It’s been a while… and a journey

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted… but what a journey it’s been!  I’m glad to be back.  A few highlights that I JUST KNOW will see some future posts:

  • A new design!  Blew the dust off Chrisbellonline and refreshed it a bit.  Going for simple and minimal.  What do you think?
  • Since I have last posted, I have continued down the road to simplicity and minimalism… in some pretty significant ways – including giving away almost half of my belongings and downsizing significantly!  I am very excited about this path of minimalism…
  • The Ridge has moved off of our campus, and started meeting in a coffee shop and a local school.  We are moving toward a model of debt-free ministry – I don’t know that I would ever want to sign a mortgage again!  Bankers, moving, and organizational flux!  Many more posts on this later…
  • Our family adopted a homeless 18 year old, took him in, helped him get on his feet and find a job, and are walking him through various legal issues.  More later…

Religion as an excuse during pain??

I love reading Richard Rohr… here is a great quote Adapted from Job and the Mystery of Suffering, pp. 20-21

An awful lot of religion is an excuse for not facing our fears, our self, and our doubts.  True religion is not denial of doubt but a transformation of it; and often, to be honest, a temporary deepening of our doubt and darkness to get us there.

God walks with us into our fears, to feel them, to own them, to let them teach us.  During that time we are often in darkness and cannot uphold ourselves.  It even feels like a loss of faith.  It is then that we slowly learn to let Someone Else hold us, and we come out enlarged and more hopeful.  As long as I have lived, I cannot explain the chemistry of this transformation, but those who have gone through know it to be true.

Smoke and mirrors… Or why the church is losing ground

Forever (or at least the recent past) the church has assumed the following:

Get as many people as you can in the door so as many as possible hear the gospel…. So as many as possible raise their hand, or sign a card, or whatever, and secure their “ticket” to heaven. This is the goal.

And recently that has meant put on the best show as possible to get them in the door. Best lights, videos, smoke, etc. Because while few would say it this way, it has been a numbers game… A pecentages game where a higher volume of people in the seats equals a higher percentage getting “saved”.

And we “reward” with pronouncements of the “successful ministry” label those who run the best numbers… Almost like the All Star game.

And we have learned that it works… Flash and Bang fill seats. Wow factor fills seats. Our cultural church has succeeded at this mission… To death.

Because we have also discoved that we have gotten so good at the “church machine” of filling buildings we have failed to re-orient ourselves around the goal. We found that attracting people with a wow and getting them to say a prayer doesn’t necessarily create a transformed follower of Jesus – with a life that is forever re-oriented around this new Kingdom way of life that Jesus describes and lives.

That instead we have built a culture of people who wear the label “Christian” but have been lured into our buildings with an unapologetic consumeristic approach and are living consumeristic spiritual lives. Church is something we go to, not something we are, to “get our needs met”, be it “getting fed”, having the right programs, music etc.

We awaken to find that church has become all about the delivery of goods and services just like any other service industry (“but they are Christian goods and services” is the cry). And the goal is to gain as many new customers as possible why minimizing the loss of your current customers to another brand/church… Just like every other business. With consumer christians switching loyalties with each new song or change in minsitry programs, it is not a surprise that many churches focus more time on protecting the “brand” of the church or lead pastor than any other activity. We even call it “church shopping” when consumers comparison shop one church with another to see which one “meets our family’s needs the best”.

And the cost has been significant: a generation that has rejected the consumeristic church and decided that it won’t shop for church anymore… It will instead simply abandon what it sees as an outmoded and selfish approach to spirituality. And the flash and bang crowd doesn’t understand why that generation isn’t responding… So they ramp up marketing efforts to find the “trigger” that will get the lost generation to respond.

Another cost has been sustainability. Church “A” spends $40,000 on an electronic sign (it’s worth it! It gets people in the door, which is the goal, right?) so church “B” down the street spends double that… For a color LCD. More and bigger buildings, lights, media, etc. Which even a toddler can see is unsustainable at best, and acutely negligent at worst in a world where many die without water, freedom, or medical care.

And what has it all bought? Best case scenario: More people in the seats (even though overall Church attendance is declining rapidly), saying a prayer for a ticket to heaven… But who are repulsed by a call to the 24/7 upside down Kingdom life of Jesus. How can a church that spends and attracts consumeristicaly then call a people to a simpler lifestyle of reduction and generosity? We shouldn’t wonder why the culture walks away shaking it’s head.

The ray of hope in all of this are the communities of faith that have awoken to this smoke and mirrors game and are trying to be authentic in reversing the consumeristic approach. They are small (generally), they look radically different than church of the last fifty years, but a lot more like gatherings in the first, second, and third century. And they are calling people to reexamine the meaning of Jesus, the gospel, and the church as bigger and more important than getting people in the door of a church building to say a prayer. They are calling people to a Jesus-Kingdom way of life. And they are often completely confusing/threatening/misunderstood to churches stuck in consumeristic smoke and mirrors.

It is definitely an exciting, confusing, opportunity-filled time to be a follower of Jesus. So glad God is still in charge!

Heterophobia: Or why I don’t dig membership…

I write this blog from a lot of perspectives… follower of Jesus, warrior, martial trainer, etc.  Today I write as a spiritual leader of a faith community but it applies to most of these areas as well.

I spoke this last weekend on dealing with those different than us… you can hear the podcast here.  Specifically, as a community of faith, I addressed two of the biggest areas where we tend to get a little heterophobic (afraid of people different than us)… people who are different religiously and sexually.  The Kingdom gospel of Jesus is about inclusion… making a seat at the table for everyone.  Jesus walked into a religious environment of closed doors and barred access… the Jewish faith of his day drew a lot of lines!  What got Jesus in trouble was that he said EVERYONE gets a seat at the table.

That doesn’t mean that just because someone gets a seat at the table that they are living rightly.  People don’t have to be living rightly before they can be part of the community… that just doesn’t make sense, and we don’t see Jesus asking that.  People who desire to follow Jesus are invited into community as they work out their journey, and stumble/fumble with the rest of us.  There is a place where those committed to following Jesus agree to hold each other accountable to the Jesus-life… but that is relationally based and mutually agreed upon and not bestowed by an outside entity.  An entirely different animal all together.

As part of our community’s discussion time this last weekend, I was asked if I would let someone become a member of our community with a particular activity in their lives.  My response was twofold: first… inclusion is inclusion.  Anyone can come and learn, serve, live, and love with our community no matter where they are in life or what they struggle with.  Who they are judged to be is God’s business not mine (John 21v20-22).  My acceptance of a person does not mean I endorse everything in their lives… or who could truly love anyone?  Of course this point is lost completely on anyone religious enough to think they they HAVE arrived already.

But the second part of my answer rocked the person a bit (they are pretty new to The Ridge).  We do not have members here.  And our reasons go along with the things stated above.

Jesus was about inclusion.  All are welcome into the gospel as Jesus defined it… The Kingdom of God has arrived.  So what does membership in a community mean?  For a lot of places there are legal/business reasons for having members… and if that is the reason, then great – just own that fact up front.  But I have run into more than my share of people who wear the label Christian who thinks it separates people into groups… the becoming and the arrived.  Or the mature and the immature.  I don’t know… something like that.

A couple of thoughts… I don’t see membership in a local gathering/church anywhere in scripture.  I see the actions of becoming THE CHURCH, the group of followers spread around the globe.  But nothing about membership in this particular gathering or that one.  And it is harder to become a member of a lot of local churches than it is to follow Jesus!  That’s just wrong – I don’t care how you dress that up.   And the only separation that I see in scripture when it comes to a community of Jesus followers is those responsible for leading/teaching and those not.  There IS a higher calling and accountability for the leaders, and that should be followed (we use the same tests as for eldership here at The Ridge).

I know some have said that offering membership inspires people to greater devotion, followship, etc.  Apparently if the call of Jesus to devote all of who we are to following isn’t enough, than the title of “church member” bestowed by a group of (normally) men in governance of a local church will do the trick?  Maybe this is why churches across this culture are waking up to discover that after years of doing consumer-focused ‘ministry’ our churches do not look like communities of Jesus followers, but more like shopping clubs: filled with people wanting to be fed, watered, entertained, placated, and pampered (just to tell you how I see it).  The call to live sacrificially, to give up MY wants (even in ‘church programming’!!!) as central to the life of a follower, seems to be an almost foreign concept.  Maybe this is why people both young and old are running from the church in droves, at a rate that puts the church as we know it in danger of losing its voice in a generation or less.

Membership is about exclusion.  About an “us” and a “them”.  The Jesus I see in the scriptures only drew lines around religious people claiming to be the “us” when they were really the “them”!  I wonder if he wouldn’t say the same things today…

Francis Chan… a must watch

“If I was living on an island, and picked up this book, I wouldn’t get that I was supposed to say a prayer and ask Jesus into my heart… I just wouldn’t get that from here… I would [be overwhelmed] by the power of the Holy Spirit living in a community of faith”

“It’s so much easier to walk in a room [church], not have to create new relationships… don’t have to talk to our touch anyone… have everyone face the front… but then I read this book and see that THAT is not how it’s supposed to be!”

Click on the player to watch

Breakfast in bed… or masculine surrender

OK – so today, I am going to talk to the fellas about how to make breakfast in bed for your beloved… Ladies, go ahead and get your guy and have him read this, then leave the room for a minute or two.  Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise now would we? 🙂

Ok Guys, first clean your cooking surface….

OK Dude… Is she gone?  Yeah?  Great.  Cause I want to talk to you about something very DUDEish.  And I think it’s best we just keep it between us, ok?

Do you attend a church?  Think of yourself as spiritual?  Try to be a good guy?  If any of those apply then we have something in common.  I grew up in the church… have been seeking spiritually my whole life… and really do try to be GOOD (just, honest, strong, etc.).  And I always heard that the goal was to be NICE.  And that usually meant very soft in speech and action.  Meek.  In some ways very feminine.

And I heard things in church which added to that… the goal was for church to make young boys into “good boys” – read NICE.  And I heard a lot about terms like SURRENDER.  LOVE.  PEACE.  All things that seem to go along with the ‘nice boy’ view of the world.

BUT THAT IS ALL DEAD WRONG!  Dudes – God did not send His Son to the earth to teach you how to be nice!  That doesn’t mean that we can’t be polite, considerate, surrendered, and peace-seeking men.  The key is in the definition of those words.

Through the help years ago from authors and mentors like John Eldredge, Steve Farrar, Ed Kuras, and others, I learned that God made us male… and that we don’t have to give up our own version of maleness to be GOOD. Unfortunately in the absence of truly shared leadership (guys – we HAVE dropped the ball leading in a lot of areas and our moms, wives, and daughters have had to pick up the mantle!) the definition of what it means to be a “GOOD guy” has shifted tremendously in the last 50-75 years.

We ARE to be surrendered to God – the same way a knight or samurai was surrendered to his Lord.  We take our orders to go seek justice, fight evil, be men of action under the protective umbrella of authority from our KING.  A lordless samurai was called Ronin… aimless and lost, they were soon turned out into ruthless assassins or mercs.  Warriors were meant to have a LORD.  To serve a PURPOSE.

I’m not saying every guy has to be John Wayne, Chuck Norris, and Teddy Roosevelt… but we DO have to figure out what being male means to us.  How did God wire you?  Women are not inferior – they are our equal in every way – but that doesn’t mean we are the same (I know… duh! right?).  There is a much better goal than being nice… being a GOOD man.  A loving man, full of the strength, peace, just-ferocity, courage, and determination to actually CHANGE what is wrong.

So go ahead brother… stir up that warrior inside of you.  Have the courage to break free of the “nice boy” model that was cast for you.  Forget that.  Surprise the ladies in your life with your kind strength, your determined direction, and your rediscovered manhood.  Let it be a great surprise!

Confidence of a warrior

Ok… you all know I am not the typical, traditional, spiritual leader.  How many pastors can teach sniping and knife fighting?  But I HAVE GOT to talk about this…

Our culture is sooooo filled with doom and gloom right now.  Oil spills.  Financial meltdowns.  Housing slumps.  Unemployment…. BLECH!  But the worst part, is that I see evidence of it in people of faith!  All over, I pick up an air of anxiety, nervousness, timidity.  And it’s time for it to STOP!

Followers of Jesus are people of the journey.  People called to greatness.  People called to a warrior mindset (and no… not crusade-like violence, but rather a courage, boldness, and counter-cultural hope synonymous with a warrior).  We are called to be a people of GREATNESS.

But GREATNESS only emerges when people are confident.  As a quote I read recently said, ‘when we believe – together – that life is GOOD, and humanity is GOOD, because God is GOOD’ we can be the hopeful, confident, courageous people that our culture needs us to be.

When we suffer from a lack of confidence we become the opposite of hopeful… depressed, negative, lazy, critical, and sedentary.  We become people of the cloister… huddling together waiting for God’s merciful end to this world instead of fighting injustice and evil with love, strength and peace.  A lack of confidence convinces us that we are victims instead of confident, strong, and loving cultural warriors seeking to make RIGHT what was once WRONG.

Weak kneed people lacking a higher confidence DON’T get up and actively seek justice, solutions, and transformative action.  They become self-focused, consumeristic, fat, and lazy (mentally, spiritually, and physically).

We can do GREAT things – exciting, imaginative, creative things – when we are confident that we are part of a bigger story that is going some where and is filled with something GOOD.  That we can derive confidence personally from being connected to GOOD.  That we become warriors of justice, mercy, strength, honor, etc. who can serve our culture by being good, loving, strong, just people.

All it takes is faith, hope, and love… and a lot of hard work.  There is a LOT more to be said on this… but this is already too long.

Be strong and courageous.  Be warriors of strength, love, and peace.