Dry times…yes, they come and go

Dryness There are times when you feel like your cup is empty…I mean, that happens especially in a high pressured world and high-paced life when you are attempting to accomplish all that you desire to accomplish.  Then there are times when your cup is empty and your soul is dry…where, as someone said to me today as he was slyly illustrating what it a person who often burns the "candle" of life at both ends looks like, sooner or later you get to the middle of the candle and you realize that there is no more wick.  In those moments, the flame extinguishes and not only are you dry but you have no more to give until you drink again from that well that never runs dry…or, to be consistent in imagery, you have a re-creation of the fuel of your heart…that being the wick.  Yes, dry times come…but also dry times can go and do go…it is at the dry times where the key question is not, "how did I get here" but rather, "to where do I go now to find a restore and renewed life?"   I think all of us know about dryness…what distinguishes the person who has a transcendent joy in life from the individual who soon regresses to anger, fear, frustration or escapism is what they do during and with the dry times.  The Spirit is one who is seen in biblical imagery as not only the "water of life" but that aspect of God's nature that frequently is experienced "moving" over that which is chaotic (Genesis 1) and that which is bone dry (Ezekiel 37).  It becomes pretty apparent that we choose where we go when we discover ourselves in a season or period of dryness…the issue is whether we choose perpetual dryness or new life…yes, seasons of dryness have their purpose – if anything to remind us when we do again have our hearts restored that there is only one place, in this case, one person in "whom has the Words of LIFE."  Some of the friends of Jesus pined out loud one day, "where should we go…you alone have the Words of life in abundance."  That's where the dry soul eventually finds rest and renewal.  Yes, as I've already said, dry times…they come and go.  But as they come and go, will we take our next step refreshed or defeated?  Guess who brings refreshment?

Our Faith Community in action…

Three Circles Yesterday, our faith community @ Peace in Monroe continued to work collaboratively in discussing and envisioning how God is leading us into the future.  What started out as a budgetary process morphed with the Spirit's leadership into a paradigm of discussing and sharing together on three big values in our life together as we step into the coming days trusting God.  What has been simply a joy to behold is seeing people grapple with the bigger issues of applying their faith and life in community to the broader issues that we are facing together as Kingdom brothers and sisters.  Instead of pontificating or bringing down some "vision" from one or even several leaders, Body life means we join together in tapping into all the gifts of the Spirit in the discerning process.  It is actually fun and humbling to listen, watch and adhere to a community process that stretches each person as well as calls upon each individual to find their place in the broader community and own their unique place in our journey together.  Amidst what may seem like "holy confusion" is a discussion and enlightening process where the dynamics of Kingdom living and biblical community are being actualized.  Every person has a perspective to share…every gift, though seemingly insignificant, is really the most important…we all have been given a clear purpose (go and make disciples) now we learn as we listen to the Spirit and each other about how we are going to do that!  

By the way, the paradigm we are using for our discussions is embedded in the picture above!  

Astounding post that I ripped off…the KEY question for people living in a flow of following Jesus

Question-things I read alot of blogs…as I've mentioned before, there are some that are a waste of time in a delightful way.  I love getting a chuckle or two, arguing (at least mentally) with someone's blog post that annoys me as well as the fact that I enjoy seeing what people are thinking about across the country…people I  would never know unless it was for the blogsphere.  It is early this morning (6am) and I just read a post from a guy I have never meant…but this is a post that asks the right questions…especially if you have anything to do with local faith communities (otherwise known as churches).  In many denominations, "church" is specifically defined…you have to be "doing" certain activities in their perspective in order to have a valid expression of church.  I'm not going to comment further because that would entail writing what would amount to a thesis…but this guy is posing the important question – is all we are doing, NO MATTER HOW WE DEFINE CHURCH, making disciples?  You can see how he frames this question on your own as well as read about a young leader in Georgia who "repented" that he got it wrong.  Absolutely amazing!

As I’ve been ruminating over the implications of discipleship in the North American church the past several months, a few things are aligning in eerie fashion over the past week.

First, I mentioned some thoughts by Dallas Willard in an earlier post.Speaking of Dallas, I keep stumbling across another one of his quotes –  and it keeps messin’ with me:

“Every church should be able to answer two questions: (1) what is our plan for making disciples? (2) does it work?”

I’m coaching a few other church planters right now who are working through these two questions in their own context, trying to flesh this out very practically in their faith communities. It is both exciting and frustrating for them to do so – and sadly they find so few models of churches that are discipling well.

Secondly, I read a series of posts by Mike Breen called “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail.” It’s caused quite a dust-up. Istrongly recommend that you read Part I and Part II. By the way, Mike recently published something that may bethe most theologically, philosophically and practically robust resource I’ve ever seen regarding discipleship (currently out on e-book with the hard copy out in a few weeks). I finished reading it a few weeks ago and I highly highly recommend this to you.

Thirdly, I stumbled across a harrowing story of a courageous and “successful” young pastor in Atlanta. After causing a big splash and seeing several hundred people come on a Sunday morning, Shaun King realized he had “done it all wrong” by generating large crowds but without making disciples. He wrote, “I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and could never quite get it back.” Later he states, “I am utterly convinced we are completely off base with what discipleship means.” That’s quite a statement.

His journey led him recently to attempt to do a lot of “undoing” of the hard work he had put in for several years, hard work that he realized was building in the wrong direction. He realized he couldn’t do it – so he resigned. My heart broke as I read his story of trying to untangle from a church built on attracting people, but which failed to make disciples.

Read this first. (if you want to read what one person said about this young pastoral leader)

Then read this young leader's own account on his blog here.  (My note, Robin that is – talk about your paradigm shift).

From the J.R. Briggs blog – thanks J.R.

I’m sorry (to a point)…a semi-political “rant”

AlertMeNow Here’s my story – A long time ago in my life, I was in debt….a lot of debt.  It was extremely distressing because I had obligations to pay for (most of which were due to my desire for more “stuff” that I didn’t necessarily need but was fun to have) and not enough money to pay the tab.   Debt is crushing over time…your stuff is worth less and less…the demands to take care of the stuff cost more and more…and it takes more and more money to afford to live while the debt takes forever to go away.  At that particular time in my life, the debt started to eat away at my contentment…especially in terms of my job (the income side of the equation).  Over time, I started to feel like my employer was obligated to help me pay off my debt…in other words, as my debt grew, I expected my job to pick up the slack.  The truth is, I got a little resentful if I wasn’t getting annual raises…not because I didn’t deserve them (because I did work hard and produce enough tangible results) but my resentment stemmed from the fact that I had huge anxiety about the growing indebtedness of my life.  And instead of addressing the debt and obligations (many of which were frivolous), I expected my employer to pay me more…I needed more income, period.  In a manner of speaking, it didn’t really matter over time if I earned a raise or even if my employer could or could not afford to give me a raise…I didn’t care about my employer’s reality, all I cared about was my own.  Sooner or later, I had to own up to my problem…I had a “stuff” problem…I had a problem with expecting others to take care of what I needed (really, wanted) and got angry if it wasn’t occurring the way I had it all sketched out in my mind.  Sooner or later, it all crashed and I had to take drastic actions – I had to take responsibility for who I had become…I had to own up to my insatiable appetite for “stuff” and look critically at my lifestyle and make adjustments.  It was difficult to do…but sooner than later, I was able to start digging myself out of the debt that held me in bondage.  It didn’t happen overnight but it did eventually occur.  Interestingly enough, as soon as I took responsibility for what I had done in my life, my resentment also disappeared and I was able to embrace contentment once more.

I don’t want to make HUGE applications of my story with that which is happening in our country at this time…but every time I hear about our country’s huge indebtedness out of control obligations (in the progressive mentality of thinking that we can legislate or “government” our way into utopianism) and then I hear any politician say all that they need to help our country is to raise the “revenue” stream (no matter what party, what decade, etc.) without critically looking at how much the entitlement mentality has gripped our country and created more co-dependents than healthy, interdependent adults, I start to have problems.  I have a problem with people not taking ownership for their own lives…I have a problem with those who think that we can institutionally solve problems that are embedded in the heart of human character…I have a problem with the government stepping in and trying to solve something that we should all be addressing as people because we love others…I have a problem with more and more and more being demanded at my expense (and your expense) because the government cannot say “no” (they are obligating my wonderful grandchildren in ways we cannot even comprehend, THAT is downright offensive).    

This is the way it is – the government (over many decades – actually since the Johnson era of the 60’s) believed it could solve all the problems of the world by throwing massive amounts of cash at the issues…by all means, we were (and are to a point) a wealthy and blessed nation.  The “war on poverty”, “war on drugs”, “war on war”…you name it, the government never said “no” to a program that enables a person NOT to responsibility for their own lives.  For example, just the latest news from my hometown, Detroit, Michigan reminded me of that reality – Detroit is now serving free breakfast and lunch to every student in the public school system…as you can guess, I have way too many questions on how that particular program came into being to the tune of millions of dollars.  Parents couldn’t or wouldn’t feed their own kids (which, by the way, I did at a sacrifice of my time and energy and money because they were my children) so “guess who” had to step in.  Every time the government steps in to address a problem it can never solve it is going to cost you and me.  This is what I have experienced – for every year of my adult life, taxes, fees, levies, tolls, etc. have gone higher and higher.  Truth is, we pay more now in taxes on a gallon of gas than we paid for the gallon of gas itself when I was a kid. 

I don’t know but I think it is way past time to say “no.”  The longer we allow more and more and more to be demanded of us in terms of what the government wants to take from us, the more we will see culture stalled out in co-dependency, addiction and irresponsibility.  You know what I experienced when I got tempted (better yet, flirted) with an inability to say “no” with my kids as they grew up?  I got a first hand “glimpse” at what happens when a child starts to “expect”…get lazy…get overly dependent…and not take ownership for their own lives and growth.  That’s where the government is now…it is spoiled.  It is does not have a concept of what every penny it demands actually “means” in real life…they are used to having an open checkbook, a printing press and the power to demand more…at the expense of society, individuals and families. 

You know, I’m sorry for the rant…I really am.  It simply is one way to deal with furiousness of listening to people promise more and more…drive up more and more debt…and just taking the easy way out, “oh, all we’ll do is demand more from our employers”…yeah, that’s right.  WE are their employers.  Maybe it is time we did them a favor and said, “no”…maybe then they would have to deal with reality.  

Hey, feel free to disagree with me or tell me your story…I am NOT claiming I am right and all wise on all things…I have my perspective based upon my experience in life…if you have other thoughts, share them!

Why I’m adding a “send” icon to my email signature…

Send-icon No, this isn't THAT big of a deal…but it is to me.  I need reminders…I need hints throughout my day of what I am all about in the core of my identity.  I wear a wedding ring…I do that proudly and humbly and lovingly.  That ring reminds me of who I am at the core of my being – I am a husband of a wonderful wife whom I love.  Everytime I look at that ring, it reminds me, especially when the day is long and I get tempted to think that my life is all about work, that my there is a foundational relationship that has formed the core of who I am and that that relationship is key to the meaning and purpose of my life.  I also wear a cross and a broken/mended heart medalion on a necklace around my neck.  It never leaves my body…unless I am surfing and have to wear a high collar wetsuit (not much surfing time in Washington, trust me).  The cross reminds me that my life is not my own…that I belong to a King and a Kingdom.  That I am at the core of who I am a disciple…a follower of Jesus.  The heart that is broken/mended is important as well…my heart/life was broken and I was mended by a supernatural love…a love of another kind that not only released me from shame but gave me a brand new start afresh with possibility.  I believe in "memorials"…those reminders interspersed throughout our lives that remind us or help us remember people, circumstances, situations, promises, etc.  Memorials have a rich biblical history…the people of God erected memorials after they crossed the Jordan and entered the promise land.  If you think about it, every symbol or icon or piece of art that inspires you speaks to the core of your identity reminding you of a broader perspective on your life.  That brings me to the "send icon" that I am including in my email signature…I need reminders throughout my day that I am a "sent" person…yes, I am part of a Body…a community where I discover more about my identity as a follower of Jesus in relationship with others…but I am also a "sent" person…sent by my God into relationships in my life to be an ambassador/incarnate-or of His love and presence.  I am a disciple/follower given a call and identity that is fulfilled as I share that discipleship/followership with others that they too would be a follower/disciple.  I need reminders that that is who I am…do you need a reminder?  If mine is a simple icon, what is yours?

Bravo to Mike Breen – a very interesting post on why DISCIPLESHIP is the real issue!

Why the missional movement will fail by Mike Breen is an article that I am posting today for you and your consideration in our Body Life “life”.  Mike is on of the founders of the 3dm ministry…I know about it because I have a number of pastor pals across the country who are participating in the 3dm strategy in their congregations.  I think that Mike’s thesis is worth considering…his BIG IDEA – you have to BUILD DISCIPLES and you get the church thrown in for good measure.  IF you try to build the church, you will end up with few disciples and a bankrupt strategy.  Disciples are built by Body Life…Disciples are built as they understand and live by “tracking the Spirit” in their lives…more programs (even those focused on mission) will eventually be just that…perceived and marginalized as the programs (just like the other plethora of programs that most people in congregations have embraced or, better said, endured).  One of the MAIN REASONS I felt compelled by the Spirit to join the Tracking the Spirit team (thanks Denny and Denny) was because the Dennys “get it”…they understand discipleship and disciple-making.  Tracking is about helping disciples come “alive” in the life and freedom of the Spirit…as the disciple grows, so grows the church (not necessary OUR church but Jesus’ Church – which is ultimately why we do what we do anyway…to partner with Jesus in building HIS church – to do anything but is really egomania at best).  We join God’s mission as disciples…God isn’t compelled to join or bless anything or program we are doing…that’s the point. Discipleship/Disciple-making/Mission is the flip side of the coin of Body Life.  Body Life, or helping disciples understand their place in the “we” of Kingdom living, thrives best when Disciples are equipped not only to know who they are but what they are being called into in terms of lifestyle and mission.   So, without boring you with more of my blather, enjoy this article.  If you have comments, I would love to hear them below!

Why the Missional Movement will fail – by Mike Breen

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to bewith the King. As Skye Jethani wrote in his Out of Ur post a little while back “Has Mission become an Idol?”:

Many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about mission…I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 1980′s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable. Think about it this way: Sending people out to do mission is to send them out to a war zone. Discipleship is not only the boot camp to train them for the front lines, but the hospital when they get wounded and the off-duty time they need to rest and recuperate. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised that people burn out, quit and never want to return to the missional life (or the church)? How can we not expect people will feel used and abused?

There’s a story from World War II where The Red (Russian) Army sent wave after wave of untrained, practically weaponless soldiers into the thick of the German front. They were slaughtered in droves. Why did they do this? Because they knew that eventually the German soldiers would run out of ammunition, creating an opportunity for the Red Army to send in their best soldiers to finish them off. The first wave of untrained soldiers were the best way of exhausting ammunition, leaving their enemy vulnerable. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, I sense this is a bit like the missional movement right now. We are sending bright-eyed civilians into the battle where the fighting is fiercest without the equipping they need, not just to survive, but to fight well and advance the Kingdom of their dad, the King.

The missional movement will fail because, by-and-large, we are having a discussion about mission devoid of discipleship. Unless we start having more discussion about discipleship and how we make missionaries out of disciples, this movement will stall and fade. Any discussion about mission must begin with discipleship. If your church community is not yet competent at making disciples who can make disciples, please don’t send your members out on mission until you have a growing sense of confidence in your ability to train, equip and disciple them.

Here are some questions I have leaders I’m working with ask regularly:

  • Am I a disciple?
  • Do I know how to disciple people who can then disciple people who then disciple people, etc? (i.e. does my discipleship plan work?)
  •  Does our discipleship plan naturally lead all disciples to become missionaries? (not just the elite, Delta-seal missional ninjas)

Great Organic/Simple “Church” blog post…the lifestyle of a disciple

Nailed_it_20th_Century_fox_theme_on_flute-s240x320-227191-580 It is simply a great post…I like it because it isn't "bashing" any expression of ekklesia!  Any expression of "church" can feel compelled and challenged by this type of encouragement.  I like that because some in the established "religions" of the day get a bit defensive of other's encouragement about how to live for Jesus.  Most of the people that I know well who live outside of established denominations don't hate or demean what has been historically demonstrated as expressions of God's will for people in faith communities.  What they have chosen is to live life differently…for a plethora of other reasons.  But this article, written by one of the main leaders of the Organic Church "movement" nails the disciples making disciples lifestyle!  It really does!

It's Not Enough to Get the Church Out of Its Walls

We have now said, for years, that the church needs to get out of its walls and into the street.  The problem is: this is not enough.

We have people leaving churches, changing church expressions, meeting in homes and workplaces, but the life of Jesus is still not seeping into the world, at least not enough.

We need more from “the church.”  We need “the church” to begin living their unique destiny as followers of Jesus audaciously.  We need people who are not sleep-walking in religion or incapacitated by the franticness of our Disneyland culture.  We need people who know who they are, who love Jesus more than life, who are willing to bring fresh and new ideas and innovations that change society.  We need people who influence, not toward religion or church-going, but toward Jesus, and life, and hope, and faith, and transformation, and the power of the Spirit.  We need people who have passion and are not afraid to step out and speak up about those things (including Jesus) that are burning on their hearts.

We need Change Agents for Jesus.  We don’t need evangelists, just Jesus-people who live and act in a way that brings about change, that lifts the hopeless, that cares for the tired, that releases the oppressed and that simply says—“this is Jesus at work.”  “Follow Him!”  Those that need to and want to, will follow Him.

We need a church that does not look like “church” in any way, shape, or form.  We need an uprising of “heretics” who break all the rules but glorify Jesus’ love and presence in the process.

We need people who are authentic and real and without the need for pretense.  We need people that others can relate to and see Jesus through—weaknesses and all.

We need to become the trend setters.

Religious people follow the traditions and rules.  Our culture mesmerizes us with faulty ideas of success and security.  We don’t need more of either of these.  Instead, we need people who lift others through their love for Jesus, their willingness to step out and do risky, compassionate things, and because of their new ideas, fresh ventures, and radical investment in the needy and in the needs of our world.

We need trend-setters who know how to manage resources for the Kingdom: make more money (sometimes), spend less (always), and funnel funds in a way that glorifies Jesus.

We need a church that’s out of the walls, out of religion, out of our culture’s drivel, and sacrificing everything to become everything that Jesus is.


The Help…see it!

The-help Ok – I'll admit it – I didn't go to see this movie (initially) with a good attitude.  Many reasons for that…first of which was that I really wanted to see a couple of other films and hadn't had a chance to see them as of yet.  Secondly, I hadn't read the book…heard about it but hadn't read it.  I would have loved to have read the book first…that's kind of my "habit".  Thirdly…well, I'm going to stop at two and count my blessings.

Here's some thoughts about this compelling and sure to be highly acclaimed film:

I didn't grow up in the south but during this time period reflected in the film, I was growing up in Detroit Michigan.  I had relatives that would frequently use expletives to describe people of color…expletives that came out of a heart filled with bigotry and racism.  That's simply what it was in our extended family…I grew up hearing a variety of family members demean and verbally attack any branch of the civil rights movement…while listening to any black speaker on television or the radio, I endured as a child verbal debate and retaliation that sank into the core of my being.  As many of you know, some of the riots of the 60's were in my backyard (so to speak)…at least I could hear the gunshots and smell the burning of buildings that were going on in a "not too distant" section of our city while I was trying to sleep in the 80 degree heat/100 humility of a summer night.  Those were the dynamics that I grew up with…so watching this film was more than an artistic, cinematic experience for me…it was personal…intensely personal. 

I watched the film with a sense of shame and pride/praise…shame for what I couldn't escape as a young child growing up in an extended family that was racist but pride/praise in the sense that God heals, protects and eventually reigned in my life to the point where I was able to live my days with a heart full of love, respect,  honor and admiration for any human being that God created on this planet.  I don't want this post to be an autobiography…so I'll stop in a few more sentences…I thought the film was engaging, well acted, well written and photographed…there wasn't a moment where my mind wandered or where my heart was looking for some different type of connection.  It is an important film to see…it will cause you to think about where you came from, what is on your heart and how you can live your life giving any person you cross paths with the personal affirmation of your time and attention and care.  I hope to see it with some other people soon…The Help will be on my list of all-time "thought provokers" of a film and one that joyfully blindsided me while I was attempting to hang onto to other less noble escapist fare!  The Help?   See it!