Hey there... blessings again this day!
It’s been interesting to listen to the common themes working their way through the conversations I’ve been a part of and even the ones I’ve overhear at the store or somewhere else. Nearly all of it, of course sourced by the CoranaVirus, but the conversations are as much about the impact of measures being taken as there is discussion about the disease itself. A lot of feelings and thoughts, but very similar in nature.
It might help us to cover the steps of a Paradigm Shift to understand the commonality of our thinking. A paradigm shift begins with an event or crisis that moves up and off of our ‘normal’. This is, by nature, stressful, and is followed by concentrated effort to resolve the issues causing the unease and do whatever is necessary to return life back to the normal. Throughout this process there is a gnawing sense of unease and often anxiety. If this state of flux continues long enough, we slowly begin to accept that the old ‘normal’ is permanently gone, and begin shifting our thoughts and energy to the task of establishing a new ‘normal’, but this too takes time, resulting in still more unease and added stress. Finally, often after a period of time much longer than we had hoped, life settles down and the new normal begins to take root. The hardship in the process is a very real human reaction: a sense of loss or grief. And pain. Sometimes subtle, other times overwhelming.
It’s certainly clear that we’re in such a shift. Our entire society has been uprooted. And depending on what level each individual, family or organization feels threatened, we will see varying levels of emotion and reaction, but no one is escaping the change. We’re all going and we’re all unsure where we’ll land... and we all wish it were over tomorrow! We’re thus quick to be outraged, hasty to be suspicious, and keen to the knowledge that there are some who will find ways to take advantage of the situation and pad their wallets or power bases. This also helps us understand why every new government announcement seems like yet another more frustrating edict; each one represents another step away from the old normal. It also explains the commonality of themes and dominating influence of our conversations; when ‘normal’ is swept away, it’s the One Big Thing, and will continue to be so for quite some time.
Understanding that the enemy of humanity desires to keep us in a constant state of unease, the important challenge for us who carry the very presence of God is not to somehow live outside of The Shift with some kind of escapist mindset, trying desperately to appear we’re above the process, but rather to walk authentically through this shift, with one another and with our neighbors, deeply infused with Father’s peace.
Yep, we’ll continue to be tempted everyday to fret and worry, especially if this drags on for many months, but our relationship with Father through the Holy Spirit provides a firm base from which to navigate as we wait. It’s an opportunity to walk with others, especially when they’re struggling with fear or feel overwhelmed. We carry a peace that is given, not created or earned. And we know where to find it!
Below is a prayer we’ve been using this week for the early morning men’s prayer team. It’s adapted from Psalm 91 and focuses on our dependence on the Lord’s faithfulness and covering. Insert someone’s name and pray it over them, quietly to yourself or aloud, if they’re willing.
"Dear Father, I pray this blessing from Psalm 91:1-6 over (their name) today.
May (their name) dwell in Your shelter, Most High and abide in Your shadow, Almighty Father. May they say to You, Father, “You are my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” May they trust that You can, and will, deliver them from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. May (their name) trust that You will cover them with Your pinions, and that under Your wings they will find refuge and that Your faithfulness is a shield and buckler (a covering shield). May they believe that, because of You, Father, they will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. Thank you Father for your steadfast love, in Jesus Name, Amen"
Walking in peace,
“It’ll be a great opportunity!” “I know you’re always up for a challenge!” “It will be like a grand adventure!” Hmm. On the outside I’m enthusiastically nodding, largely because I don’t want to be thought a wimp, but deep inside the misgivings are growing. I can’t help but remember the many other times when I succumbed to the internal sense of pressure only to quickly regret it. Like my one (and only) foray into bungee jumping, a brief moment of weakness followed by a long and strenuous conversation with myself, standing on a precipice 100 feet above the ground. The plunge wasn’t an opportunity nor an adventure. It might have been called a challenge, but only in the way we little boys used to “challenge” each other to lick a frozen telephone pole (You remember the “triple-dog dare?”). When I finally jumped, I really thought it was terrible... and I was glad that it was over. Very glad.
Having said that (in much more detail than first intended), I’ve been pondering how to best present where we’re heading in the next several months! The word “challenge” keeps coming around, but the paragraph above might, at least a little bit, explain the dilemma. This can’t be a “challenge” if, by its use, we intend to draw you into something you might otherwise dismiss, for that is far from the purpose! It is an opportunity and might well become an adventure, but in terms of capturing your imagination, it’s much more.
For the past seven weeks, the Elders have been working through the book Walking As Jesus Walked, and have frequently noted how it is at once both simple and profound. Drawing from the words of John in his letter to the church, “...whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6), the author, Dann Spader, takes us on a 10 week, 5-days-a-week exploration of how and why Jesus walked with Father and how He modeled this walk with Father for his disciples. The study naturally leads to an examination of what we need if we are to walk like Jesus walked. The purpose clearly is that we would become 21st century disciples who still bear the indelible likeness of Jesus.
Back to the opening, this Fall we’d like to invite you to join us on this journey, and here’s how you can:
• Grab a Walking As Jesus Walked book from the table in the lobby. It is a workbook format, so you’ll likely need one for each person rather than sharing it with someone. (Leave $8 per book in the box, if you can afford it. If you can’t, no problem; we want you to join us either way!)
• Starting the week of September 22, make time five days a week for the study. (you can usually do a study in as little as 15 minutes, but consider taking a bit more time to let it soak!)
• Bring your books with you each Sunday (Sep. 29 thru Dec. 2), as the messages will be based on what you explored the previous week.
Our hope is that, by December, we’ll have not only gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus, but we’ll have sharpened our focus and grown to make “walking like Jesus walked” a way of life. A tall order? Maybe; but only in contrast to the dumb stuff that occupies our minds and hearts these days. This is, remember, about becoming what we were meant to be!
So, will you join us? Challenge, adventure, or opportunity...really it’s all that, but much more.
Is sure sounds hard, at least when you first encounter it. A simple verse in the middle of a small letter in the back of the Bible, packed with implications. Written in a letter to the churches in his old age, the Apostle John makes this straightforward statement, “...whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6) Hmm. Walking as Jesus walked? Yeah, and it does sound kind of hard!
For the past five weeks, the Elders have been working together through Dann Spader’s 10-week workbook, “Walking As Jesus Walked.” Subtitled, “Making Disciples The Way Jesus Did”, we have been both challenged and excited about our journey together. We see this study giving us a vehicle to move to the next level in becoming a church who ‘Make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.’
When you stop and think about it, Walking as Jesus Walked does seem daunting, but must not be impossible or John wouldn’t have said it. In fact, it appears that John is reminding his readers that this is the default view of a Christian! The tension mounts, of course, when we begin to imagine that ‘walking as Jesus walked’ involves living in perfection... it doesn’t take much life experience to become acutely aware of our shortcomings! Perhaps the pressure might be relieved if we consider the possibility that the outcome might be a bit less important than the process?
In the old rabbinical tradition, a disciple was one who attached himself to a master teacher and then began the process of becoming a replica of his Rabbi; observing, mimicking, walking, stumbling, studying, fumbling, learning, and exploring as he walked with that teacher through everyday life. The expectation was, that over the course of time, similarities would begin to emerge with the disciple progressively reflecting more and more of his master’s ways in thinking and in action. It was a very organic and personal process, with success being measured in personal and relational terms as much as in the results.
In Spader’s book, “Four Chair Discipling,” he puts it this way: “When in doubt, don’t ask “W.W.J.D.” (What Would Jesus Do?) First study to see W.D.J.D. (What Did Jesus Do?). Jesus showed us how to live in a sin-soaked world, and He did it perfectly. Our ultimate goal is to become like Him in every thought and deed.” Note the subtle change from the more common challenge, “What would...” to “What did...” The process moves away from formulating abstract ideas about what Jesus might do to knowing well the heart and ways of Jesus by studying what He actually did!
This might explain how one could become a Christian, attend church regularly, even have a regular quiet time, and still have little change in thought or actions. The WWJD can leave out the knowing, where the WDJD invites us to become like Him. Warts and all. Stumbling. Fumbling. Becoming.
Spiritually mature and yet emotionally stunted? Bible scholar but emotionally unaware or socially immature? It’s possible. In fact, it happens more frequently than we might like to admit. In his book, 'The Emotionally Healthy Church', author Peter Scazzero writes, “Despite all the emphasis today on spiritual formation, church leaders rarely address what spiritual maturity looks like as it relates to emotional health.” He goes on, “The roots of the problem lie in a faulty spirituality, stemming from a faulty biblical theology. Many Christians have received helpful training in certain essential areas of discipleship, such as prayer, Bible study, worship, discovery of their spiritual gifts, or learning how to explain the gospel to someone else. Yet Jesus’ followers also need training and skills in how to look beneath the surface of the iceberg in their lives, to break the power of how their past influences the present, to live in brokenness and vulnerability, to know their limits, to embrace their loss and grief, to make incarnation their model for loving well, and to slow down in order to lead with integrity.”
Mr. Scazzero got my attention when I read the book again this summer, challenged by his assertion that poor emotional health was an overlooked factor in our effort to become a disciple-making church. As I read, I considered my own journey, of my past struggles with anger and anxiety, as well as more subtle problems caused by passivity, perfectionism, and a brittle sense of worth. I recognized that these things hampered me until they were subdued. In fact, these issues, and several others that have come to light, have, for decades, negatively impacted my family, my leadership, and ultimately, the ministry of FCC.
As our Disciple-Making Ministry Team continues to move us toward a more comprehensive model, it was obvious we should address this directly. Bitterness, anger, depression, habitual sins, shame, guilt, self-hatred and a host of other emotional issues are addressed in the Bible, which offers solutions if we’re willing to accept them. Often we’ll say, “you need counseling,” when we should be saying, “you need healing!” For nearly 20 years, we’ve addressed these emotional and spiritual issues one-on-one from this perspective and found healing for unaddressed heartaches, traumas, and wounds; open sores of the soul that often have their genesis years, and sometimes decades, before. Having seen the dramatic changes, it is clear that there is little hope for spiritual maturity to blossom unless we address a disciple’s emotional health, as well. We concluded that it was time to offer these tools to the rest of the Body.
A true partner and mentor in this kind of ministry, Pastor Brad Smith, from Lifechange Fellowship here in Tillamook, has been invaluable. So much do I regard Brad’s wisdom and understanding, I’ve often noted that Brad is my go-to guy when I need a pastor! So it seemed right to ask Brad to join us in leading, teaching, and coaching as we ask -- and answer -- the question, “Does your Emotional Health affect your Spiritual Maturity?” It does, but healing and restoration are available!
Starting Monday, September 9, at 6:30pm upstairs in Room 3, you’re invited to join us on this journey. The plan is to finish the first round in about 11 weeks, repeating twice more through the rest of the school year.
,For seven or eight years, when our kids were younger, it happened every winter like clockwork. Debbie would leave our home in Sacramento and head north to be with her grandparents in Southern Oregon somewhere around the 20th of December while I stayed back with the kids. The task list she prepared prior to going left us consumed with getting everything ready and packed for our own trip to Medford on Christmas Eve and then onward to my folks house in Portland early Christmas morning. Oh, the wonder of a promised adventure actually happening!
Although our kids, having had daily and weekly chores from the time they were little, were good workers, somehow these last few days before the annual Christmas voyage proved quite a challenge. In spite of the rather sizable number of tasks that needed to be completed prior to our departure, everyone seemed to be in bit of a dream state. Or distracted. Kind of like the sugarplums dancing in their heads... or something like that. It was a colossal case of wonder and, as a father, although I often ended up repeating myself in order to get some results, it was pretty cool. Such times aren’t a promise in life and should be savored when they come.
In the past year, I’ve had a few days and seasons around here that have inspired some of that same kind of excitement. Frankly, this time last year felt pretty bleak. A lot of soul-searching resulted and some of my thoughts were pretty disconcerting. As I look back, I realize that whatever sense of clarity I may have imagined was still pretty fuzzy. I prayed a lot for a fresh and clear look, as did many of you, and it was slow in coming. But, however slow, the effort is bringing results!
When my old buddy Leonard Lee visited us last January, he made time to guide us through a process that would ultimately lead us to becoming the church that Jesus had envisioned when he left earth to return to heaven. The key was rekindling this original fire and translating it into the 21st century -- of becoming a church of people that love God first, love others next, and are mission-centered so they become disciples who intentionally grow until they may lead others to become replicating disciples, too!
This Sunday’s class, “Exploring and Preparing for Disciple-Making” is full with nearly 40 people registered, which is incredible, since we thought having 12-15 would be great. Like the 50 who came to Leonard’s workshop back in January, far beyond our expectations! Which is where that giddy, distracted, full of joy and expectation thing comes in. If you’re like me. you’ve probably been around churches enough to know what it’s like to over-estimate something; to plan for a good group and have nobody show up. Or cast a dream that nobody seems interested in doing. It’s discouraging, to say the least. Contrast that with a dream we spent seven hours together talking and praying to see where it would lead. Then fast forward nine months to give the Disciple-Making team time to plan and prepare, and realize that, not only are you remembering what we said we said, you are anxious to get going!
Can’t wait to see where the Father takes us, now!
Hard work. Sweat. Prayer. Pondering. Drafting. Changing. Reading. And a lot of all of that.
Back in January, more than 50 of us met together with my friend, Leonard Lee, with the express intention of setting the future of FCC to be more effective in our service to God and His original intentions for us. As we emerged from the two-day, seven-hour process, we came away recognizing that, over time, many American churches, us included, had strayed away from the fundamental template that Jesus had left for those who would become part of His family -- His church -- in the generations and centuries to follow. It was a bit startling, since the basic plan is pretty plain!
Eight months later, and after a lot of hard work from our Disciple-Making Team, we’re underway! Over the next few weeks we’ll lay out the framework and first steps in this process of becoming the church of disciples who are intentionally becoming disciple-makers as we grow toward maturity in our individual and collective walk with God.
Our hope is to engage many of you who have made growing and maturity in Christ a part of your life would create a mentor/discipler relationship with one or two others who are new in their faith, making time and sharing life together for the next year. This goes beyond just hanging out and even beyond holding each other accountable; it’s setting out to intentionally aid in growing them up in their walk with God so they can ultimately begin mentoring and leading others in the same way.
The process being developed by the Disciple-Making leadership will provide ongoing coaching and support throughout the year in order to make the Mentor/Discipler’s work more effective and rewarding. Everyone involved will be learning a lot, especially in this startup year, so those who choose to participate will be part of a ground-floor feedback group who will help the leadership team develop even more effective support for Disciplers in the future.
The point? Will you come and see what we’re up to these next two Sundays? And would you consider where you might fit? Perhaps you’re not sure of whether you are ready to join in this time, but would like to find out how to prepare to lead in the future? We’ll try to answer your questions as well as whet your appetite! See you then!
“One more click to the right,” he said, and then almost asked, “and maybe one more up...?” The adjustment was so small it was undetectable. At close range, it wouldn’t have hardly mattered, but at 400 yards it was the difference between a bullseye and nearly missing the entire target. The dull ping of the metal target that followed the next shot confirmed the changes to be exactly what was needed. As we approached the target for a closer look, there was a satisfaction in seeing the dent so near the center. Nice!
That day we spent on the range came back to me as I was reviewing the book, Mission Drift, that Doug recommended to our Elders several months back. The purpose of the work is to challenge God’s people, entrusted with carrying His Church through this period of history, to consider where we’ve gone and where we’re going with it from here.
Mission Drift features several case studies of Christian organizations that were founded with a strong understanding of their mission and their specific purposes within the Kingdom of God. Often innovative and fresh, the work and success of these organizations became well-known, many growing to international scale, and were celebrated for the great impact they had for the cause of Jesus and His Kingdom.
As the organization matured, each mission faced the need for adjustment and change, whether because of the scale of growth, a change of key personnel, or in answer to mounting pressures internally and from the outside. Here the authors press the case that it is at these crucial junctures that the mission is either reinforced and strengthened or compromised. In the event of concession, the deviance is usually hailed as a good thing or, at least, a regrettable necessity. Either way, the change is subtle and seems of no consequence. Like the few clicks on the foresight of the rifle, in the immediate period -- the close range -- after the changes, things seem to be in good shape. But over time the Drift becomes progressively obvious. A generation passes. The New becomes the conventional.
Interestingly, as the evidence of drift becomes more clear, it is seldom a question of whether the organization needs to be “righted.” Remember, the new has become the norm, and nearly all of the active members and leaders have come aboard since the changes were instituted and so regard the current mission as The Mission. And they like it this way. Enough to ignore concerns. The original ideas are dismissed. And the pattern continues, generation after generation.
Mission Drift also chronicles several Christian organizations who, at one of these junctures, considered making core mission changes and decided to stay the original course. They were often regarded as short-sighted, culturally out of touch, or even narrow by outsiders at the time, but over time they have remained true and continue to serve.
Reading this book led to pondering. And pondering led to questioning. It had me asking if any part of the Kingdom’s mission or message had been deleted or altered in the Western church over the centuries. In church history, we recognize the numerous “resets” led by the Holy Spirit, as well as the ill-fated, human-driven attempts at reform that resulted from what seems the almost inevitable tendency toward the Drift. But, in the end, the soul-searching had to come all the way to us at FCC.
In the end, it came to this. The Mission Drift began in my own life. What was I investing in? Where was my true center? Where were we heading? Were we getting there? Was my mission the same as Jesus’ mission? I think I came up a bit short, but it was like a breath of fresh air to bring it into focus. There’s a lot of really good things into which I can invest my life, but not all of them cut the mustard when laid against the backdrop of the Kingdom! This might just be liberating!
You see, doing church work automatically has you assuming you’re doing Kingdom work... but somewhere down inside, you sometimes wonder. Am I really making disciples who make disciples ready to make disciples? Do I even know what a disciple looks like? Assessing my many years of ministry left me thinking my results resembled more an undirected shotgun blast than a carefully planned pinpoint shot. Thus the “reset”. In two startlingly simple teachings we call the Great Command (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), he clarified our Mission: Love God. Love People. Make Disciples. It was exactly what He did when He walked the earth. Loving the Father, loving all the people regardless of their response, and making disciples that turned the world upside-down and set an unstoppable force -- called His Church -- in motion until He returns to restore everything to His liking.
The question for us is whether we are willing to join Him in that endeavor, reset from the Drift and make it happen?
The ball bearing securing and smoothing the fast spinning wheel of a speeding vehicle. A carabineer that is the lone connection tethering the mountain climber to the safety of ropes and rocks. Or the tiny lever that drives the hammer of a grand piano against the strings in perfect response to the pressure of the players’ fingers on the key. Tiny. Precise. Easily overlooked. Often forgotten. Unless it’s missing. Then its necessity becomes evident. Very evident. And immediately! Like that Little Wedge.
Think of how many important things completely depend on something small and easily overlooked. Like that Little Wedge. It has been such a small part of my thinking, yet absolutely crucial. Strangely, however, I find that I haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about it... or doing something with it. Even the diagram tends to under-emphasize its importance. After all, it’s the Little Wedge. And it’s what Jesus came to deal with.
As I’ve said before, I’ve been a part of church life for all of my days. My mom took my siblings and me to church from the time we were born. Literally. And we were a part. We were adopted. We felt comfortable there. We were in the family. We served. And we belonged.
So being deeply involved in any endeavor for that long would typically make you an expert on how it works and on what’s crucial to its health. Or maybe not.
The problem with church life is that, while we may truly know and believe what God had in mind for us, we still find ourselves modifying church to our liking, even if it ends up being not very much like what He had in mind! Yeah, I’m that guy. It’s so easy to get distracted from the original intent that you could spend most of a lifetime not noticing. Or being unwilling to change it back because you really like it better the way it is. Yeah. I’m that guy, too.
So, about that Little Wedge, the one labeled, “Dead”. Beside it being a rather abrupt word, inclining me to find a word to soften it up a bit, I’m realizing it hasn’t really bothered me too much that there is a pervasive condition of spiritual deadness that haunts the human soul. As I reflect on it, I’m thinking it should be bothering me a bit more... or even a lot! As unpleasant as it is, the real contrast of ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ divides the eternal landscape rather starkly. And it’s pretty much the whole reason for God’s cosmic intervention into human history, described in mind-blowing scope and detail from Genesis 3 through Revelation 22.
So, I’m asking myself why it’s not bugging me more. As I pondered, I sensed a couple of answers that were neither pleasant nor flattering (the Holy Spirit can be pesky if you ask). First, I realized that my comfortable church tendencies (as described above) tend to make reaching seem like a chore, since the folks who are currently ‘out’ might be a bit messy and irreligious, unaware of the polite and planned (sterile?) family life I like. I’m pretty familiar with helping other Christians grow toward maturity. Secondly, I realized that genuine outreach requires caring, which means setting aside time and emotional capacity. In other words, self sacrifice. Caring is like that because it inherently gives, even when there is no assurance of interest or reciprocation.
Lastly, and probably most telling, I recognized that my lack of concern was rooted in my misunderstanding of how God is working. My selfish ‘chore’ mentality gets me all wound up with expectations and responsibilities, all of which tend to gratify my pride and deflate my compassion. If all I can comprehend is the heaven/hell outcomes, my mind gets religious and I end up calloused. Their sin (not mine, of course) is a real put off to God! They just might deserve it! (Note the sarcasm, in case you missed it).
When Jesus describes his mission to a ‘dead’ world, his purpose is clear: He is here to reconnect people to the source code of ‘life’. This is found only in the Heavenly Father. And it’s accessed not through traditional religious means, which tend to obligate God to do our bidding if we promise to diligently obey whatever ritual or deeds are prescribed for the ‘faithful’. Get yourself cleaned up, stop doing all those bad things, love your neighbor and God will have no choice but to let you into heaven. Right!?
Jesus answered this mentality by pulling back the curtain and giving us a glimpse of what was really on the Father’s heart: Them. The outsiders. The folks who don’t know the Father. The walking dead. No religious test needed. Life wasn’t a commodity for marketeers or a slogan to cheer the faithful, it was found by reconnecting with the only source of true life: The Father. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Father was always at work to bring this about! Life now. While we still walk the earth. Not just someday in heaven, but right now.
Which changes everything in my perspective, because now I’m a walking conduit of the Father’s outreach. Wow! The ‘chore’ becomes an adventure! I go from trying to muster the energy to trudge forward to simply watching and listening for opportunities to join the Father in His quest to reconnect with them. No sales experience will help. No need to figure out how to clean up their sin problems in advance, since the Father clearly has plans for that once they’re adopted!
So relax. And get ready. We’re in the ‘life’ business for real!
“This country’s going down the tubes!” You can almost hear him. The guy says it with such force, you realize that, in his mind, there is no truth more self-evident. His friend is nodding in agreement, but redirects the first man by stating that the reasons for the decline aren’t as cut-and-dried as the he might believe. A strong, but still somewhat civil, argument ensues.
The first man points to all the ‘moral decay’ he has observed as the society tolerates ever more of what was once considered indecent, improper, or just bad manners. The other, with equal conviction, argues that the ‘real decay’ is found in those who inhibit the choices of others with intolerant, old fashioned ideas and norms.
The discussion degrades as the labels and name-calling ensue, both attempting to drive home their point by generalizing the other’s ideas and convictions with labels meant to belittle and even demonize. Neither likes the others jabs, as each dig gets more personal and closer to home.
Emotions are up and the friendship is straining, but the level of conviction drives them on, to the point of division. Internally, each is conflicted, as each knows, deep inside, that the other is truly more important to them than the chasm they are creating, but neither knows how to slacken the tension, fearing they may appear in retreat or lacking complete conviction.
Ultimately, one turns and, with a snort, declares the other unbearably lost and beyond the pale. The other, frustrated by missing the opportunity to take the last word, shouts painful epitaphs at his retreating friend. Both withdraw, mumbling to themselves as the emotions ebb and the inevitable regret begins to set in.
The pain has accomplished nothing. The friendship goes on hiatus. Another tear in the fabric of their souls. Each silently swears they’ll never let it happen again. But they likely will.
Polarized we are. The rancor is at a fever pitch. Accusation rules the day. In homes. In businesses. In civic settings at every level. In media. The call for justice by folks on all sides of any issue has never been more intense. Blame. Shame. Ridicule. Disgust. Humiliation. Derision. And all of that compounded by an inevitable sense of foreboding, hopelessness and despair.
Often it feels like being stuck in the middle of a bare-knuckled, verbal brawl. And, sadly, since we’re all equipped with tongue, we can all participate... and quite often do.
At this point, there are some popular platitudes that are often prescribed. None are necessarily wrong, but they prove feeble as they typically call us to live moderately or generously, or simply passively. The problems seem simple enough, but, in real life, it’s never really like that. Ignoring, pacifying, or stuffing it is only a band-aid, because inside we’re either dying or fuming. And growing apart.
If I were the Enemy, I suspect I’d be all over this. And instigating more. At the risk of adding my own over-simplified platitudes, I would suggest that somewhere in the family of God, there needs to be some insulation from this kind of thing. Not that Christians should strive to “be above” the rancor, but maybe instead, below it.
It’s pretty incredible how Jesus-followers -- all who we presume have read the books describing the life and teaching of Jesus (we call them Gospels) -- somehow manage to gain the reputation of being narrow-minded and bigoted. The Jesus we’re looking at in the book of John seems completely taken by the grubby sinners he encounters and, in the same encounters, rolls out some pretty strong words for the religiously high-minded around him. And he does this consistently! In our self-centered ‘piety’, we somehow become polarizers not unlike the (former?) friends mentioned above . We might even cite our own causes for the degradation of society as justification for our righteous indignation, which often leads us to smugly separate ourselves from folks who live ‘worldly’ all the while freely blaming them for the decay of our society. Makes sense. But what if we’re wrong?
It seems logical that disciples of Jesus would follow His lead when it came to making disciples; doing His work the way He did it. If that’s true, then perhaps we’ve made a mistake when we shrink away from relationships and interaction with people other than those who are already in the family. Not only did Jesus hang around these folks, he seemed rather at ease with them.
Remember that the religiously-minded of his day criticized Him specifically for being too involved with those they deemed ‘beneath’ themselves! Jesus recounts these criticisms as He challenges their thinking; “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19) Earlier, Jesus questioned a Jewish leader who was critical of Jesus when he tenderly encouraged a ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus’ feet as she wept in repentance (Luke 7:36-50). It’s almost like Jesus actually enjoyed them... imagine that!?
As we move ahead, I’m challenged by the fact that we’re called to the same. Jesus made it clear that he never expected people who didn’t know Him to behave any differently than they did. It’s pretty obvious that His process started with knowing their Heavenly Father and then becoming a member of the family before the process of being a disciple would initiate the transformation to become like Jesus. Adopting new members into a family can be a messy thing since everyone comes with their own background and spiritual DNA. Which might help us understand our tendency to make the church what we like, guarding the doors from the messiness outside, instead of welcoming them home where their Father and the family can help them heal and grow into maturity.
The conversations were real. Even intense sometimes! And we could go on for hours if nobody interrupted. Close? We were really close. But somehow I don’t remember his name. Weird! As important as he was at the time, I probably could have gotten along fine without him. Which probably explains why I jettisoned him somewhere along the way. Imaginary Friends make the preschool years just a bit more manageable. And that’s a fact.
In the intervening years, I’ve come to appreciate most of the folks who’ve crossed my path, and come to cherish the many who’ve become friends. Real friends. The kind that are anything but imaginary. Like glue. Reliable no matter what your season; no matter what messes you find yourself slogging through... always there.
At this point, I think I’m supposed to add something like, “You know what I mean.” But I won’t, because I’m learning that not everybody knows what I mean. Over the past several months, I’ve had several conversations with people whose ‘friend’ experiences aren’t like this. They watch quietly from the sidelines as others seem to make friends effortlessly and wonder what that’s like. It’s not a jealousy thing, or even envy, it’s just not something that happens for them. At least not easily.
As I’ve listened, I found out that many of them have endured some really hard stuff, but after some exploration I realized that this wasn’t necessarily the issue. Not realizing how arrogant and insensitive I was, my extroverted self wondered, sometimes out loud, if they just lacked friend-making skills... you know, “Let me show you how it’s done, it’s so easy!” (What a schmuck). The reality is that they are wired differently. And this sometimes hurts because our culture tends to attach higher value to people who are at ease in crowds and who connect easily; even in the church.
I voiced this concern a few times earlier this year in our Sunday services, worried what unintentional messages we might be sending when it came to worship experiences and church culture. I remember wondering if there were folks at FCC who were coming, watching, feigning a sense of ease or belonging, and leaving more empty or desperate than when they came. Nobody ever affirmed this directly, but that it continued gnawing at me made me think there was something to it. And there was.
The confirmation came in the form of a book recommended by my sister, Dondi, and her daughter, Austin (my niece & Word With Friends nemesis). The title was intriguing enough; “Blessed Are The Misfits,” by Brant Hansen. But it was the subtitle, “Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something,” drew me in. The author, Christian talk-show host Brant Hansen, opens the book by explaining that he had never felt comfortable with modern church culture and had come to the point of assuming he was just a misfit who never would.
It’s compelling as he unpacks the ‘why’ of his disconnection, because in the reading you begin to realize that he represents a considerable number of people who either attend church but struggle deeply with not fitting in or, worse, simply move on, unable to overcome the disconnect. They often feel like there’s something wrong with them, especially when they are regularly urged to being more expressive and outgoing... “like us!”. It was hard to hear, especially since connecting has typically been easy for me. How much I didn’t understand or even care to.
I won’t attempt to tell you the rest of the story because I wouldn’t do it justice and, honestly, I’d like you to read the book, too. As I consider Jesus’ command to love God and to love others like God does, I can’t escape the sense that I’ve got some work to do. And, collectively, we have some work to do. Loving others like Jesus does will continue to challenge and stretch us to make a safe place for those who feel odd or out of sync with the way we’ve been doing it, but we’re His family and Father is calling us out. For the sake of others. For the sake of the Kingdom.
Working through the process of being the man Jesus intentioned for me... while we work through the process of becoming the church Jesus intentioned for us to be