Archive for February, 2012

Some Can Fly

Some Can Fly

When I was young, I wished

To fly, and I glared with the greenest

Envy at those who were born with wings.

Now?  Hahahahaha. I long only now

To one day walk truly and well;

To give thanks purely for the shelter

That the earth provides;

To wonder like a child at the author of

The flight

Of others; and to drink in deeply all

The colors of the path

I was forged to trod. Once

One sees even a graceful hawk crash to earth, or merely

Struggle against the frigid wind, it seems quite stupid

To ask why some can fly and others



When Spring Comes Early

When Spring Comes Early

“What have you to do with us?!?!”, asked the Legions of the Master,


Strikingly, their darker meaning like children doing mischief, “What are you

Doing here?!?! You’re early!

It is not The Hour.

No bud has yet sprung, and the earth is still

Ours. Our game of death is not yet over!”

Oh, when spring comes early!  Like Great News,

An early spring reminds even the addled that

Though winter…Death… still has its grip

On things, spring still arrives

At its hour, death’s game ends, and new life

Springs forth from beneath the blankets of hoarfrost. The victory trumpet

Of the Sandhill Crane high over head reminds us all

That neither we nor death decide

Spring’s arrival. And no matter

How long or short

The winter, no matter

How terrible its bitter grip, there is always spring.

There is always spring. Early

Sometimes, as if to say, “The tomb has always been

Empty. The field has never been


Why Does Mission Immersion Matter?

Why Does Mission Immersion Matter?

I used to do a lot of short-term mission work overseas and I caught a lot of guff for it from the “real” missionaries, the long-term ones.  I understood their argument.  The trouble was that they didn’t understand my purpose.  I do not harbor illusions about changing the world in a week.  I do not hold some simmering zeal to invade a foreign culture and set it free from its own limitations.  I use to do a lot of short-term mission overseas because somewhere along the line I came to realize that I live in the largest unreached mission field in the world.  I came to understand that it was MY culture that people were shackled to and needed to be freed from, and that if North American churches didn’t find a completely different model for doing ecclesia, then they would slip away into irrelevance.  It isn’t that I don’t use every drop of what I learned in seminary every week.  It’s just that the mental models for doing church that were presented to me there simply did not meet the need of reaching people for the Kingdom of God who lived right outside our doors.  I had no mental model.  I had no idea what a church that was entirely designed to penetrate a culture with the gospel looked like.  I needed to see one before I could do one.  So, if I ticked off a few foreign missionaries with my little short-term efforts, I am sorry.  And I also don’t care.  I needed to live in their model in order to understand their model, so that I could be a part of something here that is designed to do exactly what foreign mission churches are designed to do there.

I know a lot of great people who are really interested in taking the next step, but they (like I had) have no idea what the next step even looks like.  They, too, have to see one in order to do one.  We are not the church of our parents.  We are not that church because that church was designed to do something that is entirely unlike what the Church is being called to do here now in the U.S. – reach unreached people groups whose culture is foreign to our own.  Any teaching model that is designed to move Christ-followers into the mission, has to give those Christ-followers a model on which to build.  If they don’t have a vision for what an effective mission-driven church looks like, how can they even find a place to begin?

In my limited experience, foreign mission churches are mission-centered.  The purpose of their being is to reach outward because there is no inward to reach into when they first get going.  All of their life flows out of that mission.  Worship flows from mission. Discipleship flows out of the knowledge that disciples in the mission environment are called to make disciples who make disciples.  Mission informs the culture of the community  – it has to be host-culture-aware and host-culture-relevant.  Almost everything that mission churches do is designed to meet the needs of people who aren’t there yet.  And having said all of that, those are just words.  They aren’t substance.  What does a church like that actually look like?  What does it actually feel like? What holds it together and what keeps the roof on? What kinds of facilities do they invest in?  What do they invest first?  Where do they focus their resources and for what purpose? How do they measure effectiveness?

I did not have the benefit of having missional churches here in the U.S. that I could go and immerse myself in 16-17 years ago when I first felt God’s call to do this kind of work. The term “missional” didn’t really have legs back then.  I am sure that missional communities were out there…quite sure…but no one I knew knew who they were or how to get connected to them. People at my seminary who I know loved me deeply, said I should go into missions.  And I kept replying, “Right.” But we apparently weren’t in the same conversation.  So for me, the easiest fastest way to get something into my head was to spend a lot of money and go overseas.  And that’s what I did.  And that was how I developed a mental model around which I could cast a vision to my community, and upon which the Holy Spirit could build what we do here now.  We kicked our missional transformation off by taking about twelve people to Nicaragua.  That experience gave a nucleus of people (a cadre, of sorts) something they could use to understand what we are called to do here.  They could say, “Oh. Yeah. I get it. This is like that time in Nicaragua where we…”; or, “I get it.  This was what those missionaries were talking about when they said this is a ‘Holy Spirit Thing’”.  Understand? Immersion creates a mental model to connect current experience to.  It offers a framework…a hermeneutic…a set of lenses. The only thing we had to invent from nothing was funding methods.  Ironically, with the drop in available funds to foreign missions, we could actually help out those missionaries we visited back then with some of our funding models (Object AND Subject).

In 2012, things are different.  We have mission partners around the country where we can go spend a week and really get immersed in their mission.  Even though we kind of know what we’re doing now, we still try to do this every year.  We still have a lot to learn, and checking into other missional communities allows us to look at how others do what they do and then use that learning to enhance our own mental model and vision.  Instead of $1200 per person for a plane ticket alone, we spend $200 per person total cost.  We can do praxis in the midst of other communities’ missions that make the Gospel come to life in a way that it does not always when we are engaged in our own missions.  Likewise, we host teams from other churches and communities here for the same reasons. Sometimes you have to step away from what you do in order to gain an understanding of what God is doing in what you do.

When your community is feeling really lost about how to get started, I think that is a very valid issue.  The problem isn’t usually that they don’t want to connect to the present Kingdom of God.  And it usually isn’t that they don’t care about anyone but themselves.  It is usually that in order to do one, we first have to see one…we have to be immersed in one. We have to have a vision for what it might look like.  We need a mental model. For what it’s worth, I didn’t believe in the present Kingdom of God until I saw it with my own eyes.  Seeing it was what made me believe in it…what made me surrender to it…what made me devote my whole life to it.  Reading about it and hearing about it led me to seek it with all my heart.  However, it did not have the power to transform me. Only seeing it did.  The Kingdom of God IS the mission. If we are struggling to get our community to move missionally, consider the possibility of immersing a team in a missional community for a week or two.  Your team would certainly be welcome here and in our homes.  Blessings on the journey!

Decisions That Define Us, by Graham Cooke

Decisions That Define Us, by Graham Cooke

We have decided that teaching the Gospel without demonstrating the Gospel is not enough. Good preaching; good doctrine; being good people is not enough.

We’ve decided that having a good church club is not enough. Good fellowship is not enough, and just being a member of that club is not enough.

We’ve decided that having good bible studies is good but not good enough; that just making it to heaven is not our goal; and that knowing about God without truly knowing and experiencing God is meaningless.

We’ve decided that having good programs is not enough; that change without transformation is intolerable and that staying the same is not an option.

We’ve decided that gifting without character is futile.

We’ve decided that singing songs without worshipping is hollow and that having meetings without God showing up is pointless.

We’ve decided that having faith without works is not enough, and having works without love is not acceptable; that our function comes out of our relationship first with the Father, and second, with each other.

We have decided that reading about the book of Acts without living the book of Acts is unthinkable.

We have decided that confident faith is good; bold faith is better.

We’ve decided that hearing about the Holy Spirit without experiencing Him is silly; that believing in His presence without seeing it manifested in signs and wonders is hypocrisy; that believing in healing without seeing people healed is absurd; and that believing in deliverance without people being delivered is absolutely ridiculous.

We’ve decided to be Holy Spirit filled, Holy Spirit led, and Holy Spirit empowered. Anything less doesn’t work for us. We have decided to be the ones telling stories of God’s power, not the ones hearing about them.

We have decided that living saved, but not supernatural is living below our privilege and short of what Christ died for.

We have decided that we are a battleship, not a cruise ship; an army, not an audience; Special Forces, not spectators; missionaries, not club members.

We have decided to value both pioneers and settlers; pioneers to expand our territory and settlers to build on those territories, but we are not squatters; people who take up space others have fought for without improving it. We have decided to be infectious instead of innocuous; contagious instead of quarantined; deadly instead of benign.

We’ve decided to be radical lovers and outrageous givers.

We have decided that we are a mission station, not a museum.

Therefore, we honor the past but we don’t live in it. We live in the present with our eyes on the future. We see past events, successes, and failures as stepping stones, not stop signs.

We pursue learning in order to be transformed; not learning in order to know. We are people of engagement, not observation. We focus on what could be, not on what is or has been.

We are not limited to the four walls of this building; our influence is not restricted by location. Not even the nations are out of bounds. We are more concerned about how many we send out into the world than how many we convince to come into the building. This building is meant to be filled and it will be, but it will not be the measure of who we are or the measure of our effectiveness. We raise up world changers, not tour guides. We train commandos, not committees. We are a people of our destiny, not our history. We have decided that it’s better to fail while reaching for the impossible that God has planned for us than succeed in settling for less. We have decided that nothing short of His kingdom come and His will be done in our world as it is in heaven will satisfy. We have decided that we will not be satisfied until our world freaks out and cries out; [until] those that have turned our world upside down have come here, too.

These are some of the decisions that define who we are as a community and how we live our lives. These decisions are not destinations, but rather journeys; journeys along an ancient path we’ve not found some new way, but rather we’ve discovered the path that is as old as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same path followed by Moses, Joshua, and Caleb; Paul, John, and Peter.

The path followed by the first century church; a church that revolutionized the culture of the first century and beyond.  It’s a path that will impact the world we live in today. It’s a path of bold faith, believing that what God says is really true, and acting on it. It’s a path of outrageous generosity, giving our life away in order to demonstrate His kingdom. It’s a path of radical love; loving God with everything in us and our neighbor as ourselves.  It’s a path of liberty, freedom, and healing. On this path, you will find significance, purpose, and destiny. It’s a path less traveled, however. It’s not a path only available to a select few, but to whosoever will, may come. It’s for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue; for those in any occupation or vocation. No matter where you are in your life journey, there’s room on this path for you.

We Don’t Have All the Time in the World. Not at All.

We Don’t Have All the Time in the World. Not at All.

The only thing that the darkness has to convince your church of in order to undo it is that it has all the time in world.  All the darkness has to do is to convince well-meaning people that it’s okay to not do things that they are uncomfortable doing.  It just needs to whisper the lie that given enough time they will become comfortable with the idea of reaching out to suffering people and will finally act.  That is all that is necessary.  I have fallen prey to it.  I will not do that again. And it is excruciating to listen to decent people give way to that lie.

If a mother ran into your church during worship and said that her child was trapped underneath a car and was in terrible pain, and was going to die if someone didn’t come and help her get that car off her child, what do you suppose the people in your church would do? Do you think that only the people with experience lifting cars off of children would come out and help?  I live in the hope that everyone would immediately drop what they were doing and rush out to the street to help her child. I live in the hope that everyone would understand that there was something at stake that was more important than their own comfort.  I think that the problem is that we just don’t understand that that is exactly what the situation is outside the walls of our churches.  There is an urgency to the mission that cannot be underplayed.  What is at stake is immediate and it is dire.  Lives are at stake…and souls are at stake.  Not later.  Right now! And every day that we sit in our pews waiting to get comfortable with the idea of going outside our walls and comfort zones, we lose another person to the darkness, the bullet, the despair, or the temptations of the street.  We do NOT have all the time in the world.

Last week alone, our mission lost two young people.  We lost them simply because we don’t have enough resources, enough people, and enough time to reach them all. The people we do have give until it hurts. But the need is even greater than the hundreds of dedicated people we have can carry.  Two of our young people who were so in need of someone to walk beside them every week were swallowed up.  One of them we lost to the temptation of sex.  We think we have all the time in the world to get comfortable with reaching out? Really? Do we not understand the glitter and power of teenage hormones? Last year, we just flat out didn’t have enough resources to go and pick up a girl to bring her to youth group…a place of proven radical transformation.  We were already overextended.  So she missed youth group.  Instead, she went over to her boyfriend’s house and got pregnant.  It was a first time.  It was an only time.  It only takes one time.  The boy was 18, and the girl just turned 16…she a junior and he a senior at the same school.  So the boy…and he really was still a boy…became a sexual predator and the girl became another teen mother with no way to support that child.  And it all would have been avoided if we just had a couple more people who understood what was at stake, and were willing to go outside their comfort zone and pick that girl up for youth group.  Who knows? Maybe we could have picked that boy up, too, and brought him into the Kingdom of God that day.

The law caught up with the boy last week. He didn’t believe it would really happen.  He was charged with 1st degree sexual assault of a child and was looking at 40 years.  Instead, he didn’t have a great lawyer and was convinced to plead to 3rd degree sexual assault of a child.  He got 3 ½ years and will be on the sex offender registry when he gets out.  He’s done.  He’s done and gone because we couldn’t get a girl a ride to youth group. I couldn’t get her or him a ride to a group where we teach a better way…where we see teenagers transformed to new life all the time.  Our people do a lot.  We live in the reality that we will not reach them all.  This isn’t “no-child-left-behind”.  We will reach every single one that our resources give us access to.  We have learned to live with the losses that we see…and feel…and grieve.   That being said, we are acutely aware that we don’t have all the time in the world to get comfortable with the idea of reaching out.  He is done. Gone. Lost.

And we lost another young man last week.  Do you know what we lost him over? Shoes.  He needed shoes.  We have plenty of shoes, so that really wasn’t the problem.  Really, the problem was that we didn’t take him in.  We didn’t put him under our wing every day. We simply didn’t have the resources to take another one into our lives and homes. That is our reality, and we have learned to live with it.  He has no mom.  She was lost to crack and prostitution. Done. Gone. Lost.  He doesn’t know who his father is.  This boy came so close to making it.  We had the resources to reach him every other Wednesday, and most Saturdays.  But we didn’t have the resources to reach him every day…even every week.  We had not yet really penetrated his decision-making cycles in a way that put Christ in his mind every day…every moment…every decision.  I haven’t yet found the resources willing to commit two Wednesdays a month that aren’t currently covered to cover what we couldn’t cover.  So we reach some.  And we lose some.

His name to us is “T”.  “T” needed shoes.  Maybe, he only wanted shoes.  But in a teenager’s mind, what’s the difference?  He had a little money, but he didn’t have enough money.  So he did what he knew…what his crackhead mother taught him..what he sees around him six days out of seven.   He bought a little dope.  And he went to school to sell it.  “I just did what everybody else does!”, he told me.  Except he got busted.  He had ten bags of dope.  And he’s 17.  And he has priors. So they bumped him up to adult court and charged him as an adult with possession with the intent to distribute.  He can’t afford a good lawyer.  He doesn’t understand that it isn’t a small thing.  He’s going to go away for a long time.  And I can’t stop it.  It’s too late.  He just wanted some shoes and because I wasn’t with him that day…no one with better options had time to be with him that day…he did what he knew.  Now he’s done. Gone. Lost. Do you really think you have all the time in world? That’s what the darkness wants you to think.  That’s all it needs you to think to give it enough time to swallow up a few more young people.  People that don’t know these kids or kids like these kids probably still don’t get it.   But we know these kids.  We know these kids…

You don’t have to know what you’re doing.  Hell, I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I still don’t know what I’m doing.  You just have to care more about the possibility of reaching one child than you do about being uncomfortable in reaching out.  We can live with failing if we tried with all our might and resources and life’s breath and failed anyway. That happens to us all the time.  It happened here in these cases.  But to fail because we were uncomfortable with trying? …because we were afraid to try? THAT will echo deep into eternity.  THAT would haunt our dreams forever. Jesus Christ is running into your church every Sunday…and every other day of the week, too…and telling you that his children are trapped and suffering and are going to die if you don’t help him to reach them.  I live in the hope that we will all one day come to understand just how urgent that message really is.

Ben Linder – Child of Wonder


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.


Many of us knew

Your name


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)