Thinking Out Loud

May 28, 2012

Sometimes, The Christian Life is Just Plain Messy

My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus, I keep losing him in the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

Most of the moments of my life seem hopelessly tangled in a web of obligations and distractions. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness.I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing. I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost sixty, and I fail on a regular basis. If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what people would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like “He was a nice guy” or “He was occasionally decent” or “Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.” Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. “Mike was a mess.” 

When I was younger, I believed my inconsistency was due to my youth. I believed that age would teach me all I needed to know and that when I was older I would have learned the lessons of life and discovered the secrets of true spirituality. I am older, a lot older, and the secrets are still secret from me.I often dream that I am tagging along behind Jesus, longing for him to choose me as one of his disciples. Without warning, he turns around, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “Follow me!” My heart races, and I begin to run toward him when he interrupts with, “Oh, not you; the guy behind you. Sorry.”I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life, and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up mostdays with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is . . . uh . . . meandering.So I’ve decided to write a book about the spiritual life.

When a decade later people are still raving about a book as though it were published yesterday, it’s a good idea to sit up and take notice. When people whose reading tastes you trust keep talking about that one book that you never got around to reading, it’s a good idea to check it out.

Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties, and therefore, by default, it’s magazine, the classic Wittenburg Door, a magazine that was very influential in my spiritually formative years. Sadly, a year after writing his signature book, Messy Spirituality in 2002, Michael was killed in a traffic accident.

I finished reading Messy Spirituality yesterday, and it’s significant to be blogging this fact on a Monday. We’ve all just come from weekend services where we interacted with other members of our  faith family, people who outwardly seem to have it all together. There’s a lot of posturing at church, and you’ll see better acting there on a Sunday morning than at any of the finest shows on Broadway.

But not all of us are perfect. Some of us are misfits. Some of us are tainted by sin. Some of us are broken by circumstances. Some of us are just plain lost and confused.

This is why Jesus came. This is why we needed a Savior.

This brokenness, our messiness, is not something to sweep under the rug or try to cover up with cosmetics; it’s something to celebrate.

Messy Spirituality is a book that reminds not-so-perfect people that we are loved and accepted as we are; we don’t have to clean up first to come to church or to come to him.  Through many anecdotes from Michael’s later career as pastor of a small church, and reminders of Christ’s ministry on earth, Michael weaved a tapestry that brought tears to my eyes several times.

This is a book that will appeal to readers of Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey and Wayne Jacobsen.  This is a book “for the rest of us;” those who find their spiritual life is, at times, simply messy. 

Read another excerpt from the book at C201

Messy Spirituality was published in 2002 in hardcover and released in 2007 in paperback by Zondervan. Unlike some review books here, this one was purchased by myself and is staying a part of my permanent book collection.

February 9, 2011

Wednesday Link List

So here’s the question:  If something is being posted and linked all over the blogosphere, should I include it here, or do I assume you’ve read it elsewhere?  Sometimes I exclude items that are ubiquitous in Christian Blogland, but then I always wonder if that means someone misses something I assumed everyone knew.  Leave your opinion in the comments.  And now, on to this week’s list:

  • David MacGregor’s blog introduces the Hillsongs recording of It is Well With My Soul, recorded as a benefit for Queensland flood relief.   But as a minister in Brisbane, he finds the song hard to sing at this early stage of the rebuilding effort.
  • “Many scholars believe, and I am persuaded, that the biblical Gospel of Matthew was designed to be used by the church as a catechism, or handbook for training disciples.”  This is theme of an article by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk which kicks of a series.
  • Okay this one was overdue.  Fox KTLA’s report begins: “Crystal Cathedral’s chief financial officer –- who received a six-figure housing allowance from the now-bankrupt church –- has retired after 33 years with the organization. Fred Southard, 75, said he believed it was time to let someone else have a chance at his job, and that he wanted to help the ministry reduce expenses.”  Yes.  Definitely.  Give that six-figure job to someone else now that there’s probably not enough money to support a four-figure job.  Of course, Southward justifies himself as the job was once “a ministerial function” albeit in “the early days.”
  • It’s weird, but as I was reading Pete Wilson’s post Everyone Needs Healing, it reminded me of the first part of the worship chorus Mighty to Save.  We are all broken people for whom the cross of Christ is sufficient.
  • How does a guy from Alabama end up spending most of the past decade doing campus ministry in The Philippines?  That was the question we asked here exactly a year ago in a profile of Kuya Kevin.   BTW, his blog is still going strong.
  • Andy Pierson at SoulJournaler discovers that denominational differences make the Christian blogosphere a cruel place sometimes.  Here’s a sentence I wish I’d written: ” Because I do not come forward with a specific denominational statement I am in this nebulous no-man’s land. I have on the other hand made very clear “statements of faith” through blog posts.”  There’s more stuff here some bloggers might identify with.
  • It appears the Fred Phelps gang’s annual picketing at San Diego’s Comic-Con met their match when a much larger group decided to drown out their message with one of their own.
  • Their restaurants are closed on Sunday so you know that Chick-Fil-A is a very pro Christian establishment.  But these days, pro-Christian is assumed to mean anti-gay.  Especially when you donate food to one group and not another.   Read the article at CNN’s Eatocracy blog.
  • Yet another article on the church’s approach to the LGBT community?  Yes, I included this one because Julie Clawson nicely summarizes the various categories that a church’s approach to this issue might fall into.  Not including the extremes, of course.
  • Erik Raymond calls his article Prioritize Priorities: Things I Wish I Knew Before Planting a Church, but in fact, this young pastor from Omaha, Nebraska offers some basic advice that can never be repeated enough.  HT: DD
  • Wil Mancini has Eleven Trends for 2011 at Out of Ur.  One of those trends that is emerging in various quarters:  Small is the new big.
  • Something a little different now:  Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian, suggests 10 Ways Liberal Christianity Loses Credibility.  Sample: “Gate-Keeping Social Justice — Just because someone disagrees with us theologically, that does not mean that any actions of social justice that they take on is invalid.”
  • A longer article at Reboot Christianity contrasts the way we understand what it means to “do ministry” with the way the early church would have understood it.  “Most evangelical churches would be scandalized if a pastor taught such things! Imagine…shutting down all those programs and ministries, and instead teaching the Bible every day, fellowshiping with other believers constantly, and giving generously to your community (with no strings attached). Pastors would lose their jobs left and right.”
  • Challies notes that Bart Ehrman has heated up his rhetoric to the point of calling New Testament writings “forgeries.”  Here’s a sample of this article: “Ehrman’s beef is not so much with ancient forgers but with present-day believers who uncritically accept Biblical writings as genuine and consider it a sacrilege to question the Bible’s authenticity. “Forged” is just the latest bombshell Ehrman has lobbed at his former co-religionists.”
  • Here’s the 411 on the graphic below.  [cue the extra reverb]  It’s CAPTAIN SALVATION. Christian Comic International is reporting that “North Carolina USA based Salvation Comics is publishing a new, full-color super-hero comic book entitled “Captain Salvation,” written by Curt Hawn and illustrated by former Marvel and DC artist Greg Waller (“Stargate SG-1,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Lady Death”). The Christian character-based company was founded by Hawn and Joshua Carpenter who met in 2002 as youth leaders at a church summer camp. Hawn sold a company he started in Atlanta to finance the project. Carpenter is an alumni from Christ For The Nations Institute and is operating as National Sales Director for the company. The first series, “The Kingdom Strikes Back,” will be a 5-issues in length.   Read more at The Spectral Realm.

January 26, 2011

Wednesday Link List

IMHO, everything here is a must-read / must-watch this week.

  • Should I stay or should I go? If you’re in leadership, remember that not everybody is told to journey into a far country like Abraham, or for that matter Francis Chan. Steven Furtick shares a special 9-minute video message.
  • With people hungry or in great physical need, why invest money in Bible translation? This link will take you to a series of four articles by Eddie and Sue Arthur that will deal with the question(s), ‘Why not provide water or food or medicine first?‘ If you can’t get to all of them, read The Bible and Hunger.
  • Imagine my surprise on learning that the beloved King James translation of the Bible — celebrating a four-century anniversary this year — relied heavily on borrowing from a previous translation.
  • What burdens are you carrying?  Ron Edmondson asked his congregation that question and provides a statistical breakdown of the over 1,000 responses on the common struggles we all face. You can also watch the sermon he preached at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. I may come back to this in a few days here, too.
  • It’s Cross and the Switchblade all over again; only this time it’s the lions and the kings who are gettin’ ready for a rumble at the schoolyard. This video has actually been out six months now, but check out “God Save The Foolish Kings” by House of Heroes, a song that truly reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
  • Many have expressed concern over the ‘Christianization’ of yoga; concern with some churches offering yoga classes weekly. But now a Hindu group is sharing that concern, and want to see the religious roots of yoga brought to the forefront, albeit for different reasons.
  • What’s in a church name? Plenty. Do it right or you’ll end up — justifiably — on Fail Blog like this church did.
  • And speaking of names, next time you’re in a wider-market bookstore and you see the word “devotional” on a title, you can no longer assume it’s a Christian or even a religious title.
  • There will always be things that take place in the Body of Christ that cause the corners of our mouths to turn up a bit. But what about this whole subject of humor? In a rare editorial, the curator of  Sacred Sandwich explains why the Christian humor and satire site has been heard from less frequently over the past few months.
  • What can’t computers tell us? First it was CCLI tracking the top 25 worship songs; now it’s Bible Gateway telling us the top ten Bible verses. “This week on the countdown show, Matthew 6:33 moves up five notches from number 14 to number 9 [applause].”
  • What if you invited a seven-member band to perform at a service that only four people showed up for? Apparently, that happened to Mark Batterson, as outlined in this review of his new book Soulprint at Christian Post.
  • In an excellent lead to what follows, here’s a look at the spiritually-themed panels in the funnies section from the Comics Curmudgeon.
  • Our cartoon this week is artist Vic Lee’s 2007 tribute to the Left Behind series.

October 27, 2010

When is a Blog Not a Blog?

Normally, the Wednesday Link List would be here, and I’ve had comments both on and off the blog about how much you enjoy it.    Probably, it will be back next week, but today it’s not going to happen for two reasons:

  1. Although the comments have been most encouraging, the statistics tell another story.   Many people read the page, but only a handful actually click on the links in question.   I’m frustrated with that, and wondering how to change things.
  2. Some of the links have been to sites where I regularly visit and leave comments, and I’ve noticed lately there has been a recurring pattern where comments I’ve left have not been moderator-approved.   I think this is part of a larger issue concerning the “closed community” that has developed on certain blogs that I’ll deal with separately in a few days; but also the personal side inasmuch as I have dealt with various types of rejection from the Christian community throughout my entire life, so that on a subjective level, it hurts.

I’ve also noticed that there is an increasing tendency on some blogs to not allow comments, or just post the first half-dozen and then close comments completely.   One of the most glaring examples of this is Southern Baptist guru, Albert Mohler.    He likes the efficiency of using a content-management-system (CMS) to create an online presence, but isn’t up for the discussions that might follow.   I suppose if you see your page as nothing more than a “web-log,” that’s fine, but living as we do in a Web 2.0 world, the interaction is what makes this sector of the internet so meaningful.   In fact, I don’t know a CMS provider that doesn’t allow for the possibility of response.

So I poured this out in a heartfelt letter composed to Mr. Mohler, only to get back a form letter from his assistant saying he is too busy to respond.   But not to busy to post his daily encyclical.   Contrast this to Nashville multi-site pastor Pete Wilson, a guy who seems accessible on so many levels; or Thomas Nelson publishing president Michael Hyatt.   They’re busy, too; but they realize if they enter into this particular online world, it’s got to be a dialogue not a monologue.

The problem in so much of Christian endeavor is that people are dying to speak and have their views heard, but not so anxious to listen.     Many grew up in a world where Christian radio broadcast the message of preachers to a world that had no opportunity to respond.    Even today, the number of Christian radio and TV ministries that incorporate a “talkback” or “mailbag” segment is embarrassingly small.

If you don’t have time to listen, you need to reconsider the ministry of Jesus.   So many of his responses to people were in the form of a question; and in his case, questions for which he already knew the answers.

Although the comments-to-readers ratio here is somewhat lower than I’d like, I am so very thankful for the people I’ve gotten to know here, especially where the conversation moved off the blog.    I’m also thankful for being the recipient of the same hospitality from other blogs.   And I will continue to link to writers who have something to say even if they don’t reciprocate.

# # # #

FOOTNOTE 1:   The experiment in church planting that I did one hour east of Toronto — Transformation Church — had this as its advertising tag line:   “Ever wished you could put up your hand in church to ask a question?   Now you can.”     Interactivity is a feature today in many newer churches and the need for this is supported by many Christian authors.    But many are slow to catch on to this.

It’s also apparent in our evangelism efforts, where we ask people questions, but the questions have a pre-determined outcome.   (“So if you’ve told a lie, I guess that makes you a liar, right?”)   The end result is that we’re following the template of a set speech; we’re not speaking with we’re speaking to. That’s just so wrong.

FOOTNOTE 2 — Characteristics of Web 2.0

  • Openness
  • Modularity
  • User control
  • Modularity
  • Participation

For more information click here.

Here’s another way of looking at the “ingredients” of Web 2.0:


 


The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.