Christian Living

Seeking Euphoria

Have you ever wondered what people are looking for?

Every day I read about my friends who are:

  • Climbing mountains
  • Taking kids to camp/retreats
  • Going on mission trips (guilty, as charged)
  • Going to the desert to be alone
  • Moving from one church to another
  • Changing careers
  • Reading books or writing books
  • Going to concerts
  • On and on…

And I wonder what it is that they are looking for? I look at their stories and think about Pilgrims Progress. “Where are you headed, Christian?” They are going on these trips, seeking something, some find it while others don’t. It’s a mysterious phenomenon that has been going on forever, I suppose. But this spiritual seeking is now on full display thanks to Facebook status updates and Twitter posts.

We are all seekers of something. But why?

I often wonder what I’m looking for. Right in the middle of one of these experiences I’ll have an annoying moment of clarity when I ask myself, “Adam, what the heck are you doing this for?

Humans are hard-wired to seek religious euphoria

We aren’t usually able to articulate it. But we spend countless energy trying to find it or repeat it.

The first time is mystical… almost magical. For many people, we were going about our daily life and one day an experience got us. (See the list above) Maybe we were sitting around a campfire at a retreat when it happened. Or maybe we were at a Christian concert? Or maybe we were at home, sitting in front of our laptop, writing a blog post, when it happened?

We have a euphoric experience. Something so powerful that we almost can’t explain what it was or what happened that made it so amazing.

It just was.

Some people remember just weeping and they don’t know why. Others remember a tremendous warm feeling overcoming them. Still others talk about an intense peace that washes over them.

The intensity of these experiences defies description. It may have only lasted 5 minutes but those five minutes felt like hours. And we spend weeks on a slow decent back to normal life.

Then, when we come down off of that high moment– we spend the rest of our lives sub-consciously seeking it again.

So we try to go back to the place it happened before.

And we’re a little disappointed when we can’t replicate it. So we try again. And again.

And again. Some find it again while others don’t.

And, in moments of clarity, we are left to wonder: What is it that I’m truly looking for?

Two articles on this experience that speak to the science of it, it literally is a high:

Christian Living

5 Ways to Encourage Your Church Staff

One thing I learned when I was on church staff rarely does a person really want what they are presenting what they want.

In other words, when a parent wants to come in and talk with you about some ideas for the summer youth group schedule, that’s only the presenting issue. I know that with enough time and a couple “How are things going?” and “How can I pray for you?” type of questions you can usually get to the real reason they drove 20 minutes to come to my office.

I’m finding the same is true with church staff.

Satan has a very active and special ministry with church staff.

We have an enemy. Not a metaphorical one. Not one who wears a red cape and pulls some cameos around Halloween. No, Satan is real and he is active and he is effective.

And he knows when, who, and where to tempt your church staff. He is sneaky and he thrives on discouraging them. Satan loves a sucker punch so he gets them when they are really, really high and really, really low.

As a youth pastor, I hated the end of our youth group time on Wednesday nights because I knew what was coming. I called the hours between the end of youth group and when I finally fell asleep, “The dark night of the soul.” I went home and questioned everything. I relived every moment. I wondered why I was a youth pastor since I clearly sucked at it. My heart criticized everything I said. I’d often stay up late and re-write everything.

Logically, I knew that Jesus wasn’t the author of that. But emotionally, I just couldn’t flee it.

And I’m not alone. The staff of your church likely experience the same things.

5 constant temptations for all church staff

  • Evaluate the wrong things.
  • Make brash decisions and abuse power.
  • Do it your their way with their own talents.
  • Comparing to other ministries.
  • Leading more and serving less.

5 ways to encourage your church staff

  • Translate evaluation questions into affirmation of calling. They are asking, “Am I doing the right things?” And you need to tell them, “You are the person God is calling. You are in the right spot.
  • Communicate to your staff that you love them by praying for them.If you won’t pray for the staff and their families find a new church.” A long time ago I went to a membership class lead by Ray Pritchard. He said that and it kind of shocked me. I thought he was being arrogant. But its true. If you don’t love the staff God has placed in your church enough to pray for them than you better take that up with Jesus. He’s way smarter than you are. Get over yourself.
  • Only say nice things on Sunday’s. I know that sounds fake. (Maybe you need to be more fake and less mean?) But your staff has laid their hearts on the altar in ways you will never see. Right after they have finished their ministry time they are most open to Satan’s attacks. They will pick up on the slightest slight and amplify the words you say. Just save it. Sleep on it. Put it in your pocket. Instead, look your staff in the eye and tell them thank you, that you are praying for them, and you think they are doing a great job.
  • Act as a shepherd and guardian for their family. Not the cute, cuddly shepherd who leads sheep to still waters. No, the defensive one with the rod. Smack people in the forehead when they attack your church team. In case you didn’t know, your church staff isn’t paid all that well. Help them take care of their relationship with their spouse by offering free childcare so they can go on dates! Grab a gift card at the grocery store “just because.” When you hear people pick at or about the pastors spouse or kids, get angry and defend them. When you hear a staff member squirm with embarrassment at their kids behavior, grab their arm and say, “Stop it. They are kids. It’s OK for them to be kids.
  • Think about their schedule and send notes at the right times. Find out when your pastor is preparing the sermon. Or when the worship band practices. Or when the youth pastor writes the talk. Or when the kids worker is photocopying curriculum. That’s when you want to drop them a text, Facebook message, or email. That’s when you want to leave a voicemail just to let them know that you are praying for them, that you love how they are ministering to them, and that you are thankful to God for bringing them to your church. 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, that’s not the right time. Friday afternoon or Saturday morning… bam.
Christian Living

Jobs and Millennials

Scott Nicholson needs a job. Or so reports the New York Times in a recent article. The problem isn’t that Scott can’t get a job. It’s that Scott can’t get a job he wants. Here’s one situation that lead to a job offer he turned down.

It was in pursuit of a solid job that Scott applied to Hanover International’s management training program. Turned down for that, he was called back to interview for the lesser position in the claims department.

“I’m sitting with the manager, and he asked me how I had gotten interested in insurance. I mentioned Dave’s job [his older brother who makes $75k, this job offer was for $40k] in reinsurance, and the manager’s response was, ‘Oh, that is about 15 steps above the position you are interviewing for,’ ” Scott said, his eyes widening and his voice emotional.

The article documents the lamentations of a self-described “hard worker” as he searches for his first real job, post-undergraduate education. It seems two realities are hitting him hard while avoiding the third.

  1. His expensive undergrad degree and good grades didn’t earn him squat.
  2. Even though his parents are connected, there’s no high paying job waiting for him post-graduation.
  3. He has no debt, his grandparents paid his way through school, and his parents are footing his kennel fees indefinitely. This is a blessing and a curse.

What I find interesting is this desire to hold out for the right job. Scott would rather not work than work a job he doesn’t like.

It’s not just Scott who does it. It’s kind of an upper-middle class phenomenon in America. College graduates hold out for a dream job that doesn’t really exist. Meanwhile, hungrier and harder working students trying to climb the socio-economic ladder continue to take more advantage of a system that rewards hard work… thereby disadvantaging lazier, idealistic, rich kids who are looking for a fast-forward.

It’s a cultural disadvantage facing the suburbs right now. Somewhere, somehow, they have bought into a lie that pursuing the American Dream is easy. And a good job is their birthright.

A trip into American history only reveals the opposite to actually be true.

I wrote last May that there was bad news coming for the suburbs and Scott’s story only adds an illustration to the point. The problem isn’t that there aren’t jobs. It’s that there aren’t jobs that recent graduates are willing to do.

That’s two separate problems.

Don’t be a moron

  1. Life is not a made for TV movie. We’ve never lived in a country that grants recent college graduates wishes for easy street. If you want the American Dream you have to do it just like the next guy… you take it.
  2. You are not Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or one of these 20 year old billionaires. See, they didn’t just wake up billionaires. They worked their butt off and earned billions of dollars with their good ideas. But it also took time, they got lucky, and they are smarter than you.
  3. Starting at the bottom is not humiliating. It’s the only strategy that works. See, the economy depends on people starting at the bottom and working their way up. Likewise, how else will you learn? It’s not like college prepares you for the real world.
  4. There’s nothing wrong with chasing dreams. Heck, I’m still chasing the same dream I started pursuing as an 18 year old! I’ve come pretty far– but I’ve still got a ways to go! But understand that the chasing of dreams can take a lifetime of steps in the right direction while avoiding many pitfalls. If your life were a novel, it’d suck if you reached your goal in chapter 1.
  5. Desperation is the key ingredient to success. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told parents… the best thing you can do to your post-college graduate is to stop feeding them, stop paying their bills, and make them either pay a real rent or kick them out. The smelling salt of items 1-4 above will never be accepted until a person wakes up to the reality that they are the ones who have to make something happen. If they don’t hustle, they don’t eat.
Christian Living

Have you declared independence?

Photo by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via Flickr (Creative Commons)

There is something in our DNA as Americans which is completely antithetical to the life Jesus calls us to live. It is our staunch, stubborn, streak for independence.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to celebrate our nations independence from England. But let’s not get too caught up in it.

As followers of Christ, Jesus asks us to be dependent on him. He is our provider and protector. He has proven himself over and again… And yet, our nature draws us to seek greater and greater independence from him.

Seth Barnes has a great reflection on this:

We are self-sufficient by nature; we have to be taught how to depend on and consult with our Lord. This is why the “American Dream” is so at odds with the life of God. The American Dream is about security and comfort. The two cars, the house, the nice job, the insurance policies, can all release us from the need to depend on God. None are wrong in and of themselves, they are just twigs in a nest.

Jesus told his disciples to pray for their daily bread. When you need God to this degree, it gives you the opportunity to see His goodness as He provides, which in turn enables you to trust Him.

I am one of many American Christians who struggle with this issue of trusting God (in the radical way that He wants to be trusted). Why? Because we don’t really have to trust Him. And many of us don’t fundamentally know if He is trustworthy.

Self-sufficiency is an insidious trap that can sideline us for life from God’s Kingdom purposes. Which is why it is so important to practice the life of abandon as an exercise of our will before our nests become so comfortable that leaving them seems impossible.

Happy Independence Day everyone – may God grant you a measure of dependence on Him as well. Read the rest

Preach it Seth.

Christian Living news item

Portrait of a Thriving Family

So, to be a cover family of a thriving family, this must be what people are looking for…

  • White
  • Married
  • Kids
  • Middle-class
  • Patriotic

Dear Lord, I hope your portrait of a thriving family is much broader.  Its my prayer that Heaven is full of people who aren’t like me yet thrived in their life with Jesus. Amen.

p.s. In fairness, the rest of the magazine exhibits plenty of diversity of race. Single, no-children, working class, or non-American… not so much.

Christian Living

Best of 2008

Note: I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the archives. These are oldies but goodies.

“Who Are You Anyway?”

Confession #1: I’ve gotten wrapped up in being called a leader. I fall into the mistake of thinking people want to know what I think. Instead, a true leader defers to the ultimate source of wisdom, thinking, and counsel. The most appropriate thing I can do as a leader is point someone to ultimate truth found in the Bible. And I recognize that sometimes I do that and sometimes I depend on my own talent, experiences, and personal preferences. I used to be so good at saying, “This is what the Bible says: _______. And this is what I would do if I were in your position: ______________.” It seems that the more people want to recognize me as a “leader” the more I want to emphasize the latter instead of the former. The result is that I’m not always the best leader I can be. Ironic, eh?

Confession #2: I get wrapped up in being called a pastor. I’ve never been comfortable with that title. But as the year’s have gone by I’ve gotten much less diligent in blushing it off when people call me “Pastor Adam.” I don’t know if it’s that I’ve gotten comfortable with what God has done and others recognize that in me or if I just like being called a pastor? Now, it’s true. That is what/who I am. And I am not ashamed of the title. I am not ashamed of my position. And I am not ashamed of my church. It’s not about shame. I recognize that its a sign of respect for my position yet I’ve always been uncomfortable with being labeled any title. Since I entered full-time ministry I’ve always self-reflected and laughed at God’s slapping me… ME… with the title of pastor. Sure… since I was little… even before I was a Christian… I always knew I’d be in ministry. But I also know who I am. I am biblically qualified to be a pastor and yet I know who I am.

  • Above reproach? As far as I know
  • A one woman man? Heck yes!
  • Temperate? I do my very best to not lose it
  • Self-controlled? To the best of my knowledge
  • Respectable? You tell me
  • Hospitable? Check
  • Able to teach? Check
  • Not given to drunkenness? Been good on that one since early teens
  • Not violent but gentle? By the grace of God
  • Not quarrelsome? Not my thing
  • Not a lover of money? How could I be?
  • Manage his family well? Could always do better
  • Not a recent convert? Check
  • Good reputation? Let me know, OK?

Confession #3: I want to get more wrapped up in my identity as a daddy and husband than as “Pastor Adam.” Closing in on 6 years of working in churches full time and I know well why some denominations don’t let their pastors marry. The demands on the position are over-the-top hard to balance with a family. People think nothing of about calling me late at night or early in the morning to talk to me or ask me to do something. And I’m always tempted to work every day and most nights for youth group, small groups, meetings, and other stuff that lands on my schedule. I really don’t think this is biblical and I should be more disciplined about saying “Can we talk or do this tomorrow?” In the past 6 years we’ve had countless family meals interrupted, countless dates disrupted, dozens of movies put on pause, play time put on pause for other people so many times my kids hate it when I take a call, times with daddy missed for this and that. Spending quality time with other people’s kids while missing the same with my own. Honestly, I hardly ever noticed. But my wife and kids did. It’s tough being married with kids and being married with kids to a church. Only recently have I been doing some studying in the New Testament and I realized… “Wait a minute! These guys weren’t nearly as available as I am and God still thought they rocked as pastors and leaders.”

Read the rest

This is one of those blogs posts that has stuck with me. For the last two years I’ve been unwinding myself from being “Pastor Adam” to going back to being “just Adam.

I’m thankful for my new life and friendships. And I’m thankful that most of those people know me as Adam and not Pastor Adam. I still don’t know/think that I’m done with being on church staff… but I do know that if there is a next time, I won’t let people call me Pastor Adam. You can have a title with your job. But you can’t ever allow yourself to be that title more than you are yourself.

Christian Living learning

5 Spiritual Lessons Learned from Gardening

More than pretty and tasty. These plants are teaching us.

We are new gardeners. Our insane 2010 goal of either growing or buying 25% of our families food from a local farmers market has pushed us into a crash course in agriculture.

In March and April we planted our second season of vegetables as well as double the amount of property dedicated to veggies. It’s out-of-control in a very fun way!

Along the way we’ve been learning some valuable lessons. Interestingly, these lessons have fantastic spiritual significance as well.

Here are 5 spiritual lessons we’ve learned from gardening:

  1. What you water grows. This is especially true in San Diego’s arid climate. Now that the rains have stopped, if I don’t add a plant to my irrigation system, it might as well not exist. The same is true in my walk with Christ. Areas of my life which I pay attention to… grow. Areas of my life which I don’t water… die.
  2. Weed regularly. Weeds are deceptive. You won’t notice them starting, but before you know it they are choking out your veggies, stealing water and nutrients from your plants, and reproducing. The rule in the garden is simple: If you see a weed, pick it! You shouldn’t wait for “weeding day” because by than it’ll be a lot more work and the weeds may have reproduced. The same is true in my walk with Jesus. I have to weed out sin before it becomes habit. Confession and repentance can’t be saved for Sunday.
  3. Sharing the harvest is fun. Being new to gardening and desperate not to fail, we’ve planted way too much of some things. This has lead to some massive harvests! Rather than just let that food rot, we’ve taken great pleasure in sharing our tangerines, lettuce, carrots, and other stuff with our friends and neighbors. The same is true of my time with Jesus. Now that I’ve raised my own food I get the gist of what it means to both give my first fruits to God. (First fruits aren’t always the most choice harvests, but they are the most anticipated!) Likewise, sharing the harvest of stuff God is doing in my life brings others the same type of joy that they experience when I hand them a bag of fruit.
  4. Plant in the right season. Kristen and I have a desire to plant stuff that we want to eat. While that makes sense, and San Diego is particularly forgiving since we have year-round pleasant weather, there is a big difference between something we plant that is in-season vs. something we’ve planted that was actually out-of-season. While both grow– one grows correctly while the others growth is retarded by its circumstances. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planted an idea at the wrong time. My walk with Jesus is a constant battle between my desire to do stuff now versus waiting for the right time.
  5. Space is required for growth. We’ve been learning this the hard way. It’s hard to imagine how much room a vegetable is going to need when you grow it from seed or buy a seedling that is in a 5 inch pot. We have one tomato plant right now that was so tiny I wasn’t sure it would take off. But it has since grown into a massive bush over 5 feet tall that is choking out its neighbors! The same is true in my life with Christ. When I give people enough room (or make enough room for myself) to grow… people fill it up. When I constrict or confine growth is choked out.
Christian Living

Is it OK to talk about fasting?

A former student of mine posed a question on the Fast Tuesday groups discussion board that I thought was pretty interesting. I think there are differing opinions about Jesus’ instructions. She said, “Aren’t you supposed to fast in private?

Christian Living

an epidemic and a miracle

While Kristen and I were shopping at Taget tonight, I suddenly became aware that 90% of the people shopping alone in the store were happily yacking away on their cell phones.

I thought to myself… how surreal is it that most of the people in this store are walking around telling people they are at Target? It reminds me of an observation a prophet [aka some guy on Dateline!] made a few years ago… he said “What would happen if someone from a past century were to show up in our culture and then report back to the past? He would tell everyone that we were completely nuts because we all walked around talking to ourselves!” Strange thought, but true, right?

In other news… the church is starting to see the results of long term prayer. Recently we’ve started to see a woman allow herself to get introduced to our church family. In my days of ministry I’ve never seen a woman run so far from Christ while a husband continued to grow in Christ and patiently love and pray for her. This breakthrough started with her helping with the church with our interior design. Next she started to get chatty with me and PB on her stays here. Then this week something crazy happened. She contacted Nathan, our Children’s Ministry director to see if he could help her out with some childcare. That is the miracle. 3 months ago and this woman literally would walk down a different aisle in the grocery store when she saw me… now she invites a staff member to her home? God’s doing something there through ordinary things. Amazing.