Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Word's Desperate Need for "Believers"

"Many of us would like the world to change, but we don't want to endure the trouble of helping make it happen." - Arnold Mindell, in his book Sitting in the Fire

"The various levels of problems and issues are interwoven, so that solving any one of them without simultaneously addressing the others rarely works for long." - Arnold Mindell

"Structural work is only a bandage unless feelings have been healed." - Arnold Mindell

The truth in the last two quotes above oftentimes make me experience the truth of the first one.

The real and truly life transforming work of Christ is long and hard work. It demands a calling forth of the whole person without reservation to participate in it. Yet so many of us are only willing to give portions of our selves to any kind of work, that we end up spending our lives doing things that are far from transforming.

How can we feel okay about this? Well, we have (at least) 3 choices...2 bad, 1 good:

Bad Choice #1 - We spend our lives not feeling okay about this, but do nothing about it, deciding that "feeling okay" isn't attainable for us or worth the trouble. This, ironically, helps us feel okay about this.

Bad Choice #2: We judge that "transformation" is something that is unattainable, or not our business, or un-measurable...and therefore an idealistic goal that we can't rationally and logically shoot for in any practical way. And so we make up that a much lesser goal is worthy of our pursuit, and then we put another word to it: "Successful". With this impressive, powerful word packed with lesser, attainable goals, we can then live a life of ease and "part-time-ness" and still feel okay...because we are "successful".

These lesser goals have to do with superficial things like the amount of money I make (or give away), the number of people showing up, the amount of time I spend working, the "win-loss" columns, the popularity I seem to have, the amount of encouragement I receive, the lack of critical feedback, etc... These much easier, more attainable, more (presumably) measurable things become our life's work. All of these things can be accomplished without transforming anyone (primarily oneself). So it is win/win: I get to feel "successful", and I can do so without giving my whole self.

The Good Choice: Both the bad choices above are the same in that they decide to "feel alive" by lowering their standards of what makes them "feel alive". The only way to make the human spirit's engine "hum" like it is designed to is to lay it all out for the belief that transformation is possible. And that the work of transformation, no matter how hard, no matter how long, no matter how hard it is to measure, no matter how impossible it appears to be...IS possible and the only pursuit worth any effort.

You ever heard the phrase, "Hurting people, hurt people"?

Well...Transforming people, transform people.

Transforming people believe in people, because they know themselves and the revolutions that take place in their own lives. Transforming people know how to measure transformation as a real and practical goal worth pursuing. Transforming people find out how the hard work of transformation isn't quite as hard as it appeared, nor does it take quite as long as expected.

Transforming people are very impractical people to those who have lowered their standards and called something lesser "success".

I admit that living a life of transformation, attempting to make the work of your life the transformation of others, is noble and lofty. I admit that it is hardER to measure than other objective things...but I do not concede that these things make transformation either too high to live out, or impractical to shoot for. It just requires belief. Which Jesus says is the work of God (John 6:29).

I think that is why those of us who shoot for the stars, sights set on lives of transformation of lives, are often referred to as "Believers".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Australia is Changing in my Basement

“The message you preach about commitment to our Lord and all the cost that goes with it is not a peaceful message to the ears of the uncommitted who want to rest and enjoy this world. But hearts and souls among the believing as well as the unbelieving are hungry for the commitment you speak of. Ask Him to turn off all the voices but His.” – My Mom, 2 years ago


"This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations." - Jesus Christ,  2000 years ago

I write today because I am weak. I need to see people's hearts coming alive, for some reason, for mine to stay alive. Like an immature kid who will quit something at the drop of a hat if he doesn't get constant enticements and rewards and cheers from "dad" for performing, I confess that if I didn't have a steady dose of "life from death" happening around me in a way that I can see it, I wonder if I would have the strength and perseverance to keep going.


But, praise God, He entices me regularly.


I have a guest in my house today named Drew. He is from Australia. He attends a church of 30 people in a Queensland town about the size of my town in Texas. He is in the 6th month of a 9 month journey, visiting churches and lectureships in order to be inspired for how he can be an effective part of "transitioning" his beloved fellowship over there a little bit more into the image of Christ.


He heard me speak at Harding's Lectureship a few weeks ago, where I spoke about my obsession with Christ, and the hunger and thirst for Christ at the Southwest Church of Christ, and he asked to come visit group of people in Amarillo. Now he is here.


He experienced our worship service Sunday morning, a small group meeting Sunday night, and the Palo Duro Canyon today with my two youngest kids and myself. He's not sleeping well, he informed my wife and I today, because his mind is running and running and he can't stop it. He's will be going home in January, he says, and with the end nearing, he is longing for a plan upon his return home. In addition to the clock ticking, he has experienced so much in his travels. So at night when he attempts to sleep in my basement, mind racing, he gets up with Bible, journal, and pencil in hand, to think, study, plan, and remember.


I didn't preach, really, yesterday at the Southwest church. Six friends of mine did. They spoke of how getting into deeper, unmasked, unguarded friendship with each other has gotten them into deeper, unmasked, unguarded friendship with God, and that it has literally changed (saved?) their lives. If you want to hear them, it will cost you 15 minutes at Prepare might find yourself jealous of the friendships these guys have found with each other.


And rightly so...for you were made to have them.


My new friend Drew was only one of hundreds present in Searcy when I had the incredible privilege of speaking about Christ. I know for a fact that the message of commitment to Christ that I preached created various responses. Some defensive, some agreeable, some neutral, some apathetic. But for at least one, it stirred up an audacious, bold request..."Can I come and meet these people who love Christ so much that you speak of?" And now he has met them, and he sits awake in my basement being inspired by God's Spirit to write down how to join God in instigating a hunger for Christ in his brothers and sisters, and beyond, back home. 


I just have to pause as I imagine it: My basement has become a sacred cathedral during the nights while I sleep. When the lights go out, God gets Drew up and works and is active and is strategizing on yet-another-master-move in His Grand Scheme of breaking into the world with His Son's Kingdom.


The far-off nation of Australia is being changed a little bit more into the image of Christ in my basement this part, because my friends who help me be more like Christ preached this past Sunday, using their own lives as God's "props" to show off how great He is, allowing me to preach about it 500 miles east of here in our own nation.


We are blessed. Very, very blessed.


May God bless Drew, for He has blessed me today through Drew.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ready for Anything

"If your mind is clear and free from clutter, it is always ready for anything, which keeps it open to everything good." -- Sogyal Rinpoche

"For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything." -- James 1:3-4

I must admit that I am not usually ready for anything. But I want to be.

When I embrace the "testing of my faith", rather than run from it, whine about it, roll my eyes at it, wait it out, or "get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible", I find that the testing of my faith IS my life and it is increasing my capacity to experience life, which is what James means by having my "endurance fully developed".

You know, it is so much work to swim against a river, or even to cross a river, than it is to dive headlong into it and let it take you where it's going to take'd think more people would just love the news that they can just "surrender and be" and they will end up where they are supposed to go.

And I am not talking about surrendering to the notorious "path of least resistance". I am talking about surrendering to the "powerful surge" of the Holy Spirit of God. Which is always, always, always bidding you to come.

In the old movie, A River Runs Through It, the McLain brothers worked themselves and their 3 buddies up into a frenzy about spontaneously stealing a neighbors boat in order to go down to the river, get in, and conquer the infamous rapids that no one has ever attempted. They spoke with stars in their eyes about how famous the 5 of them would be if they did it and survived. It was enough for them all to go play a part in stealing the boat, driving to the river, unloading the boat, and hauling it all the way down to the river bank. But then they took another glance at the rapids and rocks and waterfalls...

It was enough to make them all pause and reconsider. Forget the stories that would be told if they survived, forget the glory of having attained such a feat, forget all the work invested up to this point...they couldn't look at the risk and get in the water. Truth be told, they wanted to talk and act "as if" they wanted to do it, without actually doing it. They liked the appearance of being ready for anything, but weren't actually so.

Three of them decided it wiser to stay out of the water. The McLain brothers, however, looked at each other and found the mutual courage to get in the boat . By doing so, they surrendered their fates to the powerful surge of the river.

Some of you will need to exit the analogy right here, because you will not be able to get past the ultimate meaninglessness of risking your life physically for such a silly thing as going down the rapids of a river when it is dangerous to do so. And that is sincerely okay, because ultimately, you are right.

It is the inner capacity to willingly face your fears on meaningful and worthy endeavors that I am trying to talk about. You are, in every single moment of your life, on the shore of some great, meaningful, and worthy endeavor that can not be undertaken unless you are willing, like the McLain brothers, to face the danger and the fears, and surrender to the current of God's Spirit, come what may.

When was the last time you did that?

I would suggest, that the last time you did that, you felt the same as those McLain boys did on that river...afraid, exhilarated, out-of-control-with-no-one-to-blame-for-it-but-yourself, anticipating, focused, consumed...I bet you were fully engaged when you did it.

You know what is IMPOSSIBLE when you do this? Numbness, apathy, distraction, temptation, laziness, mind-wandering, pettiness, small-thinking, mediocrity, complaining about little things, gossip...basically, everything that most people are most of the time, is impossible when you willingly "get off the shore" and put your very life in the hands of Someone other than you.

Where the heck did I get the message, somewhere along the way, that living the Life of Christ was supposed to be a safe, well-planned, risk-assessed-and-managed life?

Every time I try to live a Christianity that makes sense, I find myself plummeting into all those things listed above that, for me, are equal to death. I become, at best, a Religious Zombie.

I am very blessed to be surrounded by a growing number of people who are learning to not just talk about the glory of diving into the river, not just take steps towards the river, not just look at the rapids and say "how cool would that be?", but they are swallowing hard and taking that illogical, crazy step into the boat that simultaneously pushes them off of the shore, and settling in to the Powerful Ride ahead, come what may.

Like those McLain brothers, they are disappearing over the edge of the waterfalls...and the only thrill those 3 friends of theirs who were left behind have is watch in awe and see how it ends.

What James said above could be said in the negative this way: "When your faith test is avoided, your endurance is given no chance to grow. So avoid the testing whenever you are given the choice to, and when your endurance is only partially developed, you will be weak in character and ready for almost nothing."