Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

We interrupt this series on Margin to let me plug a short piece that I wrote and was published on InterVarsity's national web site: Open Air Evangelism Still Draws a Crowd

Back to our regularly-scheduled series soon!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Margin gives space for vision (seventh in a series)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my church’s pastors met with some of us who live in Glenwood. One thing he asked was, “What is your vision for ministry here?” And I had nothing to say. I was weary, overwhelmed, and honestly, it had been months since I had thought about having any vision for my neighborhood. Ironic, since in that span of time I had led a summer missions project here in Glenwood.

As we continued to talk, I realized that a major reason I had no answer for the vision question was that I had no time or space to think vision thoughts. For the most part, I was in survival mode, making it week to week and day to day. Remembering what “had to be done” was enough for my brain to handle.

Without margin, busyness and a full life can act like a fog, allowing us to see only a few steps ahead. The problem with living like this for long periods of time is that we spend our lives living reactively to whatever comes up, not thinking proactively in the long term. Instead of charting a new course, we just dodge ruts and potholes.

I believe that vision is important for everyone's life; it’s not just for business people who want to increase their bottom line or vocational ministers who are trying to hear from God. I think that God wants us to make time and space to hear from Him about our relationships and our purpose in life. Maybe He has more in mind for us than simply paying the bills and making life work. Maybe He has a special call for us in loving people in our neighborhood or work place. Maybe He has a call and a purpose for your family and your role in their lives. Vision helps us see beyond what is good to what is best.

Having vision gives us clarity about why we are here, where we are headed, and moves us to new places of partnership with God and dependence on Him, transforming a life of simply surviving into a life aiming at the building of God’s Kingdom in small and large ways, and margin gives space for us to hear God's voice in the vision-seeking process.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Margin is necessary for relationship with God (sixth in a series)

For years now Isaiah 30:15-30 has been one of those “anchor passages” in my busy, often margin-less life (it might help to skim it right quick). This passage is so counter cultural, because it tells us that in repentance and rest is our salvation, in quiet and trust is our strength. That seems like crazy talk to me. Resting, being quiet, trusting – those things don’t get anything done! They’re so passive, just sitting there.

Waiting….... quietly…... trusting.

What I’d rather do is handle life myself, get busy fixing the problem and helping God get things sorted out. Isaiah says, “God offers you all this, but you would have none of it.” He calls this “jumping on my horse”, riding swiftly away from my problems (or to solve them). But at the end of the ride, the problems are still there, waiting, always one step ahead.

What God often does through this passage is calling me to margin, to make space for relationship with God. See, I can talk God’s ear off while I ride off on my busy horse. I can ask Him to bless my efforts, tell him all about the things I am doing. But relationship requires listening, reciprocity, and time. It requires me being quiet, listening for God’s voice. It means repenting of thinking I can get it done, and asking God what, if anything, He wants me to do. It means resting, hanging out with God. Relationship.

When I don’t have margin, relationship with God becomes very one-sided, a monologue rather than a dialogue. I read the Bible quickly, looking for nuggets of insight about me, rather than looking for deeper relationship with God (here's a great post about how to avoid this). Without margin, the things that are urgent (or seem urgent) overwhelm and drown out the thing that is best and most necessary. Margin gives me opportunity to commune with God, the God that Isaiah says “longs to be gracious to you, who rises to show you compassion.”

And what is the key to receive this gracious compassion? Time and space. “Blessed are those who wait for Him.” Waiting…quietly…trusting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Margin is necessary for relationship (fifth in a series)

In response to some things God showed me at a recent Urban Ministry conference, I took a prayer walk on Monday in my neighborhood. One of the things that I heard God say to me in that time was, “Relationship.” See, my life had gotten so full with kids, elder board, regular job stuff, fantasy football, exercising, taking kids to preschool and more, that I had lost touch with my neighbors. Time felt so scarce that I would go from the house to the car before work, and car to the house when I got home. No time to walk around the block with my dog. No time to talk with people on the street as I pulled up. I worked right up to my margins – I need to be home by “x” time, and so I pull up right at “x” time (or a few minutes after) and know that I need to run in the house and help with the kids. There was no time for relationship – what if people wanted to talk or pray or complain or laugh? That would take time and I was already late.

But today as I walked and prayed, I knew that I had time and space set aside. So when I saw a man and a woman walking down the street, I asked them if I could pray with them, and we prayed (in the middle of the street). On my way to an appointment later that morning, I was 15 minutes early. I was dropping something off at a friend’s house, and felt the Lord telling me to go and pray with their next-door neighbors. Because I had margin in my schedule, I did, and it was a special time.

Diane got to go to the aforementioned conference with me and it was just me and her for the first time in a long time. Being there with no kids for 4 days gave margin for our relationship, and we talked and laughed and spent time together in ways that we just don’t do when there are kids to care for. Margin gave room for relationship to grow, even in the midst of a packed conference schedule.

Margin is essential for relationship. When I am careening from one meeting to the next, I have no choice but to pass you by if I am going to be on time. Without margin, people are "one more thing" instead of precious ones created in God’s image. When my heart is crowded with worry and details, I cannot give you my full attention, and friendships feel draining. But when there is margin, I have space to care, plenty of green grass for Jesus to have us sit down in, space for Him to work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why don't we have margin? (fourth in a series)

Diane and the kids and I were recently invited to go the beach for a weekend with two families that we have not hung out with in a long time, and everything in me wanted to go. I didn’t want to miss out on what is sure to be an awesome time; I feared not being included. But looking at the calendar, that weekend would be the fourth straight weekend for my family where one or all of us had at least one major event (more than four hours long), and the weekend after that I am scheduled to go on a retreat with our church youth group. And so we reluctantly said no. This was a big moment for us, choosing wisdom and what was best for us over fear, urgency, and what seemed very good.

Margin requires choice – this means turning off the TV or the computer and going to bed at a decent hour. It means stopping work even when there are things undone, trusting that they can be done tomorrow. It means saying no to perfectly good events and opportunities so that you can just be at home, reading or talking with a friend. It means doing without a "want" item so that there is room to bless others.

Margin can also be costly – working less means getting paid less which means having less stuff. Saying "no" means risking disappointing people or possibly missing out on something. Being quiet and still means we might have to actually deal with things that have long been stuffed down inside.

Margin is counter-cultural - when we have it, we feel like we are falling behind, as though we are less-significant. Everyone else is running at breakneck speed and seems to be finding life and joy in the things that fill their lives, and so we want to keep up.

Plus, for the Christian, having no margin seems so spiritual – who wouldn’t want to be busy for Jesus? Who isn’t impressed by the ministry leader who gives countless hours to the church? Shouldn’t we work hard for Jesus to show Him how thankful we are for all He has done for us (so the logic goes)?

But, returning to John 6, Jesus does not call us to feed all 5,000. He calls us to give Him what we have, and in His hands, our less is more than our striving could ever provide.

And I am finding that the benefits of margin far outweigh the costs, as margin gives space for relationship, vision, financial peace, and rest, all of which empower and impact the world for Christ in great ways. And talking about these benefits are where we are headed next.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why all the fuss about margin? (third in a series)

So why all the fuss about margin? Why is our housemate Dayna about to strangle me if I say the word “margin” one more time? It’s because for too long my life has felt overloaded and overfull. It seems as though I am just awakening to the reality that my family now has three children in it, not just two, and that significant amounts of time and energy have been necessarily taken by this change, but I have continued to accept responsibility at the same pace as before. I often feel like my mind can’t hold another thought, that my heart can’t take another disappointment, and yet I still feel compelled to say “yes” to things that add to those loads. Sound familiar to anyone?

I know that I’m not alone – I read a blog by a former GUPY and found that she was drowning in a sea of schoolwork and ministry. I listen to my neighbors down the street talk about the toll of a workday that begins at 6:30 am and ends after 9:00 pm. I realize that in a recent sharing time at my elder meeting, 7 out of 8 of us on the elder board feel overloaded by work, life, and family. And while there will certianly be busy seasons of life, I just don’t believe that this is how Jesus would have us live week after week after week.

It’s so tempting to live a marginless life. The things that we add seem so good, necessary even. Isn’t it good to teach a Sunday School class, to give someone a ride to church each week, to go to the beach for a weekend with friends, to visit family who live out of town? Isn’t it nice to have a late-model car, even if it means more debt? Aren’t the things that we spend our hard-earned money on the things that we feel are important and valuable? Sure they are. But one more thing plus one more thing plus one more thing equals three more things, which are added to what is already there. And at some point, we have to admit that there are limits to our time, our emotional reserves, and our finances. But you’d never know it by looking at typical American culture. We live as though there is plenty of room for more, that our days are 27 hours long and that we earn several hundred more dollars per month than what actually shows up in our bank accounts.

I’m making a fuss because I agree with the author of the book Margin when he says that marginless living is a disease that is robbing our nation and the Church of spiritual, emotional, physical, and family health. I think that while most people know that life ought to not be so overfull, few of us have diagnosed the problem correctly, instead thinking that there must be something more that we need to do or buy in order to fix it. And of those who have diagnosed the problem correctly, taking the step of making the change proves to be very hard, almost impossible.

But as an elder, I don’t want to shepherd my church into busyness and overload. As an IV staff, I don’t want to develop leaders for the Church who accept burnout as just part of what it means to be a Christian. And as a father and husband, I want to have more to offer my wife and children than the scraps of my life at the end of the days and weeks. There truly is joy in the margins, but right now myself and many of my friends are missing it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Margin is a key to joy (second in a series)

Continuing with the John 6 passage from my last post, another thing that my friend pointed out was the small detail of “there was plenty of grass in that place.” John's gospel is the only one to note this about the grass, and this small detail has a big impact in thinking about margin. Jesus had plenty of space to work, plenty of space for a miracle to happen. I so often go through life running from event to event, meeting to meeting, task to task, and rarely is there space or time for me to allow Jesus to speak or really work. There is not “plenty of grass” where He could lead me to a random person, where He could have me sit down for a time of listening to Him. There is no room for a miracle, and really, there is functionally no need for a miracle because my life is so controlled, filled right up to the limit or the breaking point.

But watching Jesus in this story reveals no hurry, no pressure, no crowding. There is room to love, room to provide. And in this place of roominess and margin, there is enough. Actually, there is more than enough. We see phrases like “as much as they wanted” (not needed), and “they all had enough to eat”, and “they filled 12 baskets with the pieces left over.”

Think of it – we see five loaves and two fish (“two small fish", Andrew says), which represent our lives with limited time and resources and we say, “It’s not enough, Lord, in the face of such a fantastic need, so let me try harder and do more.” But Jesus only asks that we give Him what we have and allow Him to make it enough.

Andy Stanley has recently preached a series on margin called “Take It to the Limit” (you can download the podcast for free by searching Northpoint Ministries on iTunes), and one thing he posits is that our lack of margin is primarily driven by fear – fear that we will miss out on something good. Whether it is a good material thing (so we spend all that we have), or it’s a good social thing (so we overload relationally), or it’s a good ministry thing (so we say yes to every opportunity that comes our way as long as Jesus is involved), we are afraid to miss out on the “good life.” The irony is that life with margin and space is not the good life, it’s actually the best life. It might not be full of “stuff”; it might not be full of people; it might not be full of "ministry" for the church resumé. But there is room for real relationship with God and with people. And there is plenty of grass for Jesus to work miracles, both in our hearts and through our meager offering of our lives.

Here is a great article on margin from the IV student site,

Margin is a key to joy (first in a series)

The other week my wife and I were invited over to watch a TV show with some friends, and when she called to remind me that we were going that night, I crumpled inside. It had nothing to do with our friends, whom we love. It was just that I felt so overloaded with my life that even doing something fun like that felt like a burden; I wasn’t sure that I could even enjoy it. If ever there was a sign that something was wrong inside me, that was it.

Perhaps you can relate on some level to this experience – my bet would be that most people in the Western World could, as I hear more and more stories of overloaded people being crushed by their schedules and their finances and continuing to feel the need to add more and more to their lives. Those who have spent time with me know that for about a month I’ve been beating a drum called MARGIN, and now it’s time to put that beat onto “paper” in the blogosphere.

To start this series, I want to share a place in Scripture that God has used to encourage me to make room for more in my life. Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle (besides the resurrection) recorded in all four Gospels, and John’s account of this event comes in chapter 6. I recently spent a day looking at this passage with some other InterVarsity staff in a guided retreat, and as we came together and shared at the end of the day, a fellow overloaded staff had some great insight into the passage.

She first noticed that Jesus asks, “Where can we find bread to feed all these people?” and Phillip replies with a “how” answer – “Six months wages couldn’t buy enough.” Andrew answers the “where” question correctly (“Here is a boy with 5 loaves and a few fish), but doubts that what is “here” is enough (“but how far will they go among so many?”). If I were a disciple, I may have answered like Andrew (on a good day) and then I would have made every effort to add to what was “here.” Maybe try and bake some bread, or run to town and get some bread to add, whatever I could do. But ultimately, it would never have been enough to feed 5,000.

Attempting to do more or create more than what we have “here” erases margin. Cramming more in an attempt to help Jesus accomplish His work erases margin. Well-intentioned efforts to fix the brokenness of the world can erase margin.

Simply giving Jesus what we have, recognizing and accepting the limitations, and trusting Him to make it “enough” is the beginning of having space and rest in our lives.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Glorious Ones

Last week during a time of prayer with another staff, we were praying through John 17:18-23, where Jesus prays for all Believers. The part that stood out to me the most as we read and re-read it was verse 22. Jesus says, “I have given them the glory that You have given me, that they may be one as You and I are one: I am in them and You in me.”

As I prayed through that verse, it seems that Jesus was saying that somehow giving us glory was connected to our unity with one another, but why? Then God began to speak to me about my own heart and about certain relationships where I have been unwilling or unable to forgive those who have hurt me. He showed me that most of those wounds were a result of my feeling rejected or unimportant, or in other words, those people had not given me the “glory” I thought I was due. The result of this was that there was disunity between us because my heart was hard and guarded around them.

If I lived my life as one who had already been given glory, then perhaps the opinions and acceptance of others wouldn’t hold such a place of power. Perhaps I would love simply to love and not to gain something in return. If I lived my life as one surrounded by Brothers and Sisters who had already been given glory, perhaps I would treat them with more honor and love. Imagine, living as glorious ones could bring the thing that Jesus was asking for, unity and one-ness.

And why was Jesus asking for unity among Believers? “So that the world may believe that You sent me.” And, “ to let the world know that You sent me.” Our love for one another, our treating each other as glorious ones, reveals Jesus to the world.

Jesus, who had all glory, gave it away. He didn’t need to hold onto it, because He knew who He was and Whose He was. I’m not sure yet what it means that I have been given glory. I certainly don’t often feel glorious. But I think that there is freedom here, freedom from seeking my own life and glory from others or from my own abilities, and as that freedom flows, so will forgiveness, unity, and the power of Christ in our world.