Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
In the desert the most urgent thing is—to wait. The desert does not take kindly to those who tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to their plans and deadlines. It soon takes its revenge and makes them pay dearly for their presumption. Instead, the desert welcomes those who shed their sandals of speed and walk slowly in their bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand. If you have no ambition to conquer the desert, if you do not think you are in charge, if you can calmly wait for things to be done, then the desert will not consider you an intruder and will reveal its secrets to you. - Meditations on the Sand By Alessandro Pronzato
The American version of Evangelical Christianity that I have been immersed in most of my life looks at the desert as a bad place. One might respond to to a question about how things are going in God, with "oh, I have been in a bad place, a real desert." Often times what we mean is nothing is going right, God seems so far away, or I am so dry I may just quit this thing. We desire a fast, instant, no work, no mess, instant growth Christianity, and when God doesn't show up on cue we get irritated, agitated, lose heart, and maybe just get lost in a desert.
That kind of desert is not what is being described here. It is not the bad place we find ourselves in. It is the place of being alone - we avoid it at all costs. For many of us being alone reveals our restlessness, and our discomfort with ourselves. Being quiet can reveal just how full of ourselves, our things, and our times we are. Alone is not the same as lonely. But alone often reveals how lonely we are and how full, and satisfied we are with illusion.
We tend to avoid being alone. But the desert is about being alone. In the 3-4th centuries Christianity was being watered down first by being tolerated, they approved, and finally co-opted by the Roman empire. During that time there was quite a number of Jesus followers who specifically sought out the desert. They did so as a means to connect with God and develop a Christ-like spirit.
When we embrace the desert and then discipline our hearts to depend on God, being along can slowly become a place of peace and solitude. Alone does not immediately equal solitude, just as it does not equal lonely. The desert deprives one of whatever we depend on. There is nothing left but just our self. And then we find that we just aren't enough. There is nothing to do but to wait, hope, and trust God. That is the lesson of the desert. it is a hard lesson. It quite frankly may be the battle of our lives.
"Desert" Christianity is as different from American Christianity as marinading a good piece of meat is from microwaving processed patties. Marinading takes time. Not much is happening while it is slowly prepared for cooking. You can not stand in front of the refrigerator and put your timer on for 1:30 minutes and bing it is done. It takes time. Developing Christian character also takes time. Time in the desert, time alone, time developing solitude so we can meet God in the secret place of silence and rest.
Our microwave version of Christianity fits well with our lifestyle. It is a busy one. It fits our deadlines, and our plans. It facilitates filling more of our time with more things, more activities so we don't have to be alone. With our microwave god all we need is a little time and bing it is done. We get what we want. Well ... not exactly. But what we get we think will do .... at least for now.
The problem is that God is more like the desert. His work in us is more like marinating. It is slow, consistent, pretty uneventful, unexciting, but soking through our whole being. He works deep transforming our character, our desires, our life so that we reflect his love brilliantly.
A while ago I was in a spiritual desert place. I actually mused about writing a book titled "The Desert in my Lincoln". A couple years ago I started commuting to work a little over an hour away. For many years I was 10 minutes away from home. I often would go home or meet with friends for lunch. I met with people for breakfast regularly. If something was going on during work I wanted to do, I might be able to scoot away and do what I wanted to do. Everything changed when I began commuting a in my 1996 Lincoln Town Car. As a result I felt isolated and alone. I felt cut off from family, friends, co-laborers in ministry, and things that were familiar. Gone was a lot of my freedom to do what I wanted. I was bound to that Lincoln and where it took me from 6:30 am to 6:20 pm. But I have grown to love my Lincoln, my desert. It cut me off from the familiar, the comfortable, and the pleasant so I could experience being alone. I fought it, but I eventually began to learn to wait. It has transformed me in small ways. I actually now seek out my desert and I seek out new deserts.
Although our deserts may be different there is really only two responses to them. You can try to "tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to (our) plans and deadlines." The other is to" shed (our) sandals of speed and walk slowly in (our) bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand." The desert does not deal kindly with the former approach, but welcomes the latter.
If you are on a similar journey, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear of your journey and the small transformative things you have experienced in your desert. If you are battling in your desert with demons, maybe we can support each other. If you are avoiding it, fighting it, trying to conquer the desert, I know how unkind the desert can be. Lets talk about it.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
"Through the years I have notice that among the people most dedicated to missional activism, you find either (a) people burned out because of the difficulty of the task, or (b) people who have learned to undedrgrid their activism with contemplation, with quiet resting, finding God in the center of normalcy -- including the normalcy of struggle and hard work. " (Brian McLaren, a Generous Orthodoxy, pg 197)I ran into this observation while re-reading Brian's book. It kind of sums up my experience and longings in relation to my own missional activism through Common Heart / Common Cupboard. The only difference is I am both of the people he describes. I guess kind of a schizophrenic amalgamation, a burn out / contemplative. Maybe I am a slightly chard wanna be monk struggling to find that place of Shalom in the busyness of 21st century America.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
"Serving in the suburbs is strange and hard. Unlike the inner cities, suburbs tend to bury their troubles, so that it takes time and effort just to uncover what needs there actually are. Despite the stereotypes, the immigrant, the impoverished, the addicted and the homeless are often present in the suburbs, and require the love and sacrifice that they do elsewhere. They’re just harder to find. " from an article entitled The Suburbs by Jordan Peacock
Sow a thought, reap an action.Sow an action, reap a habit.So a habit, reap a character.Sow a character, reap a destiny.
"The attractional (come & see) model of church creates a ‘member culture,’ in which people join a particular church and support that organization with their attendance, their money, their prayers, and their talent. The flow is toward the church, which is always at the center of the action, where the big game is being played.The missional (go & be) church is made up of missionaries, who are playing the big game every day. They live their lives with the idea that they are on a mission trip. On mission trips, people focus on the work of God around them, alert to the Spirit’s prompting, usually serving people in very tangible ways, often in way that involve some sacrifice or even discomfort. Life on mission is more intentional and more integrated. While the concerns of life (family, work, leisure) are pursued, they are part of a larger story being played out for the missionary."
Monday, March 9, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
This past Sunday I spoke at Faith Community Church in Waxhaw. I don't get to speak much since I gave up my teaching and pulpit ministry to work developing Common Heart Missional Community. It was a very small crowd. The choir was most excellent. One testimony in particular was rousing as the brother shared that his shift/department at work has had no cut backs or lay offs. All co-workers were wondering how that team is being spared. My brother's answer, "This department has someone praying." As I sat through the service I wondered if I should share what I had planned.
Yesterday, I listened to this verse in Proverbs, it stood out. Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. - Proverbs 19:17 I hate to sound so unspiritual, but the Lord is a bank that will not fail! He will repay. Over at Commmon Cupboard Journal there is a virtual food drive going on. Anyone want to lend to the Lord ... Let me here an "AMEN".
Rahm Emanuel said recently in describing US President Barrack Obama's aggressive legislative agenda, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." (WSJ)
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22 ESV
These thoughts really do tie together. Give me a minute. I think I can do it in the next paragraph ...
We as followers of Jesus have been sent on a mission by Jesus. It is the same mission that Jesus received from the Father. It also needs to be fulfilled in a similar way. After Jesus told the disciples this he also breathed on them and gave them a command to receive the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I think we as Jesus followers, and especially as "church people & leaders", we get distracted by many things. We forget that Jesus organized his whole movement around his mission. Especially when times are good, we get distracted.
When times get rough the natural inclination is to withdraw and protect. I know that in the current economic crisis I have pulled back spending, tried to pay off more debt, been more aware of my boss's moods , and have certainly prayed more for my family and other families I know that they are having it tough.
Strangely enough I think that these harder times can cause us to be even more distracted from the mission of Jesus and his Church. Even as many churches and non-profits are experiencing difficulties and as members of our congregations are experiencing the same ...I think it might be time for a "Missional Stimulus Package" .
Many churches are reducing their financial support of missionaries. Many are focusing inward. I think what we need is to spend our treasures, talents and time changing our structures and focus outward, not hoarding them on programs and projects inside our church walls.
I thank God for my job. I thank God that he answers prayers and has kept my brother's whole shift and department from having hours and jobs cut. It excites me to hear these things. BUT, I can't help but thinking about the other departments and the other shifts, indeed the workers in my own company that lost their jobs when one of our plants was closed.
I can't help but think that the words of Rahm Emanuel might apply to our churches, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Indeed this may be a serious crisis. But, just maybe it might be the exact right time to rethink, repent, reprioritze, restructure and reorientate all that we do as the Church of Jesus Christ. Maybe it is time for a "Missional Stimulus Package" that will energize and reinvigorate us to look beyond ourselves and our problems, and give ourselves more fully to God's mission out there in our hurting communities, neighborhoods, and places of employment.
What form could this package take?
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
"Why is there so little concern to get time to pray? Why is there so much speaking, yet so little prayer? Why is there so much running to and fro, yet so little prayer? Why so much bustle and business, yet so little prayer? Why so many meetings with our fellow men, yet so few meetings with God? Why so little being alone, so little thirsting of the soul for the calm, sweet hours of unbroken solitude, when God and His child hold fellowship together as if they could never part? It is the lack of these solitary hours that not only injures our own growth in grace, but makes us such unprofitable members of the church of Christ, and that renders our lives useless. In order to grow in grace, we must be much alone with God. It is not in society, even Christian society that the soul grows most rapidly and vigorously. In one single quiet hour of prayer it will often make more progress than in whole days of company with others. It is in the 'desert' that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest. So with the soul. It is when none but God is near; when His presence alone, like the desert air in which there is mingled no noxious breath of man, surrounds and pervades the soul; it is then that the eye gets the clearest, simplest view of eternal certainties; it is then that the soul gathers in wondrous refreshment and power and energy." Quoted from "Ministerial Confessions"
Sunday, January 18, 2009
"Surely next to its love for the chief of sinners the most touching thing about the religion of Christ is its amazing trust in the least of saints." Henry Drummond, City without a Church