Thursday, September 28, 2006

spiritual competencies, week one: relationships

We’re starting a new series today called Spiritual Competencies. Many of you were here for our series Cellular Spirituality and have been tracking with us on the idea everything we do, everything we think, every relationship we have, matters to God. The whole essence of Cellular Spirituality was to explore that concept a little bit about the inter-connective-ness of all the different area of our lives, the different habits we form, the different things in which we involve ourselves.

We thought we’d take this next series, Spiritual Competencies, and talk about a couple of key areas every Christ follower needs to have in their toolbox in order to get the most out of life. Today we’re talking about relationships, next week we’re going to talk about the intersection of faith and religion and pop culture, art and architecture. The final week we’re going to talk about conflict and conflict resolution.

We think these are the things that are going to come up for people who follow Jesus Christ all of the time. Every single day you are going to find yourself interacting with the world around you in a relational sense. Every single day you are going to find yourself interacting in the sense of the things that are typically put out by the media. Every day, sadly, you’re probably going to find yourself in some kind of conflict. Even though there may be a thousand different areas in which we need to get more skilled, we think these three areas you’re just never going to escape. These are things everyone ought to be able to do.

When it comes to the idea of relationships, I’m still amazed at how many people seem to have no concept of how important relationships are. They have an intellectual understanding relationships are important, but those things don’t every pan out in our lives in the way we feel like they should. Today I want to talk about the kinds of interpersonal relationships I believe we need to have. I want to talk about how to find people around us to be in relationship with us in these different capacities.

I want to use some scriptural examples to pull this out and I also want to use some characters from films. I realized very quickly there are nine different kinds of relationships I’d like to talk about today and as is every pastor’s curse, you can’t really tell nine Bible stories in thirty minutes—it’s just impossible. I thought I would use film characters to try and illustrate in addition to the biblical stories. At least if you were familiar with the film, you could get there in your understanding a little quicker. My mom and wife both told me this was a tremendously stupid idea. As I listed all the film characters, they were like, “We don’t know who any of those are.” I said, “Yes, but you know who the Bible characters are, so it doesn’t matter.” Hopefully, somewhere between the examples from scripture and the examples from modern film, you’ll figure out the kinds of relationships we’re talking about.

I want to be really clear at the core of the Christian faith is a set of trust relationships. Everywhere in scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, faith is begun and centered around relationships. The Christian faith fundamentally is built on the multiplicity and complexity of relationships—with God, the world around you, your family, your adversaries. Your relationships are the basis for understanding who you are and how you fit into the world around you. So often, the significance of this is completely lost on us or maybe lost on someone else and we find ourselves unable to either manage or enter into to meaningful relationships.

We find typically when we get together in community one of the most common ailments that beset people is loneliness. People just feel like they don’t have anybody to talk to. I think while it’s valid to say, “Yes, sometimes people are isolated,” and “Yes, sometimes loneliness is legitimate and it’s imposed on us,” I think it’s also true to say the responsibility is on us to actively seek out and cultivate life-giving relationships. While it is true sometimes great relationships just sort of happen—you meet someone, you click, you become best friends—those things don’t happen enough.

You can’t just hope healthy, life-giving relationships will pop up like crabgrass in your life and you’ll just always have more than you want. Instead, we’ve got to be deliberate about identifying people in our lives who can feed our souls within our relationships. I think the responsibility too often is placed on everyone else to: Be my friend, meet me, be nice to me, welcome me. Never do we turn the compass back to ourselves and say, “No, I need to be deliberate and purposed in finding people and bringing people into my life we both mutually benefit from one another.

There are nine key kinds of relationships I’d like to look at today.

The first relationship we need to have and maybe the most important relationship anyone needs to have in their life is the relationship of a NON-ROMANTIC LOVER. You just plain old need someone who is committed to you warts and all. It’s not that they think you’re perfect. They know all the bad things about you and yet in the middle of that they love you still.

In film, of course, we think of the character of Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, who many, many scholars even view as a Christological figure who in a way gives his life repeatedly out of love to Mr. Frodo. Samwise repeatedly makes efforts to sacrifice his life for the love of his friend; there is no other motivation. In the film there are all these grand themes of world restoration, but Samwise Gamgee is not concerned with worldwide restoration. He’s concerned for his friend; he loves his friend. Even as his friend starts to go evil, Sam’s response isn’t anger, its sadness and pain, because he loves him.

You’ve got to have someone in your life who is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, as the Book of Proverbs talks about. Many people look to the friendship of David and Jonathan as this kind of friendship. Jonathan was the son of a king; David was the new king who had been anointed to replace Jonathan’s dad. The non-romantic, man-to-man love between David and Jonathan is the prototype for healthy male relationships through the last several thousand years.

My good friend, Vince McLaren is my non-romantic lover, although I intend to be mocked for that phrase many, many times I want you to know. Vince is a former co-worker of mine, we’ve been friends for a lot of years, and I’ll never forget the day he said to me, “Dude, I love you and if you ever get into trouble, I’ll help you hide the body.” Everyone’s got to have someone in their life who loves them and loves them to that degree.

You also need someone who’s a counterpoint to the non-romantic lover. You’ve got someone who thinks the sun, moon and stars rise and set on you; you also need someone who is a CHALLENGER, someone who will push back on you and tell you when you step out of line. I think of the Prophet Nathan standing up to King David and saying, “Even though it may cost me my life to say this, God is embarrassed and ashamed and angry at you because of your adulterous affair.”

Remember how that all played out in the Old Testament? David had an affair with Bathsheba and pretended like nothing went wrong. Then he killed her husband to cover up the baby they had made together. The Prophet Nathan came to see David in his courtroom in front of everyone at risk to his own life. In that part of the world, if you spoke out against the king, they could cut off your head and shove it onto a pipe without a moment’s consideration.

Nathan came to that king, in that world, and said, “You have sinned,” and challenged the king. That’s a powerful friend right there; that is a true friend. Remember Nathan and David had a preexisting relationship; they had a relationship that went on afterwards, but there was something connected between these two men more than just than one occasion.

In film I like to think of Professor Henry Jones, who is Indiana Jones dad, played by Sean Connery in the last movie of the trilogy. Throughout the film he’s pushing back on his son, “No, that’s not the way we’re going to do it. No, that’s not what we believe. No, that’s not how you’re going to go forwards.” You know throughout the film he loves his boy and is proud of his boy. There’s a relationship and a concern between the two of them and yet he’s not afraid to challenge his son. You need to be challenged at different points, in different circumstances and in different contexts. You need someone to say, “No, that’s not the way to go.” They still love you, they still care about you, but they’re not going to put up with any of your garbage.

The next person you need is a PROTEGE. You need a Timothy, someone you can pour your whole life into. The best parts of who you are you can pass on to the next generation as it were. You need to be able to infuse the goodness or the grace or the knowledge or the skill or the perspective God has given you into someone else like Paul did with Timothy. The Pastoral Epistles is where Paul teaches a young man what it means to be a pastor. We find our protégés in business, athletics, marriage or relationships. We’re able to pass on what we know to the people who come after us. It’s important we identify and search out those people.

One of the things that impressed me most when my wife and I were investigating Westwinds before moving here was the One-to-One for little ones or the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program with which Westwinds is involved. If you’re interested in that at all, you can pick up a little pamphlet on the kid’s panel of the giant metal kiosk. I’m hard-pressed to think of something more noble or worthwhile than people reaching out and trying to make a difference in the lives of children. There are a lot of good things the world could use and great opportunities for us to involve ourselves in, but to take an afternoon a week and pour your life-giving energy into a little boy or a little girl is almost unparalleled in the difference it can make in their lives.

In film, of course, one of the great protégés and he’s certainly a hot topic right now is Orlando Bloom’s character, Will Turner. You know Will Turner as the up-and-coming pirate-to-be, the protégé of Captain Jack Sparrow. You know Will Turner to be someone who is learning from his mentor what it means to be a pirate.

I was very blessed in my former job to have some great friends and a number of different interns I felt like I was able to give the best of myself. I hope I didn’t poison them with the other parts of myself. I think of my intern, Brad, who every week listens to our podcast and sends me nice emails or gives me phone call. I think my relationship with Brad is one of my most cherished relationships ever. We were great friends and I never thought of Brad as something less than me. I loved him like a brother and still do and always would pray for him, “Lord, if I have any good thing, let it pass to him. Let me, in some way, help Brad in his spiritual quest and journey.”

You also need, however, someone who can help you so you’re not just always pouring your life into someone else. You need a SPIRITUAL OR AN INTELLECTUAL GURU. You need someone like Morphius, who can teach you Kung Fu and stretch you beyond the reality and possibilities you see. You need someone who can show you a new perspective and stretch your mind.

In the Bible we always think of Paul as a great example of a mentor. The Apostle Paul took people like Silas, Barnabas and Timothy under his wing and even the other “super apostles” frequently looked to him for guidance. Paul, who in a sense, mentors all of us now through the writings of the epistles. When we want to know what it’s like to be a pastor, we’re still reading 1 and 2 Timothy. When we want to know what’s it like to run a church or be involved in a church, we’re still reading Ephesians. When we want to get our theological grounding straight, we’re still reading Galatians. Paul was very really the founder of Christianity as a movement that spread beyond Judea. We think of Paul as our mentor, as a spiritual or intellectual guru.

I have to confess and any of you who know me are going to know this very well, but I always think of my guru as Leonard Sweet. I don’t know him terribly well and I always get embarrassed when people make that association, but I love the guy, his books, his teaching and I get so much from it. In many ways, he expands and changes my paradigms.

What about you? Who is the person that is changing the way you see the world? Who is the person you get to see one-on-one or talk with on MSN or who calls you once every six months? Who is the person that actually changes your mind? If you don’t have someone, that’s one of the key relationships you need to look at.

The next person is the ENCOURAGER. I think we all need someone who pushes us to keep going, who reminds us what we’re already doing is valuable and we should not quit. Sports coaches are great examples of this. In the recent film, Coach Carter, Samuel L. Jackson did an excellent job of being this encourager. An encourager isn’t someone who just says all kinds of nice things, pats you on the back and tells you it’s going to be okay—that’s a liar. An encourager is someone who pushes you hard into the direction you’re going, who tells you that you can do better and they love you for trying harder. It’s not someone who says everything’s going to be okay in the morning, but someone who says you need to dig deep and find what makes you worthwhile and grab it and go for it.

In my life, I always think of Carmel. Right now I’m training for a marathon and it’s only my wife who gets me up in the morning to go running. It’s only my wife who says, “No, Davey, you need to get your giant, enormous behind into your jogging shorts and get into the car so I can drive you ten miles away from home and make you run back chasing me.” It’s only Carmel that tells me, “This is where you need to grow and I know you can do it.” She’s my encourager.

Who’s your encourager? In the Bible it was Barnabus. Barnabus was the prototype for encouragement who kept people on mission. Who is it for you?

I think everyone in their life needs to have a SEMIOTICIAN. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, so to have a semiotician in your life is to have someone who helps you understand what’s going on around you and see the handwriting on wall. Maybe this is someone at work, in your family or a sports coach, it doesn’t matter, someone who can say to you, “Do you see the trends and the patterns forming in your life right now? If this keeps up, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble.” Or, conversely, “If this keeps up, you’re going to have a great opportunity.”

From modern films I love the X Men films and I love the character of Professor Charles Xavier, who, in many ways, acts as a kind of a mentor and a coach to a group of young people who are discovering themselves and their mythical, supernatural powers. I love the way this character is developed in a paternal kind of way.

In the Bible, of course, perhaps the most famous example of someone who knew the times and understood what the people of God should do was the men of Issachar. The men of Issachar are noted throughout the last five, six thousand years as being the scriptural prototype of people who knew what was going to happen and see it around them. We can think of all kinds of examples in business and commerce of people who were just a little bit ahead of the curve. Think of a visionary like Steve Jobs and think of what he’s done with something as simple as a little white cube that holds songs. This guy has changed the business world.

We could also think of more personal, local examples. For me, whenever I think of someone who helps me see what’s really going on around me, I always think of my father. He, of course, has a very different orientation towards life and faith than I do, but at the time is so helpful in saying to me, “Son, you need to realize what’s going on here. You need to realize how these people are interpreting what you say and interpreting your actions. You need to realize the consequences of the way you’re living.” He’s been a powerful voice for me in that way.

The next relationship everyone needs is a GUARDIAN. Everyone needs someone to cover their back. We recently talked about the story of Deborah and Barak. Barak was supposed to go to war; God was calling this great general to go to war. He really didn’t have the faith to do it, so instead he called upon the prophetess, Deborah. He asked her, in a sense, to cover his back and said, “If you will go with me and cover my back, I know I’ve got your God-given protection, then I think we can go to war and I think we can win.”

I think in your life and my life we all need someone to guard our backs. We need someone like Robin, the Boy Wonder. When you’re out there fighting crime in the streets of Gotham City and things are dark, you never know what dangers are out there. You need someone who is totally committed to your safety and integrity, someone who is going to look out for you. When people want to talk bad about you, they will tell them to shove it. When people want to sell you out or make you look foolish, they will protect you. Sometimes we think of this person as an armor bearer or a great friend. You need people who are going to watch your back, because no matter who you are or what you do for a living, you have to have people who care about your safety. There are going to be things that hurt you or sneak up on you and you’re not going to be able to handle them on your own.

One of the things I love about Westwinds is in our leadership model we have a shared leadership model. For me, this gives me a great sense of confidence I have two very dear friends watching my back all the time. Working with John and Randy, we are able to experience something I think is very special. You don’t have one person making all the decisions, one person who sets themselves up as the “chief of the boat.” You take wisdom and wise counsel, but you also take protection and defense and confidence through a model of shared leadership.

Growing up in a pastor’s family and growing up in a denomination in which my family was heavily involved, let me tell you pastors face a tremendous amount of backbiting. I take incredible comfort from knowing John and Randy have my back. I also take incredible evil satisfaction from the moments where I hear them saying, “So-and-so came to talk bad about you today and I told them to shut up.” That’s a wonderful feeling and just as a side note: If you ever have a concern or complaint—it’s not that we never want to hear those things—come talk to me.

Everyone needs in their life a SAGE. You need someone who will give you wise counsel and not just wisdom about life, but specifically wisdom about the meaning and the purpose for why you find yourself on Planet Earth. You need someone who won’t let you settle for second best, but who will challenge you to stay on track even though sometimes that track is very difficult to stay on. We think of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who ushered Moses into his destiny.

For me, when I think about all the different people in my life who have played this role, I think of two fellows in particular. A college professor I had, Paul Hughes, would consistently remind me what we’re here to do. “You know, Dave, it’s not about just making neat church services. It’s not just about feeling like you get to scratch your intellectual muscle. It’s actually about people. It’s actually about Jesus, about our relationship with Jesus.” Paul would consistently push me back to those things.

I also think of a strange old bird named, Rob DeCotes. Rob is like a hermit; I don’t know how to describe him. You know when you see in those movies instead of people having hair, they have mushrooms and ferns? That’s Rob DeCotes; he’s just this old kind of wizard kind of guy. I half expect him to show up at my house on a flying carpet one day. He’s just this strange old bird.

Rob, more than anyone, taught me what it meant to fully engage myself in prayer. As we would pray, Rob was my spiritual director and mentor for several years, I’d sit there and pray with Rob DeCotes and just soak up his prayers. I remember thinking, “Jesus, I want the kind of relationship with you Rob has.” Rob taught me full openness and vulnerability before God in prayer is, in and of itself, part of how I best understand myself in relationship to the universe. The way I am able to commune with God is part of my mission on Planet Earth; the chief of end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

I remember the first couple times we prayed together, Rob would pray these amazing prayers and I’d just in awe. It wasn’t like they were flowery language. You just listen to the guy pray and you knew he really means this; it was like nothing I had ever heard. Then I would pray and he would make these polite coughs. I would go, “Lord, thank your for this day,” cough, “really, really good day, Lord, love you lots, well done on the day,” cough. He would coach me along in these things in a very loving and gentle way. In our lives we need people like this. We need a wise old sage; we need someone who redirects us towards the meaning of our lives, people to remind us what truly matters.

We also need people who help us to hear God. We need an ORACLE-type person. Have any of you seen the recent Superman movie with Brandon Rough, the incredible Christopher Reeves look-alike, which is a little bit creepy. The new Superman movie has taken all of the deleted scenes from Superman I and Superman II, where Marlon Brando played Superman’s dad, Jor-El, and worked them into the new film. Not only do you get the voice of Marlon Brando, but you get film of Marlon Brando when he was only ninety instead how we remember him at 157 before he passed away. You get this really eerie kind of sense he is speaking from beyond the grave both in the film and in the theatre as you’re watching it. This character is an oracle and speaks with wisdom and teaches his son how to listen to the world around him.

I think for us we need people to teach us how to still the ambient noise level of our minds and listen for the voice of God. There are a million things running through your brain at any given point in time, particularly if you’re like me. There’s always this cacophony going on; there’s these little thoughts chattering. People that fill the role of oracle in your life teach you to quiet that all down. We’re instructed by scripture God doesn’t ever yell at us to try and get our attention. Instead, God comes to us in a still, small voice, a gentle whisper. If you want to hear the whisper of the Divine, you have to get everything else turned down.

People like my mom have been the people in my life who have helped me quiet that noise level. Those relationships God gives you from birth, in many ways, are the relationships you can first look to help you. You’ve heard the old adage: You get to pick your own friends, but your families are the friends God picks for you. Yet is seems for many, many people it’s your family that are the toughest ones to get along with. If you can learn to relove and revalue your family, it’s in those relationships we might begin to find people who can speak into us with authority and concern. For me, I always think about my mom when I think about someone who would teach me to listen to God. A lot of people have taught me other things about God, but just to listen to that still, small voice, that’s a lesson my mom was just teaching me again just the other day in sort of an embarrassing kind of mother-son moment.

Who are all of these people for you? This is the crux; this is where we come to the end. We look at these examples of the kind of relationships we need and we think about who can fill them. We think about who we can become these things to, about who we can open up ourselves towards in order to enter into this kind of relationship with them.

As you’re sitting there, you’ve got notes in your hand to remind you of the biblical characters. You’ve got the slides on the screen and maybe whatever notes you took to remind you of how these characteristics are played out in film, but for you, in real life, who are these people? Who is helping you? Who is in relationship with you? Who is motivating you? Who is keeping you straight and strong? Who is pushing you? Then, conversely, who are you to anyone else? Are you helping anyone? Are you pushing anyone? Are you focused on anyone? Are you giving your life away for anyone?

It’s these things that are one of the core spiritual competencies of the Christian life. We can’t get away from the primacy of relationships, the way our relationships are intertwined, the way we exist with one another. “This is how they’ll know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” We can’t get away from that one another-ness.

I leave you with those questions: Who are they? Who are you?

Thanks, Lord, so much for what you give us, for the encouragement you give us, for the strength you give us, for the truth you make available to us by your word and by your example. Lord, we ask for the courage of your convictions to live our lives in such a way as to make you proud. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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