That From This

by think on January 10, 2014

Post image for That From This

Orlando, April 2011. Day one of the Exponential conference. Francis Chan wrecked my life.

Chan had been visiting countries that are hostile to Christians, asking what it was like to follow Jesus there. The stories stunned him: ostracism, abandonment, beatings, and sometimes death. Believers had no dedicated “church” buildings, no curriculum, and no worship bands. They didn’t complain about “not being fed.” They fed themselves scripture, totally orienting their lives around obeying Jesus, making disciples and serving one another in love. And, wherever two or more were gathered… was “church.”

Francis begged them to tell him more. Curious, one person finally asked, “Isn’t it like this where you come from?”

Not exactly, he admitted. “We meet for an hour a week in special buildings with padded seats and air conditioning and coffee. We sing songs that we like and listen to someone explain the Bible to us. And then we leave, and come back the next week, unless there is a better speaker or cooler music someplace else… and then we go there.”

They started laughing at him. He must be kidding, or lying… but of course, he wasn’t. And it got quiet. That’s when one of them held up a Bible and asked,

“How did you get that from this?”

It was good question. Chan did not have an answer, nor did several thousand pastors at Exponential. And neither did I.

For me, this question stood at the pinnacle of a growing mountain of doubt. The systems, processes, programs, and players we have deployed add up to lots of religious activity that is not producing disciples who make disciples. Willow’s Reveal study opened some eyes to the problem, but mostly stirred up a lot of academic analysis, handwringing, and feeble justification of the ways we currently “do church.”

How we got “that from this” sent me back to square one. I didn’t seek scriptural justification for existing practices, I tried my best to start with scripture and work my way out, repenting for failure and outright disobedience. It’s made me sad, and a little angry.

I’ve re-told Chan’s story in multiple settings. People gasp, shed tears, and then continue business as usual. The suggestion that we should actually examine our results, derive our practices from scripture, use different metrics, or even abandon efforts that function just fine without any interference from the Holy Spirit… are met with resistance and resentment. Comparing ourselves among ourselves we are not wise. We have embraced the status quo.

What motivates me is not my persecuted brother holding up a Bible at the end of his machete-scarred arm… it’s my upcoming exit interview upon leaving earth. Instead of “Well done, good and faithful servant,” my Savior says, “I left you on earth to make disciples, and I showed you how to do it. I gave you everything you needed, and empowered you with the Holy Spirit. You were incredibly busy, but I was wondering…

“How did you get that from this?”


You can see Francis Chan’s talk from Exponential 2011 by clicking here.

{ 0 comments }

All for Me

by think on January 1, 2014

Questions

Our small group of pastors and ministry directors checked out a ministry in Huntsville. Their founder, Mark, gave us The Tour and a little talk before we practiced our abysmal painting skills on one of their projects. We didn’t talk as much as one would expect (for people who essentially talk for a living). We had too much on our minds.

Mark knew we wouldn’t understand where their ministry was going unless we understood where he came from. He had a violent past, with parents who threatened to kill each other and sometimes tried. He essentially raised himself in the midst of abuse, poverty, and neglect. Drugs and alcohol were constants, with crime and violence sprinkled in for entertainment. It was a vortex, and at the center was hate. They did it to him, so he’d do it to you. There was no getting out alive. His sister’s suicide proved it.

The drugs should have killed him before the crime and depression had their chance. After many overdoses, he washed down multiple tabs of LSD with vodka, and longed for the ultimate peace he thought would come at the end. The peace came, but it wasn’t the end. If there was ever a story of God chasing after a man, this was it. God was there all along, protecting the man He loved until that man ultimately surrendered.

In an LSD-induced fog, Mark attempted to kill a man he knew to be a Christian. Attempted… because he couldn’t raise his arms. They were pinned to his sides, first by the grace of God, and then by his intended victim’s embrace. The man explained the love of God in terms that Mark not only understood, but surrendered to. It was more than a promise of “heaven when you die.” It was the promise of redemption and restoration here and now.

Sometimes life change is gradual, but not this time. The effects of the LSD vanished, along with the crushing emotions of hate and vengeance. For Mark, the Kingdom of God had come. Today he is back in the neighborhood he knows so well, where children raise their mentally ill parents in crushing poverty, and skinheads will shoot you “just to see which way you’ll fall.” Now Mark is motivated by love. And grace. And he has transformed the neighborhood.

He started at the elementary school, one of the worst in Alabama. After years of slow and patient investment in relationships and infrastructure, they are now (as proven by multiple awards) one of the best. “If the kids can’t see, we get them glasses.” Mark said. “If their teeth hurt, we get them fixed. If they need medications, we get them, too. I do it for them because Jesus did it for me.”

Mark’s organization purchased and transformed the filthy, decaying homes around the school into clean, affordable housing. And not just a couple of homes… a whole neighborhood. This is what it means to pray “Thy Kingdom Come” and then work to make it happen. It is an indelible illustration of the way things ought to be, of what God intended (and intends) to happen.

Mark ended his talk with a standard closer: “Does anyone have any questions?”

Silence.

“Questions?” I mumbled. “Yes, I have questions. But they’re all for me.”

When someone grasps a truth to the point where it compels them to take action, it’s worth noticing. When someone is driven by passion… by compassion… that results in the Kingdom of God being made visible on earth, it’s worth emulating. When my life, by comparison, is passionless, unexamined, and unfocussed, it’s worth questioning.

Yes, I have questions. But they’re all for me. Over the next few weeks, Ill share a few that keep me up at night.

Got questions? What are you wrestling with? What drives you to examine your life?

{ 1 comment }

I feel your pain. Or not.

December 14, 2011
Thumbnail image for I feel your pain. Or not.

Some friends lost their son on Sunday night. It was a car accident. He was 23. I had lost track of these friends. We served in a ministry together back in our single days. They met and married about the same time Vicki and I met and married. They had a son, and watched him […]

Read the full article →

Grippin’ and Grinnin’

November 10, 2011
Thumbnail image for Grippin’ and Grinnin’

When I was a kid, my parents were pretty protective. I was prevented (by mom) from going hunting (with dad) because I could get shot by the evil (and apparently blind) hunters who could not tell a fat kid in a bright orange vest from a squirrel. I was steered into music and away from […]

Read the full article →

Group Life South 2011

October 29, 2011
Thumbnail image for Group Life South 2011

On October 15, 2011, some of the most experienced voices in small group ministry gathered in Athens, Alabama, for a morning of strategy and encouragement for small group leaders, ministry directors, and pastors. I’ve uploaded the edited versions of the conference videos. It’s not quite like being there, but hopefully you’ll find some wisdom here […]

Read the full article →

Life Application in Small Groups (4 of 4)

September 23, 2011
Thumbnail image for Life Application in Small Groups (4 of 4)

What keeps most small groups from experiencing real life change? The breakdown is application: the point where the rubber meets the road. Act Your Way Into Thinking The Head culture has conditioned us to want to know all the facts, to consider the ramifications, and to be reasonably assured of the outcome before we begin […]

Read the full article →

Life Application in Small Groups (3 of 4)

September 22, 2011
Thumbnail image for Life Application in Small Groups (3 of 4)

What keeps most small groups from experiencing real life change? The breakdown is application: the point where the rubber meets the road. Expect People to Change This is a small but significant point: We don’t expect people to change. John Ortberg tells the story of a curmudgeonly old guy in the church of his youth. […]

Read the full article →

Life Application in Small Groups (2 of 4)

September 22, 2011
Thumbnail image for Life Application in Small Groups (2 of 4)

What keeps most small groups from experiencing real life change? The breakdown is application: the point where the rubber meets the road. Overcoming the Head Culture Back in the 60’s a new retail niche called a Head Shop emerged. Amid psychedelic posters, macramé, and incense you could find all the paraphernalia you would need to […]

Read the full article →

Life Application in Small Groups (1 of 4)

September 21, 2011
Thumbnail image for Life Application in Small Groups (1 of 4)

What keeps most small groups from experiencing real life change? The breakdown is application: the point where the rubber meets the road. Our churches are filled with smart and isolated people who don’t change. We’ve addressed the isolation issue by getting folks connected to a small group, but they still seem to know about the […]

Read the full article →

Culture Shock

August 6, 2010
Thumbnail image for Culture Shock

There are a lot of similarities between my last home, Chicago, and my new home in Northern Alabama. Chicago has its own music group: Chicago. Alabama has one, too: Alabama. Chicago has its own song: Sweet Home Chicago. Alabama has Sweet Home Alabama. In Chicago, Wind Chill subtracts from the actual temperature to make it […]

Read the full article →