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By Your Boot Straps: A Story that is all too Often True.

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By Your Boot Straps: A Story that is all too Often True.

Here’s how it happens.  You can’t get a job because you don’t have driver’s license.  You don’t have a driver’s license because you can’t afford to get one.  You finally save up enough money from doing odd jobs to learn how to drive after saving for two years to do it.  Then, you can’t afford a vehicle.  So you save for another two years to come up with $1,100 to buy a clunker, except you can’t afford the insurance.  So you drive without insurance because it’s your way to get to the legitimate job you finally got that will allow you to get insurance.  Then your tail light goes out because a mouse ate through your wiring.  The repair will cost a couple hundred dollars that you don’t have because you owe $3,000 to the utility company who just turned your power off.  You owe $3,000 because you didn’t have a job for four years while you were scrounging enough money to get a driver’s license and a car so you could get a job to pay your utilities before they get turned off.  Your pay goes to paying that off so you can cook the food you can’t afford and have to get in inadequate supply from the food pantry.  But…at least your working, so you have hope.

Then, you get a ticket for your tail light being out.  And you get another ticket at the same time for driving without insurance.  You couldn’t afford the light repair, so you sure can’t afford the tickets.  So you start saving to fix the light, and you have no choice but to drive anyway because that’s your only way to get to your job, and your job is your only hope.  Meanwhile, the time is ticking on paying your tickets.  Then you get a letter from the DMV saying that your license has been suspended for failure to pay the tickets that you can’t afford to pay for the tail light that you still can’t afford to fix.  You need the job, so you drive anyway…just to work and back.  You walk miles to do everything else.

Then, on your way to your job which is your only hope, you get pulled over again for the tail light.  They find out that you’re driving on a suspended license and they impound your car and give your another ticket that you can’t afford.  The impound lot charges $50 a day.  You don’t have $50 so it sits there adding up $50 a day to the point where you owe more than the car is worth.  And you try taking two buses to get to work, and get there late.  Twice.  And they fire you.  Now, you’ve lost your car, your driver’s license, AND your job…which was your hope.  And you have tickets that aren’t getting paid because you’ve lost your job and don’t have any money to pay them.

The power gets turned off again because you don’t have a job any more to make payments to keep it on.  Then your rent is late for the same reason and the landlord is calling and screaming at you and calling you a deadbeat and threatening to put you out on the street.  The stress starts to build.  And build.  One day, you’re trying to get some groceries after walking to two miles to the nicer store with better prices, and the clerk treats you rudely…the stress catches up and you respond rudely even though you know you weren’t raised that way.  The clerk escalates the confrontation with a more rude remark.  You then respond in kind.  The off-duty policeman in line behind you who has no idea of your life situation and didn’t hear the clerk’s first remarks sees only a customer who is causing a scene.  He decides to intervene and calls in your information after pulling you aside for a “stop and frisk”.  He’s only doing his job.  He just thinks it’s simple…and there’s nothing simple about poverty or despair.  The dispatcher informs him that there is a warrant out for your arrest for the unpaid tickets.  So, he arrests you.

You don’t have the money to pay the ticket.  So you sit in jail because you have more time than you have money.  Your four kids are at home without supervision. Oh, did I forget to mention that in the midst of all of this, you’re trying to raise four kids?  Where’s the dad? Oh he’s in prison.   One of the kids acts up at school.  Social Services find out they’re living at home without an adult…looked in on by a sympathetic neighbor.  They take your kids.  When you finally get out of jail after serving 30 days among murderers and gang members, you still don’t have a driver’s license because you don’t have a job to earn enough money to get it reinstated.  You can’t get a job because no one will hire you without a driver’s license.  You have no electricity at your apartment.  Your landlord started eviction papers on you while you were in jail, and you will be on the street in about five days.  You can only get five days worth of food once a month from the pantry because somebody figures that’s all you need and any more will enabling you.  You could probably sell that, but it wouldn’t cover what you owe the landlord. Your car is now hopelessly owned by the impound lot owner.  And your kids are spread between three different foster homes and are acting up in them and getting in trouble with the law.  Their own spiral into poverty has begun in another generation, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And then, you are approached by a gangster who says he feels your pain and has a solution.  If you just sell a little pot for him, you will have enough money to get the license out of hock, get the power turned back on, pay your rent in cash, and get back on track to getting another legitimate job so you can get your kids back.  You can make enough in five days to stop the eviction.

At first you just sell to people you know.  Then one of them brings someone you don’t know.  She turns out to be an undercover police officer.  You get busted with possession with the intent to deliver…and that means prison and criminal record.  Nobody hires people with criminal records anymore, and everyone now does a thorough background check before they hire.  You are done.  And you aren’t even forty yet.

Oh, this is an extreme case, you say? Oh, this is the exception and not the rule? No, it isn’t.  And it all started with a tail light being out and not having the means to fix it. It takes more than boot straps.

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I’ve Heard it Sing

gold yellow wheat field close up with sunset sky in background

I’ve Heard it Sing

I am sad today

Because I feel something that I have loved

Slip away from me. It is just beyond me. Always, it seems. Just beyond me.

I’ve heard it sing.  The rustle of its wings in the brush has startled me. I just can’t

Find the simple word to tell myself and you what

It is. I only know its song

Is beautiful.

There is a grief.  It is always there among

The flowers along the road.

So many illusions knifed down in these fields. The joy is never whole.

There never comes a day when

Every stone is plucked from the pasture

So that the rows grow straight, and the plow cuts

Gracefully.

My friend hasn’t spoken to me of it.    I don’t know

Who I am to him. But from across this gap, I could feel something

Break. What broke in him today, is broken in me, too.

It was a different rod that broke it…there are so

Many that get picked up and thrown. “Count the cost”, the teacher said. But

How could we have possibly known how deep that slash would be?

And if, one day, we finally get to where that song is sung in full chorus, will there be anything left

In us to even recognize its tune anymore?

Please Make Missional Simple. What do we DO?

Please Make Missional Simple.  What do we DO?

In practice, Missional Church must be kept super-simple,  or at least as simple as possible.  One of its goals is always multiplication of mission –  disciples becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples.  Complex things don’t multiply.  There is no one right way to do this, but what I am posting below has worked for us time and time again.  Importantly, it has also transformed our “mother-ship” church to a large degree.  It will never be perfect, but there has been tremendous movement both in the mission field and in the church.  There is a whole bucket-load of theology behind the steps below, but people don’t ask me for the theology as much as for the way to get moving.  So here’s an algorithm, a set of steps to take and make your own.  My sincere suggestion is that you try to learn the steps first, then innovate.  But then, that’s up to you.  So here you go.  12 simple steps.  If you want to know the theological “why?”, I would be happy to have that conversation on here.  So feel free to comment away.  Have fun!

1)      Pray. Fast. Pray. Get a couple of Christ-followers with the spiritual gift of prayer, and walk through your mission field and pray for houses and families and people and alleys and street corners. Then pray some more.

2)      Get at least one Christ-follower from your church to go with you in the mission. If you don’t go to church, get a Christ-follower from whatever Christ-following group you hang out with.

3)      Find the “Person-on-the-Ground” who will tell you what is needed in that mission field, where to find the people in need, and when to find them. That person is out there.  The Holy Spirit put them out there to help you get started. Get them to agree to help you launch the mission.  Ask them where to meet her/him and when.  Don’t be disappointed if he/she no-shows.  They have already done what the Holy Spirit put them there to do.

4)      Get at least two people who are not Christ-followers and who do not go to church to agree to go with you into the mission.  Tell them, “I need your help to do some good for these people.”  Do not mention Jesus at this point.  Just invite them to help you do some good. Then let them help you do what you do better.  Let them have genuine impact.

5)      Go to your church and see what resources they are willing to invest in your mission.  Invite anyone in the church to help you.  Get your non-believers to go back to their tribes and nations to do the same.

6)      Gather your people at the mission site.  Tell a Bible story that relates to your mission.  Don’t READ a Bible story, tell it from memory.  Ask the people to look for that story as they serve in the mission.  Have a prayer for protection and for those who serve and are served. Set them loose to be subject and object.

7)      Launch.  Hand out the food or clothing or blankets.  Learn the names of those you serve and call them by name.  Have a conversation with anyone who will have a conversation with you.  A NORMAL conversation.  Ask them if there’s anything they need prayer for in their life.  If they say, “No”, ask them to include you in their prayers when they pray (be specific in your request if you can).  If they say, “Yes”, then offer to pray for them right then.  Tell everyone to invite their friends in need next time.

8)      Anyone that you pray with, ask to stay and help you.  If they can’t, ask them to come and help the next time.  Some of them will. Let them make genuine impact on what you do and how you do it.  Let them make your mission better. Invite them to pray with people.  Many of them will.

9)      At the end, re-gather your team and those who stayed to help.  Ask them to say something about how their experience impacted them.  What did they see that changed the way they think about something? Whose names did they learn? What touched their heart?  How do they feel?  Then connect their responses back to the story you told at the beginning.

10)   Ask all your helpers to come back the next time and to bring a friend with them.  Ask them to bring whatever resources they can get their hands on.

11)   Your team is now part of your congregation AND part of the mission.  So minister to them.  And become friends with them.  ALL of them. Live your life with them.  Invite them into your life.  Do this for no other reason than that you need friends. Kingdom conversations will begin to happen on their own, but feel free to smuggle the Kingdom into everything.

12)   Begin to look for adjacent mission fields (Other needs near your mission site, or other needs of the people you are serving).  Begin to apprentice your replacement at the mission site right away.  As soon as possible, give that mission away to your apprentice and take two of those people and start something new in one of the adjacent mission fields.

Despensa Painting02

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The Dilemma of the Ice Cream Cone

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The Dilemma of the Ice Cream Cone

Have you ever eaten one of those ice cream cones that looks like it came out of a promotional magazine ad for Baskin-Robbins? You know what I mean.  There is nothing more tasty than an ice cream cone on a hot day.  It is to be savored and enjoyed and experienced as a thing of beauty and a blessing from God.  But let me rephrase the question.  Have you ever eaten an ice cream cone in front of child that wants one, but not only cannot afford one now, but may never be able to afford one?  Have you truly enjoyed that treat while a child looks at you eating it with a wish in her heart that is bigger than either of you are?  Would it even be possible to enjoy such a thing as it was meant to be enjoyed while you were being eyed longingly…and not even jealously…by a waif who can have no such blessing? Does that change the experience? Is true “enjoyment” even possible under those circumstances?

When faced with this dilemma, what do we do? I mean, we want to enjoy that ice cream cone, right? Enjoyment is the reason God created ice cream.  Well, that’s not ACTUALLY in the Bible, but no one had thought of ice cream at the time of the writing.  So what can we do?  As I see it, we have a couple of options.  We can go somewhere where that child cannot see us eating it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We can lock ourselves in a closet where no one can see us and then we, existentially at least, don’t have a problem.  In that same vein, we can hire some security guards and build some fences and arrest any waifs who venture too close to our potential enjoyment.  We can make sure the bus line ends far away from the ice cream parlor. Or we can give the ice cream cone to that child and watch them eat it…but then, of course, WE don’t have an ice cream cone.  Or…we can share it.  Then not only do we get to enjoy some sugary bliss with a little less damage to our waist line, AND we get the added enjoyment of watching a child be blessed at the same time we are.  We even get to be the agent of that blessing, and THAT is a true joy.  So, what’s the best option?

We answer the question, but the dilemma continues because then comes those other nagging questions.  What about all the other children who can’t afford an ice cream cone?  What about them? Where does it end?  I mean should we even bother with one if we can’t give them all an ice cream cone?  We give this kid some, and what about the children in Ethiopia?  Rats! We might as well just eat the thing because we can’t fix a broken world.  But is there any enjoyment in that way of thinking? I doubt it.  There’s a look on the face of people who cope with this dilemma this way and it is anything but joyful.  It’s a scowl…a defensiveness. Somewhere in our psyches we logically know that if there are enough people without any hope of ever having ice cream, they will simply overwhelm our spheres of protection and take what we did not give them.  Waifs grow up to be thugs, don’t they? Scowls aren’t arrogant expressions.  They’re fearful expressions. There’s nothing really simple about the dilemma of the ice cream cone.

I guess the answers to these questions are really personal.  It isn’t about THE answer.  It’s about YOUR answer.  Where can YOU find a place of joy?

Of course, this post isn’t really about ice cream.  It’s about blessings and enjoyment…the visitation of joy upon us.  It’s about houses, and education, and spiritual growth, and cars, and clothes, and healthcare, and dental coverage, and food, and meaningful labor, and fun, and self-worth, and security, and choices, and the simple pleasures of this life.  Can we enjoy any of those as they were meant to be enjoyed while being watched by someone who cannot have them? What are our choices? We can cloister ourselves in smaller and smaller gated communities with more and more layers of security, and handle the problem existentially…sort of. We can make sure that the bus line ends at the county line.  Out of sight, out of mind, right? Or we can give everything away and have nothing ourselves.  Or we can share.  And where does that end? I don’t know. I have no idea where that ends.  Neither does anyone else, really.  But a better question that will actually lead to joy is not, “Where does this end?”  Rather it is, “Where does this begin?”  In the Kingdom of God, there is always enough if we share. Enjoy.

Please Make Missional Simple. What do we do?

Please Make Missional Simple.  What do we DO?

In practice, Missional Church must be kept super-simple,  or at least as simple as possible.  One of its goals is always multiplication of mission –  disciples becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples.  Complex things don’t multiply.  There is no one right way to do this, but what I am posting below has worked for us time and time again.  Importantly, it has also transformed our “mother-ship” church to a large degree.  It will never be perfect, but there has been tremendous movement both in the mission field and in the church.  There is a whole bucket-load of theology behind the steps below, but people don’t ask me for the theology as much as for the way to get moving.  So here’s an algorithm, a set of steps to take and make your own.  My sincere suggestion is that you try to learn the steps first, then innovate.  But then, that’s up to you.  So here you go.  12 simple steps.  If you want to know the theological “why?”, I would be happy to have that conversation on here.  So feel free to comment away.  Have fun!

1)      Pray. Fast. Pray. Get a couple of Christ-followers with the spiritual gift of prayer, and walk through your mission field and pray for houses and families and people and alleys and street corners. Then pray some more.

2)      Get at least one Christ-follower from your church to go with you in the mission. If you don’t go to church, get a Christ-follower from whatever Christ-following group you hang out with.

3)      Find the “Person-on-the-Ground” who will tell you what is needed in that mission field, where to find the people in need, and when to find them. That person is out there.  The Holy Spirit put them out there to help you get started. Get them to agree to help you launch the mission.  Ask them where to meet her/him and when.  Don’t be disappointed if he/she no-shows.  They have already done what the Holy Spirit put them there to do.

4)      Get at least two people who are not Christ-followers and who do not go to church to agree to go with you into the mission.  Tell them, “I need your help to do some good for these people.”  Do not mention Jesus at this point.  Just invite them to help you do some good. Then let them help you do what you do better.  Let them have genuine impact.

5)      Go to your church and see what resources they are willing to invest in your mission.  Invite anyone in the church to help you.  Get your non-believers to go back to their tribes and nations to do the same.

6)      Gather your people at the mission site.  Tell a Bible story that relates to your mission.  Don’t READ a Bible story, tell it from memory.  Ask the people to look for that story as they serve in the mission.  Have a prayer for protection and for those who serve and are served. Set them loose to be subject and object.

7)      Launch.  Hand out the food or clothing or blankets.  Learn the names of those you serve and call them by name.  Have a conversation with anyone who will have a conversation with you.  A NORMAL conversation.  Ask them if there’s anything they need prayer for in their life.  If they say, “No”, ask them to include you in their prayers when they pray (be specific in your request if you can).  If they say, “Yes”, then offer to pray for them right then.  Tell everyone to invite their friends in need next time.

8)      Anyone that you pray with, ask to stay and help you.  If they can’t, ask them to come and help the next time.  Some of them will. Let them make genuine impact on what you do and how you do it.  Let them make your mission better. Invite them to pray with people.  Many of them will.

9)      At the end, re-gather your team and those who stayed to help.  Ask them to say something about how their experience impacted them.  What did they see that changed the way they think about something? Whose names did they learn? What touched their heart?  How do they feel?  Then connect their responses back to the story you told at the beginning.

10)   Ask all your helpers to come back the next time and to bring a friend with them.  Ask them to bring whatever resources they can get their hands on.

11)   Your team is now part of your congregation AND part of the mission.  So minister to them.  And become friends with them.  ALL of them. Live your life with them.  Invite them into your life.  Do this for no other reason than that you need friends. Kingdom conversations will begin to happen on their own, but feel free to smuggle the Kingdom into everything.

12)   Begin to look for adjacent mission fields (Other needs near your mission site, or other needs of the people you are serving).  Begin to apprentice your replacement at the mission site right away.  As soon as possible, give that mission away to your apprentice and take two of those people and start something new in one of the adjacent mission fields.

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.

WTH

WTH

I had a very earnest and serious young man who I have come to love very much from another faith community come out to our Youth Nite last night.  Our youth are not like most suburban youth groups.  They are mostly highly at-risk kids from the inner city who we have been working with for several years.  Many of them are delinquents with juvie records.  I often have to confiscate weapons from them before I let them on the van.  Some of them are a half a step away from jumping into gangs.  Almost all of them are just a whisper away from pregnant or impregnating someone. They live in homes with parents who deal drugs out of their houses and are hard-core gang members. Many of them drop to the ground when a car backfires just like combat veterans do.  They live in homes with addicted single moms who have random men over and they have to put furniture in front of their bedroom doors to keep those men from assaulting them.  And a few of them don’t regularly have homes to live in it all.  We have runaways and walk-aways.  We have petty thieves and taggers.  Trying to hold back the culture of their environments is like trying to hold back the sea.  They fill their heads with hip-hop music and sing the words in the church van until I yell at them and tell them to knock it off.  The words they sing without even thinking about it are revolting.  And those words become a part of their ethos.  We reach some for the Kingdom.  We lose some to jail.  And some of them will not live to see 18. We own four grave plots because we know that we will bury some of these kids and their parents will not be able to afford a decent burial. And we also have young people from relative affluence and stability that we do not separate from these kids.

The very sincere and earnest young man who visited us last night grew up and lives in the suburbs in a very affluent neighborhood.  He generally attends a youth group at the local mega-church.  The kids in that youth group are, for the most part, serious about their faith. The majority of them are being raised in two-parent faith-based homes with enough money to more than make ends meet. This young man has attended one of our Bible studies and has volunteered at our food pantry.  And when he spoke to me last night, he was very upset.  He was very disillusioned.  He was offended.  The source of that disillusioning and offense was that one of our leaders had used the word “hell” and another had referenced the word for Balaam’s beast of burden that is sometimes also used to refer to a person’s posterior anatomy.  The young man said, “I don’t know if I can be a part of this. You curse.”  Whoa.

He went on to say, “I don’t understand that. I mean, is it a sin to use foul language or isn’t it?”  I was there, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember any foul words being said. When I think of foul language, I envision some really foul language. It took me a minute to realize what words he was actually talking about. Hell and the word for a donkey.  They are in the Bible, after all.  I truly love and respect this young man, and I could palpably feel his anxiety over this apparent breach of sound Christian doctrine and belief.  I didn’t really know what to say.  I am not in the habit of making excuses.  I can’t outright say that using those words inappropriately will get you ahead in life. I don’t think that cursing is a good thing.  Jesus himself said, “It isn’t what goes into your mouth that defiles you.  It’s what comes out of it that does.”  I don’t advocate a Gospel of bad words. And, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel very sad for this young man and for those that are learning faith in large numbers in his faith community.  The young man was more upset that our leaders used mildly colorful language – very mild considering what comes out of my group’s mouth most of the time – than he was that if “Christian” people do not reach out and risk hearing some bad words and get committed to kids like these, then many of these kids will be lost to crime, drugs, pregnancy, and bullets.  While the young man’s youth group is filled with kids who look like him and talk like him and are in the same socio-economic bracket as him and their greatest concern is which college they will get into, my greatest concern is whether or not the kids I work with will even live to adulthood.

Like I said, I don’t make excuses.  I don’t have time for excuses.  I am just not cut from fine cloth.  I have tattoos.  I learned to speak from sergeants for whom cursing was raised to an art form.  And I became a sergeant for whom cursing was an art form.  I have been to dark places. I almost didn’t go into church ministry because to this day I am deftly afraid that some language from my past that I have worked hard to overcome will crawl up out of my psyche in an impassioned sermon, and I will drop the F-bomb right there from the pulpit in front of God and everyone who signs my paycheck.  I have bad dreams about that.  I am a victim of God’s grace and a work in progress.  I am no choirboy and I am no one to try and bully.  And I am badly flawed. And making excuses about that does no one any good.  It just wastes time that I cannot afford to waste.  Being offended is simply not a privilege that my ministry has ever afforded me.

I don’t make excuses for our leaders either.  Our leaders are not choirboys or girls any more than I am.  They are former gang members who have found a better way and are doing everything in their power to rescue these kids from the choices that they made in their own pasts.  Some are former addicts who, through a God-given miracle, have left their addictions behind and are taking food off their children’s table to make this youth group even possible.  They are not perfect and never will be.  But they have laid down their lives and large parts of their livelihood to speak truth to these kids and be present in their lives. They would take a bullet for another parent’s child. Would you?  They have run straight into hell to reach these kids.  Is their language perfect? Nope. Would I get in their face? Nope. And that is not my greatest concern by any means.  If your child was in trouble and on the street, these would be the people who would come to their aid at any hour at the risk of their own lives.  They have done exactly that more times than I can tell you. Are they Christ-followers? You bet.  In the most real and visceral of ways.

In the moment last night, I felt very sad for us and for this young man who is such a wonderful young man and a treasure to my Master.  I told him that he should not try to model his life on me or on my ministry.  He should try to model his life and his ministry on Jesus and his ministry the same way that I do…and yet come up short doing.  I told him that if it weren’t for the very grace of God, I would have no hope at all.  I didn’t get into an argument with him.  What good would that do?  I told him not to mistake me for a choirboy or a righteous man.  And I told him not to mistake me for my Lord and Savior. I am none of those.  I am a sinner in need for forgiveness. And I am a very poor excuse for a holy man.

And yet, I couldn’t help but feel very sad that all he walked away from last night was a deep sense of offense about a couple of mild “curse” words that are found in the Bible.  I am sad because he missed the fact that those words are not nearly as offensive as greed, and drug dealing, and rape, and murder, and assault, and abuse, and addiction, and spiritual cowardice, and abandonment, and all of the horrors that these kids are daily exposed to in their own homes…if they even have homes. We have two kids who will be in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives because they were shot with bullets bought with drug money made selling dope to rich “Christian” kids in suburban high schools.  THAT is offensive to me.  The offense that these realities represent did not seem to offend him at all.  He missed the fact that none of his youth leaders who taught him that it is an offense against God to use even the most mildly colorful vernacular gives a rip about these kids…not enough of one to reach into their lives and risk being offended. Apparently, his youth leaders live their lives as if kids like these kids don’t even exist. Not one of his youth leaders has ever even had a conversation with a gang member or an IV drug user or a 16-year-old prostitute without the safety of at least a set of bars between them.  To me, THAT is highly offensive.  I am afraid that this bright, inquisitive, and wonderful young man will go back to the shelter of his clean-mouthed youth group and lilly-white life feeling self-justified, and will never again leave that shelter to reach a truly lost soul for the Kingdom. Pardon me, but what the hell are we teaching these kids who have been given so much and have so much to give? What kind of “Christians” are we making, for crying out loud?

 

The Prediction of the Demise of the Missional Movement? Whatever.

The Prediction of the Demise of the Missional Movement? Whatever.

More than once in the past two weeks I have heard supposed experts – Biblical hired-hands – from both mainline and evangelical organizations proclaim that the missional movement is another “fad”, and predict that it will prove to just be another flash in the pan.  While these “experts” were busy making up their three-word acronyms for incredibly obvious things (that’s what “experts” do, after all), they have once again spoken from ignorance about something they know nothing about, simply because they know nothing about it and they get paid to know everything about everything. So if everyday people are out there talking excitedly about the “missional” movement, and that conversation is not in line with the cool organizational diagrams that they have expertly drawn of their expensive smart boards, they see it as their duty as faith experts to free us from our illusions.  I think it might be worth noting how incorrectly many of these faith experts use the term “missional”, and why calling it a fad is both ignorant and something of an injustice to what is actually going on.

First, let me make very clear that I am not invested in “missional church”.  I am invested in Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.  One might say that I am “all in” for Christ’s present Kingdom.  What I am trying to do is cut through all the copies of Jesus that are masquerading as his body that have become so blurred by being a copy of a copy of a copy, ad infinitum, that they are more or less unrecognizable as anything that Christ talked about in Scripture. And I know that cutting through those means painfully looking in the mirror.  I am trying to get my whole life into a position of surrender to Jesus. And I am inviting others to hold me accountable to that.  And I am inviting others to do that with me.  I am doing as Scripture commands me to do.  Or, at least, I am trying to.  And failing to.  And trying to again.

I am seeking first the Kingdom of God…and it’s right relationship with God.  And I am trusting that everything else that matters…my marriage, my parenting, my community, discipleship, fellowship, worship, practices…everything else…will come out of that.  What I am trying to do is to be obedient.  And if doing that meets the academic criteria for some artificial category of “missional”, then fine. That term has been hijacked by so many different self-serving church growth interests that even these “experts” don’t know what it means anymore…if they ever did…and I highly doubt they did.  If it’s easier to say “missional” than to spell out the whole thing…fine.  But to characterize “missional” as some whole other separate thing from faith and practice is to completely misunderstand where the term came from and how it came to be stuck on certain kinds of activities and communities.  Like so many terms that get bandied about, “missional” makes a better adjective than it does a proper noun.

Some time ago, I found myself more and more spiritually drained by participating in ritualized practices that simply did not speak to my soul.  I kept at it out of a sense of obligation and a belief that commitment matters. And on some level, I kept at it out of habit.  I had imprinted on Christians, and Christians “went to church”.  I thought I was being obedient and I thought I was pleasing God. What I found in church were people who self-identified as Christian, but who spent most of their time bad-mouthing each other, talking about how much better they could do things if they were in charge, and arguing about things that had more to do with furniture than fortitude. I found more people worried about what following Christ was going to do for them than what it meant to be a slave to Christ.  It was like their religion made them more fearful than fearless. And most strikingly, I found that the prevailing culture was dominated by people and voices that did not reflect a life of recognized blessings, humble gratitude, and peace.

Over time, my sense of obligation and commitment gave way to a sense of despair. Perhaps, some of you can relate to what I am talking about when I say, “despair”.  Every time the body would get into a fight (which was often), it was always over some doctrinal issue or something petty.  And the congregation would wring their hands and blame the pastor for a lack of leadership.  They’d call up the denominational office, and they would send an “expert” from the denomination headquarters who would give us some three-word acronym to explain the dysfunction out of their wealth of knowledge about organizational theory, and all parties would walk away feeling self-justified…and just as fit for hell as they were when they started fighting over what kind of music pleased God the most, or what color the carpet would be.  What was called for wasn’t a consultant.  What was called for was a prophet.

After years of soul searching, I found that at the very root of all that nastiness and hellishness was a very primary dispute.  The dispute was over who was in charge….which little cluster of interests or family dynamics was going to have the final say.  All those arguments about how much better a person could do things if they were in charge came down to a deep dispute about who was going to be in charge. If any place where God’s presence is not contested is heaven, then any place where God’s presence is fully contested must be hell.   That explained a lot. Every poor pastor who they stood up who had left everything to be faithful to their sense of calling was sacrificed on the altar of “I can do it better than you can”.  And those poor, kind souls just didn’t have the tools to fight back.  They just got eaten alive.  They were never the problem.  The problem was the problem of who was going to be in charge…whose vision and affections were going to drive the community.  In short, there were little kingdoms vying for power and the church looked and acted like a season of “Game of Thrones” rather than a place where Heaven meets earth.  Who is going to be in charge?  Well…Jesus is.  The first, and the last, and the living one.  The one who came out of the tomb and left it empty.  The one whose Spirit walks among us doing what Jesus always did.  Jesus is in charge.  Not our version of Jesus.  Jesus. In charge. Actually.

And in the midst of that soul-searching I realized something else, too.  I realized that in all of my years of attending church and participating in boards and committees, I had never seen a miracle.  I had never seen a life radically changed before my eyes.  In fact, I realized that most folks were doing everything in their power to make sure that nothing changed.  I never saw hope restored.  I never saw a lost soul truly found.  And I never saw an addict set free.  I saw a lot of addicts hiding their addictions for fear of being found out.  And I could never justify within myself going out into the world with the message that miracles and joy and liberation and authenticity were a part of this faith…because I had never personally witnessed any of that in any church that I had ever been a part of.  How could I talk about the presence of a God who loosed supernatural power on the world through the resurrection of his son and the setting free of the Holy Spirit when I had never once witnessed any of those things?

So, I left the church.  And I started looking for the Kingdom of God where Jesus is actually in charge and I found it all over the place…just not in the church. I went where I heard miracles were taking place.  I went to places where joy could found.  I went where addictions were defeated and people were set free.  I went out to the most unexpected places where the lost, and suffering, and misfits were.   And I learned that I was lost and suffering and a misfit. And in the process, I found my own miracle and I found myself set free…right before my eyes.

I got out of Bible studies where everyone came with preconceived notions of its content and meaning and just showed up to figure out who was on their side of things.  I started getting into Scripture with people who were open and curious about it, but knew nothing about it other than that Jesus could be found in it.  I started getting into it with people who approached it with wonder and awe. And more important than anything else, I started seeking things in Scripture that I could obey.  I’m not going to lie to you.  I found things in Scripture that were very hard to understand…and very hard to obey.  So I started with things that spoke truth to my heart…that echoed with goodness and authenticity…and I started to obey them.  And I asked others to hold me accountable to that obedience.  And my life changed.  And I watched it happen right before my eyes.  From that point on, I no longer had to speak to people about a theoretical faith.  I was a witness to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives and set people’s hearts on fire.

Out of that experience came many things that I now view very differently.  I now look at “salvation” as something very different than simply a status to be gained and protected.  I look at evangelism very differently.  I no longer look at it as standing on my nice clean dock and casting out “sinner’s prayers” and “you’re going to hell” tracts to fish for souls who hold a lesser status than my own.  No one has a lesser status than I do.  I no longer look at heaven as the place you might go when you die if you get the mojo of verbalizing substitutional salvation correctly and in the right order.  I no longer look at the church as the sole sanctuary, but rather as a launching pad for missionaries to go out into the darkness and seek our sanctuaries everywhere.  I no longer hear the word “church” and get a mental picture of a building with a steeple.  I now see people engaged with Jesus in his Father’s mission to reach the lost and disenfranchised and the suffering.  I am not trying to stay out of hell anymore.  I am trying to storm the gates of hell with Jesus and his Kingdom so that we might pull souls out of hell.  As such, I no longer invite people to a building when I invite them to church.  Instead, I invite them to participate in the Kingdom of God. Some of those people eventually come and worship with us on Sunday mornings, but even that is not the same.  I no longer look at worship the same way.  That has freed me from getting caught up in a lot of arguments about worship styles and liturgy.  My style of worship is now trying to participate in humility and mercy and justice.  I try.  I fail.  And I try again. And in that practice is my worship.  It isn’t about anything I do anymore.  It’s all about what Jesus did, and what Jesus is still doing.  The list of what I now look at differently is too long to fully list here.

Over the past 13 years or so, we have brought the invitation to look at faith and practice in some of these new ways into existing communities of faith. Some have accepted the invitation, and some have not.   In my journey to a deeper obedience, I haven’t forgotten that the church is the bride of Christ, and to serve the bride is to serve the groom. Not to  mention, I really don’t want to get on the wrong side of the groom.   And I haven’t forgotten that Scriptures bids us to not neglect the assembly.  I now serve in a community of faith that has been renewed and restored and transformed.  It is an incredible place to witness miracles and transformation and liberation.  And we have seen numerous existing faith communities be radically transformed in their journey of renewal and participation in God’s present Kingdom.  Communities that once dysfunctioned in ways like I described above that drove me to leave on a journey of rediscovery, have now found new life through surrender to Jesus, and through seeking his Kingdom.

More important than any term for what it is that I am describing, is that what I once never saw, I now see all the time. I now see Jesus all the time. I now see church leaders who are totally surrendered to Jesus.  That is the new normal.  And there is no doubt that Jesus is in charge.   It has become normal to see miracles.  It has also become normal to see hardship as a part of faith, and to see the real Jesus alive and leading in the midst of it.  All the time now, I see people fall down in complete surrender and rise up restored and whole and new.  I see courageous people giving their all to serve those who Christ came to reach…without complaint or blame.  I see the lame walk and the addicted set free.  Seeing those things has become normal.  Where those things happen is where Jesus is.  Those things are signs of his presence and power and purpose. And where Jesus is, his body also is.  If that is “missional”, then okay, cool.  And if that is not what “missional” is and you want to say that “missional” is a fad that will fail, then okay, I am cool with that, too.  But no matter how many degrees and certifications and areas of expertise one claims to have, one should be very careful when saying that what I just described is a fad that will fail. One should be very careful about that, indeed, because what we are witnessing may not be something as small as “missional church”. It might be that what we are witnessing is another Great Awakening.  Can these bones live? O Lord, you know.

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

I first posted this a couple of years ago.  There are several other chapters that can be found by going to the sidebar and selecting March 2010.  Scroll down and you should find them…if you want to.

 

Chapter One – Surfboards

As a recovering surfer, I have found that there are many images of the ocean and its ways that are great metaphors for God, and life, and all things that matter.  I grew up around the ocean and have spent more than my share of nights sent to sleep by the smell of the salt air and the sound of the surf gently lapping the shore.  When I moved from the East Coast to Midwest, I found myself isolated from the spirituality of the waves, and I found my surfboard quiver exiled to the rafters of my garage.  One Labor Day weekend, I got an invitation to spend a few days on the Chain of Lakes in Wisconsin, a series of small inter-connected lakes with no-wake restrictions and the shelter of woods all around them. The invitation said, “Bring your boat if you have one”.  Well, I don’t have a boat exactly, but I looked up into the rafters of my garage and saw my Robert August 10-foot nose-rider covered in dust and garage yuck, and I thought it was time to get it down and get it wet again.  My son got his board down too, and we cleaned them up and strapped them to the roof of the truck, just like old times, and headed off for the weekend.

Upon arriving, we got some strange looks.  Our host sauntered over to my truck window with a well-meaning smirk on his face, and chuckling said, “We said boats, not surfboards.  These lakes don’t have waves.”  Without even thinking about it, I replied, “Hey, if this is the only boat you have, it’s the only boat you need.”  And that moment of clarity has served as my mantra in small church missional transformation and ministry.  I have become so tired of hearing the common wisdom that if you’re church isn’t over a thousand people, your church isn’t showing fruit of the Kingdom.  “Only big churches are influencing the community that you live in.”, I heard at one conference I went to.  Well, I’m here to tell you loud and clear, that if you are a small church, and a small church is what God has given you to work for His Kingdom with, then a small church is all you need.  Our little surfboard of a Christ-crazy community of faith has done more hands-on mission and has drawn more disconnected people into the mission than most “churches” five and ten times its size.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people in authority tell me that this little community will never make it.  And yet, we are thriving.  Being small means we deal with a unique set of hurdles to overcome, but we are definitely neck deep in the work of the Kingdom.  If a surfboard is the only boat you have, it’s the only boat you need.  God has given you what you need to do what God has prepared for you to do.  So be encouraged, and know that God can do great things with the community of faith that you participate in if you only turn the reigns of that craft over to God and His Mission to steer you.

Surfers Don’t Wear Lifejackets

Boating and surfing are not the same.  Surfers are in the hands of God and the ocean.  Wearing a lifejacket will wreck your board, keep you from being able to respond quickly to the waves, and can even take your life by holding you up in the pounding surf.  All you have in the raging sea is a leash that tethers your ankle to the board you are riding.  Life jackets will kill you.  If you can’t move freely with the water, at worst you will die, and best it will take the life out of surfing.

A lot of little churches I have seen, served, and worked with never quite grasp the idea that lifejackets may be exactly what is keeping them from becoming what they are best shaped to be and do – to surf.  Lifejackets come in many forms, and the truth is that only your community can really discern with God’s Spirit whether or not they are clinging desperately to one, or have one stashed under the seat to grab if the sea rises up and they get scared.  Even if we can’t name them all, there are a few lifejackets that I have found to be common in little churches that are dying and that can’t figure out why.

Too many little churches are strapped with endowments and they fall into the mindset that that endowment will be a life jacket in stormy weather.  Surfers love stormy weather because stormy weather means big waves.  And big waves and life jackets are a fatal combination.  Whether a church has an endowment or not, isn’t really the issue, or the danger.  The danger is in distorting what that endowment represents.  If that endowment takes away the urgency that is so much a part of surfing, then that endowment is a threat to your being.  I have seen people paddle out into the line-up and then sit there all day without ever catching a wave because they think there will always be another wave and they have all day. And then the wind dies down, and the sea goes flat, and the day is over. But spiritual surfers know the urgency of the moment.  “Seek God while he can be found”, the Bible teaches.  Surfers know that every wave is different, and all of them are once in a lifetime.  They came to surf, not to sit.  They didn’t paddle out to sit and talk.  They came for the ride.  They leave everything behind that gets in the way of the chance to catch one wave and ride it out.  It’s all or nothing.   It’s now or never.

Another lifejacket that we often find ourselves wearing thinking that it is the surfboard itself is tradition.  When we are first learning to swim, we need a lifejacket.  It takes away the threat of drowning and allows us to learn and develop a strong stroke.  “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is the mantra of a lot of small churches that are just not managing to get off the beach and into the sea.  And its opposite, “We’ve never done things that way before.”  Those things can help us when we are first learning to swim, but there is a reason that Olympic swimmers don’t wear lifejackets – at some point they become counter-productive.  The best surfers learn from the best surfers of the past and then innovate in order to move into a constantly changing sea.  It isn’t that we don’t carry the lessons of the past within us, we just don’t strap them around our necks with the superstitious idea that our traditions will keep the sea from pounding us to death.

Likewise, I think that a lot of little churches keep thinking that they are big churches and structure themselves as though they are, thinking that the structure – the boards, the committees, the staff – will keep them afloat if things get rough.  We can be surfers or we can be battleship captains, but we can’t be both and still be one or the other.  If we put too much structure on top of a surfboard it will either sink, break up in the waves, or else we will simply run out of room for people on it.  We lose the advantages that a surfboard gives us – maneuverability and the ability to dance on the sea.  Surfboards need fins to steer, but too much fin is a drag and not a help.  We need just enough fin to keep from being blown sideways or from tipping over.  A better word than structure is “stability” – just enough to turn but not so much that it keeps us from catching a wave.  When we begin to think that our complex organizational chart is what is keeping us from sinking, it has become a lifejacket that will get in the way of our ability to maneuver in the mission field.

The Parable of Surfing

Surfing is an edgy and dangerous gig because it’s just you and the board you’re tethered to in a sea you don’t control with the power to swallow you whole as if you never existed.  So what is this metaphor?  What is this parable for small church transformation to mission really about?  Well, let’s start with the sea.  What is the ocean we’re paddling out into?  I think it is the mission field.  It is the world into which we are called to bring the Good News, to participate in God’s emerging Kingdom.  When I first re-embraced surfing as an adult, I quickly also re-embraced a healthy respect for the power of the ocean.  Paddling into even a moderate surf is a daunting task for a novice.  I have a vivid image of this metaphor as I was a young person driving away from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, chased away from Nags Head by a hurricane warning.  The roads had not all been turned north yet, but most people with half a sense of what a hurricane can do to that thin strip of land had packed up, boarded up, and were on their way up to Virginia and higher ground.  Most people.  Except for a narrow stream of cars with surf boards strapped to their roofs headed down into the impending hurricane because they knew that the best waves are just out in front of the storm.  These people had a very different paradigm for life than I did, than my dad did, and certainly than most of the sane world did.  And yet, they did what they did, and they were what they were.  They were surfers.  They went where the waves were.

Everyone who follows Christ seriously also takes seriously that they are called into the mission field. Christ followers do what they do – they follow Christ.  They are what they are.  They are Christ-followers.  The mission field for your community is right outside its doors, just off its shore, if you will.  It is those places where the sea is and where God is at work bringing calm and order and God’s Kingdom.  It might be a nursing home in need of community support.  It might be a public housing complex.  It might be a corporate boardroom.  It might be a high school hallway.  It might be a street corner where kids are killing each other over the right to deal drugs or the colors of their gang.  It is the battleground where souls are won and lost for the Kingdom.  It is all of those places where God’s presence is very much contested.  And it is where Christ-followers do what they do and are what they are.  A surfer without the sea is not a surfer.  A Christ-follower not engaged in the mission on some level is not…well…living out the definition of following Christ.  Indeed, they may even be distorting the definition.

Like the sea, the mission field has long periods of flat.  And then it has days when it rages.  It is unpredictable.  It is dangerous.  It has rhythms.  It has heroes and it has martyrs.  It cannot be fought, but rather it has to be understood so that we can work within it.  It is bigger than we are.  Only God controls it. And we are called into it.  Some are called to go in huge crafts to carry out some purpose that that huge craft is designed for.  And some of us wade into the surf on foot with just a surfboard under our arm and the Spirit of God within us.  Gifted according to purpose, big churches and small churches are called and sent into the mission field.

Where does the board we’re tethered to fit into this emerging metaphor?  Is the surfboard the church?  Is it the building?  Is it the community?  Is it the Kingdom of God?  Is the Holy Spirit?  The only answer I can give with any integrity at all is that I’m still working to figure that out.  It’s easier for me to tell you what it isn’t, than it is for me to tell you exactly what it is.  Surfers are comfortable in ambiguity.  The surfboard is definitely not your church building.  The building for many people is just another lifejacket.  It will give you the illusion of safety but if it is misunderstood in terms of value and utility, it can actually wreck your board and kill you.  The building turns too slowly, it is too heavy, it is too much work to surf with.  It isn’t that a surfer doesn’t appreciate a nice place to rest and recover, it’s just that if that place takes all of our time, then we become simply beach-hut maintenance people instead of surfers because there is no time left to be in the water.  We surf.  It’s what we do.  It’s where our time goes.  What we surf on has to be something we can easily carry, that we can maneuver quickly, and that does not drag us down when strapped to it. And people who actually surf have boards with dings on them. Ugly is good in surfing.  It means that the board is actually exposed to the ocean frequently.  A perfect board hasn’t seen much actual use.  The building is definitely not the board.

But is the surfboard the community?  Maybe.  It’s part of it.  I think, though, that the surfer is the community.  It is the hands and the feet, the heart and the mind.  The members of the community acting as one body are the surfer.  Surfers are extremely well coordinated people.  They are in tune with their bodies.  Their body parts are all focused on a single purpose in a single moment, a moment of intense effort, momentary terror, total commitment, followed by unbelievable joy.  A surfer’s survival depends on their ability to focus totally, as a single coordinated being, for short and frequent periods of time.  I think small church communities are like that, too.  We don’t have to be together on everything all the time.  A lot of incredible surfers are actually a little bit flakey when they aren’t actually doing what they do – surfing.  The intensity of the mission means that a totality of focus all of the time will cause us to burn ourselves out.  Surfers are laid back, go with the flow, except in the crucial moment.  And good surfers develop excellence in the skill of recognizing a crucial moment when they see it.  Small churches that surf well are like that too.  Their atmosphere is laid back, cool, accepting.  But they recognize a crucial moment and come together with a coordination of purpose and focus when a wave of the mission crests and they have an opportunity to catch it.  Short bursts of total focus and coordination, not total coordination all the time is a part of small church transformation to mission.

Small churches have unique challenges similar to a surfer’s challenges in that one bad choice can kill you.  You have to be able to move quickly and to pull out of the wave if you’re in it on the wrong angle.  Uncoordinated people spend a lot of time “going over the falls”, vomiting seawater.  So even though the requirement for coordination and focus is short, the life of the small church depends on its ability to do that.  It is a unity of purpose that allows it to happen, and learning the discipline of focus on purpose will be a huge part of the transformational journey.  That is something we will cover in depth in a later chapter.

The surfboard. What then is the surfboard?  I have come to think of the surfboard as the Holy Spirit.  It is what I have tethered myself to.  It is what our community has tethered itself to.  It is what we seek to become one with.  It is what keeps us up and it is that upon which we “walk on water”.  Or rather, it is that upon which we fly across the surface of the water, one with its very currents.  If we aren’t tethered to the right thing in this missional journey, big or small, we’ll never surf, and we’ll likely drown or never get in the water at all.  The Spirit comes in many shapes and sizes, always appropriate for the wave we are destined to catch.  Sometimes the Spirit is a shortboard, sometimes a longboard, sometimes even a hydrofoil we have to strap ourselves into to ride, but never too big or too heavy.  Everything else can fall away and this community will still be together surfing because we are tethered to what is required to surf, and surfing is the point.  The pure moment comes when the surfer and the board become one, flying across the face of a giant wave rising in the wake of the complete unity. The pure moment for a small church is when the body and the Holy Spirit become almost one in the service of the mission, reaching people, changing people, seeing new life rise up huge in the wake of that unity.   A surfer is tethered to a surfboard.  It’s definitional.  A missional community is tethered to the Holy Spirit.  It’s definitional.

So where does the Kingdom of God fit into this metaphor?  Well, my friends, I have come to understand that the Kingdom of God is the ride.  It is the perfect wave.  It is the ride of a lifetime.  One day, we will have the ride forever, but for now, we live for the pure moment, knowing that those moments are here sometimes if we are looking for them with passion and focus and purpose.  For now, the ride always ends.  The pure moment is a moment.  And then it’s a paddle back out.  But the moment makes all the wipeouts, all the board dings, all the times we’ve bounced off the coral worth it.  That one ride, that one pure exhilarating ride makes the memory of all the effort and all the pain fade away.  And the moment will come again if we have the discipline to paddle back out and the courage to overcome the terror of the crest and the total commitment to pop back up to catch the next one.  This isn’t heaven, but there are heavenly moments.

By Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-1-10)

Ben Linder – Child of Wonder

Image

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)

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