Manufacturing Opportunities

October 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

dumb-bell-1272846-mThis might come as a surprise to some of you but I am not in the best of physical shape. I mean, come on, I am a hunk, but I’m more like a hunk of soft cheese.

I live such a sedentary lifestyle that I have to manufacture opportunities to exercise. It does not come naturally to my office-based, stationary American, screen-filled life.

I try to eat well and exercise but, to be honest, it’s something I have to make an effort to do. Most Americans, myself included, live such a still lives that we have to manufacture opportunities to work our muscles. Whereas physical labor was once the norm for many people as part of their daily routines, we are now slow, lazy and fat.

Exercise is no longer something that comes naturally, so if it’s going to happen, it’s going to take intentionality. We have to consider our schedules and our priorities and we have to muster up the self-discipline just to get out and be active. Though the American lifestyle presents a lot of people with luxury, that’s not always a good thing. Comfort breeds complacency and complacency leads to atrophy.

But the need to manufacture opportunities doesn’t just apply to exercise, especially if you’re a Christian. Discipleship/Evangelism is expected to be a normal part of the Christian life. And yet, most American Christians never share their faith. And many American Christians don’t even know any non-Christians. In fact, we’ve inoculated ourselves from those who don’t yet know Jesus. We build mega-mall-churches with coffee shops, restaurants, sports leagues and the like, all pursuing a “safe, family-friendly” environment.

But just like our sedentary lifestyle means that we must manufacture opportunities to exercise, our isolationist Christianity means that we have to manufacture opportunities to spend time with those who don’t yet believe. This means that we must examine our schedules and consider our priorities.

It may even mean that we should do fewer “Christian” things; attend fewer Bible studies, etc. Christian community is a non-negotiable for the Christian life, but it should never mean that the result is that we don’t even know anyone who believes otherwise. We must manufacture opportunities. It’s not difficult, it’s just uncomfortable for many Christians for a variety of reasons, most fundamental is that many Christians just don’t feel comfortable articulating basic truths of our salvation.

This means that churches must adopt new measures of “success” and/or “failure.” We cannot base such assessments on our corporate gathering attendance. We have developed a culture in which the most “holy” people are often viewed as the ones who are at the church building the most or who are at the most events. However, if this comes at the expense of sharing our Savior, we have missed the point.

Living faithfully to Jesus takes effort and initiative just like living a healthy lifestyle. Get out there and manufacture opportunities. Join a club. Join a team. Go to your kids’ events. Opportunities are all around us. But are we pursuing them?

All Aboard The Crazy Train! An Update And Some Random Thoughts

May 21, 2013 at 12:37 am

securedownloadMy wife Kristi and I have been foster parents for almost one year now. Trust me, I know how crazy this is to most people. We already had four biological boys of our own. But we didn’t feel like our family was done, even though it was done biologically (trust me, I had the surgery). So, last July we began praying for a bigger van. We simply outgrew the normal minivan. A minivan could no longer hold our love.

Last week, we picked up our new 12 passenger van. And just in time, too.

I can’t give a lot of details, but our world has became a lot more chaotic. In fact, it’s a beautiful madhouse. Late last week, we received a call asking if we could take three more foster kids. We said yes. So, we went from 5 kids (our 4 sons and Baby G, who we’ve fostered for almost a year now) to 8 kids in our home. It helps that the other kids are Baby G’s biological siblings, but It doesn’t help as much when 8 kids are fighting, fussing, whining, pottying (on a potty or in diapers) or falling asleep at the most inopportune of times.

We never set out to become a big family. But then again, we never opposed being a big family. That much should be obvious with four biological sons of our own. But there’s something unexplainable about foster parenting. Someone recently told us that as you begin to love the kids God places with you, your heart expands to love each additional child for the season they are with you. That is very true. But it’s hard. In fact, sometimes it sucks. Our house is loud. It can get messy and lots of things break. We sweep/mop/vacuum/wash dishes/load laundry/fold laundry/put away laundry/wipe privates, change diapers, wipe mouths, tables and floors, etc., multiple times a day. Every day. And, in addition to the normal household chores that any children bring with them, foster children often bring problems of their own with them (though the problems are most often not their fault) and these kids are no exception. But then again, biological children are not always a walk in the park either. This type of life requires sacrifice.

But then again, it always takes sacrifice to love others, doesn’t it? And this has led me to lots of thought and prayer lately.

I am passionate about foster care and adoption. We have four biological children of our own and then decided our family wasn’t complete. But I know people that aren’t called by God to be foster parents. And that’s OK. I am under no illusion that you are called to be a foster parent, especially of multiple children. And I’m OK with that.

Just don’t tell me how crazy I am for opening my home. I already know that. I can’t even go to Target without getting stares and comments. Even in the heart of Suburbia, large families are not the norm. I understand that you may not be called to open up your home. But I have to ask: how has God called you to sacrifice? Even though I may not know personally, I can guarantee you that God has called us to more than a comfortable American life where we put our church sticker on our car and call it good.

How has God called you to sacrifice? How has God called you to embrace and enter the suffering of the world He loved enough to send Himself/His Son to die for? Just like I believe that ”Not Every Local Church Is For Every Person,” I believe that not every Christian is called to sacrifice in the same way. But all Christians are called to sacrifice. Something.

This may seem self-evident to you, but the way Christians treat one another says to me that we don’t believe this. I am weary of Christians believing that because we’re not all called to sacrifice in the same that we’re not all loved by our Father in the same way. While most of us would never be so blunt as to word it that way, this is exactly how we treat one another. The ones who passionately sacrifice on behalf of those caught in sex trafficking/slavery sometimes look down on those who aren’t called to serve in the same way. The people giving their lives to the homeless want others to share that passion. Those fighting abortion passionately ask “Where. Is. The. Church?” Those, like me, who open up their homes for kids with no home wish that more Christians would do the same.

But instead of celebrating and encouraging and equipping the beautifully different ways Christians can and do impact our culture, we cast dispersions at those who aren’t called to serve like us.

Now, I’m going to be brutally honest; if you claim to follow Jesus and you’re not living sacrificially in some way, I urge you to repent. I’m not sure you can truly belong to God’s family and live for yourself. However, that’s really not the group I’ve been thinking/praying about.

I am far too quick to dismiss those who are not like me. But at the same time, I tire of people that are just like me. After all, “variety is the spice of life,” right? What kind of world would it be if we all liked the same music or movies or food? I am deeply concerned that we are creating non-necessary dividing lines within the big freak-show tent of Christianity. I am far too quick to think that if you’re not called to serve in the same way that I am, then you’re not called by God at all. And that’s just nonsense. We don’t all like the same music. And that’s awesome. We don’t all like the same movies and I thank God that I’ve never had to sit through Titanic or Avatar (the 3D thing, not the animated series) even though I can appreciate that those may be your thing.

Why do we all take for granted that our passion (trafficking, abortion, homelessness, poverty in all its forms, health, water, children, hospitals, literacy, etc., etc., etc., etc.,) is the only passion? If that were the case, we might make a large dent in one issue without making any dent in others and making little to no impact on the big picture. Why are we so quick to elevate our own passions while diminishing others (hint, I think it’s because, even in serving, we are arrogant)?

This whole journey has reminded me that God’s people are nothing more than a beautiful circus of crazies and freaks. Instead of judging one another for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we one another’s best cheerleaders? Instead of looking down on each other for not serving in the same way, why aren’t we reaching back to grab the hands of those who aren’t yet serving at all? Instead of believing that our focus is pitch-perfect, why aren’t we all listening to the beautiful symphony of God’s will to reconcile all things to Himself through the Son while we try to find our part in the orchestra?

If the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of our love for one another (John 13:35), I wonder what our false judgment of one another tells those who are paying any attention?

Suburbia, Fish Tacos and Me: Be A Missionary, Not A Snob

May 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

restaurant_rubiosI doubt this will come as a surprise to you, but occasionally I sin. Not very often, of course, just once in a while. One of my more recent outbursts of this unfortunate side of myself happened this weekend. Our four biological sons received coupons for free kids’ meals at Rubio’s.

I didn’t want to eat at Rubio‘s and I passively aggressively let my poor wife know it. When the boys complained, saying they didn’t want to go to Rubio’s, I told them: “Too bad: we don’t get a choice, the coupons chose for us.” That wasn’t fair to her, but I didn’t want to eat at Rubio‘s.

And it wasn’t because I don’t like fish tacos. I do. In fact, I love their beer-battered fish burrito. The fact was, it was a beautiful Spring day in Phoenix and I didn’t want to spend it at some chain fast-food restaurant, regardless of whether or not I actually liked the food. I was being a spoiled wanna-be hipster (I don’t actually want to be a hipster, even if you could actually define what that means, but then again, that’s a sign of hipsterdom, isn’t it?! HELP! It’s a vicious cycle!).

To my credit (because this true story doesn’t really flatter me), I had a moment of clarity during which I told my awesome wife: “Who am I to compain about where we get to eat out for lunch? What a spoiled American I am”. But I didn’t want to eat at Rubio’s and not only am I spoiled American, I wanted to assert my individuality. I wanted to buck against Suburbia. I wanted to eat at a one-of-a-kind restaurant with a cool atmosphere, great food and good music. But I live in Suburbia.

I don’t just live in Suburbia, I live in the epitome of stereotypical Suburbia. There are malls evenly spaced every 20 malls or so, all with the same accoutrements: Best Buy, Red Lobster, Target, and then Lowes and Home Depot across the street from one another just in between each commercial section of town. Our homes all look the same. People get a block or so from their home, open the garage, pull in and close the garage before they even get out of the car. It’s not uncommon to live in an area for years and never even know your neighbor’s name. Our color palate is various shades of beige with a slight Southwest motif. When buildings get older, we tear them down and build strip malls.

I didn’t want to eat at Rubio‘s. But then again, I have visited foreign countries. I have been fed food I didn’t order; sometimes without even knowing what I was eating. And I didn’t complain. Because I was on short-term missions trips. I understood what it meant to live as a missionary, to lay down my own preferences in order to connect with another people group. What if I’m a missionary to Suburbia? If I can chomp on a chicken foot in China without complaining, surely I can eat a fish burrito even if I’d rather not. Man I’m spoiled. Rotten.

I wonder what might change in my daily routine if I lived everyday life with Gospel intentionality? I would go to the restaurant where my wife and I know the server rather than the restaurant I prefer. I would eat a burrito without being a snob. Because God has placed me as a missionary to Suburbia.

Evangelism vs. Discipleship(?) And Why Knocking Down Straw-Men Isn’t Enough

May 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

1355950_scarecrow_at_wheat_fieldBelieve it or not, there was once a time in my life when I loved controversy. I used to like to debate. It didn’t even matter if I really believed what I was saying; I just wanted to see if I could convince you.

Over the years, as God has humbled me (not always comfortably), I have learned that part of the reason I like these types of exchanges is because I tend to be an external processer of ideas. I like interaction, dialogue and even push-back. This helps me sharpen my own ideas and be humble in the positions I do hold.

I say all of this because, as the writer of a blog, I realize that the internet can be a platform which simply perpetuates the cycle of loudly ignorant arguments. In fact, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Andrée Seu lately as I consider the exchange of opinions on the internet and beyond:

Not always right but never in doubt, that’s us. Name an issue and we line up with an opinion. Organic eggs versus nonorganic? Not only do I have a view on this, but if yours is somehow different from mine, I like you a little less somehow.”

I don’t want to be that guy. But part of the reason I like the internets is precisely because of the open exchange of ideas. I find that it challenges me, especially when I read things I disagree with. I’ve just been convicted that I ought to disagree a little quieter and more thoughtfully. But it’s still OK to disagree. As my friend Justin recently pointed out:

Learning to disagree without dehumanizing those with whom we disagree (and especially about issues tied to identity) is as important an expression of grace as simply siding with someone.

By now, you are wondering who I disagree with, right? Well, funny you should ask. I’ve been thinking a lot about a piece that appeared on The Gospel Coalition website back in March called “Why Serving the Common Good Isn’t Enough.” I don’t personally know the author and I contemplated trying to contact him to let him know that I would be publicly disagreeing with his piece but then I thought that since he already published this, that’s it is open to dialogue. What do you think? How should Christians in particular disagree with one another publicly? Because I do take issue with the piece. The general idea is summarized by the author:

The problem doesn’t lay in the actions themselves. Cleaning a beach or planting a community garden is well and good. But what makes Christians unique in the world? Is it these types of “common good decisions”? Absolutely not.

Later, we’re told:

What makes Christians unique is not their good deeds, but the message they bear of a man whose incarnation, life, death, and resurrection has permanently altered human history and now demands the loyalty of every human being. Christians are indeed called to good works (Eph. 2:10), but they are called to do them “in the name of Jesus.”

There is a deep tendency in the past several years among evangelicals to stress building community and engaging the broader world. But where is the concurrent revival of interest in evangelism? Christians who seek to live faithfully for God in the world must always marry their “common good decisions” with the words of the gospel. This doesn’t have to be annoying or necessarily happen every day, but all of us—whether we design homes or fix cars—must give a reason for the hope we have (1 Pet. 3:15).

But here something I’d like to question: who does the author have in mind? Who is he correcting? He mentions Gabe Lyons and Andy Crouch by name. Is he calling them out for only “serving the common good” without declaring Truth about Jesus? And this is the first issue I have with this piece: while there are undoubtedly people guilty of what the author alleges: serving the “common good” to the exclusion of verbally sharing about Jesus, I’ve simply never encountered anyone like this. The author stresses this concern:

In contemporary evangelicalism, many pastors have awakened to “common grace” and “common good decisions.” But in the process some have forgotten the very public role of “special grace,” that message of God’s redemption in Jesus that is meant for the whole world.

But who is he talking about? I travel in several “missional” circles and have friends with varying levels of Evangelical merit badges. But I have never met a single “missional” pastor who stresses demonstrating Gospel Love to the exclusion of declaring Gospel Truth. If the author is thinking of someone in particular, we need to know who it is. Otherwise, he’s done nothing but kick over a straw-man. It’s fine to argue with a position no one holds, but just admit that you’re doing so only to promote your own position. We owe it to one another to be as clear as possible. If this is a real issue, give me an example. The author corrects a position I’m not sure anyone actually holds. Which leads us to my second issue with the piece. We’ve already quoted the author as saying:

There is a deep tendency in the past several years among evangelicals to stress building community and engaging the broader world. But where is the concurrent revival of interest in evangelism? Christians who seek to live faithfully for God in the world must always marry their “common good decisions” with the words of the gospel.

I can’t help but wonder if the entire piece is simply based on a common but important evangelical misunderstanding. Notice that he separates out “evangelism” from the service of the “common good.” In other words, it’s the common notion that evangelism is separate from discipleship. It’s quite common for Christians to believe that the two are somehow separate. After all, “evangelism” is what we tell those who don’t yet believe in order that they may become Christians and “discipleship” is how we help them grow once they’ve become Christians, right? The common assumption is that “discipleship” begins after conversion and therefore, we must always stress the verbal proclamation of the Gospel.

But what if this notion isn’t right? Don’t get me wrong, we must verbally proclaim the Gospel, but what if evangelism is actually part of discipleship? What if it isn’t a “either/or” question but “both/and”? In other words, as I am serving those who don’t yet believe, what if I am seeking to interact holistically? Serving physical needs while regularly and intentionally talking about Jesus? When I have my neighbors over and they see the way we open our home, the way we deal with our kids, the way we deal with spills and broken lamps, when they hear the way my wife and I interact, we are discipling them.

What if there is no distinction between evangelism and discipleship? What if evangelism is simply a part of discipleship? What if Gospel proclamation is always, always, always part of discipleship, no matter where someone is along the spectrum of faith? We do not stop proclaiming the Gospel once someone professes belief. Nor do we neglect serving others simply because there’s no chance to preach at them. We are always “evangelizing” one another in the context of tangible service. I can’t help but wonder how much damage this separation of “evangelism” from real life has caused.

While the author is concerned that too many Christians are “serving” without “proclaiming,” I can’t help but consider the exact opposite: I’ve encountered far too many Christians who are far too quick to tell someone they are going to hell without Jesus (which may indeed be true) but far too slow to demonstrate God’s love in tangible ways. What if the stress on proclamation limits the stress on demonstration? We’ve simply weighted the see-saw to the other side.

What are your thoughts here? I am entirely open to the possibility that I have misunderstood the author’s position and filtered it through my own experiences. But I am also open to the idea that Christians can publicly push against one another’s positions for the betterment of all. After all, the internet’s got to be good for something, right?

 

Listen . . . But Be Encouraged And Don’t Compare . . .

April 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

1227282_spotlight“Christian Celebrity Culture” is such an odd phenomenon. Christian leaders putting themselves on display is certainly nothing new. Jesus intentionally incorporate His disciples into everyday life. Paul urged his readers to follow his pattern of life. I wonder how many of Paul’s readers read those words and thought things like “I’ll never match up to that! That Paul is too holy for me!” Or, how many in the original audience compared Paul’s place in life to their own: “We should all be like Paul! Why isn’t our church more like that?!”

There seems to be a glut of “missional” videos and sermons with people sharing stories of gospel transformation; at a personal and community level. While I love that the idea of living missionally is gaining exposure as a normative expectation of every Christian, I also worry that the flood of success stories has an unintended impact on many. It’s not uncommon for these success stories to breed discontent and sometimes even discouragement in local church families. We as individuals look at these videos and hear these stories and wonder why we don’t have exhilarating stories to share. And why doesn’t my church family look like that one? Why don’t my pastors look like those pastors. They must be doing something wrong. I need a church that lives like that. Stories that were meant to encourage and spur on, oftentimes actually discourage. Because we compare ourselves without the context of everyday life.

I wonder if that’s how Paul’s original audience took his audacious statement that they should imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Though it’s hard to know for sure, I doubt that Paul’s audience met this claim with the same discouragement of comparison that we meet celebrity Christian success stories with. I think there’s an important difference. In Philippians 4:9, Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Notice: Paul says to practice not only what we’ve learned and received and heard, but seen. I can learn a lot of internet sermons. We now have unprecedented access to arguably some of the richest theological teachings ever, at the click of a button. I can listen to world renowned pastors and teachers. And I can easily begin to place them on a pedestal. And it’s not long before discouragement nips again at my heels. Why can’t I be more like them? But Paul says to practice what they’ve seen him do. I may be reading in to the text here, but I don’t think so: to see how Paul lived, they had to share life with him. His teachings were never removed from practice.

The next time you hear some of the conference and video missional success stories, listen for phrases like “Then one day . . . ” What we forget is that the churches, pastors and people in those videos are boiling down days, weeks, months and oftentime, years of perseverance into a single story. So, listen to these stories. Be encouraged that you too can live a missionary’s life in the everyday. But don’t compare yourself or your church to the polished product of a sermon illustration or professionally-produced video.

We must learn to redefine “wins” and “losses” in the grand scheme of things. Most of us are not going to have spontaneous baptisms and mass conversions as we go through our weeks. But we can live everyday life with Gospel intentionality.

Be The Church (GCM Collective)

March 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm


Be the Church from Caesar Kalinowski on Vimeo.

New eBook, “Be The Church”

February 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

BeTheChurchGCMpic3DBe sure to check out the new e-book Be The Church: Discipleship And Mission Made Simple (10 Drawings, 10 Conversations) by my friends Seth McBee and Caesar Kalinowski.

Verge Network describes the book:

Sometimes the simplest things can get lost in tradition or become over complicated due to confusion or lack of practice. Sometimes we are just too smart for our own good. The reality of who we are as Christians, the Church and as disciples, while having historical and eternal importance, has become somewhat muddled in our modern understanding and dialogue.

As the conversation around being “missional” has come front and center within certain church circles in recent years, it seems that many of us struggle to grasp and/or explain the basics to others. This short book of simple pictures and conversations is meant to offer a starting point–a way to get, or keep, the dialogue going around some of the key issues surrounding who we are as the Church and what our mission really is.

  • Get the book here.