Thursday, December 14, 2006

Brother Marcus, St. John of the Cross, and Jesus

This is just to remind you also that today is the memorial of St. John of the Cross in our liturgy." - Brother Marcus, my monk friend at Christ in the Desert Monastery

"Some forge connections with people arising from sensual lust and not from purity of spirit. To test this, they should consciously recall the attraction and see if it causes remembrance and love of God to grow inside them or instead trigger remorse of conscience. If the connection is pure, love for God deepens with the deepening of friendship. [If] remembrance of God arises as often as thoughts of the friend arise, the friendship is from the purity of spirit. But when this love springs from the vice of lust, it has the contrary effect. As love for the human friend intensifies, love for the divine flows away, even from the memory. The soul who loses herself in that other affection will find her love for God growing cold -- remembering one and forgetting the other." - St. John of the Cross

"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." - Jesus

My monk friend sent me an email today that included a news flash for, in the liturgical prayer schedule that he follows with his monastic community in the desert, remembers the life and contribution of St. John of the Cross.

His news flash did just that for me...I'm remembering the contribution John has had on my life through his incredible work entitled "Dark Night of the Soul". I pulled out my well-worn copy and opened it to the thought above concerning relationships with people, which I had underlined. John uses very strong words (i.e.: "connections from sensual lust" vs.. "connections from purity of spirit") which leads the modern reader thinking that he is speaking of proper romantic relationships. Be assured that he is not. He is speaking of any kind of relationship, friendship, family, or otherwise. When I read this the first time, I wrote in the margin "good test for whether a relationship is a 'transforming friendship'."

That kicked me right to the statement of my Master about who he considered "family". Jesus says that anyone who does the will of God was his family.

I feel like that.

And I also feel freedom from judging what another persons "doing" of the will of God looks like externally. I have met many, many people who do not "do the will of God" the way I do, but I can tell we are of one mind and heart and soul and spirit (i.e.: Jesus). Brother Marcus is an incredible example of that, who is finding God primarily through contemplation. And so is my new friend Garrett who works at a Real Estate place down the road from my house, who is sharing his life and story with me. And so is my friend Paula who stopped by my office this morning on her way to her "office" where she teaches countless people in Africa about Christ through the mail. And so is my co-worker Edie who was on the floor with a hurting woman praying for her and sharing in her suffering by touching on her own. And so is my friend Russ who at lunch yesterday tapped into the calling he has received on his life and let me wade around in it with him. And so is my buddy Larry, who at lunch today spoke of an incredible "fathering" lesson for his son just by going on a hunting trip with him and an older, grandfatherly type man who trusted his son with his binoculars.
They are my mother and my brother and my sister. Nothing like me at all, and yet the family resemblance is uncanny.

Remembrances of God arise in me when I think of these friends.

Do you have these people? Seriously. If not, I consider you to be in poverty. The poorest of the poor on the planet. Destitute. Broke and pitiable.

I am absolutely sure that God is trying to provide for you in this, and that your blame on others for not giving it to you is merely that...your blame. All you have to be is willing.

Thanks, Marcus, for being a friend who reminds me of God. Thanks, St. John of the Cross, for being open to whatever you had to be open to be able to chart the inner spiritual journey like you did in your book. Thanks, Jesus, for being the perfect model and source of everything good and worthwhile, and making it so available to everyone.

And thank you, God, for so many mothers, brothers, and sisters.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." - Paul, in Ephesians 4:1
"The call of God does what the call of man cannot; it wakes us up; it raises the dead." -- John Piper

"People often ask me what it "looks like" when a person has "found their calling." Those eyes ... it's clearly in the eyes. These are the eyes of Calling. Commitment. Compassion. Determination. Grief. Holy discontent. Passion beyond words. Sacrifice. Surrender. " -- Jim Spivey
I met this woman in the picture a year and a half ago in a coffee shop in the Woodlands, TX, north of Houston. It was before she took this trip to Africa. A trip she was born to take, to initiate and enact a mission that she was inside of her and wouldn't let her go.
I dare you to gaze at this picture for more than 60 seconds without having something stir in heart. Something deep. Something powerful and invading and inconvenient. The something won't be tame, or logical, or reasonable, or attainable. It won't be "fundable", practical, or sensible.
But it will be something. It will be calling.
But don't worry. You can take your eyes off of it and cast them on something attainable, medicating, or adrenaline-producing the minute you can't stand it any more. Just look at your check-book, your bills, your to-do list as it is currently written. Just look around you at all the company you have doing mundane, repetitive, non-life-saving chores and feel affirmed in your mediocrity. Do whatever you want...but please, please...DON'T be ridiculous.
Like this woman...Melissa. She's ridiculous.
And just look at her. I dare you. And I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that you will receive. Here's what Melissa says she is doing in that picture...
"Whatever He has in store for me in the area of service involves my whole family and extended community. As I continue to develop my ministry in this country, helping women just like me and children just like mine until our “schooling” is complete, I am being called to create a family-based mission in Africa, where AIDS, ignorance, poverty, and starvation are decimating families. All of my resources and capacities to embark on this mission will be supplied through prayer and God’s grace, the cornerstones of my life, at exactly the right time."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Secret Life Feedback #10

I got an "amen" from a good friend of mine today about the redundancy of all this feedback on by email entitled, "My Secret Life of Discipleship". As promised, I'll assemble one more concerning the use of the word "Secret" in it has caused some good questions and deserves explanation and clarification...
"I keep finding these brothers and sisters all over the place who are struggling with the same things that I am... and the only explanation I have is that God’s Spirit is at work!" - 45ish brother, minister in the Church of Christ up North
"We all need to recognize we are on the same side - just have different perspectives.  But we have to be careful about drawing lines, alienating one another over our differences and seek at least an understanding - though I don't think we have to agree on everything.  HOWEVER, I will protect my family from legalism and fight it tooth and nail every step in the way." - 35ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"Perhaps I am ignorant because I am not a member of the Church of Christ, but it would seem to me that you all have the same goals in mind.  Why all the politics in loving Christ? I find it interesting that the Church (for any religion) would risk alienating such devoted members, whose sole purpose in life has been to be like Christ in their actions, thoughts, and deeds.  I would ask the question:  Do the governing members of your church interpret His teachings in this fashion?  If so, why would anyone want to be a member? Just an outsider looking in..." - 35ish buddy of mine that I was lucky enough to meet in Skydiving school 8 years ago
"Walking like Christ means that the "rules" are, in a way, irrelevant because if we are walking with him, we will be walking in the spirit. Will the spirit of Christ lead us astray? I don't think so. Thus, the "rules" take care of themselves." - 40ish brother, life-long member of Church of Christ
"It is difficult to get the language just right so that we are all seeing [obedience to rules] as a natural consequence of our surrender to Him." - 60ish sister, life-long member of Church of Christ
"Loving God; loving each other---on these two commands, which act as a curtain rod, hang the law and the prophets. Obedience every time it is called for happens as we do these two commands. Talk about idealistic---That is our God--idealistic. And, as I focus on these two commands, so goes my obedience." - 60ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"I wish this had been my post. It's everything that's been firing around in my brain and heart for the last few years--finally put into a written, coherent format." - 30ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"I don't belong to the Church of Christ denomination, but I do belong to the Church of Christ. And I think believers in several denominations will agree with much of what you write." - Unknown
"I can honestly say that this is the longest it has taken me to respond to an email.  I have gone through many, many emotions from the first time I read it, until the 14th time I re-read it.  My first impression was one of division, impatience and fear.  I did not sleep much that first night.  I had a long, long conversation with our Lord in prayer and in his Word.  Each time I re-read the email, the qualities that I thought was originally conveyed, diminished.  Now, I see it as a plea of encouragement and challenge." - 55ish sister, life long member of the Church of Christ
"As I remember my own passion for the lawkeeping, I heard less, whether taught or not, of loving God and loving others. Focusing on lawkeeping kept me in fear of losing the love of God. So, as I walked in fear, I had little ability to love with the God kind of love. In fact, with the understanding I have today, I am amazed about my sons. As all of them know God in deeper ways than I did when I was "raising" them. I know God in deeper ways than my parents and grandparents. So, I am fully aware how much God keeps that which I have committed (myself and my children) unto Him." - 60ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"Somehow, you climbed inside my head and heart and wrote down my innermost thoughts and feelings in a most eloquent way." - 40ish brother, and member of the Church of Christ academic community
You put into words my thoughts. I love the church and I appreciate everyone in my background that taught me so much. I am especially grateful for those who taught me grace . I have a sign on my office doorway that says,"I AM STILL LEARNING". - 50ish minister of Church of Christ in the South
"Since I have emailed you I read all of your responses. That is incredible. I am so glad that you posted your article and the responses. I shared your blog with several friends and family and my brother in law wrote back and said that he is in tears over it. It really touched him in an area where he has been wrestling with God..My story… it is a fun one. Believe it or not, I have been baptized 28 times for religious reasons. The friend of mine that sent me your blog says that when I arrive in Heaven that Naaman will be presenting me a plaque." -
-- A brother, age unknown, member of the Church of Christ

"Wow! I thought I was the only one that felt that way. I am truly glad to see there are others that are having this same struggle. It has been hard being alone with these heavy concerns. I am in a very conservative congregation and sometimes feel like I am suffocating. However, I also feel great compassion for and responsibility to the members. I only wonder how long I can continue like this." - Anonymous

"Unlike most of your bloggers, my wife and I made a clean break from the church of Christ some 30 years ago when we discovered that arrogance was not one of the fruits of the Spirit.  Having been brought up in a church of Christ home and having attended two "Christian" colleges, I began to see through some of the prejudicial positions.  That made me question whether any of it was true.  With reference ONLY to the Scriptures, I reexamined one matter after another, and some of our conclusions were distressing.  We are living proof that there is life after death." --a 71-year-old Jesus freak

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Secret Life Feedback #9

More feedback from the blog/email entitled "Secret Life of Discipleship." Check out the various generations represented here...
I think I'll piece together two more sets of feedback, ending with an even eleven (smirk). I think I will use the next one to deal with my choice of using the word "Secret"...
I'm so grateful to all of your feedback...this whole little cyber-experience has been good for my heart. One friend of mine, after reading it, said he could see how the writing and sending of this is good "catharsis" for me...which is right. It has been. Thanks for going there with me...
"Despite being fourth generation church of Christ (3 of my grandparents were born into C of C families over 100 years ago) and attending C of C’s 3 time per week for my entire life I have grown to feel like an outsider. On a good day, I do not care that I am a misfit. On those days it is enough for me to be focused on Jesus and seek His glory. On other days, I walk in the flesh and I am wearied of constantly swimming upstream. I get tired of being that strange but harmless guy who is out of step with my brothers. My wife and I are strongly considering leaving the churches of Christ to experience aspects of the Christian faith that we have not explored in our fellowship.  We also realize that we will be leaving behind all of the strengths of our movement of which there are many. Please pray that God will speak clearly to us." -- 45ish brother
"How very encouraging to read all the feedback. I have made the decision to leave the Church of Christ after so many years of questioning and seeing no truth in so many of the answers I got. I knew that there was no truth in the answers as I found no peace in them. My heart aches at how many of us have missed and are missing so much of the life abundant Christ shed His blood to give us. I am ready to receive fully His right to give me all that He purchased for me with His blood. As all of those who have expressed resonance and support for your writings and their lives transform, our Lord is being glorified and held up through their lives so that the world will ask for the reason for their hope, and we they can answer with so much love, assurance, joy, and peace. It is my prayer that my Father will continue to heal all the pain I have experienced attempting to find peace in all the wrong places, and that He will return me to the Church of Christ fully healed and alive so that I might serve Him fully for the life I have left. So many thoughts in this "Secret Life" express so much of all I have needed to become free with the "peace and freedom that passes understanding."" -- 60ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"I grew up in the CoC and was fully indoctrinated into the legalistic mindset that you describe.  Rather than making me angry or confused, it basically made me callous.  I went through the motions but my spirit was sucked away and I was left with a legalistic shell of a faith.  I did the things I had to do on Sunday and went right back into the world the following morning.  Thanks be to God that I'm slowly turning back into something that might one day be recognizable as a Christian.  Finding like-minded people here in [my town] and now on Blogs like yours have started a slow trickle of the Spirit into a long-since dry well." - 34 year old brother, life long member of the Church of Christ
"When you spoke of being mentorless, this is how I have felt and am still feeling but I have decided I no longer want to merely pray just to have God answer them but to have a real and alive relationship with him. And thank you for drawing attention back to Christ where so many times we get distracted by the things pointing us to him.  I loved what you said about giving sacrificially at the risk of being called "bad stewardship".  I can remember hearing the sermon about "Good Stewardship" so many times growing up.  However I'm afraid that we have been hoarding the gifts from God under the label of being "Good Stewards."  And more and more I wonder if Jesus himself would have been labeled a Good Steward of money. I really don't get involved with church programs for many of the reasons you stated.  I really want to but I cannot find a place inside the church walls to have the "life-giving impact" on people. In fact I would say many of the deeply spiritual events in my life happened outside of the church building.  My friends and I started a home Bible Study to bring people in from the area who weren't really Followers.  As they began to become Christians, we had the problem of getting them involved in local Churches because no church seemed to fit them or were easy to get plugged into.  It seemed as if there were no place for them. I feel the same way about walking on egg shells with what we say.  Sometimes when I speak at places, I think to myself, "If they really knew what I believe would they let me be standing here on this stage?" Thank you.  It makes me happy and encourages me to see that people outside of my generation are seeing these things and wishing for something different.  I debate within myself to  leave and start something different or to stay and work with the people I love and care about for something more in line with Christ." - 21ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Secret Life Feedback #8

Some more feedback from the blog/email I wrote entitled, "My Secret Life of Discipleship". I had a good shepherd ask me why I was posting so much feedback. He said it's starting to sound redundant...that the point has been made...and he is probably right if the point is the CONTENT of the essay.
But now, the point of all the feedback I am getting is the AMOUNT of people who resonate with the content of the essay. That is why I'm still posting.
I guess that will help me to think about stopping, but I want everyone to get a taste of the overwhelming response I got to this post. And the wide array of ages/personalities that identify with it (although most of the posts below are in the 35-45 age range).
I haven't posted a fraction of the feedback I've received.
What am I to learn from this? What are we to learn from this?
I'll have to post a few more...

"Wow….I wonder if you were looking inside my head when you wrote this.  I struggle with this stuff word for word in some cases.  I always use this passage (Ephesians 4:2,3) as a reason not to change so that I don’t upset people, but I think it is more of an excuse not to boldly follow Christ and therefore not cut the strings that keep me attached. Now that I read it in context, verse 1 says to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, and I think I am sacrificing that to satisfy verse 2 and 3. It is something I struggle with and I don’t have the answers.  For now, like you, I will continue to pray and seek God more and more each day striving to imitate Christ and share His love with others one day at a time.  Thanks for your encouraging words.  It is nice to know that others feel the same as I do.  I think I am going to go spend some time in prayer now just for some good God-Contact." - 35ish youth minister, life-long member of the Church of Christ

"I have felt much the same way for years but was not sure really how to deal with these emotions or if they are valid enough to be concerned about.  I was baptized when I was 9 yrs old and felt like I have done all the "right" things.  A few years ago after getting married and starting on that journey we call adulthood, I began to wonder "Is this all there is to the Christian life?"  Go to church on Sunday and Wed, sing some songs, pray, communion, listen to the preacher, go home, sometimes have a fellowship dinner, gospel meeting once, or twice a year if we were really about God's business, but very seldom ever talked Jesus outside the walls of the "Sanctuary"  How much we were missing. I feel sometimes that I am a beginner Christian again.  Past the milk stage and now ready for the Meat when I thought I had been a Meateater for years.  Guess it was just oatmeal.  It has become easier to at least "talk Jesus" when I am about among peers.  I always had the feeling that if I ever mentioned the Good News that I would be looked at as being Holier than thou because I was a "Church of Christer" and we have always thought we were "Right".  I have found that some of my Methodist friends are not so different in their goals as we are with ours and in some respects seem to be ahead me.  I have had some really good conversations with them that I never had with friends "in the Church".  What a sad confession. Do you mind if I share your article with some family members of mine?  I know some are in the same boat but are not sure how to exactly deal with some of this." - 40ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ

"I could resonate to some of those situations, thoughts or ideas, and feelings.  You mentioned about (loving) “dialogue”, which is more humane than having a discussion.  Dialogue is more of the “heart” without bypassing the mind than just mere discussion, which has the tendency to more rational and usually stays on the “mind level”. Your words are always “of Christ”.  That’s really wonderful. Again, religion is not an issue but of faith. I like your words saying that less educated members or people are more devoted to the Divine Mater than some who have a Masters of Divinity.  It is ironic sometimes that we can be a “fan” of Christ instead of being or becoming a “follower” of Christ.  We can say a lot of things or ideas “about” Christ especially who have gone for further studies but sans the theological studies cannot ignore the “real or actual” experience “of” God.  However, there is always a desire that a theology from above could meet with a theology from below.  It is my ardent desire, too, that we can see both Christ as God (the Theology from above) and Christ as human who is also God (the theology from below) and so he is fully divine and fully human. Please, never lose that sight and your steadfast love for your Church and be the Church you pray to be, that is, “of Christ”. Let us always abide in the love and care of God." - 40ish Monk friend of mine, from the Philippines, who resides at "Christ in the Desert Monastery", where I spent 3 days last August.


"I'm pretty convinced that legalism is not unique to 'our' movement and seems to be a vulnerability to most who follow Christ. It is much easier-and probably more immediately affirming-to align yourself with a set of rules than put your full weight on Jesus. More than anything else my tendency to find the easy way, 'play the system', and just generally be lazy, lends itself to the least resistant, less thoughtful less faith-full, path of legalism. Your writing  and the Spirit has stoked alot within me." - 40ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ


I am a along time member on the Church of Christ. I was absent for a long time (15 yrs or so) and the reasons I stayed gone so long were a lot of the same ones you have listed here. I know that it was not right, but I let my pride and belief that I was right keep me away. It truly seems that you have jumped into my head and pulled out all of my buried thoughts. However, I have found myself going too far, often by bashing as hard against them as I felt they were bashing me and my beliefs. This too is wrong, as you have pointed out... I love this church and I love the Lord our God." - 45ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ


"I just wanted to take a minute to say that you did a fantastic job of summing up what so many of us are feeling.  As someone who is often called upon to write things to express group consensus, I found myself constantly wishing that I'd written what I was reading, and grateful that you'd summed it up so well." -- 25ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ

Monday, December 04, 2006

Secret Life Feedback #7

Here is another piece of feedback I received from my blog/email entitled "My Secret Life of Discipleship." I'm only attaching one, because it has become special to me. For the following reasons:

1) My essay made him feel judged and unaccepted. And he was fearful it made others that he loves feel judged and unaccepted, too (including our Church of Christ heritage).
2) His response made me feel judged and unaccepted. And I was fearful it would make others that I love feel judged and unaccepted, too (including many who want to stay in the Church of Christ heritage without being bound to certain beliefs unnecessarily).
4) We both want the same things, but couldn't recognize it in each other without connecting relationally, speaking courageously and listening graciously.
5) represents what I want to happen for all of us. We came together, found our common ground in Christ, and then addressed our meanings, motives, differences, and perceptions in an agreed upon safety. We didn't have to "win an argument" or "prove a point". We didn't have to agree upon every thing we dealt with (although we may have both been surprised at how much agreement we found). We told the truth with a healthy expectation that when Christ says, "the truth will set you free," that it may actually do so.

"[I wonder if] because of a bad experience in a church (in your past), some type of baggage, wound, or otherwise, you have developed an agenda to change your now present church, or split it trying. Although I didn’t want to believe it, there is a secret (your words) inner circle, an elite group, that have all been wounded as well, that have taken it upon themselves to either a) make other members conform to their ideas, or b) run them off. Is this letter promoting unity or division? Does it bring generations together or separate them even further? I resent the implication of higher understanding. My grandfather was a gospel preacher for over 60 years. He shared that gospel with thousands of people and converted hundreds to Christ. He worked with several churches over the course of his ministry. I assure you, he did not get along with everybody. He did not agree with everybody. He ministered through tragedies, discord, and church splits. I have never disagreed with the restoration of discipleship, becoming more like Christ, or any of your other teachings. The only thing I have ever questioned is the motives behind the teaching. If it is, in fact, because we want and need a deeper relationship with the Son and the Father, and the Spirit, I am completely sold out to it. However, if the motives behind the teachings stem from a rebellious spirit against the church of the past, I will have to stand up and speak against it. This letter makes me question your motives. And I don’t want to!!!! I want to be more like Christ. I want to show that to my sons. I want to be filled with the Spirit. I have no bad experiences growing up in the church. I have no wounds that I have had to overcome. I fondly remember people who, although they were not perfect, they loved one another and loved other people. They loved me and wanted to see me grow in Spirit and in Truth. I would never defend the past mistakes of the church, but I have no interest in beating up grave stones! But this letter leads me to feel distrusted and not fellowshipped by your “group”, whoever that may be." -- 30ish brother, life-long member of the Church of Christ

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Secret Life" Feedback #6

More feedback from "Secret Life of Discipleship" essay. The last entry below speaks a little more positively of me than I deserve, but this particular older sister's motherly love for me, despite my obvious short-comings and flaws, feels so consistently like Christ's love for me, that I couldn't bear to leave that part of her heart out of it. She is one of those that I can say, "God let me imitate her towards others as she imitates Christ in her actions and attitudes towards me." So sorry if by leaving them in I sound like a blatant self-promoter...
And let me affirm/confess a few things...
(1) I love the Church of Christ. And I love Church of Christ people. And I am one of them (us). And I don't need them (us) to change at all, not one step further into the image of Christ.
(2) I love the Church of Christ. And I love Church of Christ people. And I am one of them (us). And I want them (us) to change constantly, always a baby step further into the image of Christ.
(3) I don't need people to accept me and my convictions, beliefs, doubts, fears, and mistakes in order for me to live a life of following Christ openly and honestly in front of all men (and neither do you).
(4) I really want to be accepted with my convictions, beliefs, doubts, fears and mistakes in order for me to live a life of following Christ openly and honestly in front of all men (and don't you?).
Trying to Follow at His heels, and trying to love it...Brian
"I for one can give an heartfelt "Amen" to your plea.   It has been many, many years since I have been a "Church of Christ" Christian.  I no longer feel the loyalty you feel to our historical heritage.  I appreciate and am thankful for my heritage, and greatly value many of the influences it has had in my own spiritual formation, but consider myself simply a Christian who has been planted by my Father within the Churches of Christ.  Should He ever call me out, I am gone.  But so far He seems to securely have placed me here to live out my discipleship in this fellowship." - 65ish sister, lifelong member of the Church of Christ
"Brian, you know me, and you know where I go to church. It's the same old Church of Christ you remember. I am the full-time song leader, and I preach occasionally. But I feel trapped. I know that people are supposed to be baptized, and I believe a cappella singing is preferable to the garage band/worship band scenario. But it's seems so clear to me that we have missed the mark by allowing these issues to define who we are. I'm tired of the us-and-them mentality. Do we really believe someone is lost because they have a guitar in their church? Was the Lake of Fire prepared for people who only take communion four times a year? Seriously? I was recently studying about the Mennonites because I work with one at the hospital. There are dozens of factions within that church. The most conservative branch is the Old Order Mennonites, who still use horses and buggies. This branch--and several other branches, respectively--claim they are "the one true church" on this earth. Now get this: the Old Order Mennonites have about 500 members. So they truly, sincerely believe that the Lord's one Church on Planet Earth has dwindled down to a remnant of 500 people. If that were true, would not the devil have won after all? What more could Satan possible want than to have whittled down God's people to a measly 500, driving horse-drawn carriages? But is the mainline Church of Christ's claim any less ludicrous? We have not heeded the Master's warning to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees." But meanwhile I have an obligation to keep showing up at that little church of 40 people (on a good Sunday), and keep on leading 2 songs and a prayer. I don't know what to do. If I stood up there and said what I truly believed, it would be that last time I stood up there. And yet I'm not willing to rush headlong into these other churches with their speaking in tongues and anything-goes mentality either. I know we are not alone, but everyone's afraid to speak out. It's like were part of an underground society. It's almost like being gay. Well, I don't know what good it has done, but it was good to vent." - an old High School Summer Camp buddy of mine, 35ish, life-long member of the Church of Christ, who still worships/serves where I joined him while at college
"I was struggling with why you needed to write the email. I was asking God, "Is he discouraged? Is he seeing a lack of growth at S.W? Is he giving up on S.W. and the Churches of Christ? Is he just focused on the "sins" of the Churches of Christ? Is his focus on the branches and what they are not?" Does this sound like a mother, worrying about her son? But at the end of all these questions and much prayer, the next morning the Lord brought in my heart this: I knew the deepest desire of your heart, is for us to know Christ and be like Him. The morning after I read your email, the Daily Bible reading was John 15 on Jesus being the true vine. It is such a powerful illustration of what we are in Christ and how He nurtures us, prunes us, strengthens us and in so doing allows us to bear much fruit. Because of His love for you, and yours for Him, Jesus is pruning you, and your pruning is to be patient and to love the others who are not able to accept His trueness in their lives at this moment. S.W. is being pruned also. I have prayed so many times, "Father bless those who leave S.W., but bring those who need to hear this wonderful message and way of life so we can be a light to other churches who are searching for a truer way." So many churches of Christ today are thinking so shallow and saying if we just change the service, we will solve our problems. What you are teaching is our lives are not bound up in the one hour service on Sunday. That is not our true vine, for only Jesus is our true vine. It is an important part of our lives, but only Jesus gives us life. You have taught and teach in your life every day, to be the true church you must get our fullness from Jesus and in so doing we will lift Jesus up and draw others to Him. That is our commission, that will build the body of Christ at S.W and all over the world. We are His family. Let's you and I pray Paul's prayers for the S.W. church next year, and in so doing have great faith, He is going to do far more than we ask or think and know God will form Christ in us. God has brought you to S.W. to share this trueness of being His disciple. There are so many that long for that. Your example and S.W's example can go all over the brotherhood, and just through the foreign mission points at S.W. it can go quickly to Africa, Brazil, Australia and Mexico. The Line of Departure can reach so many here in the States and already is starting that way. Don't be discouraged if you are, God is working mightily. You told me at the coffee shop about a man who wrote about the future of the churches of Christ, and you said you can finish the book. I pray you will one day write that book and it will show that even the churches of Christ when it is connected back to the true vine can grow and produce much fruit to the glory of Jesus. May I end with John 15:9-12 - "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remained in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." May we do that at S.W. and truly we will be His disciples and realize He can do more than we ask or think. We will believe He can do that through our great love for Him and each other. You have come to show us and teach us, and you have done and are doing that so wonderfully. I love you dearly." - a 60ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Secret Life" Feedback #5

More feedback from the piece I sent out called "My Secret Life of Discipleship". The long awaited (by some) "negative" feedback begins in this one (3rd quote down)...but I prefer to call it "challenging feedback" rather than negative. Because all of us want the exact same be closer to God and to help others be closer to God...and to understand one another in ever-increasing measure...for our good and God's glory.
"When will we realize that God has never so much expected us to be correct in everything (as if we ever can), as to believe Him, to trust Him, to want Him above all else?  Is the church as we see it today anything at all like the church we see in Acts?  Not even close!  Are disciples of today mirrors of their Master and Lord of the Gospels?  Well, I can speak for myself and say that although I long to so very much like Jesus, it is not hard to recognize that I'm not even close either.  But I do know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I've committed to Him (myself)." - 65ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"Your article said so many of the things I have been struggling with over the past few months/years. I, too, like some of the others have considered changing churches to find one that more closely resembles my heart's desire. But I also sense God telling me to stay and work for change...if we all left, would it be better? I'm not sure. But, anyway, thanks." - a late 20's member of the Church of Christ...seeking Him more than ever before
"We broke away from a congregation years ago that was judging, comparing and accusing others in the 'church' but it was in the opposite direction of what your article described!!!!! In my opinion, what you have described is about as far to the extreme as our "legalists" brethren. The article seems to imply that the Bible is OK or has had it's place but all that is needed is to love everybody and guard against residual teaching that resembles anything legalistic whatsoever and are preparing to help our kids unlearn it....exactly what is residual teaching?  Everything in the Bible better be taught, caught and learned --- EVERYTHING!  Anyone who tries to pick and choose what fits them is treading on very thin ice.  I truly believe the 'extremes' are both wrong---yet both need to be taught from the pulpit and are necessary for total knowledge, comprehension and understanding of God's teachings.  Go too far in either direction, you not only lose sight of the other or begin to condemn/judge the other, but you have then established new standards/values/morals/expectations that are outside God's presentation of the complete Gospel!  That's when someone better stand up and remind both extremes that our awesome, powerful God is also a God of wrath and the final Word will be His.  The one-on-one---very personal and intimate love relationship with God is essential for salvation, but equally essential is a clear understanding of His ways and His laws.  Call it 'legalist' if you will, but everyone better understand it and be obeying it DAILY.  Why else would we have LAWS!!!!!  How would one know they were living sin were it not for the LAW!  We need to strive to follow the laws/rules/ examples God set before us on how to conduct our daily lives ---- and to love others and put their needs before our own.  I do believe there is a Pattern for the church and I believe we are going to be held accountable for following it....My fear is that the next generation will never hear the rules/laws-------just like a lot in the previous generation never heard about the Christ-like love that is a MUST.  Where's the middle, Brian.  Where is the compromise of the extremes?  It's in the Word.  It must all be taught, analyzed and followed.  ALL OF IT!  I will see to it that my grandchildren hear it ALL.  I pray that the Gospel is kept pure for the generations to come." - 60ish sister, life-long member of the Church of Christ
"I just got around to reading your longer thoughts on "The Church".  Just know our staff is committed to the exact same thing. The most amazing thing is how open our church is to exploring the life of Christ with the intent to imitate what we find.  My prayer is God will lead all of us to a Christ centered ministry where He is the only factor of relevance!  Not the sign on our building, where and what we have our education in, over analyzed word study that most were limited in their understanding to start, I'll just stop the list of unnecessaries there.  Sign me up!  I'm with ya." - 30ish preacher of a Church of Christ in Oklahoma

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I saw Christ tonight.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.''" - Jesus Christ, in Matthew 25
I saw Christ tonight.
I really, really needed to, too. It's been a while since I saw him like I did tonight. It was really good to see him.
I started when I went running.
I picked up my copy of "Practicing the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence on the way out, flipped it open (knowing that every sentence of that ancient little book is packed with inspiring truth), and said, "Father, give me a thought to meditate on from your boy Lawrence while I run."
I read this from his Fourth Letter: "Gradually train yourself to show your love for Him by asking for His grace. Don't restrict your love of Him with rules and special devotions. Go out in faith, with love and humility."
The first sentence stayed in my mind. I decided to contemplate and practice that while I ran. I found myself running up to the local hospital. A sweet lady that I worship with here in Amarillo had called and told my wife that her husband was there because of a stroke or something.
It was a weird route. No running trails. Crossed an Interstate highway. Ran across feeder roads, under underpasses and stuff. It was cool. And as I went, I kept simply asking God for His grace, whenever I remembered to, feeling quite a sense of "That is a good, simple, "enough" kind of prayer!" while I did.
I went into the hospital looking pretty scummy, not knowing if I could even find out what room my buddy Robert was in it being so late. I also wondered if anyone would believe me if I told them that I was his preacher (not that that would be an unusual situation for me :-)). The hospital was abandoned, seemed like, but I picked up a phone and they told where he was on the 6th floor.
I went in, Robert was awake (thankfully), and I caught him just as he was making a funny comment, out loud, to himself, about what he just saw some idiot do on TV. With smiles and warm mutual greetings, I pulled up a chair, and we sat together.
We talked of several things...what landed him here in the hospital this time, how he missed being at church services yesterday morning, the learning he was doing from a wonderful woman named Georgia (I think) who serves as a Chaplain for the hospital (so does Robert), a little bit about Robert's growing up in the family he grew up in and the effect it has had on him to this day, some confession...among other things. It was awesome being with him there.
And it was during this that it happened.
I don't remember at what point, but while I was listening to Robert talk, I woke up to what (or who) I was talking to. I was talking to Christ. In a flash, I suddenly realized that I was speaking to Christ. It was indescribable. I don't know if Robert noticed the eye-opening in me, but I engaged a little more deeply, sat up in my chair a little more attentively, listened a little more intently...and sure was Christ. Right there in that hospital bed. The story Jesus told in Matthew 25 (written above) started ringing in my head (okay, so I was doing a combination of "looking after the sick" and "visiting a prison" by "visiting the sick"...but I think it still counted). I was caring for Christ tonight. There he was.
Now, I see Christ all over Robert and Evelyn. Always have. Their humility, their faith, their loving marriage, their care for Evelyn's cool special needs brother Claude (talk about seeing Christ, by the way!), their hope...I've always "seen Christ" in them since I moved to this place. Robert and Evelyn were one of the first couples to take me and Carrie out to dinner to welcome "the new preacher" to town 2 1/2 years ago at the Golden Corral (and they really splurged and sacrificed to do it). They have always exuded Christ.
But how do I explain that tonight was different? I was sitting with Jesus Christ! I had the honor and privilege of running up to the hospital and visit with and listen to and care for Christ. It was surreal, really, I won't describe it well just felt like heaven opened up and dished out something beautiful and royal for me tonight...the best word for it might be, well...grace.
So I then prayed for Robert (as if I was praying for a sick Christ). Then I told Robert as I was leaving that I love him so much (as if I was telling Jesus Christ). Then I told him that I see Jesus in him, knowing that he wasn't going to grasp the scope of my experience tonight.
Then the Father pulled out all the stops, though I wouldn't realize it at first. Upon my saying that I saw Christ in him, Robert looked over at me, shook his head with gratitude and with such sincerity said the greatest words that any human being could ever gift me with...words that contain the entire desire and dream of my life. He said, "I see Christ in you, Brian."  
I blew it off, of course. I was outwardly grateful and appropriately humble, but inwardly unaccepting of such a lofty comment. Until I was running home.
As I was going under the Interstate on Coulter, it was dark and after 10:00, I decided to climb up the cement slope that led up to the bottom of the freeway. I found that there is a perfect spot up there to sit or lie down, like I've seen countless homeless dudes do down in Houston's inner-city (I'm a freak, I know, but I wanted to try it out). While there, with dozens of cars passing just yards away, oblivious to my presence, and hundreds more cruising over me...I reflected...and it hit me.
I heard the words, "He wasn't talking to you, Brian."
Robert wasn't speaking praise to Brian. The words of gratitude and love and appreciation, the confession and story-telling he was doing, all of it...he wasn't talking to me! Dude, I've known this, read this, acknowledged this, even taught this a million times before...but it was like it was brand new, or at a brand new level. It's like God chose this day for me to realize a little bit more that Christ is in the Father, and I am in Christ, and that CHRIST IS IN ME. Robert was talking to Christ! I was seeing Jesus me! And to cement the experience, God reminded me of some more words of my Master, when he said to some other disciples of his...   

"On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." - Jesus Christ, in John 14
I'm just going to enjoy this for a minute, because I know I will be distracted from this truth any moment and forget it's riches most of the rest of my life, needing to taught all over again, for there is much in the world that is set against a man remembering it, so bear with me: Christ is in me. Christ is in me. Christ is in me.
Dude, if it is true, and it is, then the Father has issued forth...grace.
I'm praying that prayer a little more often, doggone it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Secret Life" Feedback #4

Some more feedback from my email/blog entitled "My Secret Life of Discipleship". I was asked, once again, if I would post any negative feedback. And the answer is yes, I will. I am posting selections of people's feedback in the order that it has come to me. And up to and including my assembly of this series of comments, I had nothing "negative" returned to me.


That, mind you, is not because the writing was perfect, or because it resonates with all people. It is because this email list is read by those who have volunteered to do so. By nature, people who choose to read someone's blog or join their personal email list volunteer because they want to hear that someone's uncensored thoughts/journey.


That may be why it took a few days to get anything resembling "negative" or "critical" (which, up to this point, there have been 3...all full of love and an honest effort at 'trying to understand'). I have heard this email/blog is being forwarded around, and that may instigate some more instructive/challenging feedback for my consideration from less sympathetic audiences, which I welcome.


Already, the 3 notes have been good for me to consider, and have influenced my thoughts in constructive ways. In the meantime... 


"Thank you for putting into words the thoughts and feelings of so many in our fellowship. I believe you have expressed where and who we are... at least some of us...Thank you." - A preacher in Chattanooga, TN

"I think I agree with all of what you say but am not as confident in some of the areas you talked about yet simply due to fear of maybe being wrong or the fear of ostracism. I am encouraged that we will soon be on our way to freedom.  My wife and I have actually thought about attending Trinity on Friday’s to get more of what we are not getting at Southwest.  Not that you won’t give it but at this point can’t.  I don’t care about the doctrinal differences of Trinity, [because]if you know any of them, they are contagious Christians.  I can tell people I have talked to for less than five minutes that they attend Trinity due to something in their spirit.  It is a shame we do not have that but I think we are moving that way. Dude, don’t quit, you are not alone. I think you will find a lot of secret disciples who are fearful like me of being shunned and when given the opportunity to agree in safety they will. Also, you will find a lot of people wanting to believe the way you do and they only need be lead." - 40ish father and life long member of the Church of Christ


"I cried as I read much of it—my spirit was there in the words . . .Thank you." - 30ish Church of Christ minister's wife


"Wow, heavy stuff.  We have been going through Luke in the teen class on Wed. night.  It struck me how the Pharisees were so focused on being right that they did not see Jesus for who he was.  They would just get mad and plot ways to get him.  It seems our fellowship has done that in the past and continuing to do it.  We get so wrap up in how we are right about certain things we are myopic about loving others.  You once mentioned how all "commandments" are subservient to loving God and loving your neighbor.  No wonder Jesus put it out there like that.  He saw firsthand how legalistic humans can get in the Pharisees. Your last couple paragraphs were powerful.  How do I get there?  How do I take others with me?  How do we change years and years of doing things one way?  It seems overwhelming." - 36 year old college friend of mine, life long member of the Church of Christ


"Lately, I have felt discouraged by fellow Believers in the Church of Christ because of their lack of desire to really follow the living Word opposed to just having "good doctrine"...and this partially from an elder at my church. But as I read today, I sense discouragement/frustration from you as well.  But your discouragement has been my encouragement!...knowing you are struggling with the same concerns I have actually validates my concerns for the Church [that I want to be] of Christ." - 25ish young married friend, life long member of the Church of Christ




"I just wanted to thank you for your words and let you know a little of why they meant a lot to my wife and I. I also forwarded it to my mom and I can already see her head nodding up and down with the arched teacher's eyebrow as she's reading it (another example of small town breeding: she taught 4th grade in the same ROOM that she took the 4th grade) and muttering "amen brother" under her breath. As I've pondered the difference between the "new guard" and "old guard" over the years, a couple of things have occurred to me. One, is that while I am pretty sure both camps are gonna get to the golden pavement, it seems that the new guard is going to have a lot more fun getting there. I kind of liken the old guard to an experience my dad's mom had once. She had to get a root canal, but brother she wasn't going to subject HER temple of the Lord to any of the devil's evil drugs. So, she declined painkillers and practically broke the arms of the dentist chair squeezing them as the poor dentist did his work (at the end, he said he'd never again perform the procedure without anesthetics). It seems that the old way is just trying to hang on and grit their teeth to get through life. I don't think God meant for it to be that way." - 27ish brother, life long member of the Church of Christ who married a student and friend from my other life as a youth minister (great days!)


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Secret Life" Feedback #3

Just got some challenging and insightful feedback this morning...and will sift through it over thanksgiving...but here one of 2 more feedback emails that I have already assembled from last week from my email/blog entitled "My Secret Life of Discipleship". And just to exhibit someone else's need to "find other's" who are feeling this way, I'll start with this one...
"It is very nice (and yet scary) to know there is someone out there who is thinking like me. And I am glad you could make sense of my email. I re-read it this morning and wondered if it would be possible. Thank you for being there as well. You are in my prayers, brother." - a sister who feels like I do about all this feedback 
"I feel like this paragraph describes me completely. I am on both sides of every issue. I sit down with the desire to find rich truths differently than before, but I always revert back to my old ways. What I believed was truth, I am no longer sure is truth. I love the church I grew up in, but I don't want to be that church anymore. At this point, I am not sure I have any non-negotiables in terms of worship at this point (if I can even define what worship is anymore). I[ing] myself openly and yet at the same time, I want things to change drastically. I wonder how long I can live in this "co-existence" within myself and since I am so conflicted, forget about talking about myself. I feel somewhat stupid because there is a part of me that really believes after growing up in a church of Christ home, at a church of Christ school (4-12th grade), going to a church of Christ University, participating in numerous mission trips and being a baptized follower for 15 years I should not be this conflicted. There is part of me that desperately wants to delete your emails everytime I see them because I know they are going to push me further than I want to go (I have seriously closed your emails numerous times before actually reading them all the way through. And I have found myself checking the blog sight to read and re-read everything you say). So many Sundays and Wednesdays, I would prefer to completely check out of your sermons and ignore everything you and Doyle are saying and doing. I have no desire at all the leave Southwest, just a desire to be untouched and left alone. And yet, I can't. I can't because I see how different thing can be and should be and will be. I want to be a part of that. I want to jump off the cliff with all the confidence and faith in the world and see what happens. I want to know that I am serving the King as a response to his grace and not out of duty or guilt. I want to know Him more." - a 30ish sister life-long member of the Church of Christ
"My spiritual growth is nobody else's responsibility but mine. Having said that - where my leaders and teachers have failed me is in not teaching me HOW to take personal responsibility. They have failed me by refusing to disciple me (even when I've asked for it). To my leaders and teachers great shame, the "how-to's" of spiritual growth is something I've had to discover on my own. Just like how to witness effectively to the lost or how to live in community with other believers....and many other basic tenants of biblical Christianity. Without malice or anger I say that I've not been equipped by teachers or leaders within the institution to do much more that sit on a pew. Fortunately God is breaking through the intellectual fortress that is most Churches of Christ and He's finding obedient servants who are willing to step out in faith and be led by His Spirit rather than their own intellect. He's finding surrendered hearts who are truly seeking Him and truly desiring to live life to the full..." - 36ish father, married into the Church of Christ, converted from a deucedly worldly and evil lifestyle
"Because I have been out of the movement of churches of Christ for a few years and in our cousin branch of the Christian Churches I have a keener...more keen?...appreciation of my heritage and teachings on repentance and baptism as there is more of a vacuum on the topic over here. I agree there have been some imbalances over the years...partly because a majority of churches don't teach it as the bible does and we've reacted to that and headed to the other end of the scale - thus an imbalance." -40ish old college buddy, life-long member of Church of Christ except (obviously) for the last few years
"I was one of those kids that questioned why we didn't use instruments and asked very learned men, and after listening to their historical explanations, came away unconvinced, empty and unsure why in the world it was such a fellowship breaking deal!" - 40ish sister and life long member of the Church of Christ