Friday, September 29, 2006
guymuse posted a question asking why so many church plants fail. I've never planted a church, so I can't speak with any authority, but what I am getting a first had education is in the process of resurrection, or in simple terms, being raised from the dead. While I've not been to the grave and back, I have been to a type of Sheol in my soul, a very dark place where not much is alive. Needless to say its not a good place to be, but good can be pulled from it. Along the path to this grave I wore a little bracelet with the initials on it, "WWSED?" These stood for "What would someone else do?" I am amazed at the amount of things I've done in life because someone thought it was a good idea, or I received strong counsel, or because I didn't think my idea was good enough. I followed my ideas mainly if they were validated by another person. So my bracelet eventually became a handcuff, keeping me chained up on the road to a personal hell. I'm not sure if I totally agree with the idea of WWJD. I understand the concept of lordship, of submission to authority, of surrender, but there is a lot of conjecture that we have to embrace if we carry this out too far. For example, there was a lot that Jesus was silent on. He didn't have much to say about cars, or brushing alone is good enough without flossing, or how much TV you should watch, or if Christians can say the word "suck." I may be totaly wrong here, but something tells me Jesus was pretty quiet on so much because He wanted to see what WE would do. Maybe the bracelet should say, "WWYD?", or "what would you do?" Is Jesus asking each of us for our ideas, not what someone else thinks? To address guymuse's question, I wonder if so many church plants fail because we are trying to do what someone else has done. We assume since the experts said it, or wrote it, or taught it at seminary, so it must be right. I want to believe that if I am born of the Spirit, then that means I am one, a brand new person (the old is passed) and two I can live deeply from that newly empowered heart. Would we see more thriving churches if they were led by people who were truly raised from the dead?
Thursday, September 28, 2006
I need to believe that every person carries with them a need to be inspired. Just as the lungs need to continually be filled with oxygen-supplying air, so the soul must have constant inflow of inspiration to keep it vital. It's interesting to me in the story of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel, that the skeletons in the dusty valley were still considered dead inspite the fact that they had supernaturally been formed together into an army. The real difference came when breath entered them, when they were inspired. Inspiration changed everything. I often feel like that vision, simply walking dead bones, no life, just existence. It's why I'm learning to seek the air I need. Riding my bike used to be optional, now it is necessity. A walk on the trail through the wildflowers is no longer a waste of time. It's imperative. Stopping to literally smell the roses is not jsut a cute saying cross-stitched on a pillow. It's real life. It's my inspiration. Thank God for the iPod as a deliverer of regular breaths of inspiration. I rarely do anywhere without it. Three things I grab as I leave the house: keys, cell phone, iPod (wallet optional). It used to be the "mix tape" back in the '80s, now its the playlist. If I'm ever stranded on a desert island with playlist, here's what I hope I would have updated in the player: 10. Better Way - Ben Harper Most recent on this list. "I believe in a better way." 9. Up to the Roof - Blue Man Group Saw Blue Man in Vegas 6 yrs ago and was never the same. This song is off The Complex CD. "I'd rather look at the sky than wonder why I let you take my time." 8. Hippie Boy - Caroline's Spine. Just simply a well written song. You can feel the writer's longing. He couldn't have made this up. It's got to be from experience. "Come sit beside me, tell me the things you adore, but please don't remind me that I am not the boy you'd hoped for." 7) Holy Visitation - Charlie Hall The song that spoke my name. "Sound the alarm, awaken the watchmen, open their ears, let their voices be loud." 6) Acquiese - Oasis Reminds me of the importance of what we are fighting for in each other. "We need each other, we believe in one another, and I know we're gonna uncover what's sleeping in our souls." 5) Freedom Fighter - Creed I don't listen to this while driving, else I find myself with an impulse to speed. "Freedom fighter, no remorse, waging on in holy war, soon there'll come a day, when you're face to face with me." 4) Make a Joyful Noise - David Crowder I love the image of running wild and free, refusing to be silent. "and I will not be silent..." 3) Drive By - Glen Phillips Former Toad the Wet Sprocket singer turned solo. Given to me by my buddy Scott West as his song of the year. Every guy has prayed this prayer. 2) I AM - Joseph Arthur Thanks to Paul Steinke for turning me on to this artist. "To find out what you really are, speak the words, I AM." 1) Spies - Coldplay I also have Paul to thank for loaning me this disc back in 1999. This song never fails to inspire me and remind me that "when the spies come out of the water, they can't touch you, cause they're just spies."
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I have a little activity I like to do in a small group setting that usually results in an encouraging display. I give everyone a Sharpie marker and ask them to make a mark on every person's hand in the group. It could be initials, a smiley face, etc. In the end each person should have as many marks on their hand as there are people in the group. Once this is complete, I explain how all of us have been "marked" by others in our life in some way, and we carry that mark with us. This then leads to an opportunity for the group to share how each other has marked them. It always seems to have a good effect. My current job is pretty boring, but the upside of it is that it gives me lots of time to think. So I've been thinking about how I have been "marked" by various influences. I started with music, and tried to list some significant works that had a huge impact on me. This is not a "I recommend" list, because it may not be the enduring quality of the music that was influential, but rather the point along my journey when I encountered it. Here are my top 5: 1. Styx - Crystal Ball (LP) Released in 1976, I'm 13 yrs old. This record actually belonged to my sister, but when she wasn't around, I would put it on the hi-hi and crank it to eleven. It was my first experience of having music make me feel something, almost drug-like. The music took me somewhere. I was hooked. "...play me loud, don't you worry 'bout your neighbors, hope I make you feel good all day long..." 2. John Rutter - Requiem In 1989, I opted to take choral music instead of music history in seminary. Two hours of singing once a week with no homework sounded better to me than three hours of lecture, plus tests. Rutter's Requiem was our material. I was ambushed by the beauty. There were many rehearsals where I was moved to tears, which was a little embarassing and hard to try and explain. 3. Dennis Jernigan - I belong to Jesus (CD) When I was in college, several students found their way to Western Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. But I was warned of that place being charismatic, because of some guy named Jernigan who led worship that was a little touchy-feely. So I never went. Around 1993, I came across this album, and I recognized the name. I finally saw what I had been allowed to miss. His music was so intimate, and was forever marked by it. 4. David Gray - White Ladder - (CD) Released in 1999. I bought this before my trip to China. This is before the days of iPod, so I kept the disc sealed until I got on the plane. His songs struck a chord with me as I was entering a dark time of life. I listened over and over again. "It takes a lotta love, to keep your heart from freezin', to push on to the end." 5. Moby - Play (CD) Given to me by a co-worker in 1999, this introduced me to the world of electronica, in which I am totally immersed now. Moby combined lyrics of old spiritual songs into modern electronic beats and sounds. Many a night was spent chilling in deep space with this disc. It influence the way I make music now.
Friday, September 22, 2006
A few years ago, one of the guys who worked with me on collegiate ministry staff asked me what music was I listening to that led me to a sense of worship. I gave him some standard Vineyard CD that I liked, not thinking much of it. I returned his question. He said Miles Davis. I thought his answer was a bit odd, since my cultural framework had put his music in the "jazz" genre and not on the "praise and worship" list. I asked him to explain. He told me that it was the beauty of the sound these musicians created together that drew his soul into a place of gratitude for a God that put His image into humanity. My response was, "Huh." I thought music had to be "Christian" in some way in order for me to deem it OK to worship with. I also assumed that words of songs had to say something about how great God is and how much I suck and so forth. My paradigm was pretty rigid and I was completely unaware that it was. But it took a guy who I was supposed to helping learn ministry to teach me something about myself and to open my mind up a bit. The shift was slow, but I now see what he meant by beauty leading to worship. I bought a Miles Davis CD, Kind of Blue, and can say that it changed my life. I did a little research on the album, which is not hard to do since there is so much written about it. Music experts point to this album as arguably the most influential work on music today. The short of it is this, up until 1959, jazz continued to progress in a more and more complex direction. Bop gave way to be bop, which led to hard bop. All these styles had very intricate chordal structures. Davis suddenly took jazz in a completely opposite direction. He moved toward a simpler approach. The structure of his songs would be based on single note scales, or modes, rather than multiple note chords. What this did was free the musician to explore more freely the improvisational landscape. Davis said of chordal jazz, "once you master knowing how to play through the changes, the music gets boring." Jazz traditionalists balked at the idea, saying it would make jazz too easy, that it would discourage young players from the discipline of learning the standards. Some seasoned players hated modal jazz, because they didn't know what to do with it. It was just too different from what they were used to. The album made a splash then and it still sells well today. Some experts say that even modern electronica and techno has its root in that album, because of its modal structure. Everytime I hear the opening track of Kind of Blue, I get goose bumps. I picture these jazz giants in the studio who were there for just another gig because the trusted Davis' leadership. They had no idea they were about to make history. They weren't concerned with what the music world would think. They had music to make. Interestingly, that opening cut is titled, "So What."
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
There is a school of thought that seeks change back to the way things used to be. I would guess this has existed in every generation in history. It seems to human nature, that when we reach a certain age in life, we tend to look back on a previous era as better, more preferable than our situation in current times. Cracker Barrel makes its living on this. They have created an environment for older folks to think back on simpler times. And I really like going there, not just to eat, but to wonder what life really would be like if we could turn the clock back a little. But we must be very careful about wanting "the good old days" back. Leaders paint pictures of the day where we had prayer in school and stores were closed on Sunday, and they tell us how we need to return to these days and "take American back for Christ." It seems noble, but I'm not sure its a good idea. Here's why. Both Solomon and Isaiah warn their readers about this kind of thinking. They called it unwise to think like this. I believe its because this is not faith thinking out loud. Faith yearns for what is unseen, not what is seen. If we only want to return to a time we've seen before, we go back to a visible past, not a hopeful, faithful future. I did a wedding this summer where I kept this idea in mind as I planned what I would say during the ceremony. I wanted to say a few words to the parents at the beginning because they are experiencing not only joy, but also a bit of grief as they see their child finally leave the family in order to cleave to another and create a new expression of family. I told the parents that one way we make the transition easier on ourselves and our children is when we allow our dreams for them to greater than our memories. If we keep wanting what was, our children will never really grow up. They will stay small in our minds. But if we, by faith, believe that better days lie ahead for them, it forces us to release them to fulfill that vision. Leaders must have greater dreams for the Church than memories. This kind of thinking will lead to, as Jesus predicted, "doing greater things than these."
Monday, September 18, 2006
As leaders of change, I believe it is imperative that we have a keen grasp on the distinction between faith and culture. Much of what is done in the name of faith could simply be a function of cultural practice, and have absolutely nothing to do with faith. Every social group, regardless of size has a culture. Culture is the set of rules, values and practices unique to that Group. The US has a national culture, while the South has a regional culture. Sports like NASCAR have a culture (which I don't yet get). My home state of Oklahoma has a different culture than my state of residence, Nebraska. My work place has a culture, and smaller still, my family has a culture. We are most aware of culture when it is different from our own. The first sign of culture shock is when you find yourself uttering the phrase, "Why do they do it that way?" (again, NASCAR) This especially happens in marriage, as two family cultures collide. (I always thought there was a "right" way to fold a towel) It's part of why so many marriages fail. There is an inability to recognize culture and, together by faith, move toward change for the sake of something better. The Church is no different in this way than any other social subset. We like to think that we are New Testament based or doctrinally true to orthodox practice as if there is some generic standard that people who are right follow, but any expression of the Body of Christ is going to be flavored by the culture of its context. Saturday, I went to two weddings back to back and saw cultural distinction first hand. The first was a hippie wedding held outdoors in a city park. There was no direction for those attending, no PA so you couldn't hear over the wind whistling through the trees. It started late, but the ceremony eventually happened and I assumed, barring any legal snafu, they were officially married. Two hours later at the big Congregational Church, the second ceremony started on time, lasted precisely 17 minutes. Ushers directed people out of the sanctuary per row. It was tidy, neat and orderly. A contrast in culture, but they, too, were officially married. I believe this idea this was in Jesus' question stated in Luke, "when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith?" He's not looking for good morals or if we had deacons and baptized properly. And if faith is what He will be looking for, it will do us well to begin to sort through what is faith and what is just culture.
Friday, September 15, 2006
One of my most memorable courses in college was Intercultural Communication. It was taught by an eccentric Native American who had a unique way of getting you to see your own cultural biases when compared to a culture different from your own. The thing I took away from this experience was accepting the importance of culture in creating a sustainable way of life. Culture includes the rules we follow each day with out even thinking about them. I interact with women everyday that wear jewlery of some kind. Piercings are common, so much so that I could not tell you what earrings my wife had in last night. But had she come home with a plate in her lip, like the Mursi of Ethiopia, it would have made a huge impression. The reason is because it goes against our cultural rules. Earring, OK. Lip Plate, not so much. We need culture to help us save time in decision making. I got up this morning and put on cargo shorts and a polo. I didn't have to think, "should I wear a loin cloth, or a towel or the ever popular modesty gourd." The food I choose to eat fits into a cultural category, as does most every other part of my day. While I've never experienced it quite like my friends who have lived for an extended period of time in a country outside their culture of origin, I am familiar with the idea of culture shock. It is an upsetting experience. Nothing is familiar anymore. People around you don't speak your language. You get stared at. You're not quite sure how to act. It helps me to process this drastic season of personal, career, and spiritual change in such terms. I have left my country of origin, which is the church as we know it, to make my home in a new culture and see if the Kingdom can be advanced with in it. All I have right now is what was left behind. I have no experience in this new culture we are trying to create. I can remember how things were and compare them to how things are. This is the nature of many of my posts. Thanks for reading and commenting. It helps me more than you know.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I got a postcard in the mail yesterday announcing a new church start in our hometown. It was almost predictable when I saw it on our kitchen table. Very slick publication, heavyweight paper, high resolution photo, text written in a way to try and be hip, or at least somewhat in touch and funny, map to location (middle school auditorium), an appeal to attend and find out how to balance all the pressures of life and finally, anonymously addressed to "our friends at..." I can't say I'm bothered by the mailer, or even think there's anything wrong with it, but something doesn't sit right with me anymore when I see those kinds of things. I must give others the benefit of the doubt and not force them to ask the same questions I am asking. So please don't view this as a judgement on the mailer. See it as one man's attempt to reconcile his own inner tension. I used to be able to subscribe to those kinds of techniques, but today it seems so very impersonal. I gave a lot of years of my life to "leading from a distance." What I mean by that term is being up front and public, speaking or leading music to an audience that I really didn't know. To look out over a crowd of people is pretty thrilling, and to think they are willing to listen to what you have to say is good for the ego, but something about it was very unfulfilling. it always left me wondering what the impact was. How would I ever know? Nice advice would be given to stay faithful and remember that the LORD sees your work, but that never really satisfied. I think I'm yearning for more direct contact with people, to "lead up close." I used to love being in front of a bunch of people. I recently had a guy call me to be an interim worship leader for their church, but I turned him down. I just can't imagine ever doing it again. I enjoy people I interact with at work, and the conversations I have there much more. But I'm not convinced that this shift is all good.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
We spend a lot of energy on stuff that doesn't really matter. I found this out once I made the decision to not need hair anymore. Don't assume that I mean that hair is unimportant. For as much grief as it causes my wife, I still would rather her spend time on her hair than be married to a bald woman. But for me, hair proved to be one thing I could check off the list as "been there, done that." I feel fortunate that God gave me a decent skull. If I were single, I might have moved to Vegas and tried out for Blue Man Group. I think my melon fits their profile. No protrusions or odd lumps that hair was needed to cover. I know its a weird thing to be thankful for, but wait til you go bald and you'll see for yourself. What does this have to do with anything? Probably nothing, but the point I'm making is that once I decided I didn't need hair any longer, I had more energy to spend on something else in the morning. I don't have to wash it every day, or style it, or even comb it. I don't know how many hours that adds up to, but I've grown accustomed to the freedom. Such it is when we don't worry about getting credit for everything we do. What does it matter if you know what you're capable of, if you know the outcome of your work was good? And if someone does take credit for your ideas, you still have the upper hand. You can sleep at night. The loser who stole has more to worry about, more image to maintain, more to cover up. Kinda like a guy with a fat, lumpy skull.
Monday, September 11, 2006
A lot of leadership advice I've been handed doesn't have as much to do with creating an authentic core as it does with being afraid of what people will think of someone in your postion or worry over how a particular action will be perceived. I've heard of leaders doing things like limiting their salary or giving away proceeds from a book, only to give the reason that it was not necessarily out of conviction, but out of fear that the leader would be seen as greedy or profit-hungry. The decision is to prove a point. Success does bring with it lots of challenges like this, but if it ever comes my way, I hope I will be the kind that will make decisions on what I believe is good, regardless if I am in the limelight or not. Admitting when you're wrong is one such decision. Some passive personalities can use it as an easy out. Easier to take blame than to fight through to the solution. Yet I find most leaders don't have this problem. There is something about being right that fuels a competitive edge. [It's probably what helps make the person a leader.] We try and spin the situation in our favor, because being right somehow becomes the goal. I found new freedom when I found that there are more important things in life than being right.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
From my vantage point, there are two Christian vices that are most acceptable: Gluttony and Anger. I wish I had kept track of the number of fat, angry pastors over the years giving convincing sermons on the evils of alcohol or divorce or not home-schooling your kids or rock music or not memorizing enough Scripture, only to brag about how good the food will be at the church picnic and how much of it they are going eat. [To be fair, wouldn't it have been great, like weight is to gluttony, if God created some visible response to lust, such as your skin turning green each time you engaged in a lustful thought or action. This way we would all be green AND overweight.] On the other side of anger lies sadness, and here is where it is most difficult to turn. It's more vulnerable to be sad than angry, which is why I think we see more of it in the church than grief. Alot of anger gets justified by Jesus' entry into the temple and turning over the tables of the moneychangers, but you've got to know that after that event, Jesus must have been very, very sad. Sure, its conjecture on my part, but I imagine him crying in prayer later, saying to the Father, "This is not how its supposed to be..." Anger and sadness are always connected. So now when I see an angry pastor or leader, I also see a sad one, and I wonder if he ever gives himself permission to be sad and grieve the source of his anger. I think this is why crying is a gift to us from God. Tears are wordless expressions of sorrow, since words seem to always fall short when we are sad, which is why I try and keep my words at a minimum now at funerals. Tears will suffice. I can't help but think that the church would be in better shape if it cried more.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
One of the misperceptions of God that I have had to overcome over the years is that God is pissed off all the time. The environment you grow up in has an insidious effect on how you view life, and since many of my influences in school were angry ones, I think I just develped a fear of people in authority, a fear that I would always let them down, thereby making them angry. God bless children, since they teach us as much about who God is than any preacher. I'm especially thankful for my two. I think I know God better now because of them. I don't do it much anymore, but I used to listen to Christian radio. I'm not sure why, since it didn't make me a better one; just call it impulse. One day my daughter and I were going somewhere in the car, and I was listening to a well-known radio preacher. I can't tell you what he was saying, but I clearly remember what my daughter said: "Daddy, can we not listen to the angry guy anymore?" The angry guy. What was she hearing that I was accustomed to? Fast forward to dinner Monday night. I asked my son to give thanks for our food. He agreed and began... Dear Lord baby Jesus. I nearly soiled myself. To explain, he and I had just seen Talledaga Nights, in which a scene where Will Ferrell says a prayer over a meal in the same way. Sacrilege to some, maybe. To me, hilarious. (Of course, context plays a huge role in any humor.) There was a time when I probably would have scolded him for being irreverant, all the while inside really wishing I could laugh. Had I done that, which of us would have been more authentic?
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Change should be my middle name these days. since that's what I find myself in the middle of. I'm afraid if I took one of those stress indicator tests that rate the amount of life altering events you've been through, it would probably show that I should be committed. In my case, ignorance is bliss. I don't want a visit from the men in white coats looking to outfit me with a new sportcoat. I look at my life and monitor the major events of the past year, such as changing careers, being unemployed, losing my father, my wife being unemployed only to find a high-stress job (which is worse?) All these are external changes. They are significant, but in comparison to the internal changes that are going on, they are not as crucial. A popular topic for Christian leaders to talk about is the need for revival in the church. But the conversation usually revolves around what other people are doing. Like... The Church has lost her first love... Pastors are using the church for professional gain... How could he lead a church and do what he did in secret...? This is the easy work of identifying the need for change, pointing out what someone else should be doing. But real change won't occur this way, not until leaders change at their core. A reader recently asked me what it means to have an authentic core. I could have filled several pages with a really good theological answer a few years ago, but I settle for more simplified answers today. To me, being authentic is: 1. Laughing when something is funny. 2. Crying when something hurts. 3. Admitting when you're wrong. 4. Don't worry about getting credit for a job well done. These are the changes I'm going through internally. I'll expand on them later.