Learning as a Christian Lifestyle

Christianity was mean to be a lifestyle, one that was meant to distinguish us from the world. Some of our elite few have figured out how this is supposed to look: protesting Disney, boycotting laundry soap, not going to movies or watching television. Thus we become known for who we are against rather than who we are for. Interestingly, what you focus on tends to be what you become (think about that all you gay protestors).

One aspect of a “Christian” lifestyle is the posture that we are all learners, even those of us who function as teachers. We’re all God’s students. Now, information download isn’t the point and a lot of our churches have become great for making folks knowledgeable. It leads to dilemmas where you find yourself having conversations solely with other Christians who know as much as you.

Learning is a function of discipleship. Think of discipleship as a kind of spiritual apprenticeship. Where teachers share their learning but with a mindset difference: not one of a person above handing down knowledge to those who don’t know but rather more like people working alongside others, sharing what they’ve learned and challenging others to work out meaning in their lives. If nothing else, it would certainly dispel the misperceptions of “positions” in the faith.

Robert Caldwell at BreakDividingWalls.org has challenged me in a few areas, among them being the idea of the lifestyle of discipleship. He puts it this way “This lifestyle, while governed by some common ‘essential’ characteristics, should be as unique and varied as our respective gifting, affinities and lives. In other words, my lifestyle for cultivating discipleship relationships will most probably be different than yours because my gifts, affinities and life circumstance are different than yours. And your context will most probably be different than that of a person you disciple for the very same reasons. However what should be common is that we have all been intentional about establishing the rhythms and activities of our lives to allow us to easily share life (Koinonia) with other disciples.”

So examine the rhythm of your life. See how you can best open your life to share it with other people or if there are areas of your life that you can change to help do this better. We’re all in this together.

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Investing in People

One of the things driving me to weariness not too long ago was the idea and frustration of investing in people. Let me tell you, I had simply hit a personal wall. I was exhausted from pouring myself into people only to have them end up leaving me high and dry. It’s part of the cost of discipling or mentoring that we forget to count until, well, we’re paying the price.

Pastors, counselors, mentors, even just good friends, there’s a cost to investing in people. You pour your time, energy, emotional resources—often at the sacrifice of time and energy from your family or friends or other responsibilities—and frankly you want it to pay off. You want to know that at the end of the day you’ve made a difference. That people are better off from haven encountered you, from sharing life with you, than they were before.

So it’s doubly hard when they leave you. And people have a lot of ways of leaving: flouncing the faith, making poor decisions that wreck their lives, wreaking havoc on their friends and family. It’s difficult to watch them stumble, make self-destructive mistakes, or just flat out abandon you.

We do things for Christ, but still feel the personal sense of betrayal and it’s easy to burnout in the process. It’s hard to get up in the morning for another round of potential (and depending on my mood, the feeling of “probable”) abandonment. It’s hard to get up for investing in people who aren’t going to be around for very long. It’s hard to face the prospect of going through the motions of making a friendship with someone you know in your heart is simply not going to be there. It’s hard to start a relationship in vain.

On the flipside, you can’t save everyone. Anyone, really. It’s not our job. It’s similar to the tension that parents have to walk with their children. Letting our children escape our firm, controlled grips and allow them to go their own way.Kind of like a parent with a teenager, how dealing with them is akin to handling a wet bar of soap: you want to keep them in your hand, but the best way to do so is in a loose grip because the harder you hold onto them the more likely they will just squeeze out. By holding on to them too tight, we don’t allow them to grow. You can’t teach your children from a place of fear. We have to learn to let go and give our mentees room to grow, even if that means grow away. We have to give them room to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them (guiding them if they’ll allow us).

The (humbling) truth of the matter is that I don’t know when folks are going to be walking in and out of my life. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. So I can’t live in fear, protecting my heart and emotions, at the expense of loving others. And I can’t put limits on how I love and invest in people.

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Selling Salvation

The dilemma (from a reader): I was told just recently that a church’s “success” is seen in it’s fruit. If you can’t point where souls are being saved, then your church is stagnant and something is wrong and instead of playing the blame game, you need to start by looking in the mirror … Do I need to love more? Yes. Do I need to show more mercy? Yes. Patience? Yes. Self-control? Yes. Etc, etc etc. Add that to the “how many souls are you saving?” line and you can start feeling like crap.

It boils down to this: how should one approach evangelism, especially in an environment of “all Jesus sales pitch, all the time.” Since I covered this one in a previous blog, I have a friend guest blogging for me.

Guest Blog by Rob Rolfingsmeyer

Yes we are called to go and preach the gospel to the world…but…we are also called to be fully human. To be fully human we must build relationships with people. Now, if you build relationships with people for the sole purpose of trying to preach the gospel to them, you’re not really building a relationship…you’re building a customer base. We are not here to sell the gospel…St. Francis said to his disciples, “Go and preach the gospel to the world and, if you must, use words.” In other words, preaching doesn’t have to be oral.

For example, I hired a guy who had just reawakened to his faith and was just absolutely adamant about convincing people about the truth of God and Jesus. He used to get mad at me because he would drag me into an argument with whoever he was talking to. I’d end up saying something “profound” and the room would just go quiet. Usually it was agreeing with his viewpoint but coming at it from completely out of nowhere. I never tried to engage these folks in discussions about it. All I did was build relationships with them because they were good people and I liked talking with them.

One day I was working a six hour mini-shift with this girl who was ardently against God because of the whole suffering happening to good people thing. She asked me how I can believe in a good God (came to find out later, SHE never started conversations about God). I came at it from a different angle than what she had been hearing, then finally I left it with, “when someone suffers, don’t you think God cries too?” She burst into tears (I have that effect on people)…of course this was the end of a four hour conversation. After that she was really interested in this whole Jesus thing. I never set out to convert her, trust me on this, I’m a Catholic who used to be Protestant, I get people trying to convert me a lot…there is nothing more annoying.

This is GOOD NEWS that we’re talking about. Your life should quietly preach the gospel to others. There are times that you may feel prompted to explain Jesus to someone but there are others where the other person must prompt it. Being a human being and developing relationships is essential to the gospel…in the movie “The Big Kahuna”, Danny Devito says basically that if you want to preach to someone, ask them how their kids are, find out what there dreams and hopes are. In other words, don’t develop a relationship for the sole purpose of conversion. Once again it’s selling something to a customer. As a car salesman I developed relationships with customers first and sold them a car. The whole point of the relationship was to get them in that car. Is that what we’re supposed to do? Is evangelization just a tool to get someone to think like us, act like us, believe what we believe? No, Jesus came to restore the relationship between not only God and man, but man and man. Think about how Jesus evangelized. People came to him. He didn’t seek people out to convert. He built relationships with disciples, news spread of this man who was saying things that no one had ever said before. Maybe we need to revamp our message and look at different angles, maybe we need to act in such a way that people seek us out, and not try to pass out tracts or hammer someone with the gospel message. Maybe we need to be friends first, fulfilling our humanity.

Sorry this was so long, I don’t know if it clears anything up for you. If I sound like a heretic, well, I’m sorry.

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Earn the Right to Speak

I’m still thinking through the many discussions that happened at the World Horror Convention 2007. One huge conversation we got into was about what is sin and how should a loving community respond to sin as well as help each other along through/past it. Ironically, few in the discussion actually went to church: a common tale in the horror community is that many of us had been kicked out of churches in the past or made to feel unwelcome.

I guess my current thoughts harken back to the idea of what it means to be a missional church. We are all in the same sin boat. There are no “super sins”, contrary to how we seem to act. There are sins the Bible spends more time talking about than others (funny, they’re rarely the ones that get all the “press”). But I don’t think sin is the beginning of the Gospel message, nor do I think it is the first thing that defines us.

Part of the mission of the Church is to be a hospice. Part of the mission of the church is to try to inflict less damage in the world and be a healing blessing. Part of the mission of the church is to bring about reconciliation between people (one to another) as well as God. In other words, the mission of the church is to love. “The most loving thing we can do is point out their sin.” Please. Spare me your line of spiritualized B.S. We, the church, have too often assumed the right to speak into people’s lives, which has led to much of the judgmentalism that characterizes us today.

Yes, we still have to speak on sinfulness and sin in each other’s lives. However, it is easy to sit in judgment of other people’s sin rather than focus on our own sin (or even our sinfulness being a unifying point that should keep us free of being too judgmental). Even as “iron sharpens iron” and we continue to make disciples as we learn/form one another in community, we still have to earn the right to speak into each other’s lives.

I think speaking on sin begins with self-examination. The first question I’m going to ask myself is “do I love you enough to speak on your sin?” I’m not going to speak about “your” sin unless you know you are first loved by me. And I mean “know” in more than the “I love you”-easy-to-say brand of love. I’m talking about the unmistakable knowledge where there is no doubt by you about how I feel, because these sort of conversations, first and foremost, have to be done from a place of love. Also, I’m not going to speak on your sin until I’ve looked at myself and realized that I’m no different that them.

So, thinking back to my friends/family that make up my writing community at WHC, I hate to break it to some of them, but they aren’t as outside the church as they think. They are a part of my learning community. They help shape my theology. They love me and speak into my life. They’re stuck with me. Yep, sounds like a solid community to me.


Guarding Yourself

In Christ we have freedom, yet we keep choking it off with our own brands of legalism. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) We don’t trust freedom and we certainly aren’t comfortable with this whole idea of liberation. Most people want to be told, they want the black and white picture and hate (or at least distrust) anything that smacks of gray. That’s why there is such a comfort to rules and why fundamentalism has its draw. We have this fear of ourselves, of others, of community and church, and of the unknown. We definitely have this fear of taking chances and making mistakes.

So what does it mean to be “in the world but not of the world”? Practically speaking, the answer to this question has been a form of isolationism prevalent in too many Christian circles. A quasi-monk lifestyle with the church as some sort of abbey, which if people truly practiced monastic lifestyles and lived in monastic communities, I’d be cool with. Instead what we get is this us vs. them mentality (as we cut ourselves off from any one or thing that may “taint” us with their “worldliness”) and Christian ghettos (where everything we do or participate in has to have the adjective “Christian” in front of it: “Christian” music, “Christian” karate, “Christian” candy, etc.).

Actually, it doesn’t matter what my answer to this question is because I’m going to take a stab at addressing I think what is at the heart of what people “really” mean when they start tossing that phrase around. So let’s phrase the question in a way that expresses the heart of our concern as we go about trying to lead missional lives: “how can we protect ourselves, our own spiritual integrity, while still functioning within the world?”

The big, and valid, concern is one of influences. The fear that we will get caught up in stuff that will throw us from our Christian walks, messy or not, and derail us from a life of pursuing holiness. We don’t live in a vacuum. We’ve been given guidelines and parameters (the Bible describes itself as being “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). While there is great freedom in Christ, we can’t just do whatever you feel like doing. And frankly, we won’t always get why there are certain restrictions. We won’t don’t always understand why we have to study and pray, for example, but hopefully our understanding comes in our participation.

All this to give you three tips in “guarding yourself. One, know your truth. Keep returning to that well of knowledge. It is the discipline of believers. We must constantly immerse ourselves in Scriptures not just for remembrance of God, but also to remember who we are and why we do whatever we do. Two, think for yourselves. Think through your faith, your beliefs, and keep stretching yourselves. In other words, keep asking questions. One of the hardest things for pastors and teachers to do is train their people how to critically think. Three, know your limits. When Christians ask me “how can you be around all of that horror stuff?” one of the presumptions is that reading/writing horror is one step on the path to the occult. (I guess we glorify the occult, make it fascination, and then little Johnny goes off to worship Satan.) Yeah, well the occult has no hold over and little interest for me outside of crafting a story. That will happen when you come from a family of obeah practitioners. So I have no problem being the “sinister minister.” However, you won’t see me being a part of the xxxchurch ministry. You get me within sniffing distance of them and I’d give Ted Haggerty a scandal target to shoot for.

Here’s the thing, we can’t live in fear of “the world”. We’ve been given a mission and have a job to do. A job that doesn’t always allow us to remain “safe” and “comfortable.” Either we believe that we have the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us or we don’t. For some, that may mean a time within the protective bubble of the Christian ghetto. However, that doesn’t mean stay there.

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