Wednesday, December 15, 2004

words that freeze

I’ve begun to notice a bit of a trend as I interact with young leaders longing to live an unconventional Christian faith. It seems that some of the youngest and brightest are immobilized; unable or unwilling to move towards their dreams of creating new communities of faith. What’s derailing so many? The usual suspects are an intense desire to be "unique" and a ruthless commitment to be "organic".

What’s wrong with that?! Those sure sound like qualities worth fighting for. How can those desires leave visionaries sitting on the sidelines or on a barstool? Well, here’s my take:

When our dreams are driven by a desire to be unique, to be unlike anything else out there, we inevitably wake up to Solomon’s sobering words, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Dreams that are driven by a passion to be unique seem to lose their mystique the moment we discover that someone else is already doing something a lot, (or even a little), like what we wanted to do. And without the distinction of being wholly unique, dreams formed around that center are often abandoned before they are ever lived.

Now, most of us want to be unique at some level, and when we boldly exercise creativity we are reflecting the image of our Creator God. It’s inspiring to engage in the creative process, and I’d be the first to admit it feels good when people say things like, “NieuCommunities is so unique; it’s not like anything else I’ve ever seen; you guys are really thinking outside the lines.” That’s nice to hear, but the truth is we didn’t set out on this faith journey to be unique; we did it to be faithful. We began NieuCommunities because we believed God was calling us to do a very old thing once again. We were under orders. It didn’t have to be unique. It didn’t even have to be creative. But it did have to be attempted. And at the end of the day, faithfulness is what God requires of us, not uniqueness.

The other culprit I often see derailing dreamers is the commitment to be organic. Why would that trip people up? Isn’t being organic a good thing? You bet it is. The problem comes when being organic is unnecessarily juxtaposed against being intentional. It is falsely assumed that to be organic means you can’t be intentional. You can’t have design. You can’t have structure or systems. You can’t plan or set goals. You can only be spontaneous and just kind of ooze. That’s what is assumed to be natural and organic and therefore godly.

But one only needs to look at nature or their own bodies to see that there is nothing inherently contradictory between intelligent design and being fully organic. Life is made up of intricate, interactive, and completely natural systems. The challenge is not to abandon intentionality, but to be intentionally organic. To partner with God in ways that are consistent with the natural rhythms of life. In NieuCommunities we have intentionally designed our year to follow what we believe is the natural, organic rhythm leaders experience when attempting to live as “sent ones.” It’s a way to move forward intentiaonlly and organically. It’s certainly not the only way.

I had dinner the other night with a fascinating guy who was full of dreams. He has also been on the sidelines far too long, paralyzed by the need to be different (unique) and organic. I love the fact he wants to do something really radical. But his dreams—and ours—will remain nothing but dreams unless we faithfully and intentionally go for it…even if it’s been done before.

Monday, November 22, 2004

healing grace

I am reminded way too often that we, as a culture, are “thanks-challenged.” Instead of seeing the things all around us to be thankful for, we tend to notice all the things we wish were different. All the things we want. And all those “wants” and all those “wishes” can all too easily spiral into a black hole of greed. Greed always wants more. It's never enough. Acts of love and kindness don't seem to stick. What you do is never good enough. The greedy are never satisfied.

But thankfulness is like a wellspring. It gives life instead of demanding more out of life. Thankfulness contributes rather than criticizes. A child-like sense of unexpectedness pushes away that insatiable sense of entitlement. Thankfulness births generosity in our hearts, and generosity is like a healing balm rubbed onto every life it touches. A thankful, grateful heart is a whole heart.

To nurture healing grace in my own life, I want to take a few minutes to give thanks and to invite you to be thankful with me. And I hope, as you read these words, that thankfulness and generosity spring up in your heart and that it pours out on those all around you!

I’m thankful for…

> a wife who loves everyone around her
> three kids who are sometimes sprinting, and sometimes stumbling, but faithfully moving towards God
> family and friends whose incredible generosity allows us to stay on mission
> friends who give more than they take
> teammates who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me
> the integrity in the lives of those who lead me
> the wholeness I see forming in the lives of those I lead
> the lessons I’ve learned in my failures
> neighbors who have opened their doors and their hearts
> an inviting B&B in Pretoria and the cozy 4-floor downtown apartment building in Glasgow to base our life-on-life ministry
> the expanding influence God is giving us
> books which open my mind and heart and take me to new places
> sports…especially those I can still play!
> music that lifts my spirit
> an intimate, loving, ever-present God
> the incarnation
> the courage I see in others
> acts of sacrifice
> hope
> you

How about you? What are you thankful for? Write it out. Say it out loud. Tell someone. Share the grace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

church as potluck

Wouldn't it be cool if all those who follow God in the way of Jesus viewed the church as a potluck rather than as a restaurant? At a potluck, everybody brings something to the table, and you never know which meals will carry the day. It's up for grabs...literally! Want a better potluck? Bring something better to the table. Want a tastier experience? Raise your own creative contribution bar. Got nothing to bring tonight? That's O.K. There will be plenty of people who've got you covered this week. Just try to bring something next week. A potluck is a collective experience and everybody gets a chance to enrich everybody else.

When the church operates metaphorically as a restaurant, it's a completely different social contract. People come not as contributors to the group experience, but as consumers of religious goods and services. We come and order our meal, and we expect it to be prepared really well and brought to us in a timely and attractive manner. If we like the service and the meal, we come back. Maybe we even leave a tithe...ahh...a tip. If we're not satisfied with the service or the meal, we might give it another shot or two, but we eventually just take our business elsewhere. I know that sounds kinda harsh, but isn't that pretty much what most of us do? And, to be fair, if a church sets itself up as a restaurant, shouldn't it expect that kind of behavior, however unfortunate, from its customers?

I wonder if the church as a restaurant perspective hasn't inadvertently fueled another curious metaphor. When dissatisfied people leave a church, it's often because they say they "weren't fed." (Now I'm guessing that 9 times out of 10 what we really mean when we say "I wasn't fed" is closer to "I wasn't satisfied"). But anyway, the "I wasn't fed" metaphor actually makes some sense if the social construct of the church resembles a restaurant and the staff don't bring anything to the table. But that metaphor would never fly in the church as a potluck for at least 3 reasons: 1) There are all kinds of foods all around you...something is surely edible; 2) It's your responsibility to grab something and eat it...nobody will feed you; and 3) Presumably you brought something to the table, so at least there's that much to eat.

Now, I've been to tasty potlucks and to pretty lame potlucks, (too many of the later, actually), so changing the social construct of the church is not enough. At the end of the day it comes down to each one of us choosing whether or not we will bring our best. When we do, everybody eats well. When we don't, well, it's our fault, nobody else's. But wouldn't it be so cool if our response to a weak potluck was a personal and family resolve to bring something better to the table the next time around? To bing something that we put our hearts into? Somehow that seems more like what Jesus had in mind for us rather just heading out to a restaurant to pay someone to feed us.

For a very stimulating take on a potluck-like church, check out Doug Pagitt's book, "Reimagining Spiritual Formation."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

authentically dangerous

Hi, I’m Rob, and I’m a Boomer. At least that’s the camp my birth certificate squarely puts me in. I don’t actually think or live a whole lot like most boomers, but I certainly “get” them. We’re performance-oriented. Often pretentious. Even narcissistic. Of course, we’d prefer to think that we’re just hard working and committed to doing whatever we can to make this world a better place to live.

We’ve been labeled the “me” generation because we’ve pillaged the world to indulge ourselves with material pleasures. O.K., guilty as charged.

But there seems to be a new indulgence in our emerging culture that may be just as destructive as any material indulgence of my generation. It’s a verbal indulgence that seems to spring out of our new blue chip value - authenticity.

Now, I’m a huge fan of authenticity, especially given the alternative—pretentiousness. We encourage those we are leading to live out a raw spirituality. By that we mean a humble, Spirit-yielded, unrehearsed life. Unfortunately, “unrehearsed” all too often gets interpreted as “unbridled,” and life suddenly gets real painful for everybody else!

If authenticity becomes a license to verbalize whatever is in our hearts, then we may be perilously close to using authenticity as a facade for a new kind of self-indulgence. A verbal indulgence. In real life, it’s not always O.K. to say something just because I feel like it. It’s not all about me. In fact, it’s about others.

Being authentically honest means I’m honest with my brokenness. Authenticity is almost always confessional, not accusatory. It means I confess that at times I’m a loaded weapon…I’m wounded and I can be dangerous. But being authentic doesn’t mean I always have to take the safety off and pull the trigger. And it never means I should shoot with the intent to harm. If authenticity requires us to pull the trigger and discharge whatever is in our hearts, then I’d choose hypocrisy!

I value authenticity. But I value love even more.

(See chapter 4 in McManus’ “Uprising” for more on authenticity and integrity)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

on my nightstand

Several friends have recently asked me what I’ve been reading. Well, besides the "Da Vinci Code," (see my last posting), here’s some of the best stuff I’ve read in the last few months:

"Blue Like Jazz," by Don Miller. Miller is thought provoking and hilarious all at the same time. He writes about faith, doubt, and a postmodern’s struggle to find a real Christianity that really fits. He’s a wonderful storyteller whose insights are often profound and sometimes troubling.

"The Five Dysfunctions of Team," by Patrick Lencioni. This terrific little book is one of the best books I’ve ever read on teambuilding. It’s written as a marketplace allegory, but it’s application goes way beyond the marketplace. Lencioni takes a handful of fairly simple leadership concepts and skillfully organizes them into a powerful paradigm. This is very helpful stuff for anybody building any kind of team.

"Everybody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them," by John Ortberg. This is an outstanding book on relationships. Ortberg passes along a bunch of really helpful insights for all of us who still have some jagged edges left in our personalities and are doing our best to have community with other jagged edged people.

"Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul," and "An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Chruch God Had in Mind," both by Erwin McManus, are excellent reads. If your heart is restless for something deeper, and if you long to become the kind of person whose life is full and infectious, then consider giving "Uprising" a serious look. And if you want to have your understanding of the Church challenged and stretched, then check out "An Unstoppable Force" and pray hard about helping to shape something special. I think McManus is one of the best thinkers/practitioners around.

Enjoy, but don’t expect any of these books to put you to sleep!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

the da vinci code

With all the buzz surrounding The Da Vinci Code, (not to mention the fact it’s been the #1 bestseller forever), I finally borrowed a copy of the book and gave it a shot. I knew the book had messed with a lot of people’s faith, and I wanted to see what everyone was talking about it.

I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t put it down. If you like conspiratorial, sleuth-type books, then you’ll find it a really fun read. Without giving away too much, The Da Vinci Code is a story about uncovering the “truth” about Christ, the history of the Christian church, and the Holy Grail.

I was fascinated by Brown’s analysis of historical symbolism and religious icons. Oliver Stone couldn’t have woven together so many disconnected and disputed tidbits into a more stimulating story! I was even fascinated by the way he so smoothly turned history completely upside down by presenting the early Christians as a powerful business and political juggernaut whom Emperor Constantine had to appease in order to hang onto his empire, rather than as the small fringe minority that they were who had to meet in caves and homes in order to avoid persecution by the Roman Empire. I wasn’t sure if Brown actually believed what he was writing, or if he just needed to rewrite history for the sake of his story. Either way, he sure can spin a great story.

If you’re one of those people who read the book and found yourself asking, "Is this really true?", or, if you’d just like a better understanding of what early Christianity was really like and how the Bible was really put together, then check out some of the articles posted at I thought the "Breaking The Da Vinci Code" article was particularly insightful and helpful.

You know, to be honest, as I was reading The Da Vinci Code, I found myself asking God to give me an appetite to consume his Word that was way bigger than the appetite I had to finish the fictional story I found myself going to sleep to. That’s not a bad prayer...for me, or for anyone wishing to live well in the real word.

conflict and community

Somewhere along the way, probably in a college literature class, (if you stayed awake long enough!), you learned about the essential elements of story. It seems every great story has the same four elements: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. And for some reason, our hearts and minds respond to this same formula over and over again.

Your story, my story, every story takes place somewhere. In a house, in a neighborhood, in an office, or in a family, and the setting usually includes other people. Which is probably why the second element—conflict—is ever present. Something breaks. Someone breaks someone else. Loneliness, pride, tension, anger, fighting, self-absorption abound. It’s inevitable. If you want to write a novel that sells, you’ve got to have conflict.

Our hearts identify with conflict and they long for resolution. We want things made right. We want to live in peace with each other and in peace with our own souls. But sitting right there between conflict and resolution is the fourth element that all good stories have, and it’s the element that trips us up the most.

Climax is that point of decision that determines the end of the story. It’s the moment of time when our hearts must choose, and the choices we make result in a good or bad resolution. Climax is our response to conflict and our pathway to resolution.

Why is the Bible such a great story? Because it offers humanity a staggering resolution to the pervasive conflict we are tangled in, and because it places us in the same place as all those who have gone before us—at the climactic moment—when our choices determine how our story ends.

The story of NieuCommunities is still being written. But the elements of a great story are already present. We are now into our third year and we have already seen every member of every NieuCommunities group so far experience the four elements of story.

Each community starts in a setting usually rich with adventure, hope, and idealism. But it doesn’t take long before conflict seeps in and begins to rule the day. The little nuances we overlooked in the beginning now drive us nuts. We’re surprised when our “honesty” actually wounds or offends people. We’re frustrated when people don’t “get us.” We’re taken aback when people don’t actually want to hear everything on our minds. And we flat out become weary of trying to keep up the protective barriers we’ve spent a lifetime honing to perfection.

But sooner or later every one of us must choose what we will do with the conflict all around us. Will I settle for the status quo? Will I just tolerate people and ride it out? Will I withdraw? Or will I lean in and embrace? Will I love? Will I choose to be there for others in the climactic moment of their story?

The resolution of each life and each community hinges on these weighty decisions. And while we can certainly influence the outcome of each story, we simply can’t script it. It’s up to every player in every cast to determine the resolution of their story.

For now, I can only say that I am really proud of the choices our sojourners have made. They have fought well and loved hard. And the resolutions to the stories we have seen have been sweet in almost every case.

And if there is anything we have learned so far as we write this NieuCommunities story, it’s that community with one another is only sustainable when it flows out of individual communion with God. None of us really has the ability to do life together or love each other well unless we are each doing life with God and experiencing his tender love for us. At the end of the day, it’s God’s overflowing love for us that will spill over and splash onto those around us. When we are overwhelmed with his gracious, embracing love for us, we are able to move beyond the conflicts we experience and press through to sweet resolution.

Thank you for being such a significant part of this story and for sharing in this journey. Would you continue to pray that God’s love would abound in our communities and that the choices of our hearts would be the choices God would be delighted with? Thanks!!!