Are we For or Against?

I want to lobby for a new day in the way we think of ourselves and engage the world around us. I am tired, impatient, angry, even embarrassed by a consistent trend in the Christian community. There are times when I hear the diatribes of those who claim the name of Christ and I feel ashamed to be affiliated with their hostility toward people we are commanded to love.

When did following Jesus become focused on fighting against a very selective group of social ills? When did such a finite short list of issues become the litmus test of orthodoxy? When did what we are against become the defining characteristic of who we are? Instead of defining ourselves by what we are against, I want to make the appeal that it is time we should be defined by who we are for.

Let me say it again:

Instead of defining ourselves by what we are against,
it is time to define ourselves by who we are for!

It strikes me that there are significant dangers in identifying ourselves by what we are against:

1.) It is intellectually lazy…
That is, it is easy to be a critic. As a critic, I don’t have to work through the demanding discipline of defining a preferred future, I can just attack what I don’t like. Unbridled criticism injures people.

2.) It is morally arrogant…
My ego likes the idea that I might be somehow superior, and when I posture myself in opposition to the practices and lifestyles of others, I subtly nurture that superiority.

3.) It is spiritually corrupting…
When I rail against the immoral behaviors of someone else, I am building an illusion that my own moral failures are less abhorrent. I can hide my personal need and sin behind the blustering and posturing of my rhetoric.

4.) It is a betrayal of the message and heartbeat of Jesus…
… especially heinous when carried out in the name of Jesus. In the most amazing ways Jesus was able to engage “saints” and “sinners.”
He was able to live in the fullness of pure grace and absolute truth. Scores of people with whom many of us would never be at home felt at home with Jesus.

Funny thing, the more I write about what is wrong with this pattern — focusing on what we are against — the more I feel I am doing the very same thing. So, let me shift gears…

I am for people of all stripes who need to know the transforming work of Jesus. I am for those who are broken and those who have lots to give. I am for those who yearn to make a difference in the world and those for whom the world is overwhelming. I am for people who are powerless and for those who have power to spare.

I am for Christians who are trying to figure out how to follow Jesus in a world that is changing from day to day. I am for church leaders who give their lives away in selfless service to others. I am for people.  And, I am for following Jesus into the world and into relationships with people of all types. His was the greatest life ever ever lived and the incarnation of hope for mankind.

Since this blog is about the lessons I am learning at the intersection of life and leadership, I need to add a word for those in positions of influence. It is time for all of to dial down the hostile rhetoric and dial up compassionate listening.

Book of the Year

Of all the books I read last year, Just Courage stands out as book of the year for me. It is inspiring, provocative, prophetic and although only 132 pages, it has gotten under my skin like no book I have read in a long time.  Here is a sample glimpse into Gary’s point:

“At the end of the day we thought our Christian life would be more than this—-somehow larger, more significant, more vivid, more glorious. But it’s not. Driving to church on Sunday feels a bit like Ground Hog Day, the movie where Bill Murray’s character is forced to pathetically relive exactly the same day over and over again.”
(p. 25-26)

“The idea that there is nothing beyond our personal spiritual development isn’t meant to be satisfying—-for our rescue is not the ultimate destination; it is the indispensible means by which God works out his plan to rescue the world.”  (p. 29)

Just Courage makes a powerful case for God’s call to his people to engage in the work of justice. And, not just for the redemptive impact on those struggling with injustice, but for how responding to this call is liberating for Christians as well.  “God specifically uses the work of justice as the pathway for liberating us from the Christian cul-de-sac of triviality and small fears.” (p. 39)

Haugen’s book fits on a larger page that God has been writing in my life. It is a call to all of us who follow Christ to move outside the walls of ecclesiastical safety and into the lives of people touched by the brokenness of our world. It is a call to follow Jesus in the world he was motivated to reach. It is an invitation to participate in the redemptive work that God is all about.

I could go on, but what I would love is for you to get a copy, read it, and drop me a note with your thoughts. Let’s have a dialog.  {Click the image of the book and go straight to Amazon to order it.}
[P.S. I’ll post thoughts on the two runner-up books in next week.]

A Simpler View of the Church

We live in a world of moving parts. What used to be or at least appeared to be stable and predictable is changing. What was changing is now entirely unfamiliar. Shoot, even gas prices are in such flux that even though we are a car culture we can’t even take driving for granted anymore.

CommunityNow, drop the church into this vortex of change and you start running into destabilizing questions of identity, effectiveness, methodology, etc.

I am committed to the church and in fact have given my life to see her achieve the potential I believe God intended. But to be honest, in this world of complexity we need to re-discover the simple essence of what it means to be the church. I have given it a lot of thought and I’d like to offer a suggestion-a new attempt at definition, if you will.

My best understanding these days of the church as God intended is this: a community on mission.

When we start thinking about all the moving parts associated with the church, we get lost in traditions, methods, organizational structures, buildings, worship styles, denominational distinctives, etc. But when we cut things down to their basic essence, I find that the notion of a “community on mission” nails it.

The church as a community on mission confronts the notion that we can follow Christ or know God fully in isolation, that happens best in the safety, encouragement, wisdom, and diversity of a community. It also confronts the tendency of a well-trained consumerist culture to approach community as a place designed to serve us. A community finds its fullness in the very process of giving itself away. And since, God is a missional God, we find him when we join him in the work he is about.

There is great work being done on what it means to live in community as the people of God and there is equally significant work being done on what it means to live on mission as a normative expression of life. I am convinced these days that the church is an integration of both. As a community we are a place where people share life and discover more of the author of life. On mission we align our lives with His work in this world. We can never be a community apart from mission, nor can we be a missional enterprise apart from community.

Redecorating a One Room House

Over lunch in central Romania, across the table from a Hungarian church planter named Josef, I heard someone describe ways the church of North America. It was a conversation whose context helped make it profoundly unforgettable.

shifting the furniture

The subject of our conversation was the speed and complexity of change facing the church in former Soviet-bloc countries. While people in the U.S. often feel perplexed by the undertow of tidal change within our culture, these eastern-bloc countries have experienced change in the past 15 years that took us 75 years. Yet, his comments have direct application for us.

Josef’s comments, “so much of the time, the church is like people inside a one-room building who are busy rearranging the furniture but ignoring the real question. The fact is, we are ignoring the fact that we are still in a one-room building and nothing has changed. We are so busy with church activities that everyone is worn out and we aren’t bringing about real change. The church of Hungary is typically irrelevant to thepeople and life of our country.”

I fell in love with this man. He is culturally and organizationally astute. For years he ran an international import-export business and resisted God’s prompting to become a pastor. In his words, “I never wanted to become a pastor. They are poor, they have large families, and they are generally irrelevant.”

What’s my point? Moving the furniture around creates a busyness that masquerades as change, but it isn’t. The man sitting at a bar with his friend are not talking about the longing of their souls for a local church that is using PowerPoint and video clips. We live in a world that perceives the church as irrelevant and self-absorbed-at best. The world around us is looking for a church that will move outside its walls and into relationship with messy people and hurting world.

I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, we will be those who give themselves to a new day for the church.