Culture and Counter-Culture Working Together

August 6th, 2017 § 1 comment § permalink

I'm sitting at church. It's break time between worship and teaching. If you are a church-goer, you know the drill. At our fellowship, we start with a kid song (freaks out visitors), follow it up with some interruptions or moment that feels a little forced during the worship time, and you can't start communion or teaching without some form of "I've been thinking about…" in the first sentence. We struggle with sound quality, no stage makes eye contact with worship leaders difficult, and the whole experience lacks polish and aesthetic appeal.

These things drive me nuts. I love the community and the practical aspects of the body of believers we are committed to. I love how needs are met and how the relationships are organic and real.

Most of what annoys me comes from three sources: younger generations that are not empowered to make change, the counter-cultural genesis of the fellowship, and my inability to just accept the things that annoy me and "deal with it."

You can't force elders to delegate. I can change my attitude but there is an issue that will prevent that solution from advancing more than halfway to resolution.

I've blogged many times about being different in how we do church. I've commented much on not being focused on church growth for its own sake and being insiders in our culture. We need nonconventional churches and outreach/evangelism.

We also need traditional Sunday morning church forms that combine excellence with Biblical community values.

My fellowship does the counter-cultural thing well. We do the community thing really well. We do not, however, give people an experience on Sunday mornings that is conducive to them experiencing this long term.

I'm beginning to feel that having all the right things in place to meet our collective needs as a body isn't enough if our style and aesthetic does not allow others the chance to come. We have lots of visitors. They rarely stay. We have tons of children. They grow up to populate other churches. We are the same size we were in 1997 despite having the spiritual foundation so many are craving. We need to eliminate hoakiness and focus on aesthetic excellence.

Focus on production and being an "attractional" and competitive church model is poison. What is critical is marrying Biblical community with aesthetics that make the visitation and transition to a community of believers as compelling and comfortable as possible. This aesthetic effort is imperative if we believe the lost and hurting deserve Christ-centered community and believe in the concept of meeting people where they are at.

Few fellowships have the balance figured out. Although we need to be comfortable with all forms of worship and outreach and be unconventional in our thinking, those of us who "do church" on Sundays need to work doubly hard to balance being different with culturally relevant aesthetics. Eliminate hoakiness, distractions, and give visitors an experience that keeps them coming until they experience true community. This takes time. Spend a little time polishing the presentation. Seem superficial? Maybe. We lose most during the transitional time that involves them seeing little more than whether we care about excellence and doing things well. If we can't get music and style right, how can they trust us to have what matters figured out? I've been praying we figure this out and I hope your fellowship does too.

To be "insiders" in our culture requires Sunday morning services that are desirable and spiritually mature. It is a tough calling but easy was never in the job description of faithful living and loving our neighbors.

Effective Relationships

January 5th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I have come to firmly believe that it is impossible to be a good family member, friend, partner, or colleague if your default position is to assume or believe the worst in others. If effective leadership eludes you, maybe check your heart.

On the flip side, if you keep assuming the best about someone who consistently injures you or others, you have a different issue altogether. I’m not suggesting self-imposed naïveté or becoming a human doormat.
Can or should anyone truly believe in you if you demonstrate a lack of care for and belief in others?

Truth About Loss and Grief

July 3rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

My wife and I have experienced loss and grief and have watched a number of others work through various types of grief.  Whether losing a job, a child, suffering through an accident; life is full of times of loss, pain, grief, and uncertainty.

Although a deep subject written about exhaustively by a myriad of authors, three things seem true to me and are not talked about much:

1. Everyone is going to experience loss and grief.

The question is how we mitigate risk and how we deal with the physical and emotional fallout when it happens.  Outside of the “don’t-be-stupid” kinds of common-sense decision making, mitigating risk to avoid potential loss is an empty pursuit.  Many people try to sanitize life.  They expend incredible amounts energy wrapping their lives up in bubble-wrap trying to avoid the inevitable.  Many support government regulating everything to prevent anyone from getting hurt.  They miss out on adventure as they seek insulation from potential pain.  They can’t accept the fact that risk is one of the things we are created to take and make life a joy to live.  When loss and grief hit, these people are ill-prepared to work through it.

2. Everyone has brokenness.

Sin comes with brokenness.  We are born into it.  Depravity comes with damage and malfunction.  Those of us who are Christ-followers have an “Old Man” that is riddled with this and a “New Man” that is healed of these things.  We are supposed to put off the old man and put on the new.  This is hard without loss and grief, which leads me to the third truth:

3. Loss and grief do not break people.  Grief exacerbates brokenness.

As we have experienced difficult times along with the side-effects that come with them and as we’ve watching others suffer through grief, I have noticed that there is a big difference between natural pain and unnatural pain:

Some things in life are inevitable and natural.  Death, taxes, disappointment, loss, and grief.  Although part of this fallen world and a result of sin; they are “natural,” inevitable, and are just going to happen.  We are built to withstand these things.  There may be no more painful thing than losing your own child – whether a miscarriage after striving to get pregnant or a teenager dying in a tragic accident; but we are built to work through these things.  Life has loss built in.  Life has grief built in.

Some things in life are unnatural.  Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are not natural.  When a person is abused by another, especially someone who should be caring for them, these things cause new breaks.  The old man is inherently broken but these kinds of unnatural injuries to our minds and bodies cause breaks that are new and extraordinary.  Often debilitating.  When I say “loss and grief,” I’m not talking about these kinds of unnatural blows to our humanity that must be addressed as brokenness that requires restoration and healing in their own unique ways.

So…what’s my point?

Grief and sorrow as a response to loss is a natural reaction.  Loss is inevitable in some form or another.  Some losses are brutal.  Others are just disappointing.  Either way, there is a process of dealing with these things.  My hypothesis right now, based on my experience, is that loss and grief do not break us.  They don’t create brokenness.  We aren’t damaged by it.  Grief simply dredges up and exacerbates brokenness.  That “old man” becomes harder to put off.  Our “new man” grieves too and is harder to put on.  Cracks in the old man are more visible as grief pours over it and exposes old wounds.

This should be encouraging those grieving and feeling broken.  Although brokenness is there, it can be put off!  If we “embrace the suck” and allow ourselves to grieve as we reach out to God and ask for help putting on the new man, eventually we’ll find that we not only find a new normal in our lives but we have tools and experiences at our disposal unique to our experience and useful for the Kingdom.  God, in time, heals.  Grief doesn’t make us more broken – it should only remind us how beautiful and precious the gift of the “new man” really is.

The Little Moments That Shape A Life

March 21st, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

I had a dream last night that encapsulated a few little moments that shaped my life.  Awkward, embarrassing moments… and disconcerting ones.  Here are a few examples of some true stories from my past:

A Moment of Extreme Hypocrisy

After becoming a believer during my sixth grade year and spending a Summer with my uncle learning about my newfound faith, I came back to school my 7th grade year ready to share my faith with my friends.  Overall, I did a decent job of embracing my new lifestyle and I, generally, had more hope and joy in my life than I did previously.  But I was still a punk kid.  Without any cash.  And I was thirsty.

After spending a number of minutes sharing the Gospel with my classmates at the lunch table, I was extremely thirsty.  Not having any money and being too proud to admit it, I  walked through the lunch line, grabbed a chocolate milk, and walked right out toward the table I was sitting at.  I was busted.  A male teacher in a loud voice called after me: “You had better be paying for that!”  I quickly feigned a lack of a quarter and every intent to borrow one.  After a friend coughed up the requisite coin, I walked back and paid for my milk before making the walk of shame back to my table.   » Read the rest of this entry «

Confounded By Those Who Write Others Off

February 21st, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

I am confounded by those who write others off.  I don’t think I’ve ever done it in my life. Disagreements, awkwardness, relational struggles, and/or distance? Sure. But to simply write someone off?  Weird.  To those who have written me off: it won’t be reciprocated. I’m always here.

I have friends who, through the awkwardness that comes with conflict they’ve had with mutual friends or family, will no longer engage in a relationship with me.  I have friends who were legitimately hurt by my actions or words and who will not respond to communication or apologies.

I can’t understand it.

Relationships are hard as most good things are.

I’m currently reading “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and this concept reminds me of something he said about human interaction and community:

“Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person. Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him.”

He also states his belief that people cannot live in true community and love without coming to each other in love that comes from God.

I think I agree.  One fundamental truth about love is that it believes the best about people, it bears all things, and it is patient.  Human love – the kind that humans are capable of in and of themselves – is incapable of this kind of patient selflessness.

I fail at loving people the way they should be loved as friends or family all the time.  But one thing I have never struggled with is the confounding, downright cruel act of writing people off.  I’ve experienced friends I love break all ties with me because of a disagreement, a lack of proximity, their awkwardness when we experienced great loss, and over doctrinal or worldview differences.

I’m not sure anyone who is pursuing Christ can write off anyone.  There are those who mean to do us harm or those who are foolish and should be avoided.  But even these deserve open arms and unconditional love should they come seeking it in humility.  The cruel sickness that is the abrupt ending of a friendship stings more than it should.  And it stings forever.

An Interesting Post On Thomas Merton

February 12th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d never heard of Thomas Merton before my wife sent me a link to an interesting post on him:

7 Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Read Thomas Merton

There are parts of of the article I love.  One line, however, I found disconcerting:

sola scriptura ecclesiology easily leads to an iconoclastic view of history. Or to say it another way, if you skip over two thousand years and use Acts as a blueprint to recreate a pure church, your cloud of witnesses will be on the small side. That’s the tradition I grew up with, and it left many people feeling untethered.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/fuller/2015/01/7-reasons-why-evangelicals-should-read-thomas-merton/#ixzz3RYt5EBNB

I believe some touting sola scripture ecclesiology are iconoclastic, narrow-minded pharisees.  No doubt.  But to say that sola scriptura “easily” leads to issues any more than those who don’t have the bedrock of Scripture as their base is ridiculous.

That being said, I highly recommend reading the blog post and letting the rest of what he has to share soak in.  I might just need to read a little more about and from this Thomas Merton character.

Embrace Your Weaknesses

November 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Embrace your weaknesses…and then strangle them.  Just don’t try to do it by yourself.  I write these words as a man who is still at the beginning stages of figuring out how to do this.

As a follower of the Scriptures, think about all the exhortations to overcome who we naturally are:

Ephesians 4:17-24 – “…put off…the old man…”

Romans 8:26 – “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.”

There are many.  I have times when my thoughts and behaviors are just not pleasing to me…let alone a holy Creator.  But how do we overcome our depravity, lack of self discipline, and bad habits?  Embrace them.

I’m not talking about the embrace of acceptance.  I’m talking about the embrace of subjugation.  We all know this.  And we try.  But the emphasis is usually on the most dangerous letter in the English language: “I.”  You cannot do this on your own.  Romans 8 says “the Spirit” also helps in our weaknesses.  So we must, as Ephesians suggests, make a conscious effort to and take ownership of our actions and our issues.  We must embrace our weaknesses and diligently seek God for His help in choking the life out of them.  We must embrace them until He takes them.  We must subjugate our weaknesses with His help.

We don’t conquer a weakness to please God.  We work with God to conquer our weaknesses because that pleases Him.  It’s His work but, for some reason, He seems to want us to seek Him out, participate with Him, and conquer with Him.  Sounds like He’s training us for something bigger…maybe something eternal…

What is the role of friends, family, and the rest of the Church?  Well, that’s probably a series of blog posts.

Do As I Do Not Do

September 30th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Ever do something, shake your head, and ask yourself, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I do.  Frequently.  If you’re honest, you do too.

For me it is often with diet and exercise.  My latest example was today.  I was feeling a bit down after the wife and kids had left the house this morning so, instead of diving into work, I went down and did 79 squats (way too many for my fitness level), plus push-ups, sit-ups, and planks using, mainly, the Runtastic Apps for each exercise.  Speaking of which, when are you going to have Facebook and Apple HealthKit integration, Runtastic?!

After a number of hours of working, I was starting to feel like I was slipping into a funk again.  This isn’t abnormal for me this time of year – especially this year.  Just as I was starting to realize this, I saw that Strava’s update integrating Apple’s Health App was out so I downloaded the update and almost automatically put my shoes on and headed out the door to try it out on a “short jog.”  It was the first time I’d run in two months.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy.  I’m either ball-to-the-wall or rear-to-the-cushion.  Very little in-between.

I had to stop at 2.5 miles.  My times were meh.  And instead of fighting off feeling depressed, I’m now fighting off the urge to medicate for pain and trying not to get any more introspective than needed.

The moral of the story?  Watch me on MyFitnessPal, Strava, and Runtastic.  Then do something else.  Because I suck at the whole diet, exercise, and overall wellness thing.  I’ll probably be lighter tomorrow…because I’ll have lost muscle mass.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow…maybe I can avoid hurting myself.

Five Things Christians Should Stop Saying

May 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not sure any commentary is needed.  I agree.  Click below and let me know if you do too.

5 Things Christians Should Stop Saying

Things Cyclists Say

May 9th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve only been riding bicycle for a couple of years.  I’ve already heard every. single. one.  On RAGBRAI alone.