The Half-Born

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Been thinking. Thinking long and hard about life. Some accuse me of thinking too much and they’re probably right.

Been struggling. Struggling long and hard within life. Like most people, I don’t like struggling. I don’t like asking hard questions of myself. Don’t like staring into the sky and wondering why.

Why.

At some point in your life, you’ll sit down, look around, and ask, “Is this it?” Most of us will ask that question from the comfort of a nice home surrounding by nice things, the kind of things that the majority of the world could never afford.

At some point in your life, you’ll sit in church, look around and ask, “Is this it? Does this sum up the abundant life?” You’ll talk to a few folks on the way out of your nice church, load your nice kids into your nice car, and drive home with your nice spouse to your nice house. And it will all be so very nice. The kind of nice you’ve heard from your earliest days. A “gold watch and a handshake” kind of nice when you retire from the company. A nice retirement, a nice set of grandkids, and finally, a nice corpse.

The words of a song came back to me:

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

Subdivisions —
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
Subdivisions —
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight

Somewhere out of a memory
Of lighted streets on quiet nights… † 

The Bible put it this way:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
—Luke 9:57-62

You get handed a dream on a silver platter: this is what life is. It looks a lot like the American Dream. At first, you accept it, but then Christ comes along and something happens to you. Suddenly, the cover over the universe rips away and you can see endless possibilities. The opinions you trusted now pale. Perhaps the future isn’t pre-decided.

So you throw yourself into a different work—for a while.

But you want love, and with love comes responsibility. You get married. For a while, the new dream lingers. Miami, ©Alex MacLeanYet time brings changes, a nest, children. You sign for the mortgage, then the nice house, followed by the nice furniture. You buy the life insurance policies—just in case. You buy the health insurance. You work, and work, and work to keep it all from turning to dust.

Then, just as suddenly, the veil falls over the universe and what once burned brightly flames out.

And you don’t know how it happened.

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
—Matthew 13:7

A field of thorns desires nothing more than conformity to thorniness. All it understands is thorns. Anything not thorns must be consumed by them. The imperative is thorns.

So you wake up one day and realize your entire life looks like thorns. Your neighbor’s life does, too. So do the lives of most people in your church. It’s all thorns for as far as the eye can see. Nothing but weeds that will someday be thrown into the fire and burned.

It is said that some serious-minded people approached Charles Finney with a concern. Not enough of his converts went to the mission field, and the serious-minded people wanted to know why. Finney explained that many of these converts went back to their towns to be godly parents, godly mayors, godly bricklayers, and all manner of godly people living out a godly life in some now-godly town in America.

I suspect that this answer mollifies even Finney’s sharpest critics today. Most of those critics may despise Finney otherwise, but from what I see around me, they sure seem to aspire to be godly, serious-minded people in whatever town they went back to, be it big or small.

Finney’s answer seems good to most of us. Isn’t that the exact American Dream life we’ve carved out for ourselves? Opinions all provided. The future pre-decided. We’ll just be Christians wherever we are, and if that means being a suburban Christian in a nice quarter million dollar home we’ll be paying for the rest of our lives, who’s to say that’s wrong?

I never heard anyone say it was wrong. I never heard anyone questioning it at all. And that’s the problem.

I never wanted to put my hand to the plow and look back. But I did. I suspect most of us did.

What role models did we have? Sure, we knew young singles and marrieds who counted the cost. We may have even been those people at some point. But somewhere along the path we made a choice. And that choice was to go the way everyone else does. The wide way.

Who can blame us though? Where were our examples of going the narrow way? Doesn’t everyone conform? And so what if some people sit gauzily musing on their front porches about what might have been?

Do any of us escape this? Or is this the lot of every last one of us?

We wonder why the Church in this country is so ineffective in the face of the world’s onslaught, but which of us has actually counted the cost? In some ways, we’re like half-born people. We started out on the journey, but on seeing what it was going to cost us found ourselves hung up between worlds, neither here nor there.

So we live with the agony of being stuck half-born.

I sit here typing on my computer with more stuff than my ancestors two hundred years ago could possibly imagine, but I wonder if I sold my soul to get here. It bothers me, too, that I knew better, yet I could not escape the black hole’s gravitational pull. Worse, most people around me, especially the Christians, live as if no black hole exists. I don’t know which state is worse, knowing or not.

I don’t want to be half-born, but honestly, I have no way of knowing how to finish the process. Neither do most others.

I look for guides, but so few exist. In too many cases, even those leaders succumb. I find many of them to be young, doing the kinds of things I did when I was that radical young prophet/servant. And like me, they’ll probably fall into the same trap when the kids show up. That may sound jaded, but I can’t escape the inevitability of it; I’ve seen it happen more times than I wish to count.

So what does it mean to live a life in America 2007 that never looks back once the hands fall upon the plow? What does a life free of thorns look like? What does it mean to be fully born?

I thought I knew, but then again, so does everyone else.

†  Subdivisions” by Rush. Lyrics by Neil Peart.

{Image: “Miami” – © Alex MacLean }

71 thoughts on “The Half-Born

  1. Dan, you hit something dead on, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find a long line of commenters behind me who will say the same. Thanks for saying what you did – I think the community of believers is pretty much one big family where everyone takes turns pulling the rest out of their anemic faith and reminding them that there’s something much bigger. Even if we’re not sure how it looks. And as one of the young ones, I need every bit of your wisdom to be reminded. I’m glad your turn came around.

    • Dan –

      I just about read that whole post holding my breath. I’m going to go back and read it again, but I’ve got to comment first.

      I’m right on the razor edge of what you’re describing. I feel the dichotomy intensely, because I’m smack in the middle of deciding what to do with it. Thanks for putting words around it.

      One thing is clear: someone must do something.

      • Aaron,

        “Someone must do something.”

        I know. The problem is that we don’t know who and we don’t know what.

        One of my great concerns that I forgot to include in the original post follows the problem of support systems. Many of the God-inspired support systems the Church built up from the day of Pentecost have been removed. Those systems helped people function and get out of a half-born state.

        I can’t decide to be an itinerant preacher and go from one place to another simply because I know I couldn’t knock on a fellow Christian’s door and say, “Brother, could we stay with you for the night?” People would look at me, my wife and kid in tow, and think I was nuts. At one time you could do that.

        Christians right after Pentecost changed the entire way their community lived. It wasn’t just one person making a change. Yet I look around and that kind of community doesn’t exist anymore. How then does one person buck the system when no one else is willing to? We’re a Body, right?

        I can’t depend on my local church to help identify my purpose in the Church Universal and send me out fully supported. At one point, that was standard operating procedure, but now it’s not. How many churches can singlehandedly support one missionary family from within their midst? How about five? Ten? Isn’t that what we should be doing?

        How do you drop out of our economic system in such a way that it no longer enslaves you? Aren’t we pretty much all slaves to it no matter how much we protest otherwise? How could I get from place to place in this country without a car and some serious cash to pay for gas? The early Church put systems in place to take care of people’s needs, especially those considered the “advanced force” of the Kingdom. Those systems are gone. Everyone looks out for himself or herself and that’s as far as it goes. We’re never going to get people fully born and live like we should until we rebuild that.

        The problem for me is that I can’t see a way around these issues unless we solve them en masse. But no one has the time for that. Christian thinkers aren’t asking those questions. They’re still stuck fighting the culture wars, not asking how we can rebuild our community to make these kinds of God-ordained works possible.

        I wish I had a solution for this, but all I can do is talk. I don’t know where to start on any of the rest of it. That’s the problem.

        • People would look at me, my wife and kid in tow, and think I was nuts.

          Not only would you not be given a place to stay, food to eat, and have your feet washed, you would be criticized for risking the health and security of your children, not to mention threatening the mental stability of your wife, and this by your fellow believers.

          I saw a homeless person the other day, and wondered what would happen if I took that person home with me, sheltered and fed them, gave them clothes, and helped them stabilize their life? Nah. Too threatening.

          • David,

            In a way, it is too threatening. What are the statistics over all of history for Christian families who took in strangers and then were robbed or killed because they did? No one knows, I’m sure. Should that keep us from doing it? Probably not.

            I suspect it’s more threatening now since we have so much more to lose. I suspect most households in the age of the early Church weren’t laden with all the treasures we own. Less to steal gives less incentive to steal, and less likelihood that anyone would shiv you for something so small as a blanket.

            Perhaps the ways communities policed themselves back then was different. It seems to me that some present cultures do a very good job keeping everyone in line, with far fewer shenanigans than we endure. Shame-based cultures seem to have things under control well. The most primitive cultures seem to do the best of all. A drunk on a horse causes a lot less mayhem than a drunk behind the wheel of an SUV.

            What’s the answer? I don’t know exactly.

    • Brian,

      The “not sure how it looks” is what troubles me. We, of all people, SHOULD know how it looks. We, the ones with unveiled faces.

      Why don’t we?

      I wish I had wisdom on this. Perhaps it’s the wisdom I lack.

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  3. Dan, seriously. I drive to Cinci at least 3x a week anymore. One of these days I have got to drive out and meet you. I am constantly blown away by what you write and find myself printing this out and handing it to friends to read all the time. Today was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen you write. It’s time the prophets of this nation stop hiding behind the NICE and speak what God has told them to speak. Myself included. Time’s a wastin’….

    Thank you Dan.

      • Dan, I guess the only thing I can really do is challenge my friends, readers, etc. to live a fasted lifestyle that keeps them from acquiring excess, giving into the consumeristic society we are in, and being an example of that myself.

        I just sit here wondering, we are such a “do it ourself” society that we just don’t need God. No wonder He shows Himself so mightily in Africa and foreign countries more than He does here at times.

        Heck I have more pens in my pen bucket than some people own their whole lives. Makes you really wonder.

        Our priorities as a church really are out of whack.

  4. abmo

    I know the feeling “is this it?” all to well. Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been feeling for the past 7 years.

      • abmo

        Hi Dan, I am going to quote from a book. Tell me what you think of the qoute…..:-) From Call to Discipleship by Juan Carlos Ortiz pp. 42-43

        “So when man finds Jesus, it costs him everything. Jesus has happiness, joy, peace, healing, security, eternity. Man marvels at such a pearl and says, ‘I want this pearl. How much does it cost?”
        “The seller says, ‘it’s too dear, too costly.’
        “But how much?’
        “Well, it’s very expensive.’
        “Do you think I could buy it?’
        “It costs everything you have — no more, no less — so anybody can buy it.’
        “I’ll buy it.’
        “What do you have? Let’s write it down.’
        “I have $10,000 in the bank.’
        “Good, $10,000. What else?’
        “I have nothing more. That’s all I have.’
        “Have you nothing more?’
        “Well, I have some dollars here in my pocket.’
        “How many?’
        “I’ll see: Thirty, forty, fifty, eighty, one hundred, one hundred twenty — one hundred twenty dollars.’
        “That’s fine. What else do you have?’
        “I have nothing else. That’s all.’
        “Where do you live?”
        “I live in my house.’
        “The house, too.’
        “Then you mean I must live in the garage?’
        “Have you a garage, too? That, too. What else?’
        “Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?’
        “Have you a car?’
        “I have two.’
        “Both become mine. Both cars. What else?’
        “Well, you have my house, the garage, the cars, the money, everything.’
        “What else?’
        “Are you alone in the world?’
        “No, I have a wife, two children…’
        “Your wife and children, too.’
        “Too?’
        “Yes, everything you have. What else?’
        “I have nothing else, I am left alone now.”
        “Oh, you too! Everything becomes mine — wife, children, house, money, cars — everything. And you too. Now you can use all those things here but don’t forget they are mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you are using, you must give them to me because now I am the owner.”………………

        So what do you think?

        • I think the idea that we have anything, even before we come to Christ, is questionable. Everything we have, whether we are believers or not, comes from God. We can claim no ownership on our goods, our lives, our families. Believing is merely acknowledging that truth.

          Think of the pearl this way: God sees you, and gives up everything He has; His own Son, in order to win you.

          You are the pearl of great price. You are the treasure in the field.

          The only thing we give up is our pride.

  5. Bob

    Dan,

    Kudos to the only person I know who could integrate Rush lyrics into a Christian blog.

    Thanks! As always, your comments are insightful and thought-provoking.

    Bob Aarhus

    • Bob,

      I just remembered us talking about going to see Rush on their Signals tour. I think you may have even gone. Twenty-five years is a long time!

      Thanks for the comments about the post. I only wish we had some better answer for these questions. My reply to Aaron above sketches out some issues that make this harder than it should be. What do you think? I value your opinions.

  6. Good stuff, Rush. Percussion to die for. Another one of their songs has a line that goes “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I think that is where the majority of Christians in this country are. We simply choose not to decide. Deep down inside, we know that how we are living is ultimately destructive, because it is living as the rich young ruler did, too tied up in his material possessions to give it up and follow Christ to the cross. But we are too comfortable to make the tough choice.

    I think that satan has succeeded brilliantly with capitalism where he failed with religion: He has diverted the church from the true path and so made us impotent to impact the lives of others. In fact, he has actually made the church in America missionaries, prostletizing the gospel of a destructive lifestyle of self-fulfillment and the worship of things. If we as a church are to change, we individually must be obedient to the call of Christ.

    I’ve been writing about faith on my blog, and I’m having problems with part three of the series, because it has to do with being obedient to the call of my faith. Obedient unto death. This life isn’t it. A Christian should never be satisfied with the things of this earth. If I am, then I have looked back, and have forsaken Christ.

    • David,

      Ironically, the song you mention is “Free Will.” That might cheese off some of my more hardcore Calvinist readers! 😉

      In the reply I wrote above to Aaron, I sketched out a few reasons why it’s harder than it used to be. Materialism aside, the structures the early Church built to help people are largely gone now. That’s one of the reasons we fight the paralysis to no avail. We can’t depend on the community of believers. That makes being fully born a nearly impossible chore in this country.

      Who are our role models today? The generation we need to look at for guidance on how to live a countercultural life fully sold out to the Lord are the ones who bought the lie hook, line, and sinker. What a blow to us! And the generation before them wasn’t much better.

      How do we change the Church system in this country? Is it talk like this blog, or is that just more talk?

    • SLW,

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

      As for pulling trigger, I think the problem for most of us is “What trigger?” Or “Who within the Body of Christ will be there by us when we pull it?” See my comments to Aaron at the top of the comments for more details.

      Hey, if you’ve got any wisdom, let us all in on it!

      • In your response to Aaron you said,
        “The problem for me is that I can’t see a way around these issues unless we solve them en masse. But no one has the time for that. Christian thinkers aren’t asking those questions. They’re still stuck fighting the culture wars, not asking how we can rebuild our community to make these kinds of God-ordained works possible.

        I wish I had a solution for this, but all I can do is talk. I don’t know where to start on any of the rest of it. That’s the problem.”

        I hear you, but I can’t say I’m able to see things the same way. The answer will always be personal. God calls each of us by name and appoints us in the body to function as he sees fit. Nobody else is called to be exactly what we are called to be. However much we need one another in the body, each of us is responsible to be what God is calling us to be personally. If we are not fulfilling that call, whatever the reason, we can certainly expect to feel some level of internal dissonance and spiritual frustation. Ultimately, we will be left alone knowing that the terrible truth is that we just didn’t trust God enough to fulfill that call in us. To get there, sometimes we have to swallow hard, throw caution to the wind, and just start!

        It is true that the body doesn’t support, nurture, and resource the giftings of its people in a biblical fashion a lot of the time. As a pastor, I am endeavoring to rectify that situation in my congregation, but sometimes us leaders come up to the plate not ready to swing.

        Hopefully, this is not totally presumptuous, but Dan, if there is any way I can help you fulfill your call, I’ll give you whatever help I can any time I can (evangelagk@peoplepc.com).

        From the volume of comments here, I’d say you weren’t alone!

  7. A preacher once said, if you put your hand to the plow and look back, then turn around and put your hand back on the plow.

    If we all became missionaries, though, who would support us? When I hear about overseas missions, financial support typically comes from the West. Most missionaries from the West are not self-supporting. I heard from insiders at a large missions agency that applications to become missionaries went up dramatically after the dot.com bubble burst while giving went down. Such scenarios remind me of what the Lord told Eli: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests’ offices, that I may eat a piece of bread” (1 Samuel 2:36 KJV). It was not so dire, I think, after the dot.com heyday came to an end (and, lo, I continue to meet believers who are trying to make fortunes in the real estate market, a bubble which seems to be bursting now). But truly, for many Western and serious-minded believers, we want to make a lot of money, quit working forty- to eighty-hour weeks, and dedicate ourselves to the things of the Lord. At least that is what we tell ourselves as we work, save, and invest.

    I have only a layman’s understanding of global economics. But I think what may have happened to America is this. America, after revivals and renewals, instead of going onto the mission field in high numbers, went back to their everyday lives. Our economy continued growing. We were given gifts and talents by God, and He did not take them back if we used them incorrectly. But because we have not gone into all the world, which would have “damaged” our economy as money and labor flowed outward, all the world has come to us. The peoples of every tongue and tribe and nation now live in our neighborhoods, shop in our stores, and go to our churches. If we would not go into the fields white unto harvest, then the Lord brought the fields unto us. We have the chance now to evangelize the world without having to go into the rest of the world.

    That may sound compromised, but for many of us, the doors do not seem open to overseas missions. What if the missions agencies are not looking for you? (They gladly will accept your monetary donation and tell you that you are doing your part.) What if you do not have the education to be accepted as a permanent resident as a foreigner? Do you rack up years of debt and then work for years to pay it off before you go overseas?

    All of this comes as part of counting the cost. The Lord will open doors for those whom He calls. But I realized one day, while thinking about such matters of these, that Paul, an epitome of overseas missionaries, never left the political boundaries of the Roman Empire. Even now, in this day, an American Christian can preach “overseas” without ever having to leave America. The nations are here, now.

    • The concept of what a missionary is has been misunderstood in this country. We are all given the task of evangelizing. Some are more gifted than others and are thus “evangelists” but no one is given a pass on the task of “making disciples.” The Church in America as it stands today is guilty of withholding the gift of God from non-believers. As Christians, we are responsible for the spiritual condition of non-believers. It’s not a question of open doors, but whether we will take that responsibility. Far too many of us are more concerned with making a living than the great commission command of making disciples. This is not something we do in our free time. It should be our life.

    • Michael,

      It’s more complex than saying “just turn around and put your hands back on the plow.” It looks more like Pandora’s box. You get yourself in a certain position and it’s almost impossible to extricate yourself. I find that the only people who can do it seem to be those who were wealthy to begin with. They can cut all the ties and coast for a while until they get their new life in place. Some of us live so close to the bone that it’s impossible without a supportive community to change. And we don’t have that level of supportive community.

      As to missions, I’m not talking about becoming a missionary as much as I am talking about being a countercultural Christian in all aspects of life. If that includes becoming a missionary, then fine. I tend to believe more along the lines that you do in that its better to bring natives here and train them, then send them home.

      But how do we erect Christian communities that run counterculturally? Sure, I read about some of these new monastics, but honestly, I personally know people who were involved in that years ago before it was trendy and all of them have packed it in, moved to the suburbs, and gotten “real” jobs. Now they look like every other hip suburbanite. Time tells.

      In my own experience, I had about a half dozen missions opportunities open to me and all closed down before I got overseas. I took every one of those losses quite hard. Now I don’t even bother. Life’s too short to go down dead-end roads. That may be sour grapes, but what’s a guy to do. Sadly, I could say the same thing about nearly every ministry I’ve been involved with over the years. Doors opened and just as promptly closed. Organized parachurch ministries just don’t seem to offer a lot of options sometimes.

      A person can always be a light where they live, but how does that look in light of he Gospel? I don’t see too many Christians who can pull that off without succumbing to the prevailing attitudes of the people (and culture) around them.

      • “Sure, I read about some of these new monastics, but honestly, I personally know people who were involved in that years ago before it was trendy and all of them have packed it in, moved to the suburbs, and gotten “real jobs. Now they look like every other hip suburbanite. Time tells.”

        Dan,

        People have been living in intentional Christian community for years. There are some older communities that have been around for decades and have people of all ages. Check out Reba House in Chicago, and the Bruderhoff. Also the Catholic Worker Movement has community houses that have been going since the depression. This may not be something you see a lot of Evangelicals doing, but then again, there are a lot of other stripes of committed Christians than just the Evangelicals.

  8. Dan,

    Excellent post, as usual. I don’t have any easy answers as I have struggled with this issue as well. Looking around, I also have to ask if this is all that there is.

    God has been placing a burden on my heart recently to gain an understanding of what his Kingdom truly is. Perhaps that answer lies in there somewhere.

    I just finished reading the book “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferriss. Far from being “spiritual”, and parts bordering on being ethical, it does provide the basis for an internal examination on deciding if the rut that we get stuck in is all that there is, ways to get out of it and what to do when you get out of it.

    It would seem to me that we keep looking for answers within the confines of the four walls of out churches. The problem is, we preach to ourselves about the problems that we have, not delving into what God’s word has to say about it. Perhaps we know the answers by are afraid to admit it because we will have to act.

    Michael – Didn’t Paul often support himself on his missionary journeys? See Acts 18:2-4. It would seem to me that the only missionary board that he was the Holy Trinity.

    • I read most of The 4-Hour Workweek. Although I read some interesting ideas, the overall message seemed to be that I should avoid people so I can do what I want to do. That may be a good way to run a business, but it may not be the way to run a ministry.

      Paul did support himself. But Paul also had work skills that many Americans today neither possess nor want to learn. Although we may not face in America or overseas the lethal laws Paul faced, he did not have to deal with the kinds of regulations legal businesses face in most countries now. Just setting up a tentmaking LLC in America can be a formidable task. (If opening a business were easy, then I would have opened one by now.) Overseas, locals have just as much antipathy to foreign competition as Americans have when immigrants move here.

      It is not easy. But that is part of counting the cost. Most American missionaries that I have heard support themselves overseas teach English. They do not hold office jobs and build buildings. I had to throw cold water on a friend who wanted to go to Australia as a missionary. Local Christians promised support, room and board, in exchange for odd jobs until he found legal employment. I warned him that the IRS here counts certain bartering schemes as “in-kind income” and taxable, and I said Australia might have something like that. He could have gotten in serious trouble. He stayed instead. Then he married. Now he and his wife are missionaries teaching English in Guatemala.

      Perhaps the problem is a problem of extremes. Either we go when we have full financial support, or we go as tentmakers, businesses with no need of financial support. How many Christians decide to apply for legal residency in another country, take a legal job there as a working stiff, join the local church, and support that church? Is that overseas missions? I do not think most Americans Christians would look at that person as an overseas missionary. It sounds too much like an American churchgoer with a workaday job answering to a boss. Only that American churchgoer has a foreign address.

      • Michael,

        After reading the book, I don’t even know if it is a good way to run a business. In business, as in the church, it’s all about relationships.

        Having gone down the path of trying to set up “tentmaking LLC” in the past, I agree with you. It didn’t succeed, but it was a worthwhile experience.

        I appreciate your comments and clarification about overseas missions. It seems to bolster Dan’s point precisely.

    • Don,

      I’m not sure I want to join the “new rich.” On the other hand, I don’t want to be poor.

      Proper Christian people have a way of making life miserable for men who aren’t working to keep their families up with the Joneses. You know, the “good provider” thing. Sometimes I think the Church here makes it harder for those trying to make the break than people in the world do.

      • “Proper Christian people have a way of making life miserable for men who aren’t working to keep their families up with the Joneses. You know, the “good provider thing. Sometimes I think the Church here makes it harder for those trying to make the break than people in the world do.”

        Oh my gosh, you hit the nail on the head with that statement! When we moved, we got more flack from Christians than my friends at the cigar shop who “got it” and were really excited for us.

        • Lisa,

          You wouldn’t believe how much flack I’ve caught on this issue, being a stay-at-home-dad while trying to get a business up and running. It’s been astonishing to me.

      • Dan,

        The “New Rich” has more do to with time and lifestyle redesign, and less with money, but I get your point. Still, it shows that the current American lifestyle is pretty empty even outside of the church.

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  10. Come down and see us in Lexington, Dan. I keep inviting you. Bring the gang. There’s always room at Third Street House. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re bumbling our way towards trying. And we have kids. And we’re middle-age. And God is faithful.

    Micah 6:8. Matthew 25. Isaiah 58. James 1:27.

  11. Hey guys… I got a very interesting comment on this on my blog. Let me know what you guys think… I know what my heart’s issue is on this, but I’d love to hear from you.

    I know who wrote it and the point of reference they come from, and they are arguing that sometimes God does call people to be middle class nice people who administrate in a church somewhere… which I agree, some people ARE called to that, but many, many more are called to so much more….

    • One thought I have is, how does such a life compare with the life of Christ and those who’ve gone before us who were willing to risk it all? Choose comfort, sure, but at then end of our lives, who is it we want to have been like? Jesus or our next door neighbor?

      I don’t mean to sound harsh and I pray I don’t. This is just what came to mind.

    • Ronni,

      I think that’s an out for too many of us. We want that to be the starting place rather than the option to which we’re called. Plus, I find that very few people can exist in that milieu without succumbing to its soul-killing charms.

      • I so agree Dan. I’ve seen the passion get snuffed out of the people I love because of commitee meetings and the requirements of a denomination.

        I think people want to cling to that because they would rather have the familiar numbness than the scary unknown.

        I’m hanging on the unknown and at times I find myself wanting to back away, where everything is so nice and neat and orderly, then I remember the numbness that almost overcame me.

        If you see me slip Dan, start yelling in my general direction!

  12. Dan,

    I pastor a small church plant of 150 people in West Los Angeles. The median age is somewhere around 25…and that’s pushing it. We have one regular attender that is over thirty, and she is thirty one.

    The thing we’ve run into over and over again is the difficulty of building a (church) family without any of the wisdom and maturity that comes from older believers. Bottom line, the trickle down discipleship that’s prescribed in the Bible is really difficult when you’ve got no one old enough to start the process.

    For a significant amount of time we moped around and prayed that God would send us godly older people so that we could finally “be what God wanted us to be.” And, after a while, I decided we couldn’t do that anymore.

    We had to become what we thought we needed others to be.

    It started with myself and the other pastor, who is also 26, looking at each other and saying, “Alright, we’re the adults now. That’s all there is to it.” And then we had to go around and explain to our key members that just because we never had the conducive circumstances to bring about our maturity doesn’t get us off the hook for doing what needs to be done. It’s going to be extraordinarily hard, and the easiest thing to do would be to point at all the older Christians around us who aren’t even near pulling their weight, but they’re not the issue. We are. And if the cycle of Christians growing older and falling off the map in terms of discipleship is going to stop, it’s got to stop with us standing up, deciding to be those adults in the lives of the (slightly) younger around us, and taking care of business.

    No one wants to stand up alone. But if no one does, no one else will follow. I’m really, really young, and I’m well aware of the darkness in my own heart, so take this for what it’s worth: I don’t know exactly what actions you have to take to become “full born.” But I know if you wait for someone else to do it first, it will never happen. Community is integral, but sometimes it doesn’t pave the road like we think it should.

    As to what you “need to do” – again I’ll cop to being the young idealist guy, but do whatever it takes. If you’ve got to move to a foreign country to get away from some capitalist black hole, then move. If you’ve got to stay and live differently, then stay and live differently. And if you don’t have enough answers to take more than one step at a time, then take that step and see what comes next. But I don’t believe that God has put you in a position where your arms are tied and you’ve got nowhere to go. Neil Pert has never been my go to musician for wisdom, but you do always have a choice. They just get hard. Go out and knock on those doors as an itinerant preacher. You can stay at my place. There’s always a remnant…always. And besides, when did we let our own pseudo-prophetic idea of how things will play out become our divining rod?

    I’ve got no legs to stand on for judgment, and I’ve got every emotion of yours beating in my heart too. But we don’t get to be defeated. Not with the kind of God we serve. Difficulty is what we signed up for. Despair is not. And you’ve got a lot of community, even out here in this weird cyberspace thing we do, that will cheer you on and pick you up when you fall. I’m proud to count myself among those who learn from you, stand with you, gain support from you, and do my best to support you in return.

    I know it’s not the same over a computer, but you could always move to West LA and become one of those “adults” we’ve been looking for…seriously.

    • Paul pointed out to Timothy that spiritual maturity had little to do with physical age. The early church was started by children, but they relied on “the ancient of days” to guide and teach. We children need to do the same. Key to this is the time we spend in communion with Him and with each other.

  13. Jude

    Dan;
    I’ve been reading your blog (irregularly} for well over a year now, and appreciate much of what you have to say. I’m going to go out on a limb here…I realize that the writings of our Puritan forefathers are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I honestly believe that what they had to say about the Christian life 400 years ago is still absolutely relevant today. I would like to challenge you to take the next 6 months and devote whatever time you normally spend reading, to reading nothing but the Puritans. You’ll have to read slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully; but if you don’t find something good happening to you in that 6 months, then you can go back to what you’re doing now. You’ll certainly not be any worse off!

    • Jude,

      While I agree totally that reading the Puritans can help one spiritually, I am not as certain they are helpful in combating the cultural problems that drag us down today. As I noted earlier, many of the societal “props” that allowed the Puritans to function as they did have been obliterated. This makes all the difference in the world. It’s a bit like rappelling down the side of a mountain, only to have your equipment taken away, then being asked to climb the mountain sans equipment—and the valley’s rapidly flooding.

      A for instance: the Puritan community was very tight and looked out for itself. We have virtually none of that today; it’s every man for himself. That makes it exponentially more difficult to hit the marks the Puritans established. Patterns of work are dramatically different, too. The Puritans lived a much more agrarian lifestyle than we do and that makes all the difference in the world.

      So I’m leery of looking to the Puritans for answers because if we cannot replicate their circumstances, we cannot hope to put their wisdom into practice. That only leads to frustration.

      • Jude

        Dan;
        I recommended the Puritans not because they have answers to what we think ails us, but because they were true “physicians of the soul.” My point is that the emphasis on “combating the cultural problems” is the wrong emphasis. What’s leading to all of this angst is the feeling that we need to fix our culture (and the Christian subculture) in order to live the Christian life. That is not true, and leads to all the frustration and hand-wringing demonstrated here. The problem is the state of my soul. And your soul. Start reading…180 days. You have 179 left!

  14. Dan,

    You may not have the answers but what refreshes me is that someone else is at least asking the question. Someone said that the devil’s tactic isn’t to remove the answers but to prevent us from asking the questions. Thank you.

    What disturbs me is that the church, as a whole, is content at propagating the current system. I think the institution we have come to know as church has hamstrung the average Christian. We wait for our institutional leaders to give us their “vision.” We sit and listen to sermons, sing happy-clappy songs (or hymns for that matter-it doesn’t matter which), and toss a few bucks (or ten percent) into the basket and call it Christianity.

    One of the questions that is motivating some action (hopefully meaningful action) in my life is the question, “What are you going to do about it?” I’m thinking that I need to live a different kind of life because of my faith. Stuff has little to do with it really. We are to keep our eyes on Christ.

    1 Timothy 6:17-19 has been helpful for me in light of the fact that I (and every other American Christian) am rich. 1) Don’t be arrogant 2) Don’t put my hope in wealth but in God 3) God provides us stuff for our enjoyment 4) Do good 5) Be generous 6) Be willing to share. You can see the results of all that in verse 19.

    What matters to me?:

    1. The community of faith. Not shaking a couple hands on Sunday morning but the witness to the watching world that Jesus spoke of. People should be saying, “See how they love each other.”
    2. Meaningful spiritual disciplines. We have given ourselves long enough to intellectual gymnastics. We must cultivate the presence of God.
    4. Meaningful sacrifice rooted in the calling of God not in a guilt trip. We must consider whether or not we are giving in the right direction.

    I don’t think more rhetoric will ultimately be the answer. We must become the rhetoric by our actions. Do the gospel don’t talk the gospel. I think this has been one of our gravest mistakes in American-brand churchianity: we have chosen education and knowledge over lifestyle. We must do what we believe.

    • Jeff,

      My biggest frustration comes from not being able to get people to catch the vision. This is not a movement of individuals. It must be a movement of a community. Having a handful of assenters isn’t going to create the groundswell. The level of dissatisfaction has to be ratcheted up to unbearable levels before people will, en masse, start banding together to answer the hard questions and live out the consequences.

  15. Donna Lear

    Dan,
    Just wanted to say thank you. This post really, not superficially but deeply ministered to me. I’ve taken a leap off the deep end by listening to God’s voice and breaking out of conformity and today when the noise seemed so loud it was edifying to hear a clarion sound of confirmation from God’s lips to your post to my ears. Just wanted to let you know that post where you are honest enough to admit to not having answers provided an abundance of answers for me. I stop in here daily for a drink of water quietly and I have never left unsatisfied.

  16. Dan, you asked: “Doesn’t it call for a more radical response?”

    Yes it does! But as well as a ‘radical response,’ we need a radical rethink. Let me explain…

    Both Old and New Testament authors, building and enlarging upon the expectations of their predecessors, worked in sequence towards an ultimate goal – the establishment of an ideal kingdom – the Kingdom of God on earth – to be ruled over by an earthly king.

    The New Testament writers proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all the expectations concerning this earthly king but in a totally ‘unexpected’ way. They also procalimed that the ‘spiritual’ Kingdom of God was now in existence, but that Jesus would one day return to take up his rightful place as ‘literal’ King of Israel.

    It is encumbent on all who aspire to be Christians to live according to the values of Christianity’s founder. “For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps:” (1 Peter 2:21)

    Christians are expected to follow Jesus down that ‘way’ which led to his crucifixion and death, after which they too will be re-born, resurrected as New Creatures.

    To ‘follow’ Jesus means confronting manipulation, deception, injustice, cruelty, distortion and lies whenever and wherever, just as he did. It means confronting the kingdoms of this world, the realms of oppression, of bloodshed, of corruption, of death, just as he did.

    Because the values Jesus embodied are timeless and universal, they are all-embracing, applicable everywhere, all of the time.

    Thus even the humblest, the most despised and rejected of the earth, can reclaim a sense of human dignity by carrying on Jesus’ work of establishing the ‘kingdom’ on earth in prepartion for this: “The Kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of God and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15).

    Most doctrines actually turn this message of the New Testament on its head. Because they focus on Jesus as a person, many of his followers also focus on themselves and their state of personal salvation – am I going to hell or to heaven? This path produces nothing and leads only to despair.

    No matter the plenitude of numbers, warm and fuzzy, instropective, monastic-style relationships with Jesus will never bring about the will of God – the estblishment of his Kingdom on his creation, for his creatures.

  17. I dunno the answer.

    I know what the answer was for Henri Nouwen. I know what the answer was for Mother Teresa.

    I know I shudder when I see those answers.

    And I want one that costs less, takes less effort, doesn’t last as long – and ultimately has little value, I guess.

    I don’t want to put my hands back on the plow.

    I want a roto-tiller.

    Free.

    And a volunteer to operate it for me.

  18. Holly

    I agree with Jude’s comment above: spend 6 months reading the Puritans. It seems that so often we first want the “practical how to’s” of the situation, but the Lord has a different process in mind altogether: Paul said we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. It seems to me that so often, the answer is not to *first* come up with the practical talking points — the answer is to intentionally sit at His feet and learn of Him. It’s in that process that He will grant wisdom and the “practical directives” to those who are truly seeking to live counterculturally in this Vanity Fair we dwell in. So, that’s the first thing I’d suggest.

    Secondly, you’ve asked several times: how can we stop talking about this and actually DO something? Running the risk of seeming overly simplistic, I honestly believe we just need to open the Bible and begin *carrying out* the commands. It’s like Mark Twain said, “It isn’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I DO understand that bother me.” It isn’t so much that we have trouble trying to implement Jesus’ words into our modern context: it’s that, as you succinctly said, we lack role models to show up how it’s done. But still, we too have the Holy Spirit and God is able to make US to be those needed role models. As it says in 2 Chron 16:9: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” While it will be harder for us to chart unknown territory, the Lord is able to help each of to be those role models for a new, “Christian” generation that is becoming increasingly worldly and increasingly deadened to any sense of laying down one’s life for the sake of the Gospel.

    How we regard our attachments to the things of this life is what ultimately determines whether we are “full born” or perpetually “half born.” Jesus said, Don’t store up treasure here on Earth; store it in Heaven. How many sermons have you heard where a pastor exposits the clear words of our Lord, then in the next breath, begins to make excuses for Jesus’ words and tries to “reinterpret” His clear meaning in light of “today’s culture” — thereby diluting the full impact of His words? But He meant what He said: Don’t live for this world, don’t work for things that perish. Work for the true food that God gives! As Paul said, “If we have food and clothes, let us be content.” It can’t be any clearer than that.

    So I think it starts with primary issues like that, first. Sometimes as believers we tend to want to bite off more than we can chew. But if we can just get settled the issue of where our true treasure is, all else will systematically fall into place: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    You hit the nail on the head when you alluded to the correlation between all of our accumlated stuff and our burgeoning assets we own, and our corresponding lack of hospitality, our lack of being free to go to the outer ends of the earth, our lack of willingness to expend ourselves for anyone outside of our own house with 2.5 kids and a dog. Who is our role model? Jesus. And He said He had no place to lay His head. He said His mother, brother, and sister were all those who did the will of God. When His disciples offered Him food, He refused it, saying, “The harvest is ready now; My food is to do the will of God who sent me.” A different perspective entirely…

    How did things get so skewed, how did the Christian’s value system get so turned upside down? I’d venture to say that part of it is that nowdays, you find Christians doing all the exact same things as unbelievers, all in the name of “engaging culture” and being “free in Christ.” In the days of the Puritans — indeed, even 100 years ago, it was UNHEARD OF for a professing Christian to participate in the ungodly entertainment of the culture around them. Engaging the culture?? We have churches full of spiritually diseased, compromised Christians who misguidedly think they’re “engaging the culture.”

    Today, we have church leaders who giddily tell their flocks all about the latest rock concert they attended and how they watch MTV religously, expecting their adoring sheep to think, “Wow, what a hip pastor I have!” *That* is our role model for today: hip pastors who read the same books as the world, who attend the same pot-laced Indie rock concerts, who watch the same sitcoms.

    Is it any wonder our churches are full of “sheep” who look and think EXACTLY like the world? Day in and day out, their values are shaped by the same mediums as the world around them. The pastors are leading the flocks toward full-time residency in Vanity Fair. The blind leading the blind.

    But the Christian’s value system ought to be *wholly* different. We are to be noticeably different; we are not of this world. But how can we be different when our daily intake is the same as the world’s? Can we escape the sowing and reaping principle of Scripture? Absolutley not.

    Lord, help us to renew our minds, to be saturated with Your word, to spend time reading the writings of those who have gone before us — men from yesteryear who knew the perilous dangers of dancing with the world — yet expecting to stay pure. Help us to glean from their wisdom. Help us not to participate in the ways of this world … lest we be condemned along with the world. Help us to remember, as in the words of that hymn of days past:

    “This world is not my home,
    I’m just passin’ through.
    My real treasure is laid up somewhere beyond the blue…”

    • Holly,

      Well, considering I quoted Rush for part of this post, I must be one of the bad guys! 😉

      I hear what you’re saying, but the problem comes not from the portion of the culture war some Christians are fighting, but the culture war they’re not fighting. They’re not fighting what the work world is doing to us. Most people work fifty hour work weeks and suffer through long commutes. They’re away from they’re homes and communities for most of the day. This fragments and distorts God’s image of community. But is any Christian ministry even questioning that, much less doing anything to fix it? Are you kidding? If anything, they play to it and endorse it.

      We need better.

      I’m not saying abandon it, but finds ways within the community to think of ourselves as a group rather than as individuals. That way, the skills and work of the group can be better managed so that every family is not trying to reinvent the wheel. We duplicate goods and services outlandishly, costing time and money. That’s foolish. We need to find a more holistic, Gospel way.

  19. Dan,
    I’m dropping in late on this conversation. Thanks for your excellent and challenging thoughts and to all those who added comments.

    I have lived in a Christian community for over 20 years. There has been an impact on myriads of people for over 50 years. This, it seems to me, is a possible direction. Perhaps, intentional communities that engender the daily activities of life has to be high priority. Frustrating as it is, we move ahead in this context a step at a time in faith, but that points to the tension of living in times in-between times – the already and not yet of Jesus embodiment and proclamation of the KOG. However, we are doing it together – as family; eating, sharing, discussing, growing, being redeemed and transformed together, and therefore there is something counter-cultural in what we’re doing. Here we live, knowing something, not everything or nothing. Yet, we have to embrace the subversive living KOG, which so easily gets diluted to the degree that it is almost unrecognizable. Jesus was the true rebel and radical. We need to create opportunites for people to not have to conform, to be better cultural readers and players, and to be supported for refusing the status quo. Crazy? Well, so be it.

    Not born, or fully born, just don’t seem to be options, thus we need to be caught up in God’s present and eventual renewal of all things. One of the key ways of doing this, I think, is living in community.

    • Greg,

      I’d like to know more about your community. Nearly every community I know of like yours has been primarily singles or young marrieds without kids. By the time kids come along, most people drop out. Exceptions to that would be most welcome to hear about.

      • Dan,
        We have both families with children and single people. There have been many familes with children who have left after a number of years, but there are also new one’s that replace them and then there are those who stay the course over much longer periods. This may indeed be exceptional, but I think it shows that it is feasible.

  20. Dan, yous said: “Vynette, I’m not following you. What does your recommendation look like in day to day living?”

    It means getting our hands dirty every day by confronting the perpetrators of manipulation, injustice, cruelty, distortion and lies wherever and whenever they may be found.

    The values which Jesus of Nazareth embodied – truth versus manipulation, distortion and deception; the spirit of the law rather than the letter; humility versus arrogance; personal integrity versus institutional formalism, objective attitudes versus subjective attitudes, and so on, are universal and timeless.

    Followers of Jesus are expected to do what he did in the real world – the world of war, politics, religion, commerce, etc. To stand up for truth and justice, to champion the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, and to challenge any and all authorities and institutions if necessary.

    The end result is setting an example by personal conduct so that those who see your good works will perhaps emulate you just as you emulate Jesus. Universal emulation is how the Kingdom of God on earth will become a reality. Knowledge that you are working towards the Kingdom in this way somehow strengthens determination to endure the many trials which automatically arise when the ‘kingdoms of this world’ are challenged.

    Jesus told us to “Seek ye first the Kingdom…” because he knew the personal fortitude to be gained by that task.

    • Vynette,

      Perhaps you could give some everyday examples of how Christians should tackle the issues you raise. What is a practical example of confronting manipulators? Who is a concrete perpetrator of injustice? How do we confront that perpetrator?

      Not trying to make things hard for you here, but I think people would be interested in knowing more of the specifics. If anything is going to change, we Christians must talk about these things specifically rather than in loose terms that people can’t wrap their brains around.

      I’ve written about injustices in the business world quite a bit, for instance.

  21. Holly

    Dan,

    Are you thinking along the lines of a “Christianized” form of socialism? The way it’s portrayed in Acts certainly seems like a blessed form of living in community — but having studied the Jonestown/Peoples’ Temple movement extensively, any kind of socialistic tendencies now kind of give me the heeber-jeebers. 🙂 Judging from some of the comments I’ve read, it does seem some have successfully created Christian communities/communes, but I wonder: what parameters, what sort of framework is in place to prevent another Guyana-esque catastophe? The danger is always in thinking it could never happen among us.

    If a Christian community based on socialism is NOT what you are espousing, please forgive my misunderstanding! If that’s the case, would you clarify what sort of Christian community you DO have in view? I’m really interested in learning more.

  22. Dan,

    Seeing we are now talking on a personal level, let me give you some specific examples.
    I
    t is evident that Jesus of Nazareth saw his role as the pursuit of truth, as is evidenced by his words to Pilate:
    “For this reason was I born,
    And for this purpose came I into the world
    That I should bear witness to the truth
    Those that are of the truth shall hear my voice.” (John 18:38)

    I consider the pursuit of truth essential and established my own blog to expose the many unscriptural lies told about the man who lived and died for truth.

    My friends and I have been involved in issues ranging from challenging local authorities over alienation of local parkland, through protest against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, all the way up to appearing in the High Court of Australia to challenge the Federal Government on voting legislation that disadvantaged the less powerful in society.

    When you challenge established authority, however, you can expect reprisals – loss of employment, intimidation, harassment, bullying etc. For instance, I have been ‘interviewed’ by the Australian Security Services (ASIO) in the hope that this would frighten and intimidate me into ceasing the circulation of pamphlets damaging to the Federal Government. As we all know however, this is a very small price to pay when we consider the penalty imposed on Jesus of Nazareth for engaging in similar activities.

    No issue is too small, too large, or too long – the pursuit of justice must be above all ideologies and personal preferences. For instance, one of my friends has been attempting for fourteen long years to bring charges of official corruption against very senior members of the present Queensland Government even though he shares their party political ideology.

    This is the manner in which we strive for the Kingdom. I hope this answers your question.

    • Vynette,

      Thanks. Your practical experience makes more sense now.

      I agree with you quite a bit, but we must always watch out that this sort of thing doesn’t wind up usurping making disciples. Conseravtive evangelicals tend toward making disciples and forgetting about servanthood, while liberal Christians go overboard on the social Gospel and leave out the rest of it. As I’ve said here many times, a balance is needed between those two extremes.

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  25. Thank God for those who are following the leading of the Spirit in their hearts to truly follow God and not blindly follow church leadership! I truly believe, no, I know the Spirit of God is pulling us out of religion and creating His Church. The church in America had become blind and self-centered, not loving and compassionate. I am seeking the face of God vehemently to learn to live and walk as Jesus did. I am coming out of the chains of many years of religion and I’ve never experienced so much freedom, the freedom Jesus died for us to have. Let God’s people be about loving Him and loving people- it’s that simple. Let us leave the complications and convolution of man behind and pick up Jesus’ light and easy yoke and run with Him- where He leads!

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