Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let Me Explain Myself

Finally found some language for this quest I have been on while reading Dallas Willard's "The Great Omission":

"Now, some might be shocked to hear that what the "church" -- the disciples gathered -- really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ's gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these. All it needs to fulfill Christ's purposes on earth is the quality of life He makes real in the life of His disciples. Given that quality, the church will prosper from everything that comes its way as it makes clear and available on earth the "life that is life indeed...

So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as "Christians" will become disciples -- students, apprentices, practitioners -- of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be His Church -- to be, without human force or violence, His mighty force for good on earth, drawing the churches after them toward the eternal purposes of God?"

The Great Omission, Introduction, pps.xiv, xv

This is the thing I can't shake, the call that keeps drawing me forward, the quest that has gripped me -- to rediscover the stripped-down, simple reality of following Jesus into the everyday places as His disciple and to make Him known in environments that are not defined by "church" in the outwardly churchy sense. And I can report that after nearly a year and a half this quest is getting both easier AND more difficult. Easier, because I have been cut loose from so many distractions that used to occupy my attention and complicate my Christian walk and more difficult because it feels, at times, lonely and counter-(church)cultural. And also because I have less excuses.

I'll be 54 next week and I can tell you that ever since I was 15 this is the core of what I really wanted from life -- the opportunity to follow Jesus in a "really real" way. After all these years, I still feel like a beginner but "where else will (I) go? You alone have the words of eternal life!"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Back Into the Fray" - A Waking Vision

Daniel A. Brown, Ph.D today

I'll never forget the day Pastor Daniel Brown told me of the waking vision he had seen. He described it as a call to get "back into the fray". At the time, Daniel was a pastor at The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, CA where he led the college-age group.

As the vision opened, he saw a man -- a soldier of old -- coming back to his senses after having been knocked out in battle. He was bruised and a bit bloodied, but he was able to rise to his feet and survey the area around about. As he did, he saw other soldiers who, like him, were just recovering from a brutal battle.

The soldier began to move toward some of the others and, as he did, more recovering soldiers joined him. Before long there was a band of them moving along the top of some sort of hill or ridge. Their numbers grew steadily as solider after soldier collected themselves and joined in the company as it steadily moved along the ridgeline.

After a moment the "camera" (as it were) pulled back to reveal a bigger scene for, there below them in the valley, the wounded soldiers saw the "regular army" formed in their ranks and dressed in their uniforms. The regulars were engaged in a pitched battle with the enemy. As they observed them, the newly recovered soldiers on the top of the hill paused for a moment. They still had their own battle wounds. They were not dressed nicely in uniform as were their fellow soldiers in the valley below. But they had experience the "regulars" did not have. They knew some of the enemy's schemes and strategies and understood what it was to be injured and yet survive. What should the do?

The next thing Daniel saw in the vision was the streams of veteran soldiers coming down the hillside and pouring into the ranks of the regular army. There were many more of them than he had first anticipated. As they rejoined the ranks, they found ways to add their experience, their courage and their fighting faith to the regular army who, it became obvious, was better for their presence. The battle began to turn as the enemy gave ground. In his spirit, Daniel heard the Lord saying that he was calling for His wounded soldiers to "get back into the fray".

I believe it was somewhere around 1980 when Daniel Brown shared his vision with me. At the time, he interpreted the wounded soldiers to have been veterans of the Jesus People movement who had been knocked down or out in battle with the enemy. And that makes sense -- especially at that time. But I have come to believe this vision to still be a valid representation of the future of the spritual warfare of our time. It's not just recovering "Jesus People" who need to re-enter the fray but many others who, over the past years, have been wounded, bruised and bloodied but who -- upon their restoration -- have much to add to the ranks of the "regular army" of brave but less experienced brethren.

Hear His voice as He calls you "back into the fray!"

Keys to Healing a Marriage, Part Three

Key #3 - Envision Your Future Marriage Now

When you are driving a car to the store, you "see" two differnt things at the same time. You "see" the road just in front of the car and the myriad other things in your immediate environment. But you also "see" the store you intend to visit. You do this in your mind or imagination. That's why you take the roads you take. You can envison in your mind's eye exactly where you are going even though that destination is not available to your immediate view as you navigate the roads.

Now apply this to marriage. When Robin and I became engaged, I was still in my teens (19 to be exact). I could "see" Robin before me and I knew that she was the woman for me. We were young with our entire adulthood and its many mysteries before us. But we would not remain in that uniquely youthful phase of our lives forever.
Knowing this, we made vows on our wedding day. These vows included language about what we could "see" in our future. Our vows were the things that bound us to it come what may: "for better, or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health...until God shall separate us by death..." Those words expressed a vision of life far beyond where we were living it.

When healing a marriage, we must reaffirm the ultimate destination that was first described by the vows we made on our wedding day. That day, before God and our loved ones, we bound ourselves to what someone has described as a "lifelong commitment to an imperfect person". To lose this destination on the map is to throw away the map altogether. Two people who no longer "see" this vision must reclaim and recover that end point if they are to weather life's storms and finish well. If they stop living with the end in mind, the marriage will suffer and perhaps even die.

It's not a matter of whether or not other visions will present themselves to the partners in a marriage. Life will conspire to overturn what we have vowed with tantalizing imaginations of life lived with other partners and other pleasures. There is no doubt that we will miss out on these things if we maintain our foundational commitment to one man, one woman, one lifetime. But as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, that is the very nature of decision making. To make any decision is to slay some of our options so that others may live.

It is no secret that this is what God asks from us in our marriages -- to slay all other options, hold fast to our commitment, and fight to the finish: "forsaking all others, I will keep myself to her, and to her only...". This is why the marital relationship is imbued with so much meaning in Scripture. It is the very vow our God has takin upon Himself. He has bound Himself to our brokeness and imperfection despite our ups and downs: "if we are faithless, He remains faithful". It is also why we need grace (and not just human willpower) to fulfill our vows and arrive at the destination of a life lived faithfully together. It is, you might say, a God-sized commitment.

In healing a suffering marriage, we admit this, ask for help, and recall to heart what we have vowed in the hopes that our partner will do the same.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Genius of the Jesus People Movement

The genius of the Jesus People movement of the late 1960's and 70's was not the theological sophistication of it's adherents. It wasn't money, or programming, or a centrally-coordinated effort to impact youth culture launched by existing Christian leaders or sociological experts. I believe the genius of the Jesus People movement was the empowerment of everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places - from school campuses to coffeehouses. From private homes to rock concerts. From streetcorners to city parks. "Jesus Freaks" were always looking for opportunities to take the gospel to the places and environments where the people of their generation lived their daily lives. The whole world was their mission field and "church" could happen anywhere, anytime.

As a veteran of that experience, I believe we who follow Christ now would do well to re-discover this way of life. It's not about trying to go back to the "old days". It's not about nostalgia or recreating a bygone era or somehow updating its symbols. But I am convinced that there is an inhertiance given by the Holy Spirit to the Church that remains available to us now -- especially to those of us who know better than to keep ministry within the walls of church buildings.

There are lots of things about the Jesus People that can be criticized -- many mistakes that were made. But there are things that still pulsate in the hearts of those of us who walked those roads -- including the convictions that Jesus is for everyone, that ministry if for every believer and that we don't need elaborate structures, programs or high-cost endeavors to go where Jesus is going. We simply need to see where the Lord is already at work in the everyday lives of a world He came to love back to life!

So here's my call to my fellow "vets" -- get back to basics. Rediscover your inheritance. Tap back into your passion. Find a need in some everyday place and take Jesus there. It looks different now, to be sure, but the genius of the Jesus People movement waits to be reclaimed and put into motion yet again!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wholesome Shallowness? Kong Hee

My dear friend Grady Williams told me about Singapore Pastor Kong Hee, his pop music star wife, Sun, and this blog entry entitled "Wholesome Shallowness". All those interested in the issue of committed Christians and the arts (including popular music) will find it a good and provocative read.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

U2's "Magnificent"

"I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Lyrics by Bono and The Edge

This song from "No Line on the Horizon" soars with praise to The Magnificent -- the One who provides the center for the singer's identity, devotion and deepest experience. The song is in praise of Jesus Christ.

"No Line..." contains other interesting christological references. From the song "White as Snow":

"Once I knew there was a love divine
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb as white as snow..."

There is a lot about the album that feels mature -- both recapturing the best of the classic U2 sound while also extending and expanding into new territory. I find "No Line on the Horizon" to be a superior effort in general and "Magnificent" to be one of the best songs in a considerably outstanding collection of music. Listening, I am uplifted and I am focused not on rock stars, but on Him who is Magnificent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Keys to Healing a Marriage, Part Two

It may sound counter-intuitive, but I believe many wounded couples simply do not fight often enough or vigorously enough -- for each other, that is! One of the keys to healing a marriage is the ability you will gain to fight FOR your partner instead of fighting them. This means you will become his or her advocate instead of their adversary. Doing so unlocks the marital endorphines necessary to re-energize a depressed or languishing union.

When a man fights for his wife, it often involves increasing her sense of security. A woman who feels secure is a woman who feels loved. "My man is thinking of me today", she says to herself. "He is aware of me and my needs and I matter to him. My man is my champion. He desires me physically, emotionally and spiritually. He does not resent me or consider me to be a burden. He treats me like I am his gift from God". This is what it sounds like inside a woman who is finding more and more security within her husband's love. By contrast, when a woman feels she must compete with work, hobbies or other people for her man's attention, she may display the resulting insecurities by becoming depressed, nagging or otherwise burdened.

When a wife fights for her husband, it involves increasing his sense of esteem. A man who feels esteened is a man who feels loved. "My woman believes in me. She is proud of me and she knows that I am trying hard to succeed", he says within himself. "She desires me physically and trusts that I have her best interests in mind. She is my cheerleader and she treats me as her gift from God". This is what it sounds like inside a man who is finding more and more esteen within his wife's love. By contrast, when a man feels he must compete with unrealistic expectations, other men or even family members for his wife's attention, he may display the resulting deflation by becoming edgy or despondent. He may also seek to hide in work, turn to pornography, or overindulge in hobbies or other distractions.

Fighting for one another, instead of against one another changes the tone of a marriage and lets the healing begin!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Keys to Healing A Marriage, Part One

Healing a hurting or broken marriage is not as hard as we may think...or as easy! Although a million, million words have been written on this topic, there is no doubt that a million more will be. In what follows, I humbly offer a few words of my own on a subject that really matters. They come from my experience as a pastoral counselor, pastor and my own 33 years of married life with Robin.

KEY #1: No Change, No Healing

"When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet just as sure as you live
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give"

Johnny Mercer's classic lyrics describe a law of both physics and human relationships: "somethin's gotta give". When a marriage is hurting or in trouble, "same old same old" is no longer an option. Even so, a true appetite for change is not always present in those situations -- and marriages -- that are desperate for change. Sometimes the first response to marital crisis is to fall back into a deeper commitment to the familiar patterns, attitudes and behaviors that have fed the breakdown because they are already an ingrained part of our routine and identity. "Don't ask me to change", we assert. "I am what I am".

Dissect that statement a little further, and it reveals itself to be more of a values statement than an actual fact. In effect, we are saying: "I value staying with what works for me more than I value learning what works for us". The fact is, we learn how to radically change "who we are" all the time -- if we believe the change is worth the trouble to do so. When the economy shifts, we may immerse ourselves into totally new careers. When children come, we immerse ourselves in learning how to parent. When our health is threatened, we may radically change our diet, our exercise routine and, possibly, our entire lifestyle in order to avoid issues that will destroy our health or our functioning. That's why, when a marriage is in need of healing, change is the best friend we need to invite over to stay, not an enemy we need to keep locked outside.

If we value our marriage then we need do whatever it takes to heal it, build it up and renew its vitality. This means change -- often HUGE change. It can sometimes takes a gargantuan effort to UNlearn some things and LEARN others. The learning curve can feel daunting, indeed. Perhaps this is why so many marital partners seem to look for the minimum tweak to stop the squeek (in their marriage) instead of embracing the opportunity to experience transformative change. In sports lingo they refer to this as "playing not-to-lose" rather than "playing to win".

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Money is One Reason (I Like House Church)

So, today I sent out another email to our house churches in Vineyard at Home, our house church network, telling them that THEY NEED TO SPEND MONEY on kingdom stuff. I get all warm and tingly inside just writing those words! Do you have any idea how much fun it is as a church leader to write church members in order to ask them to please spend more money?

The funds they are being asked to spend (distribute, etc) are a sizeable portion of their own giving. To see how this works and how simple it is, you can simply visit our website at www.vcmn.org and click on the "money" link on the right hand bottom of the home page.

The opportunity to do church "organically" means that THEY (not me) decide how the funds are to be spent as long as it is in accordance with our mission to "empower everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places". In the year plus since a number of us "went house church", this has been one of the big payoffs (no pun intended).

It was so cool to be a part of a pow-wow that includes teenagers and children and to decide together how to spend "God's money" on stuff we know God values! For example, our Foothill Ranch church is giving a $1,000 gift to a family we know to be in need. In addition, $2,000 is being budgeted by this group to bless the Arms of Love childrens home in the Philippines at Christmas time. And there are a couple other initiatives that will be explored in the next couple weeks. And it's not just money. It was decided that the youth and kids will work with the adults to customize gifts to the children in the AoL home including group shopping trips, handmade cards, etc. If I sound excited it is because I AM!!!!

Years ago, I was taught about the well-known "Pareto Principle." This is the old truism that "20% of the people do 80% of the work" and "20% of the people give 80% of the funds", and so on. One of the great joys of doing church organically has been to see this Pareto Principle go down in flames as literally every member -- including children and teens -- participate DIRECTLY in church life and mission. This is a dream come true.

We are definitely still in "pioneer mode" as we figure out how to walk out the vision God has given us but, I gotta tell you, learning how to steward resources as a house church family has been one of the bright spots in the journey.