Cultural comment for the day…no I didn’t make it!

The blog, Iblogo that I read daily has posted some thoughts on the changing face of social media these days.  Iblogo is the blog from the amazingly creative and passionate people over at Imago (click on the link to check out their website).  They are, at least in my humble opinion, taking the lead in examining cultural trends in communication as well as providing resources for understanding and telling the grand narrative of the scriptures (Mark's books on Story through Youth Specialities publishing are priceless tools for understanding the the power of story-telling).   These posts are worth reading if you are interested in cultural transitions and how they are bound to change the way we live in these postmodern, 21st century times.  I find this extremely facinating!  Here is the video that the blog reflected on – the emergence of new technology and its potential impact:

Color Demo from Color Labs, Inc. on Vimeo.

Something that I really need to do…

Quiet-sign I was taking a few moments this morning to do what I "normally" do – go to my Google reader and do a quick scan of some of my favorite blogs.  I subscribe to a bunch…some will grab my attention with a word, phrase, photo, or video…but this one was subject driven.  I need to do something about this that the post identifies…my life is an internal hodge-podge these days dictated by a blazing pace and a discomfort with quiet moments (mostly feeling that I am NOT doing something that needs to be done, you know, the tyranny of the moment).  So here's the post link – you can make a decision about how it impacts where you are in life:

"True Peace is coming…"

Well done my good and faithful…what?

38971381 I read a facebook post that my daughter wrote last week where she reflected a bit on doing some yard work when she was a child.  She said very clearly what I knew from practical experience with her when she was younger that she HATED yard work.  She complained when I asked her to do it and because of that would do her work slowly, begrudgingly and, in most cases, badly.  Her facebook post actually was as much of a public “lament” and apology to me (although that was not her intent) for all those years where that was her predominant “m.o.”   She ended her post after having finished a major yard project at her home (she is now 30 years old) with the words, “after three hours of yard work today I have had a revelation: this is the first time I believe that I have EVER said I did yard work for 3 hours and actually enjoyed it”.  Well, when I read that, I had to post back to her “well done”.  I’m sure the job she did was thorough and after looking at the pictures she posted that day the proof was there…the job was well done and her yard looked great!

After this exchange the other day, I was reading the gospel of Matthew again in attempting to recall those famous words of Jesus, “well done my good and faithful servant.”  When Jesus says, “well done my good and faithful servant”…what was he praising?  In the context of the story, the master was praising the wisdom and faithfulness of the servant in DOING what the master had asked him to do.  The story makes clear that the master expected each servant to do something with the resources that had been “invested” in each. 

Have you ever considered, when we stand before Jesus and in our longing to hear the words, “well done my good and faithful servant”, what will he be praising?  Remember, there’s a context from which those words would be uttered…there is a giftedness, an investment (if you will) that Jesus has given to us through His Spirit, there is a call, a purpose in His chosenness that He is going to be evaluating in terms of faithfulness.   We’re not talking salvation issues here…let’s not miss the point.  The point is that God has given us His “mysteries” (Ephesians 1) and invested in us by implanting His very life into our hearts and lives FOR A PURPOSE.  And I believe like I have never believed before that it is time to be very clear about what we are about as people who follow Jesus AND it is time to be very clear with people in our sphere of influence about what God is calling them “into” as a life and lifestyle.

Without beating around the bush or spending time, energy and money to get us all on the same page with a new mission or purpose statement for who we are and what we do in the Kingdom we have to realize that WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN GIVEN OUR MISSION STATEMENT – OUR PURPOSE AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS IS CLEAR – “GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES”. 

So let’s put a specific parabolic context on this issue – when we get face to face with Jesus, he’s never going to ask us how many churchgoers we called our own or how good our programs, preaching or presentations were…he’s not going to ask for our church budgets or care about how many friends we had on facebook…he’s not going to be interested in how many blog hits you had or how many sermons you had downloaded off your church’s website…he’s not going to evaluate the staff members you worked with or tell us he’s proud of the church strategy we adopted that made us culturally relevant, and by all means is he going to spend a moment checking out our denominational credentials or confessional statements…the ONLY THING he’s going to ask about is this – DID YOU DO ALL YOU COULD WITH WHAT I GAVE YOU TO MAKE PEOPLE LIKE ME?  I don’t think you can logically come to any other conclusion when you read the words of Jesus.

So – here’s the question – what is your grid for evaluating ministry?  If developing people so that they become like Jesus than we have to ask ourselves if what we are doing is shaping and releasing the type of disciple, Spirit empowered identity that will be faithful to the call of Jesus…if our activities, processes, worship services, budgets and buildings are doing that…if they are actually reorienting people’s life direction so that they are closer to an experience of God and a lifestyle that reflects the life of their Lord and God than we are on the right track. 

Remember, a disciple is not someone who stays the same.  There is an inherent “principle” in scripture that assumes that things that are alive GROW…if not, they are dead.  As one author points out,

“A disciple is someone struggling to live a life of heartfelt love and obedience to the Father, living and dying for the higher purposes of God’s Kingdom.  Disciples are called out of their selfish ambitions, and they understand that the longer they follow Jesus, the more uncomfortable they will be and the more sacrifice and effort it will require…”

In other words, calling people to leave their nets, to prioritize God’s mission over their own, to live by faith, to take up their cross, to deny self, and to “seek first God’s kingdom and righteous life” is what Christ is calling us into as not only an experience but a lifestyle.  To do anything short of that is not being faithful to the call of Jesus.  Jesus calls us to make disciples…do you have a grid from which to evaluate your ministries?  If it is numbers, buildings, or budgets, you might be headed down the wrong path.  If it is a disciplemaking lifestyle – that people are looking more and more like Jesus, than you might be on the right track.

This is a matter of spiritual formation and spiritual formation is about application of truth to life. Look sometime at the book of Ephesians – even Paul’s structure of the letter underscores his commitment to the Spirit’s desire to transform people’s lives…follow him through the letter…watch him skillfully communicate God’s truth through chapters one through three only to turn sharply and decisively in chapters four through six with numerous “therefore’s” (always an application word in scripture).  Look at Paul in Ephesians 5 as he exhorts people to walk in love, light and wisdom…in other words, live this Jesus-thing out in your life.    Remember the life of a disciple isn’t about cognitive enlightenment but behavioral, life transformation…new ways of thinking and acting…having the “mind of Christ” for a reason – being faithful to His call and purposes.   That is a life lived in a manner shaped by the words, “well done my good and faithful servant”.

Not the “Story we find ourselves in” but the “Assumptions that suck the life out of us”

Darcy'sAssumptionsPic You know what I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading and praying and conversing about over the last years?  You guessed it – what life looks like in a faithful faith community – in other words, how a follower of Jesus in relationship with other followers of Jesus live the Kingdom life.  As the bible points out, as we live our lives within the flow of the Spirit, growth happens.  To be blunt – our growth and faithfulness should be infectious – it should be influential (since the Spirit of God in alive in us) in other’s lives.  I think you would remiss in reading the New Testament if you DIDN’T notice growth…growth in heart, life and numbers of people who chose to follow Jesus as time passed. 

Well, I’m not posting this to make a thorough or even superficial analysis of what has occurred throughout history to derail our contemporary experience from what was clearly communicated in the bible.  What I am trying to do is promote a conversation…for you see, there are assumptions that we all make in life that keep us stuck.  You know that and I know that…you can assume one thing about your life, children, spouse, work environment, neighborhood, things you buy, etc., etc. that simply don’t pan out in reality.  Eventually reality grips you and you have to face the truth. 

One of the problems in what I call (affectionately, I might add) “churchworld” is the problem of assumptions…I believe that most faith communities get stuck for a plethora of reasons…but one of the most prominent has to do with a cognition trap that is based upon assumptions, otherwise known as “just-like-me-aphobia” or mirror imaging (an excellent book to read about other cognition traps is entitled, Blunder by Zachary Shore).  As Shore points out in the book, “Mirror Imaging is assuming, consciously or unconsciously, that the “other side” (i.e. everyone else but us) thinks and acts like us.”  That’s what happens in many local congregations. 

So, what I’m trying to do is be VERY CLEAR about the assumptions we are making so that we can do combat with cognition traps and find a new sense of freedom to have our minds and hearts renewed.  Now, I have a feeling that we need to “act our way to a new way of thinking”…but for now and in this context, I think it might be helpful to at least think through the traps we buy into via assumptions.  So, here is a list that I am assembling…read it over and feel free to comment and add to the list. 

Now friends…this list is not meant to be a source of ridicule or condemnation – to do so would only unclothe the “emperor”…in other words, it would demonstrate our own hypocrisy and pride.  The issue is to be honest about the assumptions that keep us trapped and address the issue of how we find freedom from them to experience and embrace the “mind of Christ”.

Note – since the foundation of this post (at least the “context” of it) is from my denominational perspective, you will see the word “Lutheran”…you could place many denominational “brands” in that same spot and come to similar conclusions.  For now, these are assumptions that are made in local (Lutheran) churches that prevent them from being faithful to the purpose and call of Jesus to make disciples:

  • There are other Lutherans in our community that need a church home
  • There are Lutherans moving into our community that simply need to know about us and then they’ll join
  • Membership in a church is a high value in our culture
  • Sunday is a day for worship and church activity
  • “If we build it (nice church building, good programs, attractive services, friendly environment, etc.) they will come”
  • People know what Lutheranism is and want to join us and do life the way we do it
  • Everybody is of Germanic or Scandinavian background
  • Theological “rightness” or correct doctrine is everyone’s passion
  • The music that people love listening to is played on NPR and Classical music stations
  • Everybody wants to be a Lutheran
  • People see Lutheranism as the best “brand” of Christianity
  • Everybody in our community knows at least one Lutheran
  • People will navigate seasons in life only with the presence of a professional pastor/clergy (e.g. counseling needs, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.)
  • Everyone appreciates something that happened in the 16th century
  • Everyone understands and seeks out a church that has its origins in ancient history
  • If we just had the opportunity to show people how right we are in our style and practices as a church, they would agree with us and join in – in other words, they just need to right teaching and persuasion
  • Children need religious training and upbringing
  • Everyone wants to know about heaven and hell and why they will go to one or the other after they die
  • Everyone is curious about the bible
  • Everyone loves to practice their religion “our” way
  • People love to sit and listen to what religious experts have to say about life
  • People would rather be in a worship experience than watching sports events or doing recreational activity on weekends
  • Everyone appreciates the fact that we give a portion of our income to the church to further the work of God in the world
  • People drive by our church building all the time and take notice of our attractive and informative signs – they notice the service times and read the pithy comments
  • Doesn’t everybody look for a church in the phonebook?
  • Others?

“Thou shalt have NO other gods before me”…the idolatry of personal opinion

Golden-calf I didn't write the column below…if you are a regular visitor to my blog you know that I parouse other writings on a regular basis with a critical eye for what might spark not only MY interest but yours as well. In fact, I love it when you do the same…in other words, bring to my attention interesting and provocative articles that are meant to spur conversation, challenge and "conversion" of heart and soul.  None of us has it all together…our opinions, cherished beliefs, etc. are all on the edge of being dogmatic, unmovable, and the source of pride that can become destructive.  So, new readings…new insights…fresh takes on old subjects are meant to shake the cobwebs of our lives in a manner that leads to transformation.  This column is one of those…one of God's "big ten" includes the command NOT to serve other gods…well, could it be that one of the gods we bow down to on a regular basis is the one of our own making?  Could it be that as we hold on to our preconceived opinions and deeply held beliefs that we become stronger in our resistence to growing in a "renewed mind", that being, the mind of Christ?  Oh, I believe so…so, take a peak below.  Oh, one more thing…by the way, this article is written by a very smart young adult thus the "take" from a particularly "post-modern" framework.  Worth reading especially if you have a high learning curve when it comes to younger generations. 

"A friend who’s about twenty years older than I am makes occasional exclamations about my identity as a “postmodern.” Admittedly, I understand very little about this label and I need to learn more. I’ve been intending for some time to start with Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton’s Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be.

One impression I have of the postmodern belief system, which looks ironically like a doctrine, is that all opinions are equally valid. Just within the past few days, I’ve heard two eerily similar stories from college-level teachers: a student approaches the teacher to disagree with the grade given on a paper. The teacher defends the grade as valid. The student assumes that the root cause of the undesirable grade is a difference of opinion and “concedes” that they’ll have to “agree to disagree.” The teacher is stunned at the student’s audacity, for the grade is not based on difference of opinion, but on lack of comprehension as determined by the teacher’s own authority and expertise in the field.

There are several labels we could give to the student in this type of situation to understand his social context, from postmodern to “firstborn” or “baby of the family.” His communities have certainly shaped his identity and enabled him to have such an egalitarian view of opinions, but some, including myself, would blaspheme against postmodernism by contending that his communities and the stories told by those communities must be ill. The student, while effectively resisting being backed into a corner, appears to be wrong.

In putting together the “In Case You Missed It the First Time” articles for Catapult, I rediscovered an article by Grant Elgersma that we published. Jumping off of Marilynne Robinson’s essays in The Death of Adam), Elgersma writes:

The cultural elites dismissal of [John] Calvin assumes that our judgments about the value of something are correct because they are our judgments. And if our goodness is confirmed by our own judgments, which most often happens to be the case, our judgments take on a certain authority that cannot be challenged by the people we are judging.

Elgersma’s statement, in the context of this editorial, is less about John Calvin than it is about the current tendency to coddle our personal opinions and get upset when someone doesn’t think our opinions are as cute as we think they are. Students like the aforementioned come across as arrogant, when really, they are afraid. Agreeing to disagree is nice, but it also allows us to create hard shells around ourselves that protect us against conflict, humiliation, regret and ultimately the messiness of human relationships. As Elgersma notes, the idolatry of our judgments is, in a sense, foolproof because we only need to give the objects of our judgment as much validity as we judge that they are worth.

Fortunately, the gospel of Christ offers a different way. In the way of Christ, we are free to acknowledge the unique abilities, gifts and knowledge of others within our community, submitting in a childlike way that paradoxically makes us mature (Ephesians 4:11-16). If a student is able to state that his opinion on a subject is equal to that of his teacher, perhaps he has never experienced or seen within his community the gospel truth that “the greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Indeed there is rest and freedom in the ability to humbly open one’s self to what is to be learned from others and to openly acknowledge another authority in a particular area.

Now I’ve heard it said that one of the values of postmodernism to Christianity is that, in spite of all the ways in which Christians have worked throughout history to discredit the gospel story, the story (according to postmodern theory) is worth being heard and listened to. But that’s a theory I’ll have to explore in relationship with those who know more about the postmodernism than I do.

In your opinion, are we experiencing a “tendency to coddle our personal opinions?” Do you agree that this amounts to “idolatry?”

John Fischer…good take on “Christian” subculture

458_JohnFischer-85 John is an old friend…emphasis on friend.  Not only is he a pioneer in Christian music, but he is an author, creative thinker, speaker and teacher…he has keen insight into what many regard as a Christian sub-culture…that being, that which has been created over the last few decades that attempted to reflect all things of faith but has been reduced overtime to money-making, publicity seeking, ego-gratifying enterprises that have actually harmed the movement of Christ-following over time.  I won't make any further comment here in this context…all I can say is that John's "catch" is worthy to be read…in fact, go to his website and subscribe.  John's thoughts and reflections will be a good addition to your spiritual "diet":

The last Christian by John Fischer

So I am writing this from the office of the Chaplain at Olivet Nazarene University. They have me in a lovely guest housing but the campus controls the Internet and I can't get in on my laptop, so Chaplain Holcomb was kind enough to lend me his office computer.
I am here to speak in chapel the next two days and it occurs to me that you all might be interested in what I am going to tell 2,500 (mostly) Christian college students tomorrow morning. So here goes.
I'm going to tell them we need a new name. Say "Christian" and you're a political activist bent on taking everyone's freedoms away. Say "born again" and you're a religious fanatic. Say "evangelical" and you're an enlisted officer in a culture war. Say "Jesus freak" and you are… well, just that.
Point is: we've been labeled, but what the labels engender in people's minds has little to do with what we are called to be as followers of Christ. How did this come to pass?
Then I launch into a brief history starting with the high idealism and the crushing disillusionment of the '60s, the birth of a new breed of Christian through the Jesus Movement, and then how what started as Jesus music focused on the world turned into Christian music focused on Christians, and finally into a Christian subculture with a Christian version of everything.  The point here being SAFETY became the key element and FEAR became the driving motivation and a big selling point for a safer alternative to the scary world out there.
The reason for this little history lesson is to show these students, many of whom have grown up in Christian homes and gone to Christian schools, that it has not always been this way. The Christian subculture is a product of my lifetime.
"The Christian subculture is more culture than it is Christian. It began as our attempt to affect the world, and has become evidence of the world's effect on us. The Christian subculture is not the church. It is not the kingdom of God. Both can do fine without it – both are doing just fine without it."
The final challenge? Be a Christian in culture, not a cultural Christian. The word Christian makes a really bad adjective. There is no such thing as a Christian anything; there is only YOU! Who you are is God's answer to the world.
The world doesn't need Christian music; it needs YOU making music. The world doesn't need Christian TV; it needs YOU in television. The world doesn't need Christian movies; it needs YOU in Hollywood. The world doesn't need a Christian coffeehouse; it needs YOU in Starbucks.
Heck with labels; the world needs YOU. You are the last Christian.

Seth Godin pronouces blogs dead…mmmm, what does that mean?

RIP-500-square Good guy Seth Godin (marketing guru, creative thinker, author, etc.) pronouces today on HIS blog that blogs are "dead" (his article in posted below for you to consider).  So, now what does that mean?  I thought I was being all "hip" and techy by participating in this form of communication.  I've loved the journey although it has been a bit of a problem a time or two…I've had this internal pressure of posting something on a regular basis…that's not too good.  I've also had the problem of being "misinterpreted" by some over the years…long story.  But I've also used this forum to be able to bounce ideas, perceptions and other pertinent info off of people who have done life with me for many years…that's invaluable.  Oh well…we'll see whether this is a true pronouncement of death…or whether it is like what happens when royalty dies…"the blog is dead…long live the blog".  I do like the fact that usually some form of death opens up the door to some sort of new life…some things should die because new life, new ideas, new paradigms are dying to be brought into reality.  So, read away and then you can decide for yourself…

Bring me stuff that's dead, please by Seth Godin

RSS is dead. Blogs are dead. The web is dead. Good.

Dead means that they are no longer interesting to the drive-by technorati. Dead means that the curiousity factor has been satisfied, that people have gotten the joke.

These people rarely do anything of much value, though.

Great music wasn't created by the first people to grab an electric guitar or a synthesizer. Great snowboarding moves didn't come from the guy who invented the snowboard… No one thinks Gutenberg was a great author, and some of the best books will be written long after books are truly dead.

Only when an innovation is dead can the real work begin. That's when people who are seeking leverage get to work, when we can focus on what we're saying, not how (or where) we're saying it.

The drive-by technorati are well-informed, curious and always probing. They're also hiding… hiding from the real work of creating work that matters, connections with impact and art that lasts. I love to hear about the next big thing, but I'm far more interested in what you're doing with the old big thing.

What an insightful article – actually prophetic!

Wall-Street-Journal1 This Wall Street Journal article ends with this quote: “A building does not make a church.” Oh how true…now I don't feel compelled in any way to be a prophet of doom so I won't be.  NOR will I endlessly and needlessly "bag" on church buildings…they have their necessary place in what the Holy Spirit is doing in HIS 'ekklesia' (gathering of people who are following Jesus on His mission).  Buildings have played important roles in what local congregations of "churches" ("where two or three are gathered in My name…" Matthew 18) have done for decades.  Unfortunately, we have become too enamored with buildings in recent years…buildings drive budgets, ministries, decisions about ministries, etc.  When people THINK "church" they think building…which simply isn't what God had in mind.  God is an incarnating God…one who embodies Himself not in buildings but in hearts.  And though buildings have their place, over time, they have redefined the default for many people when they think "church".  Instead of thinking people or even themselves, they point to an edifice on a street corner (or, in some cases, in a small section of town).  Now, economic realities are catching up…and if we don't heed the Spirit in reigniting passion for the Kingdom in ways that will build Christ's Kingdom in ways HE intended (that being relationally), economic realities will reshape the church as we know it and force many people and gatherings of followers to reexamine their purpose out of necessity. 

Another thing, as I commented to the guy whose post I read who highlighted this article (thanks Frank), we live in a time where generations are different than the ones that primarily built the buildings that make up a majority of local church facilities.  The older generations (isn't it a coincidence that they are labeled the "builder" generation) had the commitment to place, denominational brand and longevity in a congregation to service big debt.  You know it like I do, times have changed.  We are a consumeristic culture where decisions are made about church that have to do with deliverables and services based upon need…my belief is that the younger generations will not be the ones that service long term congregational debt.  They are not wired up that way…they may make faithful givers with solid teaching, mentoring and a kindling for Kingdom passions (that's the way the Spirit works) but they will most likely NOT be the ones who will stick with a congregation through pastoral changes, programmatic upheaval, or ministry shift/change all of which occurs during the long term journey of indebtedness.  In addition, add that to the fact that buildings are being built to house crowds that might not be there in years to come.  Drive around some cities and towns with big OLD church buildings and simply see how few are filled with attenders on any given week…there are many sitting empty…what is going to happen in 20 or 30 years when the tides of culture change?  What is going to happen with those buildings when cities, towns, populations and a plethora of other issues start to impact congregations where huge facilites and high facility maintenance and overhead can't or even won't be supported? 

The more I read, converse with those in and out of formal "church" the more I am convinced that we hold on to our buildings "loosely" and focus our ministry initiative, best "practices" and most creative energy for that which will build DISCIPLES.  A changed heart and life is reproductive…a building, just sucks your resources and has the potential of detracting your attention for the big reason we exist in the first place…oh well, I'll get off my horse now…high or otherwise!