Couldn’t decide on a title: Structure is Overrated or Wind Power

My son, Tyler, was sharing with me about an experience he had visiting a friend out west. He described the environment his friend lives in. He painted me a picture of the physical, relational and social space she shares with her neighbors. On the Sunday he was there, someone decided they should all have breakfast together. Some were cooking. Others were helping get things ready. A few pulled out their instruments and started playing music. “It was like a scene out of a movie,” he said.

Tyler is home this week. Last night we were revisiting that story. He said, “Dad, that is community. They all know they are part of something special and they want their group of friends to get as big as possible.” I said, “That sounds like a good church to me.” A natural pause came from our daydreaming and then the conversation went another direction.

Our discussion resurrected a question that I had buried in a box in my head a while back. Why is this type of organic activity rare or nonexistent in so many established churches?

  • Is it because we try to organize – promote – control things that don’t really need to be organized, promoted and controlled?
  • Are we side tracked by the childcare questions? Are kids welcome? Should we hire some teenagers to watch them?
  • Have we forgotten how easy it is?
  • Do we over-think community, the gospel, and real life to the point that we talk ourselves out of it before we pick up the phone?

Those of you who know me know I’m not a structure guy. The church I started both grew and was eventually hindered by my aversion to and lack of structure. And no matter how many times someone tells me how important structure is, I will innately push back on it.

If I remember correctly, Jesus compared life in the Spirit to a very unstructured reality: the wind. He said, “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone “born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” The religious leader that Jesus was talking to, Nicodemus wasn’t  comfortable with this metaphor and I don’t think we are either.

What might happen if we stopped fighting the Wind? We try to control it, attempt to direct where it should blow and spend our energy trying to quantify & count the number of people we think are being moved by it.

Instead…what might happen if we focused on living in response to the Wind, learning to be propelled by it like a sailboat and lifted by it like a kite?

 

I think maybe we would find ourselves eating with, singing with and enjoying each other.

Can we pass a sign-up sheet around on that?

 

 

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Greg

My good friend Greg passed away suddenly Monday morning. He was 48, full of life, a runner, health conscious, a husband, a father of three and a friend to countless people. He pushed you to be better with his words and his example.

Darrel, Kirk, Greg, Bob

This was a picture taken after the 2008 Snowflake 5k. Our smiles not only reveal our delight of sweeping the heavy weight category but disguise the sub zero wind chills we endured…mostly because we didn’t want Greg’s harassment of not showing up.

He was the first friend I made after we moved to Flushing in 1997, and my life is better because of knowing him. There are so many stories I have about Greg…moving ones, touching ones, funny ones…but now is not the time and here is not the place to share them.

Please be praying for his family this week: wife Lora, children Josh, Talia and Elijah

The funeral will be Saturday at 10:30am.

Doubts, Reassurance, Shouts & Whispers

“So, Sabbath.” That’s what a friend said when I sat down at the table with him before our leadership meeting last night. He had read the epiphany I posted on yesterday’s blog. We talked about the topic and my experience of landing on it and what this all might look like. But the comment that stood out was when he said, “Sabbath is so countercultural.”

Bob didn’t mean it to be an intimidating statement, but it was. I immediately thought, “Am I prepared to confront the consumer-driven convenience-based mentality……that dwells in the culture, the church and in ME?” That’s what I’ve sat with the last couple days as I have read articles, continue to compile my book list and fiddle with outlines.

As I scan library catalogs and amazon I’m struck with how many great resources have already been written on the topic. This seems to have awakened the monster of doubt who occasionally bullies me with shouts of, “Who do you think you are?” and “What could you possibly have to offer?”

You’ve heard that voice, haven’t you: The one who tries to pop your balloon, rain on your parade, take the wind out of your sails? For the record – that is not the voice of God. God has been reassuring me and calling me forward…silencing the shouts of the other. One of the things God used this morning is found here, on Joey O’Connor’s blog.

I’m not sure what future God is calling you into but my prayer is that we will be attentive to divine possibilities and not succumb to the shouts of the accuser or pessimist inside us.

 

 

Life, Projects, Adventure

I read this on Donald Miller’s blog this week:

  • “What if your own life was so engaging that entertainment seemed boring? I mean what if you were involved in projects that so captivated you that turning on the television would be a distraction from your real life? Can you imagine such a possibility?”

Writing books has been a long time dream for me. More specifically (and even more honestly) books that open doors to speaking engagements which in turn sell more books.

I know there are countless authors with more skill, intelligence and connections. I know there are over a million books submitted each year. I know it is very difficult to make a living as a writer. Yet in spite of those realities, the dream never goes away. In my nearly 49 years on earth I think I’ve only gotten a few peeks at that possibility becoming a reality. But this week it was like God started to pull back the curtains on an issue I am passionate about and bring focus to a project that moves me.

SABBATH.

I believe the need for a 24 hour period of rest is hard wired into us. It is not a Jewish thing. It is a human thing. No matter your faith, belief system or philosophy you were created in the image of a God who rested. “But I enjoy what I do.” I’m pretty sure God enjoyed creating – but He rested. “But things need to get done that only I can accomplish.” I’m pretty sure God was aware of the list of things only He could do – but He rested. “But I don’t have time to.” I’m pretty sure God established this unit of time to establish rhythm for our life.

This is not an appeal to attend church regularly. Nor is it an admonishment to carve out some ‘me time.’ This is about connecting with the Divine in a way that makes me; more human, more healthy, more fulfilled, more peaceful and more whole. This is about the observance and remembrance of Sabbath, which has been overlooked and forgotten for far too long.

So mark it down. Today, March 23 2011, you read my blog declaring I am captivated by such a notion and I give myself to this project. Ask me about it whenever you see me. Email me and hold me accountable. Pray for me when God brings me to mind.

St. Patrick Revisited: belong, become, believe

The bulk of this is my post from March 17, 2010

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which is one of my favorite holidays. Not because of green beer or corned beef but because it celebrates one of my favorite characters from church history. Most people don’t know much about it beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched and at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green. I didn’t know much about it either until about ten years ago.

I had the opportunity to hear George Hunter III speak. Hunter had just written a book called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. That day he unpacked the life of a boy named Maywin Socket. Kidnapped as child by pirates. Sold as a slave to a man where he watched livestock in the Irish fields for long periods at a time. He learned the language. Through something called natural revelation he grew close to God. After six years he had miraculous escape and returned to England.

Maywin went into the priesthood and his name was changed to Patrick. He felt compelled to return to Ireland. Unfortunately the church in Rome had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. How ironic – he was denied permission to go while the church was on the edge of collapse due to corruption. Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey.

When they landed they did not use the Roman way of evangelizing (provide people with information then give them a chance to respond and if they choose to believe then you welcome them in to your fellowship). Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many evangelicals are taught to “evangelize.” Believe > Become > Belong.

Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through the relationship they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those where receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way. Belong > Become > Believe.

In his lifetime, Ireland went from the most barbaric arm of the far reaching Roman church to the most Christian. All during some of the darkest days for the church back in Rome. God used Patrick’s mission and method to save Christianity in the west.

The church in the west is in trouble again. What do we do? How can the tide of our irrelevance and others’ disinterest? I believe it starts by our rejection of the Roman way and our embrace of Patrick’s way.

 

 

Who are you walking with? Mystics, Skeptics, Practitioners

I’m fascinated by the relationships; where they form, what happens in them, and how they shape us.

In March of 2004, a mystic, a skeptic, and a practitioner walked into a canyon. That’s not the beginning to a bad joke. On the contrary, it is the beginning of a real life journey that would effect every other walk these three men would take and impact the course of their lives forever.

They didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t know they would be graced with paradoxes; communal solitude, raucous laughter and deafening silence, sharing meals and carrying burdens. Neither did they know how this trek and this canyon would become so vital in their lives and for their living.

There is no way I can articulate the complexity of our relationships in one post. But here is an overview and hopefully it will get my point across.

Mystica follower of a mystical way of life (Webster’s Dictionary) This friend was a 50 year old kid, enraptured with the beauty that surrounded us…no matter how cold our feet were from the muddy water. He’d scramble up a pile of rocks and yell, “Mark this moment as a moment you were truly alive!” This hike was a snapshot of his life. A slice of life that we’re all desperately in need of. He is comfortable with a big God who is full of mystery. His faith is simple but not simplistic. He’s familiar with saying, “I don’t know,” and being completely ok with it.

  • Are you walking with someone who reminds you that Jesus goal was not to start a new religion?

Skeptica person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs (World English Dictionary) This friend refuses to swallow catchy phrases as truth and knows the difference between mission and motto. He hears what’s being said behind the words of others and is an artist at pushing back on stated positions. He is kind and because of that I realized that questioning is good, necessary. We all need to have a healthy amount of skepticism. Doubt has an important role in faith for without doubt there would be no faith.

  • Are you walking with someone who asks you, “Why do you believe that? Why do you think that? What if there’s something more to it?”

Practitionera person who practices a profession or art (World English Dictionary) I entered the canyon as the practitioner. Lifelong church staff member recently turned church planter. My entire adult life had been spent employed by and attempting to serve the church. The lens practitioners look through is, “How does what we’re talking about apply to my work?” That’s a good question. We need to ask it. And we need colleagues around us that help us convert philosophical issues into practical application.

  • Are you walking with someone who is familiar with vocation and who shares your joys and frustrations?

I left the canyon with the deep realization that I needed to take the practitioner hat off on a regular basis. I need to spend concentrated time as a mystic to be silent and learn the art of listening. I need to spend time skeptically examining what I think and why I think that. The only way to do that consistently is to walk with such people.

Who are you walking with? trustworthy peers, voracious readers, creative thinkers

Walking is one of my favorite metaphors and “Who are you walking with?” is one of my favorite questions.

Today at noon I will be at my preferred BBQ place with some men I walk with. They are two of my closest friends. We do this almost every week and have for quite some time. Last week Dave brought a notebook from a couple years ago and we scanned it for previous conversations. He quoted one brief exchange…

  • Darrel: “Tell me if you think I’m full of crap.”
  • David: “You’re full of crap.”

I could give you a laundry list of their qualities that enrich my life, but today I am thankful that I’m walking with men who are trustworthy peers, voracious readers, and creative thinkers.

Trustworthy Peers – I can be completely myself with these guys. There is no posturing or pecking order. We have walked through career changes, the transition to empty-nestedness, failures, triumphs, marriages and divorce. And because of that they have seen me at my best and heard me at my worst. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

  • Are you walking with one or two safe people?

 

Voracious Readers – My friends are great story tellers, communicators and can paint vivid pictures with words because they read so much. Sometimes we read the same book and talk about it. Other times we share the books we love with each other. Our conversations never get stale because of our love of books (which one friend wrote about earlier this morning). I don’t know how anyone can lead, teach or preach without reading.

  • Are you walking with others who read and inspire you to read?

 

Creative Thinkers – Good thinking comes from great questions. Our booth is a safe place to question systems, ourselves, each other, and status quo. We share our ideas. We air our doubts. I can’t imagine not having that sanctuary. I don’t know how you can do ministry without this kind of community.

  • Are you walking with anyone who pushes you away from your intellectual default position?

 

“Do you want to go for a walk?” is not an exercise question – its a relational question. It is a question we should be hearing and asking. I’m glad we asked it and took the first step years ago.

 

 

You’ve got something on your forehead

Today is the beginning of Lent, the 40 weekdays preceding Easter and a season of introspection, self examination and repentance. But what’s up with the ashes? I did a quick search of the Bible to the places where people “put on ashes.” I found some interesting snapshots.

2 Samuel 13

  • This passage tells the horrific story of Tamar. She put on ashes after the abuse of her brother and the shame he forced her to carry.

 

Esther 4

  • Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, rips his clothes and puts on ashes when he hears a date has been set for the genocide of his people – the Israelites.

 

Job 2

  • After losing everything dear to him, Job sat among the ashes in his pain and grief scraping his wounds with broken pottery.

 

Jeremiah 6

  • God commands the people through the prophet Jeremiah to put on ashes and prepare for His judgement of their wickedness.

 

Daniel 9

  • Daniel put on ashes to confess their sins, intercede on behalf of the people and call on God to extend grace though they deserved punishment.

The ashes are a symbol of the stench of man’s sinfulness and the pain that it inflicts. They are also “a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.” 1

The “putting on of ashes” is not a Catholic thing. It is not an emergent thing. It is not a pagan thing. It is a Christian thing. “Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.” 2

 

1. http://www.crivoice.org/cylent.html

2. http://www.crivoice.org/cylent.html

 

 

 

Oswald Chambers Weighs In

I had lunch with a good friend yesterday. He is honest and straightforward. He has the ability to give me his opinion without being judgmental. We talked about a lot of stuff including what I posted yesterday. During our conversation he sited a quote that he loved. This morning he sent it to me. It was from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers and too good to keep to myself.

“Faith is the heroic effort in your life. You fling yourself in reckless confidence on God. God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us, now he wants us to venture our all in abandoned confidence in Him…..the real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything without wavering.”

“Again and again you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time you will turn back when it comes to the point, until you abandon resolutely.  “Yes, but supposing I do obey God in this matter, what about……?”  “Yes I will obey God if He will let me use my common sense, but don’t ask me to take a step in the dark….”  If a man is going to do anything worthwhile, there are times when he has to risk everything on his leap, and in the spiritual domain Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense and leap into what he says….Trust entirely in God, and when He brings you to the venture, see that you take it.  We act like pagans in a crisis, only one out of a crowd is daring enough to bank his faith on the character of God.”

So it sounds like ol’ Oswald would say most of our moments are Jordan River moments.