Monday, February 18, 2008

Operation De-tox - 365 days and counting

A year ago today was the day Julie and I began a process a writer calls de-toxing. Little did we realize how much in our life would be changing in that year. Little did we realize how much that would begin to realize how much more needed to change.

Since moving back to Colorado I had the opportunity to hang out with a guy named John White, US Coordinator for DAWN ministries. John's background is similar to my own in that he has religious oriented education and served for a number of years as a church staff member before his journey led him outside the walls of an established organizational structure and into this wild world where we now find ourselves. On my first occasion to hang out with John we both told our stories. It was very interesting when John indicated his own de-toxing experience has lasted for almost two decades so far. And here I was thinking we were "almost there."

So, here's some observations after a year of our own experience (side note... don't misread any one observation as a standalone... they all must be considered in light of and interdependent upon the others...):

  1. We are spiritually richer and deeper. I'm guessing due to the fact that we MUST feed ourselves and can't depend on spoon feeding that comes as "going with the flow" of the busy life inside the walls.

  2. We have missed the social comfort provided by the established organizational approach.

  3. More people matter. Having made a move during the first year of our de-tox experience it has become obvious to us how much we depended on the established organization to find and maintain friendships. After nearly five months of standing on our front porch longing for God's prompting to engage one of our neighbors I was delighted to finally have an extended conversation with someone on our street this last week. It was exhilarating! I never longed for relationships with those around me or those I'd encountered until my social crutch was removed. Maybe this phenomenon of having comfortable friendships was unique to Julie and I, but nonetheless we are so much more observant as to who God has placed us around and opportunities to engage them in conversation.

  4. Less seems to promote more. (Now before I go any further with this one and lest some say it wouldn't be the same for everyone, I have to say I agree. I've watched numerous folks "walk away from church" because they had a bad experience or found other things to entertain themselves.) I can't tell you the number of times during 22 years of "serving the church" either as a staff member, or a denominational employee and lay leader I heard the phrase "we need deeper Bible study." I won't say we've spent more time in "personal study" in the last year, but I can tell you we've spent more "as you are going" time learning and looking. Here's the biggee in this one... more impact on how we think and how we live. Almost like our spiritual lives were on auto-pilot before and we were free to be distracted by all the other stuff going on around us. Now we find we wrestle more often and more instantaneously, without requiring a sermon or song to prompt us with things like forgiveness, faith, hope, grace, and more.

  5. Relationships are still vital and valuable. I have a whole new understanding of the phrase "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." This past year I realized I have always interpreted this statement in the context of what I have always known rather than interpreting what I've always known in the context of that statement.

  6. People think we've gone off the deep end. It's interesting to hear some of the "theories" circulating out there about why the Kendall's have "turned their backs on God." (I guess that's another thing that's been great about this experience... we truly are outside the rumor mill - even though we still hear some of the funny hypotheses.)

  7. We struggle more. This is not the "ah ha" some of our skeptical friends are hoping for related to our journey. And it goes hand in hand with the next observation.

  8. Greater sensitivity to God's prompting. Now if we can just be quicker and deeper in obedience. Hence the reason we struggle more.

  9. Seeing more people more like it appears Jesus and God see them. It's interesting on this side of things how much time and energy is spent trying to get the unchurched into church and then how much worry really exists about how much they might mess things up in there. So, lots of time is invested trying to turn those on the outside, who may come in, into little us-es. And often it's not the non-negotiable principles of The Way which we have to change. It's the social aspects that make us uncomfortable.

  10. Control. I still remember a conversation I had with a staff member about some amazing things that were happening outside the walls and how quickly, though there was a desire to mass produce what took months/years to slowly germinate, the issue of control entered into it. Since then I've been consistently amazed how much "control" is a key issue. And the truly humorous thing about it is how little control there truly is within the structure. Only the sense of control exists.

  11. We are not alone out here. Others precede us. Others are joining us out here. Some were never "in" but are out here ahead of us.

  12. I still need more de-toxing. I keep referring to "us" and "we".

So, as we enter our second year of de-toxing today I'm more committed than ever to figure out what it means that the Kingdom of Heaven/God is here... now! After about 22 years of focusing on Jesus as "the truth" I want to see why early followers called themselves "The Way." I want to learn to become more immediately sensitive to seeing God and His work all around me. I want to see more clearly and learn how to communicate the simple truth that God's testimony to Himself exists in everything alive around us. And, I want to do my best to be so on His agenda that all these ideas can change or turn on a dime so I can follow Him wherever and whenever.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sometimes a simple phrase can completely captivate me...

Jesus speaking to a crowd. He began with words about John the Baptist, whose followers had just left after bringing their imprisoned master's question about whether Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting. Then, he addressed those who had shrugged their shoulders at Jesus in several of the cities where he had worked the hardest. Then, it looks like he pauses, almost catching himself on the edge of sinning in his anger and talks to his Father. After that, a short and tender conclusion to his message which included this simple statement:
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. — somewhere between verse 28 & 30 in Matthew 11

What a great short descriptive sentence of Jesus' way of life. I think it's part of being exactly where the Father has for you to be, at exactly the appointed time He has for you to be there, and while there, doing what He brought you there to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. That's "life|simple"!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Out of Context: Tim Keel

There's a lot of talk and buzz these days about simple church. Numerous people and organizations are making a significant amount of money talking and teaching about it as the answer to getting more people to church. Yes, to church. Whatever they call it or however they organize it... church. Action and reaction. Pendulums go one way and swing back the other.

This quote was posted the other day on a blog I read occassionally.
In the modern world, we tend to reduce the complexity and diversity of the Scriptures to simple systems, even when our systems flatten the diversity and integrity of the biblical witness.

So now, there's already a reaction beginning to build on how the teaching of the church has been oversimplified. The pendulum swings are getting closer and closer together.

I find it amazing that my own back to the words of Jesus approach actually un-veiled a very simple message.
From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government!

Matthew 4:23

So, this brings us back to Mr. Keel's quote from the Out of the Ur blog and the position that churches have oversimplified the Bible. Perhaps as man, we tend to look for systems. Complex or simple, we need a system so we know what we do and do not have to do. So we can keep a little book about whether we've fulfilled our religious duty each week. I read somewhere that when relationships fail rules are required. God in the flesh required three years of life on life living with the twelve chosen to carry the message to the uttermost parts of the earth. Three years. Nearly 24/7/1095 (3x365).

I contend that Jesus' message was very simple. So simple in fact, he had to untrain them from the religious way of thinking so he could re-orient their thinking to the simplicity of the central theme of his message. More simple than the books and seminars on simple church have made it. I contend that Jesus continually showed the difference between living with the temporal things of the world at the center of your life and living a God-life with the Kingdom at the core. What we've built the systems around, simple or complex, are what I have discovered and call the contexts of which he took advantage to illustrate his simple message. His message can truly be applied to any context and illustrated by uncountable stories and realities (14 When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. 15 They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Romans 2).

I contend that our fallen and corrupt nature alone cannot allow us to understand the vast simplicity of what he taught, and, most importantly what he lived and showed us through how he lived. I contend that religious systems, in order to thrive, must propagate a system upon which they can be built. Jesus left no system. Here's a great quote I read yesterday:
What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straitjacket, often chocked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control; faith can trust. Control therefore may be good, but trust is better.

Houses That Change The World by Wolfgang Simson

And here's what Paul had to say about it in Romans:

What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. 28 We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade....

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it. Trusting God

Romans 3:27-28, 31

"Our lives get in step with God... by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does." That is the simplicity of living as a Christ Follower. That is the foundation upon which any sense of structure in the life of a Christ Follower should be built. Unfortunately, we've traded a visible structure (he goes to church, he teaches, he tithes, he serves) that looks like it has the right foundation for the true foundation itself (we respond to what God does). As long as what we see "looks right", according to the simple or the complex structure outlined by man, we assume the whole is in line with God. Unfortunately, what we have is people in step with checklists, and when those checklists happen to line up with what God is doing we're in line, but when they are out of line... so are those who follow them. Because we are focused on the list, on our own agendas, it seems simpler to follow that checklist than learn how to look intently for God, simpler to see a page of do's and don'ts than truly see God.

Think honestly for a moment. When was the last time you saw God, and responded to what you saw? I'm not talking about an emotional or intellectual response based on stimulus provided by another person. I'm talking about you seeing God up to something and responding. Sadly, I'm afraid few of those today who claim to be Christ Follower have ever seen God and responded to that glimpse apart from someone else's stimulus. God did not mean for it to be this way. It's not what Jesus showed his closest followers while here walking among them, and it's not what those follower's encouraged in the years immediately following Jesus' ascension.

Yes, since stepping away from the busy-ness of structure conscious religious life, which I used to think was the God-life, I've not "done" as much. However, waiting on and responding to what God is doing... I'm amazed at what I've seen God do. The life-change that was sadly missing from 100's of lives weekly invested in according to the checklists God allows me to see every time I simply follow Him. That's the complex simplicity of being a Christ Follower. I would re-write Mr Keel's quote thusly:

In the modern world, we tend to complicate and compartmentalize the simple message and example of the life of Jesus into formalized systems - complex and simple - even when those systems and their checklists become our focus rather than simply walking in step with God like his son showed us.