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Nov
18

An Essential Metaphor

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book-cover-with-gray-matConveying what is arguably the best metaphor for missional, incarnational living, “Live Sent: you are a letter” is a healthy, needed read for followers of Christ. Jason Dukes, who I am proud to call a friend, uses an extended metaphor or conceit throughout the book to share the ever-present reality that as disciples and disciple-makers we are the image of Christ to the lost. Like the snail mail or an email that is sent to be read, our lives are the content that communicates who Christ is. The reading of a letter or email can happen anywhere, but it must be close and personal. It is real. The book is a call to examine the way we live our lives. It is a call to live sent. Constantly. Consistently. Christ-like. Living sent.

Jason poses the question, “What’s my part in this epic called humanity?’ His answer is that each of us is to live our lives just as we are sent by God–because we are. In the book he communicates four main points.

First, he suggests that “there may be some things we need to rethink.” These things include life, church, relationships, and our intentions. He encourages the reader to ask if the way we are doing each of these is consistent with our call to live sent?

Second, he states that “living sent is all about trusting your value.” Made in the image of God, we can move forward in confidence that our life or our “live” (short “i” there) is worthwhile because of him.

Third, he shares that to live sent, we must do life together. He writes that the “epic of humanity…should be seen most beautifully within the movement Jesus started that he called His ‘church.'”

Fourth, we are to be consistently “giving ourselves away intentionally.” There is a really good example for that. Enough said.

Pick the book up and read it–to the end. Don’t miss out on the stories and the post scripts. They are important to make this both a “construct shift” and provide some practical, non-sequential handles to put this in motion. Because after all, living sent is about making disciples as we go.

One final note here that is important. It is the unwritten but very read post script. Jason is one humble guy. Borrow or steal his stuff and he’ll be fine. Just live and share it is his hope. Jason is unique in that he is not reacting to something that he grew up with that he needs to fix or improve. He has seen this sentness lived out in his family as he grew up in inner-city New Orleans doing life there. Watching his parents live sent there. He is blessed as he is part of a network of other humble leaders and followers and learners. He walks through life with some great guys that are also humble leaders: Jim Collins (no, not that Jim Collins the other one), Hal Haller, Robert Beckman, Adam Mayfield, Billy Mitchell, and others. These men along with their wives and children make up a great cloud of witnesses that are making disciples as they live sent. This is a tribe that has encouraged their brother Jason to write down the way that he has lived and shared and modeled and lived…so that others may see the realness of it. So that others may be challenged and encouraged to live sent. These are guys that are a blessing to me though we have been together only for a spot of time so far. Thank you Jason and crew.

Aug
05

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

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iStock_000004150295XSmallIt was a cookout. And I don’t mean the pretty kind on a gas grill in a backyard by a pool. It was just inside a dense forest outside a major urban center in Eastern Europe. There was fire, smoke, mosquitoes, mud, fallen trees used for seats…. There was no toilet, though there was (smile). No place to wash hands. Those who started the fire, both believers and non, had mud and rust and ash on their hands. Those who prepared the meat–one a believer for years, the other for days–had fat and marinade from the wrists down. All had clothes that smelled of smoke. All had a full sensory experience of the meat cooking, sizzling, and in places burning. All shared from the skewers as the meat was ready to be eaten. Some slightly burned their hands and mouths as they ate the meat that had just come off the coals. All could hear the birds singing and the passing of traffic just a quarter mile away. It was real. It was a wonderful time of being together!

Though our outing was not planned for this reason, I was reminded of Jesus’ time with His disciples at the end of His days on Earth. He cooked for them on a campfire. His clothes had to smell of smoke. Surely there was ash and the strong scent of fish on his hands. The subsitutionary lawn chairs were probably the ground or maybe some stones. For added ambience, it appears fish were probably flopping around on the ground. It was real. (John 21)

This was discipleship. It didn’t happen in a classroom. He didn’t hold conferences. What did He do? He walked with His disciples. They walked with dirty, dusty feet together. He ate with His disciples. They encountered both adoring crowds as well as angry religious leaders together. They lived life together. Jesus didn’t teach them about His heart for the lost until after they had repeatedly seen it lived out by Him. Then He sent them out. Then He returned to the Father. John shared that they had seen, heard, and touched Him. It was real. John challenged that if we are going to say “I know him,” then we must “walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 1-2)

This entry is not a call to roughing it, nor is it a challenge to ban gas grills (though I do prefer the charcoal variety for flavor). I am not calling for the halt of conferences. This is, hopefully, the beginning of a conversation about what discipleship is….

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Jul
23

Exilic Living

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It was my privilege to participate in an international church planting conference in 2007 where Michael Frost was the keynote speaker. Unfortunately his first talk is not recorded here. However, it is important to know that he began the conference with a talk on the post-Christian reality that: had already come about in Australia; was a functioning reality in Europe; and was in the process of becoming reality in North America. (Note: these talks were delivered almost two years ago. During that time, trends have not, in my estimation, slowed or reversed course.)

In this follow-up talk he covers material from a book he coauthored with Hirsch–Exiles. Frost borrows some ideas from Brueggemann about the Hebrews living in Babylon and the resulting exilic literature. This may serve as a roadmap for how we can live a radical faith in our postmodern, post-Christian context.

The content shared here may disturb and disorient some. For others, it may begin or advance a process of reorientation that leads to meaningful change. I would encourage you to invite your spouse, your friend(s), and/or the team with whom you are seeking to share your journey of faith to watch the hour-long video with you. Grab some pastries, doughnuts, bagels, ramen, and/or something else to fit your palate and budget, fix enough coffee or tea to let them know you are serious about this activity as you have prepared in advance in order to honor them. Then view the video and set aside at least another hour to discuss it. Below the video are some possible discussion questions.

BTW – If given serious consideration, this is not easy material. Also, parts of the presentation are NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

Some questions for discussion. (Don’t wimp out and do these solo!)

  1. In what ways does our context merge with post-Christendom?
  2. If we were to view ourselves as exiles, how would that change our praxis? How might it change our living out the Great Commission?
  3. What aspects that Frost shares do we consider implementing now? What does that look like?
  4. What do we need to revisit in the future? When do we plan to come back to this?
  5. Would the lost community around us agree with our discussion / conclusions to the above questions? How could we verify this? Is that a conversation we are willing to begin?
  6. What other questions should we be asking right now?
  7. How serious about this are we? Honestly?
Jul
08

Confidently Un-oriented (part 3)

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Disorientation -> Reorientation -> Meaningful change

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The intensity of a disorientating experience may vary significantly. Some may be confronted with a near-death encounter, others may be captured anew by a sunset. The intensity of the disorientation is not the determining factor to dictate the extent or lack of the change. Reorientation is the process that will determine change.

A contrast in disorientation intensity may be found when considering Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Lydia believes while hearing Paul the first time. We read that “the Lord opened her heart.” On the other side of the spectrum, the jailer is ready to take his own life thinking that the prisoners had escaped following the earthquake. Upon learning that all are still present he runs in and falls to the ground shaking. His next response is then the same as Lydia’s. He believes. (Acts 16)

For both characters mentioned above, their reorientation was a complete paradigm shift. A radical worldview adjustment. They would never see things the same again. Not long after that we see Paul writing one of his most encouraging letters to the church that had been planted in the city of Philippi by most likely Lydia and/or the jailer. Here the reorientation was radical, the change was substantive and lasting, but the disorientation experiences could not have been more different.

When Paul addresses the sages in Athens, the responses are multiple. There is change for all: some sneer; some believe; some want to hear more. Paul offers a message that is completely unfamiliar to them. The disorientation is equal for all in the story, but the reorientation and the resulting change has eternity as the variance. (Acts 17)

These three posts on disorientation have strong correlations to someone’s understanding of  and response to the gospel. And church. And mission. And missiology. And life. And…?

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Jul
06

Confidently Un-oriented (part 2)

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Lost and Confused SignpostIronically, shortly after I posted part 1 to this piece, a person in my Facebook network posted: “Today during language I realized how much I don’t know a little bit more than I usually do. It freaked me out.” This is disorientation. It can be a little scary, but it can also be very rewarding. The question for people, like Timothy, when they enter this state, is “how will I respond?” “Now that my wrong assumption has been obliterated, what do I do with my newfound insight?”

Jesus spoke of both the man who became disoriented and the man who remained confidently un-oriented. The Teacher tells a story of two sons. The younger crashes and burns and then says to himself, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He was desperate for change because things had not turned out half as well as he had first envisioned. This was the beginning of his disorientation. Phase two kicked in when he gets close to his childhood home and is greeted and embraced by his father. Dad drives the point home for him: “Quick! Bring the best….he was lost and is found.” Then the party began. (As an aside, I think it is great that Jesus was in favor of a good party at the right times.) The older brother does not seem to rethink things. He is confident in his own goodness: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” He continues to be resolute in the shortcomings or the lack of wisdom of the father: “Yet you never gave me….” (Lk 15:11-32)

A profound example of disorientation is in the story of Habakkuk. In the first part of the story Habakkuk tells God that he, Habakkuk, is getting tired of waiting for God to fix things so that the Israelites would not continue in severe persecution. He says: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save.” Once again, here is a man starting a discourse while confident in his ignorant wisdom. God responds in a way Habakkuk never would have guessed: “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians…to seize dwelling places not their own.” Habakkuk replies with a highfalutin version of ‘God are you crazy?’ He says: “O Lord, are you not from everlasting? …Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” But then Habakkuk gets smart. He seems to prepare himself for disorientation. He says, “I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” God then lays out a plan of destruction because of the sin of Israel. Through all of this, God reveals the truth of the gospel: “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous will live by faith….You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.” Disoriented and changed, Habakkuk replies: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy….Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” At this point Habakkuk understands the sinful behavior of his people. This now makes sense to him through the span of history as he has a new, deeper understanding of the holiness and majesty of God. (Hab 1-3)

The rich young ruler, a final example for this post, came to Jesus seeking affirmation of his own goodness and right standing. Confidently un-oriented he replied to Jesus instruction about keeping the last 6 commandments: “All these I have kept….What do I still lack?” When told that his wealth kept him from obeying the first four commandments, the man was profoundly disoriented. This was not at all the way he expected this encounter to unfold. He left sad with his riches having a little less luster than before, but eternal life not being opulent enough to pursue change. (Mt 19:16-30)

Disorientation does not automatically equal meaningful change. It is a prerequisite, but not a guarantee. The wayward son and Habakkuk changed through their disorientation process. The older brother and rich young ruler did not.

Confidently Un-oriented (part 3)

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Jul
02

Confidently Un-oriented (part 1)

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iStock_000004097028XSmallYears ago I was headed to the airport with a colleague to meet a couple of new team members. While waiting for their arrival, we began discussing training and orientation. My friend shared with me some stuff he had been reading about the need for unlearning prior to effective learning. We laughed for some time as we created and shared ideas for programs of disorientation.

Over the first weeks I provided a standard orientation for our new team member. We covered a range of topics including: getting around the city, history, culture, strategy, missiology, ecclesiology, etc. After weeks for some issues and months for others, we would revisit issues at the team member’s prompting. Often we would cover the same points or have a conversation almost identical to our previous discussion—but this time it obviously clicked. In looking back I see that this happened repeatedly with personnel that I have worked with in various roles—both religious and secular. In some instances people have come back more than a year later and shared that they now understood some topic we had discussed. Also, on numerous occasions, I personally experienced the need to review or almost to go through reorientation.

How do you explain to someone how different it really is in the place where you landed compared with the place you left? How do you do orientation? How do you communicate or lead? When people look the same, but the paradigms they maintain are radically different, how do you explain the invisible interpretation process they go through? Today I spoke with a friend talking about the cultural differences he experienced when moving from South Carolina to Mississippi. I have seen volunteers that just didn’t grasp key concepts in their short period of time in a new context, culture, country, etc. I have heard the comment in various formats, “people everywhere are the same, they just speak with different accents.”  Really? Is this true or the perspective of the confidently un-oriented?

My experiences have often caused me to go back to our comical banter on programs of disorientation. They are still funny, but not so unrealistic now. You can reorient people only after they realize they are disoriented. The man who is confidently walking north as he is looking for something on the far south side of town does not need assistance…yet. He will get input in the future or he will continue to walk in the wrong direction. First, he must realize he doesn’t have a clue how to arrive at the mark—he is genuinely disoriented.

My desired model for communicating or teaching looks like this: Disorientation –> Reorientation –> Meaningful change. When the sequence is in this order, significant learning and change can happen in short periods of time. However, at times I try to convince the confidently un-oriented person to embrace my position. Sometimes, I is him.

Confidently Un-oriented (part 2)

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Jun
30

Shakespeare and Missiology

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ShakespeareThe universal question remains valid: “To be or not to be?” Many aspire to take on the responsibility of missionary, but when they are faced with an aversion toward both the title and position from those needing to encounter the truth of the gospel, Shakespeare’s question becomes more than relevant. (Who knew that William was a missiologist?) Should I be Missionary? Should I not? Personally, I am almost an M. Seeking to be fully missional, completely on mission, unwaveringly committed to Christ and His commission to us…almost an M.

Years ago I heard Neil Cole share about Paul’s four missionary journeys and how his strategy changed along with the impact of each. Cole’s advice was to wait until the third or fourth journey to start sharing lessons learned. This seemed wise. Time has passed. In different contexts including the U.S. and Europe at times as a supported M and others as tentmaker, I have arrived at the requisite number of prolonged journeys and feel that I have learned some of the questions to ask and have formed some working hypotheses and theories. It is my intention and hope that a tribe may form to share, question, refine, and where necessary, replace these thoughts with ideas that are Christ-centered, biblically-based, and pragmatic. A tribe…almost an M.

In my life and mission experience I have seen some things related to mission that should have been celebrated for the Kingdom which were not. On the other hand I have seen things that should not, in my opinion, have been celebrated as being mission that were. My working conclusion was and remains…I am almost an M.

My past includes maintaining a non-M identity for some of the above reasons as well as maintaining access to a country. The nameless, faceless blog is not my preference, but as I expect to be almost an M in similar situations in the future, this format fits the pragmatic side. Still I hope to interact personally with you that are living the mission in person some time on this side of heaven. Until then, I hope to mutually encourage and challenge one another. Let’s walk together being intentional, being missional, being almost an M. Hamlet would be paralyzed. Shakespeare would, I think, consider it worthy. I am on the advance. What about you?

Categories : missiology
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