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.

Joy, The Real Kind

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Joy, The Real Kind

He’d been there at the front door handing out numbers and joking around with Harold for about six weeks straight. Tats from neck to wrist, leather café jacket. Scraggly beard, Young, but old.  That’s the part the gives it away.  Young, but old.  The old is in their eyes…maybe in their bones, too. There’s a way that they carry themselves.  There’s something else in a recovering heroin addicts eyes, too, that I can’t explain.  There’s more to it, but you get to the point where you just kind of know who’s using and who’s recovering. Crack has its tell-tale signs, the jaw going side-to-side, the skin on the hands picked raw.  Heroin has its tell-tale signs, too.   He’d been referred to us by Justice 2000 for mandatory community service hours.  When he came he was pretty sketchy.  And I’m pretty sure he thought we were, too. He didn’t know what all this “Kingdom of Heaven” stuff was about, not sure he wanted to either. But he kept coming back.  And his guard came down.  And we came to know him. And he came to know us. He finished his community service hours, and he kept coming back anyway.

He had been doing so well.  Despensa de la Paz had become more than a place to him, just as it has for so many people.  People who don’t understand spiritual things think we hand out groceries.  Yes, it’s about groceries, but it’s about a whole lot more than groceries.  I always make it a habit to say, “Love you, brother” or “Love you, sister” when they leave. I said that to him every week for a long time.  I think at first he was kind of weirded out by it.  But I remember the first day that he said, “Love you, too.”  His eyes welled up with tears as he said it.

The Teacher said one time that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.  It’s the smallest of all seeds.  But it grows into a huge bush where the birds of the air come and take shelter. He had to take multiple buses to get to Despensa.  He probably had to start riding about six in the morning.  This had become a bush where he could come and take refuge.  It started so small for him. A cup of coffee and just a break from somebody.  And it became huge.  For many people, Despensa is their refuge.  You can’t quantify that.  There’s no number for that on a form.  But for him, this is the closest thing he’s known to home and safety in a whole lot of years.  God is here, and no one contests God’s presence.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to Despensa and he wasn’t there.  I figured maybe he missed a bus, but that he’d be along.  His girlfriend came in very upset, and said she hadn’t heard from him, that he’d disappeared, and that she was worried about him.  She knows him.  They used together. And they were recovering together. She said he’d told her that he was thinking about getting some crack.  I know this is jaded and horrible, but I actually felt a sense of relief that he wanted to get some crack, because at least it wasn’t heroin.  So many people are dying out here from that first return visit to heroin when they relapse…too many to count. What crossed my mind was that he might mess himself up, maybe even get himself thrown in jail, but he wouldn’t be dead with a needle sticking out of his arm. Don’t get me wrong, I know the monster that crack is, and I’ve seen it devour households.  I’m just telling you what went through my head.  I have become what I’ve become. After years of this, it just is what it is.

I was excited to see him today.  Joy.  The real kind.  He was back.  And he was clean again.  And he was alive.  It’s funny how quickly we get into each other’s hearts here.  I’ve seen so many people not make it, so many people die or end up in prison forever, or just disappear…I just thank God every day that God has not allowed me to become hard. I don’t ever want to get to that terrifying place where I am afraid to feel anymore…where I am afraid to let people like him into my heart. The metaphor isn’t lost on me, “a heart that’s broken, and yet is also resurrected.”  As I walked away after catching up with him, I said, “Love you, brother.”  I heard the catch in his voice, holding back tears, and he said, “Yeah. Love you, too.” One day, this friend might not make it.  One day it might be this one that his mother finds dead in the bathroom, or who washes up in the Milwaukee River, or who dies in some Godforsaken abandoned warehouse.  It might be him one day.  But, not today.  Today, he was here.  Today, he was our gift.  And I am grateful.

Something Happens: 6 Observations on Disciples making Disciples

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Something Happens: 6 Observations on Disciples making Disciples

1)     It seems to be about an invitation.  We see a lot of disciples made. We don’t use fancy discipling programs with three-fold color glossy curriculum. We don’t use video-based tier-one programming with slick marketing and marquee-name speakers.  Programs have never borne fruit in my community.  And we have never been in the position to buy expensive stuff.  And yet, we are seeing fourth generation disciples being made now.  We don’t use the latest techniques.  We don’t use anything that requires a lot of training. We use prayer and fasting and getting in the Word together. And we engage with God’s mission. We change what we do, and it changes what we see and what we think.  We seek the Kingdom with all of our hearts.  Where we find it, we participate in it.  And we invite others to participate with us.  We invite those coming out of the harvest to labor in the harvest with us right from day one. People want to be included in things that make a difference. When we invite our unreached friends into the mission with us, something happens.

2)      “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers into the harvest…” WITH YOU: When we put a disciple side-by-side with an unreached person, and they are laboring together in a mission that represents the present Kingdom, something happens.  Jesus told his disciples, “When two or three are gathered in my name (or as Jesus would have gathered), I will be among you.”  So…there Jesus is…among us…doing what he did when he was in flesh.  When Jesus is among us, something happens.

3)     People need a new pair of glasses in order to see the Kingdom:  When we tell a Gospel story before we start doing a mission, and we don’t announce that it is a Gospel story, those who have not yet been reached by the Good News of the Kingdom but are laboring with us still end up viewing their participation that day through a Gospel lens. And something happens.

4)     Real Friends.  When we labor next to each other in the mission, we become friends.  I’m not talking about worldly friends who we choose because they can give us some advantage, or because we “like” them. I’m talking about the kind of friendship that forms when people are struggling together in something that is bigger and more important that either one of them.  I am talking about the kind of friendship that involves having each other’s backs.  I’m talking about the kind of friendship that can weather accountability because what you are engaged in together matters. When we start to have those kinds of friendships, something happens.

5)    “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road…?” Experience doesn’t seem to make disciples who make disciples.  But when experience is put together with intentional reflection, something happens.  We have a brief-back after every mission, and we ask people to tell us what they took away from their experience and how it changed them.  When people have the opportunity to both experience and reflect, something happens.

6)      It’s not about us. When we truly don’t care who gets the credit, things grow.  When we can truly give up agendas and the desire for personal accolades and recognition, and work to make sure that others get the credit, things grow. It’s deeper than that, though.  When we don’t care who gets the credit, then it’s not about us.  When it’s not about us, we can put down our masks and just be the flawed and vulnerable humans that we really are.  People are starving for a place to just be wounded and vulnerable, and have that be enough.  If it’s not about us, we don’t have to be in control and we don’t have to be perfect.  If we don’t, neither does anyone else.  Being able to be vulnerable and authentic allows people to grow. When people grow and missions grow and lives are changed right before people’s eyes, something happens.

A Season of Silence, And Now We Move On

A Season of Silence, And Now We Move On

I have been passing through a season of silence and have not been posting as I have in the past.  I am grateful for your patience.  Alan Roxburgh said something recently in a lecture, “Disciples are constantly being pushed out into disruptive, confusing spaces that we cannot manage, predict or control. Why does God do that? Because God is God. When we find ourselves in those spaces, we turn to God as God.”  I think that might help you to understand where I have been.  I don’t wish that space on anyone. And yet, God has never been closer than in the moments of my greatest uncertainty. This has been a painful season, and I have spent my time in prayer and fasting at Lord’s feet.  I didn’t think I had anymore illusions about people, but this has been a bitter winter of disillusioning. It has been a time of fire.  And it has been a time of suffering.  And it is over.  And now we move on.  God’s Kingdom is very much alive.

BootPrints

I saw the Kingdom of God last week. When I first met her, she was homeless. And she also had a positivity about her despite her predicament. She and I and another friend used to have breakfast together every couple of weeks during that time. We shared hope and encouragement with one another.  She helped me to remember why I went into ministry. She came to our street ministry and volunteered. Then she came to Despensa and volunteered. She became a huge part of the Despensa team. We worked on job leads and resumes. We laughed because apparently I am not the best resume formatter for the current job market. Thank God, she found someone better! She got herself a job to create an income stream. Then she got out of the shelter and got into an apartment. The income stream allowed her to keep a roof over her head while she worked towards her dream of working in health and nutrition. Soon, she landed an opportunity there, too. We lost her awesome presence at the food pantry because she was working two jobs, and one of them was on the weekends. However, she made time to volunteer to serve at the St. Ben’s meal program with us last week. It was so great to see her. She slipped an envelope in my hand and told me that she wanted to contribute to the mission. She went to work on the food line, and I opened the envelope. In it was enough money to sponsor half of the meal we served that night!! We feed over 300 people! She must have skipped meals and gone without significant things in order to be able to contribute the mission like that. She is what the mission is all about. From subject to object. And she is a humbling example of what sacrificial giving really means. Thank you all for your crazy generosity in sponsoring our missions so that people can be truly transformed!! The Kingdom is alive in her, and through her. And through all of you, as well!

I’ve Heard it Sing

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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.

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Something to Celebrate!

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Something to Celebrate

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 ~ Jesus of Nazareth, a 1st Century Mediterranean Peasant, … and the risen Son of God

We do a lot of baptisms, and we make our share of disciples.  Our emphasis in discipling is that disciples make disciples or they are not disciples at all.  Our disciples are discipled to seek and live the Kingdom, and to invite others to seek and live it with them.  In a couple of weeks, something encouraging is going to happen.  It isn’t our victory except as it is a Kingdom victory and we are seeking to be citizens of that Kingdom.  We are going to baptize our first fourth generation disciple. We have seen other fourth and fifth generation disciples made, but this is the first who has decided to go public with his faith in our mothership community. A disciple that I discipled, discipled someone else to disciple someone else.  That someone else is this someone.  And this someone is now discipling others to disciple others.  He and the guy who discipled him have started mission and started Bible studies among people from their tribe.  All of these people were transformed in the mission, transformed by the mission.  Their eyes were opened to the Kingdom that was present in the mission.

This young man has faced persecution in his home.  His parents are militant atheists who have persecuted him for reading his Bible and for taking it seriously.  His faith has caused tremendous tension in his nuclear family. He has lost many of his rocker friends over his faith and the change that it has made in his life.  So, for him, this has not been an easy journey.  I will be posting his faith statement after his baptism, but I just can’t stop rejoicing today. I just had to shout, “Alleluia!!”.  The change in this young man is a true miracle, and we have had the unbelievable opportunity to witness it, and to know who to thank.

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What changed? Nothing…and Everything

What changed? Nothing…and Everything

Some folks gathered on July 4, 1776 and signed their names to a document that we call the “Declaration of Independence”. So, what changed on July 5, 1776? Well…nothing…and everything. (Thank you, Dr. Richard Crane). The world didn’t change, but people put on a new set of glasses through which they understood themselves, their predicament, their allegiances, their priorities, and their place in the universe. People who claimed those words as being for them began to live in a new way. And that brought conflict because it threatened the authority of the king of England. In a way, we are still experiencing the dawn of the words of that document…moving closer and closer to what it represents. With each step closer those words bring conflict…and freedom. Jesus stood up in the Temple and said these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So, what changed on that day? Nothing…and EVERYTHING. When we claim these words as being words for us, we put on a new set of glasses through which we view everything…and we live in a new way, as if we are born again. And that, too, brings conflict…and REAL freedom.

The Principle of Thirds

Thirds

The Principle of Thirds

A friend asked me to post something about a grounding missional principle that we use here in our community that we call the Principle of Thirds. We did not think this up ourselves, and the truth is that we don’t know where it came from.  But we do know from a good deal of experience that it bears fruit for the Kingdom of God.  We don’t count a lot of things, mostly because we used to count a lot of wrong things (i.e people in the pews on Sunday, individual giving, number of people in Sunday School, etc.).  We don’t necessarily know what all the right things to count are, but we do know some things that aren’t worth counting because spending energy counting them simply doesn’t bear fruit.  Here’s something we have learned: Count the things that you want to see follow-through on.  We measure the things that we think are important to actually do because counting them, for whatever reason, makes us do them.  It’s not the counting that matters.  It’s the doing that matters.

We have become very intentional about making sure that every mission team and mission launch has a certain make-up to them.  And we count to make sure that we are being intentional right from the start in ensuring that teams are made up a particular way.  All of our mission teams are launched with only 1/3 of the people launching them coming from our worshiping community.  2/3 must come from outside of our traditional walls.  1/3 of the team can come from another faith community.  But every mission team that we launch must have at least 1/3 of its participants being people who have no faith community at all.  Some of them may be in a faith conversation, but we are really looking to partner with people who claim no faith allegiance.   So our launch teams are 1/3 from our community, (can be) 1/3 from other faith communities, but must be at least 1/3 people who profess no particular faith at all.  If the team is not made up that way, we don’t launch.

The same model applies to how our mission teams are funded for launch.  Only 1/3 of their funds can come from our operating budget.  1/3 of their funds can come from other faith communities.  But a minimum of 1/3 of their funding must come from secular income streams that they develop through their own networks. Within three years, all of our missions must be self-funded through income streams developed outside of our operating budget.  We do this because we consider each new mission to be a potential faith community.  And each new faith community must eventually become financially viable on its own.  We plant it, but if God does not bring life to it, then we have learned to let it go.  We think (at least right now) that three years gives the mission plant enough time to get on its own feet and develop its own resources. We do not have the kind of money that it takes to plant churches the traditional way, and we believe, nonetheless, that every church is called to plant faith communities.  So, this is our way, at least for now.

We use the Principle of Thirds because we have a need to be intentional about including the people on the subject side of the mission who we are trying to invite into Kingdom participation with us on the object side of the Kingdom.  Subject and object from Day One.  Our community needs to do this because it is too easy for us to fall back into the old “outreach” model where we, the church people, are the purveyors of goodness and a light to the “them”, the needy.  There is no “us” and “them” in the Kingdom of God. And in the Kingdom we each have something to offer to one another. By building these requirements into every mission before they are launched, we have found that we have a much better chance of accomplishing what we set out to do.

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Beyond the Search for Samsung: Is Today Your Day to Matter?

Invitation to mission

Beyond the Search for Samsung: Is Today Your Day to Matter?

I know that Beyonce, Romain Dauriac, and Samsung are the most searched for words on Google right now.  But I don’t think that most people searching for those things are looking for them to fulfill a deep need in their life. At least, I hope not.  I’m not even sure that people even use Google, or Bing, or Yahoo to search for meaning and significance…but it might make some sense to at least give them a shot at it.   More and more I am engaged in conversations with people who tell me that, more than anything, they want their lives to matter.  They want their lives to have real and lasting value. More and more people tell me that they aren’t just seeking a career that will make them rich or popular or famous.  In fact, for most of them, those things have become a turnoff.  I’m not sure where meaning and significance end up on the list of most searched for terms on Google or Bing, and I don’t think it really matters. I think people are finally coming to the tragic end of the value of putting themselves first.  I don’t think they have come to that end through ignorance or guesswork.  I think they come to that end because they’ve gotten pretty far down that dark road and have found their lives getting smaller and smaller, and shallower and shallower.

I don’t think that we were shaped from birth to think of ourselves first.  We are conditioned by our consumer culture to think that way.  We are so immersed in and bombarded by advertisements and messages that subtly sell us the values of the purveyor/consumer culture.  We are overwhelmed with those messages, and those messages have been cynically cloaked in words that our hearts are shaped to connect to.  But the words merely cover up an empty well.   Even more than simply the value of “self”, I think we are sold over and over again the idea that “things” and “status” produce meaning.  A recent Mercedes Benz magazine ad for their new model CLA says, “Set your soul free.” And their tag line is, “The best or nothing.” No, seriously. That’s what it actually says. We once were even told by the very President of the United States that the most important thing that we could do as citizens of this country was to go out and buy things, as if that was our role in the great cosmos. That’s what’s being put out there for our consumer culture to consume. No wonder so many people are so spiritually hungry. It’s like eating sawdust. It’ll fill you up for a minute, but it sure won’t feed you. How many times do people have to be exposed to this before they start to subconsciously think it? Go ahead and drive one if you can. They really are great cars. But, by way of extrapolation, if someone can’t afford the best, does that mean that they are nothing? Wow. Jesus taught that the truth will set you free. Mercedes seems to think a little differently.

My thought for today comes from some simple wisdom my father shared with me years ago.  He said, “Son, if God’s going to do something new in your situation, you have to let God do something new in you.”  If our lives are feeling flat and we just can’t seem to make sense of the cycle of earn and spend and owe, then maybe we can make a little change that will allow God to make a big change in our situation.  If we are tired of trying to be “important” and “in charge”, and we’re just done with trying to please everybody, then maybe we can change one small thing that God can use to connect us to much bigger things that really will give our lives meaning and value.  Maybe society is wrong about what it means to be important.  And maybe that President was wrong about our role in the cosmos. And maybe Mercedes-Benz is just cynical about everything and doesn’t really even believe what they’re asking you to believe. We want our lives to matter.  We don’t want our lives to just be wasted on things that don’t matter and don’t last beyond the warranty.  One little change that we can make is to set aside some time get involved in something where what’s at stake is more important than us.  God’s not asking you to sell everything you own today and come follow him.  God is just asking you to take one step into the Kingdom with God, and see where God leads you.  So, maybe today is your day to get involved.

If you’re in the Milwaukee area, check us out at http://www.growingintochrist.org., or on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/max.ramsey.  Come and visit one of our mission sites one time, or come and live and serve with us for a week.  Maybe we can find something of value together.  If not here, then somewhere there is a place and a need for who you are and what you do. Peace.

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