Archive for March, 2010

Death Throws

Death Throws

I watched her swallow her snarl.

She caught it between her teeth.

But it came back out as sobs.  Lost its edge, though.

He sat crossed legged, and cold-eyed. Dug in hard,

Willing to swap their union for some

Chump-change right-or-wrong.

Agony clashes with denial, they can’t be worn in the same room.

Their tiny grinning-seraph baby girl lashed them

Together, clasping hands in both directions.

But her life bled out through clear plastic tubes

At 3:20 one afternoon.

Now he sits opposite her,

Neither moving, yet each reeling past the other

Over and over,

With no idea who the other is.

Fourteen years together, and now

Total strangers.

He snubbed her sentiment,

Swimming against his own eddy.

Whitewater suffering swirling around the drain

Of woe, threatening

To suck him down.

Frantic arms and legs spread wide to keep from going

Down that hole.

She’s already down there

Seething,

And he can’t stop pretending she’s still in the room.

(By Max Ramsey 5-25-07)

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A Conversation along the Way

If you don’t know Will, I wish you did.  He’s the real deal.  He’s a young man who puts it all into being authentic.  He lives the Kingdom, and he loves the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.  And I love the way he thinks.  Feel free to add to the conversation.  Just post a comment.  I can’t wait to learn from you!

Will :

I have a question for you – last summer at (Camp Lake) Louise you said that you weren’t “all about Rob Bell” – and the statement confused me, because I value Rob Bell and his ideas. Recently one of my friends brought to my attention the Emergent church, and the false attitudes they hold (in his opinion). Is this why? What is your opinion on that?

Max:

What I was trying to say about Rob Bell at camp is what I was trying to say about being careful who we imprint on. It wouldn’t matter who we were talking about – Reinhold Niebuhr, Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, or me. I am chasing after Jesus. These other folks are, too. But they aren’t Jesus. I don’t want to be like Rob Bell, or Billy Graham, or anybody else on this earth. I want to be like Jesus.

I am not afraid of the Emergent Church – it is what it is. I am not afraid of the far-right lunatic fringe either. They are what they are. I can learn from anyone. I learned a lot of good stuff from Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis” and “Jesus Wants to Save Christians”. I learn from other disciples all the time (from you, for example). So what I am getting at is that although I am often in agreement with many human beings, they are my fellow disciples. I learn from their ideas but I don’t strive to be exactly like them. Jesus, however, is my rabbi – the one who I am trying my best to be more and more like. I think Rob Bell would agree with that statement.

BTW – don’t be afraid of these “doctrine-Nazi’s” who talk about everyone who is different from them as though they are the boogieman. If the Emergent movement is of God, then it will stand. If not, it will fade away like every other movement that wasn’t of God. God can handle that. God doesn’t need a bodyguard. Emo’s not my gig, but neither is Sunday morning televangelism and in-your-face rigid “Crazi-anity”. I actually think the Emergents serve an important purpose of reminding the institutional church that God doesn’t need any one church or denomination to carry out God’s purpose. They may prove to be more prophet than long-term movement.  Part of me says that Emergent is still just another twist on “feed ME” faith. That’s just not my gig. I feed myself just fine, and I am looking to reach the people who are disconnected from God’s Kingdom. Time will tell what they and the rest of us turn out to be. Be not afraid. Just keep chasing Jesus. God can handle it.

Will:

Okay, thanks- I know God will let His truth survive. But I don’t know what to think when there are these allegations that some people I consider to be men of God are off-base. And it’s not just doctrinal – I want to know why Mars Hill, etc. is so popular, so that I can be more effective at ministry. If they’re doing something right, but not all the way right, how can we use similar strategies to help evangelism?

Max:

If people spent much less time trying to prove how right they are (as though that is proof of salvation) and a whole lot more time trying to be/do good with their lives and hands and treasures, the world would be a lot closer to the Kingdom of God. That was kind of the point in the Good Samaritan story. The priest and Levite were right to pass by the man left for dead (that was the move laid out as proper within a segment of the orthodoxy of that time), but it was the Samaritan who did “good”. You can tell from the way Jesus tells the story, which one he sees as the more important – the closer to God’s heart. Dude, I get called all kinds of things by all kinds of people, and it doesn’t change the reality of what is and what is not. God is…the rest of us just try to keep up. Knowing that young people like you are out there trying to sort through all the crazy junk to find the Living God – THAT makes it all worthwhile.
Every new movement or way of understanding has met with some vile and often violent responses from people who stood to lose something. It’s still true today. Doesn’t change the reality of what is and what is not. Don’t be afraid of crazy people. Most of them are just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic of the institutional church or whatever narrow sect they hand out with. They are just a distraction, and distractions are how Satan keeps you from storming the Gate of Hades with Jesus. Keep reaching the lost. God will work out the rest.

Will:

Yeah, you’re right. Making sure I’m on track with Jesus, and bringing other people to His feet, is what counts.

Ben Linder: Child of Wonder -Martyred Clown

Ben Linder: Child of Wonder -Martyred Clown

Compassion is

A whirlwind, swirling up

Hearts and lives like dry leaves;

Carrying you to toil

Here in these fields

Where anguish is

Nurtured from seed.

Connected. Seamless. Some great goodness.

How

Many of us knew

Your name

Then?


Infrastructure, right? Wasn’t

That it? The why part?

Were you running when

Shrapnel and ignorance tore you

To pieces? Peaces;

Your life leaked out on mud and stones.

The hawk, fatuous

Bird of prey, captivated by his own chromatic

Splendor said you were a traitor.  To what cause?

The Biblical child,

Does anyone remember you?


They’re just people

Here.  I can hear

It in my soul as if

It was coming

From yours,

So young.

Did God send you here?

Can you ride your unicycle in heaven, Ben?

Please, I need to know…

(By Max Ramsey    January 31, 1997)

A Plea for Assistance for Despensa de la Paz

A Plea for Assistance for Despensa de la Paz

As most of you know, I participate in a feeding ministry called Despensa de la Paz.  We are an emergency food pantry on the Southside of Milwaukee.  We are open for two hours every Saturday and average 40 clients each week, providing food for about 200 people each week.  You can do the math to understand the impact over a month or a year. According to statistics, our clients are among the least duplicated in our area.  In other words, we are apparently reaching the ones who are falling through the cracks.  That is what we are all about.  As most of you also know, our mission is to provide much more than food.  Our mission is to build relationships, connect people to benefits, and to offer hope.  Our mission is to open our clients’ eyes to the Kingdom of God at work in their midst. We do not shove Jesus down people’s throats in exchange for food.  We simply treat them as the treasure that they are, and offer them the opportunity to serve others with us.  However, we have been turned down for support by our local food bank, even though they were the ones who directed us to open in this area.  That provides us with a unique challenge and unique opportunity.

The challenge is that we are now desperately short of funds, and we need your help.  I am asking you to personally consider giving to this effort.  I am asking you to include Despensa de la Paz in your annual charitable giving.  I can assure you that every dollar you give will go directly to the mission, and your giving is tax-deductable.  We are completely staffed by volunteers, many of which were once or still are clients of our services.  Our expenses for food run about $1,000 per month.  Without you help, we will be out of business at the end of April.  In this time of high unemployment and financial distress, the demographic that we serve is among the hardest hit.  We provide food and clothing for a wide range of people from the homeless to the working poor.

The opportunity that has been laid before us is that since we do not have access to Federal or State issued funds or commodities, we are not bound by their restrictions.  We do not have to limit what we can give out by guidelines written by people who deal with averages and aggregates.  We know our clients by name and are involved in their lives.  We know that there are times when their real needs fall outside of the guidelines dictated by Federal and State agencies, and because we do not have to adhere to those guidelines, we can meet the genuine needs of people who do not match statistical averages .  In other words, we can serve the people who fall through the cracks.  But we cannot do that without the help and generosity of amazing people like all of you.  I am posting this here because I know all of you personally, and I know you all to be people of great compassion.  Some of you have been looking for ways to connect your compassion and generosity to something that is having a genuine impact.  You need only visit us to see the impact that Despensa is having.  If you would like to give to this cause, you can do so in either of two ways.  You can either make your check out directly to our parent charity – Freidens Communtiy Ministries (a 501(c)3 charity) or through my church (Immanuel-Brookfield, also a 501(c)3 entity).  Either way, please mark your check with “Despensa de la Paz” in the memo blank and include an address to which we can send you a receipt for your taxes. Either way you make out your checks, you can mail them to:

Immanuel-Brookfield, c/o Pastor Max Ramsey

4250 N. 137th Street

Brookfield, WI 53005

I will make sure that they get to the proper source agency ASAP.  I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read this note, and consider the urgency of this request for financial support.  I also ask you to consider reposting this on your Facebook page so that your friends might have the opportunity to participate, too.  Thank you.  May you be richly blessed in the same way that you richly bless us by considering Despensa in your charitable giving.

Deep Water

Deep Water

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Sometime you have to get away from the shore to understand the sea.  I remember the first time I got far enough away from land in the ocean to no longer be able to see the shore.  It was disorienting.  I had a compass.  That helped.  I was scared.  That didn’t help.  But I can relate to Simon.  He was probably pretty reluctant to get so far out to sea that the sea controlled him more than he controlled the sea.  This Jesus character wasn’t a waterman.  He was a carpenter – a landlubber.  Simon knew the water.  He’d been fishing all night – the best time to fish.  Simon was a fisherman and being that gave him his identity.  It was what he knew.  He was an “expert” – not much left to learn.  Simon’s identity and expertise gave him a sense of security and control.  Without that to navigate off of, he was lost.

My dad had a saying, and it usually came before something unpleasant.  He would say, “Boy, you’re in deep water now!”  It meant that I was in big trouble.  And I think it is a good metaphor for what happened to Simon out on the water that day, and I think it has a powerful meaning for us who are being called out into the mission. We are being called into deep water. So what does this passage have for us?  What is it telling you individually and us collectively?

I can relate to Simon.  I’m sure a lot of us can.  I spent a good portion of my young life competing for the spot of “big man”.  I had to try it all on.  I was a “tough guy”.  That’s different from being a tough guy.  I was willing to take on all comers.  You know where it got me?  It made me lonely, tired, always looking over my shoulder, never satisfied, and empty.  You know where it got me, and everyone else who is out there playing that game?  Deep water.  That’s where it got me.

Simon is the “big man” among the fishermen – the alpha male.  He is boastful and blusterous.  He is tough and strong.  And he is the “big dawg”.  Simon is not unfamiliar with Jesus.  He knows who Jesus is and something of what he is capable of.  Maybe that’s why he agrees to go out into deep water to begin with.  But he doesn’t yet know at all that who Jesus is will take Simon into water so deep that it swallows whole everything he believed himself to be.

Jesus is a landlubber – a carpenter.  What does he know about catching fish?  Simon’s been a fisherman his whole life and if he says it can’t be done, it can’t be done.  He’s the “big dawg”.  He is staking his whole identity on the fact that he’s been fishing all night and hasn’t caught anything, and Jesus may know more than Simon about people, but he doesn’t know more than him about fishing.  Simon doesn’t realize that Jesus isn’t making a wager.  He’s not saying, “I bet I can find us some fish.”  He’s making a promise.  He’s giving his word.  But unlike people, Jesus doesn’t make promises with his hope – which is really just another form of laying odds.  He promises and backs up those promises with his actions.

Luke is careful to emphasize the proper response to the miracles by consistently linking the miracles with the teaching of Jesus, often with a repeated emphasis on the “Word of God.” “What Luke is doing is to say that Jesus was not simply making empty promises but that his word was corroborated and supported by his deeds” (J. Tashjian).

When Jesus asked them to push out from the shore and try fishing again, there is an interesting response from Simon that moves to the heart of Luke’s concern here. First, Simon rather mildly objected that they have already tried that and failed. We might have expected a more strenuous objection from a professional fisherman as a carpenter instructed him how to fish! Yet, Simon was prepared to try again based solely on the word of Jesus (“if you say so,” literally, “at your word,” v. 5), and we don’t know why.

Jesus stood before Simon as the very contradiction of everything that Simon had thought defined Simon’s personhood:

  • his masculinity – men have to be right!
  • his knowledge of the sea and of fishing – he had already tried, and no carpenter should know fishing better than he did.

Simon had staked a lot on his prowess and found that the distance between his prowess and the power of the one who stood before him was more than his ego could bear.  The miracle awed the others in the boats.  But it broke Simon.  Jesus confronted Simon with his inadequacies – none of us stand very easily in that light.  And the confrontation pushed him to look inside himself and to not like what he has seen.  His response is confession.  Simon sinks to his knees, self-defeated by his own ego.  It turned out that he wasn’t “all that”.  The one that that came as the biggest shock to was himself.  There is a term for what has happened to Simon here – may it happen to us all!  Simon was humbled before the Lord.  Whatever big deal he is in comparison to his peers,  he (and you and I) is no big deal at all in comparison to Christ.

Simon Peter was humbled here in the one area of life where he should be in control – the one area where an inadequacy would be the most devastating. His reaction was to take the easy way out – to run away in shame.   His first move was to push Jesus away so that he would not have to face him and his own embarrassment. “Go away from me Lord!”

It is always easier to push away people who love us enough to show us ourselves.  It is the very reason that the people of Nazareth pushed Jesus away.  It’s the very reason that highly religious people are the hardest to work with sometimes.  Jesus sometimes confronts us with the inadequacies of our own religions.  If that “religiosity” is the very center of our identity and it does not hold up, then we are broken.  It wasn’t secular people who handed Jesus over to be killed.  It was highly religious people.  The ones who sold Jesus out to the Romans were people who were to religion what Simon was to fishing.

Yet in Simon’s moment of humiliation, something about Jesus’ personhood allowed Simon Peter to know that he was not under the expected kind of judgment  –  the kind Simon himself probably offered to men he saw as less than himself.  Because of Jesus’ way of being and the way that he confronts him, Simon is able to come face to face with himself for the first time in his life and to see himself as he really is – limited.  He is able to tell the truth from the lie for the first time in his life: “I am a sinful man.” It is grasping this truth and telling it that marks a turning point in Simon Peter’s life, and becomes the gateway to faith and the humble spirit of the mission.

Jesus doesn’t start trash-talking like the world does.  He doesn’t rub it in or lord it over Simon.  He responded, not with condemnation, but the totally unexpected words: “Don’t be afraid” (v. 10). Don’t be afraid of what?  Of himself.  Of the truth.  Of the fact that he, like all of us, is a sinner.  That he is no better than any of us.  As Simon lay at Jesus’ feet, reduced to the humility of a child, Jesus responded with the grace and love of a parent reassuring a child who has lost all confidence in himself that though he has found the end of his own abilities and talents, he still has value and worth.

In that moment Jesus redefined who Simon was. He would no longer be the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee catching fish for a living, but he would now be God’s own fisherman, living with every ounce of energy to fish for human souls. We might make the mistake of focusing on the miracle of fish, but this was not a miracle of mere fish.  It was the death of arrogance and self-importance in Simon Peter – the death of the only self that Simon knew, and the rebirth of Simon Peter as a true son of God and brother of Jesus Christ.  It changed all those who saw the change in Simon more than any catch of fish ever could.  When you see someone change who you never thought could change, it changes you.

All that we have seen in this passage is a symbol of the mission of God’s people in the world. Your value and worth are no longer defined by your own efforts and success in your worldly jobs.  Since you have been called out of the boat by Christ, you are Christ-ian and therefore becoming Holy.  Everywhere that you now go is Holy because you see God everywhere.  So no job you are now in is secular, but Holy, and no longer defined by the successes that you can conjure up with your own abilities.  Success is now defined by the mission of Christ and the power of the Spirit moving in you and the people and world around you. Called by Christ, you are now defined by the power of God at work in your lives in carrying out Jesus’ work in the world.  Everywhere you go is deep water now.

As we come to the table today from out of the mission field, knowing that when we leave this place today we will go back out into the mission field, let us come in the same kind of truth that Simon Peter found himself in as he lay at Christ’s feet and cried out, “I am a sinner.”  And let us come also to this table today hearing Christ’s own voice in our hearts responding to our brokenness with God’s Words: “Do not be afraid”.  Amen.

(Sermon preached by Max Ramsey 2-5-07)

For Mary Jane at 87

For Mary Jane at 87

Teenager-laughing,

She’s always new.

There’s springtime

At work in her gait.

Rose petals waft in her wake,

Dancing at twilight,

Barefoot before God.

(by Max Ramsey)

An Altar – For Here I Have Wrestled with God and Lost

In the passing of a beating heart I was scalded by the awful ordinariness of the day-to-day desperation of this life.  A heart stops, and tens of hearts break, and the world goes on, hardly noticing that a voice of hope for it has expired.  A frantic milling of pedestrians right outside the window hurrying on to destinations so impossibly disconnected from this room. Do they not know our pain?  Surely these walls cannot contain it. Can they not see what is happening here?  A mere pane of glass separates their moment from our moment. The world I know is ending right inside this very room as this child is laid to die in her parents’ arms and Milwaukee hurtles past unaffected. A well-meaning believer in the Course in Miracles told me recently that death is no more than taking off a coat.  He told me this as though I did not understand, as if a new pair of glasses changes everything.  It didn’t help.

I was expecting a tangible visit from God in that ICU room.  I was expecting something profound from outside the excruciation of the death of a child so tender, so pure.  How fragile tenderness is.  How impossible it is to pass through this life with tenderness intact.  How impossible it is to be pure.  The bitterest of ironies is that this was the purest of truths, the purest of moments.  The brutality of that loss was like a blow to the soul from a baseball bat.  There was no poetry.  That came later in the half-choked words of a teacher who felt called to read at her funeral, her poem read in a voice filtered through shattered glass.  There was no poetry.  There was no poetry.  What a lie to say, “O death where is thy sting?”  I know its sting.  It isn’t a sting.  It is massive blunt trauma.

Ezekial once said, “Like a fly you set me down in the valley.”  I have spent my very breath trying to connect the world to the broken heart of God.  I have spoken of miracles.  I have seen miracles with my own eyes.  I have hoped deeply.  I have hoped as a vocation, a calling, a way of life.  But I know now the deepest meaning of that small Hebrew word “Zviv”, not even included in our English version of Ezekial’s prophecy.  I am as significant as a fly in the horror that is unfolding among the linoleum and steel and beeping monitors in this room.  I have recently prayed to be convicted because I felt the edges of insobriety creeping in.  Conviction and horror must be synonyms in some forgotten language.  In that ICU room I was convicted.  Had I known this meaning of my prayer I could not have mustered the courage to ask it.  Indeed, in the passing of her death sentence my name was etched on my soul like a black tattoo.  And my name shall be “fly”.  Of what significance or import is the hope of a fly?  That shall be my life’s question.

A child dies in this room, and some large part of two parents dies with her.  The grass will still grow.  There is no homage. The spider web fractures through which I see things dimly reach ever outward like wretched and icy fingers threatening to overcome even the periphery of my vision. Today, the dance of faith seems an absurdity.  And if we shall ever dance again, shall we dance because we are stupid about the nature of things?  Or shall ours be a defiant dance to the bittersweet song of God?  It seems to be the same steps either way.

By Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-25-05)

The Surfer, the Sea, and Missional Transformation in the Small Church Environment: Chapter IV

Chapter IV – Terror and Commitment: Paddling In and Popping Up

Paddling Into the Wave

Catching a wave looks a lot easier than it actually is.  Even little “logs”, an East Coast term for those little rollers that are common to beach breaks in the Carolinas, travel at fifteen to twenty miles per hour.  And monster waves at breaks like Jaws and Outside Log Cabins can travel at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour and faster.  Big wave surfers (of which I only dream of being) catch waves by being towed into them by jet-skis because they can’t paddle fast enough to match the speed of the wave.  And that is the trick.  In order to catch a wave, you must be traveling at the speed of the wave when you pop up.  If you are sitting still on your board or not moving fast enough, one of two things will happen.  Either the wave will simply pass underneath you and leave you right where you started, or it will pick up the back end of your board and flip it end over end, sending you head first straight to the bottom.  One is obviously worse than the other, but neither one is good.  Catching a wave is a little bit like jumping onto a moving vehicle.  You gauge the distance and start running before the vehicle gets to you so that when it gets to you, you are moving at a similar speed and can jump on.  It’s kind of the same with surfing except that you are out in front of the wave instead of running along beside it.  You try to gauge the distance and rate of travel, and then you paddle like mad until you feel the wave start to overtake your paddling.  Then you pop up at the critical moment.

How do you know the critical moment? Experience.  That is the only way to learn.  Hundreds of waves pass you by and wipe you out before you just kind of get the feel.  It is a sensory thing more than a knowing thing – a spatial-kinesthetic epistemology.  Knowing the critical moment can only be learned by blowing it numerous times until you finally luck into one and remember what it feels like.  Remember what we learned about paddling out?  That’s an awful lot of extremely hard and exhausting work given that most of us fail over and over again learning how to catch a wave the first time.  But as I said, and I think most surfers will affirm, there really isn’t any other way.

Missional living is kind of the same way.  Consider the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 23).  The two disciples are walking along, sharing their broken hearts and despair with one another over Jesus’ crucifixion and the impending demise of everything they had poured themselves into.  They were the death of hope embodied, the death of the Kingdom walking along. They were a moving wave of despair.  If ever there was a mission in that moment, they were it.  And Jesus, whom they did not recognize, catches up to them and walks up along side of them.  He matches their speed.  To be walking “with” someone, we have to be walking at their speed.  It’s definitional.  In other words, Jesus paddles into their wave of despair. Jesus matches not only their pace of walking, but he also paddles into their emotions.  Matching a person’s emotion, or “speed”, is also called “compassion”.  It is knowing by feeling.  Jesus compassionately listens to the waves of emotion that these two hurting souls are feeling, and enters their conversation at their speed.  There is an exchange, a question and an answer – Jesus is judging the distance and speed.  The wave of emotion crests in an angry, incredulous outburst – “How can you not know what has happened here?!?!”  Instead of fighting the wave of anger, Jesus rides with it, opening Scripture to them in the very wounded places that they are moving in.  He isn’t paddling out.  He is paddling in.  Jesus doesn’t demand that the two come to him.  He comes right into their reality, riding what is going on in them.  He isn’t rebutting their experience.  He is adding a new perspective to the movements that are already taking place, and he is doing it at the speed that the two disciples are traveling.  And Jesus doesn’t “pop up” until the critical moment that will come later in the story when he is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread at supper.  How did Jesus know when to pop up?  I don’t know, but I would hazard to guess that he knew from experience.  He lived it enough to know simply from the living of it.

Living missionally means paddling into other people’s circumstances, cultures, and lives.  If we don’t paddle hard to match their pace, then one of two things will happen.  Either the Kingdom opportunity will simply pass underneath us and leave us right where we started, or it will send us end over end in the most dangerous way possible.  Surfers don’t demand things of the waves.  The waves are what they are.  They don’t bend to our needs.  We have to judge the distance and speed and paddle hard to match it.  We have to do that in the mission, too.  If the language and culture is “teenager” for example, then we have to paddle in with an open mind until we match the speed of their emotion and the speed of the Kingdom of God that is already at work in them.  We have to catch the language and the folkways of teenagers in order to move at their speed.  We have to ask ourselves the distance judging question: “What is going on here?”  And we have to ask ourselves the speed question: “Where is the Kingdom working in this situation?” It’s as much feeling it as thinking it.  It is as much right feeling as right thinking. “Accurate empathy” is the term for it that I learned somewhere along the way.

An Example of Getting Moving – We Never Have it all Figured Out

Missional living also means being willing to get moving.  Something I have learned along the way is that is easier to steer a vehicle that is moving than it is to get it going from a dead stop.  It is even easier to steer a vehicle one hundred and eighty degrees, to turn it completely around, than it is to start from a dead stop.  I think it is a gravity/inertia thing.  Our community no longer waits to have every duck in a row before we engage a mission. We have a feel for it now.  We get in it, start moving missionally and make adjustments along the way.  Let me give you an example.  We had been looking for a way to engage the homeless population in the City of Milwaukee, and we are always looking for ways to plant new missional communities.  The Holy Spirit put the idea of street ministry on the hearts of a couple of people in the community.  They felt very strongly that we could be doing some innovative things with intentional community building among the homeless.  The call did not seem to be one to change the world with a big program, just a process of one-to-one engagement and relationship building.  We had no specifics.

The call was affirmed when we sent a mission team down to Galveston, TX after Hurricane Ike to do some relief and rebuilding work.  That trip began when a wild Christ-follower named John L. had a deepening sense that God wanted him to go on a mission trip, but he didn’t know where.  The “where” emerged around dinner at his house when he shared his vision with the group gathered there sharing a meal.  We had no team and no money, but within a week or two, we had a team, funding, and transportation.  We just started moving, and the resources came to us.  The presence of those resources is affirmation of calling to us.  If resources don’t happen, we assume that what we were about to do is not something God wants us to do yet or at all.  In this case, we got the resources.  At the time that the call to go to Galveston emerged, no one had yet made the connection to the burgeoning sense of calling to do something locally.  It’s funny how God works.  The City of Galveston government assigned our little team to work for a week with an inner-city ministry group that did street ministry to the most marginalized members of Galveston society.  They had planted themselves in some really ratty buildings in the worst part of the city, and had relocated in order to live there where they ministered.  And they ran a street ministry.  Where before we did not have a mental model of what a street ministry might look like, God took our team and immersed them in a ministry just like what we felt called to do.  We helped them muck out and repair their damaged facilities, and they taught us how to do street ministry.  We were both the object and the subject of mission in the same moment.  So the team came back with a story to tell, and a model to teach, and we were off and running.

Now let me be clear about what “off and running” looked like. A fabulous Christ-follower named Chris J. had been feeling the birth pangs of a new mission building up inside of her for some time.  It had no real shape, just a sense of spiritual anxiety and urgency. She thought it might be connected to the feeling in the community that we should be engaging the homeless.  She had gathered about six people including myself around the truth of what was going on inside of her. Those six people were really committed to getting something started.  We had no money to work with. And we didn’t really understand how the homeless migrate and live in the City of Milwaukee.  We began a process of intentional prayer beginning with praying in and around the neighborhood where our food pantry was located.  The Galveston ministry leader even came up and prayed through the neighborhood with us the first day.  He was surfing our break that day.  We prayed over every house and alley.  And we walked a few miles in every direction around the pantry.  Chris felt that she had had a vision for a place to start, so we put together some meal bags like the ones the Galveston ministry uses, and we set out for the park that had come to Chris in a dream. Did you hear that? The place to start came to Chris in a dream.  That kind of thing is related in the Bible more times than I can count.  And if it happened then, why wouldn’t it go down that way now?  Why have so many church people stopped believing that the Holy Spirit is currently alive in the same way that the Holy Spirit was alive in the Bible?  Chris believes, and so do all of the people she gathered around her.  A point of note here is that Chris, who was once the object of mission, was now living and leading apostolically, led by Scripture and the Holy Spirit alive and at work in her.  That is how multiplication works in our community – object to subject of mission, mission to friendship, friendship to discipleship, discipleship to leadership, leadership to apostleship.

When we arrived at the park we found that that neighborhood had been gentrified and that there were no homeless people living there. Chris was sure that her vision was to reach the homeless.  Now, ten years ago, we would have chalked this up as a failure, packed up our vehicles and just quit.  We would have belittled the vision as the remnant of a taco eaten too soon before bed.  We have learned better now.  Experience has taught us the feel of the rising wave overtaking our paddling.  So we decided to do a walk.  We prayed for a direction to walk in, and felt called to head north, so we did.  Along the way, we passed a man with a couple of bags sitting in a doorway.  We had the mistaken idea that we were being called up to the bridge over-passes that were up ahead where we had seen sleeping bags a week before.  We walked right by the guy in the doorway except that I made eye-contact with him and I remembered thinking that there was something almost haunting about him.  When we got to the over-passes, we found no one there.  Again, that might have been enough to make us quit ten years ago.  But now we were on a “God-walk”, led by the Spirit. Experience had taught us what it feels like to catch a wave.   It came to two of us that the man we passed had a couple of plastic bags with him, and his shoes did not match the rest of his attire.  Don’t confuse what I am about to say with stereotyping.  I assure you it is not. But those are some visual characteristics of people who live on the street.  In that moment, we all realized that that was a man we were supposed to talk to.

We walked back to that doorway, and engaged the man in conversation.  It was, in fact, our first street ministry encounter.  We learned that the man was homeless.  We also learned that he was hungry.  We hooked him up with a couple of bags of food.  And we asked him where the homeless population hung out at this hour of the day.  He told us that if we took him to McDonald’s, he would show us where to go.  So we put him in our van and took him to the “Golden Arches” and got him a hot meal.  He then informed us that if we proceeded up that same street to the intersection that was just three blocks ahead, we would find a strip mall parking lot.  He told us to go there, and just open up our vehicles, people would begin to show up.  So, we did that.  And he was right.  The corner was a bus hub that the homeless frequented at that time of day.  We prayed over the spot and asked God’s blessing on what we were about to do, and before we knew it, we were handing out meals, meeting all kinds of people, and praying for anyone who asked for prayers.  Because we believe that the movement from object to subject of the mission is the most important conversion in a life of conversions, we invited everyone we served or prayed with to hang out and help us hand out bags and pray for others.  Many did.  Within just a couple of weeks, it was common to pray for a hundred people or more.  And it was common to have conversions every time we went out there.  Those who had a conversion were immediately engaging others with an invitation to participate with us in the Kingdom of God on that corner.  We developed a community of regulars who came out to serve with us.  We have become friends.  We open up the ministry now with prayer and a brief scripture study, and then we go out into the neighborhood with a meal to offer and a mission of prayer.  Wow.  Scripture, accountable friendships, prayer, mission…sounds like a church to me.

Remember that I said that when we started we had no money.  These meals cost money – about $6,000 a year.   We started buying them out of our own pockets, but quickly realized that we were feeding so many people that we couldn’t sustain that.  So we put the word out through e-mails and through our virtual on-line communities such as those developed through Facebook, and we began immediately to receive donations from all over the world.  We have received enough donations or food, clothing, blankets, and funds to continue this mission right up to now. And those who give also pray for the people that we pray for – we post their first names and concerns on Facebook so that anyone who wants to participate in the mission can. Thousands now pray.  Had we waited to have cash in hand, we never would have gotten started.  People connect their hearts to missions that are bearing fruit.  We were bearing fruit before we ever went looking for donations.  The truth of the matter is that this mission is a prayer ministry, and we could have done that without food or clothing to give to people. But inviting others to give to the mission, allows them to participate in the Kingdom of God.  And so fruit is borne in two directions at once, and it is borne among people who have never met in person.  They only know each other through on-line connections.  We got moving, and then figured it out and made adjustments, and that has made all the difference.  The street mission is constantly changing.  Every week it is different, and since we started, we have changed locations several times.  We did not have it all figured out when we started, we don’t have it all figure out now, and we will probably never have it all figured out.  If we had waited to have it figured out, the wave of the Kingdom of God would have passed right underneath us, and we would still be sitting on our boards right where we were.  We had six people, no money, and a vision not yet figured out.  Apparently that was enough.  It is now the norm.

Mismatching

As I said, in order to catch a wave, we have to match its speed before we pop up.  If we mismatch the wave we will know pretty quickly because, in the example of mission to teenagers, either the teenagers will roll their eyes and pass us by, or they will respond vehemently and maybe even violently against us.  When dealing with young gangsters or gang wannabe’s, that kind of miss can be as dangerous as it gets.  I mismatched once out on the street in front of our food pantry, and said the wrong thing to a couple of gangsters who couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen, and both of them turned towards me while reaching into their waistbands up under their hoodies. On the streets here, the most unpredictable killers are under eighteen.   Fortunately, I had enough experience to know to pull out of that wave and I beat feet back into the food pantry and locked the doors.  I missed that wave and it nearly got me shot.  I have learned a lot from that missed opportunity, and have become a better surfer because of it.  As they used to say in skydiving, “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.”  Or, as they say in surfing, “Gnarly, dude.”  They mean essentially the same thing.  By the way, with that lesson learned, I was paddling back out in front the food pantry the next Saturday.  I have caught a few beautiful rides there since then.  We have a couple of gangsters who now help us give food out, and participate in the Kingdom in doing so.  The scarier the wave, the wilder the ride.  We don’t do “crazy” for the sake of “crazy”.  But Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), and that’s what we’re trying to do too.

Popping up: Total Commitment

In catching a wave, I will tell you right now that there is a point of no return.  If you have paddled in to the point where you can feel the wave begin to carry you, you are going to go screaming down the face of that wave one way or another.  The only question is, “How?” Once you’re up, you don’t get to pick the conditions.  It might be like glass on the face of that wave.  Or it might be all chop and bad wind.  You just have to deal with the conditions because if you don’t, there’s going to be a big wreck and a lot of scrapes and bruises at the bottom.   It’s true on a personal level, and it’s true on the community level, too.

Communities move on the energy of individuals.  Communities get behind people. Almost all mission opportunities begin with a vision for a mission in an individual.  But mission isn’t mission if it doesn’t involve at least two people.  Individual acts of service are awesome and they are treasure in heaven, and the world would be a much better place if we all regularly engaged in them.  But they are not the mission.  The mission always involves a subject and object giving and receiving, and so it always involves more than one person.   Paddling into the mission means tapping into your networks and into the hope and energy of your community. It might be the “brain” or the “ear” of the community that gets the community up on the board, but the whole body is going to ride it and the whole body is going to pay the price for a bad wipe-out.   Yes, paddling into a mission opportunity means investing yourself, but people who don’t realize their connection to the hope and energy of the community they have invited to join with them are dangerous people in a community. Jesus told us that people like this are a reality and a part of the mission when he told us that some seed falls on rocky soil (Matthew 13:5).  Mature communities of faith know that if they send people out into mission right away and disciple them along the way, from time to time they will find that the seed has been planted in soil that has no depth of character, and when that seed blows away it has the potential to do damage to the community.  Mature communities send people out right away anyway.  If we wait to see what kind of soil we are dealing with before we send any workers out into the harvest (Luke 10:2), then we will never send anyone out into the harvest.  We just have to learn to deal with the reality and accept it as part of the mission.

People who don’t understand their connection in mission to the body, whose soil or character has no depth, are like a brain that wants to do its own thing without considering the impact on the body as whole.  They are like the mind of an addict who loves the high and doesn’t care about the toll, because the toll is paid by the body more than the mind.  The mind of an addict just keeps on writing checks that the body can’t cash.  Dangerous stuff.  Once you have gathered a community behind something, that something is no longer just your idea.  It is a movement.  And that movement is no longer simply yours.  It never really was yours.  It is Christ’s.  It belongs to the Holy Spirit. And the body that Christ has gathered with you in your idea through your inspired invitations is going to pay the price right along with you.  Mature communities of faith know this from experience and are less likely to have the wind knocked out them when the wind blows the seed away and the shallow believer quits or falls away.  Immature communities put their hope in these new converts, and run a terrible risk of having their hope collapse when some of these new believers fall away.  A community’s only hope is the Holy Spirit.  Mature communities know that the only hero in any of these stories is God, not any one person.

As with the absence of human heroes in the mission, mature faith communities know that the only hero in Scripture is God.  Any human “hero” that you can name in Scripture turns out to be pretty flawed upon close examination.  Abraham is the covenant father, but I doubt that Hagar would see him as the hero of Scripture.  King David is a man after God’s own heart, but I doubt that Uriah would consider him the hero of Scripture. If it was true in Scripture, it must also be true now.  Mature communities invest in the development of disciples knowing that some will bear good fruit and some will fall away.  They do not idolize people, though they may admire the work they do.  They realize that all good work comes from God alone, and so what they admire is the work of God in and through individuals.  They have learned from painful experience not to idolize people and place their hope in them.  We have to be willing to risk failure when we get behind people.  We have to be willing to take risks.  And we have to be willing to fail if we ever hope to succeed.  But be careful where we place our hope.  God is the only one worthy of that investment.

Know this.  Never forget this.  Love and responsibility are the same word.  Irresponsible people kill immature communities even though they might be saying that they are motivated by love.  Irresponsible people who gather momentum and then fail to follow through on the commitment they have started have the potential to suck the hope right out of an immature body and injure it terribly.  Integrity – being solid enough to count on, and staying connected and focused – is the key characteristic of a missional leader.  It’s not that they don’t fail sometimes.  It’s that they don’t quit when what’s at stake is more important than they are.  Having the courage to commit totally and to stick with that commitment in the face of fear and personal loss is the only kind of missional leadership.  Anything else is just addictive behavior and is destructive to the Kingdom of God.  Mature communities are aware of the signs of this behavior because they have all seen this behavior and its impact at some point in their journey and have somehow lived through it and learned from it.

The Skill Set

Once you’re up, what you knew doesn’t matter.  Things happen too fast to really think long and hard.  You make adjustments.  That’s the skill.  It’s not what you knew going in –what you carried around in your head. It’s how well and how quickly you can figure things out and adjust to them.  It’s not how well you can regurgitate what you learned in some rote format that you memorized.  It’s how well you can adapt what you know to an ever-changing mission field, and connect what you know to what you need to learn to navigate the immediate situation.  The skill set of mission is no longer simply “knowing”.  The skill set is “learning”.  Can your mind and heart expand to fit knew understanding and new dynamics that none of us control? I think that’s what’s behind the metaphor of new wine skins that Jesus uses (Luke 5:37).  If our minds are rigid, when the need for new knowledge comes along, we burst at the seams instead of being able to expand what we think to a new situation.  The Kingdom of God is constantly expanding, and our ability to learn must constantly expand along with it.

A Final Point on Commitment

Jesus tells his disciples to “consider the cost” before he sends them out.  Jesus knows that surfing has a point of no return.  Jesus knows that to follow him requires total commitment.  There is no half-way once you’re out in the mission.  And it can cost you everything.  Surfing has its martyrs.  Some of the best surfers have paid for their art with their lives.  The mission has its martyrs, too.  Remember Paul and Andrew and Stephen, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  Once you’re in it, you’re in it.  There’s no going back.  Once you see that the Emperor has no clothes, there’s no going back to old ways and pretending he’s not naked.  Once the enemy knows your name, you’re in it whether you want to be in it anymore or not.  Consider the cost.  Once your eyes are opened to the reality of the Kingdom of God in our midst, there is no turning back.

By Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-1-10)

Eons

Eons

She calls me “Son”;
He calls me “Max”.  He sings funny old
Songs, she laughs
A beautiful laugh.
Seventy years they’ve been
Together. Married. One.
Eons, seventy years together.
Like two old maples blown against each other by the wind, leaning hard and long,
Knotted and grown into each other’s bark;
Knit together like a wound
Long healed.
A love like steel: fired, hammered and folded over and over.
Once two stones washed together,
Now one; melded by the pounding surf.
Yet…there are separate
Places.  Peace. Their own
Space.  In the same
Room. Together. Married.
One.
Eons.

Add an Image

For Ralph and Jane Weber, June 24, 2009 (by Max Ramsey)

The Surfer, the Sea, and Missional Transformation in the Small Church Environment: Chapter Three

Chapter III – Paddling Out is the Hardest Part

The Sea as a Life Metaphor

Learning to swim in the sea is a great metaphor for life in a fallen world.  In order to surf, you better be a strong swimmer first.   Right from the time that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden we learn that life will not be without problems.  In fact, because Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3) and refused to take responsibility for it, we humans have been born into separation from God’s Will.  In Eden, our minds and hearts were directly connected to God’s Will, and so life was idyllic.  There was nothing to learn, everything was handed to Adam and Eve.  But with the Fall, the easy way of knowing was taken from us, and now life is a journey of learning and growing back into the knowledge of God’s Will for us.  In Eden, there were no problems.  Outside of Eden, problems come at us all the time, and spiritual growth comes from the discipline of facing those problems and learning to overcome them.  Like the waves in the ocean, problems come in all sizes and shapes.  If we aren’t prepared, the wave knocks us off our feet and leaves us scrambling to recover.  We get water up our noses, and sand in our ears, and we learn to pay attention and to deal with the reality of waves.  The next time a wave comes, we know to duck under it, dive through it, or paddle over it.  And we know that to do any of those things we have to know that a wave will definitely be coming and we have to face into it. There are breaks between the waves where we can catch our breath and prepare for the next one, but the next one is surely coming.

Our first time in the ocean we may very wrongly think that there would only be one wave and that that’d be it.  But before the day is over we realize that there is an endless supply of waves, one after another.  It is the rhythm of the sea. Or we may superstitiously think that if we manage to get through one wave with perfect form that God in God’s providence will reward us with perpetually calm seas.  Or we might offer up all forms of craziness to God in the hopes that if we please God the sea will go flat only when we paddle out.  We can even pretend that waves don’t really exist and are just figments of the imagination, and turn our backs on the surf.  But saying the sea is not the sea, doesn’t change the sea at all.  We will find ourselves wiped out and going over the falls if we try to pretend that waves aren’t real and act on that misbelief.  Waves are real.  So are problems. Problems are part of the nature of life in a fallen world – they are the hard way of learning now that the easy ways of Eden are no longer available to us.  If the purpose of this life is to learn to live with God forever in Heaven as the Bible indicates it is, then facing and overcoming problems is the means to that end.  We learn to navigate through one breaking wave, and that kind of wave is no longer as frightening as it was the first time.  And there is always another wave coming.  Life is a series of problems to be faced into and overcome.  There is grace in that we find time to catch our breath between the waves, but there is reality and consequence in that another wave is always coming; if not today, then certainly tomorrow.

The ocean has times of calm, and the ocean has raging storms.  And the ocean has everything in between.  On the East Coast, when there is an off-shore breeze, the surfing is perfect.  The wind sculpts the waves into perfect surfable works of art with a consistent rhythm. The waves come in predictable sets.   But when the wind shifts and comes from the Northeast with force behind it, the sea turns to chaos, nearly impossible to surf and very hard to even stay alive in.  Life has Nor’easters.  Life has times where problems seem to come from everywhere, some small and frequent and others giant.  The first time you paddle into a Nor’easter, it is frightening.  There is no rhythm to the sea in a storm, it is the Biblical chaos that was here before there was a “here”, before God breathed upon it and said, “Let there be Light!” (Genesis 1).  It can swallow you up.  It can carry you away.  Waves come quickly and erratically, rather than in predictable sets.  And yet, even in the midst of chaos and wind and rain, there is always both beauty and grace.  There is always a chance to catch your breath if you know how to swim and don’t panic.  You learn to work with the currents and tide, instead of constantly trying to fight them.  You learn that no matter what, you never let yourself get separated from the board.  The chaotic sea is a reminder that we are not in charge here, and that compared to the power of the One who controls even the wind and the waves, we are very small indeed.  That understanding of our smallness and powerlessness produces within us a sense of awe and a respect for the sea’s terrible beauty.  Storms are part of life.  They remind us that we are not in charge and that we must use the wisdom that God has given us, and have faith to rely upon God’s grace and mercy.  And, if you just stick it out, storms always end and calm always returns, and with the calm comes joy and gratitude and a greater understanding of God and God’s Will for us.  The ocean is a great metaphor for life in a fallen world.

The Sea as a Metaphor for the Mission

Surfing is a great metaphor for following Jesus into the mission.  In fact, even though Jesus never actually referred to himself as surfer, his experience on earth as related in Scripture would indicate that he deeply understood the nature of the sea.  Let me give you an example that takes place after the disciples have participated in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, and immediately after Jesus explaining the Parable of the Sower to the disciples.  Jesus intends to head across the Sea of Galilee to cast out demons in the Gentile region of Gerasenes (Luke 8:22-26).  Jesus knows what he is going to do.  Satan knows what Jesus is going to do.  But the disciples are so amazed at Jesus’ miracles and so confused about his teachings about seeds and soil that they have forgotten about the realities of life in a fallen world.  Jesus sends the disciples across the Sea in a boat.  He sends them into the mission.  Do not miss this point! Jesus sends the disciples into the mission.

Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  And there is a lost soul possessed by demons  and in need of Christ’s redemption living just across the water in the graveyard in Gerasenes.  The disciples must cross the water in order to get to the one that Jesus seeks to reach.  The only way is through.  I think that the disciples get into the boat naively thinking that their crossing will be uncontested like so many people do.  That will not be the case.  As soon as they are away from shore, the wind rises up against them and their small boat, and the sea begins to rage.  The mission for them has just gone from exciting to terrifying like it does for so many people. And like it is for so many people, the problem is in the disciples’ unrealistic expectations of what the mission will be like.

None of us should think for a second that if we go to plunder the Gates of Hades (Matthew 16:18) and steal souls away from Satan, that Satan is going to let that happen without a fight.  Satan will put huge waves in our path and chaotic seas before us in an effort to either scare us so badly that we turn back, or he will make every effort to outright drown us.  Jesus who is sleeping in the back of the boat knows that it is just the wind and that all seas are navigable by the grace of God and with the faith and wisdom that comes from experience.  The disciples are panicked having thought that the mission would be easy and safe.  Jesus opts to calm the sea, but Jesus also ribs them a little by saying, “Oh ye of little faith.” Had their faith been greater, they would have known that it is the One who commands the wind and the waves that sent them into the mission to begin with.

Paddling Out

I think that hardest thing for a community to overcome in its transformation to mission is paddling out into the sea, paddling out into the mission. And I think that what makes it so hard to overcome is that many churches have been conditioned with unrealistic expectations of what the mission is really like.  We are conditioned by well-meaning people to believe that if we only follow Jesus then things will be easy for us.  That’s just rubbish!  When I first started surfing, I was pretty naïve about the power of the sea.  I’ll never forget the first time I looked out into the surf off the coast of South Carolina, a surf that I had been swimming in since I could walk.  I saw these little two foot and three foot waves and naively thought, “No problem!” I had seen these guys surfing down here for years and it didn’t look that hard. I had my little Lightning Bolt 6-footer across my body in front of me as I waded out.  The first wave broke just as it hit my board which then hit me.  The physics of such things is something that I should have studied harder in school.  Wham! The force of that little wave spread out over all six feet of that board and that board came up and hit me in the chin like a truck. The water in that six-foot section of that little wave probably weighed a couple thousand pounds and that wave was probably traveling at fifteen to twenty miles per hour. You get the idea.  It split my chin wide open, and the only thing that kept me from blacking out was the thought that I was bleeding for sure and blood in the water attracts sharks.  This was the summer after the movie “Jaws” had come out, and the abject terror that went through my body at the thought of bleeding into the ocean had me running out of the water at a sprint with my now-dinged board still strapped to my ankle. That must have been quite a sight! The best part of all of it was that the guy who had invited me to come surfing with him was now rolling on the beach laughing at me, and the sight of the whole thing had drawn the attention of every cute girl on the beach that I had hoped would notice my new-found surfer-cool. So much for cool.  Dude, it was ugly!

My friend helped to clean me up with a couple of butterfly bandages from the lifeguard stand, and he showed me how to at least get past the first breaking wave without getting killed outright. Sympathy came only in the form a knowing look and a pat on the back.  No coddling, just an invitation to get back out there.  His reaction to my misfortune told me that getting your face bashed in is just a normal part of the process.  Later on that day, I noticed that my friend had several scars on his face about the same size as the cut on my chin.  No victims out here.  Occasionally, stitches are part of the gig.  Surfers surf.  It’s what they do.  More importantly, it’s what they are.

And then came the hard part.  Once I got into deep enough water that I couldn’t stand up, I had to paddle against the surf.  You stroke really hard between the waves because even when you duck-dive under the wave correctly, every wave pushes you backwards. Paddle hard, pushed back.  Paddle hard, pushed back.  Paddle hard, pushed back. Do that for a couple of hundred yards and see how tired you are.  And all that work’s just to earn the opportunity to catch one wave one time. That’s just the way it is.  There is no other way.  It is what surfing is.   It is an amazingly exhausting process to simply get off the beach and out into the line-up before you’ve even had a chance to get up on your board and catch a wave.  Of course, once you accept the reality that that is what surfing is, and you have done it a couple of hundred times, it gets easier.  Before long, in the midst of what was once torture, you find a rhythm and a peace in paddling out.  And you get in some seriously good shape.

What if I had quit because my chin hurt?  What if I had quit because surfing sometimes means getting bruised and cut and scraped?  I would never have found the joy of the pure moment.  I would never have even found the rhythm and peace that comes with simply paddling out.  And what if I had quit because paddling out meant three steps forward and one step back? Or two steps back?  What if I had decided that a successful paddle out meant that it was an easy cruise on a flat sea?  If I had quit because the going was hard and very much contested by the very waves I intended to ride, then I never would have seen the seen the Kingdom come to life in that one pure moment, that one perfect ride.  And, for the record, that one perfect ride didn’t come for a year.  That’s an awful lot of effort for one pure moment.  And it was worth every second of it.  It’s what surfers do.  Surfers surf.  And surfing means paddling out.

Once a community decides it’s time to follow Christ into the mission, every move it makes towards the Gates of Hades will very much be contested.  You may not know where you’re going, but Jesus knows where you’re headed because Jesus is the one who sent you out into the sea to begin with. And Satan may not know exactly where you’re going, but he certainly knows why you’re going and who sent you. Once you decide that you are called to tie Satan up (Matthew 12:29) and steal people away from him, every move you make from that point forward will be pounded by waves and heartily contested by chaotic winds.  Satan is not threatened by awesome worship services that feed believers. He has already counted them as lost to God anyway.  Satan benefits from people who already number themselves among the saved locking themselves away from the world to sing some cool tunes and get “challenged to think” by an interesting sermon,  and then calling that the totality of faith and practice.  On the other hand, Satan is very threatened by people with the courage and commitment and maturity of faith to venture out into the sea to rescue lost souls and lost people. If your community begins to take seriously the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) in the mission field right outside its doors, your community is going to have everything including the kitchen sink put in your path to keep you from doing what Christ himself sent you to do.  Your community is going to experience every kind of spiritual conflict and craziness that Satan can throw at it.   If you don’t believe me, try it and see what I mean.  You will be paddling out into big surf and rough seas.  Even small waves if mishandled can cause you serious damage.  And if you are serious about the mission, you won’t just be facing small waves.  You will, from time to time, be facing monsters!

Everybody gets dinged up.  It’s just the mission.  There is no other way.  It is what the mission is.  You may not literally get your chin split open, but you will have your heart broken more than once.  And you will feel the pain of betrayal and the hurt of harsh words spoken against you.  You will have your character attacked, and that hurts when it happens.  You will have your hopes crash down around you at least once.  You will be bruised.  You will find yourself going forward three steps and falling back one or two.  Paddle hard, pushed back.  That’s just the way it is.  So many times in churches we have been conditioned to think that if we meet resistance there is something wrong with what we’re doing.  If we run headlong into a giant wave, we are conditioned to think that we should stop because what we’re doing is too dangerous. That’s rubbish!  Resistance is often evidence that you are on the right track.  Surfing is dangerous.  There is no other kind of surfing.  Mission is dangerous.  There is no other kind of mission.  Your mission threatens a power stronger than you.  But it is not stronger than God, and if you will just have the faith to stick it out even when it’s three feet forward and two feet back and your chin is busted wide open, then you may one day have the opportunity to walk on water with Jesus across the face of raging resistance, snatching people out of the clutches of Satan’s own hands, in one pure true moment as the Kingdom of Heaven comes to earth right before your eyes.

You will get hurt.  You will get bruised.  The mission will wear you out.  It’s really hard to see progress and it often feels like you’re going backwards more than you’re going forwards.  If you’re bleeding and tired and looking for sympathy, and you look into the eyes of the people who live the missional lifestyle every day, you will get sympathy only in the form of a knowing glance and a pat on the back…and an invitation to get back in there and try it again. If you look closely at them, they have many scars about the same size as your wounds. There is no other mission.  There is no other way to surf.  They are what they are.  But if you want to be a surfer, surfers surf.  And if you want to follow Christ, Christ-followers follow Christ into the mission.  Paddling out is part of surfing.  Paddling out is the hardest part.

Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-1-10)

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