Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Letting Go and Needing Nothing

"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves." - Paul, in Romans 15:1
Let me ask you a very significant question that you will want to re-read the above quote before you answer. It is a question that has resounding be careful. It can flare up your ego, or your pride, or your false-humility, or your concern to appear spiritual, or your convictions about your perceived "rights"...or a number of other things that could make your knee-jerk answer completely untrustworthy without you really knowing it. 
Ready? Here it is: Do you consider yourself strong or weak?
If you will allow me, let me usher a few of you past some things that may make this question difficult.
  • There are some of you who don't know you are weak, because you have been taught by someone that it is not allowed. You have never allowed yourself the honest question, afraid of it's potential (and not necessarily accurate) answer. So you answer way too quickly, and with convincing over-emphasis, that you are strong. Let that go just this once.
  • There are some of you who feel diminished right when you hear the question. You have been crushed, humiliated, and hurt and are still suffering. And so you answer way too quickly, with obvious guilt and shame, that you are weak. Let that go just this once. You may answer the same way, but don't do it for that reason. 
  • There are some of you who have come into true humility, have found strength in your weakness, and therefore want to exhibit your strength once again by humbly acknowledging that you are weak. Let that go, too. with as much sobriety and honesty as you can find, do you consider yourself strong or weak?
Paul's statement, if it's true, can help us answer this question (and help us help each other answer this question).
1. Do you bear with the failings of the weak? - How often do you shake your head disgusted with another? How often do you make the sarcastic remarks about another's shortcomings? How often do you emotionally "write someone off" when their faults just become too inconvenient, painful, or confusing for you? Harold J. Ockenga said, "Those who would follow Jesus now must develop His kind of patience in all sorts of human relations, no matter how exhausting or overwhelming." My point is that many who would say they are strong, rather than "bear with" the failings of the weak, they run from, hide from, label, dismiss, gossip about, and otherwise release themselves from responsibility of the weak. According to Paul, this is not what the strong ought to do.
2. Do you bear with the failings of the weak in order to please yourself? - I've been in the people-loving business for 22 years. When I started, I beared with the failings of the weak, to be sure, but it wasn't for the weak. It was for me. Strange, I know, but the wrong reasons to do this right thing are innumerable. I can do it in order to feel like I'm useful. I can do it in order to look good in the eyes of my wife, or kids, or parents, or clergy, or God. I can do it because I'm dying for someone to do it for me and hope that by doing it, some sort of karma will insure that it comes back to me. I can do it trying to relieve my guilt for past failures. My point is that, according to Paul, we should do this right thing of bearing with other's failings, but we ought also do it for the right reason. In his next breath, Paul made this clear by saying, "Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."
So...are your strong or weak?
I've had a couple of weeks of unbelievable demands (or opportunities, depending on how you look at it) to be with some very excited, ready-to-transform, but scared and hurting people. I've been tempted to run, hide, overcommit, pursue, and/or stress at every turn, but instead just "let it go" and "need nothing" from any of the cast of characters in this particular scene of the play. When an opportunity to connect to someone in their pain comes, it is usually overwhelming, and you instantly start "hanging on" and "needing to succeed"...and this sabotages your ability to have peace, your ability to have joy, and ultimately, your ability to be a part of how God is "creating space" for Him to do miracles right before your eyes.
If I can get past my own need to prove to you that I don't mean what I'm about to say as arrogant, I would tell you that these last two weeks I have been strong. I'm not always, but I am not only bearing with the failings of the weak, I am loving doing it purely "for them" if these friends are not a means to an end, but an end unto themselves for me. And it is beautiful to experience. And there is nothing more for me to do other than focus on "letting go" and letting it happen, and "needing nothing" from anyone or anything on earth.
"Look at the example of Jesus, with His calm acceptance of every emergency and every other situation in life.  He never hurried.  He never pursued.  He never 'tried to make it happen." - Harold J. Ockenga
"Be still and know that I am God." - Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Church-going or Disciple-making?

"If you were to ask me the question in all sincerity, 'Lord, what would you rather me do, 'attend church services' or 'make disciples'? How do you think I would respond?" - Jesus, addressing me with this provoking question in my heart yesterday when I was praying
At first glance, I'm tempted to answer the above question with a dismissive wave of my hand and a glimmer of 'brilliant cleverness' in my eyes by saying, "Both!"
I would say it way too loud, too, and with much self-assured authority, not admitting that I would be feeling like I had something to defend.But dog-gone it, it was Jesus asking. Such show-boating and fear and word-play never works with him.
If it was a mere mortal asking me the question, I would want to argue that the question is like, "What does God want you to be, a good husband or a good daddy?"
But it is not. To be a good daddy, you need to love your children's mother. To be a good husband, you need to love your wife's children. To say it another way, if you defined everything that it takes to be a good husband, being a good dad would be on the list. And if you defined everything that it takes to be good father, loving their mom would be on that list.
But if you defined everything that it takes to go to church, you do not have to make disciples Jesus. And to make disciples of Jesus, you do not have to go to church.
Okay,'s not the same question. It's a good question.
Honestly, though, I don't agree with the fear-mongering reader of this email that I'm implying that Jesus is trying to convince people that they don't need to "go to church". On the contrary, I merely think that he Jesus is trying to convince all church-goers and non-church goers that if you want to be a Christian, then actually engage with people in becoming more like Christ (which is what discipleship is, by the way).
And there is one more group that I think Jesus is addressing by asking this question...a group that I find myself in (which is sometimes painful) leaders.
  • Because preachers can be preachers for a church and not be helping people become more like Christ.
  • Because elders can be elders for a church never engage with people in the work of transformation into Christ's image.
  • Because pastors and ministers can pastor people and minister to people in a zillion different areas or through a million different programs that have nothing to do with inviting people to imitate Jesus in heart, character, mission and priorities.
  • Because teachers can teach and teach, they can even teach "the Bible", and fill a student's mind with tons of incredible, non-life changing material.
I'm spending a whole lot of time "attending church" right now, even preaching and teaching within it, in order to become and make disciples of Jesus. It's not the only way I make disciples. And it may not even be the most effective and productive way that I make disciples. But I only feel in line with Christ when, whether I'm attending church or not, I'm engaging with people in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Time demands keep me from being a part of every opportunity that comes my way for making disciples of Jesus. So what I do prayerfully choose to be a part of, I want it to be faithful to Christ's call on my life to dish out the best possible life available to human beings...followership and imitation of Jesus.
If you see anything in my work and ministry that isn't consistent with that, you would be doing me a huge service in lovingly pointing it out.
May God bless us.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Radical-Conservative Vision for a Church

"Stott argues that we need more churches that are radically conservative - 'conservative' in the sense that they conserve what Scripture plainly requires, but 'radical in relational to that combination of tradition and convention which we call culture.'" - a quote from's description of John Stott's book, The Living Church
I'm waxing nostalgic today...remembering when I was first discerning God's call on my life to consider coming to Amarillo to join ranks with the disciples at the Southwest Church of Christ.
I remember them asking me to come up for a visit, and they asked me a question that I remember being giddy about answering.
"What is your vision for Christ's church?" they asked me.
It was December of 2003 that I sat down and lit up the keyboard in response to that question...and here is what I wrote:

My Vision for a Church


It begins very personally for me.


I imagine a place where what has happened to me happens to as many fellow human beings as possible.


I imagine a place where new birth is common place in the lives of every member, and in the lives of people they are around in their worlds.


I imagine a place where God is an assumption, a real Presence, a defining friendship, a faithful Father, an unwavering lover, and an intimidating power. A place where God is feared, followed, and felt.


I imagine a church full of worship and adoration and exaltation of the One True God, worship that is manifested in the lives of the members whether gathered corporately, or scattered in the community living life. And when gathered, Yahweh is acknowledged as present…and that He alone is the audience to be pleased, the members are the performers in their hearts, and the worship leadership is the curtain-opener.


I imagine a community unified around the singular obsession of giving glory to God and finding their expression of that in His Son’s commission to make fully devoted followers of Christ. I pray for a church incapable of being either ambiguous or legalistic about what it means to be a follower of Christ – finding their definition of “Christ follower” in the life of Christ himself.


I imagine a church community where the call to unity is synonymous with the call to God-given mission. And to be associated as a member of the church is to be in full partnership with all other members on their corporate journey towards fulfillment of that mission.


I imagine a place where authentic and vulnerable relationships are natural and normal. Where confession is safe, truth is everywhere, and grace abounds. Where Christ’s balanced heart of “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” is the "grace and truth" banner under which the community lives with one another.


I imagine a place of dependence, where thick in the makeup of the entire body of people is the assumption that God is behind this. It would be a place defined by personal and corporate calling on and hearing from an active God. A place where prayer is the answer for everything.


I imagine a place of out-of-style, unrealistic giving. Where men and women are called and compelled to use every resource at their disposal towards the accomplishment of Christ’s commission. A place where money is dedicated, relationships are consecrated, children are offered up, position is utilized, influence is mobilized…all for the cause of Christ.


I imagine a place where financial security comes from God through our relationship with His church. Never to be abused as anyone’s means for survival, but to be used as security in this world for courageous steps of financial faith.


imagine a place where my gifts are put to use, groomed and encouraged, and put to use some more. A place where I can do the same for others. I imagine a place where there is no place for man’s ego, but that when it flares up, it’s handled with care. I imagine a place where I can do that for others.


I imagine a place where the story of God, the gospel, the Good News, the centerpiece of the message we have been commissioned with is told and retold in creative and inspiring ways, to each other and to the world to do whatever God’s Spirit has been doing with it for 2000 years.


I imagine a place where those who believe the message are invited and inspired to conform to it, to let it define a new life for them over and over as they mature in their oneness with the Author of it.


I imagine a place that prayerfully and humbly takes the Word and discerns with the Spirit’s help the priorities of God as He lived them out on earth, and expressed them through chosen, inspired people.


I imagine a place where chosen, anointed leaders are committed to an intimacy and partnership with each other that serves as a living model of what the church is trying to reproduce as many times as it can in the community it serves and in the world…and they will go to great and costly lengths to see that Biblical community created among themselves first, and then among the body, and then given to the world.


To the glory of God, and for my great joy, I am four years from that writing, and I can say in the integrity of my heart and ecstatic with gratitude that I live in this "place" that I imagined 4 years ago. And I am busy about the business of creating it over and over again as many times as I can.


I thank God for the Southwest Church that has been the means of such a gift as this.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Maturing to the Point of Demanding Nothing...again

"I was sick to my stomach concerning the 'spiritual abuse' that was being exalted as 'defending the dignity of Christ' at my church last Sunday." - A very mature elder brother of mine

"I'm so sorry. I know you felt you found a church that was 'different'. I'm so sorry." - the understanding wife of that man I quoted above

"I've walked around the block concerning this issue, knowing that it happened 'for' me to continue in my own healing and growth, and have come to the place where I don't need renouncement, apology, or agreement from anyone in my church to be okay with what happened." - That man again, after a few days of honest feeling, prayer, and introspection

"I am horrified to realize how much unforgiveness I still have about "the church" So I am back in a digging up and doing away with resentment." - Another very mature elder brother of mine, in an email he sent me today

I've been led to this theme again. I wrote another piece on this a few months back, but just like when I work out my body with weights, repetitions are necessary for my body to get maximum effect, I need repitition on all the great spiritual lessons for me to even enjoy any effect at all.

When my first brother above told me of the story behind his quotes above, I was horrified. Seriously. I listened on the phone in absolute awe. I thought it would be a very "subtle crime" that had hurt him, something that could be seen a multitude of ways, and therefore I could easily have compassion on the individuals involved, but dog-gone it, it was in my estimation a blatant, self-evident, heinous unChristlike crime being done in the name of Christ...again.

While I sat spellbound at the story...I was simultaneously spellbound by my buddy's "processing" of his experience, and how he landed in a place of needing nothing from those who committed the crime in order to forgive and let it go. I said earlier that I would've liked to have easily had compassion, which ended up impossible, but compassion is still (and always is) possible...easy or not.

I have some deep, deep convictions. I would go as far as to say I have some serious non-negotiable that I demand to be present in my life. But I am learning that every single one of them MUST NOT demand anything from anyone else...else I'm in trouble.

Personally, I call it my own immaturity every single time that I find myself needing anything from anyone. My job is not, and can never be, to get anything out of anyone. My joy is not, and can never be, associated with getting agreement, apology, or renouncement from those who I feel offended by. I would rarely feel joy at all.

Life is hard enough NOT needing anything from anyone...why would I attach my joy to other's "getting it right"?

I'm not saying I am immune to the effects of what other people say or do or think...far from it. But I am saying that I no longer need them to stop (or start) saying or doing or thinking in any certain way for me to find the best possible life.

My friend exercised the "spiritual practice" that enables those of us who attempt such unconditional compassion...

1. He felt it deeply and honestly in all it's rawness.

2. He shared himself with God and his intimate community as he went (thumbing his nose at the idea that he has to always 'have it together' in front of other people).

3. He assumed there was good for his heart in the circumstances he was in...and resolved within himself to find it.

This all led to 4) he transformed a little bit more into the image of Jesus Christ.

The prayer of Jesus on the cross always, always, always serve towards this end, if we can attain unto they rejected him, shamed him, humiliated him, laughed and spit while doing it, slandered him, inflicted pain on him quite intentionally, and murdered him without cause...he prayed, "Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing."

Listen, my friends. This is ALWAYS, ULTIMATELY true. Hurt people, hurt people. Always.

Those who reject you, shame you, humiliate you, laugh and spit while doing so, slander you, inflict pain on you quite intentionally, and murder you (whether in flesh or spirit) not know what they are doing.

If you want a life of joy, maturing to the point of demanding and needing nothing (he who has ears, let him hear) is mandatory spiritual growth.

I love you.