Second in series: Preparing for Our Next Big Step
I THINK YOU WANT TO BE VALUES DRIVEN
It is the Third Sunday of Advent (the four weeks of preparation before celebrating Christmas) And I’m continuing this morning a series of talks Kyle kicked off last week in which we’re inviting you all to help us Prepare for Our Next Big Step as a whole church
We’ll have more to say on that later in the service, but to start today, I have a question to pose: If someone asked you, “What are you about?”... What would you say? Might feel kind of overwhelming to consider
I may be someone who thinks about such a question more than most people Because I have been in an “entrepreneurial/ start-up organizing” state of life for the last 4 years since we began this church I’m sort of constantly pitching to people what, supposedly, “I am about” or “our church is about” Emphasis on “supposedly” But maybe it’s a more common prospect for you than you may think… the “What are you about?” question sort of shows its face in a lot of ways Job interviews First dates The online dating profiles that got us those first dates Social Media Big decisions we’re faced with Moves Family planning The potential investments of our time, energy, and money All of these things beg the question: “What are you about?”
My theory is that there are two types of people in the world in terms of default reactions to things that verge on this question Those who shut down and avoid the subject because they feel overwhelmed by it And those who feel just as overwhelmed, but their response is to BS their way through it as if they know very good and well “what they are about” I am the latter… it goes something like this inside my head: What would this or that mentor of mine say in response to this question? I should say what she would say, or what he would say! -- They’d be so proud! Or sometimes it’s: What do I think this person asking me wants me to say? I should say that! -- I’ll endear myself to this person so much! Or other times: What’s the overplayed answer in this context? I should say the opposite of that. -- I’ll sound so brilliant and original! Notice how all of those examples are sort of reactive and determined by things outside of me? They’re actually not answering the question “what am I about?” at all… They’re actually saying more about other people than they are about me And notice how they’re all kind of anxious-sounding? My response is good only if someone I look up to is proud of me Or my response is good only if people like me Or my response is good only if it pads my ego and image (that I am brilliant and original) I've started to notice all this recently… not terribly satisfying… I wonder if you can can relate at all?
So, over the course of a number of weeks, I start to feel like God keeps bringing up my dissatisfaction about this As I prayed throughout those weeks… through conversation after conversation with various friends… I’d feel like God is saying: Hey Vince, I notice you’re dissatisfied. And my response is… Yep. To which I feel like God keeps cheerily responding: Well I’ve got some ideas! And actually that’s felt pretty compellingly true! I’ve found that God seems to be very invested in me feeling like I have a satisfying-to-me answer to the question, “What are you about?” And indeed God has had all sorts of ideas - quite practical - for how to help me in that direction… before we’re done here, I’ll pass one in particular off to you all
Essentially though, God’s ideas have come down to this: Vince, “what you are about” has to come from within you, not outside of you This is an internal question... not an external one This is a gut thing… not a reactive thing You can only discover this by looking inward
So I begin to bounce all of this off of Kyle, my friend and co-pastor here And I learn he’s been on a similar track with God That it’s time to start looking more internally… less externally… in terms of how to define what he’s about That’s one of those experiences that feels confirming in a helpful way We’re both thinking about this independently? Wow. Okay. I think we’re onto something here… we should see this through
There’s an Old Testament scripture traditionally visited each year during the season of Advent. Isaiah 42... it’s understood to be a prophecy about a leader of great character that hundreds of year later Jesus would fulfill It begins this way, with Isaiah recording God as saying:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)
Grabbing my attention particularly today is the “from the inside-out” nature of this God will “put his Spirit on him”, and as a result Jesus -- the servant, this leader of great character -- will be equipped to go forth living out what he is about (bringing justice to the nations)
I wonder if, like in so many things, Jesus is a forerunner in this and we are meant to follow in his footsteps Many years later, St. John would write: This is how we know that we live in [God] and [God] in us: He has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13) Again, the notion that something of God’s Spirit is being instilled internally by God himself -- In this case, not just in Jesus, but in us (!) in anyone (!) And then that’s what equips us to be launched forward into living out what we’re about
Here’s where this takes me (I have a blank for you to fill in if you’re following along in your program)...
I wonder if God wants to give his Spirit to every one of us to help us discover our own unique-to-us set of values Tailored to our purpose and gifts and story That each of us might be anchored and ruddered by something internal, rather than just reacting to externals…
And this is how we learn what we are about and start living it out Maybe this will feel like all of those loose strands of our lives (that seem so important but we can’t quite connect the dots) finally coming together We will feel confident more than ever before in our own shoes We will feel centered and intentional in our choices Our anxieties about our image, about what others are thinking start to disappear
Maybe this is one of the biggest ways God wants you and I to perceive him speaking to us on a regular, everyday basis Because if the set of values we each discover in us are NOT just an arbitrary combination of our upbringing, our worldview, our experience… but they are actively instilled in us by a thoughtful God… Well then the guidance that those values will offer us will never just feel like impersonal guidance (as though guided by an instruction manual) This guidance will feel personal It’s as though the values in you are a personalized expression of God himself
So, hoping to know more internally “what we're about”, Kyle and I both have felt propelled into a discovery process: what are our values? And it's been challenging, but so rewarding! It has felt like the coming together of loose strands in our lives It has lowered our anxiety and increased our self-confidence It has felt like God is speaking personally to us
And it’s got us thinking about this church Kyle previewed last week that we have launched into a process of trying to distill into like ten 2-4 word statements “Our Values” as a church Many of us probably know by experience many of the values of this church already, but they’ve never actually been expressed concisely all at once in a written form We think this is going to be enormously beneficial for Brown Line, and for all of you who make it up This means that we know better how to answer the question “What is this church about?” Many of you probably not infrequently get asked that. We hope that our effort to express our values concisely helps you have generative, enjoyable conversations with your friends who are curious about the fact that you pray or go to church And this means that more of you all can be empowered to put what this church is about into practice Because the ethos of this church is not a loosely-formed set of ideas living in the heads of the pastors... it is outlined in a share-able, reproducible document that actually exists So I’m excited to get to share the following 10 laboriously-and-lovingly-crafted statements with you this morning And then to leave you with a charge
Personal Interaction With Jesus Jesus of Nazareth presented to humanity a unique and wonderful suggestion that, through him, meaningful, helpful interaction with a personal God was something everyone could experience, not just once in a lifetime prophets.
Pursuing Connection Over Answers The great human question “Why is this happening to me?” rarely seems to feed us when we pursue it. But what we always find will feed us, no matter our circumstances, is connection -- with God, with other people (in community), with the world around us, and with ourselves at our deepest levels (that’s not always a given!).
Experiencing (Not Defending) Faith We are primarily interested in how -- practically -- anyone, whoever they are, might actually connect with a God who is real and good. We look to the Bible as an inspired and invaluable help to this end, rather than as a discussion of “what are the right opinions and beliefs to hold?”
Humility & Humor We never want to talk down to anyone about their choices, behaviors, or beliefs. Our goal is just to humbly present how helpful trying to follow Jesus has been for us. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, and we try to be quick to laugh at ourselves.
Softening (Not Hardening) Hearts We see a lot of benefit in encouraging people toward receptivity, inclusion, vulnerability, and owning their judgments. We see little benefit in rallying people toward more firm, certain, and resolute convictions
Dialing Down, Not Up We see it as counterproductive to ratchet up anxiety about the ways this or that people are not following Jesus, and instead prefer to create calm, anxiety-free space, where individuals can hear Jesus for themselves more clearly.
Welcoming Everyone As “Us” We wonder if there is no “us” and “them”, there is only “us”. We don’t see our mission as rallying “the Christians” or evangelizing “those non-Christians”. We’re just hoping to offer potent spiritual direction to “human beings in general”.
Diversity & Respectful Conversation Our differences -- in terms of culture, race, experience, worldview, religious background (or non-religious background), theological leaning -- are not a threat. They are an opportunity to be enriched and to gain a fuller perspective of the God of all people. This opportunity requires us to learn to speak for ourselves and honor & respect others as they do the same.
Holding Tension We are captivated by Jesus’ bridge-building power to hold potentially-opposing peoples together, despite our increasingly siloed and contentious context.
Risking For Growth’s Sake Everyone grows old, but not everyone grows up. We’ve found that personal growth happens as each individual chooses to venture on in their own unique, high-risk journey, spanning their entire lives.
Alright, may I leave us all with a charge? Set aside some real time over the holidays to invite God’s Spirit to help you consider (and even write out in 2-4 word phrases) the three to five values that drive you. (If you’re married, try this with your spouse)
This is some serious work I'm suggesting. It is hard to be introspective this way… Especially if it’s a couple doing this together… It can lead to conflict. That’s why our spiritual recommendation is do this prayerfully - invite the company of God’s Holy Spirit - make it a sacred experience (couple conflicts will seem more manageable in that context!) Additionally there are lots of helpful resources out there that can help you in an effort like this in the worlds of leadership development, organizing and activism, and branding and marketing I’ve included two links in your program insert One was actually developed by a friend of mine Why 2-4 words? The goal is getting to a point where you’re not just in touch with the somewhat-formed values that you know are in you somewhere Rather you’re in touch with values that are more fully formed, matured, seasoned, honed, edited The ten values for our church each say in just 2-4 words something quite specific They can all be further unpacked but they don’t HAVE to be further unpacked… they can stand alone That's what you're shooting for if you want to try this
Finally a brief note on the opportunity cost in this Remember how before God launched me on this “what are my values?” journey, I was entirely externally focused? On other people's opinions On what other people thought of me On appearing brilliant or original The opportunity cost of moving from external to internal is this: You may feel misunderstood by or make upset people you were previously hoping to impress Because your focus will literally be shifting away from them... And that's hard Maybe you're differentiating from a parent or your family (maybe because you're now a parent or family) Maybe you’re doing something a close friend or mentor wouldn't do (that’s been a big part of my experience) Maybe you’re making counter-cultural choices Jesus famously said that in order to follow him we would have to “hate by comparison” even our families and most-beloved formative influences That’s not an easy suggestion But Jesus also said: "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19 NIV) When Jesus used terms like “eternal life”, he wasn’t just referring to something in the future, but to a quality of life in the present -- a quality that feels ultimately enduring Life shot through with meaning and purpose and passion and perseverance In my experience this opportunity cost -- leaving behind our external focus -- tends to become people's biggest ongoing need for prayer in their journeys toward discovering the values inside them, and then learning to be driven by those values That's been the case for me. As I feel reactive anxiety rise in me or recognize a drive to impress someone coming up, I have to go back to God and ask for help (often with the help of a praying friend) But every time I've done this I feel that sense of life shot through with meaning and purpose return I feel God remind me: I've instilled something in you. I know what you're about! You are okay, apart from what others think!
So, in a moment, I would love to lead us in prayer
And after I finish, we’re going to enter into a time of song… something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level.
You can engage in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along (we’ll have the lyrics up on the screen here). Or maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, this morning’s prayer team will be in the back. Any of them would love to pray with you if you’re feeling any kind of sense that God might be speaking to you -- whether you’re feeling that right now or at any point while we’re singing together.
I really want to invite anyone who’s feeling something going on internally to take advantage of this! Having someone pray with you gives you another set of antennae for sensing what God might be offering to you, and hey, you never know, maybe that’s something life-changing today The people on our prayer team are trained and safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray.