17 March 2006

The Junie Story

Matt’s in bed and he hears, “Congratulations. You finally made it. Now get ready to move on to the next thing, hugs and kisses, God"

Back in 1998 I was new to Newberg. I was a full time student at GFU and living on my Navy education money, about $800/mo for rent, food, and all that plus school expenses – things were...um...tight. I was also new to my church, I’d been attending for about 4 months.

At the time, I had a strong feeling that I should give $500 to the church. You should know that the idea that God would give me some kind of a specific direction like that was a very new idea for me. I’d never really had anything like that happen before. And it wasn’t just a sense that I should give some money to the church, or a lot of money, but a specific amount - $500. That decision vexed me for over a month while I talked with my pastor, talked to my teachers, wrung my hands and flipped out. I had all kinds of good reasons not to do it – it was bad stewardship! It was way more than 10% of my income! It would certainly cause me to skip on other financial commitments that I had! Quite frankly the whole idea was just foolish. But from the moment He spoke, I knew that He had spoke, and what was really happening was that I was trying to find a way out from under it and my brain was leading that charge while my heart never really bought all the arguments. Also, all the counsel I got from people I trusted came down to something like this – despite the way the circumstances look, we’re called to obey. SO do that.

Eventually I screwed up my courage, took a deep breath and wrote a check. I drove that check over to my church and with downcast eyes gave the check over to John Teeters. “I’m supposed to give this to the church.” I said – moping.
“Really?,” he said. “Any reason in particular?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Well I think I know – thanks.”he said smiling...and that was that. No explanation, no big fanfare that was nearly up to the stress I had endured over the decision. Just a casual ‘Thanks” like I’d given him a lollipop. Still, it was behind me and the peace of finally having made a decision was reward enough. Right or wrong it was now officially in the past. On my back to the car, as clear as day, God says “Good job. Now prepare to give $5,000.”

I was like “You gotta be kidding me!” but I hid that thought in my heart for a couple years while I graduated from college, started working, and got married. In all that time I never knew what that whole episode was about except that it was a powerful lesson in obedience. I did miss several bill payments – God didn’t promise me that following his lead wouldn’t cost me anything. In fact, if anything, He promises that following Him WILL cost us – sometimes our very lives. But He also promises that it’s worth it. That one struggle with hearing his voice and trusting it no mater how things looked lead me into further adventures that turned into huge blessings. Going to Africa and marrying Rebekah are only two of them and for me I looked back on that as a turning point, and that was enough.

Bt then sometime in 2001, so about three years after that $500 check was done, there’s a guest speaker at church. It’s a young lady named Junie who has recently returned from a long term mission and she wants to tell her story to TFC since the church helped with her support. I’ve never seen or met Junie, but she’s so full of the Spirit and joy and seems so totally sold out for Jesus it’s neat to watch her. After hearing about tribes and weird food and jungle rot she wants to talk about Providence. Before she left she was raising support from TFC and one or two other local churches. With literally 3 days to go before her deadline she had raised $1,500 of the $2,000 her organization required her to raise – and she was getting desperate. She knew that the call to this mission was real but God hadn’t provided the money – what was she to think? And then, she says, a mysterious check for $500 suddenly came through TFC – it made her requirement almost perfectly and without that she might never have gone. She never knew where that money came from...but I did. I almost lost there that day – it was a good thing I was in the back – because God seemed to turn to me with this knowing little wink and whisper - “You didn’t think I would just fritter away your sacrifice did you?”

For the record, Junie went on to become the children’s pastor at my church – because of what we had done for her - where she did a fantastic job of raising God fearing little children. She was a fantastic source of joy and love and eventually found her husband there. But the story continues...

Not long after that I made the decision to quit my day job and start my own business. As part of that I took a loan against my house as start-up money and as that loan finalized and I’m looking at my bank account wondering about the best way to manage this cash God says “Remember the $5,000?” OK – I’ve just quit my job. I have a new wife which is a responsibility that I’ve never had before. We have a new house, that I just took a loan against. Are you serious? The struggle over $5,000 wasn’t nearly as vexing as the $500 because I had several years of experience behind me this time – I had learned to trust God in both thick and thin – so I did cough up the money. To date, there hasn’t been anything where God showed me a direct result of that donation, but then again, I’m at a place in my faith where I don’t really need that anymore. I know He’s good for it. I know it was something. Most importantly, I know that’s what He asked for – and I don’t need to know why. I do know that God’s hand has been on this business ever since then. Helping us through both good and hard times and making this a incredibly rich season in my life. If nothing else, just submitting Code-Monkeys to His will in that very tangible way has been a fertile field of spiritual growth.

After that $5k went out, as clear as day, God said - “Thanks. Get ready for $50,000.”

15 March 2006

More on that man thing...

I understand why the blogs put the newest post at the top, but this post is properly a continuation of the previous post – it should go beneath it...I wonder I can fudge the date or something to force it down? Anyway...

While I see this idea shaping up in my mind, I also think that it won’t properly crystallize without the counsel of the other guys. This thing, its structure and purpose and SOP should be shaped and fleshed out organically. “Wisdom is found in the moths of many counselors” says the Word. But that said, here are a few ideas:

  1. We should understand money
Like it or not, money is a powerful force and there is a great deal of Biblical advice regarding money. We can’t be fully armed warriors if we can’t effectively weird this particular weapon. And it’s not enough to read a Larry Burkett book, we need to understand and experience both success and failure with investments and business. It goes without saying that enriching our own lives isn’t really the point, but nor is it verboten. The Word says a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children – so let’s work toward that goal. While money can no doubt be as much a blessing as a curse, we can’t eschew this tool just because of it’s potential danger.
  1. We should know how to fight
A man with a sword is an anachronism today – I’m not disputing that. But there is something singularly powerful about knowing that lethal force is within your reach. Being a knight, being a leader – being a man – includes the idea of the judicious application of force. In today’s world, that would only rarely mean physical force, but even there, a so-called knight turned to jelly by a 14 year-old with a knife, is clearly missing something. Learning to fight teaches us about our own strengths and just as well our weaknesses. It teaches us poise in the face of danger. It’s self-confidence, self-control, and the proper place of authority all in one. We learn to respect ourselves as we learn to respect our enemies – including The Enemy.
  1. We should value fraternity
Our American culture is too mobile, too segmented, too disconnected to build the kinds of deep, thick-or-thin relationships that make us strong. As these last few years have passed, nothing has changed so sharply in my understanding of God’s call on my life than my appreciation of community. This idea rests squarely on a commitment of these men to one another for a long time – years at the very least. Also, I’m not talking about soccer games, at least not ONLY soccer games. I’m talking about a deliberate effort to know one another (our wives and kids as well as the guys) and come to that place where trust one another deeply. Where we’re vulnerable enough to say, “Guys – I need help with this!” and where a guy who falls, a guy who chokes, or a guy who sins isn’t berated or preached to, but rather is gathered round and protected – given the space to catch his breath and heal. I’m sick and tired of that Christian culture where we shoot our wounded.
  1. We should be deliberate
This group should seek and embrace a purpose with zeal. It’s not enough to just agree that we’ll all hang out and try tom be Godly men. We need to approach this band, as well as the rest of our lives with direction. Not wandering, not simply reacting to what happens to us, but pressing on toward a goal. I confess that at this moment I don’t know what that ‘bigger’ goal would be. But I trust that when everything is in place, it will made clear to us. And don’t take this lightly. I know that it’s fashionable in these men groups to say that leading our families is the biggest adventure of all, but quite frankly – bullshit. No doubt raising teenagers (or twins!) presents certain significant challenges, but I’m really thinking that this is about more than keeping promises, more than loving our wives – The Round Table became legend because those men committed themselves to an ideal larger than life, larger than themselves. Let us seek and expect that God’s call will be mighty.

All of this vision casting, all of this purple language, is really just this: Christ has awakened my heart to something huge – life abundant. He’s calling me to see the bigger picture and to be an active part of it. I want to move past the phase in my life where I go go God cautiously, with one eye always on the door, one foot always in the world – and instead to charge the throne boldly. And there still – to really find that place where my spiritual life, as rich as it might be, to mesh fully with my physical life. I’m wanting to move past timidity and safety and frakking boredom – bored at work, bored at church, bored all week until I get to watch Battlestar Gallactica where somebody else is living life to the fullest. Why do Treasure Island, and Lord of The Rings, and Lion King get me excited? Because they are full of adventure and the promise that great things happen when normal people stay a course. And my heart was MADE for adventure.

I’ve been brought to the awareness that Jesus carries more than that lost sheep on his shoulders – he carries a double-edged sword with his robe dipped in blood.
That fires me up!
That’s the Jesus I want to follow into war.
And it seems to me that the trumpet is sounding.

12 March 2006

Imperfect vision

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

There’s something gathering at the edge of my vision – a dim outline of something that still lacks details or texture or color, but it seems to be increasingly vivid in the last few weeks. It’s a vision, I think, of where God will be moving me in the near to mid future, an assignment of sorts. As I’ve started to sense this approaching thing, sniffing for it on the wind, I find myself compelled to make room for it, to prepare for its arrival. For example, after five continuous years of hosting Skaggs Spaghetti Night – we’re calling that to a halt. After too many years of long hours at work, working overtime to get my fledgling business on its feet, I find myself with a fresh commitment to working my day and coming home on time – damn the deadline (which, by the way, has been an unlooked for exercise in simplicity and providence. It’s fascinating how many things actually DON’T need my attention). I’ve been cutting things back, cutting things loose, and deliberately saying no to things that at any other time in my life would have seemed like opportunities.

So as not to seem coy, and retaining my right to say “oops – I was way off” - here’s the shape of what I’m seeing.

  • I’m seeing a group of men - a small group, probably no more than ten.
  • All of them peers, so men of roughly the same age and stage of life.
  • All of them ‘Servants of the Secret Fire’ as Gandalf says – Christians of deep and sincere commitment to our Father and His Son.
  • Men who excel at their profession, who have achieved a degree of success by virtue of the fact that their hearts are truly engaged in their work and the work is truly submitted to God. Whether that be ministry or middle management, potter or policeman – what matters is passion. And I’m not talking about success as the world measures it but rather that spiritual contentment that he is where God placed him and his labor is an offering.
  • These men recognize and accept the burden of leadership that they are called to. They have heard God’s call to their hearts to be bigger – to be more – whether that be leading their own families to God’s throne or leading a nation to the same place, these men know deep in their core that God has called them to more than punching a clock.
  • And this is critical – these men understand that they will study war that their sons might study wisdom. They take up this mantle, this covenant with one another, for the express purpose of making their sons mighty men of God.

It’s a little over the top – I know. But this is what is taking shape in my mind. A group of guys who really take this stuff seriously. Who value brotherhood and community above a promotion that would break this circle. Call it a modern round table. If one can put 1000 to flight, and two can put 10,000 to flight – what can ten men of integrity and honor and courage do?

There’s been a stirring in the church over this very subject, but this isn’t really about ‘the church’ - at least it isn’t about that building you meet in on Sunday. It’s very much about The Body and being very conscious and deliberate about picking up this sword and learning to use it. To become warriors and men of renown – knights.

And not by force of will, but by answering the summons.

This will hurt and be the process of years. This will cost you a great deal – it represents a significant sacrifice - but your life will be saved in the process. More importantly, the lives of your families, your sons in particular, will be rescued form this grey, flat, lifeless thing we’ve come to call modern American life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be truly challenged once in a while? To actually have something actually on the line? To live a life of fullness where neighbors say ‘I want what that guy has. He is so ALIVE!”

And while the core of this thing is about Jesus, it’s not just about prayer. It’s not “Let’s stop to the throne room of heaven brother!” - it’s real live dirt and mud and blood. Learn to fight – for real. Swing a real sword so you know what’s like. We’re talking about life and death here – both spiritual AND physical. We love God with our whole spirit, but also our whole mind and our whole body.

Listen to me :: There will be men who read this post, even men who have never read my blog before, who will understand this call is for them. This idea won’t be new to them – it will be only an articulation of something that has been smoldering in their chests for months, maybe even years. The mind will yell “Yes! That’s it!”

I don’t know where this will go – I’m only trying to be obedient to the call on my heart as I understand it – invite.

And let me also offer this caution.  Many are called, but few are chosen. The immediate invitation is this – come. Yes – I mean move your family, your job, your life. Come if you’re certain of God’s call and I know some of you are. But for many, many others the invitation is different – start something. Ask God about your own group of men that surround you. Surely this invitation is only one of many – there is no shortage of need for men who will step up and swing the bat. This will not bee the only such group to be formed. I have to trust God that He will hand pick the men for this group that he has in mind, but for others, others for whom the idea feels like a tug on their guts, raise a flag and see who salutes.

For me, I’ll wait and see who answers.

09 March 2006

Conversations With Lewis

See: http://mysterycycles.blogspot.com/2006/01/i-admit-it-i-hate-islam.html

Whenever I tell my story, or ‘testimony’ in High Christianeese, I give a lot of credit to C.S. Lewis and 1994 (the year, not the book) for bringing me into the kingdom. I consider myself a rational, intelligent person and my intellect presented any number of barriers to my faith. I had innumerable questions about dates and ages and genealogies and on and on and on. Miracles, and resurrections and such were just so much superstition cloaked as something more important as far as I was concerned.

What’s interesting is that I would have called myself a Christian at that time if you had asked. But you see, I was a ‘thinking Christian’ not one of those min-numb robots who takes everything with blind faith. I was interested in the compelling similarities between Jesus’ teachings and those of Buddha, I had an enlightened, modern relationship with an intelligent girl that I lived with. I knew that responsible use of mind altering substances was actually a holy rite in several ancient religions and that laws prohibiting such things were either Republican attacks on my freedom by blue haired old ladies in New England, or an unfortunate necessity to address the problems of the irresponsible users. I knew that God was everywhere so there was no need to go to church, besides I’d almost certainly wind up running into some intolerant Bible-thumper. In hindsight, I was willing to call myself a Christian because that sounded kinda cool and I guess I did believe, at least, that God and Jesus were real – but it was like recognizing the Prime Minister of England on TV. My impression was based more on disjointed, occasional headlines than anything else. And since he really doesn’t have any kind of authority over me then what he thought or said was only interesting insofar as I agreed with Him, and could use his quote to win an argument and look clever.

For all those years, and many before then, Lewis’ Mere Christianity had sat on my bookshelf. I had read it years ago, found it interesting, but then moved on to some foul tome by Allister Crowley (Yeah, I had an occult phase) but eventually settled into a pretty steady diet of Discover, the History Channel, and Nova. I loved science literature and I considered myself a man of science. Toward the end of 1994 my squadron, VAW-114, moved over to CV-63 and I spent the next six months at sea. Despite what you might think about the Navy, you know the phrase ‘It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!” - well most of the time it’s just a job, and even being at sea is little different in many ways. We work 12 hour shifts 7 days a week and there is simply NOT that much to do to fill those hours. Since I was on the night shift for much of that time, there were many, many nights in that six months where I was all caught up and I went wandering around the Kitty Hawk. On that ship, there are many rooms! Off the flight deck there were huge nets suspended 90 feet off the water – I often crawled out onto one of those nets and watched miles and miles of dark ocean slip beneath me. But other times, I’d roll on my back and stare up at up a sky so crowded with stars that I would audibly gasp. It was in those moments in particular that I had the time and the space to ask sincerely, “God? Are you really there? Is this Jesus thing for real?”...and He answered.

In that time, I devoured every book in the ship’s library on Christianity, particularly those by Lewis, and particularly Mere Christianity. That one book speaks directly to so many of the intellectual challenges I had to the faith. It was candid, but unapologetic. It was lucid and intelligent without becoming sophistry.

It was exactly what I needed to hear.
And it quite literally changed my life.

But as I mentioned, it wasn’t the first time I had read that book. Come to think of it, it probably wasn’t the second time either. Mere Christianity is one of those books that well meaning concerned Christians give to friends they’re worried about – so I’m sure somebody had offered the book to me as a gift in more than one occasion.

Had the book changed? Had the current edition been somehow improved from my older paperbacks? Not at all. Lewis’ rationale was exactly the same it had been for the previous 50 years. His logic was no sharper, his arguments no more weighty, his prose no more eloquent. It was the same book – it was event the same freaking paperback with the powder blue cover and sailors before me had dog-eared about every other page for their own mysterious reasons.

What had changed was me.
What had passed was time.
What had grown was détente.

In the simplest terms, I had come to a place and time where I was willing to listen. For crying out loud, I really didn’t have anything better to do, so I asked questions and God answered.

Prior to that trip, listening wasn’t what I was up to – I would have argued with you if you had suggested otherwise, and effectively, but in truth I was really only interested in raising a defense of my own ego, my own way of doing things, and my own draws to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Not that I was some mad party freak,  I was a relatively normal guy, but the point was that I knew what I wanted and it was important to me to defend that state against anyone or anything that challenged it. My worldview HAD to be right because so much of my existence hung on it. I wouldn’t have been able to put it to words at the time, but my guts knew that Christ’s call was truly to put all of that to death and that part of me was not going down without a fight.

Twelve years later, I’m still subscribed to Discover, and Wired and I love anything technology related. I’m such a nerd. But more and more I consider myself a man of faith – and I hope to grow in that space still more. I see faith as more powerful than knowledge now, more instructive, and ultimately more real. Some of those changes came through academic study – admittedly, a study of faith might seem like a contradiction, but history is littered with men and women like Lewis – wildly intelligent, sharp as tacks, and sold out totally for our Risen Lord – their stories and writings are fascinating. But it was Lewis who was there when I needed him, and I plan to get in the long line of folks who want to shake his hand in heaven.

But what has all this got to do with Devin?
Almost two months ago a pretty lengthy debate erupted on Devin’s site and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. The very long thread was characterized by one fellow who generally argued from the rationalist/materialist viewpoint and a number of Christians who tried to argue from a more Bible-based/Creationist viewpoint. But despite very well reasoned and very well documented posts on both sides – nobody was moving. It wasn’t quite like a stalemate because at least both players in a stalemate recognize the situation. It was more like the battle between the Merimac and the Monitor. Cannonball after cannonball fired with skill and accuracy, only to bounce off the ship’s iron hide. The thread eventually ended from exhaustion, not because anybody was able to make their point. And this battle royale got me thinking.

The word says “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world.” Col 2:8

As I watched Devin and Michael in particular raise a valiant defense, and as Kham countered them in his own way, I saw that the best intentions of both were playing against them.

Let me just say for the record - I‘m certain that Kham is nobody’s fool. He’s clearly well read and intelligent – but I do think that he’s dead wrong. What’s more, I think that his error may someday cost him his eternal soul – and that’s a huge thing. A gigantic motivator to convince him of the profound truth I’ve been made aware of.

Likewise, I fully understand the motivations of both Michael and Devin. They want to see Kham rescued from a prison he doesn’t even know he’s in. It’s like Morpheus meeting Neo for the first time. Will you take the blue pill or the red pill – without question, Morpheus could have just yanked Neo from his little pod without all that drama, but it would have killed him. Neo had to be willing – he had to be ready.

I’ll answer any question that anybody asks about anything – once. I love all the science, all the philosophy, all the intellectual gymnastics and Christianity has a wonderful body of deep, deep thinking to draw from. But I’m not interested in arguing with somebody whop just wants to argue. Because at that point it’s not about the logic, or the facts – it’s about the heart. It’s not for lack of reason that a person resists God , it’s anger, or fear, or pride, or whatever happens to drive that person, and in those case my argumentation is bad for both of us.

When I get in a conversation where I can’t even share fundamental notions about truth with my opponent, we literally have no common ground. Since he thinks I’m a kook already, everything I say – EVERYTHING, just sounds like foolishness. He rejects the very foundations of my thinking as ignorant, or parochial so every time I open my mouth it only reinforces his preconception. In other words – all my high reason only acts to drive us apart or worse yet, drives this man away from Christ. Even more insidious is the unfortunate fact that I’m likely to behave the same way. The fact of the matter is that Kham’s argumentation was beginning to tick me off. From where I stood, Mike and Devin were writing excellent responses to his questions but he would sweep them away with a comment that amounted to “Since you’re a Christian, everything you say, every source you cite, every thought you have is polluted with ignorance. So I won’t bother to address anything that you just said.” With a little distance, I see that what I’m really bothered by is the fact that he got under my skin.

All of this is because a man doesn’t come to God through reason, he comes because he’s called...and he responds in his heart.

A few more relevant quotes:
  • “...I say [that Christ is preeminent] in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument.” Col 2:4  
  • “Remind them of these things [that we died with Christ], and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid empty and worldly chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness and their talk will spread like a gangrene.” 2 Tim 2:14-17
  • “Do not throw your pearls before [folks who aren’t interested in pearls anyway] lest they trample them underfoot, then turn and tear you to pieces.” Matt 7:6
  • “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself” - Prov 9:7

But aside from my contention that such conversation actually do harm for both parties, I think there is a bigger issue – these zero-sum engagements sap our strength, divert our attention, and devour resources. In short – the enemy is able to tie up a gigantic amount of time and energy that dissipates into nothing at best, anger, pride, and broken fellowship at worst.

How many thousands of words were spent on that thread? Slater the Younger said something along the lines of ‘As long as we’re talking about Jesus then it’s all worth it.’ But, with respect Chris, I think that’s naïve. It’s the kind of statement that seems unassailable on its face, so obviously true and wise that nobody would question it – but it doesn’t really mean anything at all - it’s not truth. Here’s another line like it: ‘Go in peace! Be well fed!”...and yet we do nothing to actually help the circumstances of those we bless.

If that thread continued today – with still more dueling facts that rise in ever blooming arcs of eloquence and subtlety...but nobody budges – is that truly worth it? What if continued for another three months – would it still be worth it? For that matter is it worth anything at all, to either side? I’ll tell you one thing, it would be worth it to the enemy. He would have successfully benched two major players (Devin and Michael) for all those hours with what amounts to sand in their eyes. How many real ministry opportunities would those two miss in that time? How many cycles in those brains would have been spent fighting a battle that was unwinable?

Do we leave the 99 to rescue the 1? Of course we do!
But we are called not only to be gentle as lambs, but as shrewd as serpents. We have to have the presence of mind to see a red herring for what it is so we can get back to the field quickly. If this truly is a war people – and I think it is – we can’t lose to something as boring as attrition.

I’m not ever going to talk somebody into the kingdom – ever.
But I can, and have, waste a lot of precious time – mine and theirs - trying.