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

"Secret Life" Feedback #2

Here is some more feedback from the email/blog I wrote entitled, "My Secret Life of Discipleship". I got the question yesterday of why all the feedback that I sent in "Feedback #1" was generally positive. It was because at that point (and at the point that I assembled the next couple of collections) all of it has been positive. I have some in my inbox that I received more recently with some challenging (I wouldn't say negative) questions/comments, and they are forthcoming in the order that I received them.
Let me add that I am SO grateful for the dialogue and sharing...and the challenging yet loving way that anything that might be considered "negative" has come. May we all be sharpened and molded into the image of Christ.

"Excellent.  I believe my family and I are one of you!  Let me know when you find the way to make the minority the majority. For that minority, could it be that the minority is actually the majority, but the (perceived) majority is perpetuating the opposite belief?" - 40ish Bi-lingual minister in an inner city Church of Christ

"Amen Brian!  And that's not a silent, under-my-breath, b/c I am a woman, Church of Christ amen, either!  I am so glad you had the courage to send this one out. This is exactly how I feel, as I get more and more frustrated with the current church we are involved in. It's not just this church, but all CofC's...and I am embarrassed by the teachings of all else but Jesus and our call to disciple others.  It makes me cry to think I am "stuck."  Thanks be to GOD for others amongst our fellowship that feel like this!!  It keeps me hanging on!" - 30ish mom who married a student/friend/son from my youth ministry of yester-year
Have you read ["Revolution" by George Barna]? It is entirely along the line of your blog post. Barna writes about a "new breed" of American Christians who are completely dedicated "to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives." He calls them revolutionaries and explains why they are just that in American Christian culture today. I wondered, "we're revolutionary?" I just thought we were reaching for Jesus. Unfortunately, I guess that is revolutionary. I did use to be nervous about shifting away from my commitment to the "church of Christ" I was raised in to being the church of CHRIST in reality. But I love the people who planted the seeds of my faith--as I know you do--and believe I was no worse off than anyone else for being part of this fellowship. However, I know I can't go back to who I was before, when my allegiance was to a particular sign over the door. It's all or nothing for me now." - 40ish Church of Christ minister's wife

"You spoke to my heart----what beautiful thoughts and I totally agree.  I believe that it grieves our Lord when we study his word and set standards and rules that He never intended.  We need to keep in mind His simple truth---love God and love others (that includes everyone---no exceptions). " - 55ish long time sister in the Church of Christ

"I just wanted to let you know how much we both appreciate what you personally are doing and how refreshing your approach is.  Both of our dads were shepherds in the church and I have also served as a shepherd.  We have made a big move in our lives and we are sort of taking things slowly and quietly at this point on purpose.  We have not “placed” our membership yet, as we continue to walk together with our Lord, but we’re praying about that and many things. I have not responded to any of your earlier articles, but I feel compelled to let you know now that I am digesting your article and it has provoked me to many thoughts.  One thought that I immediately have as I close is you should never wonder if you will get to stay in the Church of Christ...membership in the church that is actually “of Christ” is not decided by man, but by our Master…regardless of where we are." - a really cool brother and guest at the church I run with currently

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Secret Life" - Feedback #1

Wow. The responses to my last email/blog have been quite amazing. Since I send this out on email, few people get to enjoy the feedback of everyone like they would if they were posted feedback on the blog. I’m going to send some to you all so that you can feel what I felt…affirmed, accompanied, and fueled.


I recently wrote a letter of apology to my former shepherds. With the help of one of them, I figured out that in my attempt to be open and honest, vulnerable and transparent, and in my desire to be useful to and approved of by them…that I oftentimes come across self-righteous and judgmental at worse, and unrealistically idealistic at best. Both of which understandably made it quite impossible for them to let their guard down to see if there was anything worthwhile for them in what I was compelled to say.


In light of that, a quick word to my brothers and sisters who might wholesale “disagree with me” or feel attacked and judged. I want you all to know that I am not attempting to be “on the warpath”, although I know it can feel like it…sometimes stemming from my own disgust with my past self, sometimes from my woundedness and defensiveness, and never really about you. I’m not looking for you to change your mind on things to adjust to me. I’m not even sure I’m right. Might you listen to the following collection of variously aged, quite different-from-each-other-and-different-from-me people and see if maybe there is something worthwhile to take away from what is going on inside of us? Can you look carefully and lovingly for a common thread among us that might be somewhat valid and in need of addressing? While we don’t need you to agree and change, we are afraid of your rebuke and dismissal. What we want is your friendship, brotherhood, and partnership in our becoming. We want to humbly be “church” with you, and you with us. We don’t want you to leave, and we don’t want to leave. We don’t even want there to BE a “you” and “us”, but a “we”.


Maybe you could lay down your defenses, at least while reading these with no one present. Just for these few minutes pretend that you have nothing at all to defend yourself of (which you don’t) and no one to defend yourself against, and look for things to validate in us rather than where we are dead wrong.


Do the first one first, then we’ll promise to hear the second one next.


"I'm speechless, moved to tears and it's like you looked into my heart and put what it said on paper." - 30ish year old mother and lifelong member of the Church of Christ


"This sounded like a personal autobiography, written in the second and third persons." - 45ish divorced life-long member of the Church of Christ


"You were right, I couldn't stop reading the email.  I didn't have time then or now to do any of this, but I couldn't stop reading and I can't seem to stop typing.  I have felt such a stirring in my spirit - it's been getting louder and more vocal by the day.  These last few months have been unbearable.  I feel like such a hypocrite in my own church.  We talk about things we don't do.  We all have this altruistic idea of Christianity and yet when we leave the church it doesn't follow us.  I grew up swearing I would never be like the 'Sunday' Christians who taught me.  I swore my church would be a living, breathing church.  The trappings of this world would not entice us and we would not be bound to it.  Yet that is where Satan has lured me without my notice and I have begun a battle against it.  There are a few who share our fight, but not many that we know of.  We have actually considered VERY seriously moving churches.  We want to be with people who feel our passion for the lost. But maybe we are being called to stay right where we are and help awaken the believers we worship with. Maybe I should be focused on helping those around me climb. I'm going to have to pray a lot, but I think God needed me to see something.  I can't thank you enough for sending your email.  It's not very often you get something in your email box you can't stop reading.  Sorry for such a long response.  May God continue to change your life so you can help us change ours." - 35ish mother and life-long member of the Church of Christ


"Thank you for your article on the your not so Secret Life of Discipleship!  The Spirit of God is at work and he is glorious. Your essay brings me a lot of comfort about a partnership.  We live where you live, in liminal space, the Wilderness past Egypt, but still striving for home. Just wanted to say thanks for the article." - a 55ish minister with the title "Dr." in front of his name

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My Secret Life of Discipleship

This article is long. Possibly too long for you to tackle it. I'll tempt you by telling you it has sat in my "drafts" box for at least 9 months now because I've been somewhat fearful of sending it out, which seems silly to me today for some reason. I've read it to some close friends, and in a couple of lectureship classes, and have had multiple requests for copies from some of those in attendance. It is affirming to have it's spirit resonate with a few, and it is refreshing to engage in lively but loving dialogue with those who may feel defensive. I'll remind all readers that I love the Church of Christ, and am living my life as a member of it, loving it with all that I have, and loving the world through it. Just start reading...those who are supposed to read this mess I'm confident won't be able to stop. I'd love your feedback...
I'd like to introduce you to a whole bunch of us who are members of the Church of Christ who live secret lives of discipleship totally separate and apart from our church practices.
We span the ranks of our churches...we are ministers and elders, deacons and "lay members", students and college professors, teenagers and senior citizens.
We live and move and act within Churches of Christ, and hold dear the idea of becoming more like Christ together, to become a church that is, in actuality, 'of Christ'.
We are not interested in change. We are interested in Christ, and whatever we must change in order love Him more truly, we are glad and anxious to do so.
We are immovably committed to the Bible. But only inasmuch as it teaches us about and moves us closer to Christ...and we believe it to be the perfect tool for doing so, a gift from God, the written Word that was preserved to lead us to the Living Word. We suffer from a growing intolerance for people who use the Bible merely to defend and maintain strict adherence to certain sets of worship practices, beliefs, or political positions. And most of us are long past satisfying our spiritual zeal by fighting with other attempting Bible-followers about who is right.
We are trying to find out how to pray, and our longing for prayer is intensifying. We are not motivated by duty, nor merely to "lay our requests before God". We pray because we long for actual God-contact. And in this area, in most of our churches, we feel impossibly alone and mentorless, and oftentimes even looked at as crazy or overly-emotional. We are looking to ancient monastics and mystics and their practices, and also to other denominations, to satisfy our need to be taught...we are not creative, we are desperate.
We are bright and honest and dedicated, but only some of us are educated. And those of us who are rarely point it out, and more often hide from talking about it. That's because we put very little stock in the educated merely because they are educated. We have met people who are much more devoted to the Divine Master than some who have a Masters of Divinity, and have found them more useful in our own becoming more like Christ. We are not anti-intellectual, mind you. We love smart people. But we have the innate ability to spot unspiritual smart people, and we would define them as those who run after smarts rather than Christ, and mistakenly confuse the two. We want and need smart, educated people. But educated people who expose a lack of self-awareness and humility by expecting deference from others because they know so much, we just leave them to their ivory kingdoms and sorrowfully attempt to pursue Christ's without them.
We are indignant sometimes, and defensive and rude on occasion, and every now and then, we are angry. For the younger among us, it's because we feel like we're being bargained with...asked to 'please stay in a movement that doesn't work' in exchange for job security, or hero status, or at the very least, tons and tons of gratitude and affirmation...and we sense that the strings attached are too costly. For those of us who are old enough, it stems from feeling duped in our younger years, agreeing with things that sapped us, our friends, our parents, our children, and those we tried to evangelize of the very life we said submission to our system offered. Some of us are the ones that faithfully did everything our churches asked of us, and if it asked for more we would've done that, but we ended up not looking like Jesus. Maybe it is too much to ask, but we must: Forgive us our inappropriate, un-Christlike reactions to our wounds...we don't mean to claim perfection of any sort, we only abhor those who seem to claim it themselves. And we are scared to death of becoming like that...and are angry at ourselves for ever being like that.
If you watch us closely, you'll see that we have stopped complaining about the Church of Christ that we see (for the most part), and have turned our energies to becoming the Church of Christ that we dream of. When we are at our best, we are ushering in a new world, not just yelling at the old one. We are envisioning a new society in the wake of the old, not one that puts a period on the end of the sentence and starts a brand new unrelated one, but puts a "dot, dot, dot", pausing long enough to look around at all of us, and wake up that it is already new, if we would just engage each other and the world we live in with true spiritual friendship.
That term, 'true spiritual friendship' really means something to us. It involves confession, transparency, and vulnerability. It involves mutual introspection for the purpose of personal and each others transformation. The word 'and' really means something to us, too. We distrust those who only want to transform us or others who lack the capacity to show that they too are in need of continued transformation. And mere intellectual agreement with the idea that "we all sin and fall short of the glory of God" doesn't show us anymore. We need to hear confession. 
We give extravagantly to and through the Churches of Christ we attend, hoping desperately to play a role in redeeming them and ourselves. We figure that if the mission of Christ is to people, then bringing Christ to the Church of Christ people is as good a target as any. We constantly flirt with taking a few like-minded people and planting new churches, but keep faithful to our Churches of Christ either out of fear of new things, family love and loyalty,  or a deep sense of calling, or all three.
We give much of our money to our Churches and to others in our life in attempts to not be bound by it, but by Christ alone. But when we get to give sacrificially, it acts almost as a drug, giving us a temporary high, proving to ourselves that are motives go beyond our own comfort. We hear Christ telling us that we can't be his disciples unless we give up all that we have, and we believe him, and want to do it, and respect anyone who does. We are tired of being richer than everyone else in the world, but are scared to do anything about it, because we think our churches will look at us as unrealistic, unwise, and bad stewards.
We give much of our time and energy, too. But we don't always give it to the church programs, because we see that as tending to the aquarium, which we agree needs to take place, but we long for our efforts to make a God-honest, actual, life-giving impact on those outside the church walls with no strings attached. We are honestly clueless as to how to do this, but we have our ideas and are trying and wish our churches would give us a legitimate seat at the table as we learn as a whole group...and even if our churches are clueless too, we wish we were all being clueless together out in the open, determined to keep trying stuff until it works.
We're taking full and total responsibility for our children, completely done with expecting from or blaming the church institution for their spiritual outcomes. We welcome anything it does to help, but we are picking and choosing and investing in relationships with the people that we want influencing our kids, and outright asking them to do so, thinking of anything positive that comes out of our churches children's and youth programs as only being supplemental, and hopefully useful. We are watching closely, however, for any residual teaching that resembles anything legalistic whatsoever and are preparing to help our kids unlearn it, explaining our love for the church that taught it, showing openly where that teaching comes from, but correcting them as to what discipleship really looks like. If a Church of Christ wants to run us off quickly, which it may want to do because our convictions can be hard to deal with, or hard to argue against, then all it must do is start teaching our kids to be legalistic rule followers instead of passionate Christ followers. We'll leave. We are already worried enough about what we are doing to them by trying to teach them discipleship at home while their church is trying to teach them why we don't have instruments in worship.
Our commitment to Churches of Christ remains as long as we can be totally honest (as opposed to being totally right) among them.
Indeed, we have much in common with the Churches we exist within, and yet co-exist with dramatic differences. We are both committed to the Bible, but our approaches to finding its riches stand at odds. We are both committed to the truth, but our definition of truth stands at odds. We are both in love with the church, but our view of who make it up  and what it exists for are at odds. We both want to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, but our views of what that means and when that is to take place are at odds. We both want to see ourselves as primarily spiritual, but our comfort with embracing mystery are at odds. We both want to worship God, but our convictions on what the non-negotiables are, are at odds. We wonder if we can really co-exist. We wonder if we are going to have to wait for some funerals to expose ourselves and our thoughts openly in the Church of Christ. We wonder, sometimes, if we can really co-exist at all, feeling sometimes like we are tolerated by our churches only because we walk on eggshells concerning how we talk about what is going on inside of us.
But we sense there is one means of hope that exalts what we have in common, and minimizes where we are different. A focus that allows us both, different as we are, to continue becoming Christians in a way that does not condemn our historical Church of Christ roots, nor restrain or condemn those of us who want to grow beyond it's limiting beliefs. The means of hope is for all of us to focus seriously on following Jesus.
The Bible's overarching call is to follow God. Jesus' overarching call is to discipleship. Our hope is in our mutual agreement to pursue the Restoration of Discipleship. Once again, and all over again, and in a brand new way...following Jesus can be our salvation.
What is our secret life made up of? The pursuit of becoming more and more like Christ in our hearts. We are striving to be prayerfully dependent, like him. We are striving to live lives of uncompromising integrity, like him. We are striving to define our lives by loving relationships, like him. We are trying to live daily lives of true and spiritual worship, like him. We are trying to become sacrificial stewards of everything we have and are, like him. We are trying to become what Scripture says we are, like him. And we are wanting to share this life-giving pursuit with every human being on the planet who doesn't know about Jesus, like him.
We will baptize our children with water, fully immersing them in it as one of the many Biblical steps of coming into the life of Christ, but we will not have an obsessive, myopic focus on it ever again. We will no longer claim to believe in the "priesthood of all believers" when we actually mean the "priesthood of all male believers". We will not ever again treat other Bible believing, Jesus following fellowships as lost people...and not because we don't disagree with them on certain significant points...but because we have been humbled by our own disagreement with our past selves, and we hope people who died thinking like we used to were saved by grace, too. We will not write whole books explaining away the Greek word "psallos" to convince everyone instrumental music in unscriptural, we will not write articles and preach sermons focused on the churches down the street and what they are doing wrong, we will not draw lines of fellowship based on whether we should have Bible classes, kitchens, basketball goals, or multiple communion cups. The mere mention of such feuds embarrasses the fool out of us, and we swallow hard and remember our love when we have to be associated with those related to us who have or are.
We wonder if we'll get to stay in the Church of Christ. Our intolerance for our own personal past and our churches intolerance of us may foil what we feel inclined and called to do, but day by day we pursue Christ sincerely, with all of our hearts. The good news is that it doesn't take much to encourage us. Any step towards Jesus by any person at all fuels us to take our next one and we are anxious to use both as evidence that we are in the right place.
We want the Church of Christ to be a church that is actually "of Christ".

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Parking Lot Brochure

"I really want to be a part of an organism, not an organization." - Yours Truly
Perhaps this desire of mine could be picked apart by the intellectual and clever, and this statement picked apart and analyzed and deconstructed into nothingness by those who love to do such things based on semantics, but I don't have the energy to fight or explain it right now. So, he who has ears let him hear. You are the ones who know exactly what I mean.
We have some guest parking spots at our church's building. These spots have signs on poles in front of them labeled "guest parking". Just under those signs on the poles, some brochure holders are about to be attached that says, "Take one". Inside it will be a brochure informing our guests of who we are and what to expect as they come in our building.
I was asked to write a note in it to our guests who might find one of these brochures in their hands. I just finished my first draft. I wonder if my deep desire and heart for those people who may grab one can really be communicated through this note? I wonder if who and what we are about is contained in it? I desire to introduce these people to a group of people who are networked together by actual relationships organically, not loosely associated with each other organizationally. Anyway, give me some feedback, you who have ears, and help me with it is.

Welcome to the gathering place of the Southwest Church of Christ. We are thankful for whatever brings you our way and anxious to know how we may serve you. It is our way to offer you the hospitality that we would offer Christ himself. So please make yourself at home. You are most welcome.


The group of folks who meet in this building regularly are quite an assortment of characters. We are a group of imperfect people who have found the best possible life available to us, the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus made a very large claim when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Those of us who gather here spend our time learning about Jesus and his way of living. We examine his teachings, his heart, his character, his priorities, and his mission because we believe that in him we find the way we are looking for, the truth that we all seek, and the life that our hearts long for. He made that claim as well (John 14:6), and we are finding it to be real.


If you would ever consider joining us, we would be so honored. We are not only learning to live more and more like Christ, but we are looking for others who want this life, too. We are expecting that God will continually place among us exactly who He wants (1 Corinthians 12:18), to make us more complete, and to keep all of us growing and functioning properly as His agents in the world on His behalf, and to help people realize their truest and grandest identity as an actual son or daughter of God (Ephesians 1:4-6).


Jesus is our teacher, master, and friend. Our acceptance of, obligation to, and love for him compels us to have acceptance of, obligation to, and love for you. He said that all of the laws and prophecies of the Bible can be summed up by two commands, to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-40), and we will spend the rest of our lives doing just that, and learning how to do it better and better.


So please join us as we follow Jesus, experience the love of the Father through Jesus, and are transformed by God’s Spirit into the image of Jesus. We want to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). We’re not that good at it, but we are getting better (2 Peter 1:8), and it giving us life right now, and that will last on into eternity.


We are a little bit exclusive here, admittedly. We want real human beings, with real human problems, who need real human friendships, who desire real love for God and others in a real way, with and through their real lives.


If you need some real friends who will accept you like Christ does, teach you who Christ is, invite you into Christ’s life, challenge you to live like Christ, accompany you on your journey with Christ, celebrate Christ in you, model for you what Christ looks like, and remind you about who you are in Christ, and wants you to be the same kind of friend to them, then you have found the right people.




One of Christ’s followers here,


Brian Mashburn    

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Defeat of Worry

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful." - Part of a cool parable from the Bible
"It has been well said that no man ever sank under the burden of the day.  It is when yesterday's pains and tomorrow's burdens are added to the burden of today that the weight is more than a man can bear.  Never load yourselves down so, my friends.  If you find yourselves so loaded, at least remember this:  it is your own doing, not God's.  He begs you to leave the past and the future to Him and only to mind the present." -- George MacDonald
"Be anxious for nothing." - St. Paul
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." - St. Peter
"Do not worry about your life." - Jesus Christ
I get so worried about my life sometimes.
Worried that my son Shade is in pain from his tonsil surgery.
Worried about being a good dad.
Worried about being a good "custom-fit" dad for each kid.
Worried about being a good dad-figure for kids without dads.
Worried about being a good husband.
Worried about whether my definition of "good husband" is good.
Worried about my lack of self-discipline.
Worried about the job I'm doing.
Worried about being a good friend.
Worried about being a good team member.
Worried about being a good "custom-fit" team member for each team member.
Worried about money.
Worried about wanting to give more money than I have.
Worried about people's negative perception of me.
Worried about people's positive perception of me.
Worried about the church I used to run with.
Worried about the church I currently run with.
Worried about "getting it right".
Worried about "getting it wrong."
Worried about lunch.
Worried about getting enough rest.
Basically, I sometimes worry about my life.
Oh, it's for sure the exact opposite of what Jesus tells me to do. And being the Jesus groupie that I am (like Peter, and Paul, who said similar things about worry), you'd think I'd just simply obey him.
And I do. On most days, I'm happy to say, I do. But then, even on some of those days, I worry that I'm not worrying enough. That I'm being irresponsible, or lazy, or un-diligent, or inappropriately passive or apathetic.
That's the height of futility in this arena...worrying about being a worrier.
I'm not buying the whole, "Jesus said don't worry about your life, but that's just a good ideal to 'shoot for', God doesn't expect you to actually achieve it."
Nope. I think the whole ideal is attainable. I think every "unattainable" ideal in the Bible is attainable. Except for one group of people: For those who don't think it's attainable for them, they're right. For everyone else who think it is, they're right too.
Can you go without worrying for 1 whole day? No? How about for 1 hour? No? One minute? Okay, let's say you can say yes to one minute. Then can you go 2 minutes? Yes? Then how about 4? No? Well, if you can go 2 minutes, then can you do it twice? Yes? Then you can go 4 minutes! maybe I'm underhandedly trying to get us all to reconsider our position about things. But I'm telling you, if we asked Jesus, "What? Don't worry? Is that possible?" I think He would answer, "With man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."
And that is always, always, always how I stop worrying when it sets in. I get "with God". I practice His presence and all worry seems to fade away. It takes yesterdays burdens off, and tomorrows burdens off, and the burden of the day that is left never seems too big for me.
I'll admit that sometimes I indulge in worry knowing that that is exactly what I am doing. I don't know why I do that. Laziness maybe. Self-pity party, maybe. Whatever the reason is, I'm not too worried about it.
But other times it comes crashing down on me without choice. And every time, the solution to it is the same (and no, it is not the circumstances changing or working themselves out...and it is not taking action). It is remembering that God is present, that He loves me, and that He is not foiled in what He plans to do in me and through me and to me no matter what I do or how I perform.
He is very, very good. I love Him.