Friday, March 25, 2011

Community can fail, Community never fails

This is a collaborative exercise, needed input from community outside of my immediate influence to accurately go into this. . . enjoy.


          I’m gonna be brutally honest and let you into my world for a second. I have no idea what to do specifically about this subject; it’s seemingly unavoidable and unnerving at the same time. Those of you that have shared in faith with me know that the last several years of my life have been about promoting, building, and sustaining COMMUNITY. There are many great blogs about it that go far deeper into its meaning and value within the body than I have time to, but what I want to talk about is a little more specific. I want to talk about the cycle, and even more pointed than that I wanna get into the thick of:
“when community starts to fall”.
Now the intricate balance we have learned to strike in leadership is one of growing with people but allowing people to grow outside of your influence also. [Another blog entirely involves growing with people you lead instead of just leading people, but another time-] This is no simple task because inevitably you will have a follower that gets into something so detrimental to their development that you feel that not stepping in is almost promoting sin, but it must be done. If people are not believed in and encouraged to great faith they will always struggle in “little faith”. We never want to see people fail but it’s the price that is paid to make them truly succeed. Now take that a step further, there are ministries and discipleships and a myriad of other things that we pour ourselves into that will eventually fade. The impact on individuals may never be fully realized (good or bad, eternal or temporary) but the first inclination is to step back in and revitalize the movement. I don’t know every step to take but my first impression is. . . NO! Stop. Think about our desires and the call of God. He called you away for a purpose, I know it’s hard, but the movement isn’t yours, it’s the Spirit of God moving in them. There are no bailouts in the Kingdom, a thing stands and falls on the Will of God alone. Of course good stewardship is necessary and should be duly encouraged, but we must allow things to run their course. It’s just as likely that things need to be destroyed to give birth to the next thing God wants to do.


Now I’m probably going to get some push back from this and that’s okay but something that is so incredibly lacking today is the true faith that comes through persevering. People make mistakes and as light or drastic as it appears, those mistakes have consequences. There is a natural cycle in the church; from youth programs to leadership and this experience is universal. Excitement swells, connections are made, influence becomes standard, critical mass is reached, the people revolt, leadership freaks out, there becomes a new norm and from there we either rebuild from nearly scratch or get called away. Now there are many more factors that come into play and the more community reliant a movement becomes the less likely the winding down takes hold and the easier to notice problems and address them with personal devotion/attention. The point is that we must allow leaders to lead, they will always need mentorship, the people will always need a new thing to rally for, but it’s our responsibility as leaders to give everyone the room to grow. God has a lot of puzzle pieces to order, we each have our call, be obedient to the ministry you are called to “Right Now” and avoid the trap of being disappointed about what cannot be sustained. Community will be rebuilt, attacked from a different angle, and flourish through the attack. God is faithful, His way is perfect.

Once again it’s hard to fully gauge this because my view of Community has come into such focus over the last few years, but we will work through this, and as churches become more aware of the filter of community I’m sure we’ll all have some better approaches, but for now trust in what God can and will do through our people. I’m interested in the thoughts of others who have seen vast community decline or change in the last few years, what are your thoughts, opinions, and warnings?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Old Way of Becoming You(sless). . . "Discipline pt.2"


So in "part 1" i introduced the overall need for discipline, here we go into the effects of discipline (and the lack), here goes. . .
I can't overstate how easy and commonplace it is to fool ourselves into comfort and ease. You may have an intense love of God in your life today.  But it's easy for Lewis and Company to equate that feeling and security with "falling in Love" with Jesus.  And that's a good thing; I love to see people excited about loving God and being forgiven, full of wonder and expectancy. The problem comes when we expect this to be a constant in our spiritual lives.  That expectancy is soon turned to disappointment; first with our own lives and second with the Christians surrounding us.  And then what happens to your faith? 
I believe that it goes one of three ways, and keep in mind this is all after getting saved, these are positions taken in the church, not outside:


      1. Mundane Christianity— the most common alternative to living the abounding and fruitful way you think a Christian should. Most people in this category are often happy on the outside, still attending church many even becoming leaders themselves, but in their inner lives they have accepted that lifelessness and sin are simply the "way it is" and are too afraid of damnation to leave the boundaries of faith and too afraid of their own inadequacy and unbelief to challenge their faith to a higher level. 

      2. Muted Christianity—fairly common.  This is when someone gives up on the power and purpose of God altogether.  These people usually view Christianity as "a harness for the young and comfort for the old".  They may wander in to a service once or twice a year to maybe rekindle that once magical feeling of knowing God. Then it's back to real life without Christ and his constant weight on the conscience. 

      3.  Motive Christianity—rare, very rare.  This is where a person starts building something that overcomes the ups and downs of their feelings and seeks the permanent joy of being daily challenged to live in the place God has called them.  They may experience problems or turmoil but nothing moves them outside of sacrificial living and servanthood. 
Many people in the faith (especially young ones 30 and below) say, "mundane and muted? That would never happen to my relationship with God".  

Pay close attention to what I'm about to say:  If you do not start to build a lasting impenetrable faith now in your own hearts and lives, it will most assuredly and without notice happen to you.  Like I said before it's rare to get to motive Christianity after faith runs out. If you don't start wrapping your minds around spiritual discipline you will have little if nothing to hold on to when the feeling goes away.  And be assured the feeling goes away.  For many it happens after the excitement and accountability of youth groups for more critical thinkers it's earlier and for some it's later in life.  Whenever it happens you can see it in the distance, a little blurry and faint at first.  Maybe you're already getting tired of the church because (1)it's not living up to your expectations or (2) your not living up to God's standards.
 I'll tell you now the secret to getting past this. PRESS IN!

That's usually the beginning, you might start feeling like you don't belong with this people /- press in. Possibly it's too hard and not worth it. Wouldn't it be nice to just be like the world, free of restrictions and discipline /- press in. Now is the time to really find out who God is and what He wants from you, you can't slow down, you can't stop /- press in.  The race isn't for the quick but to who those who endure /-press in. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ink and Islands. . . Tribes (pt1)

We are Tribe.
A tribal people, sects and offshoots from an original kingdom. Unlike states who rely on order, status, and direct oversight, many of us from the faith have chosen a tribal right. It is a curious thing that often leads to tension and misunderstanding but the payoff is infinite freedom in this tribal community. I, myself, am part of a Pentecostal tribe, we tried charismatic for awhile but it lacked a clear enough definition, so we’ve reverted to the old name. I love my tribe, for all it’s faults and admitted problems it is the place I feel the most “at home”. Something a lot of people don’t get about tribalism is the structure, so my intent is to open up some of the picture I see when looking at this from the inside. I’m sure from the outside there is a completely different view (you’ll have to find one of them for that).
First of all let me go into what forms a tribe then we’ll look at some parabolic shared history. First off you’ll have to revert to an eastern mindset (some would say Hebraic) and think Kingdom. This is a hard concept for westerners to grasp, it actually has a lot to do with why the mainstream Christian church is so susceptible to corruption and division based on corruption, lack of biblical perspective of Authority. You often get asked dumb questions not based on reality, people like to say things like, “It’s not okay to break the law, right, but what about when the law contradicts God? “ that’s an interesting philosophical point but a straw man none-the-less. The solution comes in understanding where authority originates and where it filters through. It’s pretty simple at its basis, but becomes more and more complex when you attempt to pick it apart. Tribes come from people who are unwilling to bend to the “exact doctrine” of the state. There are a lot of intricate details in that sentence that should be delved into, but not now so on to the quick:
We have a King, who established a Kingdom, and then invited refugees, brigands, turn-coats, and simple people into its fertile borders. In this Newfound Kingdom one edict was sent down, “You will swear allegiance to the King before and above all else, His word is Law, He is the Lord of life, and you are subject to His Will.” Based on this edict we established homes, built communities, and began to flourish. Someone decided along the way (due mainly to the size of our estates) that some general rules should be set out (you know for order and good conduct). [Now this is the sleight of hand that established the Christian brand of tribalism; notice here how thin the line that is drawn becomes a chasm.] Most agreed to these rules and those who did not simply left these lands. The Kingdom was huge in those days, there was plenty of room and more than enough space to allow everyone to live and grow in the direction they saw fit.
I’ll get back to that story some day but you can sorta see where it’s all going I think.  So now you have today. We are many tribes in the same Kingdom, most tribes are pretty close and intermix pretty well, (some notsomuch) but we advance, we grow and shrink, we change and revert. I love this, love the whole thing, there is great freedom here. I’ll be honest there have been wars, people lost and hurt but most transitions are safe, I have learned to respect my fellow citizens even when their systems seem contrary to common sense. We make the difference in this world as we embrace the purpose of the King. We are a tribal people.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Old Way of Becoming New. . . "Discipline pt.1"

Spiritual Discipline—the thing that upholds a relationship with Almighty God


Many people want a reason, asking, "Why should I focus on this?  Isn't my relationship enough to carry out my faith for the rest of my life?  Are you saying I'm not Committed to God because I don't adhere to your standards of holiness and stupid rules?"
That's quite the litany of questions but nonetheless they represent the hostility and attitude of a generation that wants to see God but hasn't seen value placed on discipline and standards by the previous generations.  Their most notable examples are leaders and spokesmen failing to uphold spiritual discipline or, to the other extreme, enforcing standards that seem to only weigh down and restrict the excitement and hunger they have to see a "new thing". 

My answer to these questions:

Yes you may be committed to God, but are you committed to the power of God to save. [Have you learned to hide flesh behind Spirit and the sacrifice of the cross? to not allow yourself to shine through, but instead the living Christ?] Paul says two things are at the forefront of his relationship with the father and those are "to know Him and make Him known".  I would go as far as saying that these things are twofold much like faith and works. Proving one is purposeless and powerless without the other.  So if you are banking on knowing him without making him known then your faith is not only purposeless (although it might save you) but furthermore quite literally infinitely selfish. How can you claim to serve and love a loving God, merrily living your life in a cruise liner of blessing while watching the world drown in the tides?   


I don't think God hands out his best to be squandered on a faith like that. The opposite is also noticeable.  We have all been witness (or involved) in a marketing strategy to convert souls and get people into church by a seemingly scripted "oh looky here, isn't our pastor dynamic, or wasn't that worship intense" mentality of making Him known, but not going the extra mile to know Him.  This is what the world sees the most of, a way of capitalizing on the fear of death and unimportance to boost church attendance and Sunday morning offerings.  [I, by no means, am implying that you have this attitude but that's how they see it nonetheless].  But what if instead of seeing us as superspiritual leaders and evangelists they saw our drive and focus and wondered at our devotion, marveled at our willingness to give, or, heaven forbid, asked about our lifestyle?  That's the place where I want to be -   Making Him known because I know Him. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Things never change. . . people do.

yes God created one love for us, but love is different than we think

we often think it's some big, fateful, monumentally predestinal thing, and that's not what it is. it's a choice. me and my wife had a long discussion about this a couple of weeks [years] ago, how love isn't an emotion, or an aspiration, or even a force, it's a choice.

we narrowed it down to be defined the same way belief or hope plays itself out in our lives. God gives you the capability of perfectly loving one person, or imperfectly loving more than one person, and once you find someone who is willing to surrender their hearts to God first and you second then you commit the "God given" ability to love to that ONE person.


Of course we have a hard time reconciling why God condoned polygamy in the old testament and eventually changed His mind, but it took a while to see that He never changed, culture changed, interpretation changed, but His standard was always One Love given wholly not chopped up into pieces and rationed out. (Mark 10:6, Matt. 19:4)

anyway. . .
a lot of times what people do is trick themselves and/or others into love for the sake of love itself. that's as silly as believing in God or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or his holiness the FSM simply for the sole purpose of having something to believe in, we have to evaluate and often wrestle with what we choose to put our faith in, the same is true of love.

i hadn't really articulated it in writing it seemed a lot more complicated than that on the phone.

well that's the way i see it, love is choice that can be made perfect like any right choice can.

love and peace
-thomas

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Act of Acting. . . aka the "myth of natural devotion"

Where does Jesus Christ figure in when we have a concern about our natural relationships? Most of us will desert Him with this excuse—”Yes, Lord, I heard you call me, but my family needs me and I have my own interests. I just can’t go any further” (see Luke 9:57-62). “Then,” Jesus says, “you ’cannot be My disciple’ ” (see Luke 14:26-33).

True surrender will always go beyond natural devotion. If we will only give up, God will surrender Himself to embrace all those around us and will meet their needs, which were created by our surrender. Beware of stopping anywhere short of total surrender to God. Most of us have only a vision of what this really means, but have never truly experienced it.

-Chambers

He did it again. there is no natural. a lot of us have a natural affinity for the things of God and we take such deep advantage of this gift and eventually believe the deceipt that this has something to do with spiritual power but all and all it's not the acolades or abilities but total surrender in the "other" places where we are weak, where we are desperate, where we are vulnerable. That's God's measure of surrender for us, not in our obedience to the call but our surrender to everything else.

To be more precise the "educated, mature christian" thinks himself fairly capable of being close to God and (almost without thinking) defends the eternally secure position of devotion. We think ourselves worthy of some credit, our walk has been tested, our character intact, and our failures swept under the rug, we think ourselves in some ways almost commendable, but "the trap lies in wait for those most unawares". We are never farther from God than when we lose account of our desperate need of mercy and grace and we are never closer than when the complete gulf of his holiness and our filth is blatantly on display before us and the world. I have friends who have fallen fast and hard, shaming themselves and the gospel they so willingly proclaimed, and in a way that fall is the thing that saved them, it proved God's grace isn't for the quick or the talented or even the adequately equipped, His grace is for fallen man, period, whatever place, whatever circumstance, his grace cuts through the B.S. of our pretenses and our excuses and our disbelief and rescues us from ourselves. 

This is the God i fell in love with, not the one who is impressed with my theology or the god of false hope, but the God who sees me for what i truly am and loves me. and it's not in spite of myself it's because of my self. The reason i called this blog the smallest peace was this very idea. that christianity isn't the sum of it's parts as a whole, it truly is the smallest piece. The piece that sees value and worth in unmerrited brigands and bandits (i.e. humanity). We don't make a mockery of the gospel when we fail, we make a mockery of the smallest truth (and the most relevant one) when we succeed and think it has anything to do with us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Emergent Vs. Mainstream. . .

    The emergent church has caught a lot of flak lately from mainstream (and in some cases not-so-mainstream) Christianity.  A good friend and respected spiritual leader in my life recently called Emergent a cult. While i agree that some of the more outspoken and noticeable members of the emergent movement lean toward irrational and contradictory statements of faith, there is room for open and honest deconstruction (theoretical and symbolic not literal[that comes later]) of modern Christianity and more precisely the role of the Christian Church within a modern society.  i'm not about tearing down tradition, but Jesus is.  I don't hold to any creed over that of personal revelation through careful study and application of Biblical text and teaching.  however, having said that, i value well thought out theology, I desire to have a more concrete faith and the Emergent following is too free flowing for my taste.  I get where they are coming from and i believe the approach to be necessary for reform and ultimately solid direction in this present age. 

    The truth is, if we took off the emergent label, our values, systems, and even complaints are mostly shared.  I've been "saved" since i was 13 and the church's obsession with hierarchy and ineffectual efforts to be meaningful in the daily community life, not to mention the horrible job of public relations we have endured, are problems that laypeople, pastors, youth, regional, and national leaders have been struggling with for my entire spiritual journey.  The denial and need for answers along with Mainstream Christiany's (MC) inability to answer them is a clear interval for birthing this "movement".  It would be different if MC was making headway or if that "Old Time Religion" were still "good enough for me", but the fact remains that out of every 100 new converts only 30 (give or take, thanks Barna) will be lifelong followers of Christ and out of that 30 only 9 will find what we might consider the deeper faith.  Most will be tempted or goaded away by other pursuits only to come back to the faith later in life after the whims of youthful desire have died away. Some will be destroyed and broken by the church herself, and still others will simply be unimpressed and disillusioned by the lack of challenge and depth that the church has to offer.


    You can see where the problem lies even without a clear or feasible solution.  The church cannot attain the vibrant life it once enjoyed by following the patterns and trends of the last 40 years of spiritual practice or last 200 years of dogmatic arrogance.  At the same time pandering to social or generational relevance is not the way either, and although some have hijacked the bandwagon (so to speak) of the Emergent faith to look and act this way, the same can be said about mainstream Christianity.  There are crazies on every side of the Christian faith.  Every creed deals with this. Lashing out is not the answer, there was a time that Catholicism was the center and the fringe and reformers were harshly treated with persecution that started in name calling and ended in demonizing. MC is on rocky ground and needs to treat the center with more dignity and the fringe with more grace.  There are some things that we can learn from this new thing and some things that need to be condemned before infecting new converts with animosity or unfounded cinicism. It seems to me, after sharing in the faith with some of these communities that they understand this dynamic better than we do. The emergent leaders are especially careful and aware of the fact that todays fringe eventually becomes the center itself.  Personal Growth, Spiritual Hunger, And Relational Faith are end goals we can all agree on, lets do our best to ingrain those traits into our own congregations instead of overly concerning ourselves with who's evangelism is truer or whose methods are more Christ-centered. 



The truth is we are all seekers, let us seek.

the road to brokenness . . .

. . . the real attack comes when things get slow and monotonous, when training and dedication seem like they haven't yet or are not quite paying off. that is the time that intensity is needed. 

I've been running pretty intensely (in the physical) for this fitness assessment I have coming up and i can tell you that during a 5k there is a specific point where you look at your feet and wonder "Why am I doing this, is this really going to help, i could just lighten up and i'll get to the same place, right?" that is the precise moment that gutting up and pushing harder becomes the key to success.

in the same way all of my friends who have "fallen" or experienced devastating defeat in their lives are self-admittedly the ones who gave up for just a little bit. their intentions were usually noble, "everyone needs rest", "it's just not fun anymore", "I'm tired of not getting anywhere" "man, this chick is worth it". But the Christian Walk is a daily fight, if this reality isn't accessed and lived in early on, you will never be prepared for this journey. spirituality isn't something that "comes naturally" (that's why it's called "Supernatural") ask a monk how long enlightenment takes, find a shaman who isn't ready to sacrifice.

Christians are easily overly concerned with other's salvation and less focused with our own, but the opposite is necessary to effectively be "in Christ". Phil. 2:12, Matt. 24:13

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