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Group Think

I was talking with a friend of mine about how much of our thinking is internal and how much is give or even inflicted (for lack of a better word) on us from outside of us, the community, our tribe, etc.  In business we called this group think.  Others call this the collective conscience or consciousness. It’s this idea of a thought pattern the emerges that we succumb to.  We see it in mobs, or cliques, or any space where peer pressure can be high.  We can also see it in our churches and our approaches to doctrine.  We believe because that’s what the group thinks.

How much of our influence do you think comes from this group think or the world around us?  Interested in your thoughts.

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I was listening to a conversation on a podcast and the interviewer asked, “How do you say you know you are a Christian?” And so I want to ask the same question of this audience.  How would you answer that question?

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Waiting

What if there really is a value in waiting?

I have a significant event in my life that requires me to wait.  There is absolutely nothing I can do to change the outcome or make it happen any sooner that it will.  I can move no mountain that will affect it in anyway.  I can turn no stone that will make it any easier.  I simply have to wait.

Inside I want the Holy Spirit to move.  I want my Father to makes things the way “I” want them.  I want him to fashion the world in my image.  And I laugh at myself for trying, for wanting what I really would not want.

Waiting asks me to trust.  It asks me to set aside what I think I need for what my Father wants to give me, which has the potential to be infinitely better than I can imagine, and usually is…when I wait.

And if I’m honest, this waiting process feels like dying.  If feels like I’m killing the desire of my heart.  It is requiring me to love in a way that is uncomfortable, to be what I say I am.  I say I stand for love and in this specific instance only waiting will reveal that I do love.  Only when I let go of the outcome will I become love.

And what is surprising to me is that the more I wait, the more I give up what I want, the more I become what I say I want to be.

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Which event in your life had the most significant impact on on your spiritual growth?

And Why?

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Guy walks into a bar and sees three guys engaging a passionate conversation about something.  Curious that he is, he walks up to them and asks, “What’s the ruckus?”

“We’re trying to figure out what kind of beer this is,” the first guy says, a little taken aback by the interruption, but immediately turning back to his two friends.  “It’s amber color reveals the rich texture of an bass pale ale.”

“I would say it’s a porter,” the second man says.  “I’ve had porters before and they look just like that.  I’ve even made porter’s.  I used to make them in my house.”

I know it’s a dark lager,” the third man says.  “The rich color is closer to a darker amber color.  The rich pigmentation from the darker malts does that to it.”

“No it’s not,” the first man said, his voice rising in temperament. “Dark lager is darker than that.”

“A bass pale ale doesn’t sit in the glass like that,” the third man said, exhausting his disgust as he pointed to the pint.

“What’s that supposed to mean,” the first man said, throwing out a guffaw in furious passion.

“What do you think?” the second man said, looking at the guy who was still watching the conversation.  All attention was turned on him.

The guy looked at the beer, picked it up and drank it.  Set it down on the bar and said, “It’s good.”

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I want to be the guy who drinks the beer in life.

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There are some things about being a follower of Jesus that are really hard to deal with. They don’t provide easy answers, even when we want them to be easy. The following passage below of “The Sheep and The Goats” is one of those. This is the one people typically point to in regards to hell.

Honestly I’ve avoided this post for a long time. Why I’m writing it today is a mystery to me. Maybe it’s the hard week I’ve had. Maybe its the reflective music I’m listening to. Maybe its the quiet corner in Starbucks on my personal day.

It’s obvious which side we want to be on. We want to be the sheep. We want to be ushered in wondering what we possibly did that God would accept us.

One of the things that strikes me about this passage is that Jesus doesn’t use typical terms. He uses the metaphor of the sheep and the goats. In some respects this seems like an invitation to try and figure it out, only to find out this is the trick. Those who keep trying are the ones tricked. We like to control don’t we?

The second thing that strikes me about this passage is that it says NOTHING about belief. It’s not wrapped in a pretty little disposable package that we can endlessly design, manufacture and sell. The goats haven’t said the wrong thing in their sinner’s prayer, or even avoided it all together. There’s no long diatribe of incorrect theology or even heresy. There’s no Buddhist, or Universalist, or even a token homosexual for good measure. Jesus refuses to make it easy for us.

Their sin? They forgot to engage love.

It’s likely that we all get this passage wrong. And we don’t like that do we? We don’t like it when we can’t figure out the complete measure of God, as if we really could. But do we really want the mystery of God to cease? Do we really want him to fit into our box?

All He gives us is Jesus, who says “Come follow me.”

And this is the journey of faith. To let go of the judgment process and to trust that we will be the sheep. It’s hard putting our future into the hands of God, as though it weren’t there in the first place. And the only way he’s given us a clue as to which side we are on is to love.

Listening: The Cure For Pain by Jon Foreman

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The Sheep and the Goats

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

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I love the church. Not the building, mind you, but the beautiful reflection of Jesus that occurs when I see love within the local body of believers. A dignity restored, a life transformed from oppression to hope, these are the expressions that move me. She is beautiful and always leaves me with a realization of why I choose to gather in the fellowship of believers in the first place. We have the capacity to transform and restore the world around us in such a unique way. And this desire for restoration is why I find myself drawn to the emerging expression of the church.

But it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was just frustrated at what I saw within the church.

The Dissonance

If you read enough blog posts on the emerging church, it is highly likely that you’ll get a distinct impression of the dissonance that exists within those who identify with the emerging church. We’re always deconstructing something, asking questions and wondering what is wrong within the body that we are part of. But we do so because there are so few alternatives. You see most people don’t go to an emerging church. We go to a traditional church because this is all that is around us. And so we engage the community, hoping to discover something deeper, something we hope the church can be.

At some point in the process, if we’re looking to follow Jesus in an active, missional way, we encounter a dissonance in the process that is striking. We encounter what Willow Creek recently found in their Reveal campaign. The church we are part of is not really structured to develop us in a deeper way. Discipleship is something most church organizations just haven’t figured out. The deeper restoration Jesus engaged in seems distant and removed.

Church is primarily structured to bring people into a building and participate in church related activities. Our primary activity resembles an entertainment medium. We all arrive at the same time, sing a few songs and sit in the same direction while listening to someone speak for an hour. If we’re entertained, we leave a little something to say thank you. We learn primarily what to believe, how to live right, and receive a challenge each week to believe it.

We learn that mission is for people on the other side of the world. We even give them money so we don’t have to go. Rarely do we encounter any kind of mentorship, or process for restoring our hearts, for learning forgiveness and reconciliation, or for restoring the world around us. Without mission, we learn to serve as an usher and in the nursery because this is where the needs are.

As Willow found, those who have been there for a while are the one’s most likely to leave. We don’t really want to leave but at some point we begin to recognize that there has to be more to what we’re doing. We begin to ask our self if this is what Jesus really meant when we said, “Come follow me.”

The Question Of Leaving

The idea of leaving the church is actually a dramatic and even life altering decision. We ask ourselves what it would mean to leave the local community we have been part of for how ever long? What would it mean to separate our selves from the relationships we have established? Because it is likely not the people we relate to, but the structure of the community that creates the dissonance in the first place. At some point we realize we are no longer growing.

It is easy to some extent to just blame the pastor for the problem. He is, after all, the leader. He is the one who stands at the front and supposedly leads the charge. But to blame the pastor is to miss the bigger picture. The pastor is likely following what he has learned over the years, at seminary, at conferences and from his fellow pastors. This is the way its been done forever, hasn’t it?

And as we sit in the pew and contemplate the questions our minds will not forget, we often realize there is a deeper question to leaving. Am I saying the church is broken? Am I saying something is not quite right? What does it all mean? These questions haunt us because we know in our souls that God is real and what we currently are experiencing is not the fullest expression of what is possible.

Permission

To leave requires permission. We have to come to a place where the dissonance outweighs the fruit of what we are experiencing. This moment of coming to a place where we give ourselves permission is often a long enduring process. We hold out hope amidst the questions, and yet the problem proves it will not resolve it self. And so we wake up one morning and realize that we must give our selves permission to say no.

Just saying the word is weird and wonderful. It feels strangely empowering, as if we’re taking part in our own restoration. We need more for our own hearts. We need to know that the many hours spent enduring the dissonance were not for naught. We need to know that the there has to be more. We just can’t settle anymore.

The first morning we wake up and it feels strange. The patterns that we have lived for most of our life have, and the stories that have gone with it, are now left behind. And we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves. By nine AM we should be showered and sitting down for breakfast, yet we’re still in our pajamas. At ten AM we should be walking down the aisle to our traditional seat, yet were walking to the frig for another glass of juice. By ten-thirty we should be singing a worship song, yet we’re wondering if it’s okay to turn on the television set and watch something. These are the emotions and they don’t sit well at first. By noon the feelings pass as we recognize we can now settle back into our traditional patterns. By the fourth week, we’re sitting on our porch reading the Sunday paper and enjoying our favorite Arabica bean coffee.

Over the weeks and months that follow, we feel like a long lost family member that has chosen to miss Christmas dinner. We wonder what it would be like but have grown accustomed to our alternative choice. This emotional journey, like a peculiar treadmill that starts and stops, fades over time.

A New Responsibility

This strange sense of wilderness has a way of clarifying the entire process. Not having to endure the dissonance feels good in a “just got off a long, bad flight” kind of way. With our feet on the ground we can now begin to listen to God on our own, without a denominational, transactional filter. We can listen to His voice. But this freedom also comes with a responsibility to stand on our own two feet. We must chart our own course and get real in our faith. We read new books and listen to new voices, ones that challenge and push us to think outside the box we’ve left.

We learn the words discipleship and authentic community, journey and trust. And it all feels so ridiculously good. We have three hour conversations with people we run into at the bookstore about seeing God in the simplest of things. Our faith isn’t manufacturing on stand up, sit down pew dances but real intimate encounters with Jesus in the margins.

We begin to realize that our conversations between our next door neighbor are just as empowering as the ones we had at church. We now know his name because we’re not at a church functional three nights a week and twice on Sunday. This new chunk of time allows us to be present to those around us. These new meetings, which are more about loving our neighbor, feel quite stirring. And then it hits us. We’re not called to be part of the local church. We’re called to be part of His church. And the pastor isn’t our leader. The Holy Spirit is.

Coming Back

And as we begin to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we begin to listen to where He’s calling us. We begin to connect to a mission, instead of a program. We begin to see that within the four walls of our traditional church are individuals who are just like us, struggling with the same questions we had a long the way. And that’s when we realize that God is likely calling us to be love within the body of Christ.

Yet how could we return? Will it be much the same? Maybe. But we won’t be the same people.

The idea of returning takes about as long as it did to leave. But we’re not returning to solve any problem, but to be a different solution: to love. The moment we do enter, it is into His church. It’s a broken, beautiful, messy, amazing, sloppy, hope for the world. Our expectations are different. Our hopes are different, because now we realize that it is not us who will transform the world, but God himself through us. We’re no longer expecting the church to be everything for us. All we’re looking for is to meet God where He’s already working.

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This post is part of the Revolutionary’s Synchroblog.  List of participants:

Alan Knox: A Revolutionary? Who? Me?

Barb: My Response

Erin Word: Are We There Yet, Papa Smurf?

Jane: Onward Christian Soldier

Jeff Greathouse: So, You Want To Change

Jeff McQuilken: The Great Shift–and My Unwitting Part In It

Jeromy Johnson: A Safe Place To Experiment

Jonathan Brink: Re-Emerging Church

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