“What if…?”

pondering-manThose of you reading who are my loyal Twitter, and Facebook “followers” have already been commenting on many of the “what if?” questions I have been posting over the past week. I am compiling them, and plan on posting an entire entry dedicated to the many different “what if?” questions that I come up with in the process. Please feel free to contribute your own “what if?” questions in the comments section of this post, and I will add them into the compilation. (You are also welcome to leave any thoughts about this particular “what if?” question in the form of a comment)

I felt the need to give this “what if?” question it’s own post because Twitter posts only give you 140 characters…being the detail guy that I am, I had a terribly hard time narrowing this down to 140 characters. In fact, it hurt so bad after I posted the “Tweet” that I decided I HAD to elaborate by posting this blog. Here goes…

“What if” a person’s success, worth, or value was measured by the amount of time they spend with family, friends, and other important people as opposed to how much money they make, how many people they know, the car they drive, the size of their house, how “busy” they are, etc.?

These days a person is accused of being irresponsible or lazy if they work any less than 50 hours/week, and don’t have a hefty retirement fund awaiting them. A person’s importance is weighed by the title they hold at “work”, the square footage of their house, the fanciness of their car…you get the point. Husbands and fathers begin finding their worth in these things rather than the love of their wife and kids. Somehow, in this completely screwy world we live in it is somehow a “difficult” decision for a man to wrestle with choosing between taking the higher paying job that will consume everything, or keep the less paying job so he can pour himself into his wife and kids. Oh wait, he gets the job so he can make money to be able “take care of the kids”, and send them to college, right? That seems to have worked out wonderfully in the last 50 years hasn’t it…?

So, here we are in a time in the world when the people we pledge our lives to in marriage, and the human beings that we create and bring into the world become less important to us than our status, income, retirement fund, comfort, security, and vacations. Everything in me screams out that this is wrong. Though I have VERY intentionally pursued something drastically different in my life, the world, my flesh, and those around me seem to constantly pull me into this vicious cycle of idolatrous sin. I am determined…

Side note: These things have seemingly crept into, and plagued the “church” in America. Oh, the lovely life sacrificed to “ministry”. The amazing titles, and salaries that grow with those titles. The business plans, and elaborate infrastructure. The hiring and firing. The need to perform, succeed, and maximize the “return on our investment”(ROI for you business majors. Oh, and i’m not lying: I was once told that by my “boss” while on staff at an institutional church) The husbands spending hours away from their wives and kids for the “sake of the ministry”, which somehow makes it ok. No need to keep going. Oh wait, the business models, strategies, COMPETITION for numerical growth, and fancy offices. Ok, i’m done.

So, I have made a lifelong commitment to value the TIME I spend with my wife, and children above the amount of money I make, the title/position I hold in any career, etc. I believe, and will continue to rely on the grace of Christ to model that deep relationships with REAL people are more important to me a vacation home in the mountains, TV’s in my car, or a bunch of people knowing who I am, but not KNOWING ME. I believe that I am not at all alone in this pursuit…

Won’t you join me in asking the hard, and gasped at “What if?” questions that MUST be asked…?

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“Airbags”

All-new Hyundai Accent, 3-door version - 6 standard airbags.From the beginning of “Intentional Gatherings” we have made it a point never to think that we have it all figured out. We believe that the second we start thinking we have it all figured out is the second we become closed off to allowing necessary change, and therefore, become ineffective. It would appear that many in America have lost touch with this idea of continuous improvement. It seems somewhat ignorant to believe that the way we do things RIGHT NOW will be the best way to do things in six months, right?

This all makes me think of the automobile industry. Years ago, people did not wear seat belts. Many people died. So, changes were made, and seat belts were required. At first, waist straps were implemented. This worked well, but was not completely effective. Automakers soon realized that they needed to implement a shoulder strap to provide further protection from collision. Seat belts save lives. Wear your seat belt! However, people continued to die in tragic accidents even while wearing their seat belt. So, necessary changes were made…

The airbag came onto the scene. What an amazing invention. The airbag was designed to save lives, which it did. However, there are two important things about airbags that we must remember: 1) Without its partner, the seat belt, airbags are not only ineffective, but dangerous, & 2) Airbags can kill children. Automobile manufacturers are pretty good about making changes, and fixing things that are unsafe. I wonder sometimes if “the church” in America is like the airbag. (I use this term “the church” in reference to our current form of church in American, and very loosely because it means so many different things to so many different people, few of which are correct. This probably includes myself; I beg the Lord daily to teach me what it truly means that as His follower I am, and you are, The Church.) The airbag is an amazing thing. It saves lives, and does great things. But through time those who implemented the airbag realized some things about it. If a small child was involved in an accident, and the airbags deployed it would kill them. The airbag was not effective at saving the lives of smaller children. Our current form of church in America (Institution) is an amazing thing. It saves souls, and it does great things. Period. Anyone who tries to argue that is disillusioned. The institution, just like the airbag, has the potential to spiritually kill if necessary changes are not made. Is the institution bad, wrong, or lost? No. However, it may have become ineffective in many ways by allowing stubborn pride to hinder it from making the appropriate changes.

Soon children under a certain age were prohibited from riding in the front seat, and some cars had the ability to turn off the airbag feature. But wait, the airbag is a great thing, right? Why would anyone want to turn it off? How devastating would it have been if auto manufacturers would have only focused on the saved lives resulting from the airbag while ignoring the child fatalities? I pray that we, as The Church, will celebrate the good, but welcome the opportunity for change and the constant pursuit of effectiveness. This type of change only comes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Are we spiritually starving the next generation because we feel they are supposed to be “doing church” like we did growing up? Are we pushing the lost away because our arrogant, self-righteous pride has taken over the call on our lives to usher in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

There are guys in the “emergent/organic/simple/house church” movement who are somewhat disenfranchised with the church as an institution. Many of them have taken up a new hobby of bad mouthing the church that doesn’t look like theirs, which happens to meet in a living room. This is a terrible approach. Not only does this cause even more division among the body of Christ, it is arrogant and prideful. Philippians chapter 2 speaks of a unification that occurs through humility. Thinking that I am right and everyone else is wrong is not humility, and cannot birth unity. The issue is not a debate between who is right and who is wrong. Too often in the church time is wasted arguing and discussing who’s right about this and that, who does church “right”, who’s doctrine is correct, etc. I wonder if the Lord isn’t thinking to Himself, “man, they just don’t get it…I thought I made it pretty clear in my word that their purpose is to glorify me, and become more like me.” On that note, I cannot help but think to myself what would happen if the church in America began taking the teachings of Jesus seriously. We’d see rich professionals giving everything they have to the poor and radically following Jesus. We’d see “neat Christians” decide that it’s “ok” for them to NOT be comfortable ALL the time and have perfect, secure, and happy little lives. Shane Claiborne says, “I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning, and when the rich meet the poor poverty will come to an end.” Nicely put.

The root issue seems to be pride. We do things a certain way, our way. We do them for a certain period of time, and it soon shifts from our way to the right way. We then presume to volunteer everyone around us to do things our way, convincing them that it’s The Way. What would it look like if the church stopped getting so set in its ways and tied up in tradition, but allowed the Holy Spirit to lead in a consistent way? Obviously, this would require much humility, and a raised awareness of allowing change.

“Father, as your followers would You burn into us a spirit of humility. May we never allow our prideful flesh to convince us that we figured it out. Show us where You are, and where You’re going so we may follow. Motivate us to action and cause us to embrace doing things differently. Prepare your Church, your Bride, for your return.”

“The Godless: A Desperate Generation”

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts titled, “All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do”. However, the Lord has been teaching, and speaking to me lately about my desperation for Him, or lack thereof. I will be writing a few entries on desperation, and pick back up with the series shortly after…

Inashmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips , but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

Notice the title to this post is The Godless, and not the godless. We are certainly not “little ‘g’ godless”. We serve many “little ‘g’ god’s”. It is as if “Big ‘G’ God” has been pushed from our society, culture, church, and country right out from under our noses. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” This letter was written to the lukewarm church. Alan Hirsch, the author of “The Forgotten Ways”, has responded to this verse by saying, “How in the world did Jesus get outside of the church in the first place?”

We live in a day, time, and country unlike any other in the history of the world. In America we have “freedoms”, and opportunities that surpass that of any other place in the world. People die trying to get into our country to experience “a better life”. The foundation of our country was built upon God, and the Ten Commandments. We’ve got it all together, right? We are a Christian nation, right? Wrong. (When I refer to “Christian Nation” I do not mean that many people sit in a church building on Sunday morning. We’ve got that part down. I am referring to radical followers of Christ who take the Gospel seriously, and die to themselves daily in pursuit of the growth of the kingdom of God; this is something I struggle with daily). But what other country has a cluster of states referred to as “The Bible Belt”? What other country has a church on every corner? We are desperate for God, right? Wrong. We DO NOT need God, right? Right?

This idea of desperation and need go hand in hand. If you do not need someone, or something, then you are not desperate for them. If you are not desperate for them, then you certainly do not need them. This word desperation has intrigued me lately. The root of the word is desperate. Are we desperate for anything other than “The American Dream” that we cling to so…desperately? The definition of the word is: a state of despair, typically one that results in extreme or rash behavior. So, are we desperate? Yes, for many things, but not for God. Does our desperation result in extreme or rash behavior? Yes, our pursuit of comfort and security has led to greed and complete self-dependence. We have successfully removed the need of God from our lives. After all, we have everything we could ever need, and most of what we want. If we are hungry we instantly fill our stomachs. If we are hot we crank on the A/C. If we run out of something we simply go to the store and buy it. If we want something we cannot afford we finance it. If we need to contact someone we pick up our cell phones, which are now in the hands of six year-olds! If we get a flat tire we call roadside assistance. If we’re sick we immediately go to the doctor and get drugs prescribed. (No need to pray to the God we’re supposed to be desperate for to heal us). I could go on and on. Are these things bad? Not necessarily, but where does God fit into our daily lives? Is it even possible for us to be desperate for God? I, in my own power, have the ability to provide for my every need, and the needs of my family. Where can my need for God be found? (I have recently become desperate for God in the area of my marriage, and being a husband. I am desperate for God to be in me, what I cannot be on my own. This is a good start, I suppose, to learning what a daily dependence on my Savior looks like. However, I believe it is far from a Biblical view of “denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus”.) How often do we, in all reality, deny ourselves of anything that we want or need?

I once heard someone say, “Many of the churches in America are so ‘man operated’ that they could grow without God.” What he was saying is this: Find a fascinating speaker who is good at communicating moral behavior, a great “worship leader” who can generate butterflies in your tummy, a staff of motivated (not to mention very well paid) and driven professionals, a cool, modern, and “hip” building/location, furniture from Ikea, a coffee shop, etc., and you can easily get a few thousand people into your building each week for a “service”. For some reason I do not believe the New Testament Church we read about in Acts was led by rare professionals. The early church grew and spread like a virus because it was easily reproducible. It didn’t take a superstar pastor, a rock star worship leader, and a huge building, etc. to multiply. In fact, I would say the above “model” we are accustomed to is nearly impossible to multiply. (Please do not misunderstand me by thinking I promote a particular “model” of church; anyone who thinks that any ONE model will offer “effectiveness”, or “success” proves their ignorance.) We may see addition with our current form of church, but not multiplication. The early Church spread and multiplied because ordinary, everyday people encountered Christ, and it messed them up for good, and for their good. They were transformed. Can our current form of church lead to transformed Christ followers? Of course! I am a product of a great one. Are many of these churches very effective in doing great things all over the world? Yes! Can we always be striving to be more effective? Of course. Might this require drastic and radical change for some churches and individuals, including myself? Yes. I am reminded of a business term I learned in college: Kaizen. It originated in Japan, and is the term used for continuous improvement. It simply means for us to constantly be looking for better ways of doing things. We must never come to the conclusion that we have it all figured out. This births pride and leads to ineffectiveness. As you know, we in America have this mindset. There is no attack here, but a simple submission that the Church (People of God, not a location or building) may be entering a new chapter, or era in what it looks like to be a Christ follower…maybe it doesn’t come with such ease anymore…maybe it requires much sacrifice…maybe it challenges us to be uncomfortable…maybe it BECOMES our everyday lives, and not just a part of our lives.

I was speaking with a student pastor friend of mine the other day. We were thinking hard about this absence of desperation for God in our country. We were chatting about what could be done differently in the area of student ministry. It would seem as if the days of great Wednesday night services, unbeatable camps/events, funny speakers, rockin’ bands, and the most thought provoking messages are quickly coming to an end. Are these things bad? Of course not. Can all of these things be present, along with hundreds of students who attend these weekly events, and still lack a true understanding of what it means to follow Christ? Sadly, the answer is yes. Erwin McManus, in his book, “Chasing Daylight”, writes on the idea of Christians being moved but not mobilized. He was referring to a group of men who came to a weekend retreat and got excited. They were certainly moved, but not mobilized to action. What will it take for us to be more than simply moved, but radically mobilized to live out the Gospel. Can we proceed in the same fashion we have for years? I think not. Do we, as adults, model a need for God to teenagers? I think this would be a good start for us. We must portray a selfless/desperate attitude to the next generation of Christ followers, or they will not be Christ followers at all.

There is a movement taking place all over the world. The truth is that the Huge God that we speak of, and sing songs about here in the states is performing miracles in other countries regularly. He is healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead. Wait, did I just say, “raising the dead”? We are instant skeptics. Once again, we talk about our God being Big. Do we truly believe it, and do our actions prove our belief? I wonder if our lack of faith has prohibited the Lord from doing things He desires to do in our lives. I am reminded of a story in Mark 6 where Jesus returns to His own country to teach and do miracles. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief…” I pray that my unbelief will cease to hinder the Lord’s work. I beg the Lord everyday to give me faith that believes He still raises the dead to life.

Is the Lord doing miracles in the states? Yes. Are we aware of the miracles, and in turn, directing the glory to Him because of them? Not usually. (We must first become aware of the miracles taking place all around us if we are to give Him glory for them) I’ve been to Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and seen a movement taking place. I have heard about it in China, and have friends who are a part of it in India. To describe this movement we can think about the early Church in Acts where thousands were transformed by Christ in a day. Notice, I did not say that thousands prayed a prayer of conversion in one day. We have seen that in the states regularly for many years. I am speaking of people who witness a Christ follower heal the sick, or raise the dead to life through the power of the Spirit of God that dwells in them. Upon this encounter of a miracle they can do nothing but desperately beg to know this powerful God. They are forever changed, forever transformed. That is a movement. Christ is equipping His Church. He is taking His Church back into His hands, and out of the hands of man. He is doing what He is doing, and graciously welcoming us to be a part of it. Thousands of Christ followers in America are waking up to this call of what it truly means to radically follow Christ. A restored desperation for God is flooding into the hearts and lives of Christians all over the United States, and world. This of course, is contrary to everything in our flesh. The question is whether or not we will truly die to our flesh in order to live in this movement.

“Father, continue to wake us up. Challenge us. Move us to action and mobilize your Church. Instill in us a holy discontent for the status quo. May we begin to take the teachings of your Son, Jesus, seriously. We submit to You, and beg for your guidance.”