Of brotherly love and silly things Christians say.

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I can guarantee that this is the first of many musings on my part brought on by a nice meal, some alone time, and good tunes.  A nice beverage may also have been involved.

The scene is this:  me standing at the kitchen sink with the sponge in my hand staring at the pile of dishes, my beautiful son asleep in his crib – likely with a foot or arm caught between the bars of the crib – and my one-in-a-gagillion–incredible-wife cozy in bed, the single recessed light shining on me like a bluesy spotlight with the sultry growl of Dave Matthew’s in my headphones.

Tonight I had dinner with some amazing people, my son got to play with his day-care-friend AND his church buddy, I got to spend some time with an old college friend and my priest, who is also my Father-co-worker-friend (since we work at the same church, share an office, and have so much of the same humor and vision of ministry), and my wife was able to connect with other incredible professional working moms.

Tomorrow I have a call scheduled with my mother at 9am, and my Tennessee friend at 10am (Pacific Standard Time; another post on the ridiculousness of Daylight Savings Time some other day…)  And at 10am I shall bid adieu to my mom because, frankly, I am excited to chat with my Tennessee friend.  I miss that guy.  And my mom will understand.

…back to the scene with the spot light and Dave Matthew’s… I was embarrassed.  Alone in my gym shorts and plain white Hanes t-shirt, doing the dishes, excited to talk to my friend for so many years, I was embarrassed.  Why?  I suddenly felt so Christian.  Because Christians say the silliest things!  We say things like  “I want to do life together” (this means we like to drink coffee and confess our sins in the afternoon), and “that was some great fellowship” (this means we like to drink coffee and confess our sins in the evening), and “I just want to love on you” (which means we like to drink coffee and you just confessed your sins to me so I’d like to give you a hug).  And this sounds so silly!

Is it because the masculine nature of “secular” has perverted the world of the silly Christian?  I think so.  I think what Christians say sounds silly because the rest of the world is uncomfortable with tenderness.  And those that aren’t Christians are afraid to embrace Jesus because he embodies the totality of sacrifice and tenderness.  Jesus, while pierced and bleeding proclaimed to those that did the piercing, “forgive them,”.  This sounds silly.  And when the Christian that is beaten to the brink of death in the Middle East says to his transgressors, “God loves you, and therefore I shall love you too”, this sounds just plain ridiculous.

So Dave Matthew’s growl persists, “And today, you know that’s good enough for me.  Breathing in and out’s a blessing can’t you see…”  And I thought, ‘what a silly Christian thing to say…’

And I was wrong.  It’s right to understand breath as blessing.  It’s wrong to tell Dave Matthew’s he’s silly and expect him to stop breathing.  It’s right to be excited about talking with my friend.  He was, and still is, an incredible influence in my life.  A lot of my Christian formation happened through his mentorship and friendship.  And tomorrow, while I’m speaking to my mother and the phone rings on the other line, I shall say with much tenderness, “see ya Mom, gotta go…”

Don’t underestimate the tenderness that we experience through Jesus.  And don’t undervalue it either.  Yes, it sounds silly to say things like. “lets do life together” (because literally that’s saying you want to exist in the same room together).  There’s something right to understanding the kingdom of God that necessitates a tender soul and tender disposition.

Just do it, again.

If you happen to work at a church you live in the reality of being in the people business.  Often this is immensely fulfilling.  Other times this is immensely frustrating.

I love working at a church because I get to be in the people business.  I love that my job is centralized around building relationships with the people in my church, inviting them into the life and love of Jesus, and equipping ministry teams to reach those that I, and the rest of the staff, cannot.

It’s a blessing to work with people exploring unique ministry opportunities in our church and community.  Sometimes these opportunities seem overwhelming; we realize there is so much good we could be doing and there are so many people we could be reaching, but we’re missing the mark here or there.

How could you not act?  How could you sit idly by?  So you act.  You do it.  You devise a solution, create a program, hire a person, fulfill the need, meet the opportunity.

And this point is crucial: in the coming days, weeks, or months, it’s quite possible that you realize that this might not have been the best solution.  You may have created an incorrect or poorly planned program.  You may have hired the wrong person.  You might have only partially fulfilled the need, and didn’t quite meet the opportunity.

You were *this close*!  And now in round two, having learned from the previous mistake, you devise a new solution, create a different program, fire the old person and hire a new one, fill in the needs you missed, and close the door on this opportunity.

This is the frustrating piece of being in the people business.  We love people and therefore want to bring them all into the life and love of Jesus.  We want to do all we can to bring them into our community, equip them with the tools to learn and grow, and send them out into their community to bring more.  We see a need or an opportunity and react to meet the need.

Our first question is typically, “How can we meet this need?”  I propose that our first reaction should always be, “Does meeting this need fulfill the vision and mission of organization?”  If you meet this need, does it advance the mission of the kingdom of God?  If the answer is yes, you should do all you can to meet this need the right way.

Too often we live and work with the idea that there’s just not enough time, so we rush the solution.  We hurry from problem A to B because along the way we’ve identified C, D, E, and F and feel it incumbent upon us to solve these problems.  Why is it that in the moment there’s never enough time to do it right., but then after the first solution has failed there always seems enough time to do it over?

Wherever we work, at every need or opportunity we discover, we must always ask, 1) Does meeting this need advance the mission and vision of the organization? and 2) How can we fully meet this need, the first time?

Sometimes the solution is not to act.  Sometimes the fulfillment of the opportunity is to pause, breathe, pray, and discern.  Opportunities do not always necessitate our action.  But alas, we’re in the people business.  It’s really difficult not to act.  So if you must act, just make sure you’re acting rightly.  Make sure your action advances the mission and vision of the organization, or you’ll likely need to revisit it shortly down the road.

Stand. Step. Walk.

Each week in church I hear the summary of the Law.  This might look like recounting the 10 Commandments, but typically we hear the passage from Matthew 22:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Simply put: “Love God and Love Others.”

But how the heck do we actually do that?  How do I participate in loving the humanity that is around me?  To make my case, I shall use my incredible 14-month-old son, Noah.

Day in and day out I’m trying to encourage him to walk.  (Other parents out there are screaming at me, “NOOOO!!!  Crawling is so much easier to manage!)  While it may be true that crawling is easier to manage, I simply cannot wait to go to the park across the street and see his little diaper butt waddle across the field and allow him to approach the playground and play where HE wants to play.  At the moment I’m simply carrying him around and showing him where he is to play.

Walk to the swings, put him in the swings, swing.  Walk to the slide, put him on the slide, he climbs the slide.  Walk back to the swings, put him in the swings, swing.  As entertaining as it is for him and myself, there is no choice on his part to swing, slide, or swing again.  It’s one-sided participation.  I know he can participate more fully.

So I take his arms, he stands, and we walkwalkwalkwalkwalk! (this actually what we say to encourage him every step he takes.)  Each day he is more and more confident and takes further and further adventures from couch to chair to footstool to gate.  Each day contains more progress.  He sees other kids walk and is entranced, he sees Mommy and Daddy walk and is excited.  He stands and takes a couple confident – yet wobbly – steps and down he goes with a diaper padding his fall.

Yet he still tries.  And why?  Because there is a tangible example of what walking looks like and he desires to participate in this activity.

Now, who we understand Jesus to be severely impacts our ability to follow his activity of loving God and loving others.  Unfortunately, I often hear the commandment to “love God and love others” framed within the context that this how God wants us to live because that’s what heaven is going to be like.  While I have no disagreements with the fact that heaven will redeem the world and we will be in perfect love with God and creation, I have major issues with simply framing Jesus’ greatest commandment as something that is only heaven facing.

Jesus came in such a way that contradicts this message and framing of the greatest commandment.  The opening sentences of the Gospel of John make this clear, “The Word was with God and the Word was God…the Word was made flesh and dwelt among man…”

Jesus, the actual historical human, lived and breathed in an actual living and breathing culture.  The historical references to the human Jesus are countless.  And John helps to explain that Jesus was the Word (Logos) and that this Word actually dwelt with man.  Completely divine, and completely human.  One what, two who’s.

Jesus lived and breathed this example of perfect humanity to show us that perfect humanity was possible now.  Yes, sin and evil make it incredibly difficult, but Jesus existed as the perfect human giving us a real example of what perfect humanity looked like.  If Jesus were simply one what and one who (the Word without the flesh), we would not have the tangible, living, breathing example of what it looks like to love God and love others.

And then what would we look to?  What would be left?  We would forever be crawling around the world hoping to attain the only other example of what God deemed righteous…Noah and Enoch and those dudes.  We’d have to grow beards and kill birds, and not eat meat, and….really we don’t know.  Without Jesus we would have absolutely no idea how to fulfill this commandment of Loving God and Loving Others.  We would simply see the commandment as a heavenly reality that nice to try on earth, but wasn’t really intended.

Thankfully the Word was made flesh.  Thankfully we know what it looks like, we’ve heard the words of the living, breathing, actual human that lived the example of perfect humanity.  We know how to love humanity because Jesus showed us how.  Not because the only real love is in heaven and therefore we need to practice before we get there, but because humanity is living and breathing around us.  Jesus desires that we participate in this humanity like he showed us how.

How do you love your neighbor?  Do you know your neighbor exists?  Do you know that Jesus existed in the world just as your neighbor did?  The incredible thing is that Jesus also existed as God.  So Jesus – commanding the world to Love God and Love Others – was simply saying, “Do as I do. Take my hand.  Lets walkwalkwalkwalkwalk.

First Impressions

The first impression is critical.  Is my title clear and engaging?  Is it easy to navigate the webpage?  Are there *speling* errors or haphazard posts?  While you’re here do you want to explore more, or just get in and get out?

Recently I read an article by Church Community Builder on assimilation.  The article addresses the question: how do you introduce others to what your doing and how do they continue to engage with it?  There are countless articles and books trying to promote systems of engagement to your church, i.e.: this, or this, or this and many more.

Some have of goofy parking attendants, free coffee tumblers, or a ‘coupon’ to a free Bible with purchase of a latte. (Maybe not the last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)

There is so much happening at the first impression. What are you doing to make the experience extraordinary?  By this, I do not mean the Disneyland experience of lights and sounds and balloons; I ask, how do you make the experience of your church better than the ordinary life we see the other six days of the week?

Theres two two avenues that need to be addressed: the passive experience and the active experience. I’ve recently been visiting churches in our area to explore what it’s like to be a guest on another campus.  I’ve gotten so accustomed to being a member of St. Matthews Church that everything is familiar. Thus, the church explorations.

I look at signage, I try to understand the welcome experience, I read printed material, I note how many trash cans there are; but most importantly, I ask two people, an ‘usher-looking-person and a regular-looking-person, “Where’s the restroom?”  If there’s one thing that can define a newbie, it’s asking where the restrooms are.

So, let’s look at this experience as a whole.  Even if all the passive elements were stellar (clear signage, clean facility, unlocked doors, etc.) this active moment of first impression will make or break my experience at the church.  The responses I’ve received have blown me away.  Official ushers – name badges and all – have simply stared over my shoulder while pointing at an unseen door, directing me like the folks at an airport.  People have told me the general “that way” or “over there”.   All of the responses have left me longing for more.  More engagement, more hospitality, more understanding of the value of this question.  The extraordinary response would be, “Good morning, my name is Brian. They’re right over here, I’ll show you. What’s your name?”

We’ve taken a moment where you just needed to pee, into an opportunity for me to show you that I’m thankful you were there and I care about you and your experience here.  This is critical!  Often we hear that we want to be a church that cares about people.  That must always be communicated within the framework of “we care about you, therefore we care about your experience here.”  Sadly, the second part of that is too often undervalued.

We get used the the experience and stop evaluating it.  We use insider knowledge of terms (“the adult education class is upstairs in the library“, said in a building that seemingly only has one floor), we offer coffee  after service without invitation or expectation (it’s just out on a table with nobody to welcome or invite you to break bread….you are just expected to follow to stream of people), or we offer a fantastic experience with no forum for follow-up and a continued relationship (people leave hoping for more, but are never found).

When we zoom out of this first impression, the weight of the moment is staggering.  The continuation of the mission of the church is dependent on getting more and more people involved and invested.  Does the first impression of your church communicate the value you see in people?  The first impression does not stop with just first time guests; are you continuing to communicate to members, attendees, friends, and guests that we care about you, therefore we care about your experience here.


 

Standing inside the "Welcome Center" of a church, not quite welcomed.
Standing inside the “Welcome Center” of a church, not quite welcomed.
The assimilation process begins with a person’s first visit to the church (for any reason) and ends when that person becomes connected to and engaged with the people, ministries, and programs that drive the mission. – Church Community Builder: “The Assimilation Engine

Welcome to brianlyskoski.com

For the past few months I’ve desired to have a venue to connect with a broader sphere of influence.  Social venues like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Path, or Instagram have their pros and cons, but after time there’s just so much noise.  Plus, I would like to process some thoughts in more than 140 characters.  So here we are.  brianlyskoski.com: my general musings.  This will be space for thoughts and ideas within the scope of my life: fatherhood, marriage, grad school, the life of the church, and ministry in Southern California.