Right conviction, Wrong character

What happens if you have the right convictions ...
  • convictions that come from God, 
  • convictions about justice and holiness, 
  • convictions that will make the world better
...but don't have the right character?

Stacy Rafferty opened the LaFe13 Conference up tonight teaching out of Exodus 1-2 and helping us to dig into the story of Moses.

Moses was moved by the injustice his people faced daily, laboring as slaves for Pharaoh day in and day out. Moses wanted to do something about it. But Moses lacked the character.

Lacking character doesn't prevent you from acting. But it might prevent your actions from making a difference.

What would happen if everyone who wanted to change the world stepped back and said "God, change me first!"?

Near-life Experience

People come near to life all of the time.

Speeding down the highway, a truck throws a tire. Swerve. Brake. Screech. A rush of adrenaline. A burst of gratitude, but no one to thank. That's a near-life experience.

Driving across the Everglades. Mile markers zip by. Zip. Zip. Zip. Speed makes the fence between the road and the swamp invisible. A bird looks like he's standing on the water. Alligator island. Sun rays filter through the clouds. Someone made this, but that Someone is unknown. That's a near-life experience.

A conversation takes a turn for the spiritual. Chairs tip forward as sitters lean in. Questions fly back and forth. Answers given. Experiences shared. A simple misstep. Emotional landmine. Argument. Agree to disagree. The chairs rest on all four legs now. That's a near-life experience.

Have you ever had a near-life experience?
Have you ever seen someone have a near-life experience?

Draft for opening to my talk for LaFe13 [SPOILER ALERT]

[SPOILER ALERT --- This is going to be the introduction to my talk on 12/28 at LaFe13, InterVarsity's national conference for Latino students]

What is a guy like me doing speaking at a conference like this?

I have pale skin. (If I go to the beach without sunscreen, I come home looking like bacon … mmm … bacon)

I have blonde hair. (In pictures with my Latino friends, I’m almost always the “One of these is not like the other ones.”)

But I’m Latino. My mother’s father’s family came from Spain. My father’s family comes from Cuba, from Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey. Now, my mother’s mother’s family comes from South Carolina. That’s where I get my pale skin and light hair. But this … [rubs belly] … this is palomilla and platanos, arroz con pollo and flan.

The same God who gave me my pale skin and my blonde hair, the same God who made me white also made me Latino. He did this on purpose. What will I do with what God has given me?

I have two kids: Will and Jack. They’re named after my father and my grandfather. Here’s a picture of them.

My kids have my pale skin. (They glow in the dark … just a little bit)

My kids have my light hair. (People stop us on the street and say “Your children have such beautiful hair.” And my wife and I reply “Thanks. We styled it this morning with mashed bananas and gogurt ... But you can’t tell because they’re so blonde!”)

My kids have a wonderful, white mother. She is a gift to them. Children have never had a more wonderful mother: she has fun with them and she’s firm with them, she pays attention to them and gives them space when they need it, she even manages to rinse the banana and gogurt out of their hair. My kids have a wonderful mother.

But my kids also have me.

The same God who gave them a white mother and pale skin also gave them me as a father. And when God gave them me as a father, he gave them my whole family history … the rejections I faced for not speaking Spanish, the discrimination my father experienced because he spoke Spanish, the dreams and fears my family carried with them when they crossed the ocean and passed through Ellis Island. God has given all of this – and more – to my sons. What will they do with what God has given them?

You are here at this conference because God has given you something. After the last 24 hours, perhaps you are beginning to see with greater clarity what that something is. It might be written on your skin or buried in your family’s history, but it’s there.

God has a calling and a purpose for you, for you, for someone with your exact identity, your exact physical features, your exact family history. God has a calling and a purpose for you, a gift.

What will you do with what God has given you, his calling, his purpose? What will you do when God calls you?

Will you say “I’m not qualified”?

“I’m not qualified to claim that I’m Latino … I’m too 2nd generation, too American, too pale”

“I’m not qualified to be a follower of Jesus … I’m too sinful, too doubtful, too busy.”

“I’m not qualified to serve God with my life … I’m too shy, too weak, too unprepared”

Will you say “I’m not qualified”?

That’s what Moses said when God met Moses in the desert, after his disastrous attempts to serve God and identify as a Hebrew blew up in his face, after he fled Egypt.

But Moses’ story didn’t end with the story we heard last night. In the passage we’re going to look at tonight, we see God confronting Moses, Moses objecting “I’m not qualified” and God refusing to give up on Moses.

God is the one who gets to decide who’s qualified.

Margin for the marginal

If you want to reach students on the margins, you need to maintain margin in your schedule.

This holds true with all of our efforts to minister to people who live on the edges of our communities. Whether they live under an overpass or on the other end of the cul-de-sac, our capacity to reach out to them cannot be disconnected from the fullness of our schedules.

Ministry to people on the margins is difficult to plan, tough to schedule and impossible to do on your own timetable. You may have a willing heart. But a willing heart is not enough. The problem is not that you're not willing, it's that you're not available.

I've missed dozen, hundreds, perhaps thousands of opportunities to demonstrate the love of Jesus to people who live on the edge of my field of vision. I've missed these people because I've been too busy. I worry that I'll waste time if I maintain too much margin. And I do waste time when I sustain margin-filled seasons. But when those small windows of opportunity swing open, I'm ready to jump through. And that's the way I want to be all the time.

What keeps us from maintaining margin in our schedules?

Relevant and fake

How do you balance being relevant with being yourself?

Maybe that's the wrong question. That question assumes that there's a zero-sum tension between these two ideas: the more "yourself" you are, then the less "relevant" you are. According to this idea, you have to attempt to cash in authenticity to gain acceptance.

But really, the you that comes through, the you that desperately wants to be liked, that's the real you. You can wear a mask to hide your identity, but you will still be known as an actor or a bandit. Who else wears masks?

What if there was a different way to be relevant? Hack your way into the jungle of your own story. Search for a clearing large enough to accommodate the people with whom you're longing to connect. Where is there space for them in your story? What experiences do you share? Fears? Dreams? Struggles? Questions? Hopes? Joys?

Throw down a blanket and send out the invitations. Each of us have clearings in the jumbled jungle of our life-story. If you can invite people into those clear spaces, you can be relevant without being fake.

I don't know of any other way.