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…

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…

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!

“Life Lessons” I’m trying to unlearn… pt 2

Look here for part one…

3. I am irreparably damaged by my past.

Painful life events leave scars.  No Doubt!  But I have discovered that they’re mostly what I choose to make them.  Fuel for my future.  Background scenery.  Great stories.  It’s all a matter of perspective – no matter the trauma.  Consider a friend of mine, who had a brain injury that obliterated his memory.  He has relearned his life… describing it as losing “36 years of emotional baggage and regrets.”
For example, take an issue from your past that you believe has hindered your future growth… and think of three reasons that belief may be wrong. Your brain will begin to let it go. Simple, but true.

4.  Working hard is always the answer.
Having an alcoholic father created in me a drive to always prove myself.  I could always count on outworking my opponents or problems… until I realized that I don’t get to redo this life.  That my best successes and most effective moments came when I was playing.
I learned that playing can accomplish work, and work can be play.  I want to play my way through the rest of my life and let God do His best through me as I do.
5. Success means never failing.
I looked at my life as divisible between two columns… Wins and Losses.  But the reality?  Some of my greatest moments have been both.  The freedom I extend myself to fail… miserably, publicly, and often, creates the room – the freedom – to succeed.
6. It matters what people think of me.

Be polished.  Be popular.  Care how others perceive me.  Watch my image. Bull!

“What if people think badly of me!” This dreaded fear causes despair, depression (the mental state), depressed living (the way we live), suicide, and even homicide.  When I bemoaned how others were labeling me to a friend, he said, “Wow, you have some painful fantasies about other people’s fantasies about you.”
My anguish came from my hypothesis that other people’s hypothetical hypotheses about me mattered!  (Read that fast three times!) Ridiculous! Right now, imagine what you’d do if it absolutely didn’t matter what people thought of you. Got it? Good. Never go back.

“Life Lessons” I’m trying to unlearn…

I celebrated a birthday recently (37) and I was reviewing some things from the last year in my journal.  Well, I stumbled on an article by Martha Beck on Fluent News Reader on my iPad with the same title as my post.  So I began writing about some of the “conventional wisdom” (have you ever noticed that it is often neither!) that I adopted earlier in my life that I need to unlearn.  Here are a few:

1. The goal of life is to avoid problems.

I spent my early years being educated – solving problems handed to me by educators, senseis, and instructors – which seemed to communicate the goal of life was to solve such problems.  Remove them.  The “get thee behind me Satan” approach to obstacles.

But as I reviewed my life I realized ALL MY BEST MOMENTS CAME THROUGH PROBLEMS.  My best thoughts, relationships, talks, development… they all started because I faced a problem or a challenge.  Maybe the goal in life is not to live pain free, to avoid all problems, but to live them well…


2. Being happy is the gauge to success.

See item number one above…

The pressure to be happy can create its own misery.  Effectiveness often entails long periods of discomfort, frustration, and moodiness!  Now don’t get me wrong – depression, anxiety, etc. all suck and need treatment.  And for the normal bumps and bruises of life, I avail myself of counselors as often as I need to.  But be perennially smiling?  Head in the sand, project a front to the world happy all the time?  Nah!  I pass.

It’s ok to feel as I need to feel.  To be as I need to be.  To accomplish my mission.  I think THAT is the foundation to well being.

The leader’s weapons


I love this quote I learned in martial arts sometime over the last 20 years… it is from Lao Tzu, a philosopher who added a lot to Taoism.  And while I don’t validate Taoism, God’s Truth is seen in many places.  Truly… all things are spiritual.  And these three are a leader’s most potent arsenal:

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest weapons. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.  Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

-Lao Tzu

Staff Management

Of all the things they SHOULD teach in cemetery, I mean seminary, but don’t… Staff Management ranks as the most important.  More pastors I know leave churches because of problems with staff than any other single problem.  James McDonald wrote about the lessons he learned managing staff.  His closing paragraph alone is worth the read.  Following just this advice will keep most pastors out of hot water, and make for happier staff relationships:

In summary:
Hire slower, fire faster, manage more consistently, encourage more frequently, share your burdens more openly and trust your best people more completely.  Listen to what references tell you and not as much to what people say about themselves. Hire the smarter person, hire the more passionate person, hire the more teachable person.  Don’t hire the person with the reluctant spouse or the person with the personal agendaPeople who over promise under deliver and people who are easily enamored will be just as easily disillusioned.  As with all relationships in the body of Christ, keep your eyes on the Lord and your heart filled with faith; God is working on all of us.