Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Father's Generation: The Great Ones

Last week I encountered one of the "great ones." My neighbor across the street has had her father and mother visiting them for a few weeks, and I had an opportunity to talk with Bill, her 80-something father one afternoon. By the time I was done listening to him I had tears in my eyes for a number of reasons and I walked away fully aware of why Tom Brokaw entitled his book about this generation "The Greatest Generation."

You see, Bill was in the Air Force during World War 2, and he told me some of his stories and talked about the price that his generation had paid to secure freedom for succeeding generations. He specifically talked in detail about the Normandy invasion (D-day) and his role as an Air Force photographer, etc. As he did so, I was stunned at the cost in lives that was paid on just the first day of the invasion that eventually set Europe free. Although historians are not agreed on exact figures for casualties, there is agreement that several thousand allied troops died on just the first day of the invasion. And total US military deaths for WW2 approached 300,000 and the total for deaths (civilian and military) from WW2 is about 61 million people! I knew these facts at one time, of course, but they were just facts for a history exam until I got older! Now as I hear my father or people like Bill talk about things like the Great Depression and World War 2, I marvel at the strength that men and women of this generation exhibited.

So I have pondered what made my father's generation so great. I don't have a lot of answers to this, but I do know this: my father's generation was the last values- or principles-based generation in in the Western world. They were the last generation to believe that there were things worth dying for and that the good of the whole outweighed one's personal fulfillment, rights, etc. Beginning with my generation, western culture shifted to what J.P. Moreland and others call a "thin culture" (see his book, Kingdom Triangle). A thin culture is not values/principle-based, but instead focuses on individual comfort, pleasure, happiness, etc.

So what does this have to do with simple church? Well, I am not sure, but I do know that the Kingdom of God has always been based on values and that unless those values (i.e., the character and will of God) inform and shape our behavior we will be indistinguishable from the culture around us. I also know that many voices are predicting much suffering, even for the western world, in the days ahead (economic collapse, famine, terror, etc.). Will the believers in the generations following The Great Ones be able not just to survive but shine like stars under such circumstances? We will, if we heed Andrew Murray's words (from his book God's Will: Our Dwelling Place).

"The first concern of most Christians in trouble is to be delivered from it. This may not be the most important thing to be concerned with. The one great desire ought to be: in nothing to fail in knowing and doing the will of God. This is the secret of strength and true nobility in the Christian life."

Thank you, Bill (and Dad), for leaving a legacy and paying a price that few alive today can fathom. May we who follow move out of our thin lives into the path you purchased with your lives.

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Duty or Delight? Reflections on the H2H Conference

Okay, so now I am back from the House2House Conference and some have asked for my reflections on what took place there. Before I write this entry, though, I ask you to keep two things in mind. First, because I was part of one of the workshops I wasn't able to experience the other workshops so my perspective is rather limited. Second, I am unashamedly biased towards everything in life and ministry flowing from ever-increasing, experienced intimacy with Jesus (I know this isn't much of a surprise for those who read this blog!). Now for a few reflections.

First, the attendance at this conference was encouraging for two reasons: it was "sold out," and there were lots of first timers. I have been attending this conference for about 4 years and this is the first one I have experienced where there were so many new folks (that I can recall, at least). The move towards simpler expressions of life in the Kingdom is clearly reflected by this, I think.

Now as to the conference itself, one of my friends described it in terms of two very clear streams (and I borrowed his terms for the title of my blog--thanks, Kent!). One stream focused on intimacy with God as the source of everything (delight), the other stream focused more on a highly missional, "git er done" mentality (duty). Note that in spite of my previously mentioned bias, I honor and respect those who advocate the latter approach--I just can't go there myself! Note also that any attempt to describe things with only two words will inevitably miss lots of details. Many who are "missional" also advocate intimacy, and as you know, all who are truly intimate with Jesus are "on mission" with Him. Nevertheless, there was a clear emphasis one way or the other throughout much of the conference which many folks noticed.

Papa has helped me to get to a place where I can rejoice in the good in both streams, I think. So I was thrilled to hear the stories from Dennis Balcombe of what God has been doing in China for years and years. It was good, too, to hear that in many ways there is a new openness to the church in China. And hearing Wolfgang Simson talk about the Kingdom of God as central to what we are about was good and confirms what many are hearing God say about returning to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. And Frank Viola was gentle, poignant and concise in his presentations. We can all see Jesus continuing to work wonderful new things in Frank.

But for me, the most encouraging parts of the conference came from Paul Young's times of sharing. It was like having The Shack visit us in person! Paul was totally transparent with us as he described the main character, Mack, as representing himself as an adult and Missy as that part of him that died as a child (and Paul had a lot die in him as a child!). He also told us that The Shack describes over the course of one weekend encounter with God what in actuality took him 11 years to live out! He also told us that the "shack" represents the broken places in our lives that we hide from others and that we are afraid to go into. God in His kindness, however, works in each of us to get us to our own shacks, and when we finally get up the courage to take off our veneer and go through the door of our own shack, we find Papa there in the midst of all the pain and garbage.

It's hard for me to describe what was happening in the room (and in our hearts) while Paul was sharing. It was as if Father were opening our hearts, removing the thin veneer that "church people" wear far too often and delving deeply into the most wounded places in our lives. I can't tell you how many people I personally prayed with who were basically "wrecked" by the tender yet persistent probings of the Holy Spirit. It was as if God released an atmosphere of transparency that exposed our brokenness. I prayed with person after person--men and women alike, and I saw Paul and others doing the same during breaks, etc.

At the heart of what was happening, I think, was the real "revolution." It's a revolution that goes far beyond how we "do church" or where we "do church" or even beyond "being the church." It's a revolution of love, a discovery that most of what we have called "Christianity" is a poor and weak parody of the Kingdom of God which is a Kingdom of love and freedom beyond comprehension. This revolution is a revolution of intimacy with God that I and many others have described and predicted (many have done so for far longer than I and with much more eloquence than I--Wayne Jacobsen comes to mind here).

As this revolution unfolded before my eyes, I remember thinking that I was actually seeing the answer to the prayer "Let your Kingdom come; on earth as it is in heaven." May whatever was started there during that time grow and increase until it becomes an unstoppable stream of love that cannot be restricted. May it forever sweep away human effort, religion and striving from the face of what we call "church"!

One final comment. We all received huge insight into how Paul Young lives out this simple, intimate life in Jesus during our workshop. While we were on the platform during the workshop Paul was actually texting a woman who was in great distress--in total, horrible crisis. Paul's compassion for this lady, his prioritizing care for her as she teetered on the brink of suicidal despair, said it all to me! As we prayed and received updates from Paul about this lady we were all drawn into the drama of a God who IS love and who can stop a "relational church workshop" (the largest workshop of the conference!) to care for one of His very precious and hurting daughters--amazing! I saw God as I have never seen before when I read The Shack, and I relived in even more vivid colors that revelation as we were drawn into God's love drama with the simple yet brilliant, firm yet gentle man, who wrote his life into a story for his children and then lived it out for us as he cared for someone he had never met.

So...the bottom line is that you may want to order the conference DVDs. For now, the reflections of Abba's least child are ended!

Stay lost in Papa's love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children