Archive for July, 2012



Standing on the bridge, the student told the teacher, “I want to understand the river.”  The teacher replied, “Do you really want to understand the river?”  Thinking for a moment and sure of the answer, the student, “Yes.”  The teacher said, “There is only one way to understand the river.”   And with that, the teacher pushed the student off the bridge and into the river.

Likewise, there is only one way to understand your mission field.


Three Little Things Worth Mentioning (Maybe) that We Learned the Hard Way

Three Little Things Worth Mentioning (Maybe) that We Learned the Hard Way

1)      Have a Clear Line of Sight to Adjacent Mission Fields.  All missions end. Let me say that again. All missions end.  Unlike “Program” thinking, we don’t think in terms of perpetuation.  We think in terms of seasons and bearing fruit.  Most missions aren’t perennials. Most bear fruit for a season and then are gone. We must always be looking into adjacent mission fields for the next thing that God is calling us to participate in.  In “Program” thinking, the program is the end-all-be-all.  It is the object. It has to come around every year because…well…because it always has. In programs, we don’t really serve people, we are servants of the program and we serve the needs of the program.  The delivery of the program is the purpose.  In missional thinking, people are always both object and subject and right relationship is always the purpose.  We serve people and allow those people to serve us.

We know going in that whatever mission we are into will end. It is the web of relationships that last.  The mission might end with a bang, and it might end with a whimper, but it always ends.  From the moment that we enter a given mission field, it is essential to rapidly familiarize ourselves with the mission fields that are adjacent to the one we are functioning in.  What’s an adjacent mission field? An example: our youth mission, “ReignStorm”, was born out of relationships made at our food pantry.  It now has its own momentum. We need to think in terms of a mission as a beachhead of the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is always moving inland…always gaining ground.  We have to be ready and able to move with its advance or we will be left behind. If we are giving ourselves away effectively, then those we once served and who now serve will hold the ground that the Kingdom has already gained.  What is adjacent to you? What is right next door? What people-group is inter-mingled with your current mission field that you can begin to look at as your next mission field?  All of our current missions we born out of the husk of missions that no longer exist.

2)      Prepare, Don’t Plan Too Much.  Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.  Planning is a compilation of our thoughts.  I know that some of us think that God speaks directly to us.  However, I have not actually met the person for whom that is true every time.  If it is true for you, cool.  I just haven’t met you yet.  Our experience has been that plans go right out the window as soon as we make contact with the mission field anyway.  It’s never what we anticipate it to be, no matter how exhaustive our research is.  And the situation on the ground changes so fast that no plan can take into account all the twists and turns that will open up before us.  More appropriately, we have learned to prepare instead of plan.  We get in shape physically, mentally, and spiritually. We study languages and culture.  We lay in supplies that might turn out to be needed.  We contact resources and let them know that we might need to call on them.  As Pete Blaber writes in a little book about other things that apply to this thing that’s worth reading, The Mission, The Men, and Me (Berkley Caliber, 2008), “It’s more Lewis and Clark than anything else.” Prepare. Get feet on the ground. And develop the situation as it emerges rather than developing the situation that you think should emerge.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

3)      Start Small. Always. Missions fail.  They do.  They fail more often than they succeed. Communities are not afraid of small investments that fail.  They are afraid of all-in investments that might or might not fail.  Communities are naturally risk-averse.  Faith communities, oddly enough, are all the more so afraid of failing.  Learning to get on the ground small and develop the situation means that that risk-aversion can be avoided and things will actually get on the ground instead of being tied up in endless conversations about whether they will work or not.   Two people with a vision and a location connected to a person on the ground and funded with $100 will happen.  Sixty-five people, building leases, vehicles, salaries, and with a $20,000 budget probably won’t.  At least it won’t get on the ground in time.  The mission field changes quickly.  A mission that was seen as viable two months ago might not be viable today.  If our decision-making wheelhouse spins too slowly, the opportunities most likely will come and go before we can get past our own risk-aversion.  So encourage small start-ups.  Encourage lots of them because lots of them will fail.  Compile learnings from the missions that fail to inform future efforts, and those failures cease to be “failures”.  They become cheap education.  Remember that the Kingdom of God is a mustard seed…tiny.  Some won’t take because the soil is too rocky or the weeds too thick.  But some will take and grow and become a giant bush that will give shelter to many.  Jesus never told anybody to go and transplant a bush.

Imaginings. Ponderings. Feedback, Please.

Imagine That!

Imagination supersedes intellect.  A mentor of mine (Dr. Richard Crane) reminded me recently that without imagination, intellect alone leaves us perpetually stuck on cow paths and simply becoming more adept at following them even if they lead to a cliff.  Imagination left on its own is just daydreaming.Imagination without action is…well…nothing.  And imagination is dangerous stuff, too. Scripture tells us in Genesis that even after the flood, humanity’s imagination…left to its own devices and desires…is “evil from its youth”.  But an imagination that is surrendered to God and that leads to action has power…not our power…but the power of the One who inspired the imagination to begin with.  Does imagination require discernment and accountability? You bet.  Hitler imagined a world, too, after all. And he horrifyingly acted to bring that world about. Over simplified? Yes. Messy? Yes. But I am a simple man stuck in a messy existence.  If you have a moment, though, please bear with me.

Imagine a world where God really is in charge.  What are the implications of that? If God is here and God is in charge what is my role?  Three ideas: 1) “God”, 2) “really is”, and 3) “in charge”.

God.  Incomprehensible. Beyond our capacities. All-seeing.  All-knowing. All-powerful.  Not necessarily safe, but certainly good. Not swayed by our rants and whines and foot-stomping. At work with a plan to redeem every lost thing and person. Creator of all things…from nothing.  The final word. Imagine.

Really is.  In reality. Truth of the matter.  Substantial. The ground we stand on. With gravity. Not a figment of our imagining, nor what we decide God is, nor here at our convenience.  God is what really is.  No pretenses. Able to be counted on. Present. Imagine.

In charge. Leading the way.  Answering for outcomes. Calling the shots. God’s plan is THE plan. Casting the vision. Responsible. Having full authority. Liable.  Taking the risks and paying the price. Where the buck stops. Making corrections and removing obstacles.  God commands, everyone and everything follows those commands. Imagine.

Imagine the implications of those three terms for what it means to be involved in God’s mission…or living for God’s Kingdom. When we set out to connect our lives to the Missio Dei…the Mission of God…how do these converging ideas impact our priorities, attitudes, and behaviors? How do they impact our speech? If God is what is…really…and what is is that God is in charge…and God is commanding us to go and to be the body of God’s Son so that God’s Son can inhabit our very being, what does that mean for us?  God…really is…in charge. What does that mean to you? For you? What is our role?

I am looking for feedback.  Please, if you have a moment, let me know what you think…even if what you think is that I don’t think very well.  In truth, that fact has already been well-established. So fire away.

Having Things

Having Things

“Happiness doesn’t come from having things.  It comes from being a part of things.” Chris in the Morning (Northern Exposure)

I live in a world of things.  I live in a culture that values things. Heck, I have a garage full of things.  I have five surfboards for heaven’s sake.  At one time, they were relevant.  Now?  They are just…well…things.  We preserve things and call that wisdom.  We acquire things and call that success.  We deny things to others and call that security.  I live in a world of things.  But there is a world beyond things.  And there is a life beyond things.  And there is a happiness that having things can simply not provide.  There is a way of being that is not happiness exactly, but I don’t have a word for it.  It is deeper than that…richer than that…thicker than that.

Sometimes it feels like…at least in a lot of our “doctrine”… salvation has become a thing we have. Not a material thing…more like a title or a status, but a thing nonetheless.  It is talked about as a possession…something that we possess…we possess salvation. We have it. And it is valued. We are taught by well-meaning people that salvation is to be had…acquired….obtained…and then secured…locked away…protected. We call its acquisition righteousness.  We call its attainment success.  And we protect it as if we could lose it and we call that security.

But what if salvation is not a thing we have.  What if it’s not a possession? What if the Good News is not a status that we can acquire?  What if, instead, salvation is something we can participate in…be a part of?  What if the heaven that is to come is something we can be a part of now? What if heaven is not what’s served on the table, but being a part of what’s around the table?  What if the Kingdom of God is not measured in square feet or antique wood or horsepower or new track shoes? What if it’s just in the chance to run as fast as we can, and give someone a ride, and creating something with our own hands, and simply having shelter from the storm and people to share it with?  Would that change anything?  Would the world be impacted differently if it was at least partly populated by people who lived their lives now as a part of the heaven that is to come? Would your life be different?

“Watch out! Keep your guard up against all kinds of greed.  A person’s life does not consist of the abundance of one’s possessions.” – Jesus of Nazareth, 1st Century peasant, Son of God.



Available – able to be used, obtained, or relied on

I was told to “bring the youth in” so I went to the youth in my church to start up a youth group.  To a person, they were unavailable.  They had so many other things going on that they simply did not have time for a faith group.  Sports, school, friends, specialty camps, etc.

So I took the church van to a subsidized housing complex and stopped at the basketball hoop where kids were standing around in the heat…with no basketball.  I told them that I had funds, time, and a van if they wanted to get involved in a youth group.  None of those kids went to my church. They were of every ethnicity and race…and of one demographic – poor.  They looked at each only for only a minute and then shrugged almost in unison, and said, “Okay.”  And off it went.  I told them the next time they come they each needed to bring a friend.  That had to be part of the deal.  And I told them that we could do fun stuff, but I got to have 30 minutes of their time at each gathering to talk about faith.  That had to be part of the deal, too. No one batted an eye at any of that.  They had nothing better to do.  No one had ever come out and offered them anything before…except the gangs.   Many among that group became disciples…the real kind.  And that group birthed many other groups.  It became a shelter…a place of peace…for people who had never known peace.  They had all the time in the world. They made time.  They turned down other offers.  They were available. My congregation is now active and highly supportive of every youth mission.

We started a street ministry many years ago, and I went to my congregation to see who was in.  Two people came forward. Both of them were new to the community.  Everyone else was busy.  They just didn’t have time.  I went to other churches in my denomination to help, and no one came forward. So I asked the people I did sports with who had no church affiliation of formal faith background, and several of them said, “Yes, absolutely”.  We went out to the streets and we invited everyone who was served to help us.  We invited the saved and the sinners, the clean and the unbathed. Many of them were so honored to be asked that they jumped at the chance to do something meaningful.  They had never been asked by anyone to do something like that.  We gave them the reins of the mission.  They acted as though they had been invited to a grand feast……a wedding banquet for some very important person…and in fact, they had been.  I prayed a prayer of anointing on them, and off it went.  They invited their friends to come and help. The mission grew. It now has birthed many other missions and ministries – too many to name here.  The people we asked to help us had time.  They made time.  They canceled other things they deemed to be less important.  They were available. My congregation is now filled with people who are available.

Matthew 22:1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The usually-uninvited were available.  Are we?

What if I Don’t?

What if I Don’t?

Luke 14:27-33

Jesus said to the crowd, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

I don’t know how much help we can really be if our faith is still about us…about our salvation…about our finances…about our future.  We have long been sold a Gospel of self-fulfillment and prosperity as if the purpose of this life is to prosper in it.  We have been sold a superstition that preachers have labeled and enforced as sound doctrine that emphasizes our own salvation and separation and purity-maintenance, and we have been sold it right in the face of a Gospel that tells us that following Christ will cost us everything, a Gospel that outright tells us that in order to find ourselves we have to lose ourselves.  We have been told over and over and over by the powers of human faith and politics that if we just live the right way, God will bless us…as if grace has no place and we are in control of our own futures.  I just don’t remember a place in the Gospels that tells us that this faith is in any way about us.  I thought it was about the world. I thought God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only son.

And the superstitious question that I hear uttered more times than I can tell you…to the point of exasperation…is, “If I help this person, what will happen?”  By that I mean, “What will happen to me, my family, my finances, my status, my comfort, my time, etc. ?” I have seen person after person after person cower in fear and walk away from tremendous need and suffering that they could easily impact because that question led them to think that the cost was too high.  Too high for what? If the person in question was your child and you needed someone to help them, what cost would be too high?  But, “What will happen to me if I do this?” is not the question.  At least it’s not the question that Jesus asked or taught us to ask.  A wrong question always yields a wrong answer. The question that will lead you into the Kingdom of God is, “What will happen to this person if I DON’T do this?” I don’t think that the question Jesus was asking when he looked up that hill at Golgotha to that cross was, “What will happen to me if I do this?”  I think the question he was asking was, “What will happen if I DON’T do this?”

If I don’t take this child in, what will happen to her?  If I don’t shell out for a couple of meals for this guy, what will happen to him? What will happen to this sick person if I DON’T treat them?  What will happen if I DON’T stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves? What will happen if I DON’T open up everything I have to make room for others to simply have hope?  What will happen if I don’t use my time off to visit that person in the nursing home?   Or for those of you who are considering ministry as a vocation:  If I don’t take the call to this church full of poor folks that can’t really afford to pay me what I want, who will?  What will happen if I DON’T take this call?   This is a faith where you have every earthly thing to lose…and every heavenly thing to gain.  If you answer this kind of question, the road will become hard.  But your life will have an impact.  The breaths you take will matter to the one who gave them to you.  Listen to me for a second.  YOUR LIFE AND BREATHS WILL MATTER.  You will act on Jesus’ behalf, and your fate and future will truly and completely be in God’s hands.  Isn’t THAT the nature of faith after all?  Change the question and see where it leads you today.