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I Want to Do it Here

14 October 2011

I went and saw the movie “Moneyball” last night with Carrie, and it was long, interesting, and good. I wasn’t blown out of my seat or anything, at least not at first, it was just enjoyable.

  • I liked the portrayal of Billy Beane – his courage, his inclination to think out of the box, his fatherhood, and his belief in and obsessive focus on winning a baseball championship with the limited resources available to him
  • I liked his unlikely 2nd man, Peter Brand (who reminded me a bit of Mall Cop, both in name and demeanor), and his unique gift set contributing in a powerful way to the whole organization
  • I liked the baseball in the movie, but I really liked the subject of the movie that was shamelessly using baseball to express itself…

What subject?

Fundamental, DNA-level, hard-and-costly-but-potentially-revolutionary, wholesale change.

This movie is not for sports fans (although they will like it), it is for anyone who has ever dreamed of taking on a system that needs to be improved.

There was one scene that awoke something inside my heart that, unbeknownst to me, has needed some cattle-prodding for a while now.

It was at a point where Beane, in implementing a brand new system of how to field a baseball team, finally experienced some success. The Oakland A’s won a record-breaking 20 games in a row. They made history. But Beane, as he surveyed whether this milestone really mattered or not, told his buddy Peter, “Unless we win the last game of the season, everyone in baseball will write us off as a fluke. A romantic experiment that can have some momentary and significant success, but that ultimately is not sustainable and will fail.” (not an exact quote)

He said, “But if we win, then we will have fundamentally changed baseball and made it better. Now that would matter.”

My heart jumped into my throat with excitement, and I was borderline on the verge of tears. I had found myself in the heart of this movie…and I was reminded of how nice it is to feel so…explained.

Beane didn’t merely want a cool record for the record books. He wanted to win. Winning, in baseball, is defined as coming out on top of the MLB Championship game. But even that, at this point, would not be enough… Beane wanted to win the MLB Championship game while utilizing a new, better system.

This explains my heart for the church.

I grew up in a church system that steadfastly believed that regular church attendance, increasing Bible knowledge, and unified agreement on how we should worship on Sundays would produce the “win.” And the definition of a win was clear – it was posted on the bottom of a number-tallying bulletin board in the hallway by the exit door: “Weekly Sunday Attendance Goal: 1000!”

If we had 1000 people attending on Sundays, people who came regularly, were increasing in Bible knowledge, and worshipped in the way we thought was right we would have considered that winning the MLB Championship. Of course, and rightly so, we would not have stopped there – just like a MLB team wouldn’t quit playing just because they won a pennant – but it still would have been significant. It would have mattered to us.

But that doesn’t matter to me. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to do my part as a “General Manager” of a little “ball-club” in Amarillo, TX to show the world that there is a better way, a better system, a truer one, one that is both more effective and closer to the intent and heart of God.

What’s the better system I’d like to see us implement with our team? Relationships. Intimate, brotherly, sisterly, authentic, and Christ-centered relationships with God and others.

While I’m way more comfortable categorizing a “win” with the admittedly ambiguous words “Kingdom growth,” I certainly would not be discouraged if we starting having 1000 people in our pews on Sunday mornings each week. But I do not merely want 1000 people in the pews…I want 1000 people in the pews because of, and because they want to help co-create, our new, better, truer system.

At one point in the movie, young Peter was scared. He felt like Beane was living out the vision of the new system a little too purely, in a way and at a pace that was going to be too hard to explain or defend to the baseball establishment. He knew that if they implemented the vision too zealously, they could lose their jobs. Beane, on the other hand, knew that if they implemented the vision partially, the system-schizophrenic team would lose their games, and then they most certainly would lose their jobs. He knew that even if they by some fluke won, the establishment would point to all the things that remained of the old system (along with a little bit of pure baseball “magic”) as the reason for their success.

Beane, in the face of Peter’s fear and tentativeness, said definitively that he was going to see this through…all the way. Then he provocatively asked Peter, in a “be-careful-what-you-say-next-because-I’ll-expect-you-to act-like-its-true” sort of way,  “Do you believe in this system or not?”

“Yes. I do. Totally,” was his slow, methodical, fully-owning it reply.

Enough said. Because of this pair’s resolve, the plot of the movie could go on.

I felt like Beane was talking to me. Do I believe in this new system, this truer way of being God’s church? Do I believe that this matters, or not?

Yes. I do. Totally.

So, I too can go on. Praise God.

It’s an important question. Even the usually-resolved Beane found himself asking, at one point in the movie, while driving alone in his pickup contemplating, “What. Am. I . Doing.”

What I am doing is making disciples of Jesus Christ through loving, spiritual friendships. And I’m asking our church family to organize itself in a new way, within a new system, so that they can do the same.

I’m seeing some amazing milestones, some truly incredible fruit from our church’s intentional transition from the old faithful ways to these new and equally faithful ways. But I don’t want to be satisfied until we win the proverbial “last game of the season”.

I want to be able to look at our church family and see everyone in it actively and obviously living their whole life for God’s glory, obviously and willingly becoming more and more like Christ, and offering themselves as spiritual friends to all the hurting people in this city who need the relief and abundant life that Christ offers.

One more parallel from the movie: At the end, Beane is called by the Boston Red Sox and offered more money than any sports manager had ever been offered if he would just come there to implement his new system. He would have willing bosses, willing co-workers, and willing participants, and more money to implement it than Oakland had.

But he didn’t go. Why? “Because I want to do it here,” Beane said, while sitting in the Oakland locker room.

This captures the heart behind why, when given the chance, I decided against both planting a church or leaving the Church of Christ (and this is not to be mistaken as a condemnation of either). God knows that what we are doing here at Southwest, while rare, is not unique to us. There are church plants that begin with nothing but like-minded people, sparing their home churches the pain of transition, and themselves the discouragements of meeting resistance. And there are other denominations that are years, if not decades, ahead of us on this journey that I could potentially partner with.

But I want to do it here. The Church of Christ people are my people. They have loved me. They have raised me. They have tolerated me. They have survived me. They have enabled me. They have taught me. They have not been perfect, any more than I have. But they…they are mine. And I am theirs.

The Red Sox went on to win the MLB World Series two years later, without Beane, but with his new system. I don’t think this discouraged him. As a matter of fact, their success with the same system in Boston probably fueled his commitment to working towards it in Oakland.

And he still is.

And so am I. I don’t want to go somewhere were it might be easier to make disciples through relationships. I want to do it here.

Resurrection

12 October 2011

“Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” – John 20: 24-29

The claim was nothing short of unbelievable. Jesus said he would die and then rise to life. And now his buddies tell him that, sure enough, they had seen Jesus die and then rise to life.

Thomas wasn’t buying it.

Why would he? It’s a ridiculous, unrealistic thought. Honestly, I really respect Thomas. His realism didn’t make him a 2nd class follower of Christ. He was the whole package!

  • He left everything to follow Jesus (Mk 10:28). Can I say I’ve done that?
  • He had internally resolved that following Jesus was worth dying for, and led the others in this view (Jn 11:16). Have you?
  • And in the quote above, once Jesus did address him in his rational skepticism, he went further than any of the other guys did by declaring Jesus to be nothing less than God Himself.

Have I made Jesus, God?

Pause. Let me clarify. Or elaborate. Or whatever it is I’m doing here.

If making Jesus my God means that I revolve my life around him, my thoughts around him, my behavior around him…then yes.

If making Jesus my God means that I go to him for guidance, answers, and even life…then yes.

If making Jesus my God means that I strive to obey what he teaches, do what he does, and become more like him in character, mission, and priorities…then yes.

My question today, however, is…have I made the RESURRECTED Jesus my God?

Thomas had done all those things I listed above, too. He believed in Jesus who lived and died and represented God. He didn’t argue or leave his apprenticeship with him when Jesus said he was God (Jn 14:8-9). It was the resurrected Jesus he doubted.

And it matters…at least to me. And it comes down to this:

I can’t believe in the resurrected Jesus without believing that miracles can happen.

What I have come to recognize is that I can follow Jesus “as God” in two different ways, and few if any would ever notice but me.

Option 1: I can follow the good, holy, serving, compassionate, confronting, challenging, and “gave-his-life-for-my-sin” Jesus as God. This will save my soul (I think), make me an activist for the poor and hurting (most of the time, at least), cause me to worship regularly out of awe and gratitude (with others and in my heart), stand up for truth (even as I’m continuing to learn it), and share Christ with others.

The problem with option 1 Jesus as God? I would not believe that miraculous new life on Earth would be possible.

Option 2 is what I need. I’m after nothing short of world-change for people’s hearts and lives (including mine). Not current world-adjustment. Not current world-improvement. Not current world-tweaking.

The world-change I’m after for people is world-resurrection. Which means a death must occur. And who in their right mind would recommend death to someone as a solution?

The answer? Only those who believe in the resurrection.

Believing in the resurrected Jesus as God makes me a believer in the potential death and resurrection of every person (including me) I meet. So I look at them differently. They can feel it. And when I start being convinced by them that their situations have hopelessly trapped them into being who it is they currently are, and this sadly DOES happen to me sometimes, I can literally feel my disbelief in the potential for that person to have and enjoy a brand new life.

And something dies in me when this happens. Something dies, and the best I can offer them is some money, or a prayer, or my compassionate presence, or a ride, or a meal, or a comforting focus on the suffering of Christ for their sins, and the promise of a better life in Heaven after this sucky life is over.

But not hope.

At least, not hope for the abundant life (that Jesus said he came to give) now. There is no chance for them to enjoy the Kingdom of peace, joy, and righteousness now. Not when I only make an unresurrected Jesus God.

I guess technically, I belong to the camp Jesus referred to as “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

But I feel more like Thomas than one would expect; like I have personally and proverbially put my own hands in the side of Jesus. I have seen the wounds on his hands that killed him. And yet there he is. Alive. New. And with him, the whole world changed for me. No old self, dead, with all of it’s curses, and my new self alive and kickin!

I, like Thomas, can now say to the resurrected Jesus… my Lord and my God!

I know…

11 October 2011

I know it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted. For those who have missed it, I apologize.

For the rest of you, I hope you have enjoyed the break.

And even now, I’m using my blog as a shameless promotion tool of some more old books I have for sale on eBay… for you or for you to forward to those who might have an interest.

I’m beginning to save up for my Daddy-Daughter trip to the Philippines next summer on a mission trip (yes, like the one I took with Shade this past summer and that I haven’t written to you about), that may turn into an all-family mission trip, so I need to start raising funds early.

Check out the books here.

Included:

  • 2 Church of Christ/Restoration Movement treasures: An 1960s ACU Lectureship book, and a 1970s Jimmy Allen book.
  • A religious book written by American politician William Jennings Bryan.
  • A rare and old book from the 1600s (yes, it is even in English, published in London)…this one is very cool, you won’t regret checking it out (but it will cost you to own it!)

Thanks to all of you who regularly support me in these crazy adventures of mine.

Old Cool Books for Sale

8 February 2011

Click http://shop.ebay.com/brianmash/m.html and some more really cool old books can be yours.

I added some very rare Christian classics!

New Blog Location

11 February 2010

We have decided to make a change from Blogger to a WordPress blog. My blog will now be found at http://www.brianmashburn.net. My old blog at brianmashburn.blogspot.com will no longer be updated.

 

Everyone on the e-mail list WILL continue to receive an e-mail when a new post is made. However, we will no longer be sending out the entire post via e-mail. Subscribing and unsubscribing to this list is done in the sidebar of the blog.

 

Let me know if any of you are not cool with this change so that I can laugh at how 90s you are.

The Restoration of Discipleship

5 February 2010

 

It is enough for a student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” – Jesus Christ

 

Months ago, when I started this post before storing it away in my drafts, I had received a catalog in the mail from the bookstore of a Christian college associated with the Church of Christ. I opened it looking to see if they offered a Greek language study workbook that they used to carry years ago. My heart both flared up defensively and started weeping with compassion as I read titles of books that, instead of fixing people’s eyes on Jesus, were fixing people’s eyes on the historical and contemporary church. I wish I still had it now to list more, but one of the titles I remember was called What about Instrumental Music in Worship?

Shew. I’m getting to the point where I don’t have the energy to answer that question any more. I want to just respond, “What about it?” My friend who is strung out on prescription drugs and checked into rehab isn’t going to be healed by how he worships on Sunday. My son who is getting baptized this weekend (!!!) isn’t going to be saved because he believes one way or the other about that issue. My buddy trapped in a life of aggression and anger because he was hurt as a kid by a villainous adult and made the agreement that he “will never be weak again!” WILL NOT BE HEALED BY READING THAT BOOK AND TAKING IT’S MESSAGE TO HEART.

Ya feel me?

There is such a huge difference between a religion that seeks to help people imitate Jesus Christ in heart, character, priorities and mission and a religion that seeks to imitate the historical church’s external worship practices, belief systems, gathering habits, life philosophies and superficial doctrines.

Now, before I go on, I’m not outright condemning the focus on church. After all, the church is the bride of Christ. The church is the group of people on planet earth that Christ indwells to continue his presentation of  himself to the world today in the flesh. The bride’s worship practices matter, her belief systems are important, and her philosophies and doctrines make a huge difference in how they live life, what message they carry to the world, and whether or not they are continuing to represent God on earth in the way that Jesus did.

But…and this is a very big but…the focus on the church as a pattern for how we are to "do church", rather than a focus on Christ as a pattern for how we "do life", is a focus riddled with danger. Life-stealing, legalism-producing, religion-focused, anger-inciting, divisive danger that distracts people from the only Source of salvation of any kind. I have seen (in myself as much as in others, mind you) as much un-Christlikeness come from the (well-intentioned) focus on the church as I have from any other misguided focus on the planet.

Based on this off-the-mark focus…

  • I’ve seen people try to convert people to certain worship practices rather than to Christ (ex: I argued with my Baptist school-mate Ron in high school about our different views on baptism, and we both did so quite zealously, right in front of non-Christian Cheryl, who sat behind us, silently making her decisions concerning what Christianity must be all about based on us.)
  • I’ve seen people leave (and recruit other people to leave) churches because of doctrinal issues that had nothing to do with becoming more like Christ (ex: I know a guy who left his ministry position in a church because he disagreed with one of the members who was a Bible class teacher and didn’t hold his view on the 2nd coming of Christ).
  • I’ve seen groups of Christ followers completely part ways, sometimes into more than 2 groups (!), over a philosophical difference (ex: a whole church I know split right down the middle, one group investing in and maintaining a whole other campus, simply because one group wanted to financially support a Children’s Home).
  • I’ve seen people outright condemn to hell God-honest, love-motivated people who exhibit every one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5) because they didn’t see their way about the practices of church (ex: I have a copy of a book called "the Smith-Hunt debate" where, in the forward, it is acknowledged that "our definite agreement on the essentials of the gospel and New Testament Christianity were wonderfully noted." However, in the same forward, it was acknowledged that the issue being debated (instrumental music) was considered by some as a "test for fellowship". What??? How can the essentials of the gospel be agreed upon, but the difference of opinion on this doctrine was a test for whether we are saved by that gospel message or not?)
  • I’ve seen people use the word "Biblical" in ways that would astound the Bible’s writers, making them look at each other amazed at the distance people can go in missing the point. (ex: "It’s not Biblical to have a choir sing in church." – This means that there is no command or example of a choir being used by any church in the Bible, so to use it is "unbiblical" and therefore "sinful", and therefore, if you do it, you are going to hell when you die).

I could go on and on.

The Christian movement I have come out of (which I deeply love and appreciate, by the way, despite what this piece may seem to reflect) is called the "Restoration Movement".

It has as it’s premise the idea of Christian unity based on the restoration of the New Testament church in our day. This sounds at first to be a noble call. It sends you to the Bible, to be sure, but it sends you there looking for the church. You’ll look for it’s practices, it’s beliefs, and it’s actions. You’ll then start building your own church’s practices, beliefs, and actions based on that. As the theory goes, if all churches did this, our differences would be solved, all because we practice the same religious practices found listed in the Bible. Unity accomplished.

Some problems I have with this:

  • When you go to the Bible looking for the church, you often skip over the verses that speak of Christ, the bringer of unity (& life).
  • When you go to the Bible looking for a list of verses that contain how you should do your worship services on Sunday mornings, you will find them…and use them as such…even when they were not intended for that.
  • As I’ve already illustrated, I have never seen anyone’s life miraculously transformed from their conversion to a certain set of worship practices performed at their churches on Sunday morning.
  • When you go to the Bible looking for the 1st century church, your spiritual conversations tend to be about the 1st century church, and the people I have met that need saving from anything don’t care about those conversations.
  • Our movement has tried it. And it has resulted not in unity, but incredible  division to the point of embarrassment. It is just too easy to interpret scriptures differently. One catalogue that attempts to list all the Churches of Christ in the U.S. has codes next to each one to distinguish what “kind” of church it is (OC = “one cuppers” = this church believes you must take communion out of one cup, not multiple ones; NC = “Non-class” = this church believes it is wrong to add a time for Bible classes to the worship gathering on Sunday mornings) Like I said…embarrassing.

And my biggest problem is that this entire premise (re: going to the Bible to restore the New Testament church) is not called for anywhere in the whole Bible. The consistent call of the Bible, as far as I can tell, has as it’s premise for Christian unity the followership and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ.

This is what discipleship is.

A disciple is a person who attaches themselves to a teacher, and makes it their aim to become "like" that teacher. It involves learning what he teaches, prioritizing what he prioritizes, living as he lives, embodying the character that he embodies. It is a lifelong transformation of the whole person, the heart, conforming it into the image of the teacher’s heart.

And my teacher, who I quoted at the top of this piece, says that that is enough.

In my opinion, our movement could borrow on it’s strengths and address it’s increasingly problematic error, with an ever-so-slight, but revolutionary adjustment, changing from the restoration of the New Testament church to "the restoration of discipleship". Stop trying to imitate 1st century churches, start trying to imitate Jesus. Stop going to the Bible to find worship practices for Sunday, start going to the Bible looking to become like Christ. Jesus said that’s what scripture is for (Jn 5:39-40).

The point is Christ. The point of everything in the Bible is Jesus Christ. Not the first century church. Christ. Jesus said, "Go and make disciples." Not "Go and build up churches that look like the 1st century church." Even Paul, who’s writings we lean on heavily in order to extract any clues we may find in scripture concerning the practices of the 1st century church, said, "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ".

Here’s the deal, and I challenge anyone to make a case to the contrary… Focusing on following the church (1st century or otherwise) does not always lead you to Christ…it may lead you to a church and it’s ways, but not necessarily Christ and his. However, a focus on following Christ always leads you to Christ and his ways, and by being led there, makes you a part of the church that the Father intends.

As I was finishing this up, I got this piece from Edward Fudge. And he’s a whole lot smarter (and more concise) that me, so you might enjoy several of his pieces related to this topic here.

Finally, I have an old post that still rings true in my heart.

I’m glad to say that, while I still talk about this for others in my circle who are learning the difference between following a person or a plan, Jesus Christ or some set of rules regarding church worship practices, I feel that I now have my eyes firmly fixed on Christ alone… for life to the full, for the way I am to live, for forgiveness of my sins, for the truth about everything, for how to view my fellow man, and for anything and everything else that matters.

As Jesus says, if I, his disciple, strive to become like him, my teacher…that’s enough.

The Precious Worship Service

2 February 2010

It is quite amazing how strongly a person can feel about the external things that make up the schedule of events presented at a large group meeting of Christians during one hour on Sunday.” – Yours Truly

“The perfect worship service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” – C.S. Lewis

One time, I saw a video played at a church service about a couple who had weathered some very tough situations in their marriage, and let me tell you, by the end of it, my jaw was on the ground at how their impossible situation seemed to be miraculously turned around by God. Everyone was talking about it after the worship service, but not everyone was talking about where they saw God in it. I overheard one lady, with scowled face, pursed lips, and frowning eyebrows complaining to an elder that she “didn’t appreciate the music” track that was gently playing behind the couple as they shared on the video.

Another time, I was at a worship service where this sweet lady who had undergone a very difficult time medically went up to the preacher and asked if she could express her thanks to the church family for all the special help and support. I was undone emotionally by her sincere gratitude as she rattled off just a few of the names and actions that so many had selflessly given. Everyone was noting how they saw Christ in her and in those she spoke about. Except for the people in one email chain, who were only noting (in an appalled way) that a woman spoke into a microphone during the worship service.

Another time, I remember being taken in by the songs being sung. It was so cool how each song’s message led seamlessly to the next. When I was waiting in line to tell the guy responsible how I noticed the presence of God in what he put together for us, I was behind a couple who was lodging a disgruntled complaint about the absence of certain songs that they would have rather sung.

In another worship service, I got to share a teaching of Christ about the forgiving nature of God and the guilt-free living available because of it. I handed out index cards and pencils, and invited the group to privately write down things they still live in guilt about. I ended the teaching by inviting them to get up and throw what they wrote down away in trash cans that I had put around the room as a symbol of what they are free to do with their guilt, according to Jesus. This seemed to merit me about a half-dozen emails from Christ-followers who were there, making the case that I shouldn’t have done it, with statements ranging from “because it makes people uncomfortable” to “we just don’t do that here” to “because it’s wrong.” (!)

Twice, and in two different churches, and on several different occasions, the idea of taking the Lord’s Supper in some other way than passing trays down each isle for everyone to partake privately was suggested, and it was knocked out on the basis of how the Christians who go there might react emotionally to “such a change”. Shew! I thought we Christians placed our belief on doing things by the Bible alone. Yet evidently, some Christians will react emotionally as if not using trays and pews would be unbiblical. Better not suggest the idea of taking it in our small groups at home (Acts 2:46). Or participating in it on a day other than Sunday (1 Cor 11:23-25).

What is it about the precious worship service that heightens some Christian’s sensitivity about what gets to happen within it?

One person who I know full well has TV’s in their home and use computers at their work got upset when his church put a screen and PowerPoint projector in the room to use during the precious worship service.

Another person who I know sang in choruses at school all of their life had issues when her church let a choir sing during their precious worship service.

Yet another person I know got upset when a preacher spoke too long. And another got upset when a preacher didn’t speak long enough.

One girl I know who would totally bust a move at the school dances to all of our favorite songs in the 80s was totally offended when someone in the worship service raised their hands in the air as we sang “These humble hands, I lift to You”.

What gives? Seriously.

The more I engage with human beings who have experienced these strong feelings about these external relatively small variations between different church services, I find myself having trouble explaining the justification for them (the strong feelings, that is).

I have trouble:

  • Explaining these strong feelings about the precious worship service to non-Christians.
  • Explaining these strong feelings to burned-out-on-church Christians.
  • Trying to justify these convictions as necessary to accomplish the fruit of transformation that Jesus is after in people’s hearts.

I’ve read the Bible through several times. I’ve read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the most (since they contain the story of Jesus while he was here). All this reading doesn’t make me any kind of authority on answering this question academically, but I am somewhat familiar with the life and teachings of Jesus.

It seems to me that he thinks that everything…everything…should be done out of sincere love for God and love for other people (Mt 22: 40). Additionally, it seems to me that he thinks that everything…everything…is useful or not by it’s potential to help people live the life that he came to give us, which he claimed to be the fullest, most abundant life possible (Jn 10:10).

So…it seems to me that everything…everything…in the precious worship service should be judged by the same. And that’s all.

The only time I can find where Jesus speaks directly about a worship service was when he was saying that the outward, superficial details didn’t matter. That what mattered to God was the “kind” of worshipper a person was. The “kind” that adhered, not to outward expressions of religious practices during a one-hour event on Sunday, but to an inward sincerity that dwells within the confines of “spirit and truth”.

What does he mean by “spirit and truth”, you might ask.

Well, I think it means to worship in line with Christ’s heart, character, mission and priorities. So anything…anything…at a worship service that exalts love for God and love for people, no matter how it is outwardly and superficially presented, is just fine with me.

There is an interesting article here about some of the big issues in the Church of Christ, if you are interested. It starts out with one big issue in the precious worship service, but then expands towards the end and offers a perspective that could be used to discern all potential issues.

My advice to all Christians: Seek first Christ in everything that is presented to you within any worship service you attend. Work hard at this seeking, and you will find him. And your reward in the precious worship service will be great…Christ himself.

My warning to all Christians: Seek first what you consider wrong or uncomfortable in everything that is presented to you within any worship service you attend, and you will find it. Then you will work hard at being angry, disturbed, or disgruntled. And the reward in the precious worship service will be missed…Christ himself.

Progressing from listening to talking to doing to being

26 January 2010

"To love – simply and truly – is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." — Emily Dickinson

"Whenever asked about what should be done about another person, no matter what the situation, the answer is always… ‘love them.’ Specific applications of love apply in different circumstances (accept them, challenge them, walk with them, confront them, forgive them, tell them, etc.), but it never ceases to amaze me how often people think there is something else to do or try." - Yours truly

 

I fancy myself a “progressive”.

You have to label labels, I guess, when you use them. They mean so many things to so many people.

So by progressive, I mean that I want to always “make progress” in becoming a better and better human being.

Because I have had to move from being a human listening, to a human talking, to a human doing, to finally (and it is a work in progress) a human being.

I have a buddy who has smoked tobacco abundantly. He’s on his twelfth week of not smoking, and only last week threw away his last pack of cigarettes that he carried with him constantly, just in case he didn’t really want to be a non-smoker.

Before he became a non-smoker, he had to listen to the idea of it. This is no small step. Smokers don’t want to listen to the idea of not being a smoker. But he did. And it was hard. He was really confronted at this phase of progression. And even if he wanted to stop listening, he had no choice as he sat by his dad’s bedside caring for him (he’s a paramedic) daily (and nightly) as he died of lung cancer from smoking.

He then progressed to talking. It’s one thing to be willing to listen to the case for not smoking, and quite another to start speaking the case for non-smoking. I got to hear him as he progressed to this talking phase over lunch one day. It was quite amazing to hear him, especially when I considered how hard it was for him to listen to himself and consider the implications of his talking. I asked him if I could video tape him and capture the power of his talk. He reluctantly, but eagerly, but reluctantly agreed. I played it to a few hundred of our mutual friends. He was firmly established in the talking phase.

And the reason he was willing to talk was because he wanted to be seriously intent on progressing to the doing stage. He’ll tell you now, that he began the doing of not smoking with zero belief that he would succeed. Inwardly, he had already decided that he would give it try knowing he would fail just to be able to say to those that loved him that he had had done his talking to (his family, chief among them) that he had tried.

Little did he know, that it would take. Every time I see him now, he smiles and tells me how long it’s been. He is progressing from “doing” now to “being”. He now believes that he can BE a non-smoker.

It seems to me that this is a great example of what being progressive truly means.

To progress. To actually, and really, and painstakingly…make progress.

And in no other area is it more important to progress than in the area of love.

We must listen to new ideas of what it means to love.

We must start talking those ideas, owning it enough to speak about it.

We must start doing those ideas, loving in those new-to-us ways.

Eventually, glory of glory happens…and we become love.

Really…when I’m progressing in love. I don’t have time to smoke. Or to do anything else. And I’m having trouble finding anything else as worthwhile to do.

God help me.

A Question I am Ashamed to Answer

15 January 2010

About 10 months ago, I received an email that I quickly deleted. It had a strange foreign name attached to it, some generic sounding title, so it didn’t make it through my “maybe that’s not junk mail” filter when I did a quick scan of my Inbox.

As it turns out, that deleted, unread email came from a desperate man in India, asking me to personally mentor him as a student of Christ, a minister at a church, and a world changer.

I only know this because, fortunately, he sent a second email. In it he was pleading, “Dear brother, please do not hesitate to write me, please encourage me in the truth. Please help and guide and explain what ever I asks questions. I have some questions to ask. Please give me permission to ask more.”

I replied to him, and it began a wonderful dialogue that I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. He found me in a somewhat random way (yeah, right) through a search engine that led him to the website of the Southwest Church in Amarillo, TX… the group with whom I seek the best possible life.

As he said, he had many questions, and was looking for someone to ask. Among them:

  • What is Non-Institutional institution?
  • What is conservative?
  • What is liberal?
  • What is mainstream?
  • What is one cup churches and non class Churches? (He saw these words in the recent issues of Christian Chronicle news paper.)
  • We train few youths as preachers, is it wrong or non-Biblical?
  • Can I have your sermons and lessons in printed form for use in our daily ministries?

From here, he started sending me some of his curriculum and lessons. I began to notice that his good work had within it a heavy focus on teaching “how to do church right” and not so much on “how to love and live like Jesus Christ” (You can search my blog archives at www.brianmashburn.net if you are interested in why this stood out to me), and our dialogue included discussions about this. Perhaps one of the greatest treasures I have from G. David as a result of our dialogue is this one:

“Our God is helping us through you to change this bias towards to imitate Christ and better preachers and ministers of Christ, more like Jesus and more focus on Jesus. I thank you very much for your excellent guidance in Christ Jesus our Lord, you are in my heart, because you have changed it to focus on Jesus and Jesus only.”

Let me pause here and tell you…if it is true that I can play any role whatsoever in helping anyone (particularly leaders of others) to focus on “Jesus and Jesus only”…that is enough for me and an answer to countless prayers of mine.

So…praise God. His questions then moved into this realm…

  • How to come to the image of His son? – Rom 8:29.
  • How to attain the fullness and stature of Christ? – Eph 4:11-13.
  • How to walk and what are the foot steps of Christ? – I Peter 2:21.
  • How to walk as He walked? – I John 2:6.

What an impossible joy it has been to wrestle with these magnificent questions.

I respect this man so much. He and his family minister with limited provision, and with zealous faithfulness. He has invited me over for a visit to teach and encourage. I hope to someday go, because I know that it is I who would be taught and most definitely encouraged (His little boy looks like he’d be my favorite!)

My Family 

I’ve gotten to “be with” him as he traveled, while injured sometimes, thousands of miles to take advantage of an opportunity to teach people about Christ in less than ideal circumstances…

Bike-2

As one of his questions indicates, and on top of all of his daily demands, he had collected an assortment of eager young men and started a preacher training school! Here are his students…

school

I even got to “witness” him slave away, beg, plead, and organize relief for the people of his church and city when the horrible flooding of India last year hit Chennai hard…

INDIA  Relief-1

I was always eager and ready to continue our mutual learning from each other’s lives and ministries. I always looked forward to his questions, and speedily replied to the best of my ability, until he asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

He asked, “How much does your church provide for you per month as the preacher?”

I froze in front of my computer screen.

I didn’t want to tell him.

It’s not that I think I’m a bad steward of the financial resources given to me.

It’s not a self-esteem thing, that I don’t think I’m “worth” what I’m paid (been there, done that).

Nor is it that I take some kind of pride in how much I’m given, as if that is some sort of measurement of my worth.

And it is certainly not that I’m ungrateful.

What was it? Why was I ashamed?

I am provided more money than I ever dreamed I would be when I decided to go into ministry. But that doesn’t seem like it should be enough to make me feel ashamed.

I’m not making more than might be expected for people who have a comparable position that I have (in the U.S., that is) according to a survey taken by ACU), but that’s not enough to keep me from feeling ashamed.

Help me out here…

And as a bonus…why does it seem like I’m breaking some kind of rule just be bringing this subject up?

How to Approach God

14 January 2010

 

I remember one hot summer day in Houston, TX being at Astroworld (Houston’s Six Flags theme park, now closed down) with a large group of students from the West side of town. I was the youth minister at a church, and we were taking our annual trip to enjoy the rollor coasters, shows, and each other’s company. It was a blast, just like every year. But I remember this particular day because I got into a very cool spiritual conversation with a student as we took a break from the lines and heat. Somehow we got to talking about mentors, fathers, and big-brother-types. You know, people “ahead of us” who would take a special interest in us. People who would choose us as someone they would resolve to pursue and be available to in order to bestow their wisdom, life, and ways.

Sounds beautiful, huh?

But it stirred an overwhelming feeling of being quite alone and mentor-less. I’m humbled and proud to mention that this student was honoring me in our conversation as one of these mentors, spiritual father figures, and big brother types…and I was surprised at the depths that were touched in me, moved to tears actually (yes, right there in the shade of a tree at Astroworld), as I wished I could identify someone loving, coaching, teaching, and pursuing me as I was doing for this student.

Looking back on my life, I think one of the several unspoken, secret, tsunami-like motivations that invisibly moved me into my calling of loving people – which eventually moved into into a position of mentoring and fathering people – was this very deep desire to have someone do this for me. Wow. As I write this, the words of Jesus, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” comes to mind. I think that’s what I was unknowingly doing. I wanted some fathering in the innermost places of my heart, and I showed it by making a life of giving that to others.

“Our greatness comes from our woundedness,” someone once memorably said.

Over my adult life, I have approached several folks who I perceived as “ahead of me” in the life that I am constantly moving and growing into, and have asked them overtly to mentor, coach, be available to, and benefit me with their wisdom and experience…to love me, really. To big-brother and father me.

Now, I know this is a huge request. To ask this of someone should not be done lightly. And although you may get one, you sure should not expect a quick, un-thought over, un-prayed over affirmative answer. If the person you are asking understands what you are truly asking, and they are worthy of being asked, they will not say yes lightly (so they may not be able to say yes quickly).

However, as I became aware of this desire in my life, it was amazing how few people there are who I felt like I could ask this of. Those who:

  • have become “masters” of spiritual things with humble confidence
    • have room in their life for any deep relationships
    • valued the passing on of their own life discoveries and wisdom
    • had a clue how to go about mentoring even if they desired to

Out of those that did, and I can think of two that I asked, one reluctantly felt that he had to say no because he lived across the country and the demand on his life for this kind of relationship had already consumed his time (another witness to how few there are, and how hungry people are for it). The other didn’t have the heart to say no (and bless his heart, he caught me in another deeply emotional moment, so I know I made it hard for him),  but never could realistically follow through because of the demands on his life as well.

While it sounds like I should be writing an email entitled, “The Mentorless Generation” (that would actually be a good one), I’m connecting to all of this because out of all the ways that I have approached God, the one that has allowed  my heart to experience the most healing, the most guidance, the most meaningful information, the most illumination, the most life, the most passion and love…ultimately, the most oneness with God… has been when I have approached him as a father, a mentor.

As it turns out, I think it is His favorite way that I have approached Him, as well.

And as it turns out, Jesus revealed the Father as wanting to do just that.

When he taught us to pray, he went against all the religiosity of the day and the misunderstanding of the word “reverence” and told us to address God as, you guessed it, “our Father”. (Mt 6:9)

When he decided to implement a world-changing plan among mankind, his primary strategy wasn’t to preach to big crowds, post blogs, write books,  gather Facebook friends, Twitter, or organize a centralized headquarters out of which he would do all these things. No, he incarnated himself into the rabbinical system of the day, invited 12 people to join him intimately in his life in order to, you guessed it, relationally “mentor” them. (Mk 3:14)

John Eldredge says, “God wants to father us. The truth is, he has been fathering us for a long time—we just haven’t had the eyes to see it. He wants to father us much more intimately, but we have to be in a posture to receive it.”

That’s what I want. It took some time, but buried underneath a bunch of false spirituality, high-church thinking, stiff-necked theology, and incomplete and unbalanced views of God, I found a tender desire that responded with a nuclear fission explosion of hopeful excitement when I heard God say, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters."  (2 Cor 6:18)

I suppose there are lots of ways to answer the question, “How to approach God?”

But lesson number one, the one that I believe must be found and practiced in order to address anything else with any kind of accuracy and humanity, is to approach God as a father.

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