Thursday

Remembering the Great Commission

We've misinterpreted the Great Commission, I think.

We're called to introduce people to Jesus, but sometimes it seems that sometimes we forget. Sometimes, we end up introducing them to our club, to churchianity. To religion. Ewww.

They're looking for real relationship, and Jesus offering real relationship, but we're offering membership in a Sunday Morning Club complete with its own foreign language and foreign culture. "Bring your friends to church!" we are exhorted, forgetting the "Go" of the Great Commission.

Coming to faith does NOT require leaving your culture, leaving your language, leaving your community, leaving your music behind. (Yes, it does involve leaving your slavery behind.) For example, there's no need for a pipe organ or Taylor acoustic guiter in a tribal church in order for their gathering to be legit. They worship with drums; you don't have to!

Here's a radical thought: Christian pop music is by NO means the only music that's acceptable - or desirable. Some believers like barbershop quartets! Others touch God in metal music or Dixieland or Baroque or dance music.

I even know of a church that worshiped with (shudder!) country music! They would line dance in church! What?!? (And they shared the building with a church that worshiped with grunge rock music! What's up with that?)

I get it that some folks often can't go back to the culture that enslaved them for years, but let's distinguish between the slavery that held us captive and the preference of music the enslavers enjoyed while they practiced their torture upon our souls.

And since music reaches people, the Great commission applies to music: GO TO THEM. Do NOT expect them to come to you. So bring the gospel to their music; not Gospel music, but the "Good News" of the Kingdom: that belongs in THEIR music, too. There's no need for them to leave their love for Italian operas behind in order to meet Jesus.

Our commission is to go to them, and to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them.

Our job is NOT to bring them to our culture, our little club.

When we disciple folks, we are to make them followers of Jesus, not into MiniMe's.

Insight from Gandalf the White

In The Return of the King, Denethor, Steward of Gondor (the realm of men) says of himself to Gandalf, “Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.”

To this Gandalf responds, “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for.

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

I suppose that it’s not completely unimaginable that I sometimes find inspiration in Gandalf's insight. I love this image: it is our job, the job of men, to rule, but it is our ultimate destiny to submit our rulership to the True King who is yet coming. Ultimately, our job is stewardship.

Even more, like Gandalf, our task is stewardship of “anything … that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower….” This includes stewardship of our world, our influence in that world, our fellow human beings, and of the planet that we now call home.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” ~Matthew 18:23


(Many thanks to Kriston Couchey for provoking this line of thought.)

Outraged at Outrage

Our world, and especially our media, are obsessed with outrage. If we are outraged, others pay attention to us and join in the outrage. We feel empowered when we are outraged, like we are making a difference. We are deceived.

We all know what outrage is. Outrage is defined as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”

Let's be outraged by the death of a wild animal. Let’s be outraged at the loss of our constitution. Let's be outraged about killing babies and selling their body parts to the highest bidder.

And the silliest of them all: Let's be outraged that people aren't outraged by what gets me outraged.

With the obvious exception of the last one, most current targets for outrage are legitimate issues, legitimate problems. And they deserve legitimate solutions. They deserve change.

The problem that I have with outrage is that it betrays us. Outrage lies to us.

First, outrage betrays us by pretending to be an appropriate response. It convinces us somehow it is socially conscious to feel powerful emotions, to shout at others with those powerful and controlling emotions, and to post snarky statements and memes online. And if I manage to get others to join me in my powerful emotions and snarky online posts, I’ve improved the world. That’s not actually change, is it?

Outrage betrays us by substituting bitter words and indignant feelings for actual action. I’m not saying the feelings are inappropriate or that strong feelings are an error. I will say that if the words are focused on finding fault or pointing out foolishness, that yes, I do consider that to be inappropriate.

But the reality is that as satisfying as those emotions and those witty memes are, they don’t change anything. There will be people who kill animals, people who abrogate constitutional rights, and people who kill babies in order to sell their body parts for profit. My powerful emotions won’t change that.

Outrage also betrays us, because it’s a tool being used to manipulate us. Talk show hosts and producers intentionally manipulate their content in order to entice outrage in their audience, so that they’ll remain a loyal and participative audience. Advertisers use outrage to sell you their products. Political groups use outrage to persuade you to fund their groups, but even more, they use outrage to direct your attention away from the things that they don’t want you to see. It’s this last one that really irritates me.

Yes, it is legitimately sad that a lion was killed somewhere in Africa. It’s sadder that the hunter who killed him is the target of so much hatred that his life, his family and his business have been destroyed. Personally, I find it saddest of all that more people get more upset about a dead animal than about the murdering-babies-and-selling-their-body-parts industry. I don’t think they deserve the same attention.

But that’s the success of outrage: there are people who support the business of killing babies, and they don’t want to be the focus of this much media attention, because then their secret might get out and their billions of dollars of income might be reduced a little. So let’s focus everybody’s outrage on an animal that was literally on the other side of the planet, in a nation that none of us has ever visited, and that was hunted and killed legally (at least by local law), and let’s get everybody to focus on that dead cat so they’ll stop asking questions about our profitable baby-murdering business.

And it’s working, isn’t it? (And it’s working so well that I’ll bet I get people outraged over the lion who defend their outrage in the comments.)

I'm really tired of outrage. I’m tired of being emotionally wound up. I’m tired of being manipulated by the purveyors of outrage. I’m tired of having others tell me what I should feel strongly about. I’m tired of reading snarky and self-serving accusations and character assassinations of people who think differently than we think they should. I’m tired of having complex issues reduced to black-and-white caricatures so that they produce increased outrage.

Forgive me, but I won't be participating in any outrage this week. Please don't be offended that I won’t be joining you in yours.

“So what could we do instead of willingly volunteering to be emotionally manipulated? Is there an alternative?” I’m so glad you asked. Yes, there are a number of responses to things-that-are-wrong other than mere outrage.

The most important first step, I suppose, is to decide which issues are worth your attention. Don’t let the news media or social media tell you what you should care about. You decide. Cheat if you want: its OK to pray about this decision. It’s an important one, partly because this decision is the beginning of you taking the control of your emotional responses away from those who have delighted in controlling your emotions for you.

Second, I recommend sorting your emotions out. What are you actually feeling, and why does this issue trigger those emotions? Which emotions are actually yours, and which have been sold to you by others? And listen to the emotions: what are they suggesting needs to be done?  I’m not saying “don’t feel emotions.” I am, however, saying “don’t stop with feeling emotions.”

I recommend asking the question, “Is this actually any of my business?” If it isn’t, then this isn’t the place for you to get involved, except perhaps by prayer. And some will argue that our prayer might be less effective in causes that are none of our business. But that’s none of my business, so I’ll move on.

And once you’ve decided that there is an issue worthy of your attention, then take action. Here I’d argue that prayer is an excellent first action to take, and that may be the extent of your action regarding this issue. If you go no further than to pray, then you can at least know that you’ve freed yourself from being manipulated by others for their own, possibly nefarious purposes, and you’ve brought God’s attention to the matter. That’s not insignificant at all.

And further action may be appropriate after you’ve prayed. I recommend considering where your greatest influence lies (Consider which of the Seven Mountains your influence reaches the most) and take action in that arena. But take thoughtful action, don’t just write or shout outraged words: leaders of industry, government, culture know that outraged words are meaningless, and they are generally ignored, if they don’t respond with attempts to further manipulate us with outrage.

This is my attempt to respond in a method other than outrage to what appears to me to be an outrageous error in our culture. This is my attempt to bring some attention to the actual problem (the futility of being emotionally manipulated by people who don’t have your best interest in their minds) and to offer an alternative (choose what to be moved by, and how to move in response).

So now it’s your choice. You can be outraged at my suggestions. Or you can actually make a difference. It’s up to you.



A Dream and its Sequel

May I share with you my dream, and its sequel? I’ve never been a big one for dreaming, and until this dream, I’d never, until this dream, received instruction in a dream.

The first dream: Many of us were on a large wooden ship. It was the size of a supertanker, but it was wooden. I don't know where it was going, and I don't think I ever did learn.

Below deck, on a very large deck, was a smaller ship: not a boat, a ship. As my wife was away, talking with crew or passengers, I was below decks, preparing that ship.

There were two things that were both heavy that I was loading up on. One was crowbars: not a "j" shape crowbar, but more of a "t" shaped crowbar. I loaded about 20 or 30 of them onto the smaller ship. I don't remember the other.

It seemed that I broke out a wall or a deck of the big ship in order to get the smaller ship out, and my wife showed up about that time to go with me. I woke up before we launched the smaller ship.

I had the dream during the time that I was enrolled in a dream interpretation class, so I shared it with my friends in the class. They agreed: The large ship is the Sunday Morning church, and truthfully, I didn’t really know where that was going. My small ship below decks was a heads up: God was calling me out of the established church into something more personal. The crowbars were preparation for me to help others into similar freedom.

What these good people didn’t know was that God had been calling me to do something I hadn’t done in nearly 50 years in the faith: to disengage from my local congregation, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual life, apart from a larger congregation: to become “unchurched.” It scared the stuffing out of me, which may be part of why Father affirmed it in a dream.

----- Interlude -----

Eighteen months later, I had left the Sunday Morning community, and my head was still spinning; this was something I’d never done before, something that I had regularly taught against, that I had prayed against. In that confusing season, I had the sequel to the dream, a dream that picked up right after the point the dream had ended.


In that dream, I had succeeded at launching the small ship out of the hole in the port side of the big ship. I watched as the big ship steamed on, unaware of our departure. When the great ship was out of sight over the horizon, I realized four things:

1) I suddenly saw my surroundings, and I realized that the only things I could see were waves. I had no idea where in the vast ocean I had departed from the great ship. I didn’t know where I was. I had no bearings.

2) Those waves had appeared as insignificant to the great ship. But now, in my small craft among them, they appeared much bigger. In fact, they were taller than our masts, though they did not threaten to capsize us. Suddenly, the waves captured a much greater portion of my attention. (Note: both the sky and the waves were grey.)

3) I hadn't noticed this before. My small ship still had no sails up, and I'm not entirely convinced that I had sails on board. I was not anxious about that fact; in fact, in the dream, I was not attentive to it.

4) Everything was so quiet! I could hear everything: the seabirds, the waves slapping my ship, the wind in the rigging.

As the dream ended, I realized that it perfectly represented my life in this season, where I was experiencing things I’d never experienced in my life before:

1) I was lost in a vast ocean: In truth, I didn’t actually know where I was in this great process that God is taking me through. I didn’t have any real reference points that mattered any more: experiential, social, psychological, theological. Everything was up in the air.

2) The waves appeared much bigger: There are issues around, issues that I never noticed before, that were now large and important to me. I had never really taken personal responsibility for my life and ministry before. Suddenly, I was aware of things God was emphasizing that I hadn’t even seen before. And now, I recognized gifts, particularly leadership gifts, on people outside of the traditional leadership positions, where I had never suspected them before.

3) I had no sails: It was absolutely clear that I now had no control over my life and ministry. I had no capacity to choose if I would be ministering, or where, or with whom. The most unusual opportunities kept opening up, and I had no control over them.

4) Everything was so quiet: Without all the corporate noise in the background, suddenly, I was hearing Father’s voice so much clearer than ever before.

It was incredibly comforting to have Father re-affirm all that I was experiencing, to know that he had all this in hand. Even though it was new and unsettling for me, it was still completely in his hands.

I felt the need to share this experience (or this set of experiences) because I believe that there are others who are going through this kind of transition, or similar transitions. I want to say to you: Father knows what you’re going through, you can trust him. You can trust him to speak to you through dreams, and through your friends in the transition.