the shootings are really symptoms of a deeper problem, which is a disconnect from the God who created us all. The result of this disconnect is frustration, anger, and hopelessness, which can lead to violence.

We live in a dark world which is under the influence of Satan. The Bible calls Satan the "Ruler of this World." I think these Amish people probably understand this better than most Evangelical Christians who seem to confuse nationality with Christianity, which are very distinct from each other. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, which is why his disciples did not engage in "holy war."

I think it is interesting that in all the news coverage, very little attention was given to how this Amish community was actually dealing with it. Contrary to many a reporter's depiction that they have been "devastated," a counselor who has been with the victims' families says that there is no bitterness or resentment, though there is sadness. In the midst of the sadness, the Amish are already speaking forgiveness. Some reporters almost seem appalled at this.

As a spiritual event, it is plain to see that the gunman really had no power over any of these people. He sent the children to Heaven, and caused sadness in their families, but he did not "devastate" them. "Devastate" is such a strong word. If we truly understand God, the nature of our world and our place in it, we will recognize that there is nothing on this earth that can "devastate" us. Jesus himself said that no one could have any power over him unless the Father has granted it. The book of Revelation tells us that as believers, we have been "sealed" by God, and this seal protects us. Even though Satan, the beast, or some gunman may shoot us dead, he really cannot touch us. Our body is temporal, but who we really are is out of reach of the enemy.

The real battle is not stopping a killer's bullet, because we will always have killers with us on this earth. That is not to say we shouldn't be concerned about it, because God is. The governing authorities are established by God for this very purpose. However, this deals with the external. The real battle is spiritual. What will believers do with this tragedy? The fact that this Amish community is already talking forgiveness shows that the gunman neither devastated them, nor did he ever have any control over them. It was the gunman who was in bondage. He was enslaved to the "old grudge" he was carrying out. These believers will neither be enslaved to bitterness nor to a cycle of revenge. They will display the Spirit of Christ who has set them free.

As I reflect on all of this, it occurs to me that the battle rages around me every day. Although the ways I am wronged cannot begin to compare with what happened this week in Pennsylvania, the warfare is still there behind the scenes. I realize that, like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, I need to look not at what is seen, but what is unseen. Satan's tools include fear, resentment, hate, selfishness, and a host of other inner attitudes. I have little control over external circumstances. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit that has sealed me, I do have control over my inner circumstances. Surely if they can forgive someone who killed their child and prevent Satan from getting a foothold into their heart, I can also forgive someone who has talked behind my back! If Jesus can forgive those who put him on the cross while he was on the cross, I should be able to forgive anyone!

I suppose it is good to stop on a regular basis and spend some time in solitude and silence. Silent prayer. Being with God. Hanging out with him. It is NOT wasted time any more than being with my wife is wasted time. It is in those silent moments that my inner self comes to the surface. There is no activity or noise to push it into the background. Sometimes I don’t' like what I see, yet God in his love and grace helps me to reorder it, if I let him. He will not force it on me. I have to be willing. Like Elijah in the cave, there are times when I need to listen for his whisper.

And what a powerful whisper it is! It is there that I learn what true safety is on this earth. It is not safety from thieves, robbers, and murderers. It is safety from any of them touching me, who I really am, my inner self. God is there, and they cannot penetrate there. It is a fortress for my soul. There, I am safe in the arms of my Lord.