Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If Everybody Pees In the Bucket

The Bucket gets full.

This little proverb of deep, infinite wisdom was something my dad said when I was a kid. I'm pretty sure the emphasis was on everybody pitching in. "Many hands make light work" might have been what he was going for. Or perhaps "Teamwork makes the Dream work."

But nevertheless, we ended up with a bucket, and a substantial amount of urine as the goal we were working toward.

When I was a kid, I counted it as a wise maxim. This might explain why I'm a jacked up mess.

When I was older, it dawned on me that there really isn't an instance where this would be a desired outcome.

But it stuck with me. I've maybe even said it in a sermon. Don't judge me.

What is fascinating is to begin to unpack how a statement like that from childhood has embedded itself into my values as an adult.

Collaboration. Team. Synergy.

They are things that are at the center of this church plant we call C3.

From it's inception, the emphasis at City Campus Church has been about decentralization...about putting discipleship back in the hands of the masses, rather than keeping it for the educated, theological elite to complete and administer. It's low control, but high accountability. It's the priesthood of all believers. It's not church based on the winsome charisma of the lead pastor. It's ordinary, every day folks trying to live into a family on mission.

I don't think the bucket of whiz was in my mind as God was calling us to plant a church, but I do think that this value was so ingrained in me that it couldn't help but weave it's way into the DNA of something I led.

That's the plus side.

The reality is that this same mentality has caused me frustration and pain in ministry. When people over promise and under deliver, I get super frustrated. The bucket's not getting full.

Or when I see the beautiful potential of others and they refuse to see it in themselves. The bucket's not getting full.

I feel disappointment and a sense of betrayal more strongly than I realize. It very well may find it's root in the fact that I have this maxim in my head of how things ought to be.

Ironically, we are planting a church in the context that many have deemed the flakiest generation in history...with passion and uprising one moment and then apathy and lethargy for the next 10 moments.

I say all this not to make a point about buckets or fluids. Nor is it to make a point of why we planted the way we did.

My point is this: As a parent, leader, pastor, influencer, you are creating a culture that will long outlive your life. Be careful what you infuse.

You give your kid everything they want and don't enforce boundaries, then be prepared for their world to crumble when they hear the word NO in the job hunt or go through depression because the real world doesn't want to coddle them and tell them how special they are.

You never have fun with your staff and key leaders, you create a business like, stressed out culture.

If you have a go to slogan or mantra that you always default to saying, make sure it is one that you want embedded in the world around you.

Chaia, in the span of 8 minutes was singing every word to a new song we've been singing at church AND singing every word to All I do Is Win. And it's got me thinking, what a privilege and responsibility it is to create culture in a family, in a church, in a neighborhood!

Enjoy it. Be wise with it! Leverage your influence.

Whatever you do, don't squander it.

Nobody wants a half filled bucket of waste.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Heart Matters

You guys. Cool story.

Shaina and I are in Ecuador this week. Long story short: because of what God is up to with City Campus Church and because of how the people of that church have given and served, C3 was honored with the 2015 Wess Stafford Award. Among the perks of this honor is a trip for Shaina and I to visit our Compassion International sponsor child.

Back story: when we planted C3 in Columbus we decided to jump in on a new initiative to plant a church globally. Compassion is one of the more effective organizations at releasing children from poverty around the globe. Their strategy is to only set up Compassion Centers through local churches. Stadia, the organization that helped us start C3 approached Compassion and simply posed the question "What happens if there is no local church in an area?" Compassion's response was pretty local compassion center. Somehow through continued dialogue a new idea emerged that combined Stadia's expertise at planting churches with Compassion's expertise at breaking the cycle of poverty in the developing world. Stadia would plant a church where there was no church and Compassion would come in simultaneously and set up a project that would immediately provide 40 kiddos age birth-3, along with their moms, access to Compassion's Child Survival Program. In addition to those 40 households, 200 kids age 4 and up would be enrolled in a sponsorship program in which people with means would invest in the life of a kid for $38 a month. The kid and the sponsor would then develop a relationship through letter writing. The pilot run of this in Ecuador has rapidly moved to multiple new churches/Compassion centers being launched in 5 countries with another 30 on the horizon in 2016.

So C3 helped launch New Dawn Church in Ecuador in 2012. We also sponsored over 30 kids from the project. We took our church's first ever mission trip in 2014. 14 folks from C3 spent a week in Ecuador and many got to meet the kiddo they sponsor. Pretty amazing stuff.

As 2016 has begun, I've been asking God to help me trust in his supernatural working more. Jesus healed people, cast out demons, spoke words that awakened hearts and he told his disciples that they would be able to do what he was doing and much more. And then the disciples saw it start happening in and through them. I want to take Jesus at His word, so I've been asking him for opportunities to live into this supernatural gig a little more. I have no idea what I'm doing.

All I know is that a little girl that was destined to die, has had her story drastically rewritten by the infusion of God's power. A heart that was medically deemed dead has begun to be swallowed up by life. We prayed...begged...pleaded for God to do this make a stony heart become a heart of flesh.

And He's doing it. Our daughter. Life and Joy.

So back to today!

We went to visit a mother and her family who are part of the Child Survival Program. Floors of jagged stone and dirt. A kitchen with no food in it except a few leaves of lettuce. A single bedroom where Blanca, the mom and her one year old Diego slept in one bed and five year old Jonathan slept in the other. Two dogs roamed around inside and outside the house, one missing a leg, filthy, but likely used to keep even filthier creatures away. No running water. No indoor bathroom. Flies everywhere. Just a few toys and a kid's Bible.

And the only thing more disheartening than the living conditions was the family situation.

The mom was alone. The father of Diego left, just as the father of Jonathan had done. The woman, who looked if she was barely 20 was so broken she could not bring herself to lift her gaze from the floor. She shared through translators that because of her kids, she couldn't find employment, so she washed people's clothes. She could make $10 a week doing that.

Her self esteem was trampled, broken and spit on and it seemed that her path would inevitably lead her to the same cycle of some punk guy who would dangle value and worth to someone desperate to feel valuable and worthy.

And then she shared on top of all the other trials that Jonathan had some significant heart issues and had to have surgery but it didn't do everything it needed to and he was not well.

And there it was again. Ezekiel 36:26. Dead hearts. Desperate to come alive.

A woman that has more poverty in her heart than she does in her home (which is immense). A kid who physically needs healing to his heart.

And I started thinking as we're standing in her home, what God, our loving Father would want to give this family of his kids.

And so we prayed. That God would supernaturally heal Jonathan's heart. And that he would do the same for his mom.

And would He do the same for you and me.

The poverty of the soul takes many forms, but we're all in need of resurrection.

From tireless pursuit to prove our worth.

From fear and unforgiveness.

From isolation and lack of meaningful relationship.

From the addictive chase for validation. The endless suspicion of other's intentions.

I guess what I'm getting at is that this abject poverty thing isn't a continent away or even on the other side of the tracks in the place you don't dare travel after dark.

It's me and it's you.

And God wants to make it right.

Maybe we should join Him.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Scars, Life and Joy

In my mind it was the biggest moment in Chaia's story.

The PET Scan.

The nurses didn't even know how to get to the area of the hospital to have the PET Scan done because it is uncommon for kiddos to have done.

The damage to Chaia's heart was significant and the doctors needed to know if areas of the heart that were damaged were scarred and dead or if they were in a state of dormancy. They've found that the human heart, when under significant distress can actually pull in all the reserves and try to heal itself through a phase of dormancy. The PET Scan was the only way to determine if there was scarring or dormancy.

I remember that morning, the doctors rounded and they came to our room and there was a palpable tension as everyone knew it was a big day. They asked how we were. I told them we were ready to crush a PET Scan. They laughed. I smiled while nauseous.

They came back hours later and told us it was scarring which was worst case scenario. We had a nurse that day who had been at the Cleveland Clinic for decades and was a good nurse that kind of reminded me of a bull dog. You didn't mess with her or her patients. She closed the curtain and gave us a box of kleenex and let us weep. (I think inside she was a big softie).

One of the pediatric intensive care unit doctors came in and said that he was a man of faith like I was and prayed for his patients, but that we needed to understand clearly that Chaia's heart would not get better. The damage was done.

We already understood all that and this just seemed to twist the knife a bit, but I'd rather people shoot straight with us than tell us half truths...I think.

25% of her heart was scarred. It would not get better. The damage was done.

But we are 4 years past that now.

This past October we went back to the Cleveland Clinic for two days of imaging, check ups, tests and scans to see where we stand. We got a lengthy report mailed to us afterward summarizing the results and indicating that Chaia is stable. Pseudo tumor in head is stable. Bones that were fractured are healing and stable. And there was a brief synopsis of her heart that said "mild distortion of the left ventricle".

Now this is not our first report received. We know which 20 pages are repetitive medical jargon that can be glossed over and where to look for the good concrete indicators of what they are seeing and thinking. And I kid you not, every report we've ever received has said "severe dysfunction of the left ventricle". So Shaina and I thought maybe we caught the cardiologist on a good day. Maybe he'd had a good breakfast something and he was feeling optimistic or gentle or something. So I emailed him a follow up just to see what his read on things was. That was in October. Just got his response last week. Thought I'd share it:

Hey Ben Sorry. Crazy here. Clinically I think Chaia is amazing in every way. She looks great and is more advanced than we had ever hoped. Speaking more directly to your question her echo is nothing short of amazing, not normal mind you, but way closer to normal than expected. I do remember telling you that she had a large part of her heart that scarred… when her heart was smaller as was she. I also said that our hope was that as she grew, the scar would not and that the parts of her heart that were healthy would grow disproportionately and make up for the injury to some degree. I think that is what we are seeing...Merry Christmas.

The healthy part of the heart has grown disproportionately to the scarred part of the heart. Life is taking over death. Vitality is more vibrant than scars.

Ezekiel 36:26 is happening like we have prayed.

He makes dead hearts beat again.

I guess that's what I'm hoping and praying for this Christmas for each of us.

That the scarring and pain and sadness and depression and insecurity and anxiety and fear would give way to new life. That the scarring of your heart that you are convinced will not get better...the places where you sense the damage has already been done would encounter the One who says THE WORST THING IS NEVER THE LAST THING.

So as we approach the thrill of hope and a weary world rejoicing at the celebration of the new life God created in a manger, may you experience the gift of new life. May your scars be swallowed up by healing. May your hope and joy and peace grow disproportionately to what's been written off as dead.

The damage may be done. But God is far from it.

Let every heart, prepare Him room.