March 15, 2018

Ambition and Longing

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash
NOTE: I was asked to contribute to a Lenten devotional, reflecting on the Scripture passages assigned in the lectionary for today. Here is what I contributed.

How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? John 5.44

I have found in my life that when I feel most unworthy and incapable is when I most desperately think to control things. Recklessly, I set out to shape monuments that assure me of my value and accomplishment. I am not alone in this. This is what humanity has throughout history. With the realization of how frail a command we have over our environment, we tighten our grip and string a better tale.

And then Jesus comes along.

Jesus comes into human history announcing that we do not have to hide from brokenness. It is there in our fragility that he meets us. Worth, capacity, accomplishment. None of these are what require Christ’s presence in our lives. We are loved simply because we have belonged to God from the very beginning. This is good news.

It is actually quite difficult to live a life of fashioning gods into our image. It requires a life of ceaseless ambition. That nagging sense inside of that there needs to be more was not intended to cover up that sense of how flawed we often are. Rather than ambition that feeling in its most raw and honest sense is longing; a longing to be in the arms of the God who made us.

Like a child that lashes out after being caught misbehaving, I often find myself attempting to shadow my shortcomings rather than welcome the embrace of a Creator who loves me and welcomes me as I am. Yet, this is not what only what I called to be reminded of myself but the good news to share with those around me.

You are not your accomplishments or your failures. You are God’s. And you are loved whomever you are, wherever you are, just as you are.

March 14, 2018

What's Your ID Number?

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash
My daughter is working on getting her driver's license. This scares me to death as we live in a state in which most drivers apparently view pedestrians as targets, turn signals as useless and red lights merely as suggestions. Nonetheless, we are in the midst of dealing with the DMV of Texas. At one point, we attempted to call and set up an appointment and get a few questions answered. Not long into listening to the automated response, my daughter said, "Dad, I need your driver's license number." "Why?" I responded. "So I can talk to someone."

At this point, I knew we were in trouble.

You see, I don't assume that the DMV of the Lone Star State is any worse than other states but starting off service with this simple expectation exposes a fatal flaw. The DMV system assumes a caller has a driver's license, that is to say, the caller is already a "customer." They have already established that it will be difficult for the person without ID to get service.

Of course, being how my mind works I went immediately to the parallels this experience has with church life.

When my wife and I decided to become members of the Episcopal Church we were handed paperwork to fill out and asked to provide certain documentation. I looked at the lovely church lady handing this to me and said, "Um, my situation is a little complicated."

My wife was baptized twice ... I was baptized at a bachelor party ... No kidding ... I'll have to tell you those stories another time.

My point here is that the look on the face of this dear woman was a look of frustration. I didn't fit the mold. I didn't come with the right paperwork. I was an outsider. Her face said, "What am I going to do with you? You've complicated things. You're going to make me work harder. You don't fit."

It doesn't require bachelor parties and doubling down on baptism and church membership to have such an experience as an outsider coming into the church–of any denomination. Our systems are too often set up to serve insiders. Just like my experience with the DMV, too many outsiders call in, they want to be a part of a faith community and the response they get is, "What's your ID number?" In other words, "Do you already belong to us? Because we're really not set up to care about outsiders."

People are not opposed to doing paperwork, taking classes and jumping through bureaucratic hoops when they know they are wanted. But they have no loyalty (and shouldn't) to institutions with such expectations but do not care for the person. Churches that have set themselves up to receive outsiders do the extra work not in order to relieve the outsider from showing effort but to ensure the outsider knows they are wanted, that they matter.

The term "missional" works off this assumption that God is at work in world; within and also beyond  the confines of our church buildings and in the lives of those outside of the church. If this be the case–if God is equally at work in the lives of outsiders and insiders, we insiders should be enthusiastic about getting to know those that live their lives outside of our circles. We should be even more enthusiastic when they show interest in our communities. Jesus told a story about a shepherd who celebrated finding the one lost sheep, prioritizing its safety over all of those already in the fold. May we have such enthusiasm.

March 2, 2018

Bonus: Talk at Discovery Retreat

This week you get another bonus episode! This is from a talk I gave at a retreat for those discerning Christian vocations. Let me know how you like these bonus episodes. Reach out and let me know.

Music created by Adam Powell of Best Friends Creative.

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March 1, 2018

My Latest Newsletter Went Out

My newsletter just went out again. You missed it this time. But you can subscribe here and get it next time it goes out. It's where I share the stuff I am working on; news about my podcast, what I'm doing at work, music I'm listening to, books I'm reading, etc. All in one place. In your inbox.

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February 28, 2018

No two communities are alike

Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash
"No two communities are alike."

"There are as many kinds of missional communities as there are people interested in starting them."

I say things like this on a regular basis. It makes people anxious. They don't like the uniqueness, the endless possibilities to get it right or wrong. I confess that I don't think the problem is my conviction concerning the endless variety and opportunity concerning new expressions of the church. Rather, I think the problem is that we have over systematized our processes. We have convinced ourselves that there is a cookie-cutter methodology that can be used to create leaders and faith communities.

That doesn't work.

Well, on one hand you could say it works. It worked in colonialism. It works when we commodify faith, making it no more than religious goods and services in exchange for your payment, er, I mean tithe.

If you agree that colonizing and commodifying faith does not work than you have to struggle with the realization that your contribution, your personality, your gifts matter. The hopes and hurts of each community, neighborhood or context matters.

Is this way harder? Maybe. But it's certainly more exciting and life-giving.