Sunday, March 16

Don't Say No for People

Dear Jacob,

When you guys were four and almost two we drove to Santa Cruz from Grass Valley once a week; two hundred miles and three hours each way. We'd pack pbjs to eat for dinner and pull off at a playground when we finally reached town. In the evenings you'd go to child care and Dad and I attended leadership training for everyone who wanted to be involved in helping launch Vintage Faith Church. There was something that pulled us there. Something we had to pay close attention to. This was our next step and we felt compelled to take it.

After the meeting one night, Dan sat down with us to talk. We talked about our unmistakable sense of calling, about looking for work anywhere in order to follow it and about the rental we'd just found to move into. Dan told us that he felt the weight of our decisions, that as our pastor he had us 'under his wing' and was praying and hoping God would show us our next steps. But he also said he lost a little sleep over it. The church plant was at God's mercy and our story of commitment made him acutely aware of the gravity of his promises. He couldn't make us promises of a staff position (we weren't looking for one) and he didn't tell us we were being stupid.  He just said that this was the kind of stuff that kept pastor's awake at night. He saw our faith and recognized that this was our story to live and he didn't tell us no.

As you know, five months later, just two months after the phenomenal launch of VFC, we had to pack everything into a storage unit and leave.  Dan was ready to invite Dad to help with the school of theology when we broke the news to him and he said, "Maybe this time was a gift to you to be with your kids for a little while."  He seemed to suffer with us while we traveled north. He called us when we landed.  He had the heart of a pastor who cares for his people even when the journey didn't keep them in his care.

The thing is that everyone's life path is different and while we can't determine what that path is for them, we can only respond with love and grace and be a helper to them while they figure it out.  Had we not gone to Vintage Faith, we wouldn't be here right now. The path would have taken a totally different turn that would have produced an equally complex story.  How can we ever know if that would have been a better one? Life's not a Choose Your Own Adventure Book where you can flip the pages back and see how it would have transpired. In one sense, the direction of our lives just is what it is hanging on the grace of God, but in another sense it involves choice.  When we follow the terms Jesus lays out, one of whole-life sacrifice for his kingdom, we at least know the end goal where our path is headed and we can make choices toward life and renewal.

For the past few years we've been in Dan's shoes leading and guiding others as they make their life choices and lean into God's grace.  During the course of it we've learned that there's another nuance to this lesson: when you're in a position of inviting others to join you -- on a project, an adventure, even a mission -- you're in a position of power.  And when you extend invitations you transfer that power to others.  Even if they don't accept that invitation, they are moved in a direction that makes them at least consider change and this seems to open a door to all kinds of new possibilities and priorities.

We've learned that the lesson really is not to say no for people.  When Dad and I are making a list of people to invite -- to a dinner, into a Bible study, a discipleship group, a church plant, a mission trip -- we need to invite whoever we think could benefit from being there.  We can't say, "Oh, they're too busy." or "She just had a baby" or "They won't leave where they're at." or "They live too far away and couldn't make it work."  We have to let them wrestle with their circumstances and with their standing in life and make their own call.  Then if they say no to our invitation, it's an empowered no and they have a better grasp of what they're actually saying yes to in life.

Dad invited this guy, Aaron, to go to Israel with him last summer. He wrestled with this decision because Aaron was unemployed at the time and the trip was several thousand dollars. Dad evaluated Aaron's situation in life and, at first, thought that maybe Israel wasn't a good idea at that time.  But that desire to invite him just wouldn't go away.  So Dad followed through and there was this sacred moment where he just left it in Aaron's hands to decide.

It turned out that Aaron had been invited by another person as well and he was hearing all of these invitations and wondering what faith would have him do.  The invitations were giving him the power to choose.  He decided to say yes and it turned out that that other person who invited him, just a friend at the time, is going to become his wife in a couple weeks. Their life together began in Israel. Had Dad not followed through would they have become engaged some other way?  Perhaps, but the invitation placed him in a place of openness to see what God wanted and into that place stepped Wendy.

On the flip side, there was an opportunity for several leaders at our last church to invite a lot of people into groups where they could help each other grow to be more like Jesus. But they couldn't invite everyone.  And as word got out that there were these groups happening and very few people had been invited into them it was blatantly obvious that the lack of invitation had power too. When we don't invite, the power stays with us and doesn't get transferred to those who are needing the power (courage, impetus, opportunity) to move into a new place in life. When you're uninvited, someone is saying no for you.  And this general sense of distrust and deception grows up and fractures relationships.

Teenagers either feel powerful or powerless.  And when you live in either of those places you become arrogant and bullying or you become rejected and despondent. But there is a third way. You can feel like an inviter. You're in a position to extend invitations to others.  When you work in groups, you can invite partners. When you form a talent show act, you can invite friends to help you.  When you write a script you can invite cast members. Do you default to the friends you know best?  Or do you pause for a moment and consider the gifts or even the weaknesses of the people around you and consider how they might benefit from that experience?  How that experience just might be the thing that pushes them out of that place of rejection and give them something to say yes to?  It's amazing what the power of an invitation can do.

When we issue invitations to others we don't hang on to the power, we relinquish it and let someone else exercise it. When we don't invite, we say no for others and keep the power all to ourselves.  Which is the complete opposite of the way Jesus was. He was constantly inviting people into conversations and experiences that pushed them into more decisions and experiences and ultimately changed the world. Jesus still invites today.

Today we're going to meet with our core group of friends that are going to launch a new church with us soon.  Every single one of them responded to our invitation with a yes (by the way, three friends did tell us no).  Every single one had to evaluate for themselves what it would mean to their time, their relationships, their finances, their priorities and families to accept the invitation. They show up every Sunday and every other Wednesday with a level of commitment that astounds me.  I feel the weight of their commitment because it feels very familiar to me -- like they're driving 200 miles, looking for rental houses and living off pbjs in order to be a part of something where there's really no promises, only the grace of God.

I understand why Dan lost sleep over us. When we extend invitations we hand the power over to someone else and the changes that occur are not up to us.  Dan wasn't in charge of our changing, he just walked with us while we began it.

Who are you walking with?  Who are you inviting? Who needs to say yes to something new and life-giving?  You have the power to invite.  Use it wisely.