Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why you should quit the ministry.

Maybe this title is a little harsh. I guess I should say this post is about why I quit the ministry and why I’m glad I did. You can do whatever you want and should only act on a sense of faith. This is the only thing that matters. What I think is nothing compared to walking by faith. Do any of these statements sound familiar: “_______ is a hard city/town/state/region/country/people group to bring the gospel to.” “The soil is hard here.” “People aren’t responsive to the gospel on my campus." Ministry is hard work. Some of this has to do with the nature of working with people. It’s not like you’re making widgets for a buck and selling them for ten and demand out weighs supply. Folks have choices, a past, needs and quirks. These dynamics are impossible to control. You can only deal with what you face. But on top of that you have spiritual factors. Receptivity, resistance, and unseen opposition, to name a few. These are equally impossible to exert influence over. When I first started my work with university students, I had an encounter I will never forget. I was sitting in a prayer group when a man pulls out his bible and began reading from Zechariah. He got to the phrase in chapter 8 that said, “…let us go with you, because we’ve heard that God is with you.” At that point I broke down, sobbing, for who knows how long. It felt like an hour, could have been five minutes. I have no idea. Why did I have that kind of out of the blue reaction to an obscure Old Testament reference? Upon reflection, the only thing that made sense was that this is what I wanted my life to be about. This is what I thought my contribution in ministry would be. It’s what I believed would be the vehicle of the good news. Not a tract or an illustration on a napkin, but instead seeing it carried along by people among whom God was real and obvious. Nowhere in my spiritual development did anyone ever share this idea with me. Instead, the Gospel was dependent on me to share a Summary of the Story in five minutes or less. Soon after that I committed myself to praying for awakening. I invited other colleagues to join with me to ask God to do the kind of thing spoken of in Zechariah 8. We prayed together for at least 10 years. Nothing even came close to what we envisioned. Eventually I grew discouraged, ready to give up. I started entertaining other vocational options. I started feeling like a fool. Had I given my best years and effort to a pipe dream? It took about four years, but during that time I came to believe that I hadn’t wasted my life. I was free to change vocations, but I was not at liberty to discard the vision that was handed to me. I may reach my grave and never see that kind of spiritual movement, but that fulfillment was never to be my goal. Mine was to live by faith, always moving toward that dream. So I left the vocational ministry, opened a business, and got something of my soul back in the process. I was like The Farmer who was committed to his land, and every day of the year hitched his plow to the ox and tried plowing his drought hardened field. Faithful to the task, yet it was cripplingly discouraging. He always wanted to be a farmer, but the work was too much to bear. Without rain, his work was hopeless. He talked to other farmers who were doing the same thing, daily scraping the crusty surface of dirt, with a dust cloud being the only evidence of labor. They told him to stay the course, that a good farmer never quits. “This is hard work, son, what did you expect?” So he got an idea. The Farmer believed rain would one day return, so instead of tearing up his back and his plow on a hard field, he spent his time on other tasks. He started enlisting a handful of city kids, a few young non-farmers, people who had no preconceived notion of how to farm. He shared his vision of the eventual rainstorm that would come and soften the soil and make it capable of plowing again, and that when this happened, he was going to need some help. He showed these few how to build a plow and make it sharp so once the rain came, they would be ready to go. I will always be The Farmer, and just because I’m not in the same university field I once was is no indication that I have given up. I’m just in a better position to wait for rain now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Jesus and the Mob

I’m not a pacifist. Jesus told us that if we choose to live according to the sword, we would have to be willing to accept that we will die in the same way. If we adopt a way of living that includes killing, we can’t expect to escape the same fate. The more people I knock off, the more will want to return the favor. In a round about way, this is why I’m intrigued by mob movies. It befuddles me to consider how people in the mafia go about their business. All in a normal day you might whack someone for not paying back a loan, break another guy’s kneecaps for looking at your sister wrong, and then go home and tuck your kids in bed. How would you ever rest? Your job assures that you have your share of enemies, all of which want the same fate for you. Our freedom handed to us by Jesus means that we have a choice of how to live and how to die. I have to accept others liberty to live by the war metaphor. If you believe we are at war against the ACLU, that’s your prerogative. You will have to die by the same weapons you wield. If I’m an asshole, it shouldn’t surprise me when I get treated like one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Did I win, Part 2

Borrowing lingo from war and applying it toward an effort to bring about any kind of social change is a tricky line to walk. I’m not even comfortable when sports announcers refer to a rivalry game as “all out war,” say nothing about when The Church As We Know It tosses out the term in reference to bringing about social change. War is about killing and destroying forces that threaten a way of life, and doing it in such a way that the enemy will think twice about ever doing it again. For The Church As We Know It to proclaim war against those who do not hold to biblical morality seems a bit contradictory. The Church As We Know It may have liked the authority it owned over culture back in the 40’s, but did that time period have anything to do with faith? The reason I can’t adopt the language of war is that I don’t believe our culture threatens anything about the wellbeing of The Church of the Future. The life of faith is about things unseen. Since people are a visible part of my culture, I don’t feel the need to kill them. Disagree, maybe, but not declare war because they hold different morality. If Truth is stronger than Deceit, and if Darkness will never, ever comprehend or master Light, as a person of faith, do I ever really need to feel threatened?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Did I win?

I’m mistakenly listening to Christian porn yesterday and heard a guy admonishing all Christians to take a stand against the ACLU and all the current attacks against biblical morality that is so rampant in our culture today. Among his pleas was a request for funds to stay on the air so he and his outfit could continue to be armed for the battle that lie ahead. The last thing I remember before I changed the channel for a needed reprieve was, “Now is the time for all bible believing people to rise up and not be silent!” To many minds in The Church As We Know It, his type of cause makes perfect sense, which is another reason I don’t feel like I fit anymore. If I could have a pint with the guy, I have a number of questions I wish could be addressed, such as “If this is a battle, what does winning look like?” And to continue with the war imagery, what or who is the enemy? If I am to enlist with you, what do we hope to accomplish? Is this a winnable war and how long do you think it will take? What do I do if you find out some of my friends are the enemy? Am I required to shoot them too? If we keep with the war metaphor, I’m afraid the Church As We Know It will be guilty of casting its pearls before swine. It will be like pouring gravel in the feed trough. Pearls may be precious to the farmer, but they cannot be eaten by pigs or any other livestock for that matter. So if the animals don’t eat, whose fault is it? Maybe we need a better metaphor? Images are easier to remember than words, which is why we use them, but there comes a time when the image doesn’t quite communicate like it used to. Culture changes, so does language. We must adapt how we speak if we are to be understood, and isn’t this the goal of any good communicator?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Emotionally Reading the Text

I have started a practice that has revolutionized the way I read the Scripture. It is something my seminary training did not teach me, but I would add it to my schedule of classes if I ever started my own school. I would call this class, Emotionally Reading the Text. It doesn’t take the place of understanding the sitz em lebem, but it might help a person see the way in which the Scripture was handed to them. This is why you and I can read the same verse and one of us feel comforted and the other shackled. I did a quick search in the New Testament and found a few occurrences where Jesus told people not to doubt. This time, instead of first going to the root meaning of the word, or getting out a parsing guide, I ask myself, if Jesus were speaking these words to me, what tone of voice would he be using? In each and every case, he was pissed at me. During my formative years, I didn’t know a single soul who ever spoke of doubt in any terms other than shameful ones. The assumption was that if you doubt, you are basically disqualified from the possibility of having any kind of spiritual influence. I can recall asking a speaker one time about how I can get better at praying and not doubting My question obviously annoyed him, because his terse answer snapped back like a green peach switch, “It’s your choice, either believe or don’t.” And he walked off. The exchange left me, an influential student, flustered, concluding I must be a bad person. I think this insecurity is why I have a tendency to read Jesus’ words with the same sense of shame. Other leaders were not kind, and since they were his spokesmen, why should he be any different? If men I tried to please were always irritated at my lack of belief, it only made sense that Jesus would be even more so. Shedding light on the emotion we place on the text can expose the doubt that wants to overshadow faith.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Since the post on doubt seemed to resonate, I thought I would continue the thread by trying to describe in simple terms the things that hold my faith together. Each of these gets buffeted with their fair share of doubt, but these are the sign posts that keep pointing me in the same direction. If I may add, to any readers that may disagree with my position, please don’t read this as an attempt to proselytize you or change your mind or push my religion. See this as a forty-something guy trying to figure out a way to make sense of the life that he is living and what to do with what has been given to him. Walk with me a little ways before trying to refute. That’s all I ask. I’m no philosopher or scientist, but the one deep question I cannot get past is, “How did we get here?” Some would say by chance or evolution or some mathematical randomness, but these kinds of explanations take too much trust for me to embrace. These raise more unanswered questions for me than I am comfortable living with. It makes more sense to me to believe that Something created us and all the floating orbs that we see and specifically the blue and green one we move in. The universe is too vast and too complex for me to make the leap into embracing zillions of years of tiny incremental changes from single cell organisms to the current ability to cure disease and put a man on the moon. That may be easy for you, but I can’t get there. For some minds, there are huge barriers to starting with this belief. The idea of origin seated in a Divine location cannot be tested empirically or scientifically; therefore that belief must be rejected. I’m OK with that. Science needs to play by its own rules. But personally I still find this terribly limiting, because I am cutting myself off from a body of information that won’t fit in my test tube. Science has answered a lot of questions for us, but it also has left many unanswered, and I don’t want science to be my salvation. Nor do I want religion to be my salvation It has to come back to faith. What am I willing to stake my life on? Like you, everyday I have to get up in the morning. And as I sit on the edge of the bed, feeling the stiffness of aging joints and muscles, this is when I become most philosophical. Why not just lay back down and go back to sleep? To gather a paycheck at that point is adequate motivation some of the time, but more and more it seems a little small juxtaposed against the mysteries that appear as if they are standing at the foot of the bed. By faith, I hold on to the idea that I was created on purpose, that my starting point wasn’t just due to a molecular lottery. Doubts still exist. Questions still arise. Books have been written against it. College profs will forever make fun of it, but I figured out long ago that they don’t get to make my decisions. That’s my privilege.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What would Jesus say...

Glenn prompted the idea for this post. =================== Your eyes betray you. I can see the weight hidden behind them. This is the one common weakness all people share. A man can’t see his own face. Sure, you can look in a mirror and see the wrinkles or gray hair, but even that is a mere reflection. Only another person can peer into your countenance and see the real thing. Remember that I am among those who know. You have taken on quite a challenge, embarking on this quest for the unknown, unseen future you have in mind so clearly. There are many questions I see behind your eyes, but only one that really stands out that I’d like to address. It’s that one question that overarches everything. It’s the one thing that is tied to the weight that lies within. And rest assured that you are not the only one asking that question. Over the course of history, there are more men and women than you can count who have been in the exact same place as you. At your questions lies the essence of what I am all about. It involves the one thing that I am looking for in people like yourself. Will you make it? Will you get to your destination, or will someone else inherit what you have worked so hard to build? Or even worse, will all your effort dissolve into nothing? Never forget, son, that without this question you could not exhibit faith. I know many who led you over the years left you with a sense that they had no doubts and were 100% sure about everything, including what they knew to be true about Me, but trust Me, they don’t have it all right either. What most people seem to forget about faith is that it is not about the things seen. Never has and never will. And faith is what I am looking for when I return. It can’t be faith if there were guarantees like you want them. If you made a decision to trust me just because some guy told you his story of how he stepped out in faith and all his debts got paid and how all his problems got solved, you’re no longer choosing to walk by faith. You only want what he got. You want a short sighted solution, not a life of faith. Don’t get me wrong, I can still be trusted, but to do so requires that there always be a sense of doubt. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. You will always see the two together, sort of like the way you see Fear lurking around Courage. If you see one but not the other, you can be assured that the other is just around the corner. Watchman, rest in this thought today as you enjoy your Sabbath. I know what you want from me and I’m not going to give it to you. But you’ve already given me what I’ve asked. You want certainty. I want faith. Let that sink in while you get another cup of coffee. Sounds like the newpaper has arrived.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

10-20-30 years ago

The idea for this post was prompted from a tag, a term new to me, but I figured what it meant pretty quickly. Ten years ago: I was at the height of my involvement and contribution in what we might look back and call the worship movement. I had several opportunities to share thoughts, ideas, songs and leadership on college campuses in the Midwest. The Passion student movement was just beginning, for which I was around to see it get off the ground. I had a great band of musicians around me, a great set of friends. My outlook on life was extremely hopeful. I loved what I was doing and where I found myself. Twenty years ago: Just starting graduate school in Marin County, CA. Many of my friends inquired about my decision to move so far west. “Why not go to school closer to home?” I told them that I had been to Fort Worth and San Francisco and the choice seemed like a no-brainer. It was there that I met my wife, but it took me a few months before I got the courage to even consider the thought that she might have interest in me. I termed her “OML,” Outta My League. But thanks to the dean at my school, he pulled the blinders off my eyes and helped me see what I couldn’t. We were later married two and a half years later. Thirty years ago: I made one of the biggest decisions of my life 30 years ago, the choice to not play high school football. If you are from a small town in the southern United States, you may be familiar with the cultural importance for a young man to prove himself on the athletic field. At that young age, there was something inside me that said I don’t need to be involved in sports to be validated as somebody. I listened to that voice and followed the advice. Little did I know that 30 years later, I would be faced with that same theme in leaving behind the Church As We Know It in search of The Church Of The Future.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fast Food

I don’t know if this idea is due to the new industry I find myself in, but I’ve stumbled across a parallel between the world of food and the religious culture I was formed in. Our restaurant is nothing special, yet many of our clients are treating it like it’s the newest trend in dining. All we are doing is making food fresh, in our store, and treating people like friends. For those of you who don’t realize, much of the food you eat at a common restaurant franchise or fast food establishment comes in frozen on a truck, shipped in from a warehouse or central kitchen somewhere. There’s even a popular bakery cafĂ© chain who boasts of fresh baked bread (I’m sure you’re familiar with it) receives their dough frozen and only bakes it in their store. The reason for this is efficiency. When the bottom line is profit, a company doesn’t really need to pay attention to other elements like taste, quality, ethics, or community improvement. If the product is selling, who cares how it is made? If all you want is a quick meal, does it matter if it took 3 days to get to your town by semi truck? For some reason, I had this same kind of thinking toward the message that Jesus brought for us. I believed that the only thing that really mattered was if you believed that message or not. Here, the bottom line was not profit. Instead it was souls saved. Consequently, I missed the importance of other components of the message, namely, the part about living the Life to the full. It’s a great feeling when customers tell me they love what we are doing with our restaurant and can’t wait to tell their friends about us. What have we done to elicit this response? My guess is this; we are attempting to rescue food from the fast, efficient world in which it has been relegated, and in which it doesn’t belong. As we do so, it seems some people understand what we’re up to. This brings me to my point. Is the same true for the Bread of Life? Has Jesus and His Message been copied, duplicated and franchised into a tasteless, unhealthy yet efficient product? And have its consumers become so familiar with this type of product that it has no idea there can be anything else? I’m convinced that leaders of the Church of The Future will do well to rescue the Story from its limitations of its culture. How that is done is up to you to decide.